Friday, February 28, 2014

A Mother's Milk

Thursday, January 30, seemed to be a normal day starting out.  It panned out as a normal day, too.

I was at work, which is as a receiver at a popular store chain in Canada.  I do like my job, I think because of the nasty job that came before it.  But the boss I work for is quite the antithesis of the one from my previous workplace.  That is to say, he's the angel to the proverbial devil.  So I'm blessed to be where I am, and I truly believe that.

A lot of my time is spent alone, despite working amongst a group of about at least a dozen others at any given time.  There are parts of the job I really like, such as 'order days', when all the food and merchandise comes in, and my job as receiver is most accentuated, as well as parts I'm not fond of.  Like if I have to kneel for any lengthy amount of time.  It's hard on my back and knees if it's prolonged.  I recently found out from my doctor that I have 'moderate arthritis' in my lower back, which explained a lot.  I fight it, though.  I take prescription meds for it and go to the gym regularly to retain my strength and mobility.  One of these parts of the job where I have to kneel a lot is filling that damned milk cooler.  We sell a lot of milk because it's priced at cost, which is pretty attractive to shoppers.

Other time that I spend alone is in the spacious back shop, where overstocked goods are kept, and the walk-in cooler and freezer contains the appropriate food and products.  I take a whole lot of pride in how the back shop is kept.  I get a lot of comments from sales reps and merchandisers and the such, saying how well kept and tidy and organized it is.  It's not just because of me, but a team effort.  But I do make sure it's fine tuned and clean so that it's not a drag to be back there, which I know other stores in our franchise chain can't necessarily claim.  Keeping it clean back there means taking out garbage.  A lot of it.  We've got two large receiving doors in our receiving area, and a man door, which is where I go out to haul any garbage to the bin that's located about a minute's walk up a slight hill (don't ask, I'm still trying to figure that out).  On my way to the bin, I'm overseen by a large, modern Catholic church, one which I've never been in actually.  And atop the church is a large cross, which beckons prayer from me on a daily basis.  I use this beacon as a means to talk to God and offer my thanks for everything in my life, always the first of which is, for the beautiful day that it is.  Every day is beautiful, I would say, because He chose to bring me to life again when I woke up that morning.  Then I give thanks for everything we have, and ask for blessings for my friends and family, and those who need it the most.

On this Thursday, it was a bright, sunny day, with a chill in the air from the January winter.  Most times when I haul garbage to the bin... I know, sounds glorious, right... I need to make two or more trips, which leaves me with ample time for prayer, actually.  After my prayers are done, I'd walk back in the door into the receiving room, secure the door and continue my work.

Sometimes when you carry through your day, you'll encounter sights, sounds or smells that instantly transport you back in time, and remind you of things, situations or eras of which you look back fondly.  I don't know what it is that caused me to reflect at that point exactly.  Just that it made me reminisce deeply about the distant past.  I thought about my dad and my mom, both of whom are passed away.  My dad back in '78 when I was 12, and my mom in '98.  As would anyone with good parents who've been gone awhile, I think of them everyday.  On this particular day, I thought of Mom and Dad, and how the times were then.  No computers or internet, no cell phones, fewer automated conveniences to make life lazier. 

I remembered going to the grocery store with my dad.  It was always fun going with dad, because as a somewhat adorable young fellow, I could con my way into getting things that I couldn't sometimes with Mom, like the newest junk cereal or chocolate bar, or soda pop instead of that bag of Tang orange drink crystals.  I remember going with Mom too, of course.  I might have gotten too big at some point to be picked up and sat in that seat in the grocery carts, but I always loved that little ride.  I'd pull Mom's heartstrings to get things sometimes that all kids do, as I see when I'm out in the store where I work from time to time.  I didn't know then, but I had these big brown eyes that Mom just loved.  She always bought me brown clothes to match them, and I always thought brown clothes were kind of drab and boring, but that's what Thora wanted.  Thora.  That was my mom's name.  Isn't that really a pretty name?  And unusual.  Not long ago, I watched a movie called 'American Beauty' again for probably the sixth or seventh time, and in it is an actress named Thora Birch.  It's the only other time I've ever seen that name.  I'm sure it's out there, and others have it, but I'm also sure most of us can count on one hand how many times we've come across it. I deeply regret not naming my own daughter after her.  But, there are always grandkids.  I hope!

