Tuesday, January 10, 2017

I Remember Mama

Judy Hartwell  January 10, 1922 –  June 21, 2016

Mom would be 95 today.

Although it's been six months since her death, I still catch myself thinking did she see or hear about that, or I wonder what she'll say when I tell her this, about a news story, or showbiz gossip, things she was interested in. And then I remember ...

And I have many memories of Mom. A few highlights:

Whenever she sang those familiar German songs, all was right with the world.

Christmas Eve was a big event in our house. We would dress up in our finest clothes and line up, smallest to biggest. [the line got longer every two years!] When we heard a bell tinkling, we entered the living room and got our gifts. Pandemonium! And lots of fun. Turkey and potato salad for dinner. The one time of year we were allowed to drink Canada Dry Ginger Ale. And of course the delicious cookies and fruitcakes she made.

When I was nine, the second oldest of six, we moved into a new three-bedroom house. With Mom and Dad there were eight of us, sometimes nine when Granny came. One bathroom! But Mom made it work. We had our chores and the young ones were well-behaved. Though rambunctious at times.

Mom was a good cook. She always had our meals ready: breakfast, lunch, dinner. We ate healthy. Liver, spinach, tasty when she made it, not so much when I tried. Fridays were fish day. And Palatschinken, pan sized crepes filled with jam and rolled up, dusted with powdered sugar. Special treat! [The only other person? I ever heard say the word was the Count on Sesame Street!] I think about those weekly food shopping trips and shudder. As she had so much to look after besides groceries, it was convenient that  throughout the 50s so many things came to the door: milk, bread, dry cleaning. She kept track of everything, including the weekly $0.35 to the paperboy and the $1 donation every Sunday to the church.

She was what today they call a fashionista. She kept up with the latest styles–how I loved peeking through her closet. My school friends always commented on how good she looked. In the late 60s/early 70s she was more modern than me! [Miniskirts, hotpants, high boots…]

Once a week she would get her hair done. And every week a surprise for us. Would she be blonde? Redhead? Raven black? Once she came home with blue/green hair! It was for display, for her stylist. And I do believe she or her picture were on TV. One of those local noon hour shows on our Edmonton CFRN television station.

Mom always kept our brood together on vacation trips. She had a system. She kept track of the youngest child. Then the oldest kept track of the next youngest. And so on. The highlight of my life, at age 11, was our trip to California. Dad borrowed a small trailer from a friend. Li'l Loafer. And it was SMALL. Comfy for four? But Mom made it work. Six slept in the trailer, two, either Mom and Dad or my sister and I slept in the car. I remember the route we took, the cities we saw, how we all sang "California Here I Come" over and over.

Good thing there weren't seatbelt laws in those days. Dad and Mom were in the front seat, along with my older sister holding the youngest; I and my three younger brothers played, argued, read, and slept in the backseat.

Then there were carefree summer vacations spent at a cottage at Lake Eden. And once again, for eight people it was a SMALL cottage. Two bedrooms, kitchen, living room.  Outhouses strategically located. But for us it was the greatest place. Mom made it so.

In May 1965, Mom had her seventh child. Less than three months later we went to the lake as usual, and Mom wore her bikinis as usual, without any sign that she had just given birth!

In June of that year my sister got married and left home. So there were six of us again. A year later I married and left home. In 1967, Mom, Dad, and the five younger kids moved to British Columbia. Every few years we would visit them, always returning home saying, "We  have to move there one day."

That day came in July, 1980, when we packed all our belongings and moved to B.C. Mom, Dad, and my youngest brother were living on a lovely acreage in South Surrey. [The oldest of my brothers got married in 1973, the next oldest died in 1975, the next one lived in his own house, and my younger sister moved out in 1976.

Over the next 20 years Mom saw her family expand as everyone got married and had children: 17 grandchildren. Family get-togethers were fun and hectic. [And still the family grows – 11 great-grandchildren at last count. . .]

When my father died in 2001, I, my husband and son moved in with Mom in the big South Surrey house. It was 35 years since I last lived with her, and I worried that it might be awkward, for we had grown apart, separated by time and distance.

But how amazing to discover we had much in common. Starting with some TV programs that we both enjoyed. Every day we watched Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy. We were both fond of Frasier and watched it together until its cancellation. We watched every figure skating competition on TV and became armchair critics of each skater's style and outfit. I found it curious that both of us had over the years watched almost every British mystery series on PBS  and CBC.  How we loved the original Sherlock Holmes shows, and of course our beloved Poirot. And, we even watched the same soap opera!


Mom kept scrupulous track of her finances. In that again I echoed her, having for years tracked bills and mortgages on spreadsheets, first by hand, then by computer. She did everything by hand, and didn't quite trust calculators–she did math on paper or in her head. Oddly, I've done the same.

She kept on top of the news and knew what was happening where and when in the world, and never failed to voice her opinion on world leaders, reality stars, or the mayor of Vancouver. She had a radio beside her bed tuned to an all-news channel. She never listened to anything else unless it was Strauss waltz music by AndrĂ© Rieu. 

Mom and I were both readers. She went through the morning newspaper from cover to cover, as did I. She read magazines and her weekly TV guide until her eyesight started failing and she needed a magnifying glass to make out the words.

In 2004 Mom sold the old acreage and purchased a new one several blocks away. Her "dream house" she called it, and was so happy and proud to live there. We moved with her, and enjoyed the larger space, the beautiful yard, the quiet neighbourhood. We had such good times there together.

But in 2010, after nine years with us, she decided that at 88 it was time for her to move to an assisted living facility. We purchased the house from her, and though it was ours, it took us a long time to get over calling it Mom's house. [Even now, we call the bedroom she used "Mom's room."]

She had a lovely suite at Whitecliff, and I believe she was happy there. Once a week we picked her up and went to IHOP for dinner [a habit we had gotten into when we first moved in with her]. There we could catch up on what we thought about world events, our soap opera, what our kids were up to, gossip about our waiter, who we had come to know quite well, or the world travels of the lady who trimmed our toenails.

What a sharp mind and terrific memory she had. She told us many tales of her childhood and youth, about a world so different from ours. It was easy to see her as a sassy teenager and bold young woman. Come to think of it, she was still sassy and bold till near the end. 

In early 2016 Mom suffered a health episode from which she never fully recovered, and on June 21 she passed from life.

But the memories live on. As does the music. For you Mom, with love, from Cathrine: