Selective memory from high in the sky…

I am a mother to my children, a daughter to my parents, so even though I am an adult, as long as my parents remain alive I will be a child. Because of this dual role, I recently became acutely aware of how what we hold close in memory may well depend on how old we were and what emotional significance the initial experience had for us at the time. What memories we hold close to our hearts as parents, may be of little relevance (or reverence) for our children, and vice versa.

I suspect if I asked my Dad what his favourite or most deep-seated memory was of me growing up, he would say my birth first and foremost. I have often heard the story of my arrival repeated by other family members. In his euphoria upon learning he had just become a Dad (remember back in the early sixties the father remained outside the delivery room waiting for the doctor to come out and announce the birth), he immediately called either his parents or my mother’s parents. When they asked: “What did she have?” My Dad’s excited reply was “A BABY!” Of course what they wanted to know was whether the baby was a boy or a girl. His reply affirms my belief that he was just as happy with my arrival as he would have been with a son.

Most parents would say that their most vivid memory was a child’s birth, especially if it is their first born, or in my father’s case, his only child. Then, the next most memorable part of my childhood years I am guessing he would say might be our trips when we spent two entire months of summer camping across Canada, or the two times we drove to California from our home in northern Alberta. Of course I do not remember my birth. I do, however, have many cherished memories from those long distance trips as well as camping trips at lakes a half hour or so drive from home, but one of my most recurring flashback memories of my Dad probably holds little space in his mind.

Not recalling exactly how old I was at the time, I do know this particular memory was definitely from the early 1970s. My Mom was not a morning person, and on weekend mornings she would sleep in as long as possible. When I was still too young to be left at home unsupervised while Mom slept, Dad would take me with him to do errands or I’d have toast and orange juice at the hotel cafe while he had Saturday coffee with other men from town. I still remember watching the advertising signs for local businesses that were attached to the clock on the cafe wall flip over and over. I spent the time mesmerized, predicting which ad would appear and flip over next.

One Sunday, our little municipal airport with its nine private airport hangers hosted a Fly-In breakfast. The event was to welcome pilots from other areas, inviting them to “Fly-In” for camaraderie with fellow pilots, check out the airport, and enjoy a pancake breakfast upon arrival. The event was also open to the general public. I assume it was a sleep in day for Mom having gone to Mass the evening before, so even though by this time I could have stayed at home with Mom, I was looking forward to having pancakes for breakfast with my Dad.

Soon after devouring my pancakes, I discovered one of my best friends arrived at the airport with her family. By this time, I also discovered plane rides could be purchased. Approaching my Dad to ask him if I might be able to go for a ride, he said sure, and did my friend and her older sister want to go too? I was overwhelmed with the possibility of the three of us girls going up for our first plane ride together. He said he would pay for all three of us; they just needed to go ask their parents if it was okay. In what seemed like two minutes flat they found their parents in the crowd and returned with the news it was a go.

My Mom was not there to voice approval or disapproval, and there were no such things as consent forms yet for such excursions, so after Dad paid the fee, all we had to do was wait for the pilot to land back on the runway, and pick our seats in the four seat plane.

The flight did not last long. I am guessing maybe 15 minutes total, including take-off, passing over St. Paul, then turning around to head back to the airport. Usually we were a chatty trio but once in the plane we were quiet, all was silent except for the constant hum of the plane. I loved seeing town from the air, the Catholic Cathedral steeple towering above everything else. The buildings, the vehicles, the streets down below were familiar to us; from above all seemed both minuscule yet magnificent. Each dog in a yard, person on the sidewalk, cow in the field, a tiny part of something bigger. We were excited to see our school, then my house, then my friend’s family farm just past the outskirts of town, as the pilot made a wide turn to return us back to earth. What a thrill it was to see our world from the sky above. On that day I thought my Dad to be generous and extravagant.

(Sadly we have no photos from that day, but here is a recent one of my Dad about 45 years later. Thanks Dad, for that first time in the sky. Love you.)

I love pizza, yoga and my Mom.

