Category Archives: Parent

My mother. The conversation continues.

Mom's last head shot. She was beautiful at every age.Five years ago today (October 14, 2009), I wrote the following post.  It’s as true today as it was then … perhaps even more so.  As my dear friend Catherine Leggett observed,  “Death doesn’t end a relationship. The conservation continues; it’s just that it’s a little one sided.”  Every day I look into the mirror and my mother looks back and there’s not a day that goes by that I am not in constant touch with the woman who was . . . is my touchstone.

Martha Nell Hardy

Four years ago today my spectacular mother, Martha Nell Hardy, died. I was with her when she passed away, for which I am profoundly grateful. She was unconscious; she had been for several days. Perhaps she didn’t know I was there. I hope she did, but I can’t be sure.

Mom and the second dog my Dad gave her, Ughy

Mom and the second dog my Dad gave her, Ughy

We are not a religious family and I have come full circle from ridiculous Roman Catholic convert steeped in studies of doctrinal development (my graduate school experience) to avowed and crusty pantheist, by which I mean that I revere creation, but do not put any credence whatsoever in the existence of some single entity that invented and now micromanages the universe according to some cosmic game plan. Sorry, guys, but no. So I don’t think she has gone to Heaven. I think she has gone to me. She probably has gone to other people as well, undoubtedly my brother Peter, but I can’t speak of their experience. I can only speak of mine.

In the years following her death, I have become more and more like her. I especially notice this with my children, with whom I increasingly interact in much the same way she did. And I am grateful for this, because I think I wasn’t a very good mother before, so maybe she’s helped me make up for some of the bad years.

Then there’s knitting. I’ve always knitted, but now I knit maniacally. And the way I’m going, I might even challenge her record for dying with the most yarn and, let me tell you, hers was an AWESOME record.

I’ve also taken the torch from her as regards politics. She read several papers daily, listened to liberal commentators on TV and ranted with a vehemence and clarity that I now see in myself. As readers will know from previous blogs, I listen to political podcasts all day long and am more than willing to speak my mind, loudly, and for a very long time, indeed, perhaps ad nauseum — you be the judge. Had she lived, I would have gotten her hooked on podcasts, which she would have enjoyed more than newspapers because she could knit and inform her opinions at the same time.

Some might say that it was inevitable that I become like my mother over time, not some voodoo mystery transformational experience wherein her spirit, upon leaving her body, flowed into mine. She was, after all, my mother and provided me with both nurture and nature. But no. I think her spirit, upon leaving her body, did flow into mine, for which I am very, very grateful. It means I don’t have to miss her so much, because, guess what? She’s right here. And because I loved her so much, it means I like me more.

Mom, I love you. Thank you for being my mother.

Mom in Light up the Sky ... which she did.

Mom in a production of Light up the Sky in the sixties.

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Crocapuppy

My brother Peter and Frances

My brother Peter and Frances

My family had a rule: the time between dogs should be as short as humanly possible.  No sooner had Ughy, our beloved seventeen year old cocker spaniel, shuffled off this mortal coil than his replacement was locked down. And by “no sooner” I mean that same day.  I’m not sure whether the new puppy was on Mom and Dad’s radar or whether, immediately upon  Ughy’s demise, they rushed out into the street, crying, “A puppy!  Dear God!  Let there be a puppy!” I rather suspect the latter, given how ill advised the choice of Fancy, a.k.a, Frances, a.k.a. Crocapuppy, turned out to be.

To say that Frances was overbred would be an understatement. Frances was the product of incest. A lot of incest.   She was a parti-colored cocker spaniel, meaning that her coat was two colors, buff and white.  The breeders were aiming for a completely white cocker spaniel, so kept mating the lightest male in a litter to the lightest female, which, as often as not, turned out to be his mother.  And this had been going on for generations before Frances wobbled balefully onto the scene.

Whenever you bent down to pet Frances, she was so overcome with excitement that she promptly fell to the ground, rolled onto her back and  proceeded to pee all over her stomach, resulting in chronic and piteous eczema of her nether regions.  This unfortunate propensity, however, was the only evidence of submissive behavior that Frances served up over the course of her life.  The rest of the time, she was just an ornery old mess.

Frances was a hoarder. Her specialty was socks.  She would filch them from our respective dirty clothes hampers and add them to an ever-growing heap in the little hall that separated the dining room from Dad’s study.  There she would guard them until, as my mother used to say,   dark circles would start to form under her eyes and someone would have to go in and save her from herself, not to mention the socks.

