Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: My Mother’s Hands.

Long piano fingers so elegant and lovely.

I miss Ma.  Sharing cups of tea.  Or lingering conversations on a quiet summer evening.  Laughing until we cried.  Long walks through the neighborhood.  Enjoying the pleasure of each others company.  Mother and daughter stuff.  All such lovely things that I cherish and hold dear.  But of all those things, it is her hands that I pine for.  Reach out and wish that they were resting next to mine.  Hand in hand.  Beautiful.  Comforting. Tender.  Reassuring.

Her touch was my first.  My touch was one of her last.

Her fingers were long, thin and graceful.  Pulsing with veins.  Like indigo rivers across translucent terrain.  We used to call them piano fingers because they could easily span an octave of keys.  She never played an instrument.  Except the music of her heart.

Her hands were hard working.  Dependable and strong.  They understood the connection between soap, water and a scrub brush.  A dish rag and a scouring pad.  Intimately.  Thoroughly.  Hardwood, tile, linoleum and wall to wall.  Down on all fours.  Scoured and cleaned.  Washed and wiped. Polished and shined.  Gleaming with pride.

Ma loved clean laundry.  Before washing machines were automatic, she filled her wringer washer daily.  Pulled her family’s clothes, piece by piece, through the hard rubber rollers.  Filled her wicker basket then meticulously hung the day’s laundry on the line to dry. Wooden pegs and twisted wire.  Summer or winter.  Spring or autumn.  The sparkling laundry fluttered and flew and often froze.  Board stiff long johns and flannelette nighties.  Her magical hands orchestrated it all with ease.  Held it close and let it go.

Hands that could cook up a storm.

Her hands were a sight to behold in the kitchen.  She cooked and baked.  Stirred and tossed.  Kneaded and coaxed.  Folded and cut.  Meals were prepared with tenderness.  Cookies were baked with love.  Cakes were dressed and adorned for every occasion.  Table was set.  Dinner was served.  Dishes washed and carefully put away.  Countertops glistened.  The floor was swept.  The refrigerator hummed with contentment.  Such power in those hands.

A paint brush found its place to dwell.  Between her thumb and pointer finger.  Strokes and splashes across the canvas.  Dabs and feather light lines.  Details drawn.  Smudges and smears.  Oil on canvas.  Flowers and trees.  Fruit in bowls.  The Sleeping Giant.  Artistic.  Expressive. Imaginative wondrous hands.

Her hands held books and magazines.  On topics diverse and sundry.  Her hands were eager to learn. To grasp the meaning of life.  To find the truth.  To seek wisdom.  To scratch her head when none of it made sense.

Fabric was transformed in her hands.  Curtains from calico.  Tablecloths from cheerful colorful cotton. Dresses from wool or the softest silk.  Jumpers from baby wale corduroy.  Skirts that twirled and flared.  Slacks that zipped or buttoned.  Shirts were crisp or casual.  A surprise dress at the end of a school day.  A new wardrobe to start the year.  Machine sewn.  Hand stitched.  Embroidered edges.  Guide me home.

Hands that gripped life and love and held on tight.

The exquisite hands that caressed my newborn head.  Supported me while I learned to walk.  Clasped my hand on my first walk to school.  Tended to my scraped knees.  Wiped the tears from my eyes when my heart was torn and broken.  Touched my shoulder with the language of love.  Embraced.  Hugged.  Carried.   Stroked.  Hands that gripped and held on tight.  To love.  To life.

Young hands.  Mother’s hands.  Old hands.  Grandma’s hands.  May they reach down from heaven and touch this daughter’s heart tonight.

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: What Happens in 204 Stays in 204 and the Fine Art of Secret Keeping.

We couldn’t stop looking at him and he at us.

The older I get the better I get at keeping secrets.   I now understand how sacred secret keeping is.  What a privilege it is to have someone trust you so dearly with a confidence.  Even if they have shared their secret with someone else, it matters not.  This is your secret to keep. Held safe for as long as required.  It could be for a day, a week, a year.  A lifetime.  Some secrets I will take to the grave with me.

I’m from a family of secret keepers.  So perhaps this gives me a bit of an edge over those who are not so well practiced.  The biggest secret our family kept concerned The Old Man’s drinking.  Not just his alcoholism.  But his recurring rampages that terrorized our family. We were like visitors to Vegas.  What happened in 204 stayed in 204. This family secret, that I held close for over twenty years, was one of two that shaped the landscape of my youth. I looked out at the world, not with wide-eyed wonder, but with fear.  For the flip side of keeping secrets is disclosure.  I didn’t want anyone to know about The Old Man. Not even my best friend.

Some secrets are held in fear.  Others in shame.  This was at the heart of the second family secret.

Little back story.  When I was twenty-four I wanted to go to Europe.  I hadn’t travelled much.  Nor ventured far when I did.  Little trips with my family mostly.  Circle Route around Lake Superior.  Trips to Duluth, Minnesota.  Once as far as Minneapolis.  One quick secret disastrous trip to Toronto with my first love.   A cross country car ride to Victoria which included stops in Winnipeg, Regina and Calgary.  That was it.  My wayfaring adventures by age twenty-four.

