Bits and bobs

Random thoughts about random things by a random person


8 Comments

Mother Mary Comforts Me

This is my mother.

Mom

This was taken at my oldest brother’s wedding on August 4, 2000. She loved that hat – she thought it was hilarious. (No…she did not wear it as part of her outfit for the day – she just wore it for this picture. ūüôā )

Her name was Mary. Mary Catherine, to be precise. The two previous girls born before her were both named Catherine and they died while still small infants. My grandmother didn’t want to chance it when Mom came along and added a “Mary” before the “Catherine”. It worked – she lived.

And she loved.

That, in fact, was her legacy.

She was a woman who loved nothing more than being a wife and a mother. When we were teenagers and able to take care of ourselves, we encouraged her to get a job. She did – at one of the mini-marts in town – but it didn’t last too long. She didn’t like it. She wanted to be home – she wanted to take care of the house and us. She absolutely loved being a housewife. I had assumed she didn’t work because she felt she¬†needed to be home when we were younger, but no. She didn’t work because she wanted to be home. Not because she was lazy, but because taking care of our home and of us was her dream job.

I was thinking about that the other day when I was mulling over some ideas for this post. For the first time I thought that our efforts to encourage her to get out of the house because we no longer “needed” her – efforts that were intended to give her the freedom to do what I, at least, assumed was what she really wanted to do – quite possibly had the opposite effect. As an adult, I now know that one of the most painful times in a mother’s life is when she realizes her children no longer “need” her. It can be quite a punch in the gut. For Mom it didn’t just happen naturally – we practically shoved it onto her. “We don’t need you anymore! You can do what you want now!” Ouch. I’m 48 and I only just clued in to how that must have sounded to her back then.¬†What she wanted was to be needed – by us – and we trashed that.

She’s been gone for over 10 years now. I miss her laugh and the way her eyes twinkled and scrunched up when she laughed. I miss her beef stew, baloney and gravy…and her bread. Oh my gosh – her bread!¬†I still long for her cool hand on my forehead when I’m sick.

She didn’t get married till she was almost 34, which in the 1960s was quite old. For Mom’s plan it was quite old, too. She said she wanted to have as many kids as her Mom did, which was 15. She and Dad had the four of us within the first five years of their marriage and she also had four miscarriages so I don’t doubt that, had she married at the more typical age of her time, she very likely would have given her mother a run for her money!

Because she was so softhearted we could pretty well wrap her around our finger so she had to make frequent use of the maternal standard of “You wait till your father gets home!” She was also, to me, the more fun parent. Dad was the more serious one in the family, which was probably needed. His oft-used refrain was, “Mary, you’re worse than the youngsters!” Two memories I have that would have elicited that response were an ice cube fight when I was still in junior high or high school and then a shaving cream fight when I was in university. On both occasions, there was running and screaming and it was messy, but it was also funny and fun.

I’m so grateful for those memories.

I didn’t really get to know my mother as an adult. I had moved away by my early 20s. I visited for a couple of weeks every couple of years, but that’s not the same. As I talked about in a previous post, I had a year with Dad after I had moved back to Newfoundland in 2007, but by then Mom was already in a nursing home with Alzheimer’s (the reason for my move). It had been coming on for several years before it hit a critical point and she had to go into a nursing home in early 2006.

The first time I saw her when I got home that September, she looked at me with a mixture of confusion and curiosity. “You looks some familiar to me…,” she said, the question hanging at the end of her statement.

“I should,” I replied, ignoring the unintentional sting of being forgotten and forcing a laughing lightness into my voice, “I’m your daughter!”

Her eyes brightened and a smile filled her face. “Jesus, Mary and Joseph!” she exclaimed, looking at the others sitting nearby. “That’s my daughter! Home from Alberta!”

She never forgot me again.

Over the next four months before she passed, we had lots of visits. Most times, the visits were at the nursing home, but sometimes I would take her for a drive in and around the city and to visit some friends and family. Inevitably, though, she would become anxious after only about an hour or so and want to go back to her “apartment”.

But Mom wasn’t really there. So much of who she was had already disappeared and more was lost as the weeks moved on. But I’m still grateful for that time that we had.¬† I can’t imagine my life now without those four months in it.

This post, however, isn’t about her passing. It’s about her birthday. Today is one of them.

Growing up, we all thought Mom was born on July 4, 1934. We teased her sometimes about being a cradle robber, as she was two years older than Dad – also quite unusual at that time. Then in the early 1990s, she had to get a copy of her birth certificate for something and when she got it, it turned out that she was actually born on July 12, 1933! 51 weeks older than she thought she was and, obviously, an extra older than Dad. It was funny and there was more teasing.

