Peter’s Mum Remembered

This week I am going to write about my Mum. One problem with writing about my Mum is that I have limited concrete evidence about her early life, for a number of reasons. Growing up in the 60’s, there were things that just weren’t discussed in front of the children. Also, for at least 2 1/2 years in the early 60’s, we had 10 people living in a 3 bedroom house, including an infant and a toddler. Opportunities for meaningful discussion were thus limited. When that situation had eased, I had become a typical self absorbed teenager, and shortly thereafter went on to try to carve out my own Life.

If I were writing her biography or a doctoral thesis, that could present an insurmountable problem.

However, I am not doing either of those things. I am sharing memories of my mother from the point of view of one of her sons, so read on and I hope you enjoy this.

Helen Doris McArthur was the oldest daughter of Mabel and Finlay McArthur, and the family settled in Orillia, at 138 North Street East. Grandma was widowed at a young age a) but, with the help of her family, raised her two daughters to be productive people b). Aunt Pat became a Registered Nurse and worked at the Ontario Hospital just outside town. She eventually married, but much later in Life. Mum went to work in a law office.

In the meantime, Sergeant Charles Montreuil was posted to Camp Borden. One night, at a party, he met Mum. Their romance blossomed very quickly and after some machinations, they were married in April 1942. Dad’s battalion never left Canada, so my oldest sister Pat arrived in 1944. Thankfully the Axis powers were defeated and Dad was able to finish his university education and go to the Ontario College of Education, where he got his teaching credentials.

My brother Paul followed in 1948 and my parents moved their growing brood to Bancroft, where  more children arrived in due course and in the usual way. In 1956 my parents moved us to 328 Franklin Street in Orillia. Dad had accepted a teaching position at O.D.C.&V.I.. I always assumed that the reason for this move was to allow Mum to live in the same town as her mother and sister.

328 Franklin Street in Orillia

It was a very good neighborhood. Most of the people were very friendly, and Mum settled down to give Dad a stable home. One fine morning Mum had secured me in the front yard by means of a harness. Shortly thereafter the black wall phone rang. It was one of the neighbours. She explained that I had hit her daughter. Momma Bear began to respond, telling her that that was not possible, as I was secure in the front yard. Before she could finish her sentence, she looked out the window and saw the empty harness, lying in forlorn disgrace on the lawn.

Ringing off as politely as possible, she raced to the front door and saw her second son lurching up the sidewalk like Godzilla on a rampage in the Ginza Section c). My memories of the aftermath are shrouded in the mists of Time, but the harness was “retired” immediately afterwards.

Mum handled the care and feeding of 10 people with grace and skill. She would come home from her weekly grocery shopping in a cab stuffed to the gills with such delicacies as 3 “flats” d) of bread , as well as the normal accoutrements purchased when grocery shopping, such as 25 pound turkeys or 2 large packs of cheese slices. She could have cooked in a backwoods lumber camp and probably felt like she was sometimes!

Young fool that I was, I thought it a treat to take my lunch to school. Most of the time, however, while I attended “The Barnyard” e), I went home for lunch.. I think back fondly now about coming through the door, a nutritious lunch waiting for me and Mum wanting to know how my morning had gone. My last year at “The Barnyard”, she had 5 “guests” for lunch and she must have felt like the host of one of those talk shows where everybody shouts at once.

The Barnyard

I remember one year at Hallowe’en, just my youngest sister was coming home for lunch as the rest had moved on. One time she came in and Mum, wearing a long black dress, stepped into the kitchen wearing a scary mask. Liz jumped!!

I mentioned this in an earlier column, but another time, as I skipped out the door to go back to school, I chirped over my shoulder that my teacher, 33 classmates and I would be “dropping by” at 3:00 P.M. for cookies and freshie on our way back from Moose Beach.

Moose Beach

When the appointed time duly arrived, there were lots of cookies and freshie available for everybody. Some of my classmates even complimented me on the warm cookies!

Realizing that Dame Fortune had smiled ever so fleetingly on me, I didn’t do any else really stupid for almost 3 whole months.

When I think back on it now, in the 13 year period when I attended school in Orillia, I didn’t come home to an empty house 5 times.

I could count the number of times I saw Mum genuinely angry on the fingers of one hand and still have enough digits available to use an ATM and dial a cellphone. I do remember one time when one of my siblings made a disparaging remark about a younger child, who lived in a nearby apartment building with their single mother. Mum’s eyes flashed and she said firmly that that. little. kid. had. nothing! I remember feeling disconcerted and wondering if my middle class childhood experience might not be typical. It was the stirring of my desire to do what I could to make the world a better place. It seems like it was only yesterday.

Of course, I have also previously mentioned the time when the five youngest kids got “the mumps”.At the same time, by the way. Giving us ginger ale on the doctor’s instructions, she did a credible “tarantella” around our room as nausea took over with its inevitable result. (After we were back to school and out of her hair, she was advised by her doctor that he had meant to tell her to flatten the ginger ale first. She never swore, but I bet she was tempted that time!)

