My mom was more my pal than my mother. She was older when she had me–48–and she didn’t want to have to discipline or harangue me much which suited me just fine. I was her last child and she wanted to spoil me which also suited me just fine. It could be perhaps why recently a friend told me to repeat after him: I am a princess. I did so reluctantly but only because I needed a ride.
My mother and I often went shopping together. It was a social thing which inevitably ended up in a restaurant because, growing up in a family of 13, eating in a restaurant to me was so much more civilized than say having my brother steal my food off my plate or some fight breaking out over who was doing the dishes and I was comforted knowing there was life outside our war-zone eatery.
When I was in my third trimester of my pregnancy, my mom thought a trip to the Hudson’s Bay in North Vancouver would be a good thing to do. I was as large as an oil tanker by then and though I still did some stage management at the Raven’s Cry Theatre in Sechelt, I was doing a lot of lying around reading about what could go wrong during a birth.
We parked on the upper level of The Hudson’s Bay and wandered, very slowly, because remember, I was taking up two aisle widths and my mother was ancient so nobody was beetling around anywhere in a hurry. Instead, we bought some baby clothes, had the inevitable lunch, then headed back upstairs to leave. Now, my mother was getting on in her years, and she wasn’t the type of woman to put much care into herself. She cared for everyone else around her. That is what made her the female version of Gandhi. However, on this day, she might have put in a little more effort.
I was walking ahead of her through the second set of doors to the upstairs parkade when, by habit, I stopped and turned, and as I did, I saw my mother’s wide, white underpants drop softly down around her ankles. I looked at the underpants then back up at her. She was stuck between the two glass set of doors so eternally in my mind is a diluted image of my mother, her face looking back at me in slow time, both of us realizing in that moment that we were not, in fact, alone in the busy department store, but surrounded by others, who also were able to see the innocent flop of polyester fabric that now was being clumsily yanked up and held by my mother’s shaking hands. She was convulsed in laughter, struggling to get out, while I struggled to get to her, feeling hysteria rising up from my toes and we limped across towards the car, stopping, leaning over, silently laughing so hard I thought either my baby would be born there and then or my mother would die from the convulsions.
I had never seen my mother laugh that hard and never did again. I said, what in hell are you doing wearing underpants with no bloody elastic left? She only kept laughing and laughing all the way home, on the ferry, then on the long slow drive up the coast and into the evening, periodically looking over at me, and bursting out in another round of glee. I think it was because she knew it was something that horrified me to my core and it was the look on my face that kept making her laugh so hard. It was her knowing me and me knowing this that made me laugh. This is the way with that kind of love, you don’t have to say a word. You can just laugh.
Some days, when I get bogged down by the weight of things, I remember that moment, our eyes meeting through those glass doors, the image of my mother in her simple skirt, worn wool sweater, curled grey hair, and of course, her underwear around her ankles, staring helplessly back at me. And I laugh out loud.
It was my mom’s birthday last Saturday. She would have been 93. Love you, miss you every day Mom.