Mother’s Day

Some people just never get the credit they deserve. Others get way too much. My own mother belongs in the first category.
I know… I know what you’re thinking. Mother’s Day and all that. Blah, blah, yada, yada. But hear me out here.
Anyone who knows me will admit I’m not your trendy New Age feminist-mouthpiece metrosexual male. I’ve been known to mutter a few sexist inanities that gives any female within earshot a good excuse to bury a hatchet deep between my shoulder blades. And these new feminist courts would probably find her not guilty, by reason of extreme provocation.
Which is ironic because my own mother, in her quiet way, was a pioneering feminist. And then so was my sister, not so quietly. And don’t get me going about my wife.
My mother was a farm girl, born at home in the Eastern Townships in 1920. Her mother was also a farmgirl from Hudson, Quebec who became a teacher and met her husband who himself had moved from another farm in the Laurentians. Grandpa told me he knew it was time to look for a farm in a part of the world where his prized potatoes would at least be as large and numerous as the rocks he was continually digging up. He left that rocky soil to his older brother, who was always a better mayor of the tiny hamlet of Mille Isles than he was a farmer. My mother learned to read before she went to school and led every class she ever attended, including at Teacher’s College in St. Anne de Bellevue and the Faculty of Comparative Religion at the University of Toronto, where she finished her degree in her late sixties and won the prize for the highest standing. When she went away to teach in Montreal in the 1940’s she met my future father, a city-bred orphan from St. Henri who couldn’t speak any English until he was fourteen years old.
“What did you think when you heard your only daughter was going to marry a Frenchman?” I asked my grandfather one day while we were fishing. He spit out a wad of tobacco juice and smiled wryly. “No comment,” was all he ever said about that.
Both my parents were overachievers which cured any of their four kids from going that route, although God knows my mother did her level best with her cantankerous spawn. She always told me that she would have liked to have gone into banking, but that the only career choices for cash-poor farmers’ daughters in the 1930s were as a teacher, nurse or housekeeper. She chose the first of the three, and was ahead of her time in marrying a younger man in the 1940s, six years her junior. She didn’t have her first child until she was thirty four, a strange occurrence in the early fifties. She had tested the maternal waters even though they were warned not to have any children, she being of Type O Positive blood, and he of Type O Negative. After the first two babies, the doctor frowned and asked if she was planning on having any more offspring. I had been the second child. “No, I don’t plan on any more,” she answered. She had two more, my sister being born when my mother was forty three, at the tail end of the Baby Boom. I always reminded her that she was the scrapings of the pot.
Child-raising was left mainly to the women in the fifties and sixties, with my father never so much as changing a diaper, claiming it made him nauseous. I tried my best to carry on the family tradition, but I was betrayed by my stronger stomach and less-chauvinistic times. My mother rode herd on her quarrelsome crew, driving carloads of kids in the backs of station wagons to soccer, baseball and hockey games all over the island of Montreal. It wasn’t until later in life that I could appreciate her patience in letting me shoot pucks at the living room fireplace or calmly convincing her battling brood to take our frequent rumbles outside, which kept the paintings on the walls and the furniture intact.
I suppose it was the Irish in her that never allowed any talk of her own troubles. I was at Bishop’s University when a friend told me that my mother was having three quarters of her stomach cut out, due to ulcers that had plagued her for years. She had never said a word, just taking more and more 292 Tylenol painkillers until even they couldn’t mask the misery. Later on she had a stroke that blinded her in one eye. That didn’t prevent her from learning the stockmarket, where she invested wisely and profitably. But she only put her money into companies that supported the environment, and that didn’t harm wildlife in any way. Much of these profits she gave away to charities, whose further pleas for money irritated my father no end. “Whatever you give away comes back to you manyfold”, which was a lesson I never forgot, if not always followed.
She died in August of 2001, ironically enough when my family and I were visiting her father’s old homestead in the Laurentians. For those of you who believe such things, I felt much agitation and discomfort at exactly the time she had her stroke. We were able to race back to Oakville, Ontario and the Oakville- Trafalgar General Hospital just in time for her to squeeze my hand, and for me to bid her my final farewell.
Not a day goes by that I don’t think of her, and give thanks. No mother can leave a greater legacy.

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