My mother’s dead. Let’s get that out of the way. She died in November of 2012, more than a month before the world was supposed to end. Remember? That stupid Mayan Prophecy thing, that world would end in December of that year? Yeah, well. My world ended a month and a half early.
My mom was awesome, AWESOME. She was the smartest, funniest person I ever met. Anyone who says “Women aren’t funny” obviously never met my mom. She was hilarious and feisty and as much as I’d like to say “she was never cruel”, that’s just not true. She could be more cruel than any villain, real or fictional, and it would hurt all the worse because I knew that she loved me but that I had disappointed her so badly, I practically forced her hand. In fact, she never physically disciplined me at all. She could do it with a look or her tone of voice. When my mother was disappointed (which was often, far too often), the temperature in the room immediately dropped by forty degrees and every heart sank into the pit of every stomach, all because of a sigh or the way she shook her head.
My mom always used to talk to people in line, a “tradition” I carry on to this day.* I once met legendary country singer Tommy Hunter while we were waiting in line for ice-cream because my mom turned around and said “Are you Tommy Hunter?” Turns out he was! I think I was four.
*I was in line at the grocery store today, buying a loaf of bread and, coincidentally, ice cream. The lady behind me in line had a package of liver (*shudder*) and a cake. Me, her, the lady behind her, the guy ahead of me in line and the cashier all had a good laugh about the juxtaposition of items and the combinations to be made thereof. My mom woulda liked that.
My mom took me and my friend Mark to see Star Wars in 1977. According to my birth certificate at the time, I was seven years old and Mark was five and not yet literate so at the massive credit crawl started, after the resounding crescendo that begins Star Wars (I refuse to call it Episode Four or A New Hope, it’s Star Wars, go fuck yourself, fan-boy), my mom had to scrunch down in her seat and whisper-narrate to Mark, as he could not yet read it himself. “It was a dark time for the Rebel Alliance …” she began and he piped up “WHAT’S A REBEL ALLIANCE?!” in the way that only a five-year old boy can. It didn’t get much better from there but once the movie started, we all (naturally) thoroughly enjoyed it.
On the subway home, I bounced around the subway car, re-enacting light-saber battles and clowning like Harrison Ford in a rare public display of youthful exuberance. This was normal in the summer of 1977. Everybody was talking about Star Wars.
Anyway, there was a guy strap-hanging near us, watching my performance (and in creepy retrospect, probably checking out my mom. I know. Ew.). My mom asked Mark, who had been quiet up till then, what his favourite part of the movie was. He thought for a minute and said, after careful consideration, “I like the … boogie.” The guy started laughing. My mom corrected Mark and said “You mean the wookie.” The guy laughed even harder, as the train pulled into the station. The guy says like this – “Don’t worry, kid. I like the boogie, too.” And he got off the train. My mom dined out on that story for years.
My mom loved Die Hard, the original Die Hard. I have no idea why. She loved New York City. She loved New Orleans and Richmond, Virginia and San Francisco, California. When she was a teenager, she went to visit her “aunt” (who was five years older than her) in Washington, D.C. It was raining and she got on a bus she thought would take her where she needed to go. She got on the bus and the bus didn’t move because the driver kept saying “Lady? … Lady? … Lady?”, until she realized he was talking to her. “Are you sure this is the bus you wanna take?” he asked. “Does it go to so-and-so?” she asked. “Yeah, but,” said the driver, “look around you.”
It was a ‘coloured’ bus. Everyone on it was black. And they were all looking at her with amazement. Why did you get on the ‘coloured’ bus, White Lady?
“You sure you wanna take this bus, lady? Or wait for the next one?”
She said “Oh. Well, it’s raining and I’m from Canada so if it’s all the same to you, I’d prefer to take this bus, yes.” None of the passengers objected and quite a few of them shook her hand. Her great-grandfather had been involved in the Underground Railroad, a fact of which I am eternally proud.
She hated bigots and bullies. She loved animals. She was kind to people, in a way I can’t imagine until after I’ve done it. If I see a woman with a stroller confronting a flight of stairs, I can’t help but help because that’s the way one should conduct oneself. One helps the less fortunate. Be that one. She taught me that. And if she ever taught me one thing at all (and she taught me everything), it’s that.
She was the World’s Best Baker. She taught me how to cook. She taught me to be fearless in a kitchen, not because she was always perfect but because she took chances and when they didn’t work? “You only have to eat it once.”
She could read when she was three years old and so could I. I presented her with a book called “What I’m Going To Do Next Saturday” and pronounced “I can read this, you know”. And she said “Fine! Read it to me, then.”, calling my bluff. When I finished the last page, after managing not to mispronounce words like ‘spaghetti’, ‘the United States Marine Corps’ and ‘evidently’, she smiled and told me to go play outside for a while.
That night, she told my dad when he got home from work ~ “Guess what? He can read. He’s THREE.” My dad, ever the skeptic, didn’t believe her until her saw it with his own eyes.
She survived lung cancer. When she was diagnosed, the doctor brought her in and said “Sit down. I have some bad news. You have lung cancer.” My mom said “Oh, thank God. I thought it was tuberculosis.” Then the doctor had to sit down, as she had never had a patient react in that way. My mom lived for 12 years after that, which is pretty good, when you consider they excised a tumour the size of a dime from one of her lungs.
I miss you, Mom. I miss you every day, every minute of every day. I can remember still what your voice sounded like and your laugh and your eyes. And every once in a while, I get a whiff of your scent or when you visit me in a dream, I remember how much I will never forget how much I love you, still.
Happy Mother’s Day.