My mother was a hard woman. She was rigid in her opinions, and spoke her mind with no care for who was listening. Often without thinking about what she was saying, either. As a result, a lot of people did not like her.
A lot of people loved her for it, as well. Me included.
I can’t really encapsulate a woman as complicated as my mother in words. Not without wearing out a few keyboards, at any rate, and to be honest I don’t think I want to try. Those of us who knew her well will know what I mean, and will carry it with them.
You had to take the barbs with Ma. She was worth the venom, in the long run. My stepfather knew that almost from day one, though other members of my family did not. Or could not. You had to stand up to her, while accepting that she was not going to change her mind. You had to convince her that you were worth it, as well. If you could earn her respect, you were in the good books of one of the kindest, and fiercest, people you ever met.
She didn’t make it easy. Her default mode was antagonistic, and she came off as confrontational and aggressive. She suffered no fools, and would not be crossed under any circumstances.
When my now wife was about to meet her for the first time, it was as my girlfriend. She and I, in the company of my best friend, were visiting from school for the weekend. We had her terrified, and to this day she is convinced that she witnessed my mother actually breathe fire. I half believe it. When we walked into the house, the entire family, my mother and stepfather, my brothers, their wives, and their children, all were sitting at the dining room table. And they all stopped their conversation immediately to turn and watch her walk in. She was the first girl I ever brought home, and they wanted to meet her.
It was an impressive sight for a woman whose family, for three generations, have had two kids.
It was Ma that made her welcome. Ushering her in with a smile and setting a cup of coffee in her hands, sitting her down in the crowd and making sure she didn’t get lost in it. It was Ma’s opinion of her that really mattered to me. The others all accepted her immediately, but it was Ma that I really wanted to like her.
When I had a bad day, I called Ma. When I had a good day, I called Ma. When I needed help figuring something out, I called her. When I was bored, or when the kids did something cool, or when I just wanted to chat, I called Ma.
She was, for a long time, my definition of ‘parent’. My father died when I was five years old, and my brother and I had her. My two oldest siblings were already out of the house, one with a kid of her own. So my brother and I were raised, for most of my formative years, by my mother. Children see their parents as the very foundation of the world. Everyone else are strangers; it is our parents that guide us. We learn our first lessons, and the most lessons, from them. My worldview was shaped by a difficult, fiercely independent woman who was quick to anger and who could frighten the hardest of men without saying a word. Who would, when she dialed the wrong number on the phone, exclaim “Fuck!” down the line and hang up rather than apologise and explain.
Is it any wonder I am the way I am?
I have so many memories of her. At the table, mostly, and laughing. But also of her more vicious moments. Though, to be honest, even those are mostly hilarious.
And now she’s gone. I will generate no more memories.
I talked to her, for the last time, in October. In the ICU of the Aberdeen Hospital. She was awake, but couldn’t speak with the breathing tube in her throat. I told her I loved her, and she saw my two kids. The Weenit drew her a picture, and my son made her smile. I told her that I would see her again in November, and that she would likely be home by then.
She passed away on Remembrance Day, in the early afternoon. I got the call from my oldest brother, and we were at the house by 10 o’clock that night. We buried her, next to her first husband, the following Wednesday. My son and daughter still have their Papa, my stepfather, and I still have him as the only father I really remember. But it will be hard when we visit in the Spring, without her there. I am more worried about him over Christmas than I can really describe.
The Weenit is having a hard time with the loss. She sees pictures of her Nanny, and I see her eyes fill with tears. I have explained this all to her, and told her about my own father. She talks to me about it sometimes, and I try to help, but each person deals with this sort of thing in their own way. I only hope that she feels comfortable talking to me about it more when she is older, and can articulate her feelings better. I never did with Ma, and I wish now that I had. It would have changed a lot of things, I think.
The world lost a wonderful woman, and is lesser because of it. But then, I had my mom for thirty-three years, and I am a better person for it.
I love you, Ma. We all do.