We converted Ma’s sewing room into a nursery for a few years.

Many of my friends had already been to Europe.  Backpacking globe-trotters.  Nomads and gypsies.  Sophisticated and worldly.  I had been to Duluth.  I was green with envy and itching to gallivant.  This became the hot topic of conversation between my new boyfriend and I.  We made plans.  Beginning with acquiring passports.  We did all the appropriate paperwork and mailed off our applications to Ottawa.  This was a long time ago so the details of the process are a bit sketchy.  But to the best of my recollection, this is what we did.  Then we waited.  And waited.  It took weeks to hear anything.

Everything went smoothly for my boyfriend, who was far less new after weeks of waiting for passports. His knapsack was packed and he was good to go.  But this was not the case for me.

I never got my passport.  Instead, I got a letter from the government of Canada informing me that I did not exist.  ‘Don’t exist’ I cried.  ‘How is that possible?  I’m here aren’t I?  Look at me.  I’m right here.’  This occurred while I was living on the West Coast, the first time round.  I thought perhaps this mix-up had something to do with geography.  That I wasn’t actually nonexistent, just misplaced.

Determined to prove that I did indeed exist, I decided to go to the fountainhead.  Take it to the two people who were there right from the beginning.  The source of my genesis.  No, not God and Jesus. That would come later.  Ma and The Old Man.  But before doing so, I mentioned this misbegotten madness to my sister, who was also living on the West Coast.  I showed her the letter.  ‘Look at this,’ I uttered incredulously.  She read the letter.  Looked me straight in the eyes and said, ‘I have to tell you something.’

The Old Man and his grandson sharing a moment together.

Ma and The Old Man weren’t legally married.  There was nothing shocking about this revelation. I had suspected as much for years.  But it was a bit unsettling to hear those words said out loud for the first time.  This subject was taboo in our family.  Strictly off limits.  In truth, I was the only one not in on the secret.  The evidence was there of course.  For starters, Ma and The Old Man never celebrated their anniversary.  Yet she went by Mrs. M.  And she wore a wedding ring.  This was good enough for me.  When I was really young I didn’t understand such things.  When I was old enough to know, I didn’t want to.  By the time I figured it out, I didn’t care. By then, I was actually in on the secret.  But no one knew that I knew what they knew.

Once the proverbial cat was let out of the bag I called Ma.  There was no going back.  The silence was broken.  The Boogeyman was released and he wasn’t all that scary.  I felt free.  I wanted to liberate Ma as well.  The call went something like this.

‘Ma, a strange thing happened when I tried to get my passport.’

‘What’s that dear?’

‘I got this letter from the government saying I don’t exist.’

‘That’s impossible.’

‘G told me everything Ma.’

Silence followed.  By a pregnant pause.  By more silence.

‘Ma why didn’t you just put The Old Man’s name on my birth certificate?’

‘I didn’t know I could.’

A common law marriage and an illegitimate child.  More secrets that consumed my parents.  Filled them with shame.  Followed by years of silence.  Humiliation.  Heads hung low.  I look back on their situation and my heart breaks for them.

By the time I was old enough to get married things were so different. Common law marriages.  People living together.  Shacking up.  It was happening all around me and no one cared.  Hippy chicks were having babies and wearing daisies in their hair.  Feminism had arrived.  Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan were inspiring young women everywhere. Myself included.  There was nothing illegitimate about any of it.  More options and choices.  No judgement.  Different strokes for different folks, as Sly and The Family Stone sang.

What a burden my parents carried in their hearts all those years.  In the end, it was a relief to have the truth spoken.  Confession is good for the soul they say.  This held true for my parents, especially Ma.

I can’t think of anything more soul destroying than living in shame.  The joy that it robs. The dignity that it steals.  The humiliation it perpetrates.  The things we teach our children without even knowing.  Nor intending.  Passed down from one generation to the next, along with Grandma’s handmade quilt.  I understand the shame Ma felt.  Intimately.  I too carry this pain in my heart.  Sometimes I don’t even know why.  It’s like the elusive butterfly.  Impossible to grasp.

My passport awaits. I just have to fill out the forms.

After the birth of my son I experienced a fleeting moment of shame.  I thought I was beyond reproach, yet this stung.  He was only hours old and he filled my spirit with such wonder.  A Nurses Aid, who was old enough to be my mother, entered our room to check on us.  I was engaged in a gripping one-sided conversation with my son.  As she was adjusting my blankets and plumping my pillow, she referred to me as Mrs. M.  I immediately corrected her and explained that I wasn’t Mrs. M.  That was my mother.  Then as carelessly as she tossed a crumpled Kleenex into the wastebasket, she responded with, ‘That’s what we call girls like you dear.’  She wasn’t being malicious.  Nor did she intend to hurt me.  Just stating the facts.  Telling the truth.  Yet there I was.  Drowning in a puddle of shame. Maybe we hadn’t come a long way Baby.

