Monday, August 13, 2012

The Unthinkable: Doing Nothing?

Gabrielle Desjardins Nowell
I don't remember my mother ever doing nothing. Even when she watched her soaps, she'd bake, iron, or sew. Idle hands, never. Summertime, she gardened. When dad was working, she'd tend to the farm animals. In the winter she'd can, bake bread and sew. Later years she hooked rugs. She was always doing something.


Bibianne Gauthier Desjardins

I imagine it was the same for her mother, who had 12 children before she was 50.


Gabrielle, 2nd from left, and her sisters
My mother never ridiculed me in public or private. She never questioned my values. She never criticized my religious or political views, though they might differ from hers. Okay, I remember one time she did raise her eyebrows and her jaw did drop at something I'd said. I was pretty mouthy as a teen. At 13, I was an enigma to her.
Gabrielle with her first child

I've been imagining her this week. Generally I think of her every day, but this week I've been seeing her busy doing her chores: cleaning, sewing, weeding. I wish I'd asked her what she thought about while her hands were busy. Did she stop thinking and just enjoy the tasks?

Every day I make a point to grab a book and read for 30 minutes. I do this a few times a day. Sometimes I meditate. During the summer I sit on the deck. Lately she's there beside me, crocheting or doing needlework.

My hands are often idle. Sure I watch TV with my laptop open, but other times I sit and try very hard not to think. I notice the lake, the eagles, the loons, the ducks. In my mother's world, that would have been the same as doing nothing.

I asked her spirit once if she was disappointment by my idleness. I heard a clear "No."

She thought I was smarter, prettier, and more astute than she was, and said so often. "You're so much brighter than I am, Joylene. I hope you realize that."

I didn't. She played the piano and the guitar, yet couldn't read music. I can't read a note; and forget trying to play an instrument.

She read the first 4 pages of Omatiwak: Woman Who Cries in its infancy the night before she passed away. In the  morning I found the pages on the dining room table with the spelling mistakes circled. She was an exceptionally good speller despite only reaching grade eight. She said it was because she read lots (lots being in bed at night).


Gabrielle, before the children.

My mother attended an English speaking school before she could speak English. She had to quit in grade eight because she was needed at home to help with her younger siblings. Her father died when she was eighteen, and she found a job at Swift Meats in Winnipeg so she could help with the financial burden on her mother. During the war, she rose to shift supervisor. On her days off she toured the province with the Glee club. She had a wonderful singing voice. She and two younger sisters performed regularly on the radio. Their official name was The Three Ds, but fans referred to them as the Winnipeg Lennon Sisters. On one of their tours she met Bob Hope.
Gabrielle, grandmother.

I do remember my mother saying "Oh shit," once. Okay, maybe twice. When I told her I repeatedly mumbled "Bloody hell" during the birthing of the little man above, she nodded and said, "That's understandable."

On one of their trips to Manitoba from BC, my mother had to pee badly. Dad wasn't always quick to pull over. When he finally did, the traffic was thick and he grabbed a blanket to give her some privacy. But the wind was blowing and when a big semi-truck sped past, the wind picked up the blanket and flapped it with such force that Mum peed all over dad's moccasins. Ah, the look of horror on her face every time he repeated that story.


Pregnant with Joylene

My mother passed away in her sleep October 16, 1999. I wonder if she's able to see me now, the daughter who wasn't always as considerate or conscientious as I should have been. I hope so. Because in the end, I turned out very much like her. No, I don't sing, sew, crochet, or play an instrument, but I'm a walking institution on the merits of keeping busy. The best part, I get to share stories about her in blogland.

38 comments :

  1. Beautiful post. I too come from a long line of hard workers. While I do work hard I'm pretty lazy by comparison as I take time read and write, play games and sometimes do nothing. I don't think they would be upset thought. I think for them working all the time was the only option. Different times and different economies/availabilities made their work necessary. I think they would have done some of the things I do if it had been an option.

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    1. I totally agree, Sara. I think my mother is pleased that I'm cultivating my mind, most days. She loved that I tell stories.

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  2. What a lovely and loving tribute to your mother. My own mother sounds much like yours. I miss her, too.

    p.s. I just rec'd Dead Witness in the mail! Can't wait to read it!

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    1. Susan, you've got my heart pulsating. You'd think I'd be calm when I hear someone's about to read my book? Huh, no way. Thanks, Susan.

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  3. What a beautiful and moving post. Your mother was a special lady.

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    1. Thank you, Marit. Your illustrated bookcovers are spectacular. Thank you for stopping by.

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  4. Oh, Joylene, I'm having a devil of a time seeing the monitor through my tears...you've touched me so deeply with your memories of and thoughts about your own mother. Mine is much like yours, and I'm so very blessed to have her still in my life. I don't doubt for one moment that your mom's spirit is right beside you, and proud as can be of all you do!

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    1. Oh, Kim, thanks. Your comment really touched my heart.

