Opinion Column

Community Editorial Board - Tribute for two: Growing up in the Valley

By Patricia Anne Elford

In May and June, we particularly honour our parents. Here are two pieces about mine.

Ottawa Valley Lascaux: In one of the one and one-half-storey wartime houses standing like soldiers on both sides of a field-ended street, lived my mother, my father, my brother and I.

My mother used the wringer washer on Mondays, ironed on Tuesdays, shopped on Wednesdays, scrubbed on Thursdays just as my handkerchief set said mothers did. I don’t use hankies now; I can’t remember what she did on Fridays. Every day of Dad’s working life, Mom completed chores all morning and into the afternoon, napped and bathed late, donning a fresh housedress to welcome him. Most evenings of Dad’s working life, I fell asleep to my mother’s treadle sewing machine’s strum.

Saturday mornings, Mom baked. Afternoons, the family walked to the library. Nights, we played cards or games. On Sundays, we walked to church.

Meals were on time. There was one correct route for my brother’s and my walk to school. We had chores and were expected to obey both parents. Though my mother was intelligent and articulate; though she encouraged our creativity, there was little indication of her “break-the-rules” side.

A hint? One day, to demonstrate to my teenaged self, she threw down the oven mitts, crossed her arms with her hands down on her knees, and right between the wood-and-coal stove and the green gingham tablecloth, danced the Charleston. Mom? a flapper? In a moment, it was over.

She liked stability. The furniture remained in the same positions. The house, when repainted, tended to the same shades of green, inside and out. The ceilings were regularly cleaned with a cloth-wrapped broom. The walls were painted each spring. Nothing was to be tacked on them. We had bedroom bulletin boards for that purpose.

On a memorable weekend, many years later, we returned to my former home for one of our “Grandma” visits. The neighbouring houses, despite years of being scraped and painted, had peeled. An aluminum siding company smelled opportunity. Successively, the houses were wearing new overcoats.

Crowding into the house, we headed straight to the cookie jars, knowing homemade favourites were there. Mom, watching this ritual’s completion, appeared distracted.

Apparently, having this visit from her grandchildren has pushed her “rule-breaker” button. Giving the oldest child a box of 24 crayons and some coloured pencils, she told them, “Go outside! Draw and write on the outside walls of the house!”

They stood still, gaping. Had they been teleported to another dimension?

“Go ahead,” Grandma urged. “Tomorrow, the aluminum siding goes on. What you write and draw will be there, a secret art gallery, under the siding, as long as this house exists.”

Hesitantly, then with laughter and shoving, (Doesn’t every child want the same place?) they built up stories and pictures. The children decorated Grandma’s wall our fuzzy photo, the only record.

After my mother had died, the house was sold. It still keeps its secret about the wonderful day when our children, granted license by Grandma, did what children (including a much younger grandmother?) have always wanted to do with pristine walls claimed them as their own.

There You Are! Moments of joy for a proud father! Each morning, he scooped their daughter Patricia up into the wooden highchair. Each morning, he exclaimed, “There you are!” as he plunked her down on the seat. One day, during the daily scoop, she said it first. “There you are!” Her first words.

Her father was there for her, not just then, but for as long as he lived.

Who talked with her and listened while he prepared tea in the cream and green enamel pot before Mom’s busy day began? Who read to Patricia nightly, snuggled up in the big chair, from the one-a-day children’s Bible story- and story-time books?

Who walked her gaggle of friends home with her after each birthday party Mom had carefully planned? Who taught her to love pet cats and took on the task of burying them when they had died? Who taught her to walk on stilts he’d made and to shoot arrows he’d whittled from a bow he’d fashioned? Who taught her how to whittle? Who “wormed the hooks” for her catching sunfish and trout with bamboo poles? There he was!

Who fastened the cleats onto her worn loafers on shoemaker’s anvil, built her desk, a bookshelf, and a hope chest, created a just-right doll’s wardrobe with a tiny shoe-buckle handle? There he was!

Who played arithmetic games to help her with her personal weakness? Who taught her to play crokinole, checkers, and card games? Who taught her to skate on the backyard rink and pointed out Orion in the clear sky? Who helped her to know one tree from another . . . which tree gum was chewable? Who taught her which plants would heal and what would fight a bee’s sting? Who walked her home from teen dances, but went home another way if she had an escort? There he was!

Who waited in frigid, soggy or scorching weather to meet her bus or train each time she returned from the city? Who reminded her of commitment when her marriage was failing, yet welcomed her home when it had ended?

He practised “active listening” before it was coined. He practised compassion. He practised loving presence. Despite life’s trials, he made it easy to believe in a greater Creator Father.

Once, years after she’d remarried, she awoke in the middle of the night. She was frozen, icy cold to her core. She couldn’t warm up, regardless of the blankets and cuddles her husband provided.

The next morning, too early for comfort, the phone rang. Her husband answered. Mom asked him to break the news. Patricia’s father had died. He’d died at the very time Patricia had been too cold for warming. Beyond her comprehension, even as he’d died — there he was — her father. Patricia’s . . . Mine.

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