Edith Hamilton (Weston) Main

The picture I remember best is an old black-and-white that I only saw a couple of times. Her hair is long and loose, her smile carelessly radiant, and her eyes draw one’s gaze again and again. She’s young, and she’s gorgeous, and it surprised a teenaged me to see the middle-aged, slightly doughy housewife – the one who had so lovingly welcomed, guided, and cared for me – looking so confident and free. I had known her as a quiet, self-effacing baker of cherry cheesecake and dispenser of tea, but here she looked like a screen star. This was my future mother-in-law, likely at about the age of her daughter when I married her. She was Edith, “Mother Main” (and not just to me), but I mostly called her Mum. I still do, though it’s been years since I’ve seen her.

The other photo comes 50 years later, I guess. It is more formal, a rather conventional studio shot that can’t hide her silvered, warm-eyed beauty. She is again slender, and her quiet dignity is clear. By this time, she was my ex-mother-in-law, marital fortunes being what they are in these times and in this heart. I was grateful when that same daughter, re-married, as I am, emailed from afar to let me know that Edith was preparing for take-off. She had turned 89 weeks before, and her life had become a smaller and smaller thing. She hung on for another week, and last Wednesday flight confirmation arrived. Friday’s funeral was not a tragic one.

Except that for me, it partly was.

Continue Reading >>

Mothering On

Nobody names their children Enid anymore, although I did christen a backyard crabapple tree with that early-20th century moniker two springs ago. We’d always had a messily dropping but spring-briefly glorious crab in our yard when I was a kid, and my mother loved those evanescent pink blooms much more than I begrudged raking up the apples in the fall.

Enid Mary Elizabeth Howden was born on April 27th in a distant 1920. The Great War still haunted many thousands of men who didn’t know that what they had was post-traumatic stress syndrome. The Spanish influenza pandemic had already killed most of its 60 million victims. The League of Nations was a brand-new baby that hadn’t yet been thrown out with the fascist bathwater. (Speaking of leagues, the NHL was a toddler with four hockey clubs we wouldn’t recognize, and the National Basketball Association wasn’t even a glint in anybody’s eye. But my Mum loved the Cleveland Indians forty years before the Blue Jays came along, and that American League baseball team had been born 20 years before she was.) ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, the Bahá’í community’s leader and best Example, was still alive. (So was Thomas Edison. So was Enrico Caruso. Legendary Canadian Sir Wilfrid Laurier had just left the building. Elvis wouldn’t show up for another 15 years.) I like to think of my Mum and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá sharing the same planetary dust for a few months, way back there in the ‘20s. Whole ‘nother century, much different world.

I love my Mum. I didn’t get it in writing for her birthday, but I’m a day ahead for Mother’s Day. Interexistential greetings, Enid! Thanks for all that laughter, all that bloody tolerance and dogged hope, all that thin-lipped endurance and all those wide-open welcomes to friends, wives, spiritual inclinations and especially to More Boys.

She always grinned (eventually) when she claimed that the only reason I kept you and your brother Bill around is ‘cause you made me laugh. She didn’t even play at grudging acceptance, though, when the grand-kids came. It was bright-blue smiles, bowls of sweets and rosy admiration, even at the end when she didn’t always get the names right. My first three boys only have to think of “Mama Hoe-ney” (was that Dave’s toddler-attempt at “Grandma Howden”?) to get a shot of spiritual warmth and belonging, even as they prepare to say farewell to their other lovely granny. Sam’s only 9, though, and he’s starting to lose track of her. We’ll get out the photos tomorrow while we celebrate his own sweet Mummy, in so many ways “a girl / Just like the girl / That married dear old Dad”: blue-eyed, excitable, loving, determined as hell. (That song’s even older than my Mum — 1911 — but it’s inerasable on my mental J-Tunes. A syrupy sweet prophecy.)

Hug your mothers, kids. Pray for them as they pray for you.