Flower child

The fox fur coat called out to Kay in one of the many second hand stores that had popped up since the American draft dodgers had come. It was a rich warm brown with a subtle stripe created by each fur pelt seam, lined with a heavy brown silk lining. It was threadbare in a few places and the seams on the lining needed a stitch or two. That wasn’t difficult to fix. For ten dollars, where could else could you get such a good coat? It was slim and elegant on her anorexic frame. With the collar up, it would keep Kay warm on her way by bus and on foot, to University; would keep her warm running from classes in the Education building to classes in in the Science and Arts faculties. Kay was thrilled.

Lizbet, Mother and Father went to the United States so that Father could finish his Doctorate degree. Kay hadn’t wanted to go, wanted to finish her degree at UBC. Wouldn’t go. Truth was, most of her friends were independent. She wanted to be independent too. Mother was furious. Both Heather and Otto had stayed at home until they had finished university. Why couldn’t Kay?

But Kay would not go.

One year later, when Father came home thoroughly satisfied with his completed degree and he, Mother and Lizbet were established in an apartment near the university, Kay was still refusing to come home; was still living in that below ground apartment on lower Alberta Street, two blocks east of Cambie, two blocks east of respectability, in a run down apartment block, in an industrial part of town..

Kay was finding the visits home harder and harder. Mother was pressing her to move back in. Father was negotiating between, trying to find a peaceful solution to a growing, fiercely independent daughter and a nurturing, worried mother.

We battled over it for two years. Two years that devastated my mother, wounded her deeply. This daughter had rejected her unlike any other child of hers; had turned to drugs and alcohol; finished her degree only by Mother’s constant, pleading prayers and God’s heavenly intercession . By the end of it, she had married a deserter from the Viet Nam war to save him from having to return the war we students opposed so vehemently. Her daughter was living on a houseboat (“Good Lord! Preserve us!”) in the North Arm of the Fraser River.

“I’ll learn by my own mistakes!” I shouted at her.

I can’t remember what she replied. We argued. Raised voices. Turned icily silent.

Father would phone me and ask if I was alright. Nothing was right. I had done something stupid. I was naive. I had married a man who was nothing like my wonderful father. My new husband had no principles; no ethics. He had not fled the war in Viet Nam for reasons of conscience. He had been in difficulty with the military police and had fled the brig. Life was a drug and alcohol laden lark for him. I was married to a mistake and I could not admit it, so fiercely I had fought to do things my own way.

A phrase of English wisdom floated through my head. You’ve made your own bed; now lie in it.

My family was deeply Christian. We lived by the Ten Commandments. We had been brought up with stories of people who were honourable, decent, kept their promises. We read stories that turned out well. Evil people, bad people, weak people always lost out and were destroyed by their own foibles. Strong, principled, people with higher purpose won out in the end. Vows were sacred.

Now as I suffered, struggled, with a marriage that had not the tiniest bit of likeness to the one my parents shared, I was crippled into inaction by the vow I had made to my husband in the presence of God to live with this man “in sickness and in health” and” until death do us part“.

It was a dilemma I took three years to resolve and then two more years to untangle. I could not admit to my mother that I had made a colossal mistake. I had to get out of my own mistake by myself; and I did, but that’s another story.

Poor Mother gnashed her teeth, slept troubled sleep, kept her own counsel (now that I was barely talking to her). Besides her academic degrees, she has a self-imposed Masters of Worry, magna cum laude.To give her credit, it was over twenty years later as we drove together up the Sunshine Coast to visit Heather that she asked without really asking, “I never understood why you married that man; nor why you stayed.”

There was silence in the car.We had just passed my hippie home at Silver Point.  I was looking forward because I was driving. She was looking forward because she knew this was so touchy a subject she dared not look at me. I breathed deeply, said nothing as we both stared fixedly at the faded yellow line snaking out before us; waited until I could say something she might understand. We were up by Madeira Park before I spoke.
I explained that I had felt I was saving someone from going back to an unjust war. I explained how I had felt trapped by my own promises, my vows of marriage.

“That was no marriage!” she scoffed with distainful scorn. “You shouldn’t ever have gotten into it!”

I retreated into a stony silence. I hated it when she was right. And we still couldn’t talk. We drove a few miles saying nothing, driving through the area where I had lived for the years of that marriage, We broke the silence as we approached the ferry landing at Earl’s Cove, commenting on some beauty of nature, some sunlight broadly brushing the forested island not far off in the distance. We had a cup of tea waiting for the next boat to arrive, and we resumed our conversation as if nothing had been said. That was the family way of it.

Now here was Mother, sitting at her bridge table of four, eating dinner with her residential table mates, proudly saying, “This is my Hippie daughter. Look at what has become of her. She runs the corporation. Advises the President.”
She really had no idea what I did for a living. She knew I worked for a large corporation, managed accounts, attended and sometimes ran meetings, travelled to other cities across the nation in the context of my work; met with Government Officials, flew to Victoria by helijet in the morning, returned by same in the evening,sometimes went back East for a week of meetings. She knew I had a good, responsible job. She didn’t know what I did but she was proud of me.

She trusted me now, to help her with her daily living; to help her with her accounts and her investments; to provide her with what she needed; to get her the best care; to help her interpret the doctor’s language; to buy her clothes. In short, she had placed her total care in my hands.

She leaned forward conspiratorially to her table mates, then said:

“You should have seen this girl when she first walked in wearing that mangy fox fur coat she’d picked up in a second hand store!”

She turned rapidly to see what my reaction would be and turned back to her companions. She had a glint of mischief in her eyes and a smile creeping a tiny bit craftily at the corner of her mouth. I didn’t say a word. Left her to tell her own tales.

“What ever possessed you, girl!” she said, as she turned to me.


3 Responses to “Flower child”

  1. Marsha J. O'Brien Says:

    Mama told me to really love is to sacrifice. You have so much love!

  2. bluedragonfly Says:

    Wonderful to read. Beautiful story.

  3. suburbanlife Says:

    Oh, Kay – this is so good a turnaround in your relationship with your Mom, and speaks volumes about your capacity to love! G

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