Thursday, May 16, 2013

"The Other Mothers"

Justine had a great Mother's Day post:  instead of writing about her mother, or about her own take on motherhood, or infertility, she chose to honour "The Other Mothers" -- women in her life "some of whom have no biological children of their own, but who have been mothers to me when I've needed them most."

She asked us about the "other mothers" in our own lives.

I have been blessed to have some wonderful older women in my life as friends, family and mentors. Let me tell you about a few of them:   

Mrs. S, my best friends' mom from across the street, when I was in grade school. I have actually referred to Mr. & Mrs. S. as "my other parents" -- and I do call them Mr. & Mrs. S.  At the time my sister & I grew up, children did not call adults by their first names -- and in any case, Mr. S was the vice-principal of our school. Calling him by anything but "Mr." would have been weird -- even disrespectful.  So -- even though Mrs. S eventually did ask us to call them by their first names, or even "Aunt" & "Uncle" -- we've never quite managed to do so, even to this day, after almost 45 years of friendship between our families. We did eventually manage to shorten it to "Mr. & Mrs. S" -- think of how Fonzie on "Happy Days" shortened "Mr. & Mrs. Cunningham" to "Mr. & Mrs. C." ; )

Miss A (and we always did refer to her as "Miss," never by her first name) was a retired schoolteacher who lived down the street from us when my sister & I were toddlers. Born in Prince Edward Island, and a cousin to Lucy Maud Montgomery (she had a beautiful first edition of Montgomery's novel "The Golden Road"), she came to Saskatchewan as a young woman to teach in a one-room schoolhouse.  Her house was tiny and not well heated, and in the winter, she closed up part of her house and lived in just two rooms -- the cheerful kitchen and a small combination bed/sitting room.  She had a lovely garden, with poppies growing in colourful masses along the fence. She never married, had no children, and her extended family lived far away, but she "adopted" our young family and took us under her wing. Like many schoolteachers, she was a font of stories and wonderful ideas for crafts and activities. She introduced our family to the delights of waffles with whipped cream and freshly picked berries (and, when we moved away, she suggested to the church ladies that a waffle iron would be an appropriate farewell gift -- my mother still has it). She served my sister & I tea in real china teacups, along with oatcakes and peanut butter cookies (I have the recipes), and then gave the cups to us as presents when we moved away. Her sister was a missionary in New Zealand for many years, and she always wanted to go there;  she finally did when she was 80.  I decided then that if I had to be 80 someday, I wanted to be just like Miss A.

I last saw Miss A. when I was a teenager, although we exchanged Christmas cards for years, and my parents & grandparents stopped by to see her on a driving trip west. Occasionally, at work, I had reason to call the bank branch in town (the same one where my father had worked), and I would enquire about how she was doing. I heard that she had finally given up her tiny little house and moved into the seniors home -- that, sadly, she had dementia. Then one day, I got a note from her niece. She had been going through her aunt's address book & letting people know that Miss A. had passed away. I don't remember how old she was, but she was well into her 90s by then. 

My godmother, C:  My mother never had a sister, but she had the next best thing -- her cousin, C, four years older, who grew up in the same small town (their mothers were sisters).  C is one of my two godmothers, and I like to call her my "fairy godmother," because she's always been extremely generous to me.  I've also called her "Auntie," even though she is not really my aunt. Her two daughters are about the same ages as my sister & me, and we had fun hanging out together in the summertime when we visited our grandmothers.

