Memories of Mom!
Memories of Mom!
by William Land
I was very lucky to have a wonderful mother! Mary Quigley Land was one of the best and strongest influences in my life.
Mom always offered me unconditional love. She has been, among many roles, a parent, an advocate, a teacher, a nurse, a housekeeper, a cook, a Santa Claus, a disciplinarian, a therapist, a confidante, a companion, and a friend.
I have so many terrific memories of my mother. My childhood was somewhat difficult much of the time due to living with cerebral palsy, and not having many friends and often very lonely. I was both bullied by some of my peers and, in turn, I bullied some younger children, particularly my brothers. I also was angry and frustrated much of the time because I felt like the “round peg trying to fit into a square hole.” Now matter how hard one tries, it just does not fit in. As I aged, I learned that it was fine to “march to my own beat” and became confident, productive, blessed, and happier in my life, dealing effectively with many of the negatives from the past.
My mother knew and understood this frustration and lovingly offered her guidance and support. At times, her life was not particularly easy either; as life is such for many people. Mom had five sons, a husband, and a household to run smoothly. Mom was responsible for ensuring that the family home ran well. Dad, typical of men of his generation, earned the income and was the head of the family; Mom was the foundation. Both parents took their roles seriously to provide their sons a life better than either of them had had. As an adult, I can look back remember and know how fortunate my brothers and I have been to have had our parents. Family, above all others, is most important, a lesson each son had learned well.
At age 12 or 13, I, being the oldest child, had some responsibility in the family, but each person had chores. One summer day, Dad had his three oldest sons doing yard work. I was not particularly skilled at knowing the difference between the plants and the weeds, and this assignment ended with he and I in heated conflict when I inadvertently made an incorrect choice. My father thought I had pulled the plant purposely. Angrily, I retreated indoors. Mom, in her wisdom, decided it would best that I work with her in the house. I was very happy to leave John and Mike outdoors with our father.
I had to “earn my keep” (an often used expression from my mother) so Mom taught me how to wash dishes and to dust. Without daughters, she needed some help! I haven’t a clear memory of the first time I washed dishes, but I can easily recall that, as a teenager, and into my mid-thirties, I always seemed to be washing dishes!
Under Mom’s concise direction, I became very competent at housekeeping! She gave me the best gift in teaching me how to manage my own home.
Mom was very careful about cleaning. While dusting, I was instructed to remove all the ornaments and anything else from the table, thoroughly dust it including the legs, and return the dusted decorations and other objects to their proper places. I became competent at this task.
One day Mom received a phone call. Company was expected within thirty minutes. She asked me to help her get ready. She asked me to dust the living room; she would clean the bathroom, and when she came back, she would vacuum the living room.
Alone, as I had been taught, I removed everything from the first table to dust. I was only half done this chore when Mom returned. She saw what I was doing and said we didn’t have time for a proper cleaning. My new directions were to dust around the ornaments without moving them and skim the cloth across the decorations. As she was getting the vacuum, she said, “We only have time for a half-assed clean today.”
Over the years, when dusting, only completing a “half-assed clean,” I always think of Mom. This memory makes me smile as I recognize when I am pressed for time, and when I’m just being lazy and don’t want to dust properly.
I also was responsible for babysitting my younger siblings, particularly during school holidays. If Mom had to go out during the day for a short time, I was the babysitter. I was not paid for this because I received an allowance; babysitting was one of my chores. However, I was paid for babysitting if my parents went out in the evening; the longer hours had greater responsibility. I was well into my teens before I realized that other babysitters my age actually received wages even if they babysat during the daytime!
Mom supported my book reading and collecting habits and frequent trips to the public library. I remember being in Grade 3 and she took John and me to the Elliot Lake Public Library to become members. I was so excited to get my first library card! My number was 8533; John’s number was 8532, which I thought was unfair! I was the oldest! I should have been first! <a second smile> That library became my second home!
Mom knew I was quiet when I had a book! At times, when she needed to punish me, she would send me to my room. It was not really a punishment because I would just read after pondering the injustices of my troubled childhood! It was never my fault; Mom, or someone else, was always to blame! <another smile> It took me many years to realize that I was not being punished; she just wanted to be away from me and for me to be quiet!
One summer day, Mom returned from downtown; I was babysitting. She handed me a brand new Nancy Drew novel, The Hidden Window Mystery (original text) that I had not read! It was neither my birthday, nor another special occasion so I was quite surprised. She told me that I had babysat so much for her that week that she thought I deserved a treat! I asked her how she knew I did not have that book. “I checked your bookcase,” she replied.
At 18, I left home to go to college. I missed my family, particularly my mother, very much even though I was living with relatives. When I saw her a few weeks later, at Thanksgiving, our reunion was wonderful. She said she felt like the past month was as if someone had died!
