It’s been a while. This spring, my mother passed away. My father passed when I was nineteen, just setting out in the world. Mom was 51 then, as I am now: 51, a woman who’d given up bank work to raise a family with her husband working in the Armed Forces as a staff sergeant.
By the time I was born, third of six, they’d decided army life was no place to raise a family, and set out to farm in northern Alberta, where Mom grew up. Mom’s family are farmers, from a long line of Polish farmers. Dad’s family are Anishinabek, people of the sugar bush, fishermen, foresters. His own father was a Mi’gmaq transplanted to Sault Ste. Marie, so far as I know, to work in the steel mill. He came from a community – Listuguj – still well known for producing skilled steel workers.
Grandpa died young, Grandma remarried and lost her Indian Status, so Dad grew up both on and off reserve; but not farming. Still, he followed his wife, and tried to figure it out as he went.
And when he died, there was Mom, 51, facing the fact that to keep her three youngest kids and the little farm, she’d have to find a job. She never complained, that I ever heard. The first job she found was as a clerk at a convenience store in the town where my brothers were still going to high school. Then she found something more challenging, and more in line with her character, becoming a personal aide for a young woman with Down Syndrome.
Mom’s years with Debbie carried her through to retirement age, and she kept the farm as a stable home base – not a working farm in the sense of a business, but a solid anchor, a source of plentiful garden produce and home-grown meats. I remember with particular fondness her foray into raising Muskovy ducks. When one of my dearest friends (who doesn’t live locally) brought her husband and son to meet us for the first time, I cooked a duck; sitting in Mom’s chair at our table, Will enthused over it and reminisced about hunting with his brothers, and I knew Mom’s spirit, if it were popping in, would be delighted by that.
I’ve been Woman of the House for my own family now for several years. Before that, I traveled, developing my craft and seeing something of the world. Always, however free I felt, Mom was there in heart and mind, a rock, a keel, a mother. Even when she came to live in my family home, when I became the caregiver while she healed from hip replacement and dealt with the bone cancer that her hip break had revealed, I was the daughter. Even as I taught my own daughter how to help Grandma, as I in my youth had taken a turn helping my Grandma, I was still Mom’s daughter.
I always will be; but the season has changed. Now, in this season, as the leaves change colour and my body signals its changing status too, the strangest thing will be, at least for a while more, that little moment when I realise, no, I can’t call Mom to ask about a recipe, or tell her how the kid did at school, find out the gossip up North, get the latest on my siblings’ doings, hear her pride in her grandchildren. I can’t coax out of her any more stories about Grandma and Grandpa and how it was when they came here from Poland in 1928, how it was growing up homesteading, how times have changed.
Now, it’s harvest time, time to sort out what I’ve gathered, time to do what I can with what I’ve got. I am thankful, today, for the 51 years my mother shared with me, thankful for this time and the rigours of this season, and hopeful that I can live up to the best of her strength, courage and dignity.