The fact is that I sort of had two mothers, growing up. One is my real mother, Lee, who has always been the rock upon which my two brothers and I stand. The other is my aunt, Rena, who I consider in many ways to be the mother of my intellect. Certainly she’s the mother of my reading passion. I would not be who I am today without either of these two strong women, my mother and her sister.
Lee, my mom, has always been there and always been a staunch lover of her children, from the very first day any of us were born. (Sorry about that breech thing, mom. Honestly, I saw no sense in plunging head-first into things. I preferred to come out sitting down, so I could ponder thoughtfully.) When mom found herself supporting us three kids pretty much on her own, around the time I turned 17 (my brothers were younger), she buckled down and did it. She had occasional help, but she was the one who took four people who were pretty separate beings at the time and kept us alive and melded us almost single-handedly into a close family.
The truth is, though, that we argue a LOT. Our personalities and beliefs are extremely different, so the clashes are inevitable. And yet the one day that I think best exemplifies my mother was the day after I had to take my sick cat, Pieces (‘cause we loved her to pieces), to the emergency animal hospital because she’d become so sick that I knew it was time to say goodbye.
Mom came to get me the next morning, and spent the entire day driving me around, to the mall, out for coffee, and visiting my brother and sister-in-law and their new baby. Mom was the driver, but she let me take the lead. When I felt like talking about Pieces, we talked about Pieces. When I got the sniffles, she let me cry. When the topic wandered away to other things, she wandered with me. She was a cloak of support the entire day, not pushing about anything, not intruding, but just holding me.
That’s how my mom is. I have always said she is probably the kindest person on the planet, to almost everybody. And anyone who has worked with her or known her would tell you I’m not just saying that because I’m her daughter.
Then there’s my aunt, Rena. A survivor of polio which she had contracted as a child, she went on to get a university degree and become a highly respected teacher. She sensed very early how much I loved to read, and loaned me her hardcover Hobbit and Lord of the Rings books when I was ten years old. And she loaned me her Chronicles of Narnia too. She introduced me to several writers as I grew up, and I grew fascinated by her enjoyment of history and art.
Rena was the only one of the five sisters who went to university, and I think she was disappointed that none of her nieces or nephews followed her. Then I started university at age 25, a bit late, and I was always extremely proud that I, at least, valued higher education as much as she did. Her love of knowledge was part of what spurred me on. I used to phone her every week, my first year, and talk about the great things I was learning.
When Rena moved into a smaller place and gave away a bunch of things, I got a lot of her books. I have the copy of Hamlet that she studied in university. I have her Faerie Queen and Silver Poets of the Sixteenth Century, and her hardcover copy of John Donne’s poetry sent me over the moon. These were some of her textbooks from the 1960s, and they are my treasures.
Rena helped my mom sometimes, as mom had to take care of us three kids alone. These two strong women have always been an integral part of my life – there for every birthday, Christmas, and other special occasion, right up until ten years ago when I moved to Toronto. I sometimes feel like these two women literally grabbed and dragged me up from being a kid until I was finally an adult. I don’t know how I would have gotten here without the two of them. Granted, I’ve done most of the work of creating myself through my adult years, but they set my feet on the road and walked along it with me.
So really, if anyone thinks I’ve turned out okay, I should point to them and say, “Yeah, well, they started it.”
Happy Mother’s Day to my two mothers!
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This post would have gone up for Mother’s Day anyway. But it was originally going to be part of the Twitter Chats Blog Tour, and then I couldn’t get it done in time to be part of that. However, if you’d like to read the tributes, poems, stories, and posts about mothers from the members of that blog tour, start with Anne Tylor Lord at the Don’t Fence Me In blog, and follow the tour from there. It’s really very special.