Easter According to Michael

I don’t remember Easters very well. It is a holiday I have always felt kind of awkward about as its religious context(s) mostly escape me and only after being with Sundi over a decade ago have I celebrated it as an adult.

For me, still, I focus on the chocolate. I know that sounds horrible, but it is what it is. These days especially when you can get Lindor eggs and such at reasonable sales rates post-easter.

Building up to the post this week there was a building anxiety as to what I was going to write. I couldn’t remember much about my Easters with Mamie. I couldn’t remember many Easters with anyone. So I had to call in the person who now takes up Mamie’s roll as observing and guiding me through the majority of my life: my brother Michael.

For those of you just joining the conversation, Mike is 6 years my senior and was a constant (positive) presence in my life from when I was born until my early teens when mom, dad, and I moved from Sarnia, Ontario to Earltown, Nova Scotia. Mike decided to stay in Ontario to finish his high school and hang out for the rest of his life with Keith. Well, maybe he hadn’t fully decided the latter then, but he definitely stayed for high school.

Anyways, Mike was my guide through a lot of tough times and I thought he would have a lot more memories around Easter than I did. Turns out I was right. With his acute memory and acumen for storytelling Mike shared a bunch of details about things I had mostly forgotten.

The highlights:

  1. Mom always made sure we had something pretty cool the morning of Easter. This usually came in the form of a hollow egg with frosting accents that laid on their backs in the packaging. The colours and tastes of these eggs varied year to year, but I definitely can taste one right now just thinking about it. Regardless of colour, the frosting tasted the same.
  2. After East mom would go a little nutty with the buying of chocolate on sale (I guess I know where I get it from). She would make sure we had lots of chocolate and whatever else was a good deal for months to come. This is why both Mike and I can’t eat white chocolate anymore. One year we each got 6 or so solid huge white chocolate rabbits. That is way too much white chocolate.
  3. Mom stopped bringing us to church services at Easter after she believed we’d gotten some of the moral compass stuff. We basically said: That’s enough and she respected us enough to say okay.
  4. Mamie made Easter last for a long time.
  5. She made us very happy little boys.

So, on this Easter, I propose a toast to all those parents/partners/friends/siblings/children who create that happiness that exists in most cases for a few days, and in others what may (amazingly) seem like forever.

Mamie, Sheila, & Shirley Reminiscing

From the archives of an old DV video cassette comes this conversation where Mamie and her two BFFs recount tales from their road trip down to Nova Scotia and back. Needless to say, I was thrilled to find a bunch more video footage from our travels over the years and there is more to come. When I watch and listen to all of these differing recordings they allow me to recall certain parts of how Mamie talked that I don’t immediately recall. In this one and old gem surfaces – I love the way she used to say “Isn’t that neat?” AND I miss the way she used to throw her head back when she laughed, which we see near the very end of the video.

This footage was taken in 2005 after Sundi and I got married and were driving around North America having started in New Mexico. We stopped in to see mom for a couple weeks when she was living in a coop in downtown Sarnia right behind the library. During that time we frequently went over to the library and grabbed a couple movies for night viewings (we watched Hitchcock films and classics mostly). As it was spring and warmish, we frequented places under the bridge for ice cream, and fish & chips. Of course, we also went to bingo occasionally.

The other ladies in the video are my “second mom” Sheila and a friend Mamie made at the coop – Shirley. Sadly mom and Shirley drifted apart over the years, but you can see here there was some pretty cool chemistry when these ladies got together.

I’m not going to go on at length this week about anything – the video itself should tell the story.

Enjoy.

PS: Apologies for the shaky and crappy video work

Wild Forces

Over the past week or so I have been reading the book “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed in preparation for a viewing at our local repertory cinema of the film starring Reese Witherspoon. It hasn’t been the easiest book to get through because most of the motivation and genesis of the action is the passing of Strayed’s mother. A work of non-fiction, the book focuses on a hiking trip Strayed takes a few years after her mother dies. Over the course of the hike Strayed seems to say that there is no way to understand or express what her relationship with her mother was nor how much that relationship has/will inform who she was/is/will be.

My take on the subtleties of the book and/or film are not meant for this space. What I kept feeling and remembering as I read was (SO DAMN OBVIOUSLY) what Mamie did for me. She always said that I needed to find my own life, my own path, my own family. When I decided to go to university, she highly encouraged me, despite the fact that I would be leaving her just months after my dad had passed on. After two years in London and frequent visits, I wanted to move to Montreal, which again she highly encouraged. We talked a lot on the phone, but there was a greater separation (spatially).

