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Winter Tales

My mother used to say” you never know” and who would have guessed that this winter season would be so violent? (could we ever have guessed, let alone known?) The storm that overtook the trees, turned sidewalks into slippery ice paths and forced people into the dark was a revelation in Toronto. We, personally, were hit by a loss of power and with a five month baby in the house visiting, it was necessary to evacuate. Fortunately our son and his family were in Ottawa so we camped out that freezing day at his place.

The baby had been put down to bed, we had been sated with takeout sushi when there was a knock at the door. While daughter #2 feared it was looters and thieves, it turned out to be a burly hydro guy telling us we had to evacuate yet again as a live wire had been disconnected from the house and it was- in deed- dangerous. Yet, he shook his head in disbelief as he relayed that just a few blocks over near Oriole Parkway, families and children were playing ice hockey BESIDE yellow tape and pillions that warned of more live wires with voltage in the thousands. Parents today who are so safety-conscious that their children have imbibed numerous correct protocols with their mothers’ milk chose to ignore warnings. Go figure.

And just as in all good fairytales, a magical message arrived in the nick of time to inform us that our power at our house had been restored. Waking up a sleeping baby, we warmed the car and headed back. However, we feared that the message had been incorrect as we passed block after block of blackened houses and stoplights that were not functioning. Our elated mood was sinking and we began to ponder where we might stay on this frosty night. Soon we glimpsed a sparkle of golden pinpoints as we neared our house and to our good fortune, we could observe lights blinking on in our street. There is nothing so comforting as snuggling deep under a duvet in a warm room and we were thankful for the resurge of power.

However, when our son and his family arrived home from Ottawa, they camped out with us. Eventually, an electrician reconnected their broken stand pole so that the hydro line could re-establish their power. Yet, five days later hydro by the city had not been restored and their home remained chilly. No joke when there are two boys under the age of 5 to keep protected.

That week we celebrated my birthday on the 25th, so glad to be together in a toasty house. My husband had been cooking for two days and his turkey, browned perfectly, smelling as the best of turkeys will, filled the house with an unforgettable aroma. When daughter #1 and her husband arrived, we began nibblies of hummus, guacamole and the last shrimps to be found anywhere in the city with Prosecco and wine. We lolled and lazed and laughed.

I began my usual gift gifting which I refer to as “Channukah leftovers”. This year the children received an inheritance from my late mother which was kept separate from the arriving deluge of toys. The funds will be used differently as the needs of the children vary: the electrician to fix my son’s house; well-deserved vacations for my daughters; college funds to be stashed, etc.

I still marvel that my mother had been able to put away any money as my father made so little in his work. She was amazing to have been able to pay for her own apartment and caregiver until age 92, persistently worrying that her funds might run out. I will always associate her with the worn red wallet in the drawer in our kitchen behind our store on Eglinton. The red wallet where my sister and I pinched our nickels and dimes to buy a treat on the way back to West Prep after lunch, the red wallet that my father had made her during occupational therapy while in his 9 months’ stay at Riverdale hospital and subsequent polio convalescence. Something about that worn leather wallet touches me deeply, maybe as symbol of her endurance, their life.

I remember feeling so proud that when school friends who attended the dreaded Hebrew School across from our store, Tele Sound, came by, my mother always gave me enough money to buy a treat for them as well as myself. Even the rich kids who were thrown into afterschool torture might walk home with me and I would pick coins from her worn wallet triumphantly believing I possessed the beneficence of any wealthy host, guiding them to the pharmacy next door to select chips, caramel corn, chocolate bars. With some surprise, a classmate commented on our modest home behind the store. I always thought my bedroom, painted pink, the equal of the fanciest abodes in Forest Hill and was incredulous that anyone might think otherwise.

Even now, I recall the feel of that wallet as I eagerly searched for the money in its shallow depths. I’m not sure how she would have felt about how we spend/ are spending the money she took a lifetime to accumulate through her modest life, her careful balancing of funds, her restricting her own lifestyle, juggling her house accounts and depriving herself of any luxuries. I never thought of us as poor.

Wendy, my sister, and I had lessons vacations and never wanted for anything, yet it was my mother stretching and saving and budgeting that made it possible for us to live that illusion. My father once said his parents always fought over money and he never wanted that for us. Yet it must have been almost magic for her to put away money for simple investments, spinning straw into gold. I hope my mother would have been pleased. However her generation stashed pennies in the bank,concerned for the future, finding solace in institutions purported to maintain the structure and safety of society.

And even though in the past years, she sometimes did not call on my birthday date, I most often invited her so she could participate in a rowdy dinner. With beautiful flowers, children’s noisy chatter, a table set with my grandmother’s crystal and colourful plates, our dinner was beautiful in so many ways. Even if she barely interacted in the last years at that meal, I hoped that she felt part of the whole scene, chaotic and brimming with life.

During a storm and its aftermath, things change: you isolate moments and wrap yourself into what matters, feeling fortunate to be with the people you cherish.

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