She always said she’d had a good life. That she had seen the world, had laughed and danced, raised a family and had gone on adventures she couldn’t have imagined. In the last few weeks of her life we sat outside at a coffee shop. She had put on her red necklace, her red peblum top, khaki pants,her leather running shoes, lipstick and earrings. We sat quietly on the patio outside on a burningly beautiful warm autumn day.
In the last few months she had become quiet, introspective, something that happens I imagine when you’re faced with life changing circumstances. Your mind travels the distance of memories, constantly feeding on a life well lived, pausing at regret, at all the things one wishes had been done – choices not made.
The cafe where we sat is next to a river called the Port Credit River. She surveyed the river, the small town traffic, and people walking by. We had sat for a long while in silence until she said “I’ve had a good life” she said. “This place has been a great home to me. I’m glad I came.” Port Credit, is where I grew up and the place she and my father had moved to from Holland over 50 years before.
If you asked her about her husbands and depending on her mood she’d say something along the lines of “They were bastards” to “Your father and I sure had some good times” and most often”He showed me the world”. As an adult I would sometimes look at my mother and wonder at her enormous bad luck at falling for dangerous men – dangerous good looking men. The first, a German soldier who beat her until she finally left taking one child with her…only to find when she went back for the second, her first born son, she couldn’t take him with her. Women had no rights over their children. So she left him and escaped into the arms of my father. She must have fallen for those blue eyes, or his crazy story telling, or how he would grab her hand and fill it full of vitamins telling her this was the secret to a long happy life. She was wowed by his charisma, so much so that she overlooked the smaller things that might have given her clues to his real identity. His true self, his hidden character…the things that good looks, charisma and money often disguise.
I think of the photograph that hung at the end of my mother’s bed in her bedroom. A picture of her first son at the age of nine which is when she left him. And then another photograph when he married. She never took those pictures down. I imagine she must have looked at them every night before she went to sleep.
I found out about him when I found a photograph of a handsome young man in my mother’s wallet. “Who is this? I asked. “That’s my son”she said. “You look alike.” I said and the conversation ended.
We took a trip together to meet him and his wife many years later. We went to my aunt’s house in Den Haag, Holland where we were to meet him. I was nervous meeting this brother I hardly knew existed. My mother didn’t help. She seemed edgy and nervous and kept saying things like she couldn’t speak German anymore. She paced. And when he arrived and he hugged her, I remember thinking how small she looked. This big strapping boy with his arms around his mother. And we all gathered awkwardly in my aunt’s living room. But somehow magically a week later, at the end of the trip our nervousness had been replaced with the sense that we had all shared something together as a family. We had laughed and cried, and danced and told jokes. I spoke broken German, he spoke broken English, my mother’s German magically came back to her.
Once when I asked my mother do you still miss him she looked at me and said, “Life goes on.” and that was it. And I thought to myself here is a woman who has survived. And when I thought about all the other pieces of her life and what came after the leaving behind of a son, and how I know something important that the son doesn’t. And this is the truth. As painful as his mother leaving must have been, it was better for him to have been left behind than for him to have endured my father. And these are true things. Rosie’s choices.
So today is my mother’s birthday. Many, many years ago a man and a woman had a child and they called her Rozalia. She was their eldest daughter. A hellion they called her. A beautiful Dutch girl is how I think of her. Her spirit which vexed her parents stayed with her throughout her life. She carried it with her through her ups and her many downs and it gave her the resilience to bear some of life’s most terrible hurts. So happy birthday mom. I miss being able to send you flowers and I still miss you every day.