Life & Living, Love, Memories

do you see the young woman who once was me?

L to R Auntie Lee, Gran, Auntie Jean, and Mom circa 1950/51

This poem touches me deeply. I think of it every time I see images like the one above of Mom and her sisters when they were young women. I think it must have been taken in late 1950 or early 1951 because Mom has an engagement ring but no wedding band. She and my father were married in Vancouver, BC, on November 21, 1951 shortly after she turned 23. I wonder what they were celebrating when this picture was taken? I’ll never know…

Continue reading “do you see the young woman who once was me?”

Family, Life & Living, Memories

on mothers, daughters and bad hair days

susan wannabe model“Oh Punkie! “ (That’s my nickname.) “I’m so glad to see you! You look great! I love your hair,” Mom would say every time I came to see her.

Or at least that’s what I wished she would have said. To be fair, I usually did get the “I’m so glad to see you” part. It was what invariably followed that cut like a knife.

“Your hair’s so short. What did you do to it? I like it so much better a bit longer.” Or: “Your hair’s so long… Don’t you think it’s time for a cut?” Or: “When did you start parting your hair on the left? I think it suits you better on the right, don’t you?” Or: “When did you start parting your hair on the right? It’s so cute when you do it on the left. Here let me show you…”

Yes, there has always been something wrong with my hair, it was too long, too short, too curly, too straight, too recently cut, not cut recently enough, better up, better down, and/or better the way it was last time, even though last time it had been so much better the time before that.

Yes, there has always something wrong with my hair, and clearly, by extension, there has also been something wrong with me. My hair and its not-good-enoughedness is a metaphor for me and my ongoing failure to measure up. I am a cracked and broken toddler who has somehow managed to stumble my way through 55 years of life beyond the “terrible twos.”

Sometimes I am lost and found. Other times I’m invisible. One time, in my adolescence, when my mother and I were visiting my grandmother, it was decided (certainly not by yours truly) that I should get my hair cut at my grandmother’s hairdresser.  Her name was Giselle.

Susan grade 9Like me, my hair was particularly hard to manage in my teens. In those Grade-9 days (<= see), the fashion was to have your bangs (“toupette” if you’re Quebecoise, “fringe” if you’re a Brit) hang in your eyes like a sheepdog. No doubt this drove all mothers of teenaged daughters, not just mine, crazy.

As I set off for Giselle’s, I knew it didn’t matter how short she took my bangs, they would not be short enough. Giselle razored them to what surely would have been a reasonable length, a length in keeping with the cut. But I, to please my mother and avoid a fight, asked Giselle to cut them “just a little bit shorter, please.” She complied. Reluctantly. She was a hairdresser after all. She knew hair shrinks skyward when it dries. But I was short on experience, and long on suffering my mother.

I returned to my grandmother’s house in a flood of tears, my bangs a few millimeters short of my hairline, my life, clearly, over. As I walked in the door, my grandmother clapped her hand over her mouth, and began to laugh. My mother followed suit.

“What happened to your hair?” They choked in unison. The flood became a tsunami. I raced upstairs, flung myself on Gran’s guest bed, angry, humiliated, and inconsolable. For the eternity (i.e. several weeks) it took for the disaster to repair itself, I wore my hair in a bald man’s comb-over to hide the abomination of my bangs and avert the ridicule of my classmates.

I went on to become prematurely silver in my late twenties, expanded into being a cut above during the continuum of my thirties and forties, and blossomed fully in my fifties. (Ongoing transformation is the story of my life. I wonder what the last chapter holds…?)

Mom doesn’t care so much about my hair anymore. And it sometimes takes her a minute or two to figure out who I am when I go to visit her. But once she realizes I’m related to her, that I’m part of her family (perhaps her daughter, or maybe her sister), she smiles, grateful, and says: “Hi Punkie! “ (She remembers my nickname so far.) “I’m so glad to see you!” No mention of my errant hair, even if it’s streaked with pink or purple.

Better late than never, I guess, but bittersweet all the same.


Written in spring 2013.

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Family, Love, Memories

Oh Mom! (A mother/daughter moment remembered)

Susan & Tavi
“Oh Sue.”

I’ve heard those words from my mother at least a million times:

“Oh Sue, you’re so opinionated. Oh Sue, you’re so serious. Oh Sue, why do you have to be so argumentative? Oh Sue, did you have to get your hair cut THAT short?” Oh Sue, something-or-other-that-doesn’t-quite-measure-up.”