During my 20s, I lived in Elliot Lake, the same community in which I had been raised and my parents lived. I saw them frequently. At 30, I knew my life needed to have experiences beyond Elliot Lake and its environs. My career path led me to North Bay.
Leaving my parents was very hard! Mom and I had agreed that we would have a phone call once a week on Sunday when long distance rates were less expensive. I was very happy when we started this practice.
At once time, Mom thought it would be better to save some money (she was concerned about my budget; less about her own since she was more comfortable financially) and call less frequently, but I convinced her that I so needed this regular contact. As I grew older and more used to being apart, I still needed to speak with her regularly, but not with the same intensity. However, we continued this tradition, and it was one she particularly needed after she became widowed.
Our telephone conversations sometimes were quite brief; around 30 minutes if neither had a very eventful week. However, they were often longer when we had both been busy, or one or the other or both had issues we needed to discuss. In the interest of full disclosure, honesty must prevail! Sometimes we just gossiped, also knowing as “sharing news!” <another smile>
I truly enjoyed Mom’s visits to my home when she came to North Bay, Orillia, Toronto, or Sudbury over the years. The first time she visited me in North Bay, we were sitting in the living room the Friday evening she arrived. I told her that I had changed the bed sheets that morning before I went to work.
MOM: That is nice. They will be fresh for you.
ME: I changed them for you. I am sleeping on the couch.
MOM: No. I’m sleeping on the couch.
ME: No, Mom, you’re sleeping in the bed.
MOM: I decided before I left Elliot Lake that I was sleeping on the couch.
ME: Mother, you’re a guest in my home. You’re supposed to sleep where I tell you!
MOM: I’m your mother. You’re supposed to listen to me!
ME: Mom, please sleep in the bed!
MOM: I’m on the couch. And, if you don’t listen to me, I’ll get the wooden spoon after you!
ME: <laughing> It’s MY wooden spoon!
MOM: <laughing> Don’t make me have to use it!
I’m sure that astute readers will know that I had the most comfortable sleep in my bed that weekend. (An aside: the wooden spoon was not removed from the drawer).
I didn’t usually address her as “Mother” unless I wanted to make a strong point! I could easily adopt a distinct, firm tone with “Mother” than “Mom.” (An aside: It rarely worked, but I tried!)
That same weekend, we had another conflict on Saturday morning. I had forgotten to buy jam for breakfast, and Mom often enjoyed it with her toast some mornings. I apologized for my oversight, and I said I would get some when we went shopping.
At the grocery store, I picked two small jars of jam, and put them in the cart. Ready to move on, I was detained by my mother.
MOM: Why are you buying two jars?
ME: So, you’ll have a choice.
MOM: I don’t need two kinds. And these are too expensive! (Mom picked up a large jar of strawberry jam from another shelf). This is one sale for 99 cents!
ME: The kind I picked is better quality. It will taste better (I removed her jar from the cart, and returned one of my jars to it).
MOM: This is cheaper and it’s fine. (Mom switched jars!)
ME: Mother, your jam is full of additives and preservatives.
MOM: Who cares? We’ve been eating them for years! (Before I could react, Mom walked away with the cart).
ACTION: Mom has jam with her toast the following morning.
ME: <sarcastically> Is it good?
MOM: <ignoring my sarcasm> Yes.
ME: Well, you can take it home with you. I won’t eat it.
SETTING THE SCENE: Of course, I had forgotten to give it to her when she was leaving. The next time, she came to visit; I had remembered to buy jam and chose the brand I had originally selected. I also bought two kinds so she would have a choice.
MOM: <regarding the jar>This wasn’t the jam I had the last time.
ME: <agreeable> No, it isn’t.
MOM: Did you eat it?
MOM: What did you do with it?
ME: I threw it out because it wasn’t fit to serve.
MOM: I’m not surprised!
ACTION: more laughter.
One of my best memories of time spent with my mother was when she visited me in my apartments or in Toronto when I was boarding with a family. We would wake early on the first day after her arrival, usually a Saturday, and discuss plans for our shopping trip over a pot of coffee and breakfast. We would catch up on news and gossip and chat until we realized time was rapidly escaping. We would have to clean the kitchen, have showers (although Mom had often had hers before I awoke), and get dressed. It would be late morning or early afternoon before we set forth.
We’d have fun shopping for whatever she wanted or needed, and for what I needed. I would often take her shopping for clothes because she liked offered by the stores in the bigger cities. I was willing to go shopping for clothes because it was important to her, and it gave us time to spend together.
Depending on the time, we would sometimes have lunch or dinner at a restaurant. I always thought if I was shopping for most of the day, I didn’t have time to cook.
In recent years, as we both aged and our disabilities were taking their toll (Mom living with dementia/I with cerebral palsy/Parkinson’s disease), the shopping trips were less frequent and shorter. However, we both enjoyed them until we could no longer do them so easily.
