Mother crying:
The first time

A mother crying has a profound impression on a kid. My mother and father and I were sitting around the small kitchen table in casual conversation. I was home for the weekend from college. I was describing my earliest memory to them. It's unusual to remember events from very early childhood. We're more likely to remember events that hold emotion. For me, that emotion was my shock at seeing my mother burst out crying.

I was in a crib

I was in a crib, on the boat heading for Canada. I was only 2 years old. There was a little boy, my size, in the crib next to mine. We were facing each other. His crib was full of toy stuffed animals. He must have had at least six of them and I had none. My mother appeared and she moved one, only one, stuffed animal from the other's child's crib into mine.

That spoiled little brat

The other child began to wail loudly. I could tell he wasn't really crying, just wailing for attention, and I wondered why he was making such a fuss. Another woman with short blond hair and a twisted face rushed into the room.

She shrieked at my mother, and my mother yelled back. Then she slapped my mother! Hard! My mother gasped and began crying and moved her hand to her cheek which was already turning red.

How do I know this is a real memory of mine? The psychology of memory is complex. Maybe it's just a fantasy. I know it's real because of how the conversation continued:

Is this true?

Sipping his tea, my father, astounded, asked my mum, "Is this true? Did this really happen?" She nodded yes. "Why didn't you tell me?" he asked.
"Are you kidding?" my mother exclaimed. "With your temper back then, you would have gotten all three of us thrown off the boat!"

Strong for each other

My mother always had the most beautiful clothes because she sewed everything herself. This is my father's best effort at a dignified smile.

I wondered, considering the temper he still had at that moment, how much worse it must have been, on that boat back in 1948.

My mother understood his suffering. It wasn't a mean temper. It was the only way he knew to express his own anguish. He would not openly show it to her.

They protected each other. My mother did her crying secretly. He had to be strong for her, and she had to be strong for him.

They had to show each other that they were beginning a brand new life on a brand new continent, and they would have a brand new family, beginning with me.

Good thing I was too young to understand the huge responsibility that placed on me. It would have been overwhelming.

No I'm not wearing lipstick for the picture. This photo was originally black and white. My mother tinted it. Awesome, aye!

Mother Crying:
The second time

Back in 1948, immigrants to Canada needed a Canadian sponsor - someone who would guarantee our basic needs, like food and a roof over our head, until we found employment to become self-sufficient. It wasn't easy to locate a Canadian sponsor from a displaced person's camp in Germany.

A Roof Over our Head

Our sponsoring family didn't have much room, and didn't want us sleeping underfoot. They gave us their attic to sleep in. My mother tells me that we were only there for a week, but memories can stretch time, especially for a little kid. It feels like we were there for months.

It was an unfinished attic. No windows. I remember crawling over the rafters while my mother lit a candle. The wood hurt my knees and I had to be careful to not slip into the gaps between the boards.

Both parents had been so happy and optimistic about starting a new life. Canada was a synonym for Paradise. I didn't care about the physical discomfort because I was content to be with my mummy. But it sure didn't seem like much of a paradise.

Why is it Always Dark?

So I asked my question. "Mummy why in Canada is it always dark?" My mother covered her face and burst out crying. I was confused. It was a straightforward question and she never did explain the answer to me. It was an innocent question - not accusing, not sad, simply curious.

Over the years, I became accustomed to my mother's sudden crying. She couldn't hold it in all the time.