Maybe that’s partly why I prefer Susan now, Sue having fallen short in so many ways for so long.

Like many mother/daughter relationships, ours has been fraught with issues and challenges (as well as joy and happiness) about which I blogged on Mother’s Day 2012.

So, it’s curious that the one “Oh Sue” I remember most specifically isn’t a criticism, but a little cheer. And I hear it as clearly today as I did forty-four years ago across a riding ring one late-summer afternoon.During that awkward leaving-girlhood time, Mom drove me once a week, from July 1st to the end of August, to the Pony Club in Knowlton for riding lessons. She also drove me crazy. As I’m sure I did her. I don’t remember much of those 90-minutes-to-Knowlton drives, but I can still taste the dust our mounts kicked up as we walked, trotted, and cantered round the riding ring.

Our instructor, Fiona, stood at the center barking commands in her proper English accent, while we, a dozen or so horse-crazed pre-teens, submitted to the ordeal with dogged determination.

“Cannon.” “Elbow.” “Fetlock.” “Gaskin.” “Hoof.”

We shouted alphabetical horse body parts as we rode, and tried to keep our seats at the same time. Some of us were less successful than others, thus the need for hard hats. All the while, Mom leaned on the fence watching, head propped on crossed forearms, one foot up on the bottom rail. She must have been hot, tired, sweaty, and thirsty (I know I was!), but she never complained. That was my job.

When our riding time was done, the post-lesson tack cleaning often brought out the cranky in me. When it did, Mom took me to a little greasy spoon for lunch on the way home. It had a screen door that clanked shut, and an old-style ceiling fan that wasn’t of much use, even on only warmish days.

We’d have hamburgers, French fries and strawberry milkshakes. Just thinking about it now makes me slightly queasy. I imagine I got carsick more than once as we drove back.

Each Pony Club summer ended in grand style with a one-day “Horse Show.” Bleachers sprang up at one end of the rectangular ring. Parents crowded into them. Others brought their own ringside seats. Mom opted for her usual place on the fence.

The first year, when my beginners’ class was announced, I trotted, or rather Tavi, my favourite Pony Club pony trotted I astride him into the ring. I felt all grown up as well as nervous competing in my first official equestrian event. I remembered to keep my hands soft, my heels down, and my eyes focused on where I wanted to go.

I didn’t know it then, but I surely know it now: those basic skills apply as much to life as they do to horseback riding. We went round and round, as we did during our lessons, but instead of filing out at the end we lined up in the middle of the ring. Just like in a dog show, four or five of us would be invited to make a couple of last laps to help the judge finalize her first-, second-, and third-place choices.

I looked straight ahead, heart beating fast, hopeful. Three of my co-competitors had already been chosen.

“Number 12,” the judge said with a wave. Before it registered that I was number 12, I heard a cry, loud enough for everyone in the next county to also hear: “Oh Sue!”

My face turned tomato red. Somehow I managed to squeeze my knees gently to urge Tavi on from a standstill.

Oh Mom!” I thought to myself as we got underway. “How embarrassing! Calling my name like that in front of everyone! How could you?” I buried my humiliation in my concentration. “Keep your legs still, seat firm in the saddle, fingers like sponges around the reins,” I reminded myself.

After a few circuits, we were back in the middle, five finalists each hoping for first place. There was a hushed expectancy in the air.

“And the red ribbon in this year’s novice class goes to…”

I held my breath; it held me back, stiffly.

“Number 12! Susan Macaulay!”

This time, there was no singleton cheer from the peanut gallery. Somehow she must have sensed my embarrassment the first time around. But I could see her, out of the corner of my eye, one hand clapped firmly over her mouth, the other waving high and wild. She was jumping up and down. Oh God.

Tavi walked forward, and I collected my prize. I don’t think I’d ever won anything before.  Some unknown photographer captured the moment, and the resulting image is one of only a dozen or so pasted in my pre-teen scrapbook. I look all business for such a little girl.

Outside the ring, I dismounted, formal, yet shy, tiny trophy in hand. I heard a whisper in my ear: “Oh Sue! I’m so proud of you.”

I shrugged out of her hug, rolled my eyes, and answered back: “Oh Mom!”

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