Anyway.... sometimes, like during this particular time of reminiscence, I'll think about how I could have been a better son to my parents, especially my mother.  I didn't have a chance, really, with my dad.  But with Mom, I'd lived with her right up until I was 27.  I could have moved out sooner, but was confronted with both guilt and fear.  Guilt of leaving my mother alone in her house, which once was home to seven kids, and fear of just facing the world on my own, like many of us.  I probably should have moved out much sooner, but I regret nothing in regards to how long I was there.  Especially in retrospect.  But, I also think back at how I could have done things differently.  Far, far better.  I could have been more respectful, done more, and actually represented my parents better than I did.  I did get a lot of my own food, but didn't pay room and board or anything, and I very much regret that.  These thoughts crept into my mind that Thursday morning.  And along with them, connecting memories, but most of them happier ones.

There are so many people from my family who have passed on.  I thought of my mom and dad and their families that they came from.  I never got to know my original grandparents.  Mom had me late, when she was 40, and so her parents and Dad's parents were far along in their lives, and passed on before I was able to know them at all.  I have no stories to tell about them, or memories to recollect.  I can't regret it, because it's just the hand that life dealt us.  But, there are so many people on my mom and dad's sides of the Cook and Gould generations that I didn't know, or get to know.  Being born later in your mom's life can have its drawbacks, that being chief among them.

But for reasons I can't quite explain, I chose to be withdrawn in my years following Dad's death.  Life's hard.  It is for all of us.  We all have stories to tell that would make others sorrowful of our past, every one of us.  Pain is relative.  What might have been excruciatingly painful to some could be shrugworthy to others, and vice versa. 

I have memories, very fond ones, of going to my uncle Maurice's and aunt Gail's house.  It was an old, well kept war time house, like the one I called home myself.  When I went there with Mom and, less times, Dad, the house always seemed like it was full of so much love.  Gail and Maurice were people of Catholic faith, like all of my family.  They always treated me like a little king when I was around.  They took great joy in the sacraments I celebrated, like First Communion and Confirmation, and would give me religious-themed gifts like a rosary or kids' Bible.  They always seemed so happy and full of life, and their kids, my cousins, were all so sociable.  This was the scene of a vibrant, interactive family life that existed within that generation.

I reflected on those times, and under my breath, talked to God some more, giving thanks for having such wonderful people in my life that helped instill the good in me that I have today.  And I wished I could have gotten to know more of my family that I just can't now.  All of Mom's generation are gone.  Uncle Jack, Mom's brother, passed away a few years ago, closing the chapter on that sect of the Gould family.  When my aunt Bernice passed (Dad's sister), the last surviving member of that family, it hit me that I didn't get to know these people the way I should have.  I could have gotten to know more about Dad's history, and Mom's history, and the people they were in their formative years.  But instead, for whatever reason, I eschewed all of those opportunities, minus the time just before Bernice's death.  When she elected not to have treatment for her terminal cancer, she spent her final days in the hospital as friends and family visited.  I was among them.  And during that time, I came to realize the years I'd squandered not getting to know about my family history.

So I thought about Dad's brothers and sisters, many of whom I can't even name because I don't know them, or got to know them, or the cousins that they spawned.  When I visited Dad's sisters in Chatham, NB (now Miramichi), I did get to hear stories how his brother Gerry was a revered floormaker among his peers and region.  You could see the fine craftsmanship of his work in Bernice, May and Marg's house - those three were Dad's sisters.  They were such sweet ladies.  They did whatever it took to make a kid feel happy and loved.  Often times I would go up there by train with Mom, and we'd get picked up at the train station there, and go to that wonderfully unique, old fashioned house.  It was a building with a high angular peak.  Not an A-frame, but the upstairs had that feel to it.  It was just a little house, a little smaller than Mom and Dad's maybe.  I remember the Saturday nights when we were there, and hockey games would be playing on the old tube TV, with Bernice cheering on the Boston Bruins.  We would sit in the smokey air, everyone with a drink in their hand... pop for me, of course... and laughter and love were bountiful in that place.  I have so may fond memories of my mom.  Dad too, just not as many because we lost him so soon.

