When I think of my mother, I think of creosote and oxtail soup first. These are the items she brought to my first apartment in Toronto when I was twenty and living with my boyfriend. Creosote to clean the apartment with and ensure there were no bugs; oxtail soup because we had very little money and she wanted to make sure we had something to eat. Let me tell you that soup sustained us over a cold winter.
I’m not going to pretend that I had some sort of idyllic family life. When I was growing up, my mother spent a lot of time and energy trying to deal with my father’s moods and issues. He was a difficult man. As I grew to adulthood, I increasingly resented my mother for not leaving him and trying to placate him instead. I didn’t see her as independent because she refused to leave him, when she seemed capable, competent and strong. I didn’t value these aspects of her at all, I’m afraid. Nor did I value how hard she worked to ensure peace in the family. Instead I distanced myself from blood family because I couldn’t handle the way stories were revised to gloss over heated arguments and high emotions, alcohol battles and depression.
It wasn’t until the last eight years when we began a correspondence that I had the chance to become better acquainted with my mother as a friend. I learned that she loved to dance and socialize. She also loved to walk, which is something we share. She confided in me. I would say that by the end of her life, we were friends. I’m glad of it.
If my mother taught me anything, I suppose, it was to be a realist and to prepare for the worst. When I asked if Santa Claus was real she said that my parents had to pay for everything but he delivered the presents. I saw her shoulder the burden when my father grew ill and they lived in an isolated town up north. There were many things she simply accepted as the way life had to be. She ate black toast at four in the mourning before her factory job. At the end of her life, she said that she had a good life. I admit that I didn’t always know about the good when I was growing up, so I’m glad she managed to find some joy.
The thing I most admire about my mother is that she combatted adversity ferociously. In this life, you have to be tough and you have to fight to protect your loved ones and yourself from ogres and bastards. You have to love fiercely and find joy where you can.
My mother died on December 22, 2017 at 85 in Brantford, Ontario.