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.

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