by Mary Thompson from Mississauga, Ontario
Our mother instilled a spirit of celebration into our lives. Birthdays were a big deal in our house. It seemed it always was or was just about to be somebody’s birthday. Mom was a great cook and on our birthdays, she would make our favourite dinner. Kelly loved Chicken a la king and Peter’s dinner involved lots of creamed corn. It wasn’t unusual for laughter to fill the room as we ate, but birthdays were even more festive. We’d sing the birthday song, my father’s baritone underscoring our thin, young voices and salute the day’s special person. While Dad seemed somewhat bewildered and bemused by this horde of humanity around his table and sometimes it did feel like we were living in a kind of controlled chaos, Mom held it all together with an organizing principle that put time and thought for her children first. We were a tight community but we were also valued individuals and we knew it. Every birthday reminded us.
Michael’s birthday is April 14, just a few days after Mom’s and even as adults we would come together on the nearest weekend to celebrate their birthdays together…our numbers now bolstered by grandchildren and spouses,. So when Mom died on a beautiful June day after a sudden, brief illness, we were stunned.
We continued to celebrate every birthday and holiday together throughout that first year. When April came around we knew we had to do something special for Mike. It was his 50th after all. On Mike’s birthday, Mom always made a big Banana Cream Pie (or two) topped by copious amounts of whipping cream and studded with birthday candles. My two sisters and I decided that this year, this special year, we would attempt my mother’s famous Banana Cream Pie.
Kelly had Mom’s old cookbook and I was going to put it together so I called her one evening in early April, pen in hand, ready to copy out the recipe. As she began to look it up, the old book fell open immediately to the right page. It turns out the page was already marked, with a card – but not just any card- the front read “Happy 50th Birthday” and inside it was signed, “To Mike, Love, Mom.”
So we baked the pie and brought it and the card to our celebration. After dinner we all crowded around the kitchen table, the little ones in front ready for a chance to help blow out the candles, the adults ranged behind, filling the room. We sang the song in our usual lusty but somewhat off key manner and Mike (with help) blew out the candles. When that was done my sisters and I told the story of the card. Of course we all cried, some with tears streaming down our cheeks, some of the more stoic just a little teary eyed. There was a deep silence, each of us remembering in our own way, and then Tom said,
“Does she have any cards in there for 43 year olds? Look under corned beef and cabbage.”
And we all laughed. She would have loved that.