Despite what that little piece of paper says, it’s always felt more natural to celebrate her birthday on July 4, so that’s why I’m writing this today.

For Mary Catherine Cove (nee Turpin), b. July 12, 1934, d. January 8, 2008.

My mother.

Mom, where she best liked to be - the centre of our family

This is our family at my oldest brother’s wedding (the guy to Mom’s left) in August 2000.


2 Comments

And then there were four…

There’s a scene in My Big Fat Greek Wedding where Toula tells Ian about her huge Greek family. She says:

So, you have two cousins. I have 27 first cousins. Just 27 first cousins alone!

(Watch this 5-second clip to see how emphatic she is about it.)

My immediate thought when I heard that was, “27? Big whoop.” You see, there are 73 of us first cousins in my family, including me and my 3 brothers. Yup – 73. And no,¬†we’re not Greek. ūüėČ

Now, you might be thinking that to get that many first cousins, there have to be a lot of aunts and uncles, right? And you would be correct, but maybe there were not as many as you might think, since most of them had pretty large families themselves.

There were¬†7 siblings in Dad’s family (3 of whom died young) and 15 in Mom’s (4 of whom died young). All who lived to adulthood, except one, married, and all¬†who married, except one, had children. So that’s 13 aunts and uncles (plus their spouses)¬†who had families of their own,¬†with a total of 73 kids¬†– that’s an average of 5.6 kids each!

I thought that was normal.¬†It¬†wasn’t until¬†later, discussing that part of the movie with friends,¬†that I realized that my situation was actually the unusual one.

That said, I didn’t actually know most of¬†my cousins on Mom’s side.¬† Geography separated me from most of them, as they were scattered across the province and country.¬†Travel was very expensive back then and with the (obviously) large families everyone had, getting to visit with each other was not feasible.¬†Everything I knew about those cousins¬†came from¬†occasional photographs, wedding announcements, and so on.

Then there were those who grew up in the same town I did, but from whom I was separated by age.¬†Mom was one of the youngest of her siblings and she didn’t marry until the (then)¬†ripe old¬†age of 34. Her older siblings’ kids then, were much older than I was and had grown up and moved away by the time I was old enough to really get to know them.¬†Most visited, though, for holidays and such, so there was still at least a closeness that we didn’t have with those who lived far away.

With Dad’s family it was somewhat different. There were still cousins on his side who were much older¬†so that was still a bit of a challenge. But, while none of them lived in the same town where I grew up, they lived only a four- or five-hour drive away in or near the capital city of St. John’s.¬†As such, we were able to visit them more regularly, especially as the highways improved.

Because of all of that,¬†there were only two first cousins I actually grew up with. Out of 69, there were only¬†two that I grew up with. Huh – I hadn’t thought about it in that way before! Bizarre.

Now, back to the aunts and uncles and the reason for today’s post.

Mom’s oldest brother, Roche,¬†died (before I was born) of the industrial disease that left a couple of generations of families in the town I grew up in fatherless.¬†When I was born, then, I had 26¬†living aunts and uncles (in-laws included). I’m now 48, so it’s no shock that, over the years, that number has dwindled.

Yesterday, I¬†went to Burlington, ON¬†for a memorial service for Aunt Nora, one of Mom’s sisters, who passed away last Sunday. She had moved back to Newfoundland for a short time in the late 1990s or early 2000s which enabled me¬†to get to know her when I went home to visit Mom and Dad. We had kept in touch after she moved back to Ontario through phone calls and letters, as well as a visit a couple of years ago. She was funny and I had enjoyed getting to know her – I remember her with a ready smile and her fingers putting in her pin curls with a magical speed.¬†¬†I was saddened by her loss and very glad to be able to go to the service.

While¬†I was there, I reflected that of all of the blood-related aunts and uncles alive at the time of my birth, there are now¬†only 4¬†left: Mom’s sister Flo,¬†her brother Vic, and¬†Dad’s sisters Lucy and Rita. It seems like one minute they were all there and now they are gone.

I couldn’t help but think in particular of Uncle Vic and Aunt Flo – of the 15 children their mother bore, with Aunt Nora’s passing, they are now the last two. Even though they haven’t physically been around all of their siblings for much of their lives, there must¬†have been¬†some comfort in knowing they were there – knowing they could pick up the phone, or before cheap long-distance rates, pick up a pen and jot down a few lines.

