The family story of my parents’ beginnings goes like this:
Family: So, Mom, how did you meet Dad?
Mom: Through his cousin. She was my friend and introduced me to your dad.
Family: Where did you go on your first date?
Mom (patiently): Yes.
Family (hesitantly): Did you share a tent?
Mom (thinking): I can’t remember.
Why is it that we have such a hard time imagining our mothers before they were mothers?
We’re censorial in what we want to know about their lives before they had us.
Stories about their childhood exploits, adventures with best friends, family holidays, mean teachers . . . those are all okay.
We want to hear about her romance with our dad but not with anyone else. And it was one thing for her to be beautiful, but did we really want to know she was a babe?
And lust? Hands over ears. Can’t hear you, can’t hear you.
When Mom was in her early 80s, she and I visited a cousin in England whom she’d only met once before.
For nearly 65 years he’d held on to a picture of my teenage mother leaning against a log on a Vancouver beach, wearing white shorts, bobby socks and sneakers.
“I’ve always thought of your mother as my pinup girl,” he told me. I was in my 40s and even then, the notion of my mom as somebody’s dream girl felt vaguely uncomfortable.
My own girls know far more than they want about my pre-them years. Those times when I would empathize with their current teen or young adult plight by sharing my own tales . . . turns out they didn’t want my details. A hug would’ve sufficed.
I came across this photograph today of one of my most squirm-making moments with my mom, taken at the old Cedar Inn in Youbou.
Perhaps Mom was bonding and relating, but I was pretty sure she was trying to catch me out and there would be consequences.
“Gery, do you smoke?” This from nowhere. No lead-up, just four words she couldn’t contain a moment longer.
“I have, Mom.” This was true. I had. She hadn’t yet asked if I still did.
“Do you still?” Crap.
“Once in a while, I might.”
“Ernie,” she said turning to my dad. “Give us both a cigarette.”
I’d never seen my mother smoke. As far as I knew, a cigarette had never passed her lips.
Dad lit two cigarettes and there we sat, my mother and I on either side of the table, each of us awkwardly drawing on a cigarette. I was dying. And I think it was apparent that my cigarette familiarity was greater than hers.
In my mom’s final years, as her memories faded, some of them hardly there at all, I was in a desperate hurry to collect her stories. I wanted to capture any snippet of a time before she was a mother; to hear what shaped her; about her teen years in Vancouver, her friends, and what mattered to her. Did she go on dates, did she have boyfriends, did she fall in love? Her memories vanished like popped bubbles, and I knew I was asking too late.
We’ll all be thinking about our mothers this weekend. To the daughters of some readers of this blog, because Facebook has helped reconnect old friendships, I can vouch that your mothers were not always mothers. They were a lot like you; fun, smart, feisty, daring, and, in some cases, naughty. Most were babes and some are surprised to be reminded that 45 years ago, they were the ones pulling the guys.
I understand you want to know no more about that.
I guess it’s ever been thus.