Florence Jeanette Thompson was affectionately named “Shorts” or “Shorty” by her tall, charming father, Monty. She was, however, anything but short on spunk, impeccable taste or witchery intuition. Her life was a musical score that captured every mood and timbre. Pretty and blue-eyed, she loved to sing, dance, play the piano, and listen to the birds. She was quick to say, “No” and quick to say, “Yes”. She used baby talk and straight talk. You could talk to her; she didn’t mince words; she’d always surprise you. She lived in tiny backwoods cottages and grand mansions. She lost everything she owned and decorated homes with a credit card carte blanche. She lavished gifts on her loved ones. She had a doggie named Midge and one named Sir Salishan. She loved oatmeal, warm ovens, Coca Cola.
My Mother’s story is more than overcoming the challenge of cancer and living with a disability. It is an example of the astonishing triumph of the human spirit over adversity.
My Mom, Mary Quon, never had what people would call an easy life. Her parents moved to Canada from China during World War II. My grandmother was pregnant, and Mary became their passport baby when she was born here in 1942. My grandparents had met in China, became business partners, and eventually husband and wife. They owned and operated a hotel in Vancouver on East Hastings (a.k.a skid row), frequented by prostitutes and drug addicts.
Molly Jacobs was born in 1940 in St. Paul’s Hospital, Vancouver. She was the fourth of nine children born to Lena and Alfred Jacobs. Through his family, Alfred was a Hereditary Chief of the Squamish Nation. Alfred was a longshoreman, and they mainly lived on Capilano Reserve in North Vancouver. Her mother had been taken out of residential school after a nun hit her, and so as a child she was home to listen to the cultural teachings of the elders. She was given four ancestral names, signifying her as the keeper of many Squamish stories and traditions.
My mother, Aranka Csiszar, was born on October 22, 1935, in Mezofalva, Hungary, the middle one of Anna and Frank Csiszar’s seven children: Vilma, János, Annus, my mom, Eszti, Edit, and little Ferenc, born in June 1944.
Her father was a gentle spirit who didn’t believe in violence. She remembers checking his pockets for candies whenever he came home. Her mom spoke Romanian and Hungarian fluently and did the best she could for her family.
While waging war against the Soviet Union, Hungary engaged in secret peace negotiations with the United States and the United Kingdom. Hitler discovered this betrayal, and in 1944 German forces occupied Hungary. My mom’s father was conscripted to fight in the German army against the Russians, missing the birth of his youngest son.
My mother was born in 1934, in Nanjing, China. Her father was a secretary in the National Air Force. When she was three years old, the Sino-Japanese War started, and my mother and her family moved to the western part of China in the Szechuan province. Later three sisters and two brothers were born. My grandma had to work very hard. She was very diligent and talented. The whole family drank homemade soybean drink and home-prepared dishes. All six children wore warm clothes, hats, scarves and gloves that were hand-knit by my grandma.
When the Communists took over China, the family moved to Taiwan, where my mother finished high school and university. She was good at all types of sports — softball (catcher position), volleyball, basketball (even though she was the shortest in her family) and competitive swimming. At Taiwan Normal University she trained as a teacher. She left Taiwan in 1958 to teach Chinese and Math in modern Hong Kong. My father also studied at Taiwan University and then went to work in Hong Kong as a social worker. They met through their University alumni association and in 1965 got married.
My mother, Martha Brown, was born on the 8th of May 1928 in the family home in Langley, B.C. She is a petite woman with what was once very bright red, curly hair, and lots of freckles. She is still affectionately called “Red” by my Dad.
My Mom was the fifth of nine children, and when she was born, her mother, Violet, was 26 years old, and her father, George, was 46. All of the children were born at home and lived until adulthood, except her sister Thelma, who died of pneumonia when only a month old. My Mom was born during the middle of the night and was delivered by her father, as her Grandmother and namesake, Mary Martha, who was a lay midwife, was unavailable.
When I started writing my mother's story, it didn't feel right. When I changed the story to be in my mother's voice, it worked. The facts became clear, and I was able to understand how she may have looked at her world. My sisters and I were very proud of our mother, who passed in 2008. She was our cheerleader and never wavered in her support of us. I hope that I have done her beautiful spirit justice. Here is my mother’s story as I imagine it, in her voice.All my life there was an unanswered question, a lie about my birth. It was a riddle that no one would answer.
My name is Beryle Maxine. I was born on October 9, 1927, in a rural community outside Ottawa, Ontario. My mother, Jenny, was eighteen and unwed when I was born. Her parents had both passed and she was living with her brother, but had no means to support me. She took a job on a farm, working for the Mackie family as caregiver to Granny Mackie, an invalid. Granny Mackie had two grown children, Florence and Borden. Aunt Florence was a teacher at the one-room school house in the community, and Uncle Borden ran the dairy farm.
There was great excitement in London and New York the day my mother was born. Not only was March 7, 1926 the day the world heard the first transatlantic telephone call, but the inhabitants at 27 Annie Street in Sunderland, England, heard the first cries of baby Gladys Kathleen Bainbridge.
Kathy made her entrance into a family that did not expect more children. Her seventeen-year-old sister Lilian helped the local midwife with her delivery. Adored by her often absent father, Kathy was raised in a very strict Victorian manner by her mother. Four years later, another surprise, her sister Audrey was born.
My earliest memories of my mother Clara are of a petite woman who never stopped moving, from the moment she woke until well past supper. She was always working, whether it was cleaning the house she shared with her husband Theodor and four children, or shopping for groceries, sewing clothes, cooking meals or baking cookies or pies for desert after dinner. Whenever I complained as a child that I was bored, she would offer me a broom with which to sweep up the dust or some other chore that needed to be done around the house.
Clara was born in 1924 in the village of Garlita, Constanta, Romania, the second child of Emma and Gheza. Emma was the eldest daughter of Magdalena and August Frank, owners of the village flour mill. The Frank family had a comfortable lifestyle and would have been considered middle class in their tiny community close to the Black Sea. Gheza was a handsome, swarthy professional electrician who met Emma when he moved into the community to work at August Frank’s flour mill.
My mother, Rosa Faria da Silva Torres, was born on July 7, 1923, in Moreira de Geraz do Lima, Viana do Castelo, Northern Portugal, in a community so small they called it “the place of the street”. Her family were landowners with properties that required many workers. She was an only child, but her mother was the oldest of thirteen children, so Rosa grew up surrounded by many relatives.
Rosa was a happy child with short, black, curly hair, running through her father’s fields, while the ladies worked on what would soon become their delicious “green wine”. She loved to dance during the harvest celebrations and sing during the long winter nights, when the family sat around the kitchen fire, embroidering the linen and chatting.