My mother's funeral was on January 25th. I wrote and delivered the eulogy, and I am conceited enough to think that you might want to see it.
I will be off work until February 9th, so you will not see a blog post until then.
See you later. I miss you. And I look forward to resuming the blog.
Marion Kathleen Keddy
My mother was born on March 17, 1932. Yes. That’s right. My mother was born on Saint Patrick’s Day. Which is funny, because I never knew her to take a drink.
My first memory of my mother was from when I was around 4. I came bounding through the living room and toward the kitchen. My mother stood in the doorway. I didn’t see her. I ran into her and bounced off, falling on my rear end.
My second real memory of her was about a year later, when I was in Grade Primary at Port Williams Elementary School. This was around October of 1969. Class was interrupted for a moment. My mother walked in to class, toward me. I thought I must be in terrible trouble, or that something really bad had happened. As she approached me, she reached in to her purse and pulled out an object and thrust it in to my hand. It was a handkerchief. I had forgotten my hanky that morning. My mother was so worried that I might sneeze and be ill prepared for it, that she, a woman who did not drive, and whose husband was at work, roused the next door neighbour out of bed and cajoled him to drive her to my school. I never forgot my hanky again.
Not long after, my older brother died. I remember my mother telling me many years later that when Ernie died, that she had to make an important decision. She could spend the rest of her life dwelling on his death, to no avail; or she could acknowledge that he was gone and concentrate on her remaining 3 children, which is what she did. Some may think that to be a cold decision, but those people will have to concede that it was the right one.
The years passed. Because Dad was working so much, and I was a home body, I spent more time with my mother than my father. I saw how hard she had to work, and how expensive it was for her to keep a household going. But one thing that she made sure we had was as much reading material was possible. Where we lived made it awkward and inconvenient for us to get easily to the Port Williams Library, so we had most of our books “in house”. Every Christmas we would get as many books as our parents could afford. To set a good example for us, she would read as much as possible, often long into the evening. As recently as 2014, I made sure that she got books for Christmas. After she moved in to the Shannex retirement home in Greenwich in 2013, I negotiated with a couple of women in Halifax to give me bags and bags of magazines, which I would dutifully transport to my mother, and which she would gleefully rifle through. She read until nearly the very end. But more on that later.
I learned a lot from my mother. I can even give you an example of an incident that happened to her long before I was born, but which I have carried with me for most of my life, ever since I heard about it. When she was a little girl, her parents were stepping out for the evening. They left her in the house with bread baking in the oven. “Marion”, her mother told my mother, “If it gets too hot, just open the door.”
A few hours later, they returned home, and discovered the front door to the house wide open. It was storming outside, so the wind and the snow were whipping through the home, causing who knows what kind of damage. Her mother looked at my mother and said, “No, dear. I meant the door to the oven!”
Those of you who work with me will likely have noticed that when I am given a task, that I may ask some very fundamental questions, questions that may make you think I do not understand the task I have been given. Mostly, I do understand, but I always reflect back on the long-ago “baked bread” incident with my mother and think that if she had just asked for one little bit of clarification from her mother, that it would have avoided a lot of embarrassment. The only dumb question is the one that is not asked. Now you know!
My mother was as honest as the day is long. But she had one bad habit, and that was how she behaved in restaurants. For as long as I could remember when she was living in the house, when we would go out to eat, at the end of the meal she would regard the unused paper napkins at the table. She would look furtively to her left and right, and then to her right and left. When she was confident that nobody was watching, she would take those unused napkins and stuff them in to her purse. Once she had done so, she would give me a guilty look, as if she had done something terrible. Then, there would be a look of smug satisfaction, as if she had got away with a major crime. My mother, the kleptomaniac!
Speaking of restaurants, my mother developed a keen interest for eating out in recent years. She loved going to Cora’s. The first time I took her to the one in New Minas, she looked around the place as if entranced. From then on, every month or so, she would suggest, in her own special way, that we go there again.
She also liked going to eating establishments like Rosie’s in Wolfville, the Timberlea Beverage Room out where I live, Michael’s on Young Street in Halifax, or just about any place that offered on the menu “nat chose”. If they had “nat chose” on the menu, she would strongly hint that she wanted, and I always made sure we had them.
One place we visited a few times on my parents’ many trips to Halifax for medical appointments was the former Spartan restaurant on Quinpool Road. I will never forget the time we went there on my father’s birthday. While he and I fought over who would pay the bill (I won), my mother was given an extra serving of rice pudding by the old lady who owned the place. Dad and I were jealous.