C. is a good listener, and always has an apt observation, encouraging word or piece of wisdom to share. She also has exquisite taste and has given me some treasured gifts over the years -- a handcrafted ceramic jewelry box with my name etched on the underside -- with a lovely pin inside;  a wooden Christmas plaque that reminded me of a similar picture in my grandmother's house;  a crystal lamp, given to us as a wedding present, annual Christmas cards with long, newsy, handwritten letters inside. She doesn't always send birthday gifts, but has always marked the milestones. For my 40th birthday, C sent me $40 (in U.S. funds) & told me to take a friend for lunch -- and to have dessert, because we women so seldom ordered dessert. ; )  The exchange rate on the U.S. dollar at the time was such that I actually managed to take two friends to lunch, and we all enjoyed dessert & toasted C in thanks. :)

My other godmother, Aunty M:  My other godmother, my Aunty M, is my dad's older sister. She had three sons but no daughters, and I like to think I've always had a special spot in her heart. ; ) When I was a kid, I had some health issues that required me & my mother to come to the children's hospital in the city for a few days every year or so for testing and outpatient procedures over a couple of days. We would stay at Aunty M's house in the north end of the city and make the trek to the children's hospital by bus, transferring two or three times along the way. When the building next door to the hotel we were staying in burned to the ground on a cold December night, and the halls of the hotel filled with smoke, Aunty M took us in in the middle of the night.

A little more than a year after I lost Katie, she lost her husband. She came to visit me a few months later. She helped me line the bottom of my kitchen cupboards and knitted dishcloths for me.  I always thought I got my camera bug tendencies from my maternal grandmother, who gave me my first camera... but Aunty M is also quick to pull our her camera & share her latest photos. I also tend to credit my maternal grandfather for my interest in genealogy -- but Aunty M has taken it upon herself to document the family history for my dad's family.  She has compiled an amazing, massive scrapbook, filled with just about every wedding invitation, birth announcement, funeral card & newspaper obituary my family has ever produced. The older I get, the more I think I look like her too.

Aunty M will be 80 this year -- something I find hard to believe. . She recently applied for a unit in the seniors residence in her town -- an assisted living unit. She is still full of energy, but decided she would make the move now before the decision had to be made for her.

Aunty D, my dad's younger sister, who was a teenager when I was born. She lived closer to the city centre than Aunty M, and when I got to be a teenager, I stayed with her and her growing family -- like Aunty M, she also had three boys -- to attend debating competitions and science fairs. Recently, one of her sons moved and now lives about a half hour from me with his family -- I am tickled, after 25+ years of living so far away from my family, to finally have a relative so close by. As a bonus, Aunty D visits a couple of times a year.

My work friend P: P was one of the first people I spoke to when I started my job 27 years ago this summer. She contributed data for a regular feature in the employee newsletter I worked for. After several years of chatting on the phone and mailing material back & forth to each other through the interoffice mail (this was pre-Internet), we decided it was high time we met. She worked in a different building a few blocks away, & the next time I was in the area, I dropped by to say hello. She was just as delightful in person as she was over the phone -- frank, funny, unafraid to speak her mind or go to bat for what she thought was right, full of stories about people at the company, and happy to dish out advice. We began having lunch together every few weeks. After several years, her department moved to a satellite office in another part of the city -- but whenever we had to visit each other's offices, we made a point of scheduling our meetings close to lunchtime. ; ) When she finally retired a few years ago, I attended her farewell party. She still drops by to see me -- sometimes unannounced -- whenever she is downtown.

These are just the ones I can think of off the top of my head... I'm sure there are others.

I hope that someday I can be as great a mom/aunt figure to some young person as these women are to me.


  1. You know, Jim Gritter has a term for these types of people in your life, and for the type of person you are in the lives of others: Life Affirmers.

    (The other two roles he speaks of in the realm of adoption are LifeGivers and Life Sustainers.)

    As for your last sentence, I bet you already are :-)

  2. That's really lovely.

    I had thought of doing something like this, when I read a lovely post from a non-IF blogger who did something similar. She included non-mothers as well as mothers in her list, and I let her know how good that made me feel.

    Maybe next year ...

  3. Great, great post! I actually thought of you this past Mother's Day...I hope you were able to enjoy the day without the sting of loss.

  4. I love this post! Your description of Miss A is so like my English teacher from high school ... who is like another mother to me, too.

    And with Lori ... I bet you are, too. After all, I already know you have "mothered" so many fellow bloggers here ... offering that sanctuary is such a gift.