We arrived in Montreal on April 14, 1966, my parents ____ Wedding Anniversary. Once there, we boarded a train and headed towards Hamilton, Ontario where Immigration had set-us up in the Triton Hotel located on Main Street right across from the City Hall.
While life in a hotel was a new experience for me, I personally know that even though Mum wasn’t well and struggling with some major health issues, she thoroughly enjoyed the voyage from Liverpool and to be now living in a hotel, albeit short-lived, must have been the icing on the cake; no meals to cook, no beds to make - just some time to enjoy our new beginning!
We lived at the Triton Hotel for about 3 months and Dad found work at Dofasco steel mill. We rented an apartment at 47 Bold Street just off Upper James. Because I was only 13, and regardless of the fact I had left England in the first term of High School, the school board felt it necessary to place me in the local public school system and so I attended Ryerson Public School. Bob, being older, was enrolled at Westdale High School. I would graduate and join him there.
What seemed in hindsight to be a misguided promise from Ford's in England, we moved from Hamilton to London and bought a house at 34 Boullee Street, where Dad was hopeful of finding work at the Ford Plant in Talbotville. It didn't happen and so both mum and dad found themselves unemployed. Responding to an ad in the local paper, mum applied for and was hired at Webster Manufacturing. However, knowing they had a spot to fill, said to them that if they were willing to hire her, then they should hire my dad instead. They did!
Living in our own house with an inside bathroom was the cat’s meow! We had a living room, dining room and full kitchen with three bedrooms and a basement. Life was good! We also had a small front yard where mum had her little white picket fence and planted roses (her favourite flower) right in the middle of the yard. We had a back yard patio and a large back yard that had grass!
I was registered at Sir Adam Beck Secondary School and often walked. I made new friends and because of my accent, kids used to tease me. I had a great teacher, Mrs. Ruddell. In 1970, the district school board reorganized the schools in Middlesex County and it became necessary, after Grade 10, for me to move to Montcalm Secondary School to complete Grade XI and XII. Bob, already enrolled at H. B. Beal, wasn’t affected and went on to graduate with his Grade XII Secondary School Diploma. I think mum and dad were very proud as I was and looked forward to my own graduation.
In 1969, just three short years after we had arrived in Canada, mum got really sick and went through severe bouts of depression. Although I didn’t totally understand what she must have been going through, I still felt sorry for her and wanted to help yet felt powerless all at the same time. I was a teenager with questions of my own and while I had the hindsight to know she certainly didn’t need the extra stress of helping me deal with my stuff, I felt I just couldn’t ask.
The following months became almost overwhelming. Mum had developed gangrene in her big toe and regardless of her condition, the doctor(s) at the hospital said to wait until it got worse. It only took two weeks before it had spread up to her ankle. A medical appointment confirmed that she had cancer inside the leg up past the knee. Just before Christmas, she was booked for surgery and had her left leg amputated just above the knee. She was 46 years old - a young woman in a new country and already plagued with more challenges that anyone I knew at the time.
She was taking heavy-duty drugs when she returned home and life was started to get a little complicated for me. I would go to bed at night praying that mum would get better and everything would be all right. The drugs she was on were scaring me - she was not the mum I remembered and loved and embarrassed to say that while I was being totally selfish, I started to feel angry that she wasn’t there for me.
On her release from hospital, we moved the furniture to accomodate mum (and her wheelchair). I remember her telling me her leg was itchy - her left leg. There would be some major adjustments for her to make. She had a wheelchair and crutches but I only remember her getting to the table once. It was a rough couple of months. Bob and I were still attending school, Dad was working and mum was at the house a good portion of the day by herself. I couldn’t help but think now how that must have been for her. Maybe Dad took some time off to care for her, I don’t remember - I was in my own little world - trying not to worry about mum, wondering what I was going to be doing with my life, scared about the unknown, afraid of what would happen if mum didn’t get better. My reliance on Carol and my other school friend Karen became paramount. I couldn’t have asked for two finer friends. They were my shoulders when I felt sorry for myself as selfish as that sounds.
The evening of May 4th stands out for me because as I was headed off to bed, I turned to mum and said “Good Bye mum”....not the usual Good Night, but Good Bye! I remember climbing into bed and wondering why I’d used those specific words. I would find out sooner than expected because the next morning, May 5th, I woke up to Dad hollering, “She’s gone, She’s gone”. Immediately jumping out of bed, not exactly coordinated, I opened up the bedroom door and saw dad, obviously very upset and there was mum bed, her head covered with a sheet.