But the hand of God touched me that day.  The hurt didn’t linger.  Thankfully.  Besides, I had a beautiful brown-eyed boy to love and protect.  I had to toughen up.

I still don’t have a passport.  I haven’t been consumed by wanderlust these past thirty years so it hasn’t really mattered.  Acquiring one fell off the to do list years ago. My life has been full and adventurous despite traveling abroad.  Yet a part of me often wonders if I’m stuck.  Fearful that if I apply for my passport I’ll be told I still don’t exist.  At least not as me.  The girl with the unpronounceable Finnish last name.  I have an official Birth Certificate containing Ma’s first husband’s surname.  I look at it and think, ‘Who is this person?’  Not me.  I look at the ancient tattered Registration of Birth that the Old Man altered and think, ‘Who is this person?’  Me.  Not sure how he did it.  But somehow he removed the official legal surname and typed in his.  It always looked right to me.  You see what you want to see I guess.  I never wanted to be anything but the Breadman’s daughter.

And with God’s grace I am.  Always will be.  Passport or not.

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: The Orange Swivel Rocking Chair by the Window.

Pregnant with Daughter Number One. Great expectations in the tweed version.

I like to stare out the window.  It’s a relaxing and meditative diversion.  Some people experience this by looking heavenward to the stars.  Or by sitting in front of an aquarium filled with exotic tropical fish.  Others like to watch the tides roll in.  But I’m a window gazer.  A peaceful tranquility washes over me whenever I sit in front of a window.  And look out.

Little back story.  In our house at 204 there was always a chair in front of the living room window.  Or at least from the time the house was renovated and a large picture window replaced the small wartime paned version.  This window cried out for a comfy chair and a place to watch the world outside.  With this in mind, Ma arranged the furniture so that there was always such a chair. And within arms reach, the treasured pedestal table with its sundry potted plants over the years, and always a coaster conveniently placed to support a cup of tea or coffee, glass of milk or Pepsi.

Daughter Number One liked to window gaze too.

It wasn’t exactly a big world to gaze upon. Not like looking up at the infinite sky on a clear August night.  But it was my world for many years.  This was the cherished spot where I honed my observational deftness.  Even long after I had flown the nest I loved to return to the chair by the window.  To daydream.  To reflect.  Or rest.  Often to recover from the battlefield of life.

Over the years, several different chairs occupied the space next to the window.  They all had a few things in common.  First and foremost, the color orange was represented in them somewhere.  Solid, tweed, plaid or striped.  Ma used to say that she loved color and she wasn’t kidding.  And when it came to decorating our living room, orange was undeniably her color of choice.  Something I never fully appreciated until I looked at Ma’s albums filled with scads of photos of family and friends taken on the various chairs.  Not only orange chairs.  But Curtains.  Lampshades.  And wall to wall carpet.  It was a dizzying sea of riotous color.   Autumn lived perpetually in our living room.

On the outside Ma was a quiet, soft-spoken demure woman.  But if a person’s color preference reveals anything about their true character, than Ma’s interior spaces were filled with fire, passion and fervency.  She was a courageous artist fearlessly expressing herself in the boldest of possible ways.  Orange.

The First Born having a snack in the striped version.

This common thread of orange aside, these chairs all rocked and swiveled.  This made them very practical because you could position them in any direction depending on the need.  They provided a 360 degree panorama of our downstairs.  Swivel slight to the left for television viewing.  To the centre back and you could watch all the kitchen activities, in particular Ma cooking up something spectacular.  To the right and you could engage in lively conversation with whomever was on the couch.  And centre front, there was the view of our street.

These chairs were also enormously fun.  Swivel and rock in a full circle. One way and then the other.  They turned us all into whirling dervishes.  Spinning tops.  Every bit as good as the old leather and chrome stools at the food counter in the basement restaurant at Eaton’s.  Giggles and glee.  Tee-hee!  Plus, they were all so comfortable you never wanted to leave.  No matter what was going on in my life, whenever I sat in the orange chair  by the window everything was right with the world.

In truth, there wasn’t a whole lot to see out of that window.  Mostly just the houses across the street.  The mauve lilac that grew on the edge of our lawn next to the lumpy sidewalk and the Manitoba Maple on the boulevard.  I watched it grow from a tiny sapling to a magnificent old sentry watching over our little wartime house.  In summer it shaded our front yard.  In fall it graced us with glorious red, orange and yellow leaves that danced and quivered in the wind.  In winter it held strong and steady while the snow collected on its barren branches.  In spring came the buds of hope and great expectations.

One summer the city added cement curbs and paved the street.  We were delighted to say goodbye to the pot holes and annual tarring of our road.  I have to admit though that the smell of tar triggers happy memories of childhood summers.   It’s right up there with the scent of Coppertone, freshly mowed lawns, wild roses and hot rubber hoses.

The First Born sharing the plaid version with The Old Man.

