Pansies are for Thoughts
Pansies are for Thoughts
Today, May 15, 2019, marks the 3rd anniversary of my mum’s physical death. Many of her aspirations never saw the light of day because women had far fewer rights when she was a young woman. As I read the news of newly elected male politicians wanting to legislate what woman can wear, while others revisit laws about what grows in our bodies, I'm honouring the 3rd anniversary of my mum's departure from this world with some excerpts of her life story. Maybe we can learn from the past.
My mum was born on January 2, 1930. If you spoke to her for at least 30 seconds, you would find out she was born in Australia. She was proud of this and always wanted to make a return.
She was born in a small town called Ryde, just outside of Sydney. In July of her birth-year, when she was only 6 months old, her parents and 2 year old brother boarded a ship called The Esperance Bay to return the family to Scotland. They spent the next 3 months as 3rd class passengers housed in the bowels of the ship. Imagine a family spending 3 months in that kind of darkness, with a baby and a 2 year old, sailing back to Scotland.
The theme of darkness seemed to persist throughout my mum's life.
Her next 30 years were spent in Glasgow, Scotland. She grew up during the Second World War and knew wartime only too well. She remembered the sirens sounding before the air raids to give her family just enough time to blacken the windows before the bombs hit. This left such a traumatic impression on her that anytime she heard the start of a siren from an ambulance, police car or fire truck, you could see the involuntary flash of fear in her eyes, even in the days when her mind and memory were fading.
She was good at school, excelled in Math and English and wanted to become a school teacher. Women had neither choice nor voice then, and her father didn’t believe women should be educated, so she was forced to leave school at the age of 14 to find work to help support the family.
My mum left her dream of becoming a school teacher behind and found work in a pharmaceutical factory. She was very soon transferred to work in the office, then quickly promoted to secretary to the president.
She was 15 years old.
The president was so pleased with her work, he offered to pay for her training at secretarial school. The offer was refused by her father due to his views about educating women.
Despite her father's beliefs, or perhaps to spite them, she managed to become an excellent touch typist and learned Pittman shorthand. She continued to work as the president's secretary until she became pregnant with me. Back then, women stopped appearing in the work place once they started to “show”. Not wanting to lose her, the boss suggested she wear a smock used by the women in the factory to hide the fact she was carrying me.
I was 2 when she and I immigrated to Canada. She never wanted to leave Scotland. It was wintertime and all she had as protection against the cold were a raincoat and and a pair of rain-boots. Although very young, I distinctly remember her struggling to get me into a snowsuit, something she’d never seen before, sitting me on a small toboggan acquired with Pinky Stamps, placing a full load of laundry in a basket on my lap, and pulling the laundry and me along the snow-filled sidewalks to go to the laundromat. We returned home in the same fashion, only this time with a basket of clean and neatly folded laundry she would starch and iron after a good cuppa tea. Even the tea-towels, sheets and handkerchiefs, (remember those?) were starched and ironed.
In her 30's she developed what was referred to in those days as a “Woman’s Problem” and needed a hysterectomy. As this would stop her from further “bearing fruit”, four signatures of approval were required to perform this operation, and she also needed her husband’s permission. Her consent was not required. Not one signature on the form was hers. All four were penned by men.
She taught Sunday School to teenage girls, taking them under her wing when some were having problems at home. She could quote the Bible, chapter and verse. She welcomed children with open arms into our home, and treated them like they were one of her own. Many children took their first steps and spoke their first words while in my mum's care.
We also had many church Ministers and Missionaries come from different parts of the world because they had received a "call from the Lord" that Montreal needed them to be guest ministers and missionaries at our church. Well lo and behold, most, in fact all, received their calling during Montreal’s Expo 67. They toured Expo during the day, then returned to our home in time for the dinner my mum had prepared for them. They slept at our house, my mum cooked for and cleaned up after them, then we all went to church to hear whatever the Lord had called them to preach on that particular Sunday before they hurriedly returned from whence they came. I guess to answer a different calling.
In the early 70’s, my mum wanted to move back to Scotland and bring my brother and me with her. Women did not have the rights we have today, and while she could have returned to Scotland, it would have been without my brother and me. So she stayed in Canada, dug in her heels and successfully petitioned to have a children's park built in our neighbourhood, an elementary school built in our town, and she also volunteered her time working with a group of mentally challenged children.
Some of her favourite expressions:
In her last years as dementia was making a long, slow and ugly decent into her mind, she practiced sheer determination to remain living alone in her own home. Dementia gave her the voice she had been denied most of her life, and she put it to good use, making sure her opinions and thoughts were heard, often with a vocabulary we didn't know she had!
But dementia didn't steal her sense of humour. One tall and very handsome man was assigned to her care. She liked him, and he liked her. She found his name "Jacques" too hard to remember and even harder to pronounce with her Scottish tongue. So she proclaimed she would call this lovely man from Haiti, "Mr. Brown". She could remember that, and I have it on very good authority Mr. Brown fondly remembers her.
She was known by many names, but the name she loved to hear and be called by most was Gran. Another time when darkness overshadowed her life, it was lit up with the arrival of grandchildren and our mum would walk around her house humming “You light up my Life”.
The final weeks of her life, dementia darkened her mind and her ability to speak, and she knew she was in her last day. Her final words, that took much energy to voice, were she wanted to see her grandchildren. Their presence brought life to her voice, and light to her last day in this life.
Although my mum has been gone for 3 years, she lives on in so many ways. If she were here today, reading the news about men trying to regress our rights, she'd be saying "That's not news. It's a man's world. Always has been, always will be"
All her other favourite expressions have proven to be true. Let's hope this one isn't.
Lorraine Cowan is a Certified Life-Cycle Celebrant & Ceremony Officiant who creates and officiates Rituals and Ceremonies for Life's Passages.
Certified Life-Cycle Celebrant
Authorized Wedding Officiant (Quebec)
Ordained Metaphysical Minister