As we approach Mother’s Day, and as our thoughts naturally turn to our mothers, I thought you might like to hear a little bit about my mother and how she is helping me through this time of great challenge.
My mom was born in 1920, just as the world was recovering from the First World War and the deadly Spanish Flu. (We’ve all been hearing a lot about the Spanish Flu over these past few weeks as epidemiologists compare it to COVID-19.) I’m sure my mom heard lots of stories about both of these difficult and scary times from her mother, just as I later heard stories from my Mom about all the challenges she faced as a child and a young adult.
It certainly wasn’t an easy ride!
My mom shared stories of The Great Depression and what it meant for her, her family and for the community she lived in at the time, which we now know as Leslieville. She told many tales of their dinner menus when there wasn’t enough food to go around, of burning coconuts that her Dad found on the train tracks to keep their house heated. (She said it always smelled great when they walked into the house.) And lots of other things they did as a family to survive those difficult times. They had to stay home from school sometimes if their shoes were worn out and it wasn’t their turn to get new ones. As a child of The Depression my mom never wasted anything. She used and re-used things over and over and never discarded one scrap of food that was still edible.
She not only endured financial hardship growing up, but her generation also faced many health fears that most of us have only read about. Being raised in a time before penicillin and antibiotics were even invented, my Mom told me some harrowing stories of illness within her family. It was nothing short of miraculous that they managed to survive. She often spoke of the days when the “yellow card” was placed on their front door. The card was a sign that someone in the house had contracted a communicable disease, which at that time, was often deadly. As one of eight children, that yellow card (and the period of quarantine it entailed) was on their door more than once. She lived through the scare of epidemics such as Rheumatic Fever (which in the 1920s was the leading cause of death in children in Canada), Scarlet Fever, Diphtheria, Whooping Cough and Polio. My Mom grew up in an era before there were widespread vaccines so they always lived in fear of something. Throw in the Second World War, as another trying time when my young mom had to say goodbye to many of her loved ones, and you’re left with a very uncertain picture indeed.
So it’s little wonder then, that the first thing I wanted to do when COVID-19 rocked our world, was talk to my Mom. But that wasn’t possible, my Mom left this life last September, just before her 99th birthday. I have so many questions for her. So many worries to share. I knew she, better than anyone, would have some words of wisdom for me. I knew she would have the answers. After all, mothers always do don’t they? Hard as I tried, I couldn’t seem to dig deep enough to figure out what advice she would give. After many sleepless nights, it finally came to me. If my Mom were here right now she would tell me to approach this time in our lives with compassion, sacrifice, courage, and kindness. This is in fact, the way my Mom lived her entire life. This is how she was shaped by her experiences growing up in a time when the world wasn’t always safe, the economy wasn’t always secure and good health was not to be taken for granted.
I can only hope that this unprecedented time we find ourselves in will help shape us for the better so that we can grow in compassion and kindness to be an example to our children. Let’s hope that our COVID-19 legacy will be something we can be proud of and fondly remembered for. I know that my Mom would say, “this too shall pass” but let’s not let it pass without learning the important lessons being thrown at us right now. These are the stories and the wisdom we can pass on to the next generation. We’ve got the future right in the palm of our highly sanitized hands!
Principal and Co-Founder
Children’s Garden School