I mentioned before that my mother never drove. I think I know why. One day, many years ago, when we were driving out to my father’s brother’s place on a Sunday afternoon, Dad pulled over to the side of the road and “invited” my mother to drive us the remaining short distance to Bob’s. With great reluctance, she got behind the wheel of the car and proceeded to drive us nearly off the road. Dad never asked her to drive again.
My mother was never an animal person, not until the last few years of her life. I acquired a cat in 2006, and I named him Newbie. Dad liked him from the get-go, but it took Mom a long time to warm up to him. She eventually did, but she didn’t understand the name I had applied to him. She called him “Newfie”. As long as I live, I will never forget her saying things like, “Newfie! Get off the table! Newfie! Down, boy!”
I promised to tell you about my mother’s reading habits. A few months ago, during the 2014 Deep Roots Festival in Wolfville, Patricia and I killed some time at the Box of Delights Bookshop. I was at one end of the store, while Patricia was at the other. I noticed a particular book and began to leaf through it. Meanwhile, Patricia did the same thing. We both started chuckling and looked at each other and revealed to the other what book had captured our attention. It was this one, “The Little Old Lady Who Broke All The Rules”. It is a about a senior citizen in a retirement home who, along with some friends, in an effort to combat the boredom of their existence, embarks on a life of crime by robbing banks and stealing art.
I decided to purchase this book for my mother for Christmas of 2014. It turned out to be the last book she ever read, as she picked it up Christmas night and read it in just over a week. Each night I would ask her how the book was coming along. She would say, “Oh, they just got out of jail, dear!” or, “They just escaped the country, dear!” While I am glad she finished this book, and enjoyed it, I still wonder if it was a good idea to give her the book given how much she relished stealing the napkins of the various restaurants we frequented.
Some of you know that I have had a part-time writing gig for Frank Magazine since the Fall. I purchased a subscription to Frank for my mother so that she could read my column every two weeks. Every other Wednesday, Tracy at the nursing home would deliver the latest issue to Mom, who would snatch it from her hands and immediately look for the column. The most recent issue arrived on the day she died. We discussed my column that evening, what turned out to be minutes before she passed. I found that issue among her things, along with all the other issues to which I had contributed material. I think I will keep them.
My mother had a way of getting people to do things and making them think it was their idea. She used this trick to great effect when she wanted to go out for a meal. One time, when Patricia had taken Mom to stay at the cottage in Pictou County, the power went out. “Marion, what can I make for you for dinner?”, Patricia asked. Mom said, “Oh, don’t worry about me, dear. I will just take a piece of bread and put some ketchup and margarine on it and eat that.” Patricia looked down at the floor, shook her head, and said, “Marion, get your purse. We’re going out to dinner!”
During that same trip, Patricia drove Mom to the town of Pictou, and ended driving along the waterfront. Mom rolled down the window and began to huff vigorously. Patricia pulled the car over, worried. “Are you all right, Marion?”, she asked. Mom replied that she was fine. She just wanted to breathe the sea air, as she had done since she was a little girl growing up in Baxter’s Harbour.
After her husband died in 2010, Mom continued to live in the family home. In March of 2013, a room became available at the Shannex Retirement facility in Greenwich, which was exactly the place she wanted to go when the time came. She was offered the room, and accepted the invitation. She moved in a couple of days later.
While at Shannex, she blossomed socially. She participated in exercise classes, bowled, did arts and crafts, and became so good at bingo that we feared that she would have to join Gambler’s Anonymous. But most importantly, she made friends with a lot of people, both clients and staff. More than a few times, people told me that she would sit in her room with the door open and wave at everyone walking by. They will miss those waves. And so will I. Every time I left her and drove off, I could see her sitting by her window, waving at me. And if I didn’t call her upon my return to the city after visiting her, she would worry until I did.
My mother was a complex person, and could rub people the wrong way. But I saw in her a fierce determination and a level of independence that stood her in great stead as she raised us, and after we moved out, and as her husband grew frail and weak. She took guff from no one, and did not overly care what a person’s station was relative to hers. She spoke her mind, and we all felt the lash of her tongue from time to time. What I would give to hear that, just one more time.
I learned a great deal from my mother over the past half century. But I must now accept that those lessons have ended. Her imparted wisdom must remain with me for the balance of my days, or those lessons would have been for naught.
Every time I take on a task that I do not wish to assume, I will think of the time when I was little when she told me that there were lots of things in life that she didn’t want to do, but she did them anyway.
Each time I take my lot in life for granted, I will think of the struggles that my parents experienced in raising us.
And every time I mutter about my sore knees and ever-increasing aches and pains, I will think of how my mother suffered from diabetes, heart failure, cancer, poor circulation, near-total renal failure, and how she underwent life-threatening surgery at the age of 79; and how she took it all in stride.
My mother is gone, but she will remain with me always.