A few weeks after Father died I remember getting a cheque for twenty-five dollars for penmanship at our school. When I received it I was so excited I ran home to show somebody my money and I couldn’t find a soul. The teachers were strict if we didn’t hold the pencil just right. So my penmanship was next to perfect.
Mother dressed us in second hand clothes, for school and church, shipped from the United States in barrels at that time. I had a song made up about second hand clothes to sing to her when I hated what she had for me to wear. It always looked nice on the pictures though. I knew when I grew up I would have all new clothes, and my table fork wouldn’t have a buckle in it, and my dishes would match, unless I wanted it to look some other way.
I remember the very nice Top Tone man, and, as he had a shining to Mother, he spent extra time delivering at our house each week. Mother seemed to have people drawn to her like a movie star. I am pretty sure she was adored by many men. I would hope she’d fall in love with someone of his gentle, funny nature. He looked handsome in his Top Tone suit, pale blue, with stripes on the hat, like a captain wore. He’d always tip it when he’d leave, saying, “Good day, ladies, you have yourselves a wonderful afternoon.” I loved to see him come to deliver our blouses, they were so white and crisp, the plastic making them look new again.
Growing up with my brothers and sisters, we never knew until many years later, when I was a young woman, Mother and Father’s first child, a girl, passed away at eight months old. Mother and I were strolling along the river, when out of nowhere she starts to tell me about their first child. How the child was never sick a day in her life, always pleasant, laughing, happy to see her when she went to get her up, until that day when she developed a fever. She told me she waked her in their home, which wasn’t strange back then, in a beautiful, tiny white casket lined with pink satin. The night before the burial, she was kissing her goodbye, when Father came to the top of the stairs, shouting “Are you going to stay up all night with that …thing!” In the war he learned to disassociate himself from death and lost his empathy. My blood ran cold as I shook to my core. Mother says she never said this to anyone before telling me.
I was dazed, saddened for her loss, as I asked her “Why are you telling me now and not before?” Her answer has always been the same as for other things in our family lives, “Why bring up things that cannot be changed.” She looked at me thoughtfully, and added “I am only telling you now because with Father gone, she deserves to be remembered when I am no longer alive.”