One of my fondest memories is from the winter.  I was home visiting over the Christmas holidays with my two older kids in tow.  It was a large blue sky afternoon.  The kind that only Northwestern Ontario can produce.  Nothing quite like it anywhere I’ve been.  On this particular afternoon Ma got a call from her sister Hazel to go over to the mall for the afternoon.  Ma rarely turned down an opportunity to go for an outing.  It didn’t really matter where.  I sat in the orange swivel rocking chair by the window and watched Ma as she stood in the driveway waiting for her sister to come pick her up.  The snow was crisp and clean. The snow banks were so high on either side of the window that they dwarfed Ma’s already small frame.  She was wearing her gray fake fur coat.  I don’t know what animal it was imitating.  Her purse was draped across her chest.  While she was waiting she traced the snow with the toe of her boot like a windshield wiper.  Back and forth.  Every now and then she would pause and look down the street for Auntie Hazel’s car.  Her cheeks were blushed red from the cold air and her dark eyes were so bright and alive.  I had to remind myself that she was in her seventies.  She looked like a young girl.  Full of life and eagerness.  I will always remember her that way.  And how the sight of her touched my heart with such tenderness.

Ma enjoying a moment of relaxation in the solid version.

In my room, the place where I write and dream, my computer sits in front of the window overlooking our beautifully imperfect garden, which is green and lush at the moment. Teeming with birds, squirrels and dragonflies, the occasional deer, raccoon, duck or heron.  When I window gaze here I also see another time and place.  I’m transported to an orange swivel rocking chair that sits by a picture window.  It hugs me.  It holds me when my heart is heavy.  It comforts me when I’m full of fear and lost all hope.  It rocks and swivels me to a place of peace.  I see the street where I grew up.  Played scrub ball.  Rode my bike. Scraped my knee.  Ran under the sprinkler.  Sat on the neighbors front step and shared a first kiss.  I see the place under the maple tree where I sat in the shade and drank Pepsi.  I see the tarry road and the dreams of other roads to travel.  I see The Old Man tending to his garden.  Raking leaves.  Shoveling snow.  Blowing his nose in a big white cotton hanky.  I see Ma waiting for Auntie Hazel.  I see God’s hand reaching out and touching all of it with wonder and grace.  I see love in the large blue sky.  I am cradled in my mother’s arms.

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: 101 Lessons for a Good Life.

#73 – Every child born to our family is wanted and loved.

I like lists.  I find them quite useful.  They keep me organized.  Or at least they create the illusion of doing so.  A nifty thing about lists is how they come chock-a-block with little goals.  Each line item something to be accomplished.  Been there.  Done that.  Now move on.  And there’s nothing quite like the satisfaction of scratching something off the list.  Personally, I like to draw a thick heavy line right through the achievement.  Preferably in permanent ink.  Finito.

There are daily lists.  Like the “to do/call/email” list at work.  Some are weekly.  Grocery lists fall into this category.  Others are annual.  The family Christmas wish list reigns supreme.  Some are fun.  Like the list of things we need for our Annual Thanksgiving Bluegrass Party.  Then there are sundry others.  Everything from books to read, songs to download,  places to see, people to meet, things to keep and things to chuck.  All worthwhile and handy to have in your hip pocket.

One of the best lists I have ever compiled is the one that I am sharing with you today.  It’s a list of some of the things that Ma taught me during the course of our lifetime together. These are things she said, did, led by example, or simply implied.  There are 101 things on this list.  There could have been one thousand or one million.  Because she taught me so much and I am so very grateful.  But I’ve narrowed the list down to 101.  I like this number.  It reminds me of the first year course numbers when I was in University.  English 101.  Pyschology 101.  Anthropology 101 where I met my first true love.  It’s a solid number with the implication that there is more to come.  And who knows.  Maybe there is.

The list isn’t in any particular order.  It’s random.  Like life.  Some things are common sense.  Others uncommon. Extraordinary.  Some are peculiar.  And contradictory.  Some are funny.  Others very sad.  At times confusing.  Often profound in simplicity.  And full of classic cliches of the time.  But also bright.  And wise.  Witty.  Practical.  Pragmatic.  Confounding.  Infuriating.  Loving. Tender.  Touching.

Cherished gifts each and every one.  From Ma to me.  To you.  With love.

1.  Two wrongs don’t make a right.
2. You can’t make someone love you.
3. Always wear clean underwear.  Carry a pair in your purse just in case.
4. Tomorrow’s another day and this too shall pass.
5. The secret to baking a good cookie is to remove it from the oven just before it’s done and let it finish baking on the sheet.
6. Time heals all wounds.
7. You can’t take it with you when you go.
8. Bad breath is better than no breath at all.
9. Everybody needs love even those who are difficult like your father.
10. God is inside of me.
11. The secret to a good spaghetti sauce is to let it simmer all day.
12. Don’t complain.  No one’s listening anyway.
13. Nobody’s perfect. They just wish they were.
14. Life is far too short.
15.  Send your child to school in fresh clean clothes every day even if it means doing laundry every night.
16. Don’t go out in the sun without a big hat and long sleeves.
17. Walk whenever possible and always have a comfortable pair of shoes at the back door ready to go.
18. You don’t need make-up, except for lipstick.  It brightens your face and makes you look pretty.
19. Keep a nice home and welcome everyone into it.
20.  Always tell the truth.  No one trusts liars.
21. Pay attention to how the dog reacts to your boyfriends.  The dog is a good judge of character.
22. Splurge on a really nice dress for a special occasion.  Treat yourself and don’t feel guilty.  It’s important to feel good when you go out.

