Recently Added

Bonnie Ann Graham (January 2, 1927 – Remembrance Day, 2013)

Forgive me, but while I regularly speak for hours without notes, that just isn't going to happen today. In the words of Clint Eastwood, "A man's got to know his limitations."
Institutional memory does not exist in the institution of a family, certainly not in this family. It's far too complex, too personal, and too exposed to erosion and distortion with the passage of time.
With this in mind, what I'm about to share is mine and mine alone. While the characters in this story are all very real, events depicted here are the representation of just one person's memory. There are at least five other such stories at play, each of which may stand in dispute of my own. But… and there's always a but… they've asked me to speak, so, right or wrong, you're stuck with my story.

I would begin my story by introducing you to the living expression of my mother.
First… Karen… could you please stand here beside me? Karen, the older sister… much older, I remind her.
Karen … RN, NP, BN, MAEd…I suspect there may have been a GST and HST in there, too, but her business card ran out of space. As a young, and selfish, and needy child, I often protested to Karen that: "I already have a mother, and don't need another one, thank you very much." What I didn't realize at the time was that it wasn't a voluntary assignment on the other side of this equation either.
… this is my mother.

Robert, you're next… up here beside Karen. Robert the Quiet, who could run like the wind. It was a pleasure to watch him run… unless, of course, you were the object of the run and there was a pound of fleshy justice to be exacted. Robert, who taught me how to drive a stick shift in his own car. A car that never sounded quite the same again.
… this is my mother.

Brad... right here beside me, please. Brad, who grudgingly let me tag along in Bridgeport adventures in the woods behind the Huras home… who showed me, at the age of seven, how to make a stogie from dried up maple leaves rolled into a brown paper bag and held together by Scotch tape. I took one puff and was cured of that habit on the spot. I've never told him this but Brad was my idol as a teen. My respect and affection for him has only grown over the past forty years.
… this is my mother.

Kim… over here. Kim, the consummate organizer. The bottle of Elmer's glue working constantly in an effort to bring together and hold together the institution of the Graham family. Married to my dear friend, Rick… I introduced them, you know. In the fitness department, Kim puts us all to shame.
… still a long distance runner, this is very much my mother.

And last, but as he'll tell you, not least, Ian. Ian has the unanswerable claim when he declares, tongue in cheek, that Mom and Dad tried and tried and tried, and tried and tried again before getting it right the sixth time. That was tongue in cheek, right, Ian? Ian the much younger brother, too small to torture… though I expect he'll dispute that memory. I'm afraid the spread in years was great enough that I never invested much in the effort to get to know him. I'm sorry for that. He seems now to have turned out passably okay.
… this, too, is my mother.

Finally, and this is the last one to join us up here, I promise.
Deb. You've earned every bit a place in this gang as any among us. Since Dad fell ill more than a decade ago, you've attended to our mother far beyond reason. I'm ashamed to think of my own contribution in the face of yours. Please stand up here beside your husband.

Thank you all for coming. You honour us and you honour our mother as we gather today in celebration of her life and to mark her passing from this world into the next.
Let the celebration begin.

"You just wait 'til your father gets home." [she knew how to negotiate for compliance]
"I'll have a coffee, please… make it black."
"Alec… you tell the rest of the story…" [she was always in deference to our father]
"When it's gone… it's gone."
"Why don't you kids go outside and play?" [And click goes the door lock!]
"Marks aren't everything." [Yes, Mom. I understand that now.]
"You shouldn't throw stones." [I get it, Mom. I get it, already.]
"Did someone say 'Euchre'?"

Speaking of Euchre, it seemed, with undue regularity, that at the end of a hand, everyone at the table would turn to Mom, who, with cigarette extended 'just so', and a stream of smoke [poof] emanating in the other direction, a quiet smile would come to her face as she slowly revealed the winning Ace. How did she do that… and do it so often?

Feed a family of eight on $50 a week (that's $276 in today's money – or $34.50 per person per week – or $1.64 per person per meal).
I remember standing in the kitchen, pouring into a glass from one of those newfangled bags of milk. I felt her eyes studying me from across the room as I took my first gulp… and her great dismay and disappointment when I spewed what was clearly substituted powdered milk all over the kitchen floor. Nice try, Mom, but that stuff's not fit for drinking.

Be it cabbage, carrots, potatoes, hamburger, or spaghetti – no matter what – if it's on sale on the other side of town. She'd get on a bus, and bring it home.
Old habits die hard, they say. Just a few months ago, Mom was out with my wife and asked Olia if they could drive across town, I think to a Food Basics or Value Mart, or some such discount grocery store, for which she had a flyer. When they arrived, all she sought out and bought was a box of baking soda. Mission accomplished. Well, it was on sale.

