“A woman is like a tea bag – you can’t tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water.” Eleanor Roosevelt
My maternal grandfather died shortly after my mother turned two. Her mother raised her single-handedly, scrimping and saving to give my mother an education. My mother became a teacher and helped support my grandmother. When she married, my mother was no longer allowed to work. In those days married women were expected to have children and stay home to take care of them.
And she did so with the help of my grandmother who lived with us. But my grandmother died when she was in her late 50s, leaving my mom alone with three children and a husband who wanted to see the world.
He came home one day after work and asked her what she thought about moving to Canada. She was thirty-two years old, did not speak a word of English and had three children under the age of six. And still she went, despite my paternal grandfather’s protests and his urging to remain behind. “He will come back,” my pappou had told her. “If you stay here with the children.”
“Wherever my husband goes, we will go,” she told my pappou. “We are a family.”
We came to Canada, bought different businesses that my mother ran while my father tried to secure full time employment to ensure a steady income for our family. My mother fed everyone (we owned a restaurant) including those who came to her in need. “We don’t have enough,” my father would say. But she found enough.
When they’d saved some money, my mother, with her broken English, figured out how to access a government-matching down payment program for new house buyers. My father didn’t think we had enough and many times wondered if the government would assist immigrants yet to receive their Canadian citizenship.
She persisted and they bought our family home, paying it off well in advance of their 15-year mortgage because of my mother’s ability to save and do without for a greater cause.
Growing up, I remember my father lamenting their decision to come to Canada. It was too cold. We have no family here. We don’t have what we used to have? We’re not where we used to be? But each time, my mother reassured him. Our family is with us. Canada will give our children their future in a way our country could not.
I’ve often told my father that he would have nothing without my mother. He totally agrees. He often says, she was always the brains and the banker.
When she got sick, she also knew she couldn’t do all by herself anymore and allowed my father to take care of her.
I’ve been called persistent, hardworking, driven, brave, compassionate and giving. If any of this is true, you’d have to thank my mother. She never stopped being a great teacher.
A week or so ago, a friend was telling me how she was preparing to visit her son, loading up the car with everything she thought he’d need. In her note, she said, it’s a Greek thing. It made me think of all the times my mother came to visit me, wherever I happen to be, carrying pots of her soups, stews, dolmades. Writing my friend back with my own stories of my mother’s Greek thing, I teared up.
On March 15th six years will have passed since my mother died. I miss her every single day. But I see her influence in my siblings, in her grandchildren and in me. Her legacy lives on. And isn’t that what a life is about?
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