One day a couple who were friends of my Aunt Pat’s came by for some reason. After the usual pleasantries, she found herself throwing her pail down the well of conversation topics and bringing up nothing but mud and was stymied, until she got an idea to recharge the conversation. Mum announced that I built model aircraft, so I was directed to take these two fine people to my room and talk about them. (The models, I mean.)

Unfortunately my 11 year old “missionary zeal” over my “Grandma Moses primitive” works of art didn’t translate well to this bored, bemused couple. Possibly a coincidence, but I don’t recall them ever returning to “Chez Montreuil”.

Skipping ahead some years, there was a disagreement in our family which resulted in a loss of contact for a number of years. As I’ve said before, stupid things were said, thought and done by both sides during this unfortunate period. Always try to keep the “lines of communication” open, because Life is fleeting. I lost 7 years that I can never get back.

I was advised that Dad was very ill, that he had brain cancer. We reunited in grief, and my employer was great letting me take time to tend to Dad. Thankfully we were able to resolve our sad dispute. Dad passed just before their 46th wedding anniversary. “Quick, wartime romance” it might have been, but like so many of those, it truly lasted until “Death did them part.”

Two months later I fell gravely ill. I was hospitalized with ‘epiglottitis” f) Mum got a ride down to see me in Brampton, in Intensive Care.

The ICU

She said I would come home to recover. I couldn’t speak, but I printed on a sheet of paper that I hadn’t always been a very good son. She read it, turned to me and told me that I was her son and I was going to recover on Franklin Street. I was overwhelmed. Less than 2 months after burying her husband, she willingly pushed aside her own grief, because she wanted to nurse her baby back to health.

I am not ashamed to admit that I cried myself to sleep that night. She took great care of me for two weeks after I was released from the hospital and limped up to Orillia. I gradually regained my strength and was even able to drive her to do her grocery shopping, because she didn’t have to buy 3 flats of bread any more 😉 .

We eagerly resumed our contact after that. Sometimes I would drive up to Orillia to see her, but at the very least, we spoke on the telephone every Sunday morning. I was so happy to be able to do that, even though I must confess to being somewhat taken aback when she told me that she thought that Shawn Green of the Toronto Blue Jays was “cute”.

In the event, she had a stroke and was hospitalized. Mum died the morning of January 14th, 2000. I was crushed and had to be sent home by my boss.

If there’s a lesson here, it’s this. I urge you to stay in contact with those dear to you.

Mum was a truly wonderful woman. I have heard nothing but good things about her, and I remember the Franklin Street crew running in and out of the house during the summer as we spent our (fleeting) youth, thinking that our parents were always going to be there. It’s such a pleasure when I post something about her and see the positive comments, especially the ones from those who “were there”.

One of my fondest memories is of Mum doing her chores while she sang. One of her favourite songs was “Fascination”. Early one morning I was getting ready to head off to work. I had the radio on, and as I went to turn it off, they started playing “Fascination”. I sat in a chair and wept bitter sweet tears. I’m sure that my trusty editor can tee up the Jane Morgan version of that great song.

I will always be proud to call myself “Mrs Montreuil’s Little Boy”.

See you soon.

  1. a) It wasn’t until much, much later that I found out that my grandparents had lost a son in infancy.
  2. b) It is my intention to eventually write a column on my grandma, a truly marvellous woman.
  3. c) Fun, semi relevant fact. The early Godzilla costumes were made from concrete, as rubber was very scarce in post war Japan.
  4. d) IIRC, that contained at least 24 loaves of bread. (At the time, she had 3 teenage sons 😉 .)
  5. e) St Bernard’s School, temporary prison for most of our kids and a number of my Facebook Friends.
  6. f) Very rare in adults, it was only by sheer luck that my ex wife came by, saw my condition and took me to the hospital. I was told later that I probably would have died in my sleep if I had not been taken to the hospital that very day..
=PJM=

10 Responses to “Peter’s Mum Remembered”

  1. Levina Loftus-Ugolini Says:

    Fantastic memories Peter. I’m surprised we never knew each other back then I use to hang out on Franklin Street with a school pal, Paris Uren. Such great times

  2. Wayne Lacroix Says:

    justlove it..bravo Peter.

  3. Barb Marx Says:

    I don’t see a dad with a surname of Segarini. did I miss that?

  4. June Pollard Says:

    Hi Peter! I loved this column about your wonderful Mom!!! It took me back to a very similar childhood when I would ask my Mom for a Tea party with lemonade & cookies. Mom said that she thought that a couple of my little friends would come in with me – however, she was in for a shock when several teenage girls came in with my ‘little’ friends, sat down, said grace with all of us, ate cookies & drank buckets of lemonade! Mom laughed when she described the teens as being taller than her but sitting at my small chairs at my play table! When ‘Fascination’ played at the end of your beautiful story – I was transported to another time & in my mind I could see Dad & Mom swaying as they danced to the music! Thank you for a wonderful & sweet remembrance of your Mom. I enjoyed reading it very much! ❤

    • Peter Montreuil Says:

      Thank you so very much. It’s a pleasure to be able to rekindle memories for friends. We were very lucky and didn’t know it.

  5. Darrell Walker Says:

    Love the story we all may be transported back to wonderful times at home.

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