It is Saturday morning. I spent Friday writing, editing and posting blogs on another topic and did not end up writing any of this story. I am sitting on my deck at the back of the house on a lounge chair. The deck is a half story above ground level and gives the feeling that you are elevated looking out over an expanse of green space.
From where I am sitting I can see my backyard, which is almost all pool, raspberry bushes and plantings and then a pond and a walkway out further. It is a cool day with a blue sky and even though it is still early, you can tell that it is going to be quite hot today.
One of the things that my mother could count on when she threatened my father with divorce is that his mother would never allow it. I have no way of knowing whether or not she had relied on this happening, but I know that the first time that my mother left my father, his mother had insisted that he make it right. This put my mother in the position of being courted and chased. She had the power.
If she had relied on this, she got some of the worst news that she could’ve imagined before Christmas that year. My paternal grandmother had been much younger than her husband, being his second wife, and had learned how to take care of herself quite well after he passed on. The house that she lived in had a store on one side that would be the approximate location of an indoor garage if the house had been built fifty years later.
I heard stories that this used to be a type of general purpose store where the neighbourhood children could buy ice-cream and candy. But by the time that I was old enough to remember this retail space it could most easily be described as a second hand store or an antique store if you were feeling generous at the time. My grandmother’s home was filled with furniture to the point of it being awkward to walk around in. These were handcrafted wood pieces elaborate with details and fancy handles.
On a particularly bad evening, a man came into my grandmother’s store and tried to steal something or hurt her. I never heard the entire story, but I know that when the police arrived she still had a hunk of his hair in her hand. The ultimate outcome of this terrible incident was that my grandmother lost the will to live. She no longer felt safe living alone in her home and her health fell quickly. By November 1977, less than five months after my mother had left my father, she died. My father moved another woman into his place, right away.
That same winter, my mother’s father died. He died right before Christmas and I remember hearing the discussions about what to do with the gifts that had been bought for him. A small thing in the larger scheme of things, but a poignant issue when put in context. We had all planned on having him around to celebrate Christmas.
Years later I heard my aunts teasing my grandmother about taking another lover. She had been with my grandfather her entire life. Her response was that she had pleased one man, every night, for several decades and she had had enough. This made me feel for her.
Extrapolated from what my grandmother said, the night of my grandfather’s death would have been a particularly difficult time for her. Like every other night of her life, since she was fifteen years of age, she would have been anticipating her lover. She was in the bedroom, in bed and he had gone to the washroom before joining her. She would have known that he would be with her in a few minutes and that she could count on his attentions when he returned. With this anticipation and comfort in mind, she heard him fall in the bathroom. He never got up. He was ripped from her at the worst possible time of day when she was anticipating his return, alone, at night.
So, the issue of spending Christmas at my father’s mother place had never come up. We had always gone there for our dinner and a gift exchange with the cousins. I remember these times fondly with the crowded rooms, the large meal and the card games that we played as a family. My grandmother had taught me how to play cards and how to make the sauce for Christmas pudding. That was a holiday staple that my children would never learn to love and gradually got phased out because I was the only one eating it.
There was no actual family Christmas celebration at all that year. My mother did not want to get out of bed and in the middle of the afternoon I went over to my boyfriend’s where we had Christmas dinner. Some time at this apartment my mother tried to commit suicide but was unsuccessful. I called the doctor, who got angry with me because I could not accurately describe the pills in the bottle that I found (she kept multiple medications in the same bottle) and I think that an ambulance came, but I’ve erased most of the details of this event from my memory.
My mother was forced to stay with her new boyfriend, a hideous, creepy, skinny man that was the janitor for one of the high schools. The only saving grace for me was that it was not my high school. I would have been terribly embarrassed to have had to go to school with the knowledge that my mother was dating the married janitor. How her self image of wanting to look like she had it all had fallen. She had lost her status, her husband and her wealth all in one unanticipated break-in at a grungy second hand store.
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