Remember how I said my family was dependably unpredictable? If I had been asked to predict how things were going to go with my Mum, I probably would have described her as being slightly frazzled, certainly grumpy about the growing hordes of motorists on the Island, and, due to the new wrinkle of my writing about her, probably prickly and stand-offish. She was none of those things. In fact, the person who met me at the Long Harbour Ferry was a beaming little wood nymph.
We took the Salt Spring Island bus to her place. There was a time when I would come to Salt Spring, not knowing if she would meet me at the ferry, or even where she was: she’s been on the island for almost 25 years, but she didn’t always have a phone, or even a home. If she had a car, it was always a bit of a surprise if she could get it running. Hitch-hiking is de rigueur on the island, but I get nervous any time I feel I may be imposing on anyone in any way, and those rides were white-knuckled affairs for me. Now, there’s a bus. And Mum even brought the necessary toonie for my fare. There was a toddler in the front seat riding the bus for the first time, and clearly not enjoying it. Mum got all us passengers singing, “the wheels on the bus go round and round” and he settled right in.
Mum lives in a place called Pioneer Village. It’s an old Christian summer camp that the Lions’ Club took over and turned into low-income housing for seniors. Her one-room bungalow is a messy profusion of plants, flowers, knickknacks, magazines, books, tools, etc. This is where she listens to CBC radio, saves the world on Facebook, and watches “So You Think You Can Dance”. She also manages to turn out a meal from a tiny topsy-turvy kitchen that makes every cell in my body buzz. HOME. I spent the first night at her place, but one room gets small when someone snores, and we’re on opposite nighttime schedules: she falls asleep soon after the aforementioned TV show is over, while I stay up late to write. A few hours after I lay down my head, she gets up to putter. My mother is the all-time world champion putterer. It’s like breathing to her. Like a bee hovering from one bag to another, or a mouse scurrying from drawer to drawer. So, the second night, I stayed at a bed and breakfast. What a contrast. They both have their own sort of musical charm, but Seraphim B&B is Nat King Cole and Mum’s is Ornette Coleman.
Mum has not one, but two gardens. One is a crop share near Fulford and the other is a loaner patch on the lavender farm of a local children’s book author. Mum says she likes gardening because it keeps her in a scientific frame of mind. We spent the first day at the lavender farm, thinning beets and talking to the scarecrow. Day two was the crop share, where we walked from patch to patch, munching on peas, raspberries, blueberries, loganberries and cherries. Then we got to work: we were clearing a patch of peas to plant some of the later seedlings. Mum gave me a really awesome Japanese tool that was a hoe, a spade and a knife all in one. It was so good to have my hands in the earth, my nose so close to that smell of life at its most elemental. I felt like I was weeding my soul. I finally got up the courage to start talking to Mum about the play. I started by asking her if there was anything she wanted to ask me about it, but she said, “nope!” We weeded in silence for awhile, then I said, “You know, I’m the main character, so…it’s kinda set up so that I’m the hero of the play…” But she stopped me, “Johanna, I understand. You don’t have to say anything else about it. You know, your old mum knows a thing or two about a thing or two”, and after a brief chuckle, she went back to pulling out the weeds.
I’ve just opened the lunch she packed for me: little ziplock bags of fresh biscuits, butter, soup, even a plastic Whinnie-the-Pooh spoon, Piglet knife, and Tigger fork. Wow. Always full of surprises, my Mum.
Now on to Vancouver, and my equally unpredictable brother…