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Something about Mary

We kind of felt that my mother was not allowed friends. Certainly there was Mrs. Feld next door.should she visit for a cup of tea, my father barely acknowledged her existence, his dark brooding eyes flowing over her. And I too should I arrive home from school and find Mrs Feld there, was disappointed not to be able to command my mother’s full attention.When my mother had once been overwhelmed by her life and retreated for one solitary weekend at her parents, it was Mrs. Feld who resurrected our mother whose therapy consisted of cleaning, and if still down, she instructed my mother,” Clean everything again.”

Mary did not really come into the picture until my father passed away, Mary the neighbour across the road having observed my mother’s fidelity and never ending support of her husband. And so Mary thought, this woman could use some long suffering support too.My sister and I had our own lives so we didn’t pay much attention to hearing about the wondrous Mary except to suppress yawns-at the mention of Mary’s name -more than we would like, her compassion and kindness, according to mom, clearly canceling the small offerings we doled out. And should there be a small family celebration, my mother’s request that Mary be included on the guest list made us boil, but as ever dour and unsmiling, Mary would accept our invitations, only given to appease our mother.

Mother and Mary would make small trips together, Mary the driver, to Niagara on the Lake and longer flights to California where Toby, my mother’s sister lived and like two Thelmas and Louise I imagined the women kerchiefed heading down the A1Ahighway towards Lachlan, a lesser Las Vegas, Toby, a hot shot on the penny slots. I never enquired about hotel accommodations or dinners, but these trips must have been successful for they were repeated several times. And when my mother grew old, it was, in deed, Mary who would trek to her apartment midtown on the weekly Tuesday evening when the two, with Mary physically propping my mother, would be greeted at their local fish and chip place on Laird where apparently Mary was well known. All mushy peas aside, “ the girls” forfeited the fries for salad.And later on the phone, my mother would reiterate the wonders of Mary.

Even towards the last days of her life, my mother enjoyed Mary’s visits, she taking several buses from Finch and Yonge to ease my mother’s entrance to a world without her best friend. It had become a mantra,” if you only have one friend like Mary..”: which of course we mocked.

When my mother died, I felt I must maintain the friendship to assuage my mother’s ghost. Although I had never known the woman and wondered at my mother’s ravings about the laughter and good times shared, I’d never experienced the other side of Mary’s unsmiling serious face. But I felt in gratitude for all of what Mary had done, perhaps in place of what I might have, so I felt I should get to know Mary. In deed I often wondered at her choice of Mary’s Marilyn Monroe purse, slight hints that Mary a war bride and former figure skater might be more than the cool exterior I had observed.

And yes, I began to know a more complex person who had emigrated from the UK, a person who seemed to always to be at the centre of unusual events, a risk taker and quite lovely person.

Just last week there was the tale about the 5am arousal in North York in which the screams of a rooster on her front lawn drove her from her bed to explore the commotion. From Mary’s description this was no ordinary bird and I began to visualize a peacock of sorts, lush green feathers trailing behind its tiny dark feet, an immense ruff of royal red , a thickly textured body, a presence worthy of a king. Quiet Mary after calling the city , commandeered three construction workers nearby her house to give chase and eventually grab the bird. One of the pursuants in awe of the magnificent bird remarked that he recognized the rooster from his home in Turkey. A Turkey rooster?

Another long unravelling story dwelled on an illegal immigrant with wife and crying baby who had been hired by Mary to reinforce her basement. Obviously compassionate to the tales this man was spinning, she sweetened his salary, but the work began to slow down as he complained of other jobs, unkind bosses, requiring better tools. And so Mary “ helped him out”, drawn in by his woeful stories, cribless infant, hungry spouse, instability in his new country. But even Mary began to realize that Tom was not being truthful. First when she discovered the tools they had bought together had been returned for cash. And soon the $5.00 put through her mail slot from time to time also stopped appearing.

Our determined Mary was not deterred and set out to confront him face to face. She knew his mother in law had worked down the street apparently as a cleaning lady and Mary was intent on tracking him down. As she described it to me, although warned by a friendly officer not to go to his apartment, she went with a friend to an abandoned address , some place deep downtown, and persuaded a suspicious land lady to allow her into his place, where she sat and waited. My sense of the living spot was decrepit a dank hole between two leaning walls, no evidence, no surprise, of wife or child, a place like a garage, thickly encrusted in dirt and decay. The cleaning lady mother in law appeared and explained Tom did not live there anymore, and invited Mary to leave.

Upset on being duped, lied too, and still intent on being repaid, she continued her quest. Legally she was told even should he be found, which was unlikely, there had been no written contract, he likely had no money, a professional liar, and with no listed address, the case was fruitless. She had not been coerced, only a kind person taken advantage of by an unscrupulous workman.

Last I saw Mary, she did not mention Tom who had been her festering topic for months. Yet I thought of her as the avenging angel even putting herself in peril, Marilyn purse tightly tucked over her arm as she tracked him to his covert subterranean lodging.She had been kind, fair, drawn in ,moved by his stories. But the intrepid Mary had not been intimidated by police warnings, or even venturing into the lion’s den. Foolish as it might have been.

I guess our lunches revealed the Mary my mother knew: the witty, trusting, woman Mary who made my mother’s life so much better, a true friend I’ve grown to know and respect.

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