“Thanks for supper, Mom.” I waited for her to acknowledge my request to be excused before I picked up my supper dishes and carried them to the kitchen sink.
“You’re welcome,” she replied. I held my breath as I waited for her to say the words I dreaded. Despite my tense diaphragm, she said, “Please pick the raspberries tonight, okay?”
Ugh, I thought. I hate picking raspberries. I hate picking raspberries so much, I’d rather wash dishes. Hey, maybe that was my way out of this!
“Can I wash the dishes instead?” I asked sweetly.
“Of course you can wash the dishes, just make sure the raspberries are picked too. Both gardens, all right?”
I lifted my chin and looked at the ceiling as I slowly released my breath, making a quiet guttural sound in my throat. I’m sure my parents were amused by my almost-silent outburst.
I grabbed an empty four litre ice cream pail, slipped last year’s school shoes over my dirty bare feet, and headed outside. My cats got up from their sunny sleeping spots to stretch and meow their greetings. I ignored them and stomped off to the far garden where the newest raspberry bush grew happily, innocently, in the relentless prairie sun. They didn’t seem to care that I despised their green shoots and dull leaves, their prickly thorns, their minuscule fruit that took forever to fill up my pail. Mom always knew how many berries I should have in my pail after picking and if it didn’t seem like enough, she’d send me back out again.
I loved living on a 6-acre yard in the country, but it had its disadvantages. Case in point: one garden wasn’t enough. We needed room for potatoes so a second garden was tilled into the grass beyond the first garden. The second garden held potatoes, carrots, and a gooseberry bush, and anything else that needed full sunlight to grow.
One row of prickly raspberry bushes wasn’t enough. We needed a second row of my mom’s favourite summer berry. Why would I complain, she asked. She had picked FIVE long rows of raspberries – rows that were five times the length of our longest row – when she was a kid.
Well, good for her!
Fortunately, the new row I started at didn’t produce even half the amount of diminutive fruit as the older, mature row in the front garden. The new row was better, I thought. Easier to pick. Less prickly. Plus it was in the sun, which meant fewer mosquitoes. And fewer raspberries meant fewer bees. I was terrified of every black and yellow flying insect!
There were a lot of things that my mom liked that I didn’t when I was a kid. Raspberries. Children who did their chores without complaining. Studying. Going for long walks. Silence. A clean house. Home-cooked everything.
Somehow, thirty years later, I’ve acquired a profound appreciation for all of these things. However, my appreciation and/or my maturity didn’t happen overnight.
I’d go back to University in a heartbeat if time and money didn’t stand in my way. Instead, I “work” from home, summoning all the self-discipline I can to stay focussed on my writing projects.
I go for long walks every single morning (when it’s not too cold outside).
Silence is my antidepressant. I crave silence, especially with five active, healthy kids living under our roof.
A clean house is my fantasy. And it will remain a fantasy for at least ten more years.
Home-cooked everything tastes better than restaurant or heated-from-frozen-anything, even if I have to make it and clean it up myself.
However, I will never know how to get kids to do their chores, not without some major league bribery. How I wish they would want a clean kitchen, clean bathrooms, clean doors and walls and floors like I do!
So how did I end up becoming like my mom? The mom I thought was so annoying and old and weird? It happened faster than you might think.
I was 19 when my mom was diagnosed with terminal cancer. At that time, my mom and I had very little in common. She was a teacher and a family historian. She spent a lot of time staring at books. I loved the outdoors and animals. I planned on becoming a vet.
She was hard working and disciplined. She had earned her Bachelor of Arts through distance learning and had just completed her Education after-degree during summer school. I rarely studied in high school, and then University forced me to admit that sciences were not my natural strength.
She never seemed to have fun. I was a University student living with friends two hours from home. I may not have been fun and exciting by the average 19-year-old’s standards, but living with no rules and no parents seemed pretty incredible to me!
My mom was boring. She was…old. I was young, my whole life was before me and I could hardly wait to experience what it held for me!
But after her diagnosis, my life as I had known and envisioned, changed forever.
I came home from University on weekends and cleaned the house without complaining. I did the grocery shopping for the week on my own. I listened as she told me about the things she researched, her effort to find a cure so she could live as long as she possibly could. We had moved a few months earlier, and if we had still had those annoying raspberry bushes, you bet I would have picked them without being asked.
I would have done anything to be more like my mom if it had meant that I could have her with me longer.
Her life on this earth ended eight months after her diagnosis.
But my life continued.
University was not the same. Food was not the same. Life had changed drastically and it seemed like I was the only one my age who had been forced to become an adult overnight.
I now washed dishes and cleaned up after my roommates. I spent more time studying, this time psychology and sociology, which were, ironically, subjects my mom had studied when she was going for her B.A. and subjects that had made me ask her “Why?!” more than once. I found that I was fascinated by human behaviour. I ended up graduating with the same B.A. major she had graduated with. I still laugh when I think about that!
Eventually I got married and had children. I became the boring mom who never had fun. I longed for silence. I pined for a house that didn’t have crumbs on the floor and dirty walls and sticky door knobs. I made meals that my kids didn’t like to eat but I made them eat it anyway. I took online courses because it distracted me from my dreary life. I started walking regularly when we got a dog. I picked up dog poop when the children who promised they’d always pick up dog poop stopped picking up dog poop.
And then I started eating raspberries. Store-bought raspberries that are not nearly as good as garden-fresh raspberries.
How had I become so much like my mother? I think she would be amused to know how much like her I’ve become.
There are some things you never think you’ll miss about your parents or about your childhood. But I miss raspberries. I miss picking raspberries. And I miss my mom telling me what to do.