I had originally posted this article to my timeline on Facebook but feel it deserves the greater permanence this blog affords. If it were not for my Mom, I don’t believe I would be the person or the artist I have become. I will always love her and thank her for all she has done for me.
I thought of writing a poem to post today for my mother. I actually tried a few times. It didn’t seem enough. The true poetry was in my mother herself.
The usual stuff matters of course – creating me, carrying me around for nine months, putting up with me and accepting my quirks until I left home at eighteen, keeping me and my sisters clothed and fed. No, it was the other that I remember, the ways she nourished not just our bodies but our minds, hearts, and souls.
On our long drives through the Alberta countryside, Mom would point out the beauty of plants and birds and animals along the way and of the Rocky Mountains in the distance. She would make up games to keep us occupied, almost always incorporating the world through which we were passing. She would have us count the telephone poles evenly spaced along the road, then do the math to determine how far we had travelled during a given time. She would ask us to find the pictures in the clouds and point them out to each other and herself. She would make up word games we could take seriously but also laugh about. Our road trips with Mom were never simple country drives but expeditions into a wonderful world of shared imagination.
Mom worked at home, a partner with my Dad in our photography business. Mom did almost all the “spotting” and retouching of negatives and she was a brilliant photo-colourist, using transparent photographic oil paints and special coloured pencils to transform black and white photos into living colour. Mom would let us sit with her as she worked, giving each of us a “proof” photograph, the ends of her paint tubes, the nubs of her pencils, and a bit of cotton batting, then would give us simple explanations of what she was doing and how we could do the same. Before we entered school, my sister Shirley-Jean and I had become passable photo-colourists ourselves.
One year, my parents decided to redecorate the studio, a large rectangular room with ceilings perhaps 12 or 15 feet high. Against the pale painted wall, she painted images of giraffes, elephants, comic characters, and all sorts of wonderful colourful creatures ten feet tall. Again, she let my sister and me participate, explaining how she would draw a one-inch grid on the master art she was referencing, then draw a one-foot grid on the wall so she could redraw the image section by section. In the end, the studio became not just some rectangular room but a place full of life and fantasy.
My Mom also taught us to cook and to garden and so much more in the arts and crafts of life. I remember once when money was short, she told Shirley-Jean and I that we were not poor – we just didn’t have a lot of money. She said that we were very rich indeed. She was so right, and she was a large contributor to our wealth.
This Wednesday will be the six-month anniversary of my mother’s death at 93 years of age. This is for Mom.
Phyllis May MacKenzie née O’Flaherty
(May 29, 1920 – October 14, 2013)