Friday, July 25, 2008

They Would Have Accepted Nothing Less.

Despite being a child of the 50s, growing up during the woman's movement, I'm still a product of my parents generation. They raised me by the standards of the times, and though I often tried to shake those ideals, they're part of who I am today.

My father was the breadwinner, my mother the homemaker. By the time I came along they had already lived through a world war, stood in line for bread, and bought things without the aid of credit. During my teens I looked upon their philosophy and beliefs as old fashioned. Today, I can't help but wonder who I would have become without them.

My mother sang and entertained during WWII, performing primarily for Canadian troops. She was a quiet, shy woman, and until I saw her at the piano, I couldn't imagine her performing in front of large crowds, particularly lonely soldiers. Give her a piano, a microphone, or a guitar, and she transformed herself. Long into my twenties, friends would crowd around her, angling for the best spot.

Her artist abilities didn't end there. Every five years or so, she'd remodel out farmhouse kitchen into a modern, hip space. Soon afterward, neighbours would have her over for consultations; in those days it was called
coffee. She sewed her own clothes and ours, tended to flower and vegetable gardens, and cornfields taller than my 6'3 father. She made quilts, baked her own bread, canned, hooked rugs, and crocheted flowers that ended up looking like carnations. When her youngest turned thirteen, (me) she began work as the night janitor for a private golf and country club.

The day after school was out, mum would load up our old '53 Pontiac and drive us 40 miles to Everglades, outside the city of Mission. While dad worked, visiting us on weekends, mum, along with three other mums, would set up our campsite and four tents, and cover the entire area with tarps roped to the trees. It didn't matter if it rained the entire summer, we were protected from the elements. On weekends, along with the other fathers, dad would arrive with supplies. After dark, when the campfire danced under a sky filled with stars, the guitars and banjos were brought out. The sound of them harmonizing together was wonderful. His voice was a mixture of Ray Price and Dean Martin. She sounded like one-third of the Lennon Sisters.

The idea of keeping house while dad worked was commonplace; I don't remember her ever complaining. We'd watched
Father Knows Best and The Donna Reed Show on our 20" black and white television. And as it was with those TV mums, we were my mother's life. Continuing her career after marriage never entered the equation. The janitorial job came later because it didn't interfere with her day job as wife and mother. If asked why she didn't continue her career, she'd frown and say, "Who's going to feed the cattle at midnight, get you kids ready for school, or take care of you when you're sick?" When I was a teenager, I told her that excuse didn't cut it any longer. She smiled and said, "Joylene, I'm too old now."

October 16th, 1999, my mother passed away. Though I know she wanted to see the new millennium, I suspect she was too tired to live longer. Her life had become one long road of debilitating pain. Near the end, she had to give up her independence and move in with us. Her once full life was squeezed into a 14 x 16 space just large enough for her TV, bed, dresser and night tables.

More often than not, she said I was lucky to be born when I was. I had no restrictions on who I could be. I could raise a family, have a career, or do none of the above. I had choices. She didn't get her driver's license until she was fourty-five because no one told her she should. Still, in 1966, she drove from Maple Ridge to Winnipeg. Nobody told her she couldn't.

When my dad died and I started writing what I hoped would be his story, my mum took it in stride. She said I was a born story-teller. When I was two years old and company would drop by for evening visits, I'd entertain everyone by telling tall tales. I'd stand on the hearth and rock sideways from foot to foot. Though my enunciation needed work, she said I had a nice rhythm to my incoherencies.

Today I'm a storyteller slash writer slash wife and mother. I'm the self-published author of the suspense thriller Dead Witness. I'm the author of five yet-to-be published novels. I was raised by a woman who knew her place, but wanted more for her children. I was raised to believe I could do anything; I could be anyone. I was also influenced by her fears and misgivings.

In any given week, I deal with bookstore owners, editors, publishers, agents, reviewers, lawyers, newspaper people, printers, distributors, bookkeepers, accountants, other writers, and readers. I studied at Simon Fraser University where my English professor told me to go home and have babies because I would never make it as a writer. I've worked at jobs where my male counterparts earned more wages for doing the same job. I experienced the growing pains of menstrual cramps, the agony of giving birth, the depression of a hysterectomy, and the onslaught of menopause. There are days when I am overwhelmed by the complexities of life. And marketing my novel has thrown me out of my comfort zone.

But I was raised to believe I could do anything. And even today, when I'm partying alone at my own pity-party, I swear I hear my mother say, "Joylene, you're stronger than this."

I like to publicly thank my mum for preparing me for an often unreasonable and cruel world. She believed in me. Today I see women who are pioneers, leaders in their given professionals. I watch Oprah and rival in the successes of extraordinary women; frightened, beaten women who fought against discrimination and abuse and became trendsetters, innovators, and mentors. Mentors, like my quiet, unimposing mother. I'm in awe of the women of my generation for good reason. They command attention in every facet of life: art, literature, science, and music. They find themselves outside their comfort zone, yet perhaps because they had a mother in the wings who believed in them, they keep their head held high.

I'm hearing the same horror stories that perhaps you are: that this younger generation of women, the 13 to 18 years old, are falling prey to the belief that they're here solely to serve males. I don't know if it's a case of journalists focusing attention on what is actually a minority; but regardless, it's sad note. And while I am the mother of sons, I'm also the grandmother of eight, four of whom are girls. I pray that when all is said and done, we prove that our mothers and grandmothers didn't survive their hardships in vain. They not only passed on the torch, they lit it.

2 comments :

  1. Joylene, today is the anniversary of my mother's death. Our childhoods sound very similar in ways. One of the things we did too, was spend summers at the lake. My father always took the month of July off so he could join us. The rest of the time, he came late Friday night and left early Monday morning. They are some of the happiest memories in my life. It was instrumental in my choice of deciding to become a full-time lake residence. I sometimes think we have lost something in our society by "wanting it all" instead of making choices. I am grateful everyday to be able to live the slower paced, stress reduced life style lake living provides. I enjoyed your blog today. Thanks.

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  2. Thank you for your comment, Lake girl. It's the exact response I was hoping for: drawing on your own memories in honour of your mother. I miss mine more so now than I ever thought possible. I think by sharing these little flickers of the past, we give homage to their memory, and their mother's memory. Because in the end, whether we admit it or not, we are who we are because of them.

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