Though my mother is never far from my thoughts, it’s on the occasion of her birthday that my memories are most poignant.
My mother, Gladys Crowell, was born January 11, 1911 to Maritime farmers Frederick and Melissa. She grew up with her sisters Laura, Mabel, Elvie, and younger sister Thelma, along with brothers Forest and Cecil, whom she idolized.
Sitting with my mom on quiet evenings, as her crochet hook weaved intricate doilies, she often recounted the fun and mischief she and her siblings shared as children. Forbidden to go to the frozen pond after dark, she and her brothers would climb out the dining room window, their blades slung over their shoulders, and head off to meet friends from the neighbouring farm. Her handsome brother Forest entertained them with his graceful turns and manoeuvres.
Watching televised skating competitions, a favourite pastime in later years, brought back memories of those cold wintry nights on the pond. My mother often boasted that Forest skated as well as any professional. Tragically, her brother died of diphtheria at the age of twenty-one. A crushing loss for my mother.
I remember seeing a wedding photograph taken in the early thirties. A tall, broodingly handsome man with black wavy hair stood at my mother’s side. Demureness emanated from the tilt of her head, her chocolate eyes and dark lashes. It was the jaunty angle of the hat over her dark hair and the broad fox collar of her coat that suggested her sense of style and class.
Within five years, she was the mother of three girls. She often related the story to me. The baby had turned one year old the day her husband didn’t return home. Each time Mom rested her head on the pillow, she could hear the revving of a car engine. Though there was only silence when she went to the door, the sound of the car returned when her head touched the pillow. In her heart, she knew. The next morning notification came of her husband’s fatal accident.
Years later, when Mom was visiting her sister she met my Aunt Elvie’s military boyfriend – a blond, blue-eyed MP. Mom reminisced that she was surprised when the officer appeared at her own door one evening. He claimed he had dropped by to see her little girls, as he was very fond of children. He suggested that perhaps he could read to them. It wasn’t long before the widow and her children looked forward to his evening visits. The girls danced to the tune of his fiddle music and crowded onto his lap while he read stories.
Decades later, my aunt was still ribbing my mother about stealing her boyfriend. Their marriage produced two children before moving from Nova Scotia to Ontario where an unanticipated arrival joined the family – that would be me, number six. Mom celebrated her forty-first birthday less than a month later and became a grandmother six months after that.
I remember waiting at a bus stop when a woman mistook me as a grandchild. My mother corrected her, and saved further embarrassment to the woman by telling her she had a grandchild almost the same age.
Mom began working at the local hospital when I was around two years old. In addition to her part-time job, caring for the family and household, she took in boarders – as many as three at a time. With a congenial personality and sometimes-zany sense of humour, she added levity to many grim situations.
It was probably the year before she took sick that I met a young co-worker of my mother’s from the Red Cross. She wanted me to know that the girls at work thought my mother was special and everyone looked up to her.
A woman who took pride in everything she did. Spirited and popular, with an envious sense of style, and a zest for life despite life’s hardships.