I realize that that’s the case with all loss – we can’t just pick up the phone or the pen anymore –¬†I feel it with both my parents being gone. But, for Aunt Flo and Uncle Vic, I have this image of a large family photo where most of the faces have faded and theirs are the only two distinct images left; the others are more like ghostly impressions than actual images. It must be a strange sensation.

Or maybe not.

We all deal with death and loss in our own ways and, because they’ve dealt with the deaths of their siblings literally throughout their entire lives, maybe it’s not as impactful as I think it might be.

I should have some sort of clear conclusion here before I end, but I don’t. I haven’t reached a conclusion on this one. It has, however, given me something to really think about.

Thanks to www.wordle.net for the word bubble image of our family names (aunts, uncles, cousins).

 


9 Comments

So glad I said yes

In 2007 I decided to move from Calgary, Alberta back to St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador. I sold most of my things and shipped a bunch of what I wanted to keep. The rest was packed into the hatch and back seat of my cute little blue Chevrolet Optra, that I had named Angel.

When I told my Dad that I was going to be driving across the continent, he brought up the idea of flying up to Calgary to drive back with me.

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I need to tell you that my initial reaction was less than enthusiastic. Well, to Dad I was all “Yeah, that would be great!!” but inside there was a bit of a battle. On the one hand, it would have been nice. But, on the other…

In case you aren’t aware, that trip is over 6,000 km. That’s a long haul. The most time Dad and I had spent together, just the two of us, before then was probably…hmmm… I don’t really know. When I was around 8 he took me with him for about a week when he had to travel for work. I (maybe we?) stayed with one of his sisters so it was really only the travel time that we had together. The drive was about 5 hours, so both ways that was about 10 hours we had for just the two of us. Since I was 8 at the time, I doubt there was much scintillating conversation whereby we learned a lot from each other. Other than that, for the rest of my life, it was maybe only an hour here or there when we spent time alone together.

So the first concern I had was: What on this little green planet are we going to talk about for six thousand kilometres??? That wasn’t a huge concern – both Dad and I have been blessed with the gift of gab, so it wasn’t too likely there would be many moments of silence, certainly not at the beginning. But what about the rest of the trip?

My next and bigger concern was the fact that Dad was a smoker. I mean a chimney. Two packs a day, easy. It was not uncommon for him to light his next cigarette off the one he was just finishing up. Assuming he slept for 8 hours a day, that left 16 hours for smoking. At 20 cigarettes per pack, that is 40 cigarettes per day. 40 cigarettes divided by 16 hours is 2.5 cigarettes per hour. Dad wasn’t a whip-out-the-cigarette-and-have-it-gone-in-two-deep-inhales kinda guy. He enjoyed his cigarettes. But I’m not sure how long each one lasted with him. I knew, though, that it was a while.

Since there would be no smoking in my car, I had visions of having to stop for 10 minutes every half hour the whole way across. We’d either never get there or I’d pitch him into the middle of one of the plentiful endless prairie fields or into one of the Great Lakes along the way. Neither was a very good option.

As such, when he said he would let me know for sure later on, the “I just wanna get home” part of me hoped he’d decide not to come. Of course, there was the other part of me that told me I was selfish and this would be a great chance to spend some time together – my first time as an adult to really get to know him.

I didn’t know which side I wanted to win.

When he still hadn’t made up his mind about two weeks before I was due to leave, I thought I was in the clear. It would be too expensive to get a last-minute flight in August so that would be that. Fair enough.

Then he called a few days later and said he was coming. D’oh. OK…time to switch gears!

In my next post I’ll tell you more about the trip itself. It really was amazing.

But that’s not what’s important for today. The important part for today is that in October 2008 my Dad passed away from lung cancer. I had no idea when we set off from Calgary on August 24, 2007 that this would be the one and only trip Dad and I would ever take, that it would become an absolutely treasured memory.

I’m so glad that I didn’t try to dissuade him. I’m so glad that he decided to come. I often look at the pictures from that trip and feel so very grateful and blessed to have had that time with him. I absolutely cannot imagine a version of my life where I didn’t.

 

If you have any such opportunities to spend time with people you love, take advantage of them. Enjoy them in the moment and cherish them when they are just memories.

Note: Dad didn’t actually request to stop that often. In fact, there were very few stops just so he could have a cigarette. Most were for potty breaks, gas or for meals. Here are a couple of our break stops.

Dad and Lobby having a snack in Moose Jaw

A quick stop in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. The stuffed lobster belonged to a colleague. I kidnapped him so I could take pictures of him along the way.

Dad sipping a cool beverage in New York State

Papa enjoying a sodie pop in upstate New York.

Cape Breton Dad

A smoke break on Cape Breton Island. Beauty of a day!!