Some years later I decided to move to South Korea and she supported me. When I returned from Korea with my bride to be she was later happy to learn that we were planning on moving to Moscow to study film and culture. Yet again, she pushed me to do so. Two years later, failing to secure Russian visas, we moved to Prague and she was happy. Another three years later and we were off to Oman, and yet again Mamie encouraged us to be happy and safe.

Even though my mom had never been to any of these places, she thought it good to explore as much as possible. A lot of the times she had no idea where these places were, but she would look them up and surprise me with things she discovered about these places. It was hilarious to me that she made it a priority to find out about my environs and understand what my life like was in these exotic places.

The one common thread that ran through all of the places I lived was she always said: “Make sure you take care of yourself.”

Coming back to the film and book “Wild”: I found myself weeping at points for Cheryl Strayed because her mother passed away when Cheryl was only 22 and her mother was only 45.

My tears in the past week have not all been because of the time I will not have, but a lot for the years I did have. I feel lucky to have had all of the time I did with my mother and I feel genuinely sad for those who lose such a significant force and support earlier in their lives.

Without my mother I cannot imagine who/what I would have become. She constantly pushed me to try new things and to be a better person. Maybe all moms do this, but to have mine for so many years helped me through a lot of really hard times.

My thoughts this past week are with you and yours as you grieve and remember the forces that have made you who you have become.

Sunday Chats with Mamie

Pretty much every Sunday since I moved to PEI almost 4 years ago, mom and I would have a phone chat. I asked her at some point early on if she would mind me recording our conversations and she said she didn’t care, which I thought was great.

When she was still living in an apartment, our conversations would usually be somewhere in the 15 to 30 minute range, depending on what was happening. She was quite into recalling stories of her early childhood or the early years with all her sons. It was a lot of fun for me as I got to ask questions and learn about things that I had either forgotten or never knew in the first place.

I have a bunch of these recordings of her and I, but I haven’t really started mining them yet. They are scattered over different hard drives and computers and eventually I will make a push and start publishing them.

Its strange to start listening and choosing which pieces to keep. For those of you who have had the displeasure of talking to me on the phone, you will know that I often have long pauses for thoughts and such. This must have been frustrating for her, but I think I got better.

For those of you who talked to mom on the phone often as well, you will recall how she just randomly decided to end the phone call.

Here is a prime example of that in action. This is from May 19th 2013.

Laughing Shortly

A couple times a week I look through the same set of photographs that we used during Mamie’s visitation and I cry. Its good for me to cry, and it is not necessarily the missing her that makes me cry – its remembering what happened around the time the photo was taken, or wondering where it was taken, by whom, and a bunch of other details. Most of the time I then laugh because, something I don’t think has been said enough about mom is that she was kind of a goof.

She went through a lot of really tough times, from losing a few of her siblings when she was really young, to losing both of her parents when she was quite young, to losing two of her boys long before that was fair. But through all of this, if you sat with mom for more than ten minutes, it was impossible for her not to crack a joke or make weird noises, or yodel, or something to break the tension. Her sense of humour was always right there for all to see.

Knowing what I know of my brothers, this performative aspect with her humour is something we all have. Being in a house with Mamie all those years, it was unavoidable to develop a sense of humour – no matter how goofy or strange it may be.

To come back to the beginning, this picture is one that was always hanging on a wall somewhere in whichever house or apartment mom lived in. This is my first Christmas and the only photo I have ever seen of all 7 of us boys together. Who took it? Why is almost everyone laughing?

And speaking of sense of humour, that’s me in the little red and white pin stripe number. She dressed me oddly my whole adolescence and then jokingly chastised me my whole adult life for wearing weird clothes. One of the last things she said to me was “What the hell do you have on?”

I must say, I think that was one of the funniest moments of my life.

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Mom & Dad in Pictures

It’s really hard for me to understand what my Mom’s life was like before I actually started being a part of it. As the 7th of 7 boys over a 20+ year span, she had pretty much dealt with all the hi-jinx and trouble one would expect. She’d also been in a relationship with Lloyd (my dad) for almost 3 decades. Tons of intense and crazy stuff went down over all those years, but she still loved that guy in whatever ways she could muster.

When he died in 1993, she started an entirely different chapter of her life and she reflected back often on why she tolerated his antics. “It was just how things were” she said a few times. “You just had to stay with your man” I remember her saying last year when I asked her how she managed to put up with what dad brought to the table.

As I never really got a clear view into what their marriage was before me, I do remember how they would laugh together occasionally and how they would mostly just sit around, drink coffee, smoke cigarettes, and talk about whatever came up. Talking to my older brothers has helped me get some idea of what they got up to, but mostly I just look at a handful of photos now and wonder what went on between them.

Here is one such photo, from (I believe) 1985-ish when Paul came to visit us in Earltown, Nova Scotia.

