Tag Archives: mother

Memories and Melancholia

It’s been a long time since I’ve written here and I’m sorry for that readers—I was working on a major writing project that took up all my spare time outside my day job.

But today I have a fever and am home sick. And what comes with fevers are always those strange hyper-real dreams, you know the ones where you think you are awake they are so tangible? I had one of those today about my mom and it brought me back to the years I was looking after her while slowly losing her to dementia.

Also woven into these dreams were the poems of Ulrikka S. Gernes, a Danish poet, who read at the Vancouver Writers Festival this past Saturday. Her poems have been singing in my head ever since. They surfaced in my fevered dreams like ocean glass and I wasn’t so sad to be sick if you want to know the truth.

She writes in her book, Frayed Opus for Strings & Wind Instruments,  that “Melancholia has a wide spectrum of nuances and tones and it often evokes a heightened sensitivity.” I felt these nuances today, the curtains drawn, quilt pulled up, dreaming of my mother, her small dog Max, her brittle collarbone against me as I held her towards the end. Don’t think ‘depression’, it’s just a daughter missing her mother when she’s sick. People like to make more of these things than they are—just human moments we all experience and sometimes the way into them, to really feel them, is through a fevered dream.

Ulrikka’s says she will “forever defend melancholia; it has an inherent power to sharpen certain senses that are beneficial to art, to life.” I couldn’t agree more. Herewith, a little poem that came from my memory dream with my mom and her little dog Max and myself towards the end when she was slipping in and out of the now and I was trying to pretend everything was just fine and hold onto her.


I look at your dark moustache as your coffee cup dangles

From your bony fingers, smoke curling into the air

through the dust as it floats

Through a shaft of morning light.

The hairs move like cheerful whiskers,

black and wiry, poking down into your cup

as we talk about the dog , how he likes to bark especially hard

at the man in the motorized wheelchair.

You tell me you sometimes duck your head

under the window to avoid him

or let the dog out to attack his wheels.

This was some time ago but I don’t bring it up.

I help you walk to the bathroom, undo your pants,

let you down slowly onto the toilet

then slip out for a second so you can be alone.

Okay? I say then come back, place your hands on my shoulders

And pull you up. We laugh a little as your pants drop

To the floor and I have to balance you and pull them up in one motion.

I close the lid on the toilet and sit you gently back down.

I’m going to dye your moustache okay?

You seem a bit embarassed but not sure why and

cluck at the dog to come and he circles then sits down at your feet.

I mix the Jolen powder and cream together and apply

the white paste to your wiry scruff.

I set a small kitchen timer for five minutes.

I lean back against the sink and tell you about my son.

He’s four months old now. You exclaim oh oh—

Most of the time you forget he’s been born.

Sometimes you remember and admonish me,

saying  of course, of course.

I take the face cloth and gently wipe the paste off then

take you to the mirror. You’re not sure

what you should be looking at but smile at me as though

I have just given you the news we were going on a holiday.

You will have no memory of this tomorrow.

I will hold it inside long after you are gone

like a snowglobe

shaking it whenever I need you.


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Filed under Memoir, Non-fiction, Poetry

The Patterns of Life

The other day I was in a thrift store and stumbled across an old collection of dress patterns. It brought me back to the days when my mother and I would drive down to Gold’s Fabrics at Arbutus and 12th in Vancouver. My mother could sew and knit and despite trying to teach me numerous times, I resisted and instead suggested I just be her model. My mother was quite an accomplished  seamstress and spent countless hours at the sewing machine creating outfits for me, and sometimes my sister, various household items like curtains, and repairing the clothes of her large family in order to save money. The dresses she made for me, despite my creative direction however, never turned out the way I wanted.  I never had the heart to say I didn’t like it as she beamed up at me from cutting a thread off the hem of the finished dress. But I knew in my heart that was how it would always be because of our trips to Gold’s Fabrics.

We would walk in and to the right of the heavy glass doors were row upon row of drawers of patterns organized by designer. At the front were Simplicity, McCall’s, and Butterick, and other what I considered ‘average’ patterns that my mother liked to frequent. At the back were the more expensive patterns; this is where I skidaddled to in my hand-me down clothes and dusty flip-flops I may or may not have inherited from my brother.

I dove into those drawers and pulled out each package, turning it gently over in my hands, looking carefully at the evening dresses, the styling of hair and makeup of each illustration and lost myself in Vogue’s chic style. Sometimes my mother would come around and poke her nose over my shoulder and make her usual tsking sound and sometimes, if I pointed out how she could, if she tried, easily fashion a gown for me, she would start walking away saying with a small shake of her head, “oh no, no, no” as though I had just asked her to drive me in a convertible to the moon.