Pinkies

Pinkies

This was all made more complicated by the fact that Mom and I used to give Frances our hand-me-down pinkies. Pinkies were those fuzzy pink slippers popular in the sixties and Mother and I both wore them.  Frances would sashay around the house, exuding innocence, the pinkie of the moment clamped between her jaws.  No sooner had she had lulled us into complacency, however, than she would raid the dirty clothes hampers of the house, cramming the purloined socks down in the depths of the pinkie, and make a beeline for the Hall of Socks.  For years after her death, my brother Peter and I would catch ourselves hesitating on the threshold of that narrow passageway, the image of an obsessed and furious  Crocapuppy  lodged in our memory like a tooth. Eventually all of Frances’s pinkies went to the dark side and we would have to wrest the offending slipper from her and bury it in the back yard.   Which was OK.  There were always more pinkies where that came from.

Like any respectable dog, Frances was voracious. She was also bold.  One night my parents were hosting a cast party for a production of The Boys in the Band, which centers around a birthday party. In keeping with the birthday theme, someone had contributed to the feast a large sheet cake complete with many small candles.  Since this was a drinking party, however, the cake had few takers . . . until Frances jumped up on a dining room chair, then onto the table itself, and proceeded to hoover the entire cake down, candles and all, before anyone could rouse him or herself to action.  Then she proceeded to throw up the entire cake, complete with intact candles, while madly sprinting around the entire house.

Frances had many enemies, most of whom were dogs eerily resembling herself who hid out in mirrors and in the panes of glass in French doors. These she would attack with vigor on a regular basis, hurling herself repeatedly against them.   Our house had two double sets of French doors and two single French doors.  They kept her pretty busy.

Lovey

Lovey

Her arch enemy, however, her very nemesis arrived on the scene the day my mother and father unexpectedly brought home a Great Dane puppy named Lovey.   Mom had a notion that, because Frances was a female and Lovey was a puppy, she might feel motherly towards the interloper.  In this she was sadly mistaken. Frances loathed Lovey from the moment she laid eyes upon him.  And it didn’t matter that she was a lowly and rather overweight cocker spaniel and he grew up to stand 6’5” on his hind legs.   First impressions count, especially with dogs; Lovey was terrified of Frances her entire life.      Whenever he wanted to go upstairs, Frances would lie on the lower landing and look baleful.  (There was no dog that could do baleful like Frances.)  Lovey would hesitate, dancing on the spot, his claws clicking against the floor, then tentatively take a step or two towards the stairs.  Frances’s lips would quiver and then slowly draw back to reveal her teeth.  She would growl. Lovey would retreat in confusion.  This would go on until Mom would cry out, “Frances!  For Heaven’s sake! Let Lovey go upstairs!” At which point Frances would grudgingly rise and insolently trundle downstairs, giving Lovey a look in passing that clearly meant, “I’ll deal with you later.”

My brother and I felt sorry for Frances.  She had not been enough dog for my parents and so they had supplanted her with Lovey.  When I went looking for photos of Frances for this post, there were precious few.  Of course, once Peter and I were teenagers, there were precious few of us either.  There were, however, dozens and dozens of photos of Lovey – Lovey with his ears taped, Lovey lying on his back in inadvertently lewd  postures, Lovey sprawled upon my parents bed, which he shared with them,  Lovey standing with his front paws on Dad’s shoulders.  If strangers were to look at my parents’ photo albums, they might be forgiven for thinking that this couple had two adorable children who, just before puberty, were tragically killed in a car accident along with their cocker spaniel, after which point the couple got a Great Dane puppy upon whom, going forward, they focused all their attention and affection.  Peter and I agreed that, if Mom and Dad were going to neglect Frances, we ought to try and brush her more and take her out for walks.

But, of course, we were teenagers so that never happened.

Frances died when I was away in graduate school. Dad woke one morning to find that she had gone in her sleep.   I don’t know where she was in the house when she died.  In my mind, it was not in my parents’ bedroom, but in some more remote part of the house, alone, perhaps in the Hall of Socks.  She did not live nearly as long as the venerable Ughy had – eleven to his seventeen years — but neither was she as loved as he was.

RIP, Crocapuppy.

The Presidents Project

constitutionMy father, Bill Hardy, moved into a nursing home this year.   His mind continues sharp, but his body has long passed its Best Before date; he is frail and his infirmity envelops him in a sound-dampening blur that it is sometimes difficult to penetrate . . . but always worth the effort. He has things to say.