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  5. My Mom and I didn't get along all that well when I was young, but after I was married I appreciated her much more. She died in 1980 at age 64, just one month after a cancer diagnosis, and I wasn't ready to part with her. I still regret the lost opportunities. My Dad always believed "Anything worth doing is worth doing well," and Mom was one who felt you didn't need to feel guilty about the things you couldn't do well, but should enjoy the things you could. I know I'm a lot like her, and also a little like Dad, too... I have a combination of some of their personality traits.

    When it comes to 'doing nothing', I refuse to admit it's nothing. Staring at trees and birds and lakes gives my brain a chance to percolate ideas... and that's a writer's right, right?

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    1. I wonder if we're ever ready for our mothers to die. I wasn't either, Carol, and mine was 79.

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  6. What a lovely tribute to your mother, Joylene! I'm sure she's watching over you with great pride these days. :) Thank you for sharing!

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  7. Thank you so much for sharing this wonderful woman with us. No wonder you miss her.

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  8. That was a great story! Wonder how she feels about sharing that pee story. Heehee! Though my own mom didn't work at a job until I was in high school, she was never idle. And once she did start working, she was crazy busy. When my business took a dive a few years ago, I busied myself with cooking. The the writing took over. Now it's practically all I ever do.

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    1. Glad to hear that, Nancy. It's a wonderful thing when a writer can live their dream.

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  9. This was a lovely post. Thank you for sharing these memories with us.

    I tend to be busy and multi-task most of the time, but I enjoy my idle moments. I used to feel guilty about them, but they're necessary to recharge me and fill me with ideas.

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    1. Our times are much different than our mothers, and I think they'd be happy knowing we're making the most out of life. Thanks, Medeia.

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  10. It will be five years since I lost my mom on the 20th this month. This post brings such memories of mom and her 'greatest generation' of hard workers. I do think that metal work is every bit as valid as those busy hands and know that our moms are right beside us realizing the value in our modern day activities.

    Thank you for sharing her with us.

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    1. Thanks, Christine! Yes, we need to celebrate our specialness.

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  11. Hi, Joylene. What a wonderful post about your mother. Thank you for including the pictures. She sounds like she was a very special woman.

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  12. I loved this story, Joylene. My mother was like yours in many ways...always busy. She also lost her father when in her teens, and she spoke Swedish when she started school. Her parents were both immigrants.

    I can only ever remember occasional moments when my mother seemed to be sitting quietly "doing nothing," but when asked, she said she was thinking. I like that she considered thinking to be something.

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  13. Your mother is lovely, Joylene. I think you inherited her genes, inside and out. This is a wonderful tribute, so glad you shared it with us. A good mom is a treasure, isn't she?

    It is interesting to reflect on the impact of someone's life, isn't it? I've been thinking about my mom and sister (well, okay, I think of them daily anyway) but have been thinking about the good things, memories, and so on. Lots to be thankful for.

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    1. I feel the same way, Karen. "Lots to be thankful for."

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  14. What a wonderful tribute to your mother's memory, Joylene. :) I love this post, and the pictures! I think she glowed especially brightly while you were in her belly.

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  15. Your mother sounds like she was a special person who taught you many wonderful things.

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  16. Hey Joylene,
    First of all, my sincere apologies for my delay in commenting. Been rather out of the loop for about a week. Anyway, I'm here now.
    I'm going to be basically echoing the thoughts of all those other fine folks who left a comment. Indeed, this glowing tributes resonates with the inspiration and the love you feel for your late beloved mother.
    A wonderfully powerful and poignant story, Joylene. Bless you, my dear friend.
    In kindness and admiration to your mother and you, Gary

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    1. You're not late, Gary. And I know you're on the road, so I wasn't expecting you this week. Which is a nice treat. Hope you're having a great time. Thanks for stopping by. Hugs for Penny.

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  17. My eyes misted, Joylene. The love, dedication, beauty, hard work, determination, and, oh, so much more you so poignantly shared go beyond the written word and into the heart. Your mother was a beautiful lady, inside and out. Your tribute is so from the heart and so filled with love and admiration, a ray of sunshine will always shine on you, regardless of the clouds in the sky.

    (There is a large clan of Gauthier's in South Louisiana.)

    I also think you bring warmth to others. Every time I opened your blog, something unexpected happened that pulled my attentions elsewhere but bright smiles followed. Girl, if I ever go to Las Vegas again, you're coming with me!

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    1. LOL. Kittie, Las Vegas??? Hmm. Okay! Thanks for your very kind words. I wouldn't be at all surprised if I wasn't related to most of the Gauthiers in SL. Do they pronounce it "Go-chi-ay"? The history behind how they got there is incredibly moving.

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  18. You are a credit to your mother, Joylene :) what a beautiful tribute. It brought a lump to my throat reading the part about the spelling mistakes she highlighted the night before she passed away. I'm sure she's always there for you.

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  19. This is such a loving tribute to your mom. She was a remarkable woman who thought the world of you. It's admirable that she never criticized anyone, and was able to accomplish so much in a given day. I'm sorry that you lost her so long ago. I'm sure she's singing with the angels now. Julie

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