Sunday, 20 March 2016

The Mother You Never Had

Today would have been my aunt's birthday.

Your mom and your aunt have the same parents. They share a whole bunch of the same genes. They grew up in the same house in the same era with the same values and traditions. They have the same grandparents and uncles and aunts and cousins and family friends. Your aunt is as close to being your mom as a person could be.

In a way, she is the mother you never had.

My mom and my aunt were very different. My aunt was outgoing and my mom was shy. 

My aunt married young and mine married old. 

My mom had two university degrees and my aunt didn't get one until she was in her sixties. 

My aunt gave birth to eight kids, my mom just two. 

My aunt married a local man and never moved far away. She lived in the same house virtually all her life while my mom married a city man and lived in a bunch of different places. 

My aunt was introspective. My mom was not.

They must have been best friends as kids, two little girls moving from town to town as their dad was transferred from one bank to another during the depression. They said they were considered different from the other little girls in the little towns. They were proud of the fact they wore their hair bobbed and had modern flapper dresses from "back east" or original outfits exquisitely tailored by their inventive mother. 

My aunt was an artist. She created this linoblock print called "Sisters."

She wrote: I see my sister and me walking on the prairie-flat prairie. I don't remember where. Were we walking home or were we leaving the small prairie town for a new life in the city? At any rate, when I drew the pair of us and looked at it, there she was, a step ahead, as usual.

My sister was younger, small, frail but she was always that one step ahead. She ran faster and climbed higher and wasn't afraid of anything.  I was supposed to take care of her. How can you take care of someone who is always one step ahead?

My mom said it was just a picture.

They competed, well into their old age. Every once in awhile one of them would throw some deep-seated resentment back at the other. 

"You were always the smart one." 

"You were always the popular one." 

Aunty Peggy and my mom

It seemed funny in a way. Two retired ladies who harboured old grudges. Ladies who brought up things from their past that should have been long forgotten. At least I might have thought it was funny if I hadn't seen the same competitiveness with my own siblings. With my own kids. The kind of competition that only siblings can have.

I spent quite a bit of time with my aunt. She was not only my aunt but also my godmother. She gave me cool gifts on my birthday, things my mom wouldn't have known I would like. When she died she left a box of things for me and my siblings. She said we would understand why she gave us various ornaments from around her house. When my cousin gave me the box, she shrugged, "I don't know why she picked these things for you. She said  you would know." And I can't put my finger on it, but each thing was perfect. Meaningful to each of us.

I could talk to her about things my mom didn't understand. Maybe that's normal with mothers and daughters but I thought she "got me" in ways my mom never did. Once I sent her a birthday card with a poem on it that she said made her cry all day. My mom read it and wondered why that would make anybody cry. 

My aunt gave me the idea that it was okay to be different, because she was like my mom but not like her at the same time. Just as I am.

Obviously if your mom wasn't your mom, she wouldn't have married your dad and you wouldn't be you. But sometimes I wonder.

It's of the weird thoughts that floats around in my head. Like what if the world turned upside down and you had to live on the ceiling.

Peggy, Janet and their aunt Isabel Perry at the Red Willow.

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Ladies Entrance

Yours truly, grade 2
Canalta Elementary School. That's where I started school. A low-slung brick building at the edge of town where girls and boys had separate entrances via separate but identical boot-rooms. That's just the way it was and no one thought anything of it. 

Everybody wore boots to school through the eight months of winter and the muddy spring that followed. You took your boots off at the door and put them in your cubby and went to the classroom where you hung your coat on a hook at the back. 

One time my new white overshoes were stolen and a pair of old boots with holes were left in their place. I was traumatized.  It was the first time I ever felt I had been wronged. I refused to wear the old boots and my mom walked over to the school to get me. She told me someone poor had taken my boots. I didn't know what being poor meant. My mom said I shouldn't be mad because that little girl's parents couldn't afford new boots. I knew who had taken my boots. I didn't think she was poor. But I know she wore the same dress on picture day every year and her mom was a secretary. That seemed exotic to me.  None of the other moms I knew worked outside the home. Including my mom with her two university degrees.

Grade Two. I  was shy. I was a dreamer. Mrs. Teeple was our teacher. She was five feet tall and very stout. Kids sang songs about her. I laughed at the songs. I knew they were mean. I liked Mrs. Teeple and her big heart but I wanted to fit in. She grouped for instruction. She doled out rewards and punishments. She slammed the long ruler down on Joey Alsop's desk when he wasn't paying attention. I stopped dreaming and started paying attention. I didn't want that ruler to smash onto my desk. There were 42 kids in Mrs. Teeple's class. 

Recess was wild. Boys chased girls. Girls chased boys. We defended the 'hill'- a mound of dirt in the playground. On snowy spring days we were warned there were to be NO SNOWBALL FIGHTS.  

