My mother doesn’t drink. Yes. We call this Ironic.
I used to see her drink, there is photographic evidence, but one day in her 40’s, she decided to stop her weekly glass of white when she found out her thyroid was out of whack. That’s my mother’s way, if something isn’t right, in her life, she’ll just change it. She’s pretty good at change.
My mother left her home in her Barbados and the only life she knew to live in Canada in 1960. She was fortunate that her two older sisters had already come up here, but she was significantly younger than them – and just a wee bit rebellious.
My mother in the 60s… drank. There was a time she was out at every West Indian social club in the city (and the Scotian one for good measure). I’m still trying to find out more about the time she went to a club in Detroit and got stranded there when her ride – her friend’s boyfriend – got into a fight and he said “find your own way home!” To Toronto.
In the late 60s my mother drank Martinis at the Four Seasons Bar each Friday with the girls from the office. New dress every week. Standing in line at Azan’s to get her hair pressed and curled to perfection.
When her roommate introduced her to my father, she wasn’t impressed. She had a good life; what could HE offer? In fact, when my father rang my mother up to ask her out on a date, she declined saying she didn’t have anything to wear…
While looking at three dresses in her closet with the tags still on them.
My mother in the 70s spent her life living between Toronto and Jamaica for months at a time. The jet setter life was one my older sister experienced, but by the time I showed up, those days were done, and so was my parents’ marriage.
Ask my mother about the time she “forgot” she was married, and instead of going home to cook dinner for my father, she went for cocktails with the girls. Came home to find my father struggling to make scrambled eggs on the stove at 11:30 pm.
My mother in the 80s saw her world crash right along with the economy. That’s when she started making changes and fighting back. She regrouped at her older sister’s house with her two kids. Got a couple of jobs. An apartment. A rhythm.
A survival system.
One day, my mother looked in the cupboards. She was between paycheques, and the cupboards showed how bad the situation was. She doesn’t know that I remember, but I watched my mother swallow her pride and call a friend for a loan. He was an old friend of my father’s who would check in on us. I remember him handing her the $50 and taking her to the Knob Hill Farms to buy food. My mother swore through gritted teeth and tears that the cupboards would never be empty again.
She’s kept that promise.
I don’t know how much my mother went without because I never knew we were lacking. I never missed a birthday. Or a Christmas. We had vacations. She sent my sister and I out to get our hair done (we had a lot of hair, and she didn’t have that much patience).
I never went without food, clothing, or knowledge. When I started asking questions she couldn’t answer, she bought the encyclopedia set in installments. Don’t ask me about stuff after F though.
My mother in the 80s saw that technology was going to make her job obsolete, she got a loan, went back to school, and learned what was next. When the layoffs hit, she was ready.
When I was in grade 4, I caught a vicious cold, the kind that lingers in your chest for weeks. Finally the cold was gone, along with my voice. About a week after the worst of it, my mom woke me up to get ready for school. I got out of bed and hit the floor.
“Stop playing. It’s time to get up.”
“I can’t. I can’t feel my legs.”
It was March. There was a lot of snow on the ground. My mom didn’t know how to drive. She called my doctor, called her job to tell them the situation, picked me up and carried me.
She carried my 9 year old paralyzed from the waist down body on public transit from Jane n’ Finch to Bathurst and Lawrence. For non-Toronto residents, that’s about an hour of travel. In the middle of winter. At the doctor, who couldn’t figure out what was wrong, she kept her cool while they put me in a cab to go to SickKids. She kept her composure while they poked and prodded. By four o’clock I could walk again, so we got back on transit and headed home. She made me my favourite foods and let me stay up late.
When teachers told her that her little Black girls would be better off in remedial classes or taking up trades, she took time off work to cuss them in person. You have not lived until you see a 5’2 Bajan woman cuss out a 6’2 school principal in the school’s atrium, waving proof of his lack of a high school diploma in his face calling him a hypocrite.
There’s flight and there is fight. My mother will choose fight every single time. So will I. So we’re gonna skip over the 90s because well…lots of fights.
In fact, there is only one time I saw my mother choose flight. When the doctor looked at the clock in the ER and called the time of death for my sister one New Year’s Day. She ran from the room screaming. It was the second time she lost a child and it was too much to bear.
She fought back from the lowest depths of depression for one reason: me. I overheard her say to a friend that she had to stay strong for me. I went into my room and cried silently. The irony was that I had been trying to stay strong for her, following her example that you must always fight.
So I do. In her honour.
Each time I do, I raise a glass in her honour.