Timmy N. taught me how to say the F-bomb.
It was at Bayview Public School, which, I am happy to say, actually did overlook a bay. It's torn down now. I had no idea what the the word meant or was supposed to mean. I just knew it was pretty cool word. It jumped out of my mouth naturally and comfortably.
I got so used to it, I let it slip out that evening at home that very day I first learned it. My mother heard me say it and, as I remember it, immediately came down hard on me and the word. "Where did you learn that?"
I told her. I could not have even imagined lying to her. My mother had made a moral impression on me such that I would not have dared not tell.
The funny thing is that she never took it up with Timmy. She never mentioned it to his parents. She took it up with me. She didn't punish me in any way but then she didn't need to. Her disapproval was so profound that I didn't need to be punished. I suffered for days afterward. It was the right way to handle it—the full weight of Mummy moral authority.
The story has a sequel. Years later I heard her talking to another mother who, unlike my mother, didn't handle it right the first time. To reassure this woman, my mother told her the story of the first time I'd said it only with a detail I didn't remember. As she told this other woman, my mother had had to rush through the scolding so she could leave the room and burst out laughing.
Of course, she must have used the word herself, along with others I could not have then imagined her saying, but I never heard her say it. Once, when she went out with her sister Margaret, they came home and played the piano together and sang a song that featured the following chorus: "My girl goes for all the boys but she only comes for me." It was just an odd fluke that I was awake to hear it and they never would have sung it if they'd had the slightest reason to suspect I was awake. That's one of those things that can't be explained and would probably sound like hypocrisy to some people but, to me, is the sign of someone who has things just right.
Not perfect, you understand, just right. In a roundabout way, I learned how to use the word correctly from her. I learned to use it rarely, never in front of children and never in writing. And I learned to use it with an odd kind of respect that cannot be explained.
She went into hospital for the very last time on the Feast of Saint Joesph the Worker. She told my sister, who was helping her pack, that she was glad to be going in on the feast day of one of her favourite saints.
She died on the Feast of Saint John the Baptist. That is today.
Those are, respectively, the patron saints of Canada and Québec. There is something just right about that.
There will be no other posts today.