And yet, as frugal as she was… and she was… and we all joked often, and still do, on that same subject, I'm called back in stark contrast to the Summer of 1976. Sent to me months earlier, my letter of acceptance to university had been lost in the mail. It finally arrived in early August. Scrambling through government loan and bursary applications, I discovered that there would just not be enough money to make it happen. Resigned to spending a year working at the tire factory, I was not in a happy place.

Without a blink, however, our mother wrote a cheque for $1,000 – and those were 1976 dollars. This was matched by a loan from Karen in the same amount [I paid you back, right?]. As I say, Mom, the consummate penny pincher, opened that very important door for me without hesitation. Some things in life drift into a dusty collection of the long forgotten. For me, this is not one of those things.

Mom taught me how to play Euchre, backgammon, Chinese checkers, and double solitaire. By example, she taught me how to laugh so hard I would cry. She taught me how to fall asleep at the dinner table, I can do that now … or anywhere for that matter, when the time is right to sleep. Thanks for that, Mom.
She never taught me how to do crossword puzzles. I couldn't match her patience for that… but then, I don't have six kids. I lack the requisite training.
She taught me how to love upside down pineapple cottage cheese cake, and date squares, and dog poop cookies, and mashed potatoes… and when she could afford it, ham.

She taught me how school lunches could be a Wonder Bread sandwich, appropriately named, since it had nothing inside… as in… 'when it's gone, it's gone.' We were left to wonder what it was before it was gone.
And I'd forgotten this one… thanks, Brad, for the reminder… for school lunches, she sometimes made sandwiches of Wonder Bread and a single slice of processed cheese topped with ketchup – as Brad recalls, we learned how to make our own lunches real quick.
Following the same theme, the last pair of pants she bought for me… for $2.99, I think, maybe less, had rainbow stripes running from top to bottom. Madness, I tell you. They were never worn… I was nobody's Wavy Gravy and too young for Woodstock. I bit the bullet to buy my own clothes after that. I've wondered over the years if that was her plan in the first place. There is method to most madness in this world.

She loved her hot baths… and as Brad points out, she passed from us while doing one of the things she most enjoyed, taking a hot bath. Maybe this is one more inheritance she has left for me. I love a long hot bath. Most of what I say here today had its genesis in a hot bath.

Lake Erie is the most quiet of our Great Lakes – still and shallow waters. But from those still waters flow the mighty and thundering Niagara Falls. Sometimes, the most quiet among us play the greatest of roles – contributions overlooked, noticed too late, or never recognized at all.

I recall an occasion when, as kids, we were at a lake, racing out to a diving platform and back to the shore. Mom and Dad were relaxing on dry land, since he couldn't swim and she had a book to read, likely a Harlequin romance. As we rested between races, Dad badgered her to "get up, Mother, and show them how it's done". We just laughed at this notion, or at least I did, having never seen her swim in all my life and figuring that she, like Dad, was landlocked… and perhaps at the ripe age of over 40, far too old to venture into the deep. "C'mon in, Mom. Don't worry. I'll rescue you."

She resisted and she resisted, but between Dad's cajoling, and my childish taunts, she finally put down her book… stubbed out her cigarette, and stepped in ankle deep. Slowly, she bent over, reached into the water, and splashed a few drops on her shoulders and arms. Standing up straight again, she shook her legs out one at a time like this, and stretched her neck from one side to the other, like this. That should have been my first clue, but I missed it entirely. So young… so much to learn.
Even now, I can see it unfolding in slow motion. On the word 'go' from Dad, we all dove into the water.

Well… and you have to see this coming… suffice to say… she showed us. Boy, did she show us. Like a fish. We got smoked… like a fish. To the diving platform and back to shore before any of us had even reached the platform. Smooth as silk. Stunning. I had no idea. I remember stopping in the middle of this so-called race just to tread water and watch, realizing that I was in the presence of greatness. That's my Mom gliding through the water like some kind of Olympian. Well, I don't know but, compared to me, she was Olympian. Before any of us returned to shore, she had already dried off and was back in her book, freshly lit cigarette perched between her fingers.

Dad, who all the while, couldn't wipe the smile off his face, opened up Mom's old cedar chest when we got home. He dug to the bottom of the chest and pulled out a number of tall but dusty trophies from back in the 1940s. I never knew.
How easy it is to mistake the quiet and the meek for no more than that, quiet and meek. My mother was a swimmer… a champion swimmer, no less! This was my Jem and Atticus Finch moment. I never knew!

Our mother didn't graduate from high school in the usual way back in the 1940s. She took it upon herself, after we were all grown up, to go back to school and prove to herself that she could do it. In her mid-fifties, she finished the task. She attended adult education classes and was awarded her high school diploma one night at KCI in Kitchener, along with the teenage kids then in attendance. I remember it being a fully packed auditorium, and the Principal asking for the audience to hold their applause until all graduates had taken the stage and received their diplomas.

For the most part, the audience was compliant with his request… that is, until our small, grey-haired mother took the stage. I cannot describe the feeling when, as she plodded slowly across the stage, the entire audience let loose with a sustained roar, and no objection coming from the Principal. I could never have been more proud. Just one more life lesson from her to us.

