“It’s too nice to bother with housework,” my mother would announce with a smile. Settling cozily into her chair on the veranda, mid-morning sun spilling over her as she drank her second or third cup of tea.
For as long as I remember, my mother worked, in first one, then another law office in downtown Vancouver. Nine to five, Monday to Friday.
It was a job she loved and was good at, but it was work, so when a day of sunshine bloomed on a weekend, the last thing my mother was going to do was stay inside and clean if she didn’t have to, there was plenty of time for that later, even if it was a lick and a promise. Her declaration to abandon housework was more than just a statement, it was a minor act of rebellion because, during the depression, my grandmother cleaned houses and took in laundry for a living. When she came to visit, the house became spotless in a day, clothes beautifully ironed along with a faint unspoken air of reproach from my grandmother lingering uncomfortably in the ethers, letting my mother know she was lacking in the house cleaning department.
I thought my mother was very glamourous and worldly and I was proud of her. I loved slipping into my parent’s bedroom, peeking into her jewelry box to see her sparkling earrings and necklaces. Twisting up her lipsticks sheathed in gold ribbed tubes, gleaming pink, coral and red, opening her round powder box, lifting the soft, feathery powder puff and brushing it over my face, inhaling the scent of my mother. I loved to open her closet and look at all the blouses, dresses, skirts and pants hung in perfect order, but I especially loved to pour over her old photo albums. The worn brown leather covers, spines held together with delicate stitching, the black and white pictures with their corners tucked into little black triangles to keep them in place, all positioned on sturdy black paper. Inside were pictures of my mother young and exuberant, posing with friends in old fashioned bathing suits, of long ago picnics and laughing people I’d never met. Pictures of her brother and sister and parents posed in front of houses I’d never seen before.
Then there were the pictures of my mother in uniform, heading off to serve in World War 2, to do her duty as a WREN for her country. These were stories of a whole other life lived, long before she met my father and long before I made her a mother at the age of forty.
My mother was talented at many things; she was valued at her job, she was efficient, thorough, focused and dedicated. When she retired at 75, her boss wept at her going away party.
She was an excellent tennis player, with trophies to prove it, she sewed all my clothes and hers when I was growing up, plus clothes for my barbie. Sometimes, my mother, barbie and I, all had the same outfit.
She was an excellent cook and baker and always loved company. If you happened to drop in unexpectedly, you could be sure freshly baked scones and properly brewed tea would appear in due course.
She lived her life in a kind of unconventional, conventional way. She uprooted her life after the war and moved by herself 4,000 kilometres away from family to forge a new life in a city by the sea, where, as it turned out, she met her future destiny, in the form of my father, and created a family. One she never thought she would have.
Her name is Daisy, and it suits her. She has a light within that shines through her still at 102. A light of goodness, simple kindness and a kind of innocent joy. She loved me and my Dad completely, and utterly, something in my own complicated life I’ve thankfully never had to question.
I have a memory that has been coming up lately that is turning out to hold a powerful gift from my mother, one I doubt she knew she was bestowing.
We’d been camping on Vancouver Island over the weekend. I was about 15 or 16 at the time.
I was demonstrating your basic teenage angst on that trip, sulky and uncommunicative in turns, my mother and I butting heads a few times, my Dad wisely keeping out of our way, but we made it through and now we were on our way home. Travelling on a ferry that used to run between Nanaimo and downtown Vancouver. It was August, hot and beautiful, a bright blue sky overhead, clear of clouds. The coastal mountains to our left towering high above the sea, anchoring the city and framing our passage as the ferry cut through the blue, green water, a white foamy wake trailing behind. Seagulls were calling out overhead, the busy port of Vancouver pulling into sight.
I remember looking over at my mother, sitting placidly with her eyes closed, face tilted to the warm afternoon sun, the ocean breeze ruffling her hair, with a certain look on her face. One that I recognized, I’d seen it often. It was one of surrendered contentment, of complete pleasure in the moment. Nowhere to go, nothing to do, nowhere to be but here. As I watched, she opened her eyes and looked at me, and we both smiled. Our love passing effortlessly from one to the other, held in a shared glorious, timeless sunlit moment. The gift my mother gave me on that day, the one that has taken me so long to embrace and own for myself, that is still a work in progress, is the gift of being able to drop the world and let it be. To allow myself to be held in the now, where the past, the present and the future meet. Right here, right now. To lift my face to the day, whatever that day brings, and to be with that moment, because that moment, is every moment, and probably, it is the perfect moment that is “far too nice to be bothered with housework.”