You cannot be on social media today without being reminded tomorrow is Mother’s Day in Canada. Like Christmas, Mother’s Day is not a day of celebration for everyone. For many it is a day of remembrance due to the loss of a mother, if not through death perhaps through estrangement. Sadly the reality of life is that days of celebration are not all-inclusive. Even those who are a mother themselves, or those who have a mother, may have reasons not to celebrate.

I do not take the fact I still have a mother for granted (she is nearing eighty, though without a doubt I know she’d rather I say she is just over seventy-five), but as I am reflecting upon Mother’s Day I realize I don’t think I’ve really ever told my Mom what it is I admire the most about her. Today is that day.

My Mom always told me when she finished high school she had only three choices of career: secretary, nurse, or teacher. She was not good at typing and did not want to work around blood, so her choice was obvious. Because there was a serious shortage of teachers when she graduated high school, she became as they were called back then – a “six week wonder”, attending summer school in preparation to teach a class right away in September. My Mom began teaching school in a small rural community in the late 1950s when she was just seventeen years old. She graduated high school at a young age because she had skipped a grade in school.

The fact that she took on the responsibility of teaching, and did the job well is amazing enough, but the fact she continued to do so for decades until her retirement in her mid-fifties makes it even more so. While teaching full-time she also completed her Bachelor of Education degree doing evening and summer school classes. Later in life when I discovered Mom was a life-long insomniac it boggled my mind to realize it had not been easy for her to get up early every school day, teach all day, make supper at home, then continue her own studies in the evening. She had, and continues to have incredible willpower. To me, that strength and perseverance is her most admirable characteristic.

Though some might say it was not so difficult (after all she only had one child of her own) Mom had her share of other worries during the span of her career. By the time I became a teenager, Mom had lost both her parents within a span of two years. Her Dad’s death was a long suffering one due to pancreatic cancer, and her Mom’s a sudden, unexpected one due to a smouldering house fire. Mom’s only sister (separated and with no children of her own) was diagnosed with metastasized breast cancer, surviving for years but often requiring emotional support especially during prolonged hospital stays. Mom never took a leave of absence during these difficult times but continued with her teaching responsibilities, filling familial ones in between.

Another example of Mom’s willpower was when she decided to quit smoking. She had started as a teenager. Remember, back then doctors didn’t even advise pregnant women to stop the habit, and they even smoked inside the medical clinics and hospitals. However, when it was discovered that smoking increased cancer risk, Mom signed up for a seven day smoking cessation workshop for seven consecutive nights. I was around eleven years old then; I still remember she was grumpy and short-tempered for a few days. She was successful though, she never smoked again.

Likewise, when the news reported butter was not good for you and caused high cholesterol – BOOM – Mom stopped eating butter. Mom was diagnosed with osteoporosis at quite a young age, in hindsight probably due to having undiagnosed celiac disease for years. Learning it was important to build bone density via weight-bearing exercise, she began to walk regularly and joined a Curves gym when it opened in her community. During inclement weather she walks indoors on the treadmill. Prior to Curves closing she had registered around 900 workouts, most done in her seventies. I know few people of ANY age who are so diligent with their exercise and nutrition habits as my Mom. When she decides to do something, she does it, period. Without a doubt her strong willpower has served her well. I want her to know it has not gone unobserved.

A few weeks ago I asked my Mom to read a story I’d written for a short story competition. After reading it she sent me an e-mail saying she “loved it”. I asked her to tell me what she loved about the story. It wasn’t enough for me just to hear she loved it, I wanted to know why. I wanted to know she actually loved it, and was not just saying that without reason (except for being my Mom).

We live in a world where the word “love” gets thrown around frequently. Don’t get me wrong, that IS a good thing. I love pizza and can tell you why. I already told you a few blogs ago why I love yoga. Telling someone we love them has extra meaning when we let them know exactly what it is we love about them. According to palliative care experts, at the end of life what people most want to know is that their life mattered, had some meaning, and that they were loved. I don’t think we should wait for the end of life.

