The years pass. The days of commemoration return. It’s been ten years since my mother died but I think of her daily. There was a time when I thought the most important thing on earth was to find out where she came from. She was a foundling, given up at birth, and had only a few clues to her biological parents. What did I think? If I found them, somehow she would be given a new life, in which she was cherished by parents instead of cared for by a foster mother who seemed determined to keep her in her place: a child unwanted and given away? I did think this. In a rather circuitous way, I found the man whom I believe was her biological father. I share DNA with his grandsons, his great-nephew. I’ve learned some things about him and one of those things is that he wasn’t interested in knowing about the child he’d conceived with a girl who was not his wife. I’m less interested in pursuing her origins now that I know it had nothing to do with who she was, only how she got to be in the world.
In this photograph, my mother is playing with her first child, my older brother Dan. It must be summer of 1952. They lived in a cottage above Gonzales Beach in Victoria. She told me many times how happy she was there. My father was away a lot. He was in the Navy and he’d be at sea for months at a time. Not long after this photograph was taken, my father was transferred to Halifax, where my mother had grown up and where my parents met in 1950. They went by train to Nova Scotia, stopping to see my grandparents in Beverly, so that they could meet Dan. Two years in Halifax — my brother Steve was born there — and then back to Victoria, where I was born. A little more than a year later, my younger brother Gordon was born, completing the family my mother always wanted. When I was 6 years old, we lived not far from Gonzales Beach and my father was away again, for 3 months. As she anticipated his return, I think I saw my mother as a person, separate from me, for the first time. She’d bought a new coat for the occasion, a coat that hangs in my closet and still smells faintly of her.
When we returned that day from CFB Esquimalt with the stranger who was our father to our house on Eberts Street, my parents went into their bedroom and we were asked to leave them alone. I imagined my mother twirling for my father in her new suit and then the two of them hugging on the bed. Her Harris Tweed coat was hanging in the front closet, and I went in, closed the door from the inside, and put my arms into its satin-lined sleeves where I could smell my mother’s Avon underarm deodorant mingling with the wool. I was inside her coat, inside the embrace she was now sharing with my father. I was my mother, hidden from her children, the collar of the tweed coat rough against my neck.
— from “Tokens”, Euclid’s Orchard, Mother Tongue Publishing, 2017.
And later: I’ve just remembered this photograph of me with my own children and love how it echoes the one of my mum and Dan.