observations and opinion
She smoked, she gambled, she ate poorly, she complained incessantly and every now and then, she had too much to drink. She was made of iron and together, we saved each other’s lives.
“Don’t tell your father”
– standard instructions to four-year-old me after one of her furtive visits to the liquor store.
in response to my father’s excited, “listen to him sing – he’s a Law alright!” I wasn’t sure if mum doubted that I could sing, or if I was a Law. She wasn’t impressed, I knew that much.
“I’m giving up. I’m going back to your father.”
– on the steps of the City Hall, the long hot summer we were homeless, when I was 8 years old. “No, you can’t go back” I told her. And we kept going.
“He’s turning 21, and I have nothing to give him!”
– in tears, lamenting her poverty, on my brother’s birthday.
“When I was a girl, people always told me I looked like someone had just stolen my scone.”
– on her perpetual look of disappointment. It wasn’t just a look.
“Do you think you are deep?!”
– she apparently did not think I was deep. This when I was nine. The lady didn’t mince words.
“We’re leaving. This is too foreign.”
– halfway through “Fiddler on a Roof” at the Westdale Cinema. That was it for my 12th birthday celebration.
“I got it at Robinson’s”
– every Christmas she found a way to buy me something we could not afford, like a typewriter. She usually bought it on “Lay-a-way” at the local department store Robinson’s. Later they gave her a charge card, which was unfortunate.
“No, I don’t think so.”
– being named “Law” every year we would be invited, in error, to the local Chinese-Canadian Picnic. Every year I would say “let’s go!” and every year, she demurred.
– periodically she had a little trouble with booze. My job, as a boy, was to hide, water down, dump out or on one memorable occasion, spike the vodka with pepper. It was scary, but it worked.
“What did you buy at the bookstore today?”
– The one and only time I bought porn on a Saturday foray to the used bookstore. The one and only time she ever asked me what I had bought at the bookstore. I was 13 or 14. She seized the book (“The Happy Hooker” by Xavier Hollander, just so you know).
“Here, damn it, take the book!”
-returning my porn to me, after I inflicted two weeks’ silent treatment on her in protest of censorship. It was her last effort at parental control.
“Oh, that’s an awful shame!”
– on seeing that I got 99 percent on a high school exam. My mother, in one sentence.
“Now do you believe in God?”
The day in Grade 9 when I was hit by a car, flew 30 feet in the air, landed on my back and woke up without a scratch.
(My reply, of course: “Where was God when the car hit me?”) She growled and stomped out of my room.
“Are you using drugs?”
– noting my rapid weight loss the summer I was 14. Ignoring that I was cycling about 30 miles a day. “No” I replied. “I’m just riding my bike a lot.” Which was half the truth.
“Did you ever smoke marijuana?”
– “Yes” came my answer, some years later.
“What is that sound? What is that ringing sound?”
I rolled my eyes, “I don’t hear anything mum. Goodnight.” Turned out, it was the first of two strokes she had when I was a teenager.
“A good driver never uses his brakes”
– she never drove a car. She meant “come to a sudden halt”, I think.
“Who smokes Number 7s?”
– returning from a trip, she found a cigarette butt left behind by a girl I’d had over. The worst part of it was, mum smoked Number 7s, but she knew it wasn’t her cigarette butt.
“Are you sleeping with her?”
– “Yes.” The second last time she ever asked me that question.
“When a girl has a lot of sex, she gets fat and happy.”
– an observation about one of my girlfriends. I just stood there, stunned and silent.
“Your aunt died.”
– her first words to me, after my triumphant performance in a school musical.
– her only response to the news that I was dating a Jewish girl. To her credit, she put a lid on it.
“That’s a good idea”
– one summer I moved back home to save money while working at the steel mill. After one night, I told her I was moving out. She concurred.
“What’s that sound? It sounds like chickens. Chickens in the sewers”
– on driving over crunchy snow one Christmas night. Not a stroke, just her imagination.
“How is Zontar?”
– an example of her permanent, stubborn, obnoxious refusal to learn my “foreign” girlfriend’s simple two syllable name
“The Scottish invented television.”
And everything else, according to her.
“I’m going to sue”
– on learning that my father, whom she had left 24 years earlier, had left all of his very modest estate to their only grandchild.
“Fishsticks and coffee”
– Her favourite meal.
“I won $10,000 in the 6/49”
– a lifetime of lottery tickets and bingo finally paid off.
“It’s gone. I went to Las Vegas.”
– well, it briefly paid off.
“You were always very intimidating as a child”
– to me, at her last Mothers’ Day dinner at Allen’s on the Danforth
“You will know what to do.”
– to me, at the end.
“Everybody loves somebody, sometime.”
She loved Dean Martin – smooth, witty, boozy – Cathy just loved him and we played his biggest hit at her funeral. And aside from us, if she ever really loved somebody, sometime, she kept it with the rest of her secrets.