We had hoped for a private room for him, but have had to make do with a shared space. Fortunately his roommate – a shadowy figure named Pete – leaves first thing in the morning to return at lights out.  No one knows where he goes.  Well, I suppose someone knows where he goes, but we prefer to keep his peregrinations cloaked in mystery.  The only words Dad says to him are, “Goodnight, Pete!”

Pete has yet to reply.

Remembering the big house on Tenney Circle, it’s hard to imagine Dad in such a small space, but the truth is he takes up very little room these days.   When I call him, he always says, “It’s very quiet here.” We both lament the political morass in Washington and, increasingly, in Raleigh, declaring that, “It’s just not fun anymore!”  Then he goes on to tell me about the audio book  that he, a seven-time novelist, is currently listening to.  Increasingly, it’s history.  “I find myself drawn more and more to history these days,” he told me last week. “I suspect you understand that.”

I have always been a history bluff.  I was one history course short of a double major in History and English at UNC and did my graduate work in Early Church History at the University of Toronto.  What I never found very interesting, however, was American History.

The Tea Party changed all that.  I found their constant harping on the Founding Fathers and the almighty Constitution particularly noisome because I was in no position to argue with them.  Everything I knew about the beginning of our country, I learned in public school, which I can reproduce for you here:   “Bunker Hill. Paul Revere. Lexington and Concord.  At some point the Delaware gets crossed. God knows why. Fast forward to the Liberty Bell and the next thing you know, the British are burning the White House. No, wait. That was later.”      It irked me that I could not counter the doubtless specious arguments of these know-nothings and when I am irked, I take action. Book action.

Enter, The Presidents Project.  A year ago I committed myself to reading (or, to be more accurate) listening to someone else read a biography of each American President in sequence. (I retain information better if I can knit, drink and listen simultaneously.  It’s a learning style.)  Thus far, I have made it through James K. Polk, who, I have to say,  was as mind-numbingly dull as his one term presidency was momentous (the acquisition of the American Southwest and the Oregon territory – hello!).  ( In the interest of full disclosure, however, I must confess that there were some Presidents who were such clunkers that, out of  Audible.com’s over 150,000 audiobooks, they don’t rate a book — I’m talking about you, Martin Van Buren, William Henry Harrison and John Tyler.)

Nevertheless, eleven (more or less) down, thirty three to go! I’m stoked!

This is the thing about history.

When we are young, we loom large on the stage of life.  Or at least that’s how we perceive it.  Our personal dramas preoccupy us.  Everything  matters.  As we grow older, it is the stage that grows large and we who grow small. My father sits in his chair in his half of a small room in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, cocooned in frailty, and contemplates this.  I sit on my bed in Port Stanley, Ontario cocooned with dogs – his and mine — and do the same.  We are both, at our different rates, fading away, growing smaller, gazing back to where we have been —  as Hardys, as North Carolinians, as Americans  — and asking ourselves, “What was that, really?” and “Is that how that happened? I never knew.”

The Founding Fathers, though possessed of a kind of collective genius, were flawed men, motivated by self-interest to set up society in ways that would best serve them.  Nor did they consider the Constitution tantamount to the Ten Commandments, that is to say, set in stone by the power carver finger of God. Thomas Jefferson was a big fan of viewing the Constitution as a living document. Among the many statements he made to this effect was this in 1825 in a letter to Edward Livingston, “Time and changes in the condition and constitution of society may require occasional and corresponding modifications.”   Yeah, like when ‘arms’ stopped meaning ‘muskets’ and started meaning ‘assault weapons’ and when ‘people’ stopped meaning ‘white male landowners’ and started meaning ‘everybody’.

The fact is, if you are a middle class North American, now might not be so great, but then really sucked.  Do you really want to churn your own butter and die in childbirth? I’d bet you anything that George Washington would have preferred modern dentures over those made with slave teeth. And what about outhouses?  Outhouses alone would be a deal breaker for me.  So why, Tea Baggers, why do you want to go back?

Because you’ve confused the Founding Fathers with the twelve disciples of Christ, and the Constitution with the Bible, and the early days of the country with the early days of the church . . . which  is particularly ironic since Jesus’s posse was no less flawed than the Founding Fathers, the Bible was written over a millennium by multiple authors, and the early days of the Christian Church were far from halcyon.  Never mind outhouses.  Try being a human torch to light one of Nero’s games or a fresh snack for his lions.   And you believe this  because you don’t know history.  Trust me,  if you did, it would scare the Jesus out of you, much less the be-Jesus.

So, yes, Dad, it’s very quiet here.  And, yes, Mom, there are a whole lot of stupid people out there doing big things.