Thursday, January 21, 2010

Margaret Roberta Howatt Dale - 1922-1990

She was my mother. She was born in the village of Cape Traverse, Prince Edward Island, terminus for the mail "ice-boats" that plied the Northumberland Strait before ferry service and long before the fixed link bridge crossing. She grew up mainly in Summerside, became a teacher in a one-room school and then went to work in the post office. During World War II, a young Czech trainee, Bernard Dale, from the nearby air force base, kept buying stamps from her and eventually, they married. Thence my brother, Peter, my sister, Ari and lastly, me.

As my father was an military officer, we moved about, first to Ottawa in 1949 and then to the Montreal area, where my mother resumed teaching at the Preville School in 1959. I was among the pupils in her first incoming Grade 6, an intriguing experience for both of us. She continued her school career until a UN job took my father to Nigeria in the midst of that nation's civil war in the mid sixties. With my father she returned to Prince Edward Island in 1968 and lived there until 1987 when they both moved to Victoria.

Her passion was always animals with an enormous Newfoundland named Angus her deep love until his passing from which, I think, she never fully recovered. Among her things I would later find a little poem scrawled on a note pad:

To Angus

"My Friend is dead.
At peace? Gone to rest?
He is dead.
God is there a place
where good dogs go?
I don't know many things
He sleeps in my heart, I loved him so

I know that he was alone when he died
The lilacs had just been born
Did they mourn my dead friend?
I loved him so."

In late 1989 she was diagnosed with lung cancer and died this date (January 21) in 1990. Countless gifts she left us not least of which, a quite brief journal she began to keep December 16, 1989. In it she dutifully recorded the coming and going of pains and medications but also wrote of the things and people she loved, the dreams she had, whether realized or not, and of what, in what turned out to be her final days brought comfort - old pictures, the sound of rain on the roof, and...

Dec. 24, Sunday:

"Had some rather special experience this A.M. during my slumber (6-7:30) I needed this inspiration badly because I was starting the day with the same concerns as yesterday. The message was, 'live today to its best, don't worry about tomorrow... According to the speaker the message is one of Jesus. I had never heard that one before..."

Later she would muse, without, it seemed, huge regret, that she once wanted to write a "great, look at this!" So her journal,more valued on my shelf than any other book, the picture here of her with me as a baby, and a vaster collage of memories she gifted me with, today define my horizons. I listen to some favourite music of hers, Strauss waltzes, and reflect: whatever is best in me, Ma, you've put there.

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