Thursday, August 31, 2017

A Woman of Substance

Ma Pants (photo by Pa Pants, mid 1950s)
Ma Pants has died. 

Hence my absence from the blogosphere for longer than usual this time.

No need to feel sad. She was a goodly age and content to move on. As deaths go, it was about as good as it gets. She was cogent to the end and mostly pain free. I was there and glad to be so.

I wanted to take a few moments to talk about her life, which I think was quietly extraordinary. It is the duty of a daughter never to appreciate the achievements of her mother. I did my best on that score. Now that she has gone, I feel at liberty to boast. I was, I am, very proud of her. Fortunately, I got to let her know that at the end of her long life.

Ma Pants was born into a working-class family in early the years of The Great Depression. My grandfather had had polio as a child. It left him with a pronounced curvature of the spine and he walked slowly, with a laboured limp. Yet, he went to work every day in a blue overall until he retired at 65. During the war years, he was in charge of a hangar where fighter planes were maintained and repaired. The family also ran a small dairy farm. My grandmother became very ill with rheumatoid arthritis. Ma Pants rounded up the milking cows every evening after school, looked after her younger siblings, ran the household and still managed to matriculate.

Her first ambition was to be a pharmacist and she had secured an apprenticeship. When the war ended, the men came back and she was bumped. She had grown up around planes. By this time, she had her pilot's licence. She'd learned to fly in a Tiger Moth. In his eulogy, her surviving younger brother told the story of how she took him up on one of her early solo flights and they looped the loop over the city. He was four years old. Becoming a pilot was not an option. So she did the next best thing. She joined one of the fledgling commercial airlines and became an 'air hostess'. Considered very glamorous at the time. At nineteen, she left her home and started to make her own way in the world. Self-determination was a lifelong habit, and one that she passed on to her children.

She and my father had a happy marriage until his early death. She worked as a cosmetics consultant, sold Mercedes Benz cars, even became a real estate agent for a time. In all of these pursuits she shone; winning awards and appearing on television as a 'first'. Then she trained as a film and television makeup artist and ended her working life as Head of Makeup at a metropolitan television station. And then, she bought a pensione in Spain. What fun we had with that one. Long story, for another time. Actually, a book.

For the last twenty years, she lived in comfortable seaside retirement. She was a very modern woman, unconventionally unconventional. She didn’t belong to any tribe. She forged her own path. Put together her own menu for living a good life. She was nobody’s fool. She could and did stick up for herself and others and she had an uncanny ability to get what she wanted without offending a single soul. None of the true-blue neighbours in her nosy cul-de-sac would have ever dreamed that she was a raging leftie. That's the way she liked it. 

She was compassionate. She had an enormous capacity for empathy. For refugees. For the oppressed. For the poor, the sick. For anyone in pain. She supported charities, regularly and generously. She loved giving and receiving presents.&Her most valuable and lasting gift to me was a love of music. Although she didn’t play an instrument and didn’t like to sing in company, both of these things have been lifelong passions for me. And that is her influence. She had a very melodic, lyrical speaking voice. 

We had music playing in the house all the time when I was growing up. Every week my father would arrive home with a clutch of second-hand LPs that he’d bought cheaply from the record exchange where the radio DJs sold their Demonstration – Not For Sale copies. This treasure trove provided me with a thorough education in Jazz and American Songbook, which I play, albeit pretty badly, to this day. 

During her last week, I was sitting with her in the hospital. I was holding one hand and another friend, Jackie was on the other side of the bed, holding the other hand. 

‘You taught me so much,’ Jackie told her and went on to eloquently elaborate. 
She seemed very pleased. 

She turned to me, and asked,

'Did I teach you anything?'

‘Never get a car loan? Buy real estate? Pay cash?’

‘Is that all?’ she asked. 

It was all I could think of at the time. Hey, I was under duress! A parent who teaches you everything you need to know about music and money? Well, what more can you ask? 
Ma Pants lived a long, productive and happy life. She was engaged with the world, always.  I will miss that. I will miss her.