In December 2008 my mother called me to say she had cancer and had a year to live. She didn’t quite make it. She died November 25, 2009. We hadn’t had a comfortable relationship and that discomfort followed me after she died. It took three years before I was able to express how I felt about her and I did so in my journal November 25, 2012. I published that journal entry on a previous version of my website in 2014. I did so as a public acknowledgement of what she meant to me, something I hadn’t done while she was alive. I’ve republished it here:
Letting the wild child go
By Faye Bayko
I used to roll my eyes when my mother lamented about how fast time kept flying by. “Where’d the day go?” she would ask, not expecting an answer, nor getting one from her husband or the three children she’d brought into this world.
But, as I sit in a Vancouver A&W on this third anniversary of her death I find myself amazed at how fast the time has gone by. It seems like only yesterday I was sipping a silent toast to her in recognition of the second anniversary of her death. At the time the beverage wasn’t coffee but a Coors Light and I was in the Monkey Top Saloon in Bentley, Alberta, the small town she’d grown up in.
Last year the toast was to the wild child my mother once was and to the town that had witnessed that side of her, a side I’d never seen. The Dorothy Stephenson who grew up on a farm near Bentley used to run her horse full gallop down Stephenson Hill, across the wooden bridge spanning the Blindman River, and up the main street to the Holmes’ store, a building now occupied by the Monkey Top Saloon. She’d then jump off the lathered and shaking animal to bound up the stairs into the store, intent on whatever errand had brought her down the hill. More often than not, I heard from her later, she’d be marched right back out by one of the brothers who owned the store and told not to come back until she’d properly cooled down her horse.
These scoldings must have landed on deaf ears because I heard stories of further misadventures during the time she’d moved into Red Deer (about 45 km southeast) to finish her last years of schooling at what’s now called Lindsay Thurber Comprehensive High School. One of the regular games she and a friend would play in the evening hours involved running their horses down the back alleys of the neighbourhood, seeing how many garbage cans they could knock over in one go.
While these stories were probably not the ones my mother hoped her eldest daughter would keep as part of her legacy, I can’t help but hold them fiercely to my chest because the mother I grew up was nothing like that wild child. By the time I came into the picture she had been married a year and had firmly tucked her wild side away to focus on fulfilling the role of wife and mother as defined by the expectations of the early ’50s.
This meant there would be no more garbage cans being knocked down in the midnight hours by her or her children. We grew up knowing our place in the family hierarchy and any high jinks had consequences. The whistle of a leather belt swinging in a high arc overhead just before it connected on a young backside or two would bring a sudden halt to any rambunctious bounces on beds. It was as if she was determined that her children would not repeat her own childhood behaviour.
So, last year my toast was to the person I wished I had known. (Not that I agreed with her treatment of horses.) I could have used a mother with a little more wildness in her while I was growing up, especially when I was later making my way in the outside world. The relationship between a mother and her daughter, especially when that daughter is also the oldest child, is a tough one. So much responsibility and expectations are placed on that child it makes it tough to have any sort of relationship outside of those responsibilities and expectations. We grew so far apart it was as if we were strangers rather than members of the same family. The only thing we had in common was the love of horses.
This past year though has brought some challenges into my life that have shone new light on my mother’s decision to adamantly remain in a traditional housewife role. So, this year I raise my coffee mug to her in toast of her willingness to act as a buffer between what we wanted as kids and what we needed as children, to her ability to stretch a food budget, to her determination to sew clothing for us even though she disliked sewing, and to her ability to love us even when we hated her.
And, yes, time does pass too quickly mom.