One summer day in 2012, I visited her at the seniors’ residence where she lived before the nursing home and said, “On a day like this, we would have been out shopping and out for lunch. But these days are over for us!”
Mom replied that was okay. It was now easier for someone else to do the shopping. I agreed and said, “Also, online shopping works well!”
Over the years, Mom was part of many of my moves with the packing and unpacking. When I moved from North Bay to Orillia, that move was particularly challenging because my apartment was smaller and the layout was different. Mom came for a visit to help me unpack.
At one point, I decided my desk should have been moved from the living room where I had thought I wanted it to the room I was using as a library. We needed to move it ourselves because we didn’t have “strong male muscle” readily available. Mom took one end and walked forward; I took the other end and walked backward (my balance was quite steady in those days; pre-cane use). As we were moving the large desk down the narrow hallway, she commented, “At times like this, I really miss your father!” We were proud that we were able to move the desk successfully.
During that same trip, we were unpacking books and putting them on bookcases. Unfortunately, the packers hadn’t kept the books in any particular order so it was hard to find them to keep similar series books together. At one point, Mom commented that I had a lot of books. I responded that I hadn’t gotten rid of one since I was eight years old (at the time I was 35). “Isn’t it about time you did?” questioned Mom.
Mom was a guest in my home on her 65th birthday. I decided to make her a coconut birthday cake since she was very fond of coconut. I found a recipe and make a cake which had coconut in the both cake and the frosting. When I took my first bite, I didn’t like it! It was too much coconut! (An aside: only the cake or the frosting should have had coconut; not both!)
ME: This is horrible!
MOM: No, it’s good.
ME: There’s too much coconut!
MOM: I like it.
ME: (after taking another bite – I thought I was missing something here). No, it’s still horrible!
MOM: It’s not.
ME: You’re just being polite.
ACTION: After dinner, we were cleaning the kitchen. I picked up the pan that had the remains of the cake.
ME: Mom, would you like more cake?
MOM: No, thanks. I don’t want any more.
ME: No, I don’t want anymore either.
ACTION: I discarded the cake in the garbage. Mom’s facial expression showed disbelief.
MOM: I can’t believe you threw good cake in the garbage!
ME: I didn’t! I threw horrible cake in the garbage!
MOM: It was good!
ME: Well, I didn’t like it, and you said you didn’t want anymore.
MOM: I don’t want it now, but maybe I want some tomorrow.
ME: I’ll make another dessert tomorrow.
MOM: For the garbage?
ME: Not if it’s good!
I have hundreds of stories of the good times and many laughs Mom and I have shared. I could also speak of times of conflict and strive, but these experiences are less than positive, but we always worked it out; usually very quickly because we didn’t like conflict with each other.
Over time, Mom and I also shared many serious conversations that were both deeply personal and meaningful. She has been one of my strongest and consistent supporters throughout my life. She always believed in me! Circa 2005, in conversation, I told her that I knew she always wanted the best for me. Smiling, she responded, “And I still do.”
Mom’s long illness of dementia/Alzheimer’s disease has taken her mind and abilities, but I always know who she is even if she sometimes doesn’t know me. The mother I’ve knew before her illness is very much living, vital, active and present in my memory and heart. There isn’t a day that passes when I’m not reminded of her. Someone or something will trigger a memory of this cherished parent.
The journey of Mom living with illness has been very challenging for me, particularly in the beginning when I didn’t understand it. Reading about the condition and talking with others who lived with a parent with dementia gave me information and knowledge which translates in the ability to cope. Over time, I became very gentle with her most of the time. At a restaurant gathering to celebrate one of her birthdays, one of her friends once commented that I was so patient with her.
One time, after helping her, she looked directly at me and declared, “You’re good to your mother!” Smiling, I told her that she was easy to be good too. It was a tender moment shared by two people who care about one another.
I am not a patient person by nature, and was surprised by “the new me.” I commented to a good friend that I didn’t realize I could be so patient. He said, “You are because you love her.”
I always tried to be patient and not react negatively to inappropriate behaviour, but sometimes I didn’t succeed. At these times, I had a lesson enforced and had to learn to forgive myself when I reacted badly. I was then grateful that, due to her condition, Mom wouldn’t remember the upsetting reaction.
It’s been slightly over 10 years since Mom started to develop signs of her condition. Over time, I had to accept that I lost her long ago. She is a shell of the once vital person she was. Sooner, rather than later I hope, she will breathe her last. I strongly feel Mom will be called to a better, happier place than her present. On that day, I expect to be very sad and shed tears, but I shall also take the opportunity to celebrate the life of this truly remarkable woman. Mary Land, the woman I call Mom, has impacted so strongly and positively on my life. For this amazing gift, I am very thankful.
Written: May 2014
Revised: March 2015