My mother died last week. I attended a service for her. Wonderfully, her daughters spoke for her and they spoke well. I couldn’t bring myself to step up so I speak here now.
My mother was a wonderful mother to us all and we all feel lost without her. But that is not what this space is for.
It is for her.
My mother was more than a mother.
Gail got skipped ahead 2 grades as a child. Because that is how they rewarded children back then. It meant she had to move in a social sphere outside anything she could have coped with.
And she did.
And unlike many women, she went to university. There, she wanted a drama club and there wasn’t one. So she made one. She created it out of nothing and made it happen.
She wanted to mark her independence. Fiercely. So she moved to Montreal. On the map it is 2 hours but we all know it meant a foreign country. She had no fear and just went ahead. We can only thank her bravery because she met my father there. And without that we would not have happened. None of us kids would be here.
Gail excelled and earned an honours degree. And then she got pregnant. Some women back then would have been content and become a housewife.
Not our Gail. She had dreams. To do things. Back then, a woman still just settled down. Not Gail.
My mother had a productive career after that with Canadian Marconi and then with Bell Northern Research. If those names sound familiar it is because they are. They were and are the biggest companies we have. For the youngsters, think Blackberry, but before we had computers.
She was a technical writer for them, translating what the engineers said to the money men. She was crucial. The whole company could not have run except for her work. I need to remember that.
My mother was a huge fan of science fiction. 30 years before the internet made it easy to be a lazy nerd my mother wanted a convention in Ottawa. So she joined the people who also wanted that and she made it happen. Just like her drama club except far bigger.
She helped make it happen and I had the privilege to grow up with a Gestetner cranking in the back ground because she kept the newsletter going and then built the book that you got if you came to Maplecon in the seventies. if you were there, and you got a book, you have to thank her.
My formative experiences include that which no one else could have given. I was a Con boy. My mother made it happen not because she was a mom, but because she was Gail and loved sharing ideas.
My mother chose, and i say chose, she did not have to, to look after my father in his illness for 25 years. One quarter of a century for us young people to think about. More than a generation.
That only slowed my mother down. Not stopped her.
Moving to the country she had land for a garden. A real garden. Gail grew food. Not satisfied she grew organic food. not satisfied she studied everything there was to make organic food. Some people would have stopped there. Not Gail. It wasn’t enough to just go out at 4am and pick off the grubs and potato bugs, not Gail.
If she took something up, it was for the whole hog.
She studied and amassed a whole library of organic farming. But that wasn’t enough if our world wanted to encroach on her little acre of happiness. So that little woman fought. In her fifties, she took another degree in Environment and geography to arm herself with the facts. It wasn’t enough to pick grubs like nobody’s business.
My mother did everything for keeps.
She cried--one of the only times i saw her cry--and felt sad that for the next twenty years of her never ceasing search, no one would hire her to save our planet--or for anything because who needs older women?-- even with all her knowledge. But she kept hoping she could share her knowledge and never gave up, ever.
We know the world, and it has no place for older women on a paycheck. We told her to settle down and accept that she wouldn’t have another job coming.
My mother just kept being enthusiastic. She wanted a place in the world but if it wasn’t coming, she would do the same thing she had been doing since she was a girl—push.
My mother then pushed with craft. She supported my father in his woodworking efforts and surpassed him once she was in--and he himself was a master. One of the chairs she designed is in our House of Commons right now.
Then she went back to her first love, and wrote stories. She wrote mysteries and supported all the other writers even though she was loathe to make friends outside of work.
She studied making animation, and then stop motion film because she loved movies and thought maybe she could join in.
Right up until illness slowed her, my mother had endless enthusiasm for not just anything, but everything that caught her attention.
And nothing could slow it down.
I tried. I was the cynical arguing bad guy to her good guy arguments for 25 years and she never ever lost any optimism or enthusiasm.
Nothing could slow Gail down. Not even a sour son.
I remember this now after I was cranky about how slow her body got. How pissy I would get about her being forgetful or losing her way.
Everyone declines, but some people are still formidable.
My mother, so private, so timid, got on a plane and crossed an ocean to save her son when he was in trouble and never asked for thanks, not even once.
She just revelled in being Little Old Lady And Cat but she could still cleave the world in two if it meant saving her children.
Gail was so much more than a mother and all the amazing things she did will never be written down in history. Instead people will remember her only as making a family.
But even if we forget all the amazing things she did, we cant forget that she always had energy left over for her constantly troubled children. She saved Lynda and Robert and Anne over and over again and never once judged us.
Gail Marianne MacDonald, nee Walsh was a titan. Not just a mom, not just a great mom, but a titan.