“Sgt. Major, Be a Mother to Me”

He answers the phone, out of breath.

–       Did you put your patch on today?

I ask.

– Mm hmm.

He says.

–       You did?

– Mm hmm.

He pauses, then says,

– I’ll go check.

The mainland is an anxious relief. Weekends with Lynn, his kids and our friends fights the loneliness that builds on the farm. But not calling the cats in at night or listening for Dad’s breathing makes me nervous.

–       My mother would have remembered.

Dad says when I forget.

–       My mother would have known.

He says when I don’t know.

My Grandmother was Sara Kristin Philippson. A child of immigrants from the islands of Vestmannaeyjar, Grandma was born in Selkirk, Manitoba in 1906 and grew up in Osland, BC, an Icelandic-Canadian fishing community on Smith Island at the mouth of the Skeena River.

– I swear she spoke Japanese before she learnt English.

Dad jokes.

During the Depression, some families moved away from Osland, leaving the one room school in jeopardy. My grandmother’s brother, Oli, talked some Japanese families he knew from the canneries into joining their community.

– I remember Mrs. Tanaka and Mrs. Nagasawa at the kitchen table yapping in Japanese while my grandmother and great aunt yapped in Icelandic.

He says.

– They must have understood each other somehow.

At 20, Sara married a widower in Prince Rupert with two children (Helen and Charles) and a mother crippled with Arthritis. Seventeen years her senior, Harry Alexander McKay Ormiston  had his pay cheques signed in her name so she could cash them while he was out at sea. She gave him a monthly ten dollar allowance which if he lost it playing Panguingue (aka Pan – a gambling Rummy game), he did needlepoint until he could afford to buy more tobacco. Dad still has Grandpa’s needlework on display in the house.

My grandparents had three children together: Tom, Dick and Harry.

I’m not kidding.

In her later years, Grandma was known in the construction industry as my father’s eighty year old secretary. His office in her basement at 2634 Belmont Street in Victoria, she knew which calls were important and which bar to find him in.

–       Well Mother, what’s going on?

He says as he walks into the kitchen.

We pause, look at each other and carry on.

Mothers push strollers down Commercial Drive. I drink a long Americano.

I’ve read that it’s common for people with Alzheimer’s to return to their primary relationships as they progress. It is a sign of trust to be mistaken as my father’s mother.

–       Don’t forget the mail.

Says Dad as I drive past the box.

–       Shit!

I say.

– My mother wouldn’t swear.

He says.

When my memory fails, I get scared I’ll need a mother again one day.

If she (or he) were kind, affectionate and quick to laugh, I would be fortunate.


About Morbid Optimist

My name is Katryna Mary Brooke Ormiston. I am 35 years old and after living in Vancouver for a decade, I am returning home to my 81 year old father’s hobby farm on Vancouver Island to care for him in the final stages of his life. This blog is to document my journey, process my experiences along the way and hopefully share and feel connected to a community beyond the three and a half acres I find myself on. A message in a bottle in the cyber-sea.
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2 Responses to “Sgt. Major, Be a Mother to Me”

  1. Mary (Bagnall) Stairs says:

    HOw I enjoy your writing…you need to to publish all these writings in a book …..my grandmother Bagnall(Ormiston) had this family picture …we used to laugh re the names of Harry and sara’s boys.I met charles during a visit he made to Grandma during his ship’s stop=over in hfx. during the war…her other brother TOM lived in Halifax.funny that we knew re the western relatives but they knew little or nothing re “us”…I remember when Harry and Sara visited Grnadma…he had not been in N.S. for 50 years.
    Tom…Lynn’s dad..and I used to write each other.Sybil eve and I have been chatting since she used to come to Glace Bay as a little girl…love her muchly.hugs to you…Keep up your good care giving and you do need a great sense of humor…..Cousin Mary

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