#23 – Don’t walk around the house with your shoes on. It’s rude.

23. Don’t walk around the house with your shoes on.  It’s rude.
24. Always wash your face and put on night cream before going to bed.  Repeat in the morning with day cream.  Moisturizing is the key to beautiful skin all your life.
25.  Pick up a “Ladies” magazine while you’re grocery shopping. It’s an inexpensive treat.
26. Not everyone belongs in a group.
27. Don’t throw Tupperware parties. No one will come.
28. Stay away from bad people.  Especially men who are bad for you.  You’ll get hurt every time.
29. Call if you need me.  Anytime.  Anywhere.  I’ll be right there.
30. Babies like to be picked up when they cry.
31. Nothing beats flannel pajamas and nighties.

#32 – Take pictures of the flowers you are sent.

32. Take pictures of the cakes you bake, the flowers you are sent, the gifts you are given, the Christmas tree every year even if it looks the same, it’s different.
33. Support a third world child regardless of your financial situation.
34.  Cry when you’re sad.  Yell when you’re mad.  Sit silently when you need to think.  Laugh at the funny things.
35. Get up early.  Put the kettle on first thing. Start your day with a cup of tea and piece of toast.
36. It’s okay to wear comfortable clothes around the house just as long as they’re freshly washed and ironed.  Being comfortable isn’t the same thing as being a slob.
37. You can never give a child enough love.  That’s not what spoils them.
38. Accept invitations to lunch or an afternoon shopping at the mall.
39. It’s okay to fall asleep on the couch while watching television.
40. Don’t worry about your age.  There’s nothing you can do about it.
41. Always send Thank You cards.

#42 – Remember everyone’s birthday with a homemade cake.

42.  Remember everyone’s birthday with a homemade cake and a nicely wrapped gift.  At the very least give a special card.
43. Take care of your teeth.  False teeth just aren’t the same as your own.
44. Invite people to stay for dinner.  There’s always plenty.
45. Make the bed as soon as you get up.
46. Have supper together every night and make Sunday dinner extra special.  Roast something.  Have the entire family over.
47. Give people the benefit of the doubt and don’t hold grudges.
48. You don’t need a reason to give a gift or to send someone a note to let them know you’re thinking of them.
49. Try not to hurt someone’s feelings but apologize right away when you do.
50. Mind your manners.  Always say please and thank you.
51. Wash your hands all day long but especially before touching food.
52.  Bounce a baby on your lap and sing “doodley doodley doodley doo.”
53. Pick up litter when you see it.  Stuff it in your pocket if there isn’t a garbage nearby and throw it out when you get home.
54. Never let your grey roots show.  It makes you look old.
55. Baths are better than showers.
56.  Always bring out the good china for company and on special occasions.
57. You’re never too old to start something new.
58.  Nothing tastes quite as good as a sandwich made with lettuce freshly picked from the garden.
59. It’s okay to buy certain things for your home “on time.”
60. Write letters.  Everyone loves getting them.
61. No one will love you like your mother.  Especially a man.
62. Some people can be mean.  That doesn’t make okay for you to be mean back.
63. Take all kinds of vitamins and supplements.  They’re good for you.
64. People with thin lips are nags.
65. Pay your bills every month no matter how broke you are.  Even if it’s just a little bit to everyone you owe.
66. It’s a sign of beauty if a girl looks like her father.
67.  Get the dishes done right after you eat.
68. Eat lots of fruits and vegetables and enjoy dessert.
69.  Learn to sew clothes, embroider tablecloths and knit scarves.  Teach these to your daughters.
70. Learn to cook and bake, especially if you have children.
71. Read everything you can about being healthy and subscribe to Prevention Magazine.

#56 – Always bring out the good china for company and on special occasions.

72. Try to see the good in everyone.
73. Every child born to our family is wanted and loved.
74. Exercise every day. Walk. Do yoga. Ride an exercise bike.
75. Go back to school at sixty.
76. Don’t waste your time gossiping.
77. A health food store is a good place to shop.
78. The secret to a perfect pie crust is a secret.  But here’s the recipe.
79. Be kind and decent to everyone no matter who they are.
80. Walk facing the traffic at all times.
81. Be nice.
82. Don’t go empty handed to someone’s house.
83. Pray for people whether they asked you to or not.  Especially your children.
84. Don’t go blabbing family business to the neighbors.
85. You can do anything you want to if you put your mind to it.
86. You’re just as good as anyone.
87. Always make lemon pie from scratch.  It’s worth it.
88.  Forgive and forget.  Sometimes it’s easier said than done though.
89. Celebrate the holidays with your family.  Have big wonderful meals and lots of gifts under the tree.
90. You don’t have to get married to be married.
91. Potatoes are versatile.
92. No matter how afraid you are, get on the plane.
93. Respect your elders and those in authority, especially teachers and police officers.  Their jobs are hard enough.
94.  Don’t be a show off, braggart or know-it-all.  No one likes people like that.
95. It’s important to have a room of your own to sew or paint or make things.
96. Always have Kleenex up your sleeve and a package of peppermint Chicklets in your purse.
97. Offer your seat on the bus to older people and pregnant women.
98. Italians are nice people.
99. Don’t make promises you can’t keep, especially to children.
100. You only get out of life what you put into it.
101. You’re never too old to play on a swing.

#101 – You’re never too old to play on a swing.

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: I Never Can Say Goodbye.

Ma enjoying her morning tea the summer before she died.

Goodbyes can be hard for me.  Especially when I’m saying them to someone I love.  Then they don’t feel very good at all.  But within every goodbye is the welcoming possibility of the next hello.  Saving grace.

Some goodbyes are more difficult than others.  Some are temporary.  Short lived.  But others are permanent.  Never another opportunity to bid someone a fond adieu.  These are the most difficult.  The heartbreakers.  The sorrowful ones.  And sadly unavoidable.  Sooner or later, it happens to all of us.

If we’re lucky there may only be a few really big goodbyes in our lifetime.  But along the journey there are many little ones.  These are the fine hairline fractures of the heart.  The tiny losses that are barely detected by our minds but somewhere deep inside our spirt, there is a knowing.  And with each one, life changes.  Maybe not in a gigantic shrieking way.  But there is a shift.  It’s the winds of changes, Dylan sang about.   And things are never quite the same as they were.  I think we record these moments in our soul.  Some we bury deep. Others we record for posterity.  Capture in black and white.  Or  record in living color.  And play back.  Again and again.   But no matter how many times we practice we are never ever truly prepared for the last time.

We probably say goodbye to someone everyday.  I know I do.  In the morning my husband shouts up the stairs on his way out the door for work.  “See ya later,” he calls.  I’m in the bathroom readying myself for work, toothbrush in hand and I holler back, “have a good day!”  He responds in kind, “you too!”  I can hear the back door slam on his way out.  Hello, where’s my kiss.

My youngest daughter does a similar thing as she leaves for school, or to meet with friends.  “Bye Mom.  Love you!” she sings.  Her sweet voice, music to my ears.  “Love you too dear!” I trill.  I could be anywhere at this point.  Applying mascara in front of the bathroom mirror.  Throwing on a pair of skinny red jeans for work.  Rummaging through my closet for a clean top to go with them.  Gathering up the bag of goodies I need for work.  I hear the door slam.  I hear her say “hello” to her best friend.  They giggle.  They talk loud.  They’re young.

At work there are numerous goodbyes.  Business associates and colleagues come and go.  I wish them well.  “Have a good day!”  “Enjoy your week!”  “Your weekend!”   Cheers and tootle-dos. And with each “so long, farewell, it’s been good to know you” there is always the promise of tomorrow.  Another day to say hello.

Some goodbyes are rites of passage.  Like when my son moved out of the house and in with his buddies.  He was a young man by then.  But that’s not what I saw as he moved his things out of his bedroom.  I saw my little raisin-eyed boy who loved to rub his hands together with glee whenever his favorite team scored a goal.  I saw the little boy who held my hand on the way to school his first day.  I saw our entire life together flash before me as he closed the door.  Just like they say happens when you die. I saw it all in an instant.  Hello, can we press rewind.

A similar thing happened when my oldest daughter left to go to college.  My son just moved across town.  But my daughter moved across the Georgia Strait.  In theory still close.  But there was this inconvenient body of water between us, which meant we couldn’t just hop in the car and be there in ten minutes.  This geographic situation introduced all the “special occasion” goodbyes.  Her birthday and Thanksgiving weekend combo.  Christmas vacation.  The quick trip over for a winter weekend.  Easter and maybe spring break if luck is on our side.  The long weekend in May or Mother’s Day.  Choose one.  Canada Day and little sister’s birthday BBQ if time permits.  Time.  Never enough.  But we’ve got memories by the truckload.  And lots of hugs and kisses at the ferry terminal or the back door.  “Love you dear.”  “Love you too Mom.”  Hello, can we have more special occasions.

By the time I had these rites of passage and special occasion goodbyes with my children, I was already well practiced with Ma and The Old Man.  I remember the first one like it was yesterday.  It was the hardest.  Painful doesn’t even come close to describing it.  When my son was three we moved to the Westcoast for the first time.  My sister was (and still is) living in Victoria.  The plan was to move in with her and start a new life.  It was time to cut the apron strings.  And stand on my own two feet.  Embrace adulthood by moving three thousand miles from home.  It was all very exciting.

The departure scene at the airport is imbedded in my memory.  Forever.  Leaving Ma was hard enough.  But leaving with her grandson in tow was agonizing.  She had helped raise him and he meant the world to her.  We hugged.  We cried.  We waved goodbye.  My son and I got on the plane.  I wanted to jump on the next one back.  I didn’t.  But I did return a year later with a new husband.  Hello, we’re home.

