“But she should be acknowledged by the man who made her a mother,” I’d answer.
Of course he was only pretending to sound like a bigot just to get a rise out of me, but even still, nothing changed. It was the same thing every year: no Mother’s day card or flowers from Dad. I was more upset about it than she was. In fact, it didn’t faze her at all. She understood where he was coming from (on this point anyway) and often stated that she’d be perfectly happy with a fistful of dandelions and a homemade card from her kids.
My parents were from a completely different generation. A different world, almost. They’d grown up during the Depression and had witnessed and experienced all kinds of hardship, and had very definite ideas about the way the world should work. They viewed Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, even Valentines’, as a marketing ploy and believed that the true sentiment at the heart of these occasions was being drowned out by consumerism.
Latterly, however, they would go along with Mother’s and Father’s Day festivities, dinners out and such, but my brother and I were convinced they were doing it just to humour us. And, yes, when Father’s Day rolled around there was always a store bought card from Mum on the mantelpiece.
After I moved out, my mother and I would sometimes meet in town for breakfast before I went to work, and we’d have the oddest discussions. Stream of Consciousness conversations about the length of my bangs (too long), the price of canned milk, or the little rubber seal around refrigerator doors and whether fridges should open on the left or the right, and why, indeed, anyone should be allowed the option.
When my parents retired, I’d drop by the house for coffee practically every day. Occasionally my mother was stretched out on the couch reading a novel. Something I hadn’t seen when I was a child. I loved her Margaret Laurence days. We communicated on another level then. She didn’t fuss about my hair style, or lack thereof, or worry about the state of my fridge.
Mum had been too busy for fiction when I was little. Lord knows, back then, none of us lifted a finger to help around the house. She’d haul out the vacuum and leave it lying in the dining room for days, as if she was waiting for a miracle: for one of us to take the hint. But, in those days, there was a greater chance that Flower Fairies would appear and do the vacuuming, or the house would summon the vacuum to life and it would magically propel itself around the place.
When talking about herself, my mother used to say she didn’t recognize the old lady she’d see in the mirror. That she didn’t feel as old and decrepit as she looked. These were her words, not mine. To me she was beautiful. Her laugh, her smile would light up the place.
She could find the humour in just about any situation. Sometimes when we were in the middle of an argument she’d suddenly see the absurdity of it all and start giggling, which was infectious.
She was psychic, too, and had an uncanny ability to phone right in the middle of some minor crisis or another. If I had just slammed my finger in the front door, for instance, the phone would ring and it would be Mum, and she’d say something random, yet spookily on topic like, “You know… today’s paper says there’s a sale on Band-Aids at the drugstore. You should put Band-Aids on your shopping list.” Sometimes I’d pick up the phone to call her, and she’d be there on the line already, without me even having to dial.
In the evening after Mum’s funeral, around the time she’d normally call, a neighbour came to the door to express his condolences. Then he started asking personal questions: whether or not she’d had a pension and how she’d been ‘set up’. Some pretty cheeky stuff that he wouldn’t have dared to ask when she was alive. I was just trying to figure out how to politely turn him away when the phone rang.
“Oh, oh, gotta go! We’re expecting long distance,” I lied, and closed the door.
In the meantime, my daughter grabbed the phone. There was no one on the line: all she heard was static.
“It’s Granny!” she said. Long distance, alright.
I expected to dream of my mother in the months and years after she died. I wanted her to come to me and say something prophetic, but nothing happened. Then, on the morning of my 50th birthday, I was lying in bed half asleep, thinking about getting up to make breakfast, and I had a kind of visitation from her. In my mind’s eye, I saw one of her old button-up house dresses hanging in the kitchen. It occurred to me that it would make a great painting smock (something I never use), and I took her dress off the hanger and put it on. I was instantly enveloped by her. Her scent, her warmth and essence washed over me, and then she was gone.
“Untitled” © Tom Blackwood c.1960
“Dandelions” © Margaret Blackwood