On a cold, blustery day in late November, 1932, my grandmother gave birth to her third child…her first daughter, Connie. She would later be joined by a sister, Lorraine and two little brothers, Pete and Philip, but that was just the beginning of my mother’s story.
I’ve always thought our mother had an interesting life. As young children in the late 1930s, our mother and her two older brothers saw an airship… a durgible … fly over Brier Island on their way home from school one day. According to Mom, none of them knew what it was, but from radio broadcasts the boys knew there was a war on. I remember my mother telling me that she wasn’t afraid…just very curious. Until…with fear written across their faces, her brothers each grabbed one of her hands and yelled in unison “RUN CON!”
Countless hurricanes…like Hazel in 1954…made my mother fearful of storms, but especially electrical storms, like the one we had last night as a matter of fact. Especially after our next door neighbours’ house, Ace & Arlene McDormand’s, was hit by lightening and burnt to the ground. After that, every time there was an electrical storm, our mother would wake us from a sound, peaceful sleep in the midst of such storms and herd us into the family car to sit …on rubber tires which kept us grounded… surrounded by weak trunked willow trees along the driveway, and low slung power lines…until the storm…or at least the lightening had moved across the bay to terrorize the poor folk over at Meteghan and along the French shore.
When our father passed away, in 1975, our mother was left a young widow at 43 with a 10 year old still at home, the rest of us out on our own by then. Mom took over as lightkeeper at Northern Point, becoming one of the few female lighkeepers in Nova Scotia’s history. That was where mom, and our youngest sister Jacquie, were when, a few months later, the 1976 Groundhog Day storm hit and decimated Southwest Nova, including much of Westport’s waterfront. I realized then that my mother was stronger than I’d ever thought. When she was diagnosed with an aggressive breast cancer years later, I got to really see her courage up close.
We all loved our Dad, but when Mom married John, we were all very happy. For starters we were glad there was finally someone in the house that could cook! Well, to be fair, she made the best fried haddock I’ve ever eaten, and great donuts…not as good as Uncle Pete’s…but they were good. John was a blessing in our lives but especially in Mom’s. When he passed away I worried how she would manage, but she was a resilient woman from strong stock. She mentioned to my husband Ron one day how unlucky she was. He asked why and she replied, well, I’ve buried two husbands. To which my optimistic sweetheart replied…Connie…you’re the lucky one! You’re the one still here!
Our Mom was quite an animal lover, although she’d seldom admit it. The proof was in the number of cats,dogs and even rabbits we had as kids. When Ron and I were moving to the NWT the summer of 1986, we had a 7 year old Golden Retriever, named Snooki. Well Snooki hated Nova Scotia winters, so we couldn’t image that she’d ever survive an Inuvik winter! So, a dear friend of ours, who happened to be a lawyer in Digby at the time, volunteered to take Snook. She knew the dog well and their love and admiration was mutual. When I mentioned this to my mother, she lost it! As the saying goes, she went up one side of me and down the other. Who did I think I was giving that dog to a complete stranger?! Not as long as she lived and breathed! Why, she didn’t care if our friend was a lawyer or a judge! She’d go to court for custody of that dog! My mother and John got the dog. And that dog had the best life I could have ever imagined! We eventually referred to Snooki as the square dog, as they fed her so much she grew as wide as she was high. She lived until she was over 16 years old, and was greatly loved by those two people.
Mom loved playing cards…rook, canasta, and rummy were favourites. She also really enjoyed rumoli, and later skip bo…and crib….always there was crib. She never let any of us win. Ever. If we beat her, it was fair and square…or perhaps a fluke. And if we missed a right jack, or a run, she’d grab it without hesitation. Her theory was she wasn’t doing us any favours or teaching us any life lessons by letting us win…even if it was only at a game of go fish.
Our mother was fanatical about housework when we three older daughters were young. We used to hope she’d go visiting once our chores were assigned rather than hovering over us. Her four oldest grandchildren…the original four they call themselves…will tell you that they were never, ever allowed to have food in Gram’s living room! Never! Then, years later when the next six came along, Gram’s rules went out the window….cheesie stained fingers and spilled glasses of koolaid made me wonder “who are you and what have you done with my mother?!” I guess we all mellow with age.
No matter where I lived…BC, Newfoundland, Digby, the North….whenever I came back to visit, I’d walk in Mom’s door, grab her and waltz her around the kitchen singing Tennessee Waltz, or some such golden oldie. Mom would go along for a minute, then …she’d dig her heels in, drop my hand, look at me and….every single time ….utter the same words. Darn fool. You’re just like your father. Except Dad had a beautiful voice! Protests or not, I think a part of her secretly enjoyed those dances. Or at least I like to tell myself she did.
Our Mother had a strong faith, and though I saw it waiver at various times of hardship and heartbreak over the years, I don’t think it ever broke. I remember one day after her stroke, I found her crying at the kitchen table. I put my arms around her and said, Mom, what’s wrong? Through sobs she said “I don’t remember how to pray.” I got her jacket and shoes and said, come on, get dressed, we’re going to fix that right now. I drove her down to Phil and Gracie’s and took her in…her face still tear stained. I looked at Phil and said,we need your help…Mom has forgotten how to pray…and the 3 of us sat there and prayed for and with Mom until her face told me she was once again content and in peace.
A mother daughter relationship is as complex as any on earth. Connie was a lot of things to many people, daughter, sister, wife, friend, Gram, Great Grammie, Great Grammie two ferries. But to the four of us she was Mom. Like all of us she was human. She made mistakes, like we all do, but there is no doubt that she loved each and every one of us. The greatest gift…besides life…that my Mother gave me were three little sisters, now all grown…strong beautiful women in their own right. Each of us different. Each of us unique. Each of us a part of our father and our mother. Mostly, each of us, our own person. On April 15, the four of us became orphans. Which is the order of things. The circle of life as it is meant to be.
And I know that as much as our mother loved everyone of us left behind, and those who had gone before, and as one of my sisters said, Dad and John were both there to take an arm and walk her through those pearly gates, our mother would have dropped their arms once over the threshold and walked right into the waiting arms of her mother…who I believe was her greatest love of all.
In loving memory of my mother, Connie (Welch) Bisson November 24, 1932 – April 15, 2019 R.I.P. Mom