I didn’t avoid the funeral because you were going to be there.
In all honestly, I hadn’t thought of you at all until my husband – who did go – told me he saw you there.
I’m not sorry I missed seeing you. It would have been a thirteen-hour round-trip and since my catastrophic – and permanent – burnout seven years ago, my body just can’t handle that big of a day. But I’ve been thinking of all the things I could have/ should have said to you, had I gone, that we both know I wouldn’t have said because well, I never think on my feet.
It should have been a hard holiday for my Mom. The week before Christmas, I was all packed and ready to leave for a week-long visit when my sister called to tell me she and my brother-in-law were both feeling poorly. No, she reassured me, it wasn’t Covid, but they didn’t feel well at all. Because I always stay with them when I come to visit my Mom, we regretfully made the decision that I should stay home. My sister was in no shape for company – not even her sister (!!) – and I’d just end up getting sick, too. Because we are ultra careful about not bringing germs into our Mom’s seniors residence, and because we would never lie about such a thing, neither of us would have been able to visit Mom in any case. It was with immense sadness that I unpacked my bags and stowed away their Christmas presents, which had been sitting in a box, wrapped and ready, beside my suitcase at the door.
I have a few childhood memories that will always haunt me but one of the worst happened in one single, terrible moment. I must have been 6 or 7 years old and we had been visiting my Grammy and Grampy. I remember that it was a beautiful summer day: we had all gone somewhere – I don’t recall the location now – with the exception of my beloved Grampy, who had opted to stay at home that morning.
Upon our return, as our cars pulled into the long dirt driveway that led to my grandparents’ humble little country home, I was the first to tumble out the car so that I could go find Grampy and excitedly tell him all about whatever amazing thing we had just been doing. He was unusually hard to find: I ran all through the little house, scouring every room for him.
“I’m in an exercise class!” my Mom announces excitedly one day, as we chat on the phone. “Do you want to come and see it?”
Mom is 84. She uses a walker to get around; she has mild dementia and lately, she’s been sleeping a lot.
Until my stepfather’s health began to fail, my mother was an active woman. She was one of those energetic people who have little patience for the people who can’t keep up; the people who have showed signs of slowing down. She gardened. She delivered Meals on Wheels. She took line-dancing classes. She was always going to ‘this’ sale or ‘that’ event with friends. Right up until bedtime, she was always puttering about the house: cleaning this, organising that. She never stopped: it could be exhausting, just watching her. My sister and I used to joke that she would end up burying both of us and would still be going strong at our funerals.
I can see it as though it were yesterday: my little sister, sullenly standing in the middle of the living room, dutifully practicing her tap-dance steps for an upcoming show: shuffle, shuffle, stomp; shuffle, shuffle, stomp. Her movements were embarrassed and stilted; the ‘stomp’ angry and emphatic. She was wearing a cute little dress and her childish little legs, bony at the knee and ankle, had been resentfully stuffed into pretty little white ankle socks and shiny black tap shoes.
You only had to glance at her face – a sullen black cloud – to see that she did not want to be there. She did not want to be practicing that ‘stupid’ dance.
My maternal grandfather was born in 1907: one year before the model-T Ford was made available to the public. It would be almost two decades before cars would become widely popular in North America but my young grandfather – always a clever and resourceful man – quickly espoused this newfangled technology. He built a ramp right in his own yard which he dug out of a nearby embankment and he always did his own car repairs. Money was tight and a car was already a luxury: I’m not sure he ever had to go to a mechanic.
I can only imagine how much his knowledge and resourcefulness would have impressed his parents, who were born in an entirely different era, back in the 1800s. They would have been dinosaurs, in comparison to my grandparents.
Watching others as they go about their daily lives is far more riveting than anything you will ever get to see on Netflix. When I lived in the city, I could (and did) people-watch all the time. No one knows you in a city and no one ever looks back at you. Eye contact in a city is unheard of. People will go out of their way not to look back. It’s almost magical, how invisible you can become.
It was a very stormy Christmas Eve back in 1970 and Dad had finished work at six o’clock. I was eight years old; going on nine; my sister would have just turned seven. Back in those days, the family always met at my grandparents’ house on the other side of the province. It was normally a two-and-a-half-hour trip. Because Dad had had to work right up until the very last minute, Mom had everything ready to go. As soon as he arrived home from work, Dad gobbled up a sandwich as Mom hurried me and my sister into the back seat, already dressed in our jammies.
Neither of us remember how we met. Kids don’t make much of a fuss about making friends; they just sort of… become. I still have a few of those black-and-white pictures we used to be able to take – stacked four on top of one another – in those little photo booths you could find in department stores back in the 70s. I love and treasure those photos of the two of us crammed together into that little booth, grinning big toothy smiles, being silly or just unselfconsciously staring into the camera with serious, loving looks on our faces.
As a kid who grew up in a small town where everyone knew everyone else, it came as a bit of a shock to me, to end up living my entire working life in a big, indifferent city. I am an introvert, though, so despite the culture shock, there was a great deal of appeal for me, being absolutely swallowed up in a big, anonymous crowd. I think that people who love to sit and quietly think for hours may have fewer issues with big-city obscurity.
Nonetheless, I never did shake the part of me that had grown up in a place where most folks knew one another. Looking as much like my Mom as I do, even as a kid, I never went anywhere without being told: “Oh, you must be Y_’s daughter!” There is something very comforting about being in a place where, as the song goes, “everybody knows your name”.