There would be more moves over the years and many goodbye hugs and kisses.  All in preparation for the big one.

Ma died a year and a half after she had a massive heart attack.  Until that fateful day she always seemed so young and energetic.  She was one of those people whose age was indefinable.  We all thought she’d live to one hundred, including Ma.  Her heart attack was a shock to everyone, including Ma.  In fact, once Ma was out of the hospital and recovering nicely, she immediately went into denial.  “Oh I didn’t have a heart attack,” she’d say.  “Oh but you did Ma,” we’d say.  She never listened.  And either way, she seemed in pretty good shape for someone who may, or may not, have lost over 70% of her heart muscle.  Hello, who knows best.

The year and a half that Ma lived after her heart attack was a gift from God.  Not just for her.  But for me as well.  Had she died instantly that day in early August, I’m not sure I would have fared as well as I did.  This long goodbye.  This period of grace from God was the time I needed to come to grips with my mother’s mortality.  Despite her youthful appearance and vigorous disposition, she was in her eighties.  She was elderly. And no one, not even Ma, get’s out of here alive.  That year and a half was a sweet gentle loving time.  I grew to appreciate the quiet moments.  I learned to sit and be still.  I learned to watch and witness.  I grew a grateful heart.  I learned to let go.

A few months after her heart attack my sister brought Ma out to the Westcoast for a visit.  Because she had been doing so well, we thought this would be a good thing for her.  She never did return home.  Never saw The Old Man again.  She pined for both.  One minute she was doing really well and the next she was severely ill.  Quite quickly we ran out of time to get her back home.  She was stuck in Oz.  Her last Christmas was spent in the hospital.  We spent the best part of it there with her.  It was a sad time.  But it was wonderful too.  Miraculous.  Not because Ma’s heart was repaired.  But because mine was transformed.  Permanently.  I would never take life for granted again.

Ma enjoying an intimate moment with her great granddaughter just days before she died.

In the days before her death my oldest daughter brought my granddaughter to visit Ma in the hospital.  They couldn’t get their eyes off each other.  There they were.  The one leaving earth and the one who had just arrived in a profound intimate exchange.  No words necessary.  Just a meeting of the souls.  Kindred spirits.  Evermore linked.

Hello.  I love you.

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: Where Would we be Without our Mothers.

Ma and Daughter Number One wearing matching sweaters.

I miss Ma.  Every day.  Some days I pine for her in the deepest way.  Especially at this time of year.  I’d like to sit and have tea and cookies with her.  Just one more time.  Phone her up to chat.  Long distance to wherever she is.   There are days when I weep.  Uncontrollably.  It’s like a sad Candid Camera.  When it’s least expected.  Tears.  I never know when they’ll erupt.  Or why.  I can look at the same picture of Ma a thousand times and all it does is evoke a smile.  But every now and again I’ll see it through a different lens.  And the tears fall.  Like the loss just happened.  Heart broken anew.

Ma was the perfect mother for me.  She wasn’t perfect.  And she’d be the first to point out her flaws. But only Ma could have given birth to me.  Without she, there would be no me.

I had a good mother.  And I gave birth to a good mother.  I am doubly blessed.  Twice heaven-sent.   Daughter Number One (DNO) gave me a granddaughter and made me a “boo.”  In our family this means grandmother.  It was an endearing childhood nickname that we hauled out of antiquity.  Ma was already Gran, Granny and Grandma.  No other title seemed quite as fitting so we came up with the boo thing.  And it just felt right.

I always knew I would be a mother.  It wasn’t like I lied awake at night dreaming of the day when I would hold a child in my arms.  It was just something I took for granted.  Understood would happen.  And I am so grateful that it did.  I love being a mom.  I love being a boo.

When Ma was a young girl, she did dream of being a mother one day.  Having a family to call her own. By the time she was ten both her parents were gone, and for all intents and purposes, Ma and her four sisters were left orphaned.  They were raised by their maternal grandmother.  Ma loved her dearly.  But she longed for a mother’s love.  I get that.  There’s nothing quite like it, especially when you’ve got a good one.

It was from that motherless child’s perspective that Ma’s desire grew.  To one day be a mother herself.  There was never any doubt in her mind. No second guessing.  It was her magnificent obsession.  Her four kids were everything to her.  As were her grandchildren and great grandchildren.  Quite simply, Ma loved kids.  Not just her own. But everyones.  That was where her heart was.  And kids loved her.  Drawn to her like Mother Earth.  They may have come initially for her cookies.  But came back for her kindness.  And she had it in spades.  Her heart was compassionate.  Her understanding empathic.  Who wouldn’t want to run into the arms of someone so emotionally gifted.

Ma holding me as we pose for the camera.

