I am Becoming my Mother #2

Last week I wrote about my mothers’ experiences in gardening late in her life and of my own adventures in that same activity. My point was that I now acknowledge that there was at least one way she and I were similar, when I had always noted how dissimilar the two of us were.

This week I want to tell you about something else I have recognized when I look in the mirror. My basic bodily features have always resembled my father, whose Norwegian ancestry became remarkably evident the day, at the Oslo airport, my second cousin, Halvor Forberg, took hold of my big suitcase and set out across the tarmac with me following.

My brain messaged to me, “There goes Dad,” as clearly as any spoken comparison could have been. Husky body, broad shoulders, long back, meaty hips and heavy short legs moving with the same unmistakable gait! I have struggled with how to camouflage those legs my entire life.

But back to Mom, whose skin tanned easily, as mine does, who loved the sun too, but with added years I’m discovering those same facial wrinkles she had are appearing almost overnight. Something else I’ve discovered: long hairs on my chin telegraph to the world I am her daughter and that I have reached a certain age. I began by tweezing them, with little success.

When Mom’s chin whiskers – she called them that – appeared, she quietly made an appointment with an esthetician in downtown Nanaimo for electrolysis, and then enjoyed a bonus of visiting with our children on the way out of town before she returned to Campbell River two, hours away. Over several years of regular appointments most of the offending hairs were no longer evident. Guess what? I am following her lead on this.

There is one technique she used, as do many of my friends, I will not be copying. Pencilling an eyebrow line to replace faded, sparse vestiges of the hair that frames a person’s eyes is popular among older women. But I have noticed many women of similar age and older who highlight their brows with a thick brow pencil, have made a very bad job of it because of a shaky hand or bad light or failing eyesight. One day I came to the realization that unless I drew eyebrows every day one of my better features, blue eyes, would retreat to oblivion. At least Mom, the painter, had a steady hand, so could do it well. Until the stroke that is.

Hazel Forberg

I decided there was another way and sought a specialist who in two 90 minute sessions, two weeks apart, has given me a permanently coloured brow line that looks normal and requires no further daily fussing. I only need to keep my skin clean, apply day cream regularly and present a uniform face to the world with, or without, further makeup! It is so easy, and with no fuss.

I am Becoming my Mother #1

I walked in my garden tonight and what I saw and heard and smelled there pleased me. The rhododendrons are in various stages of bloom, each their own spectacular shade, the azaleas quietly spreading lower and wide but with more arresting aromas. Seabirds waken us every morning but these songbirds of the evening are busily making nests in the cedar hedge and chattering about the babies they expect to feed soon.

We have worked hard to create and maintain this property to mature status.The result I observed tonight makes all the stiff muscles and sore hands worthwhile. My walk in the garden reminds me of my mother who did the same thing every evening after her chores were done and before she settled down with a crossword puzzle or a game of scrabble with a friend.

I have never thought I had much in common with my mother. Now I have found just a whispering suspicion that it may not have been entirely true. I knew her as a consummate sportswoman: rowing, fishing, hiking, curling, softball and hunting. Only later came the gardening.

That was never me. From my earliest years I wanted to spend time indoors with crafts, games, puzzles and books. Even when we were going someplace on our boat – the only means we had of travel – I would position myself to enjoy a book.  On one occasion while Mom rowed I tried to read while holding a fishing line in one hand. The question she asked was “What will you do when the fish bites?”

Mom sought opportunities to be outdoors, occupied in some physical activity whenever possible. The places we lived until I was nine years old severely limited Mom’s outdoor activities. After we moved, and when she was old enough, my younger sister was similarly inclined and keen to accompany Mom doing many activities like picking berries for jam or collecting salal to sell for cash.

I was well aware that my father had hoped to have a son. So it was that when my sister displayed her love of so many outdoor and sporting activities he nicknamed her, “Judy Boy.” By then I had become a “bookworm,” in their minds. It did hurt just a bit but in the words of my own daughter, “It is what it is.” 

Hazel Fearing with background of Jackson Bay family farm in 1936

Hazel Fearing with background of Jackson Bay family farm in 1936

I realize now that Mom was essentially a “farm girl” who happened to fall in love with and marry a hand logger. For the first 10 years of Mom’s married life their home sat on a float entirely surrounded by water. Then when the floathouse was towed to Rock Bay and the house pulled up on reclaimed land there was still no soil for gardening. For five years they lived in the original house but it was set on what was essentially a gravel surface, and surrounded by stirred up dust of moving trucks and other vehicles. Neither location gave Mom any opportunity to grow anything: flowers or vegetables or fruit, as her own mother had done when the family lived in Alberta, Vancouver or Jackson Bay.

