Chatelaine Magazine – Presenting the motherhood quilt

By Rona Maynard, Editor, Chatelaine Magazine

First published in Chatelaine’s May 2000 issue, Maclean Hunter Publishing Limited

The best part of writing this column is seeing what you have to say about it. You’ve always got something to add–something funny, eye-opening, poignant or all of the above. And no subject gets you talking like the woman who formed you, your mother. Four years ago, as I faced another Mother’s Day without my own mother, I wrote about the life-changing passage every daughter begins when her mother dies. Your responses are still coming in, each one a tribute to a dearly missed mother. They’re like colour-splashed squares on a quilt being stitched by many hands. So, rather than keep all this bounty to myself, I thought I’d share the latest story, courtesy of Nina Spencer, a reader who lives in Toronto.

Nina remembers exactly where she was at 10:30 on the night of May 29, 1996. Returning home from her nine-year-old daughter’s baseball game, she reached for the phone to call her mother, who was due the next day for a weekend visit. No answer. No answer at 10:50 or 11:20 or any time that night. “I began to have a dreadful feeling but I kept pushing it away,” Nina recalls. Her mother, Beryl, was just 68 and perfectly healthy, with a passion for books and Robert Redford movies.

“My mother always encouraged me to listen to my intuition,” Nina says. But she didn’t start listening until the following afternoon, after countless calls to her mother. In the middle of an important business meeting (she’d been leading a seminar for 16 managers), she cut things short, jumped into her car and raced down the highway toward her mother’s apartment, cellphone at the ready. Beryl’s superintendent reluctantly agreed to check on her (he figured she’d just gone shopping). Nina was speeding down the fast lane at rush hour when he rang her back to break the news: her mother was dead. A heart attack, the coroner later said. It had happened the previous night at about 10:30.

Nina knew she’d been a loving daughter, but she did have one nagging regret. Beryl had been alone when she poured her last cup of coffee and lit her living room lamp for the last time. “I wondered the classic ‘What if….’ Could I have saved her?” It took a flash of intuition to ease Nina’s mind.

On the second anniversary of Beryl’s death, at 10:30 p.m., Nina was driving through a dimly lit intersection when she noticed a suspicious-looking black-clad man on a black bicycle, wheeling around in circles as if waiting for something. Sensing danger, she looked around and spotted an elderly woman limping down the street with a heavy shopping bag in each hand. Nina sped to her side and offered to drive her home–not a minute too soon. Winded and frightened, the woman said the cyclist had been following her. Why had she been out so late? The Horse Whisperer had just opened, and she loved Robert Redford. “Just like my mother!” exclaimed Nina, who used to beg her mother not to go to late movies.

As the two women talked, they discovered more coincidences. Nina’s passenger was the same age Beryl would have been if she had lived. She treasured her books, more than 1,000 of them. Beryl Spencer had just as many.

The next day, Nina got a call from the woman. She hoped Nina wouldn’t think her “silly,” but she was convinced that Beryl Spencer had been with them both on that dark street. No surprise to Nina. She’d had the same thought. As she puts it now, “My mum’s loving and kind spirit worked through me to help another and, at the same time, helped me heal my own residual pain on the very night, once a year, that I would’ve been most acutely aware of it.”

There’s lots to read in Chatelaine this month about the women who made us who we are: my 1996 Mother’s Day editorial, back by popular demand (page 14 in the print magazine, click here for the online version); Judith Timson’s column (page 42 in the print magazine); and a poignant and powerful memoir about an absent mother (page 74 in the print magazine, click here to read online). I’ll be watching to see what you think.

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