It has been ten long years since I threw my arms around Mom on Mother’s Day and gave her a hug and a kiss, then thanked her for being my mom, but, truth be told, I didn’t only do this on the day that we honor our mothers. I think about her every day and not just because I see the many photos lined up on the fireplace mantel, or positioned just so on the dresser or bureau. Mom imparted a lot of wisdom to me over the years and taught me right from wrong and for that I am blessed.
Above is the first photo of Mom and me, the day she brought me home from the hospital. What was she thinking with the faraway look in her eyes and clutching onto me for dear life?
This is the last photo taken of the two of us.
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
My mom had a tough life and endured many hardships. I only wish I could be half the woman she ever was. Growing up and to adulthood, I looked exactly like my father – same straight and mousy-brown hair, eyeglasses … “mirror images” people would say.
But the similarities stopped there.
I got my mother’s disposition, virtues and her smile … I rejoice for that.
Although I recently joked about our housecleaning squabbles, (and sometimes our arguments weren’t nice, as I did my share of protesting about the “unfairness” of keeping the house immaculate and “white-glove perfect”), only now do I realize it was merely an exercise in asserting our respective viewpoints. As you know, it is important in every relationship that each person is entitled to their own opinion. Yes, life isn’t fair sometimes, but you have to learn not to sweat the small stuff. That is easier said than done sometimes and I often struggle as I often sweat the small stuff.
Life was not fair for my mom from an early age. In 1937, at age eleven, she was hit by a car, an accident that would plague her the rest of her days on earth. She spent four years in Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children, some of that time in a body cast.
Mom was just a schoolgirl …
… on her way home from school, when she was hit by a soldier on leave, after darting in between two parked cars. He didn’t see her, but heard her scream, then rushed her to a nearby doctor’s office and my grandparents were called. This car had headlights that rose out of the grille and were the same height as Mom’s chest, so several of her ribs were broken. The doctor taped up the broken ribs and young Pauline received a scolding from her mother for tearing her leotards and her parents having to miss work. The soldier offered to buy new stockings and he paid for the doctor’s visit. His insurance company was in touch with my grandmother and asked her to sign a form that no serious medical mishap had happened, which she willingly signed.
However, unfortunately the story doesn’t end there.
At that time of the accident my mother had a minor ear infection. She was not running a fever, had no other ailments associated with the ear infection, so, rather than take her to the doctor, my grandmother plugged up her ear with a wad of cotton batting. Almost two months later, the ear infection that was present in her body, plus the broken ribs, became problematic when an infection set in on the still-healing bones. This caused osteomyelitis (infection of the bone). Mom woke up one morning with a high fever and weak and was rushed to the E.R. where they diagnosed her with osteomyelitis. She was admitted to the hospital, operated on and spent the next four years at the Hospital for Sick Children.
My grandparents had a huge hospital bill, which they paid off weekly, because, as you recall they signed off on any liability by the driver. Many surgeries later, she was released from the hospital at age 15, then resumed any schooling she had missed (the children on the wards had a tutor come into the hospital). Mom would graduate from high school, then go on to business school.
My grandfather was a tyrant who complained every day about how much money he spent as a result of her careless actions at age 11 and the vitriol he spewed became worse after his weekly trip to the Lansdowne Tavern after cashing his paycheck. They hated one another, but she lived at home until she married in 1953.
Unfortunately, if her medical and parental woes were not bad enough, my mother married a man who would later decide he was unhappy with his little family (Mom and me) and thirty years into their marriage, he announced on Christmas Day he wanted a new life. But before this proclamation, he stopped at the bank and withdrew all their savings, and had already tapped into an annuity fund by forging her name by falsely pleading a “family hardship”. He left the country in early 1984, never to be heard from again. My mom was only 57 years old at the time. We grew closer than ever before, and, not to toot my own horn, Mom often said I was the best thing that ever happened to her in her lifetime. That sentiment touches my heart to this day and I confess a tear just rolled down my cheek as I typed it.
Mom had 42 operations in the course of her lifetime, 41 were related to the car accident and one, a C-section, when I was born. She had scars all over her body, but I heard about that &^%# C-section scar all the time … no worries, it was all said in jest, just like for years when she complained I had the measles for her birthday and the chicken pox on Mother’s Day the same year.
I never saw my mother cry, except at my grandmother’s funeral and when our beloved parakeet, Joey, died in her hands.
At the risk of getting too maudlin in this post, I want to share some fun and lighter moments … and pictures at this look back of Mom and me.
Mom and her “Momisms”.
Mom was actually the disciplinarian in the house when I was growing up because back then I was “Daddy’s Little Girl” but, it was my mom who swatted my bum if I “lipped back” at her (rarely) and I one time got a “lickin’” after I interrupted her on the phone one too many times. I never did that again and yes I still grew up okay, despite the occasional spanking.
Most of the time Mom gave me ultimatums to ponder over, like “if you don’t do this, you will suffer the consequences.” There was both fear and respect by me for those utterances.
Here’s a good example of an ultimatum. When I was a little girl, Mom would sweep my hair into a high ponytail and I had grosgrain ribbons that matched each outfit. I loved my ponytail and it was the style for all little girls my age at that time. But Mom would pull and tug while fixing my hair and I’d wiggle around. She threatened me that if I continued to wiggle and squirm and yell “ouch” that the ponytail would be cut off.