I love you Mom. Now you also know one of the reasons why.

Playing Princess

princess
Fox stole, crinoline, satin and organza dresses, rhinestone jewellery, lace veil, and beaded drawstring evening bag; what more could a woman want? Or a little girl. My youngest auntie would dress me up in all this out-dated paraphernalia from some treasure chest in my grandparents’ house. I had no idea whose wardrobe and accessories these were to begin with, definitely not my grandmother’s as she was a plain dresser. I did not care; to me they were all mine! My Dad suspects they were left behind by Great-Aunt Lily who lived in California for awhile. I was only about four years old when Auntie Louise and I started this fantastical game of dress-up, but I remember bits and pieces of it to this day. To my delight, a couple of years ago my parents found photos of me in splendid bliss as “the princess” and “the bride”.

bride

This is another piece of “Bite-Size Memoir” ( memoir in 150 words – no more, no less) a writing project initiated by Lisa Reiter.

To learn more about it go to:http://sharingthestoryblog.wordpress.com/2014/06/27/bite-size-memoir-no-8-dressing-up/

Bite-Size Memoir Prompt: Childhood Illness

On my toes, a clumsy pyjama clad ballerina, neck stretched back, head tilted with mouth wide open trying to catch my balance and the bright light over the bathroom vanity long enough to see the back of my throat. Scratchy and raw for days I had an urgent need to see what was happening back there.

Finally a glimpse; crimson with tiny thickened white splotches scattered about my throat. I was eleven years old; old enough to know it was not good.

“Dad, look in the back of my throat. I think I have an infection.” I blurt out the diagnosis as I throw my head back to open wide in front of my Dad as he makes his breakfast.

“That’s just bread crumbs.”

“No it’s not. It’s infection.”

I convince my Mom to take me to the doctor, get antibiotics for strep throat, and begin my lifelong health vigilance.

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To learn more about “Bite-Size Memoir” (memoir of no more, no less than 150 words based on a weekly prompt) please visit Lisa Reiter’s blog “Sharing the Story”:

http://sharingthestoryblog.wordpress.com/2014/06/13/bite-size-memoir-no-7-childhood-illness/

 

“Jinks & Japes” – No Substitutions Please!

My bite-size memoir for week two prompt “Jinks & Japes” from Lisa Reiter’s blog is “No Substitutions Please!”

For more info about her bite-size memoir project go to: http://sharingthestoryblog.wordpress.com/2014/05/09/bite-size-memoir-no-2-jinks-and-japes/

“No Substitutions Please!”

Although hot summer days were the best for mud cookie baking, they often presented another problem. Water was needed to mix with the dirt, and if it had not rained for awhile there were no puddles available to scoop water out of. My Dad had always strictly forbidden me to touch the outside tap.

I remember being faced with the no water predicament one day. I got the idea that we could pee into the bucket. We’d use pee to mix the cookies. My friends agreed this was a brilliant idea. We hid under the back stairs out of view to empty our bladders into the sand pail. Carrying the half filled pail carefully, we proudly headed to the road to mix in the dirt; then bake on the concrete sidewalk.

When our baking was done, the little brother of Rachelle crossed the street, helping himself to a cookie. “Delicious!”

On a pot hole & a prayer!

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Being an only child, my mother tended to be rather protective of me.

I grew up in an era when people did not wear seatbelts because most vehicles did not even have them. My mother’s rule to keep me safe in a vehicle was that I must always sit in the backseat, even if there was only the driver and myself in the vehicle. I respected the rule. Even if I was going two blocks down the dusty main street with my Grandpa in his Volkswagen Beetle to the Co-op grocery store in our small prairie town, I still had to sit in the backseat as though I had my own personal taxi driver or chauffeur.

So, it came as no surprise to me that the night before, and again on the morning of my departure on an out of town car trip with my piano teacher, my Mom reminded me: “Don’t forget to sit in the backseat.” I assured her I would, as my Dad pulled our car up to the side door of the convent to drop me off at 8:30 a.m.

