Last night my mother, Maxine MacLeod, passed away peacefully. Today I’m sharing a memory of mom from 1947. (Not a lived memory—I wasn’t born yet!)
A memory made from imagination, a photograph or two and a story she often repeated in the last months of our daily Alexa/Echo calls.
I see a young woman, 19 years old, living near Paradise Hill, fresh from Normal School (not the abnormal ones I attended), boarding with the Hubert family, already in love with dad. It’s September, the first day of school at Deer Creek. I see her in front of the class in the one-room schoolhouse, grades one to eight—the students out of control, everyone yakking and goofing off. I imagine her in a plaid, skirted suit—her Stoic spirit looking over this mayhem and trying to figure out what to do. Quickly.
The disruptive grade-nine girl taking correspondence, the oldest ringleader, mom expelled her for three days for her impudence. A boy, I see him as a fourth-grader, mom strapped him for being loud and unruly (“But I held my hand on his so it wouldn’t hurt too much,” she emphasized, “And in the cloakroom so the other students wouldn’t see.”)
Walking to school from the Hubert’s farm the next morning, mom heard footsteps behind her. The boy she’d strapped caught up to Miss Danchuk, his new teacher. He began talking to mom, nicely—and was never a problem again.
“They sure were quiet the second day,” mom said. I could imagine the smile lighting up her face at the other end as she continued the story.
None of the parents complained.
The teenage girl returned later that week with a new attitude.
Mom repeated this story, oh, once every three days for a spell recently.
“Did you miss teaching?” I asked her.
“No,” she said. “It was easier to raise kids than be a teacher.”
Well, of course—Maxine’s “Sensational Six” (as the staff call us at Birchview Home where mom’s been for the last three years) were always well-behaved and never in trouble.
What does this story tell you about mom?
Above all, she was thoughtful. Pragmatic. Addressed problems head on. Kindly. With few words. And didn’t worry much what others, like the students’ parents or school superintendent, might say, her actions guided, always, by an inner light that radiated goodness.
In her last months, she often returned to this memory of her youthful wisdom.
Remember Rachel Carlson, the woman who wrote Silent Spring, the book that started the environmental movement in the 60s? When she was dying, Rachel wrote a letter to her friend Dorothy, reflecting on their last day together…
…most of all I shall remember the monarchs, that unhurried westward drift of one small-winged form after another, each drawn by some invisible force. We talked a little about their migration, their life history. Did they return? We thought not; for most, at least, this was the closing journey of their lives.
But it occurred to me this afternoon, remembering, that it had been a happy spectacle, that we had felt no sadness when we spoke of the fact that there would be no return. And rightly — for when any living thing has come to the end of its life cycle we accept that end as natural.
For the Monarch, that cycle is measured in a known span of months. For ourselves, the measure is something else, the span of which we cannot know. But the thought is the same: when that intangible cycle has run its course it is a natural and not unhappy thing that a life comes to an end.
That is what those brightly fluttering bits of life taught me this morning. I found a deep happiness in it — so I hope, may you.
For all of us, in the years to come, memories from mom’s life will flutter by.
May they give you, as mom would surely wish, deep happiness.
Other posts where we have featured mom: