Long day's journey into night

Ed Smith
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It is Dec. 29, 2002, and my father has just died.

I look through the patio doors to where large birch, aspen, apple, plum and cherry bend in over our deck.

The branches are bare of leaves. "Bare ruined choirs," Shakespeare called them, "where late the sweet birds sang." I can look out across the mouth of Indian River and beyond that to the waters of Hall's Bay and the beautiful hills that rise behind South Brook.

On the apple tree there is one large apple clinging to a fragile twig. All its companions are gone. Like my father, who was the last of his family, it is the last of its kind. Within a day or so it, too, will have dropped.

Today, seven years later, I am looking through those same patio doors, and I am told my mother is dying.

After a wet July night, the thick leaves of the trees are glowing with the healthy green sheen of summer. I can't see through them to Indian River or Hall's Bay or the hills beyond. Only the deck with Other Half's hundreds of flowers and vegetables in the pots and boxes is visible.

It's almost as though outside this beautiful little spot the rest of the world doesn't exist.

It's almost as though outside my mother and me, as she passes, the world doesn't exist. Today, it's filled with her and everything about her.

She was born in 1916 in a fisherman's house in Great Brehat, just north of St. Anthony. As one of a total of 10 children, she knew poverty from an early age, the same as the families of other fishermen of the time. The family moved to St. Anthony when she was still a girl.

She married my father in 1939 and almost before she knew it, certainly before she was ready for it, she found herself the wife of a clergyman on the Northeast coast. She had no idea what was expected of her or how to behave in that glorified position. In those days the minister and his wife were usually the social elite and the community authority for all manners of things.

I think she must have suffered tortures trying to be what neither her education nor her culture had prepared her for. Surely she endured long hours in lonely manses while Father was away in boat in windstorms or to another part of his charge or pastorate on horse and slide in the middle of blizzards.

But she did the best she could and welcomed and fed everyone who came to her doorstep, and they were many and varied.

Often, with no medical facilities nearby, she cared for her family with her limited knowledge and homespun remedies. They worked because up until seven years ago we were all still here.

My sister and I always felt loved and never thought we were deprived in any way. I well remember my father in the early 50s talking about a man he knew who had a really good job.

"They have it OK," he said to my mother. "I know for a fact he makes $200 a month!"

I have written about this before, so it may not be news to you. But I was a chronic bedwetter into my early adolescence. The standard advice from doctors in those days was that I and others like me would grow out of it.

Many parents, however, believed that children who were bedwetters didn't have to be and if they were punished severely enough they'd get over it. Even those who didn't subscribe to that theory were not slow to let children know how they felt about having to wash out sheets every day. Many children were left to lie in their urine all night. But that was not my mother's way.

I was over this problem by the time we found ourselves in modern houses with central heating. Before that, on the bitterest winter night the wood stove in the kitchen provided the only heat until it had burned down.

On those nights when I awoke chilled and shivering and soaking wet, I had only to call once and she was there. My pajamas and sheets were changed and I'd be taken into bed with her and Dad until I warmed up.

Never once do I remember her indicating by word or deed that she found this to be a difficult or onerous chore. So what I see now is not so much a frail, 93-year-old woman slowly wasting away in a bed, but a loving young mother doing whatever she had to do to keep her child comfortable and healthy.

I repaid her by being, according to all reports including hers, a veritable young devil and more than a handful to raise up.

The other day when she couldn't speak above a whisper, my sister in an effort to keep her entertained, said, "Ed was really bad when he was young, wasn't he Mom?"

To which she replied hardly audible, "Yes, but he was cute."

Guess I grew out of that, too. My sister, Pat, had no badness in her to grow out of. Together we had a happy childhood.

My normal response to people who ask me how I make it through the day is always, "You Have to make the best of what you have".

Our mother did better than that. She made the most of things she didn't have, and had a good life and contributed to the life around her. Now she seems ready to go. She may be here a week from now or even a month. Who knows? Death knows no season, no day and no hour.

But like my father, she cannot be better loved.

Ed Smith is an author and Telegram columnist who lives in Springdale. . His e-mail address is edsmith@nf.sympatico.ca

Geographic location: Indian River, St. Anthony, South Brook Great Brehat Springdale

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Recent comments

  • Gerald
    July 02, 2010 - 13:27

    Your father and mother certainly treated me well, and I was bad enough. And you were no saint, either.
    After putting up with me as a young man, your father married Mollie and me. I always said he did it to get even with me. Mollie disagrees.
    All the best.

  • Gerald
    July 01, 2010 - 20:15

    Your father and mother certainly treated me well, and I was bad enough. And you were no saint, either.
    After putting up with me as a young man, your father married Mollie and me. I always said he did it to get even with me. Mollie disagrees.
    All the best.