Friday, September 24, 2010

Mom Memories

It’s coming up to the 2nd anniversary of my mother’s death. It’s taken me this long to allow myself the luxury of thinking about her. Before now, anytime she moved into my thoughts, I quickly pushed her away. It was still too hard to think about her.
Grace and Rose
Last week I took dad to see mom’s only remaining sibling, her sister Grace, who lives in a nursing home not far from where dad lives.  My mom Rose and Grace were the closest in age and were the best of friends. When they had the opportunity to get together at Thanksgiving or Christmas, they shape shifted. They were no longer 80 and 82, but 10 and 12. They always snuck upstairs at some point in the evening, and closed themselves in a room. There they’d whisper together,  and examine the contents of several bags each of them had been saving for the other. Several of us downstairs would get called up to try on something that was 3 sizes too big or small, or hadn’t been ‘in style’ in 10 years. No matter, Grace had been a seamstress for 60 years. Nothing was wasted. When Jerry’s long sleeved shirts wore out at the elbow, Grace would cut the sleeves off and make the shirt into a short sleeve shirt. She’d even take the buttons she’d removed from the sleeve and sew them on as decoration around the now ‘too wide’ sleeve hole. They were a riot. Mom could make Grace laugh until she cried. They told many stories of their youth. One of my favourites had to do with an old pair of boots. I can remember the boots sitting on top of a home-made pine closet in Grace’s tiny bungalow, just east of Ottawa. They were rotted black rubber boots cut off long ago just above the ankle. They hadn’t been worn in over 70 years, but for a pair of ageing sisters, all you had to do was mention those boots to stir up laughter and memories of a time long ago.
Front - Rose and Grace (1936?)
Rose was born in 1924, the twelfth out of what was to be a family of thirteen children, on a farm east of Ottawa. Her mother died shortly after giving birth to her younger sister Grace a couple years later. After their mother’s death they were cared for by older siblings. The family was extremely poor but resourceful and hardworking. Rose was a rebellious tomboy known for beating up on the boys at school, especially if they teased her or her sisters. There was only one pair of black rubber boots to be shared by the three youngest girls. Each morning a fight ensued before the three mile hike to school, to determine who would wear the boots. Rose usually won. Often she would attempt to hide the boots the night before. At dinner one night the smell of rubber slowly permeated the kitchen air. Rose had hidden the boots behind the wood stove. Fortunately, she was able to save them by dousing them in cold water but they had to be severely cut down. 
One Sunday morning when Rose was seven and Grace five, they were left alone at the farm to do chores while the rest of the family attended church. Rose was cleaning out the wood stove and had given Grace a bucket of ashes to discard behind the house. Instead, Grace threw them behind the chicken shed. The resulting fire destroyed both farmhouse and barn. Clouds of black billowing smoke could be seen for miles but nothing could be done. Rose and Grace sat weeping at the end of the lane, terrified of the punishment their strict father would deal them. Luckily, Rose was wearing the black rubber boots.
After the fire, the family was split up and sent to different farms to live with relatives. Rose and Grace lived and worked on their uncle’s farm. Often they’d hear the train whistle blow in the distance, stop their field work and run the half mile to the track to wave to the engineer on his way to Ottawa. Each time he passed he would blow a special whistle just for them. Rose wanted nothing more than to take that train. Ottawa was only thirty miles away, but it may as well have been on the other side of the planet. 
When Rose was sixteen she took that train into Ottawa and left Grace in possession of the old black boots. Grace never got rid of them.


  1. Hey Suzanne - wonderful. Your style reminds me of Joan Finnigan's stories of the Ottawa Valley.
    Keep your pen in hand and look forward to your blog.

  2. Wonderful story Suzanne! I and like your blog look, introduction and of course Muttley crew pic :)

  3. You go away...we will be reading and anticipating the next you, Caroline

  4. I love that you penned this story. I know you shared it at times, during one of our yakkathons, when we were repeating ourselves.


  5. Oh Auntie Sue, I absolutely love this story and you tell it so well. Brought a tear to my eye.

    dolly xo

  6. Thank you so much for sharing these stories! I trust it will become less painful to recall the precious memories of your beloved mother so I hope you will continue to write them down.