I realized I was up against a mountain that wouldn’t move. There was no swaying my mother over to my haute couture world. She was seeking simple, cheap, easy-to-make and I was hoping for Chanel. Sometimes I would try to persuade her to jazz it up with creative buttons or ribbon or coloured zippers which could be found for miles in the centre of the warehouse-size store. She would laugh as though my request was absurd and sometimes I found my foot coming down hard on the linoleum floor in my frustration. This would make her tsk again and say, “Margaret, you have champagne tastes on a beer budget I’m afraid.” This was always her go-to phrase when she felt I was reaching too far. As in a fuchsia zipper or rhinestone button.

Maybe it was because my mom grew up on a farm and lived through the Depression. Maybe because, despite living in Point Grey in a big house, she never had much money. Or maybe she was a simple woman who was content with what she had in life, something I am only now in my forties seeing the value of:  life as it is rather than life as I imagine it in my head.

But just to be clear, I’ll never be a Simplicity woman. I’ll always be Vogue.
vogue mermaid gown pattern


Filed under Memoir

My mom in her underpants at the Hudson’s Bay

Ok, a little bit Princess...but cute right?

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.


Filed under Humour, Memoir


I was terribly spoiled by my mother. Not with things but with love. It made me quite intolerable I am sure to the rest of my family, my hoity-toity imperiousness, always protected in the folds of my mother’s skirt. It did not help that my mother would loudly assert that ‘This one is mine’ and end any further discussion around what she could or could not do with her youngest female child.

Me in pink, mom in blue, grandma in purple

I loved when my mother would bring me in to introduce me around to her bridge gang. Both doors to the dining room were closed to indicate that this was a non-family event. I always, however, knew I’d get access to the warren of lady-time-gin-drinking-smoking-card-dealing partying that was happening right under the proverbial family nose. I stood by each lady as they hugged and squeezed me, ooh’ed and ahh’ed and pinched my cheeks. I asked if I could get them anything? I was their child concierge and they ate it up. The smell of smoke, Chanel No. 5, and smart knit suits was intoxicating. Mrs. Miller, one of my mom’s best friends, was stylish beyond belief. My mother would cluck, and smirk in a funny way about the fact she still dyed her hair blonde but I thought well, why wouldn’t you? She looked fabulous and glamorous and twenty years younger than my gray-haired mom. I didn’t love my mother any less but it did sometimes get awkward when we were out and people would lean down to me and say with syrupy kindness, “Oh, how adorable you are out helping your Grandmother shop for her groceries!” I would loudly protest but find my breath cut short as my mother’s sharp knee came up into my back indicating I was to go along with the ruse. Clearly, there was some shame around having me at 48 but I was born to it so I didn’t suffer the social ostracizing that I later found out my mother did at the Point Grey Golf club.

My mom, on her honeymoon, before all the damn kids

I was my mother’s friend from the get go. I was her chattering, dramatic, animated, little Raj that she willingly brought along in her day to visit friends, go to Church, head to $1.99 days at Woodward’s (where she always lost me only to find me dressed in head-to-toe feather boa’s in the women’s lingerie department), lunches with the nuns at the Convent, and even to some of her spiritual retreats where I would cry all day about the children starving in Africa.

I knew the gossip at home was that she was spoiling me into a brat but no one was keeping me from getting in that car with my mother, my only nice pair of nice shoes on, and heading down Seymour street to go to the Vancouver Playhouse every month. Nor would they keep me from sitting in the 10th row at the Vancouver Symphony, the melancholy strains of Debussy drifting my 4-year-old mind off to imaginary worlds where I likely spent far too much time as a child. These were nights that shaped my entire life, sitting in the dark theatre with my mother, her beautiful hands folded over the program, smelling of Chanel, the blue pool of light opening on the actor as the crowd settled into reverent silence. At intermission, we would beeline up to the second floor lounge and stand in line for her glass of wine then walk over to the red velvet benches and she would slowly draw a No. 7 cigarette out, light it, and let out a long, deep sigh. I would watch the people walking by and give her my commentary on what they were wearing and she would say, ‘Oh Margaret‘ when I would cross the line but she was laughing and I knew it made her happy.

My photo of my mom's hands.

All that my creative mind is or ever will be comes from the moments my mother fiercely protected our experience of art together and this gift, above all else, is one I hope I give to my own son now.

Happy Mother’s Day mom, I miss you. I love you.


Filed under Memoir