I would continue on with my work that morning thinking of these things.  Thinking of my uncles and aunts who are all gone now.  My parents.  And then it hit me.  I just kept praying.  I don't mean dropping to my knees on the floor, I mean while I carried on, in the back room by myself, I'd be whispering these things, hoping God would hear me.  All those memories, I thought, are just that.  Memories.  I can't revisit them, not physically.  I can't go see Mom and Dad again.  Ever.  Or Maurice and Gail, or Jack and Barbie; Jack who was Mom's brother, and Barbie who was Dad's sister; or May, Marg and Bernice.  I saw another favorite movie of mine just a few days ago, 'Blade Runner', with Rutger Hauer playing the clone 'replicant' Roy Batty, whose life is abbreviated to only three or four years because of what he is.  His speach at the end of the film before he 'expires', or dies, is hauntingly memorable:  "...all those memories will be lost, like tears in rain."  When each of us dies, so do those memories.

Then I panicked.  This intangible darkness fell upon my being, and I felt this ominous sense of gloom.  What if there's nothing?  What if, when we die, that's it?  We cease to exist, the flame is extinguished, and everything that led up to that moment that we pass, becomes irrelevant?  I thought, I may truly never ever see Mom and Dad again, or any of my deceased family.  All of those memories lost, like tears in rain.  Is death really that final?  Only one of us has come back, according to my family's beliefs at least, from death to be among us again.  What if none of the rest of us do?  That sense of loss, of hopelessness, and that sinking feeling, seemingly enveloped everything I was raised to believe and hold dear to my heart.  What if, what if.... we don't have a soul, and one day, it really is all over?

I did my best to try to regain my composure, as I was in the back shop beginning to lose it a bit.  Tears welling up in my eyes at the thought of never seeing my lost family again.  I always held out hope and belief that one day, all of us would be reunited.

In the meantime, I had a job to do.  The floor was dusty, there was paperwork to be done, and that friggin' milk cooler had to be dealt with.  Deep breaths... and just a final prayer.

"Lord... Lord Jesus, if you really are listening to me, I don't expect a miracle or a sign or anything, because you taught us, blessed are they who believe but have not seen.  I'm not looking for special treatment.  But I wish I could get some kind of reassurance.  I'm in a dark place at the moment, as you would know!  If you're listening... please, say hi to everyone for me.  Say hi to Maurice and Gail, Jack and Barbie, May, Marg and Bernice, my grandparents and step-grandmother Greta, and my mom and dad.  I miss them so much.  I can't go home and see Mom, and that makes my heart heavy.  Thank you Lord, as always, for listening to me.  Thank you."  I do the sign of the Cross, and carry on.

About Greta, my step-grandmother; she married my grandfather after his wife, and my grandmother, had passed, after some time.  Greta was extremely gracious with the family.  She always stayed close and kept in touch, and she was more than just friends with Mom and Dad.  She was indeed family.  If memory serves me correctly, her health began to deteriorate when her doctor prescribed her the wrong meds for the wrong illness, and her kidneys failed her.  She could have sued for malpractice.  You might say she should have.  During one of my last visits with her, I discussed it with her, and asked why she never took legal action.  It just wasn't Greta to do such a thing.  She didn't want to be any trouble, even though this mistake was costing her her life.  I remember at the time, why is something like this allowed to happen?  It tested my faith.  But Greta remained faithful.  She asked me if I believed in Heaven and hell, and I told her, Heaven yes.  Hell, I'm not so sure.  "I don't think I believe in it either," she offered.  "I just don't think God would let a place like that be around!"  I agreed with her.  It didn't matter, as far as I was concerned, when it came to Greta.  She was a shining light in our family, one that would carry over into Heaven, with certainty.

What I learned from Greta was the strength of forgiveness.  Why did this have to happen to her?  Perhaps to set an example for others who knew her.  Jesus was all about forgiveness, never about revenge.  A malpractice suit would have been vengeful, and very un-Greta-like.  She would not betray her faith.  How inspirational is that?  I kept this close to my heart ever since.  Perhaps this act of hers saved a soul or two, or many more.

It was quite a day at work alright, all these thoughts going through my mind.  It was heavy on my head and heart.  With my depressive condition, I'm a little more prone to times like this than a lot of others might be.  Recently, I saw my doctor about the effectiveness of my medication, and he upped it marginally.  It seems to have worked quite well.  He said I needed to find that threshold, where the drug would kick in to its best efficiency.  Still, I will have my days.  This was one of them.

The morning turned into the afternoon, and I was finishing up. That beloved milk cooler is the last thing of the day to be done.  I opened the door to the cooler to retrieve some crates of milk, and this is what I saw:

Thank you, Lord, for saying 'hi' for me!