My Mom fought the fifties. I never knew. If anyone would have asked me I would have told them that my mother was straight-laced, demure, a Canadian Capital City poster girl, not just in character, but on the ground.
In the photo I like best, my mother is a teenager, a head turner, a talent. She and her acting group have just returned from yet another triumph at the annual Dominion Drama Festival. Mayor Charlotte Whitton has come as part of the surprise welcome home to the young, gifted locals. The camera has captured the confetti in my mother’s bark colored hair and I imagine the scent from the rose petals overpowers the usual train station smells of machinery and cigarette smoke. Well, it’s not the usual train station atmosphere, it’s a party.
The thought that she is going to be giving birth in six years time and dreaming about divorce in less than ten is as close to her as the rings of Saturn.
Now, sitting across from each other in my kitchen, my wall-sized window overlooks the Judean Hills. We are barely on a map between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
“David fought Goliath not far from here,” I offer. She warms her fingers around the mug. Sips. “The Philistines stole the Ark of the Covenant, practically down the road from where we are sitting. Paraded around with it like a trophy, until they realized their possession of it was a curse.”
“Do you want to finish where we left off last night before the kids come home?” she asks.
By the time I was fifteen, I had cast my mother in the role of recipient, receiver, the one who answers, not asks. Since then I have overhauled my views on everything from religion to education. Why not reorder my views about my own mother in her matching beige pants suit, hoop earrings the size of baby teeth, cocoa lipstick matched to nail polish?
My mother is still looking at me, waiting for my reply. I nod. I have begun to collect my parents’ memories feverishly, like someone who is haunted in her own dreams, mostly because I am.
“Did you know that in Canada there was a clause in divorce agreements called the Chastity Belt Clause?”
I didn’t know.
My mother’s voice is like the shshsh of a creek when the snow is melting at the opening of spring, and water is running any way it can around the half frozen stones. I have no memory of a vocal roar, something that might have been as heavy as waves plummeting over sides, as sheets of water smacking an even more tumultuous moving body. She is the type who flies to Israel with towers of tinned Clover Leaf salmon lying in rows in her filled-to-precise-weight-requirement suitcase, an unopened tube of Colgate, and her own Nescafe. Homegrown wake-up tastes, breakfast tastes, after-dinner tastes: Ottawa tang. I could never have looked at her and imagined her reading the words Chastity Belt Clause on A4 bond paper, let alone being asked to sign them.
“He could do whatever, but if I were even seen with another man, I could have lost your brother like that.” She snaps her thumb and forefinger.
I came back to her. The words chastity belt had propelled me to alter my vision. She really had been there in the fifties. What did I know? Me, with my towers of books, rows of anthologies, inboxed attachments and PDF downloads.
“I fought it,” she said.
She’s only five foot two. Her not-on-stage voice couldn’t be heard above water running in a tub.
“…refused to sign…” she said.
And for the first time in years, my eyes searched my mother’s, and saw something that looked like me.
This Flash piece was posted on Life as a Human 2013