During the years that passed from when I was born until my sisters and I moved away from home, my mother didn’t have a job. If she had been asked to fill out a questionnaire about her personal data, she would have left the question “Employment” empty. She believed that her job was to be our mother – full time. That was the way she had chosen it to be.
Here is an old photograph of my mother. In the photo I think she looks very beautiful. She was about 16 years old then. When I look at the photo, I see a woman who could have had an unlimited number of opportunities in life. Although she didn’t always look it, Mom was a tough bird.
Like a lot of people her age, she had a rough childhood. She grew up in Scotland during the worst of the Second World War. Many a time she could be found hiding under her bed, because of the bombings near by. That is, when she wasn’t busy getting into trouble. Mom had six sisters and brothers. Three were off serving their country and the oldest was always working, so that left the three youngest kids plenty of time to get into trouble! In 1946, at the age of 13, she immigrated to Canada with two of her sisters, the oldest being a War Bride. They arrived in Halifax and then rode the train to Balcarres, Saskatchewan to live on a farm, and with a new family she had never met. Coming from the modern city of Dundee to a farm, she always said she never knew what was worse, the war or not having indoor plumbing! Although mom quit school at 16 years old she never let that stop her. She was never one to sit around. She would always be out working – be it on the farm, at the local hospital or at a seafood canning plant in Toronto where they once spent the winter. I know that if she had put her mind to getting a career, the whole world would have been at her feet. Yet she always contemplated herself as housewife and mother.
Mom got married at 20 years old to Robert (Allan) Farrell, a boy from the next farm. Allan, my father, was a diabetic since the age of 13. Due to complications, he passed away at the age of 35 leaving my mother a widow with 3 kids at the tender age of 28 (by this time we had moved to the “Big City” of Moose Jaw). Two years later mom re-married a family friend who lived in St. Lambert, Quebec (his sister, Helen Kay, was married to my dad’s brother! That’s a whole other story!). As soon as we moved to St. Lambert, Mom got involved in the Women’s Church Guild. She became a constant worker at the church bazaars and rummage sales and later, as we grew up, with the Girl Guides. She was an avid crocheter and made a lot of afghans. Everyone in the neighbourhood we grew up in admired her for the great effort she put into charity work, but if someone asked her what she did for a living or who she was, she answered that she was Douglas Kay’s wife, and Judy, Heather and Alana’s mother.
The thing I remember best from my childhood is how it felt to come home from school. She was always there and when we swarmed through the door, she was getting supper ready to put on the table. Today there are probably many women who will see what she did as a waste of her good abilities. Why would a determined woman be content with making soup and sandwiches? I don’t know the answer myself. But it must have been good for something when I, many years later, still remember how it felt to rush through the kitchen door – and there was mum, waiting for us. I just wish I could have given that to my daughter.
I belong to a generation who by and large grew up in families with mothers who were home all day. And there is no way I could have had a better childhood. If my mother suffered privations from being a housewife not working away from home, she did not transfer any of them to us, her children. And whatever we may have of good qualities, we have because we had a mother who considered it her job to be our mother.
In the middle of all of life’s confusion, it is actually very reassuring to know that you always have a simple rule of thumb: how would I act if my mother could see me right now? In a way I think that we in our generation have fooled ourselves into believing that we can reinvent the whole world and alter the fundamental rules of life overnight. But deep inside we all know that we are actually the same people we were at the time our mothers could look into our eyes and see what we had done without needing to exchange one word. And believe me, in my case that happened a lot! I remember that as a little girl I believed that there were monsters living in my closet. Before I could fall asleep, I had to have mum chase them out of my room. Only then could I sleep.
I’m shrinking a little as I write this. But only if I tell it exactly the way it was can I explain what I mean: most of the time in our lives we have to chase out the monsters from our closets ourselves. But during a few short years in the beginning of our lives, our mother takes care of them for us.
Today I think that many women would be afraid of a life like the one my mother had. So many things have changed that if an intelligent woman would have to do today as my mother did then – devote herself to a husband and children – she would not only feel that her options were limited, but she would also feel outright threatened. I hope that my mother felt that she did the right thing.
We all go through our adult life with the conception that we have never been anything but fully developed grownups. But we have; we have all been small children once, who hurried home from school completely assured that someone was waiting for us at home. It meant something then and it means something today. And I am eternally grateful that the woman in the photograph was waiting for me.