From the time they moved from Rock Bay into the house on Hilchey Road Mom made tilling the ground around the new place her passion. Dad was away working a lot, Judy in high school and I was at university, so Mom had plenty of free time. She improved the soil and created a fenced English Country Garden haven for butterflies, bees, and birds. That is, until Dad insisted they move to another lot where he could once again see the ocean.

She made the move, as expected, but we knew it was unwillingly. At the new property she refused to have anything to do with the garden, which left Dad to fertilize and water the few plants already established there. His gardening focus was growing boysenberries and that involved watering each night.

About the same time Mom’s rheumatoid arthritis kicked in. It is a dreadful disease and I and I am thankful to have only ‘regular’ arthritis that Advil can keep at bay. Long after she was gone I am realizing we do have some things in common. Mom was always artistic with her garden plantings and creative craft creations. It was only when Dad insisted they move and she started receiving her own Canada Pension to use to buy oil paints and brushes with that she took up painting. Whenever Mom and Dad were on their forays into the wilds in their camper Mom took photographs of beautiful natural landscapes of forests, lakes, mountains and glaciers. So now she used her own photographs to create oil paintings that we all treasure.

An evening walk in my mature garden on the edge of the ocean I have always loved has unexpectedly become a memorial to my mother. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be made to leave this place, for any reason.

Sometimes a simple thought hits so strong it must be written.

What do you do for your grandchildren?

Post 1 – What do you do for your grandchildren?

A bright sunny day in July seems the right time to begin blogging about the things that are important to me. I hope you will find them of relevance to your life and decide to follow along the path where these irregular posts lead.

My first question, “What do you do for your grandchildren?” brings to mind the gifts my grandparents offered me. Most significant is the life skills I learned from my Norwegian grandmother, my Dad’s mother. She showed me how to knit, to crochet, to embroidery, to make and serve coffee and when I was old enough to manage with my left hand guiding the fabric and the right hand turning the handle, how to sew a simple seam on her hand cranked sewing machine.

We had no electricity there, no refrigeration or roads to the outside world; we were essentially locked in by water and our escape was by water. With her quiet assured manner Grandma Gunhild, who I called White Nano for her silver white hair, made everyday life lessons interesting. Until I was nine years old she was a daily influence on me.

My mother’s mother, Little Nano, was as different from White Nano as she could have been. Short and solid with a wide range of farm and gardening knowledge she taught me the difference between the weeds and the cultivated plants as we moved together along the rows, showed me how to thin beets, turnips and carrots, called upon me to pick the peas and beans and let me feed the chickens and collect the eggs, all life skills in her world but not as significant in mine. My grandfather’s made their own contribution to my knowledge of life but that story is for another time.

Dead now for twenty years, I’ve had some time to think about what my own parents gave to my three children. They came to visit us regularly and were present at every Christmas and family celebration, taking a serious interest in what each of them was interested in and what they were doing. I think the important thing is they were present in their young lives and made a positive impression on it.

In my opinion, perhaps also in the view of the children, Grandma and Grandpa, from the time the child were five or six years old took each grandchild separately for a week of ‘summer holiday.’ My parents had a truck and camper rig in which they went out to the forest back roads for extended periods. Their aluminum boat loaded on top and with assorted gear and games packed away, they managed to successfully amuse each young one they happened to have with them at the time. Some days it was trout fishing, others berry picking, swimming, or exploration hiking along the lake or stream’s edge. Helping with the campfire, cooking on the two burner stove, washing dishes, all became part of what they learned to help with.

The children came home suntanned and dirty from their week away telling stories of the fun they had and the people, and animals, they had seen and met. For us at home that week we were dealing with a different configuration of children and as much as possible took the opportunity to spend time according to their preferences. When the siblings came together again there seemed to be a settling in time during which everyone shared stories about what the other part of the family had missed.

Although what my husband and I will be able to offer will be quite different than what my folks undertook I hope we will be able to offer ‘summer holiday’ time to each of our three grandchildren soon I have spoken to my daughter about it and she enthusiastically agrees with the concept. Other ideas next time . . . .