Yes, sadly you see that I didn’t hold still and this was the result. Later, while going through the album with Mom, I would ask if she just whacked it off at the ribbon as my next hairstyle looked pretty raggedy to me, especially those bangs. She and my father would stand on either side of me to cut my bangs. They had tape, a string and a pair of scissors. They’d keep evening off the wet hair and when it dried, those bangs were up to my hairline.
Perhaps it was easier when she just twisted what little bit of hair I had into a curly-Q with a dab of spit (ew).
All I know is that I should never have rebelled and been so vocal when she did my ponytail, because not only was a slew of wacky hairstyles to follow, but I had to endure pin curls every night. I didn’t have dainty little ringlets either and when I got a “Toni” home perm, my hair frizzed out and I looked like I stuck my finger in a light socket.
There were “Momisms” like “you’ll never know when you’ll need these items.”
Some of Mom’s many words of wisdom live on and some resonate with me more today, than when she first uttered them.
Through the years I’ve written about Mom’s words of advice in a few blog posts, referring to them as “Momisms” and they were her practical suggestions for me to heed. I know I wrote a post about the time I was walking at Council Point Park and the string on my sweatpants waistband broke and my pants started to go south. I had to hike them up with one hand the rest of the perimeter path and all the way home. Now see, if I had only remembered her suggestion that I have a few safety pins on hand because “you never know when you’ll need a safety pin” and I would not have found myself in such a pants predicament.
For years I heard “take a sweater with you, as it’s easier to take it off, than put it on if it’s at home.” Maybe this is why I am still bundled up for my daily walk and it is nearly mid-May?
Some “Momisms” have become obsolete like “always carry two dimes with you, in case you need to call home and you fumble and drop one of the dimes.” Well cell phones have eliminated the need to tuck away those two dimes in your wallet – besides, I can’t remember the last pay phone I saw and one thin dime would not go too far anyway.
Sometimes Mom’s “suggestions” were not even from word of mouth. She would tear an article out of a magazine and put it where I’d see it, or she’d remove the teabag tag with its worldly advice and place the tag by my dinner plate.
And then there were more “Momisms” on what defines a “lady”.
As you might suspect by the length of this post, I have been thinking about and jotting down ideas for this special Mother’s Day blog post. However, I decided to do a little twist on Mom’s words of wisdom, since these remembrances have been bubbling around in my brain for a few weeks. I do realize so many of her suggestions, dispensed decades ago, smack of Emily Post and are outdated and really archaic now. But Mom’s aim was that her little girl should become the epitome of genteel.
Do you know when I was younger, that along with being told to respond with “thank you” or “you’re welcome” in an almost-automatic manner, I was even taught to curtsy. (It might have been being brought up in Canada and the British influence for that one.)
I could go on and on with Mom’s words of wisdom, but I do know that when I got a little older, the suggestions added the words “a lady doesn’t ___________”; for example “always carry a hanky or a couple of Kleenex because a lady doesn’t sniffle.”
Today, these ideas are all so prim and proper, but I am glad I grew up knowing manners and how to act and dress appropriately without the benefit of a fancy-schmancy finishing school. Here is a look demonstrating how “a lady should always look prim and proper.” Oh my – the folded hands encased in white gloves … I looked three times my actual age.
She’d tell me “a lady always wears a hat to church.” So I did.
Mom would admonish me big-time today because she said “a lady always carries a purse” …
… nowadays my purses are all packed away and I stuff my stuff into a polar fleece vest with zippered pockets in Winter, a fisherman’s vest in Summer and a fanny pack the rest of the time.
I was told early on that “a lady doesn’t slouch and always sits up straight in a chair and especially at the dinner table” but I guess that rule didn’t apply to babies.
When I began feeding myself, I got a Little Miss Muffet spoon and was told to pretend my dish was a clock and to “eat around the clock” and if I didn’t eat my first course, I got no dessert. So, I always finished my food. Oh yes, I was told “a lady never chews with her mouth open” though it was pretty difficult to finish off a corncob neatly, especially when you were likely missing half your baby teeth.
I guess this was before Mom suggested “a lady always sits with her ankles crossed” but then she sat the same way, so perhaps the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
Did your mom tell you to always make sure you looked in the mirror before you left the house because “a lady always should always look neat and polished” … this was years ago at a family friend’s cottage – I guess I threw caution to the wind here?
And speaking of looking good when you’re dressed up, Mom said “a lady smooths down her dress, so she doesn’t have wrinkles when she stands up” … hmm, how does one smooth down a frilly dress with a stiff and scratchy net crinoline that is all poofed out underneath the dress?
Or this dress where Mom threaded a gizmo that looked like an embroidery hoop at the hem? I hope I wasn’t wearing patent leather shoes that day. Just thinking that it’s a wonder a stiff wind did not send me airborne à la Mary Poppins!
I’m sure there are loads more fun remembrances to share … I know I carry a ton of them in my head … and in my heart.
Yesterday I passed a nearby church on my way to the 5K event. That church has been there for decades and often has a sign with a message pertaining to a holiday or special event … I usually glance at it. I saw the message as I drove past and when I got home, I walked over and took a picture of the sign as I knew it fit today’s post to a “T” and I’m sure you will agree.
I am sure if Mom would have made all her words of wisdom into a song, it would have been similar to Lee Ann Womack’s “I Hope You Dance”.
This was a long post and if you’re still with me as I meandered through the memories and the years, I’ll say thank you and also will tell you “Happy Mother’s Day” if it applies.