I remember Dad complaining late one night that he didn't have a single pair of clean socks without any holes. Mom said nothing… but next morning, there was a pair of newly knitted socks, waiting by his bedside.
How easy it is to pass our eyes over the supporting cast and focus only on the marquee.
How easy to forget that a young child without tied laces may trip and tumble to the ground. That a child without darned socks or patched knees may fall sick. That a child without a full stomach, even cheese and ketchup sandwiches, cannot learn. That a child without hockey skates and a stick cannot dream the Canadian dream.
In Bobby Orr's recent autobiography, he declared, "there is no such thing as individual achievement". I agree. Everything we achieve as individuals involves the contribution of others, first and foremost, our parents.
Our mother first gave us life, and thereafter, many life lessons. Most of these lessons came quietly and implicitly, but they came just the same. Even when we couldn't see it, and too many times, I could not, she sacrificed herself for us.
From Albert Pine, "What we do for ourselves dies with us. What we do for others and the world remains and is immortal."

Our mother was alive and eager to live, right to the very end.
She began her chemotherapy treatment with hope and with optimism. There was no speck of negativity in her on the prospects for life.
Three weeks ago, she and I went together for our flu shots.
Just two weeks ago, she was planning to bowl this Winter, leukemia be damned.
It was difficult for her to give up driving. She did enjoy the independence it gave her… though as Brad reminded me this week, she enjoyed it well enough without the right-side mirror on her car… twice, in fact… her response to that discovery, "I didn't know there was a mirror over there… I never used it."

She was looking forward to next Spring's baseball season… she knew all the players on the Blue Jays team, and rarely missed a game on TV. She could cite player statistics as if she were a 12 year old boy collecting baseball cards. Before calling to ask if she wanted to meet up with us, I had first to go online to see if the Jays were playing that day. No competition between me and the Jays, and I knew it. She had her routine and liked to stick to it. I was thinking to take her in person to a Blue Jays game next Spring, and regret not having done so this year.
I'm sure I'll be the first person to thank Rogers Cable in commemoration of his mother's life. I'm grateful for her cable box to have gone out-of-whack not long ago, as it gave me the opportunity to pay a visit, be a hero, and put things right before the opening pitch. In truth, all I did was turn the box off, count to ten, and turn it on again… as you know, I'm nobody's handyman, but it felt good just the same.

On November 7th, Alana's birthday card arrived in the mail. Like clockwork, she never missed her grandchildren's birthdays.
No thoughts about our mother can exclude the many images of sweaters, mittens, touques, afghans, or baby booties. Whether it was for the senior centre, for charity, for her children or their children, it didn't matter for whom she was crafting. As she said to me when we last met, "I can't just sit around doing nothing." There's a lesson in this for the rest of us. At 86 years of age, she held the spirit of 'doing something'.
Just the other day, I couldn't shake the image of her being laid to rest in a swimming pool full of yarn, a peaceful smile on her face.

Mom played the part of supporting cast member, not at centre stage, but always there, reliable in service of the next generation… and the one after that, and even on her final day, for the little one soon to arrive. I'll never forget this. There is no greater gift.

In a strange sort of way, while my emotions are pulling at me now in all directions, I don't feel a tremendous sense of loss. Maybe it will come or maybe I'm just too thick to feel it. I felt a great loss when Dad passed eight years ago, because I had not yet come to the place necessary to hug and hold him and to say, "Dad, I love you." I'll carry that with me always.
I resolved with his passing not to make that mistake again. I am grateful for the lesson, and for having had and taken the opportunity to hold my mother close and to say to her, "I love you, Mom."
Life is a journey and, as I see it, at journey's end, we will all be measured by how we've been able to touch the lives of those around us and the lives of those who follow. Look to our mother's children, and to their children. Our mother is with us now. She will be with us always.

How fitting that she graduated to the next stage of her journey on Remembrance Day. It's just like her to time this event for such an easy reminder. Thanks, Mom.
She has left us now… left us with much to celebrate… and left us with much to do. She has completed her quiet journey on this Earth. Her legacy is neither loud nor bold… and yet it resides nonetheless, steadily plodding forward inside each of us. We cannot just sit around and do nothing! We must be doing something, and must be doing it for someone else!

I believe that our mother lived her life in search of a personal peace in the face of great and many challenges, not least of which came from her fourth child. I cannot know if she found this peace… or if any of us ever will… but her life example encourages me to think yes, on both counts.

Our mother is just around the corner… or if you will, only in the next room.
Come February, the youngest among us will hit the half-century mark. How time skates by us all… so quickly… our time here is no more than a fleeting moment… we're not so far behind you, Mom. You've now rejoined our father, your childhood sweetheart and life partner. Soon enough…. we'll all be together again.
Until then, good-bye, Mom. We love you.