It was love at first sight for both Ma and me.  I don’t remember of course, but on some level I think we do.  Somewhere inside our spirit lives this first moment of meeting.  Ma said I was born around noon.  It was summer time.  Possibly the living was easy.  Ma was happy.  From what I was told her water broke, she had me, missed lunch and that “I was the cutest baby.”  As it just so happens, my three siblings were also the cutest babies.  It’s nothing shy of a miracle how every mother has the cutest baby, or babies.  I love how equitable the universe is on this subject. But equality aside, this was our moment for mutual admiration.  My three older siblings all had their turn.  Now this was mine.

Ma said I had dark brown eyes and tons of long black hair.  I used to pull it and make myself cry.  And then look at Ma like she was the culprit.  Ma loved to tell this tale of my infantile masochism.  It was her “cute baby” story.  And I couldn’t get enough of it.  Partly because it made us both laugh.  But also because Ma always told it with an air of pride in my crowning glory.  Like this was some extraordinary accomplishment on both our parts.  And at such a young age.

Me and Daughter Number One posing for the camera.

I remember the birth of my DNO like it was yesterday.  I was two weeks overdue.  And super-sized.  Next to me, an elephant looked svelte.  It was the beginning of October and Autumn was showing off as usual.  I was hoping DNO would arrive a week early for Ma’s birthday.  What a perfect gift this would have been. But that day came and went.  Then I placed my hopes on my best friend’s birthday in the middle of September, but that too came and went.  By the end of September, the doctor decided that if the baby didn’t arrive over the weekend, he would intervene.  Monday came and still no baby.  An induction was scheduled for 5:00pm that day.  This was the last thing I wanted but by this time, I was compliant.  Ready.  I hadn’t seen my feet in months.  I was swollen.  And exhausted.  It was time for the bun to come out of the oven.

Perhaps it was just a curious coincidence.  Or maybe DNO was finally ready.  Because not long after we arrived at the hospital, I felt the first pangs of labor.  No need for inducement.  This became my “cute baby” story for DNO.  Just the suggestion was enough for her to take things into her own hands.  Do things her way.  This willfulness has never left her.  It is one of the things I admire and love most about DNO.  It has taken her to wonderful places that I have only imagined.  It is the engine that drives her courage.  Her strength.  Her determination to live life to the fullest.  It propels her towards big dreams.

My other “cute baby” story is how she came out smiling.  She had a happy spirit right from the start.  This too in part defines her.  I looked into her beautiful dark brown eyes and it was love at first sight.  And I knew.  There would be no stopping a girl with a cheerful demeanor and a will of steel.  Watch out world.  Here she comes.

On some level the birth of my granddaughter was more profound than the birth of my three children.  When you’re in labor you’re caught up in the fray.  There’s no time for perspective.  Reflection.  Or introspection.  That comes afterwards.  But when your child is having a child, you are witness to the miraculous. And you know it.  With every fiber of your being.  Grandchild number one (GNO) came into my world one beautiful morning at the end of summer and made it a better place.  All has been right  ever since.

Daughter Number One holding Granddaughter Number One.

My daughter had been in labor for over two days.  It was difficult to watch my child in pain.  If I could, I would have taken it from her.  It’s natural for a mother to want to take the bullet.  Jump in front of the train.  Walk without shoes.  And this was one of those instances where I would have done anything for her.  But this was her journey to travel.  Her odyssey.  Her miracle in the making.  Her moment.  My job was to wait.  To comfort.  And to love.

And wait  we did.  In the final hours before GNO’s arrival, my husband and I sat on the floor outside my daughter’s hospital room.  From that vantage point, we listened while my daughter’s partner whispered words of encouragement and love.  We listened as the medical folks led her through the final stages of childbirth.  We listened as she became a mother.  We listened as the doctor declared that a beautiful healthy baby girl was born.  Those were the joyful words we were waiting to hear.  Then it was time to meet our new granddaughter.  I held her in my arms and she looked up at me with deep dark chocolate eyes.  Just like Ma’s.  And this is my “cute baby” story for her.  I remind her often that she has her great grandmother’s black Italian eyes.  And that their time together was brief.  But they knew each other well.

Ma was a remarkable mother.  My daughter is too.

Ma taught me everything she knew.  How to bake a perfect ginger cookie.  Sew a seam on a summer dress.  Tend to an open wound.  Mend a broken heart.  She taught me how important it was to listen to your child.  And to hear the words spoken.  And those not.  She taught me how to open my heart.  And when to keep my mouth shut.  She showed me how to make much of little.  And to celebrate the birth of a child.  For there is no greater gift.

My daughter is teaching me every day.  I watch her with my granddaughter and my heart stops.  She’s engaging.  And smart. Full of all the right instincts.  She knows how and when to discipline.  She knows how to grow an infant into a little girl into a preteen and one day into a strong young woman.  She knows how to entertain her daughter.  And when to let her entertain herself.   She’s funny.  And fun.  Kids are drawn to her.  They see her great big heart.  And welcoming arms.  Who wouldn’t want to be embraced by those.

Yes, both Ma and DNO have taught me much. I like to think that I’m a better woman because of these two extraordinary ones.

A few weeks after this photo was taken my granddaughter was born. A few months later Ma was gone. They knew each other briefly but well.