Troy Media – by Catherine Ford
It was 8 a.m., just north of Red Deer on Highway 2, when a Mountie pulled over my father’s 1953 maroon Meteor.
I was 10, Dad was 38 and he was definitely speeding. The officer wanted to know where we were going in such a hurry so early on a Monday morning. Dad replied he was trying to get his daughter to school in Edmonton. As he wrote the ticket, the Mountie asked where we had come from.
“My mother’s funeral,” Dad replied.
I watched in amazement as the cop tore the ticket into pieces. “I’m sorry,” the young policeman said. “Just take it a bit slower.”
We had, indeed, been in Calgary because my grandmother, Kate Ford, had died at the now-young age of 73. Dad said to me that one never knows what loss is until one’s mother dies. I was too young to appreciate what he was saying; too young to envisage my own mother’s death.
I now understand.
So today – as with every annual Mother’s Day since 2008 – is set aside for memories and maybe, even as I write this, a tear.
Perhaps it’s different for those with children and grandchildren. Maybe Mother’s Day with your own children somehow masks some of the loss. The closest I’ve come to that kind of parent-child relationship is by proxy – four step-daughters, one of whom used to delight in sending me “evil stepmother” cards on Mother’s Day, signed “your wicked stepdaughter.” I was delighted. Alas, it happened rarely and now, not at all. I am not, after all, any of their mothers.
This is not to be taken as a sign of self-pity: my state is by choice, not chance. This reflection is meant to be taken as a message that Mother’s Day can be tinged with sadness, even as it is the second busiest holiday for flower sales. (The first is Christmas; the third, Valentine’s Day.)
The enforced and sometimes false happiness surrounding Mother’s Day is a curious combination of love, guilt and the pressure from relentless advertising. Men who cannot remember their own wedding anniversary never forget Mother’s Day, mostly because their children drag them into the plot of “what to get” their mother as a gift in honour of the day. Breakfast in bed seems to be a popular choice for advertisers and comic strips alike. None of the scenes of a smiling woman, hair carefully coiffed, make-up perfect, being served a fancy breakfast on a tray – complete with a single rose in a bud vase – actually reflects the truth: breakfast in bed is a nice gesture, but impractical and usually inedible. Toast crumbs between the sheets are a certainty; egg yolk on one’s nightie a possibility. Maybe one of the best presents today would be the chance to sleep in without disturbance.
I did not spend nearly enough time with my mother in her last years and I have no excuse other than fury – where had the woman whom I loved vanished, to be replaced by the ghost of the vital Margaret Ford, embedded in a frail body and failing mind? As my brother said at her funeral, she became: “a kind of little old lady substitute.” He described our mother thusly: “I’ve heard some of the wonderful nurses from that hospital describe our mother as nice and sweet. Mother was a lot of things, and she had a lot of great qualities, but when she was in her prime, and a force to be reckoned with, the adjectives ‘nice’ and ‘sweet’ were not the ones that came to mind. Our mother was smart, tough, brave, funny, absolutely unshakable in any crisis . . . and always available to her children, whatever the problem.”.
I look in the mirror this Mother’s Day and see, not my mother, but my father’s sister. Yet Mother creeps up on me at odd moments – in a gesture or an attitude.
William Shakespeare wrote about mothers and daughters: “Thou art thy mother’s glass and she in thee/ Calls back the lovely April of her prime.” I do not look like my mother, I don’t reflect her beauty, but I hope I reflect in my heart some of the qualities my brother listed.
As Luise Eichenbaum and Susie Orbach wrote about a daughter’s relationship with her mother, the emotional legacy lives inside. That legacy ”is etched in the deepest recesses of our hearts. It is the guide and foundation for our future relationships. It sets up needs, ways of being, ways of loving, expectations and hopes.”
All I can say is: “thanks, Mom.”