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Isn’t That Something? OR Mamie Gets a New Car

After mom passed, I called some relatives in Nova Scotia. They recalled that, how Mom’s last trip down to see them, she drove a green Ford Focus that she raved about. She had that car for several years and was very happy with it.

Over the past week I have had a couple dreams with Mamie in them. I don’t remember many of the things she said in the dreams, but I totally remember one of the things she frequently said when she was surprised: “Isn’t that something?”

She says that a few times in this video, which was found on an old video tape from 2004.

The setup: we were in Sudbury visiting after we were married, and Mamie was up there as well. (It was a great few days there). On one of the days, we all tricked mom into thinking we were picking up a truck for Paul’s business. As you can tell from her reactions, she had no idea what was about to happen.

There’s tons of other footage, but I thought I would make a quick edit of the moment she got the car and maybe edit some other parts together later.

Enjoy:

 

Weathered Response

We always talked about the weather. Small talk, yes, but mom always seemed to understand the importance of what weather affords. When weather was nice it was celebrated and activity outside was encouraged. At times like they are today, in PEI, Mamie would tell me just stay home and stay safe.

One of the worst winters I ever remember was when we lived in Earltown, Nova Scotia. There are pictures, somewhere, of me standing beside snow banks that tower over me. That is the winter I recall as the most snow I have ever been a part of. That all changed over the last few days. Today the snow drifts in front of my house are taller than I am. Now. The Earl Town winter was when I was 10 and probably 5’5″. Those snow mountains right now must be over 6′ because I was throwing that way over my head at points.

Over this past week I have often wondered what mom would say about the storm here. I have also wondered if anyone out there remembers Mamie ever using a shovel. Or, even better, if they have a picture and/or stories to accompany Mamie’s shovel-ness.

As I always post a picture, this week I thought I’d go with this cool one of her taken at the Hoskins Co-op.

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Under the Bridge

Over all the years I used to visit Mamie in Sarnia, one of the things I loved doing the most with her was going for fish & chips, and/or fries. If we (Sundi and I) were visiting for several days, we would wait for the nicest and brightest day to go down to either Purdy’s for fish & chips, or to one of the french fry trucks under the bridge.

Mom always made a point of paying for us on these outings, and sometimes we would crown this off with some great ice cream in Point Edward. Although she was specific with the fish and/or chips, she would be kind of random with her choice of ice cream. I remember her one time getting some weird pink-blue-purple-red-ish thing with a weird name.

“I just thought I’d try it”, she said.

Mom was this weird balance of wanting stability and occasionally just taking something random – whatever it was.

I am curious, as I know she loved going under the bridge with others, who out there went with mom for fish & chips or just fries with mom over the years. If you’re reading this and have a story, please do leave a comment or send me your story, and if you have a pic – send it too 🙂

Here we are under the bridge in the Summer of 2004.

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Pictures of You

Mamie took a lot of pictures. She never seemed to take them randomly –  there was always a purpose to what she chose to take an image of. Living away from her for so long, she would often send pictures to me to share what was happening in her life. On a few occasions I got to take pictures of her as well and she was always happy to accommodate a photo-op to commemorate an occasion.

When I lived in what I still consider to be the most influential place I’ve ever lived – a loft/warehouse space on St Laurent in Montreal, Mom, Sheila, and Shirley came for a visit. They were headed to Nova Scotia that summer and stopped in to see what was happening. I have described where I was living and what it was like to live there, but nothing could really prepare her for the real thing. It was also a vital trip for me as they forced me to develop literacies around living in a city that I had never conceptualized before. This means that mom and company asked for a bunch of things that I had no idea about, but had to find for them while they were there.

Anyways, mom and her pals came up 4 long, tough flights of stairs to the loft and we served them crepes and coffees on our huge rooftop which had a stellar view of the city. For years after she recalled the view, the openness and size of our space, and the stairs. She always seemed to have enjoyed that trip, although in her last days I was talking to her and asked if she remembered the loft and she said: “Yeah that place really stank”. So. I laughed heartily when she said that as she had never expressed that to me me before, but it was so genuine and harsh that I loved it. And fair enough – it probably stank of a bunch of things. Perhaps when I asked her that she felt like she really needed to get that out because she had held it back from me for so long. Or maybe it was just a random throw out of an idea. Who knows?

Mamie, Sheila, Shirley, and I found them a hotel to stay at on De Maisonneuve (a comfort Inn?) and the following picture was taken in an elevator there. It really is, and has always been, one of my favourite photos that I have ever taken. She truly loved to laugh.

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What is your favourite picture of Mamie? Why? Send it to me and I’ll post your story with the picture 🙂