On mothers before they were mothers

Mom 1937
Irene Bateman 1937

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: Camping.

Family: Camping?!

Mom (patiently): Yes.

Family (hesitantly): Did you share a tent?

Mom (thinking): I can’t remember.

Family: (silence)

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.

Mom and Gery at Cedar Inn

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.

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13 Comments Add yours

  1. Graham Hill says:

    Take it from me, the boat, Feisty, was never far from the shore, never out of sight, no matter the generation, the place, or the moment – and she was always – ‘yar’.

    Like

  2. Jean Screech says:

    Beautiful, Gery! Thank you for making me stop and let the memories flood in.

    Like

    1. Gery Lemon says:

      Thank you, Jeanie. I so appreciate that. Was my hope.

      Like

  3. LINDA HUGHES says:

    So poignant and sweet Gery – thank you for memories and feelings i can relate to. 

    Sent from my Samsung device over Bell’s LTE network.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Gery Lemon says:

      I’m glad. Thanks, Linda.

      Like

  4. Lynelle Spring says:

    I remember my father once musing on all the reasons he admired and loved my mother…and after a long and sweet list, he looked dreamy and said…”and she has always been a good bed partner”. Imagine!

    Like

    1. Gery Lemon says:

      I imagine at the time you’d be squirming. Isn’t it great to know you come from that kind of zest for life.

      Like

    1. Gery Lemon says:

      I think so! (Although, because she was my mother….)

      Like

  5. Leslie Lundgren says:

    Thank you Gery, dear Soul Sister. With more than one tear in my eye, I so do understand the awkwardness of asking your mother who she was before she was your mother. I am thankful my mom was okay with sharing some things and learned more via the family stories-especially at renunions 🙂 . Her siblings were all great for tattling on each other in very entertaining ways.

    Like

    1. Gery Lemon says:

      Thank you, SS. Oh, I hope you wrote those down for posterity.
      Seems there’s sharing and then there’s over sharing. In my daughter’s comment on this particular post, she says my TMI (too much info) are burned into her brain. 😑

      Like

  6. Tom says:

    You’re so right! I don’t think much of my mom pre-me but I’ve seen photo evidence of the possibilities. What a wonderful piece to write for Mother’s Day!

    Like

    1. Gery Lemon says:

      Thank you,Tom. And thanks for reading.

      Like

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