Sunday, May 09, 2010
My mother was born in 1929 in Windsor, Ontario where she lived until she was 9 years old. On the day that she was born, her identical twin sister, Barbara was also born. And, interestingly enough, they were symmetrical. They were each born blind in one eye. My mum was blind in her left eye and Aunt Barbara was born blind in her right eye. When they got older (over 50), they both became deaf in opposing ears. And, there was something symmetrical about their ovaries, too, but I don't remember what.
When they were school age, teachers often accused them of cheating on tests because they always wrote the exact same words for their answers but even when they were put in separate rooms to write, this happened so it was finally concluded that they weren't cheating.
When my mum was 9, they moved to Toronto because my Grandpa needed to find work and there was more work to be had in Toronto.
By this time, my mum and Aunt Barbara also had a younger brother, Bob who could do no wrong in his mother's eyes!
Both my mum and my aunt had very poor vision. Their parents weren't well off and couldn't afford to get them glasses. So, they always sat at the front of the classroom and did their best. When they played baseball in gym class and it was their turn at bat, the outfielders sat down. That must have been really humiliating.
When they turned 18, my grandparents were finally able to afford to get them glasses and my mum said that she was most amazed by the sight of leaves on the trees. She had never known they were separate; she thought they were just green blobs on the top of trees!
My mum wanted to be a teacher so when she was old enough, she enrolled at the University of Toronto and studied to be a teacher. Along the way, she started smoking and in her 4th year, she met my dad and decided that he would be her husband one day.
My mum and dad got married on December 21, 1957, which as some people might recall is the longest night of the year and they got a lot of ribbing about that. They went to New Liskeard, Ontario for their honeymoon because my dad had a friend there who was out of town and was willing to lend his apartment to them.
My mum's first teaching job was at Parkdale Collegiate in Toronto teaching high school English. One of her students was named Bonnie Dobson who later recorded an album that included the song that she wrote called "Morning Dew", which was made famous by The Grateful Dead. Here's a link to her singing it:
Unfortunately, in 1960, she had to leave her job here when she got pregnant with me because pregnant women weren't allowed to teach in those days.
Another job that my mum had as teacher was in Smooth Rock Falls, Ontario teaching high school English and weirdly enough, women's hockey. My mum who had never played an organised sport in her life had to learn how to skate in order to coach the women's hockey team.
She was a high school English teacher for most of her life ending her career teaching at Hillfield-Strathallan, a private school here in Hamilton, Ontario.
She also taught English at night school at both Mohawk College and McMaster University.
Over the years, she had 4 more daughters in 1962, 1963 and 1968. The ones born in 1968 were the deciding factor that a son wasn't meant to be since she thought she WAS having a son because when the ultrasound was done, they doctor only heard one heartbeat and because it was so strong, they figured it had to be a boy. But on April Fools Day, 1968, identical twin girls were born and it was deduced that they must have been cocooned together and it was their two heartbeats heard in conjunction that the doctor had heard.
I loved it when the twins were born. It was like having real, live dolls to play with. My mum sometimes kept me home from school so that I could help her and often during the night when they woke up to be fed, it was me who got up with my mum and not my dad because he slept through their crying.
From about 1968 to 1974, my parents co-authored some English textbooks called Wish and Nightmare, Circle of Stories One and Circle of Stories Two, The Garden and the Wilderness, The Temple and the Ruin and The Peaceable Kingdom that were published by Harcourt-Brace.
When I was in high school was not a good time for me and my mother. We fought about everything. It's a time in my life when I'd prefer to forget how I treated her. And, it must have been a hard time for her, too for other reasons like the fact that her mum died in 1975 and that my dad's career as an English professor and academic at McMaster University was taking off and the fact that he had a new best friend who treated my mum like crap and my dad let him get away with it and even though, I didn't treat my mum very well at that point in time, I didn't let this friend get away with talking to my mum the way he did and I never liked him because of it. Thank god, he's long gone.
I started smoking at 15 and my dad blamed my mum and said it was because she smoked that I started smoking but it wasn't although it did make it easier to hide but my mum ended up quitting smoking when I was 18 to encourage me to quit but unfortunately, I didn't manage to quit until 10 years later.
When my grandma died in 1975, I was 15 and had just started smoking. My mum told me that if I quit smoking, she would use her inheritance from her mum to take me to Scotland (where her parents were from), England and France and because I really wanted to go, I told her that I had quit but I hadn't (bad me). I'd like to say that we had a great time but I'm not sure it was but it certainly was memorable.
Her twin sister lived in London, England so that's where we went first. I was appalled at how her sons and husband treated her. It made the way I treated my mum look a whole lot better. Her kids and husband called her a "f*cking cow" to her face and no one said anything. It was awful. I felt so much better about my life and my mum after that. It was weird to see how much the two sisters still looked alike except that Aunt Barbara was heavier and spoke with a British accent.
From London, we went to Oxford to visit with a friend of my mum's and her two teenage sons with whom, I immediately got crushes on. They were soooo cute... AND they had British accents. What more could a girl want?
From Oxford, we took the train to Glasgow, Scotland. When we passed Loch Ness, my mum despaired of me because I wouldn't look out the window to try and see the monster because I was engrossed in reading "Gone With the Wind".
In Glasgow, we were met at the train by my mum's Uncle Arthur and Aunt Bessie (Uncle Arthur was my Grandma's brother). They took us to their house in Campbeltown, which was quite close to Paul McCartney's house in the Mull of Kintyre. Aunt Bessie fed us scones and cookies and cakes like she thought we were starving to death!
After Glasgow, we travelled to Edinburgh and went to Edinburgh Castle and saw the Edinburgh Tattoo! I don't remember any specifics but I remember that it was quite impressive and I LOVED the castle.
From Edinburgh, we travelled back down to London in order to catch the plane to Paris, France.
The only things I remember about France were the cool airport that looked futuristic with its moving sidewalks (which are quite common now but weren't back then), the fact that we didn't go to the Louvre because I thought I hated art and a guy who looked like Cannon (from the TV show) who tried to pick up my mum.
Fortunately, my the time I hit my 20s, my mum and I started to get along better. After I got married, we did a lot of things together.
She once took me and my two youngest sisters to Barbados for a week. And, I took her to Cuba for a week. She took me to Ste. Anne's Spa (where I'm going this week for my 50th birthday) and I took her to the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake. We often met for lunch or dinner and she was always my biggest supporter.
She was a voracious reader. She read two newspapers daily (The Globe & Mail and The Hamilton Spectator) and she also had a subscription to The New Yorker and she read one book every two days. She loved reading.
In regards to her career, not only was she a high school English teacher but when I was 16, she became a trustee on the Wentworth County Board of Education and when I was 17, she became Chair.
She and my dad both loved travelling and did quite a lot of it even after she was diagnosed with lung cancer (ironic since she had quit smoking almost 20 years earlier). She and my dad travelled to St. Lucia and Barbados and Italy during the last two years of her life.
I vividly remember the day that she called to tell me that the doctor had found a spot on her lung and it might be cancer. I had just had a huge argument with my husband and he had gone upstairs to sulk. And, after I got off the phone, I was crying and I went upstairs to tell him and without even looking up, he asked me what the hell I wanted and I didn't say anything just kept crying and he finally looked up and was immediately all contrition wondering what was wrong and I told him and he just held me.
The next day, I needed to see my mum. I needed to hug her and tell her I loved her so I called my boss and told him that a personal emergency had come up and I wouldn't be in that day and I drove to my parents' house and spent the day with my mum.
My mum was diagnosed with lung cancer in August 1996. She decided that Jake (DH) and I needed to live closer to her so she gave us our inheritance from her early in order to buy a house closer to her. She actually found our first house for us. It went up for sale on the Monday and she called to tell me and that night we did a drive-by and the next day, we saw inside and that night we put our offer in on it, which was accepted. In April 1997, we moved in and now we were 3 doors down from my parents house on the opposite side of the road.
My mum lasted until November 1998. It was a long, hard battle and we all hoped that she would beat it but she didn't. I still miss her everyday especially on Mothers Day, which we often shared since I was born on May 12. She was my best friend and my biggest supporter and I loved her more than anyone in the whole wide world.