Life is filled with so many people who influence us and help to make us who we are. Although many people say it and somehow seem to believe it, there is no such thing as equal opportunity. My brother, sister and I have all been very lucky. My parents just celebrated their 58th wedding anniversary and through all the ups and downs of raising a family, losing a child, losing their parents as well as all the moments of sure joy and despair that we call life, they have been there for me, my siblings and each other, not only by their words, but more importantly by their actions on how to respect ourselves and others.
My mom is a character and has character. I guess that is what happens when you have four children in less than five years. Growing-up we didn’t have much money, but we were never poor. We always had food on the table but often it wasn’t much. Big bags of puff wheat cereal, porridge or on those special days corn flakes. Rarely bought real milk but grew up on powdered milk. For years I thought milk was blue. She sang crazy made up songs to us or ones she remembered from girl guides. We played games or had a picnic outside on the front step. We didn’t have much but we had everything.
She taught us to respect our neighbours and we called them all Uncle and Auntie. We played on the street and everybody knew everybody and watched out for each other and we all felt safe. We really did play road hockey and cars did slow down as they tried not to drive over our goal posts made of snow. We played catch, kick the can and football with the kids in our neighbourhood. Everyone on our street was family and the other children of the neighbourhood were my brothers and sisters as we would often pitch tents in the back yard or sell lemonade on the street.
My mom became the first woman who I knew to get a job. She worked at Woolco in the Pet Store and there started our wide range of pets from budgies called “Blue Ball” and “Green Ball” ingeniously named by my dad. We had a Chameleon that got lost in the shag carpet the first day it was home. She used these opportunities to teach us about responsibility. We all learned to cook. She was working and to be a family meant you helped each other out. We had our turns making supper. My dad also was a good cook and in those days that wasn’t common. Like all kids we thought we were hard done by but on the good side was with my mom working we could afford a few more things and life got a little easier.
When the boys of the house started dating my mom would always say ‘Treat them with Respect” as we walked out the door. She told us how to hold our knives and forks, to chew with our mouths closed and to eat our vegetables. She taught us not to swear and to this day if I say a word she doesn’t like I am sure to get the look.
She taught us that our voices mattered. We were allowed to talk politics and say what we felt even when we were young. We were taught to respect each other and that school was important. In 1969 we purchased the World Book Encyclopedia and I am sure by the end of the second year we had the entire set read to us, except perhaps Volume A which our dog, Myha, happened to mistake for a bone so certain pages were a little hard to read.
We were never beaten or abused despite at times not doing as we were told. They took us camping and gave us the zest for travel and seeing the beauty of the world. When you are seven the Rocky Mountains seemed bigger and a moose sticking their head through the window of the car is an experience one never forgets. Bee stings, being chased by bears, drinking water from a pristine lake in northern Saskatchewan taught us adventure. Laughing when we ran out of gas on a deserted northern road, taught us you can overcome the hardships.
We ate together as a family including breakfast on the weekends. There was no sleeping-in, even if you stayed out late. You had to be responsible. Responsible to yourself and the rest of the family. She taught us that you needed to be able to take care of yourself. She would say ‘It is not going to be your wife’s job to iron your shirts or cook your meals?’ We all learned how to cook, do laundry and even wash floors. There were no jobs for men or for women, but jobs to do. She taught us men and women were equal and that women could do anything.
She taught us not to judge a book by its cover and that beauty comes from the inside. Despite having all these great lessons like all kids I have made mistakes. The mistakes I have made have been in not remembering those lessons I was taught.
Growing-up I couldn’t say with 100 per cent certainty but I think she hugged us everyday, even when we were just learning to be the people we are meant to be. Even now at my age, it still feels pretty good to get a hug from my mom.