Melting snow resulted in a massive free-for-all on the playground, especially on the hill. 'No snowball fights' was really more of a suggestion than a rule. The real rule was 'no iceballs'. One day Brent Rose got hit in the face with an iceball by Donnie Smith. There was blood.  Donnie was a little shit who I never forgave for calling me 'Hartfart'-a play on my surname. 

We lined up to enter the school. We knew there would be trouble. Mrs.Teeple stood at the far side of the boys' boot room. She looked grim.

"Line up. Single File. Now bend over."  

Every boy got a single smack across the behind with the pointer. Laurie Kidd cried. The girls took off their boots and and quietly went to the classroom. Some smirked and laughed because Laurie Kidd was being a baby. I felt bad for the boys who hadn't been throwing iceballs. It didn't seem right they were getting hit. I didn't know if I should feel relieved for not getting smacked or guilty because I should have been smacked. But I was a girl. Girls didn't get smacked. That's just the way it was.

* **

The other day my husband and I had lunch with my mother-in-law at the renovated Alberta Hotel. We talked about the past of that historic building. "Can you imagine," Louise said over her glass of wine. "Once there was a time there was a separate entrance for 'ladies and escorts' at every tavern?" 

Windsor Hotel, Dawson Creek.
Ladies entrance on the right
In Dawson Creek, the Windsor Hotel and the Dawson Creek Hotel both had separate entrance-ways, one for men, one for Ladies and Escorts. That confused me. What were "escorts?" What if you didn't have a male friend? Did you have to stay home? My mom's expression when we passed the bar entrance told me it didn't matter that she couldn't go in. Ladies like my mom and Mrs.Teeple did not go to the bar.

A lot has changed since my days at Canalta. Kids don't get smacked by teachers. 42 kids in a grade two classroom is unheard of. Rewards and punishments are dished out regardless of gender. Boys and girls and men and women enter and leave by the same door in schools and bars and virtually everywhere. 

Even bathrooms.  

Monday, 7 March 2016

Get in the Game

When I was in high school, our indoor arena was condemned due to structural problems.  All that exceptionally cold winter, we had to skate outside.

I coached figure skating in the afternoon. I taught both boys and girls how to skate forwards and backwards. How to turn on a dime. How to stop. Quite a few would-be hockey players took lessons with the Mile Zero Figure Skating Club, including Phil Sykes and Danny Brennan who were two of the only three Dawson Creek kids to ever make the NHL.

Mile Zero Figure Skating Club
Right after figure skating was minor hockey. As I waited for my mom to pick me up, I would watch the beginners, mostly five and six year old boys. 

They did not take lessons on how to skate or handle a stick or pass the puck. They went straight into playing the game, most of them leaning on their sticks for support or falling over. The one or two kids who could skate dominated, leaving the rest out of the action with their dads calling kids names and yelling "Take him out! Knock him down! Take the man!" There were several pathetic little scuffles every game, with enthusiastic support from the parents in the stands. 

It was the worst hockey I have ever seen. In fact, I wouldn't even call it hockey. Little kids being told to take other little kids out, just because they couldn't actually skate or handle the puck? Sad. 

I couldn't help but think that if their parents had enrolled those boys in figure skating for a year, they would now be able to skate and could concentrate on mastering actual hockey skills like how to handle a stick or how to pass or shoot a puck. 

Maybe then they would have scored some goals. 

Maybe they could be the ones getting near the net instead of feebly throwing in some punches with their scrawny six year old arms. 

Fast forward to today in politics. I see the big boys sitting on their fat asses telling the little guys to scrap it out on the sidelines, while those who have invested in learning something are controlling the play. I see the unskilled trying to content themselves fighting little battles instead of winning games. I hear name calling and insults. Maybe throwing a punch or two gives them some satisfaction. I have no idea. But it seems to me if you want to win, you need to actual make some points.

Get in the game, kids. 

You want to make a change in how things are done, learn how the game is played. And then play it. Otherwise you're just flailing away with your puny arms and your dumb insults accomplishing nothing. 

Thursday, 3 March 2016

Today You Wait

You send a text to your mom.

"It's today."

That's code telling her she is supposed to send you jokes all day.

Because today is the day you've been dreading. 

You know it's coming. 

What you don't know is if it's going to be you. 

The day you're told to sit in your office until it's all over. A day of waiting for that knock on the door, that phone call, that email, that meeting request. The day you get escorted out with your box of stuff. Or just escorted out with nothing. Or you're left behind with your guilt as your friends and co-workers disappear one by one. 

The day you find out if you're still employed. 

Today is the day.

Tomorrow will be another day.

Tomorrow will be the day you check your bank account and break your lease and cash in your RRSPs and figure out where the heck you're going to live. Or hold your breath waiting for another "reorganization."

But today. 

Today you wait.