Monday, 10 June 2013

The pleasure of seeing her again

We went to the theatre to see a play by our great and prolific Canadian playwright Michel Tremblay, born in Montreal in 1942. Currently the Canada on stage Festival is running in Ottawa. Magnetic North is putting on a series of Canadian plays. For the pleasure of seeing her again is staged by the Western Canada Theatre Company of Kamloops, British Columbia. The actors are Lorne Cardinal and Margo Kane, both Natives of the Cree Nation.

The play is a good English translation, the original Encore une fois si vous permettez, was written in French like all 28 plays by Tremblay. It is a tribute to his mother who did not live to see his enormous success as a playwright. The plays spans 10 years in the authors life from age 10 to 20. It is a series of conversations in flashback the author has with his since deceased mother Nana. Lorne Cardinal is the narrator regaling us with tales about his mother a born storyteller with a love of exaggeration. Margo Kane is Nana, she exasperates the son she so much loves and is the inspiration for his art.

It is a very funny play and brought back memories of my own mother. The play takes place in my native Montreal on the Plateau Mont-Royal neighbourhood and many of the stories resonate with me because they are more or less the same period I grew up in and in a neighbourhood I knew. Tremblay mother says things my own mother would say. In many ways Tremblay is saying that mothers often have a greater impact on their children than a father. Also that mothers because of the many hats they wear at home and outside have more complex, more interesting lives.

I think of my mother who is now 83 years old and confined to a long term care facility. For the last 14 years she has been suffering from Alzheimer. A well educated women, who trained to be a school teacher, who had many professions during her lifetime and was a mother to 3 children and a spouse.
Involved in numerous activities on the social scene from 1960 to 1995. She loved to read and was interested by many topics, social, political, cultural. She had a sharp mind and was very good at reading people and analyzing situations. In Ottawa she was the Social Secretary of the Speaker of the House of Commons in Parliament, a job she loved. It put her in daily contact with many politicians and their spouses. She also managed the Office and because of the position of the Speaker in Parliament, she was the one to do a lot of behind the scene work on bringing people together or solving problems between parties. She could be very diplomatic in difficult situations.

She was also of that generation which took marriage vows seriously and followed a husband who changed jobs often. I do not think that she was always happy with these moves from city to city, from one continent to another. We kids followed changing schools very often, even in the middle of the school year in some cases. It was always about my father's career and Mom would always be the one explaining it all to us kids. She was the best at putting a positive look on any situation. She was always the one organising everything and making sure we would all land on our feet. Every transition was smooth thanks to her, no matter what.

I think she made a lot of sacrifices, she once told me after 30 years of marriage to my father, that looking at all her friends and acquaintances, they were the only one of their group still married, everyone else had divorced or separated. It is not easy but you do what you have to do and what is best for the children. We, the children, always came first, she did her best to give us a good education, maintain our interest in books, reading, the theatre, arts and culture. She valued a good penmanship, she wrote beautifully and she wanted us to also have a good penmanship, to her this was a sign of good education. I remember once when I was 7 years old, she took me to the ballet, she thought it would be a good experience. She was always trying to open our horizons to new experiences. Later when I was 12  she arranged for me to go to weekend theatre school, I did this until I was 16. Our teachers were well known professional actors, I did get small roles in television and in the theatre. It was certainly another world outside of regular school. My mother believed in us kids expanding our minds.

In 1969 she won a radio contest and the prize was a trip to Ireland, she thought while we are in Europe might as well go to France and England too. So we all went and I remember that trip to this day, our first ever outside of North America. During the trip she would try to maintain our interest in what we were seeing, explaining to us about cities and sights we visited.

She was also a good cook and showed me, the eldest, how to prepare simple meals. She would cook from scratch, never processed or frozen or packaged foods, no pizza boxes. Emphasis on fresh vegetables and fruits. My parents had many almost nightly social engagements tied to political events or tourism industry between 1966 and 1976 in Montreal and Toronto. I often had to look after my younger siblings and cook for them.

She was also the pillar of our family, when things did not go well, she was the one staying calm and taking charge. She knew what to do, her mind was practical and logical. Always a good head for numbers and math, she was very proud of that, luckily she was in charge of the family budget.

So many memories of a lifetime, this is why I am pained to see her now in this diminished capacity, a shadow of herself, a silent shadow.

I remember when in 1999 she came with my father to visit us in Warsaw, I was unaware that anything was wrong at the time, but already she was showing signs of confusion and distress. She would say things that did not make much sense.
She would say that she was tired or stressed.  She knew that it was the first stages of Alzheimer, the specialist had told her. I know now that she was very afraid of what would come. During their stay in Warsaw she got lost for a few hours in our neighbourhood and when she finally came home she told us a strange story of how everyone she encountered spoke to her in French, including the young Polish fellow who was a police guard across the street.  I remember asking her who she had met on the street, I was wondering how could all these Polish people speak to her in French.
It took some months for me to get the full story about her health problems.

It has been fourteen long and painful years of a sunset that does not appear to end. This play by Tremblay brought back a lot of memories of that Montreal of my childhood and of my mother's life.

1 comment:

  1. We've seen plays by Mr.Tremblay at Stratford; they were quite memorable.