I was going to the music festival in Lac la Biche, with my piano teacher, a Catholic nun, as well as another nun from the convent and three other girls. We were all from the same school, all in within a grade of each other, and we all took piano lessons once a week from Sister Komery, or Sister Canary as I called her behind her back.

I think as long as I assured my Mom I would sit in the back seat, she had no other worries, being that we were travelling in a bulky, four-door dark blue Buick sedan with a nun at the wheel. How much safer could one possibly be?

All four of us girls, the two German Michelles – Meirer and Schmitt, and the French farm girl Agnes Flaubert, and I were wearing summer dresses, and white knee socks for our debut playing piano solos on the music festival stage. Neither of the nuns wore habits anymore. They were dressed in conservative wool skirts, blazers, polyester blouses with plain, but prominent crosses on chains around their necks. Both Sisters wore wigs on their heads, necessary my mom had told me, after wearing habits for so many years and not having good hair anymore.

Being experts in efficiency, the sisters quickly had us getting in to the car. Immediately I said I was willing to sit in the middle of the backseat, no one disagreed, so in I climbed to my spot. Being a large backseat of a sedan, with just three eleven year old girls in it there was plenty of room for each of us.

The back seat fabric was irritating; scratchy on the back of my legs and knees. I had a sudden longing for the soft fuzzy grey seat covers in my Dad’s car. I guess the nuns felt no need for seat protection since they rarely had children in their vehicle. They did not need to worry about some kid dropping popcorn or pop on it at the drive-in as my Dad seemed to be obsessed with.

The smallest girl, my best friend Michelle M. had been directed to sit in the front between the Sisters. She was short enough that I still had a view out the windshield over the top of her blonde head.
I could also see a small metal statue of Saint Christopher stuck on to the dashboard of the car. Saint Christopher is the saint to keep travellers safe on their journey. Dangling from the rear-view mirror was a blue-grey rosary.

Sister Komery started the motor of the car, but she did not put it in gear.

Before I could even begin to wonder what was possibly wrong, she said: “I will say a prayer for a safe trip.” Quickly but quietly, she mumbled out about a three sentence prayer in ten seconds, the only words I really caught being “Jesus. Please. Safe. Trip. Amen.”

No sooner was the “Amen” out of her mouth, Sister Komery slapped the car into gear, jammed her foot on the gas, the tires spun briefly on the gravel, then as they grabbed hold sent us flying forward in our seats and down the convent driveway towards the highway.

With the car set so quickly into motion, then the thump of it off the driveway curb onto the highway below, the rosary on the rear-view mirror was set swinging. There went the crucified Christ back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.

Sister Komery was a very fast aggressive driver, with no apparent reason for being so. We were in no danger of being late, leaving in plenty of time for the hour and half drive on the highway, which started out on pavement then turned to gravel for over half of the trip.

Once we hit the gravel road she steered back and forth attempting to dodge deep pot holes, keeping the same speed up as on the paved road.

Even though all the windows were up in the car, the vents must have been open as the dry smell of dust penetrated the interior of the car, overpowering the scent of the lavender talcum powder I had smelled on the nuns as we got in the car. I could taste dirt on my tongue, my throat was parched.
The lack of fresh air along with the constant rattle and pelt of large stones hitting the undercarriage of the car beneath me were slightly sedating.

When we would hit a pot hole directly I was jolted back to the moment. The crucified Christ dangling in front of me jumped up and down, and then He went back to swinging back and forth until the next unavoidable pot hole.

I sneaked a quick look through the rear window behind me. All I could see was dust. No road, no sky, no scenery whatsoever, just thick brown dust.

This was not how I expected a nun to drive.

In what was probably record time, we arrived at our destination. The ride back home began exactly as we began that morning, and again I watched Jesus bounce and swing all the way.

I never knew a nun could drive like a bat out of Hell. I realized I now knew where my uncle got the expression “Jumpin’ Jesus”. He must have taken piano lessons at the convent too. Amen.