The scent of lemon oil and ammonia filled the air as I returned from school while spring cleaning was underway. It took my Mom a week: scrubbing the bamboo curtains and furniture on the patio, cleaning the walls. Of course the windows were washed. The downstairs floor waxed.
“You’re a hard worker,” was the kindest compliment my Mom ever heard.
While we were at school, she worked part-time in restaurants, enjoying the business people who came for lunch. She took pride in caring for them, remembering their favourite drinks, how they liked their steak or coffee.
Back at home she would have dinner ready at 6 o’clock , often with beans from the garden and homegrown strawberries for dessert. On Friday during the summer, she would have packed up food and clothes for the weekend on the boat. And on Sunday night, unpacking again.
I was in grade 7 before I had a store-bought dress… she had sewed all our clothes for years — dresses, pants, coats, even crocheted tights in the 60s.
Years ago, when everyone used to send Christmas cards, Mom sorted mail overnight at the main post office downtown during the holiday rush.
When work for pay was no longer required, Mom volunteered at the West Vancouver Seniors Centre. Some of the seniors were younger than she was but she was keen to help them find a table and line up for lunch. Work was familiar, it gave her a role and a reason to be there.
We had often heard how she had cleaned houses as a young girl in Holland. So we babysat and worked part-time as soon as we could. Mom got us jobs at the Jasmine Inn and by age 14, I was serving rye and ginger and chicken chow mien.
Hard work was validation of your role in the world.
In her last year here, she was confident that her job was done: her children were grown, hardworking and successful. Her four grandchildren knew how to work hard and excel. Working hard: it’s a life-long gift she taught us by seeing her in action throughout her life.
Mom had an edict for raising children: Be strict but give them lots of love. And she had rules:
- Spring cleaning — twice a year.
- The balcony is part of your house and must be kept clean.
- When hanging laundry to dry… hang the same colours together and whites should be white!
- When ironing a shirt always iron the sleeves first, then the back, front and last the collar.
- Always be five minutes ahead of time.
- Finish your work before you read your book.
- Always put away your stuff.
- Hang up your clothes.
- Everything has its place.
- Don’t take anything out of the fridge. (Not said but implied.)
- Shoulders back.
- Turn off the lights.
Mom also taught her daughters to be independent. Work hard and you will never have to rely on a man to make your way in the world.
As she grew older she missed her own independence — especially no longer being able to drive her car. She didn’t like relying on us for rides to the hairdresser or to exercise class, yet I looked at those drives as opportunities to spend time together and share stories.
In her last weeks of life, she talked about the work she still had to do as she lamented her lapsing strength. And in her last week, she was still asking, “What can I do to help you, Rochelle?”