Sunday, May 13, 2012

Wearing the White Carnation ~ Remembering Mom and other amazing women

As the years fly by, I am in awe of the impact this tiny woman continues to have on my life. My mother, Betty Lou, (b-Oct.6, 1931, d-Feb.14, 2000) was one of those eternally optimistic ladies we often encounter among her generation. She never rose without a cheery "Good Morning", and she sang (admittedly badly) while performing the most menial household task.

I would be lucky to possess one-half of her wisdom -- the common sense with which she approached every one of life's challenges.

But then, Mom descended from a long line of sturdy souls. I remember her grandmother, my great-grandmother Griselda, pictured here in the early 60's shortly before she died at 96.

She was especially proud of this photo of her farm, where she continued to work until her death. Having lost her husband in middle age, Griselda handled the bulk of the physical labour, assisted only by her disabled son. My mother's Uncle Archie had broken his back as a young man but still did what he could.

Uncle Archie is on the right, pictured here with a friend on the farm where he lived with his mother.

One of the most important people in my childhood was my Grammie Bessie, my mother's mother. My sisters and I loved her with all our might. She was sensible, smart, well-educated (a registered nurse who ran a team in a hospital) and carried herself with dignity. This woman taught me self-respect and kindness, lessons which have served me well.

My father's mother, Mary Elisabeth, was one of those ladies you read about in books. In the height of the Great Depression, my grandfather ran off to chase the ponies, leaving her alone to raise three children. In fairness to Grampie, he probably hoped to earn a living gambling -- there weren't many jobs to be had in 1935. He returned home in the 60's shortly before he died, and I remember him as a cheerful, loving grandfather.

Nanny Mary held three jobs for most of her adult life. She was head cook at one of the most prestigious hotel/restaurants in the Maritimes -- the Brunswick Hotel -- as well as keeping 2 permanent jobs as maid/family cook/housekeeper for wealthier people in her neighbourhood.

Although she belonged to the class of "working poor" during the Dirty Thirties, Nanny Mary taught me about charity. She never feared walking the streets of Moncton alone past midnight. Every homeless person on High Street knew her name, and they knew that Mary was on her way home from her job at the hotel. She carried food from the restaurant, which she gave to each person she encountered. She told me: Don't fear a poor man, or a working man. Share when you can. There is always someone worse off than you.

In my memory Nanny Mary is always laughing. She never saw the hard life as something to complain about.

This is me, my Nanny Mary, my Dad and my oldest son, Tom. Mom was holding the camera, as usual, wanting to get a shot of the "4 generations" on Mothers' Day 1986. Notice the carnations we are all wearing?

There have been so many important people in my life! Honouring them all would take nothing less than a book, but the "mothers" in this photo were certainly among my most influential.

Here are my Mom, my Nanny Mary and my father's sister, Aunt Betty, who was my mother's closest childhood friend. My mother and my Aunt Betty shared a bond based on perpetual good humour, kindness and devotion to their families and friends. I am thrilled when my cousins tell me I look like their mother. I think so, too!

When I was first asked to write a "Mother's Day" blog, I was hesitant. My mother's life was not one that could be easily packaged in a few sentimental phrases of 'a thousand words or less'.

I wanted to honour her, but not at the expense of the truth. How could I celebrate the spirited "Mighty Mouse" of my childhood, without turning a blind eye to the hardships life dealt her?

For purposes of this Mothers' Day Memorial, though, I'm determined to focus on the happy moments. Here (on the far left) is a picture of my beautiful mother, standing as maid of honour at her sister Helen's wedding. You can see the joy of youth in Mom's face -- the hopes of one day marrying and starting her own family. It's all there.

Here is my Mom many years later, in Saskatchewan with my older sister Debbie, myself, and my younger sister Rosalind. A stranger would not notice the sadness she tried so hard to hide. Life has dealt so many blows -- the loss of two sets of twins, 4 boys born too early; living with a volatile mate -- and has yet to deal so many more. In 1977 my older sister committed suicide, a blow from which we doubted Mom would ever recover.

On to the next generation of Mothers! This is me, on April 3. 2010. (My 50th birthday.) I'm grateful for the path that led me to my incredible husband and family, and for this smile on my face. They say all roads lead to Rome. My path has sometimes seemed impossible, but it brought me to exactly where I want to be. I have no regrets.

These are some of the people who are most important to me now: my husband Alex, who is my constant partner in this madness we call the "writing life", our oldest son, Thomas, middle son Ted, and our baby daughter Tammy-Li! Also pictured with us is our children's cousin Alexx,(the golden blonde teen) who was travelling with us that day. (Let's not overlook that other golden blonde, our puppy Daisy!)

Here I am with my darlings on our beloved beach. Yes, Alex is there as well -- he's the shadow you see holding the camera!

Where would I be without these dear children of ours? I can't even imagine....

I only hope that one day, when it's their turn to wear the "White Carnation", they will remember me with love.