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Ol’ Tom

These are stories of Thomas Ian McKenzie. Born in 1900 he lived to see the entirety of the 20th century within a few miles of his birthplace, Brookbury, a multicultural and multilingual rural community in the Eastern Townships of Quebec.



Ol’ Tom



© John Mackley 2021

“Mama?” Little Trina looked up from her drawing with a puzzled look.

“Yes Darling?” Mama Lydia responded.

“I call you ‘Mama’...“ she hesitated, mulling her words over carefully. “... but Daddy calls you Mama too. If you are Daddy’s Mama, how can you be my Mama?”

Mama Lydia had known that a day, a conversation like this, was bound to come along sooner or later. She tried, now, to remember the explanations she had rehearsed so many times when Trina was still a babe in her arms.

She moved the pot of potatoes over to the side of the cook-stove, wiped her hands on the dish towel hanging from the stove handle, and pulled out the chair opposite Trina at the kitchen table. Settling into the chair, she began as simply as she could.

“You are almost five years old. It’s about time you know this. Your father, Tom, is my son. Papa George is Tom’s father. That makes us, George and me, your grand-parents. When you were born, your mother Catrina passed away.”

Trina’s contemplative expression prompted Lydia to continue. "Catrina died giving you life. She didn’t want to go. We didn’t want her to go. We were all there with her when you were born and we were very happy to see you and welcome you into the world and into our family."

“So you’re not my Mama?” Trina’s eyes welled up with tears.

“I’m still your ‘Mama,’ but I’m also your Grandma. I love you with all my heart and I always will. I loved your mother like my own daughter. She was a wonderful, loving and caring young lady. You look and act very much like her. You are becoming just as wonderful a young lady as Catrina was. I feel like I’m your Mama, and that's never going to change. Now, I won’t make you call me “Mama” if you don’t want to, if you’re not comfortable with it. It’s all up to you.”

Trina put down the pencil she had been drawing with, stood up and walked out the front door.

Lydia watched carefully through the kitchen window as Trina paced back and forth from one side of the front lawn to the other. She intermittently stomped her feet, then stopped long enough to wipe away tears with the hem of her dress.

Trina knew that she loved everyone in her family. But the thought of the only “Mama” she had ever known not being her “real” Mama was just so hard for her to wrap her young head around.

“It’s not right! It’s not fair!” she declared out loud, replaying Lydia’s explanation over in her mind. “Daddies and mama's have daddies and mama’s too. But I don’t have a real mama! She's dead!”

She had the urge to run away, but she wasn't sure where she could or would want to run away to. This made her even more frustrated. Knowing she wasn’t allowed to go on the road, she headed for the open field that led to the woods at the bottom of a long sloping hill. She made up her mind to just start walking across that field, maybe into the woods. She didn’t care. She would just walk till she found herself somewhere where she could forget about not having a Mama of her own.

Jake, the border collie, heard Trina’s sobbings and outbursts from his resting place in the sun on the opposite side of the house. He trotted over to her before she made it out of the yard, ears down, tail wagging, slow and tentative. He began licking her hand, then worked his way up her bare arm to her shoulder and neck, his moist breath tickling her ear.

Within moments, Trina was giggling, laughing in spite of herself. She bent down and let Jake kiss away all her salty tears. They sought out a stick to throw and fetch; then later, an old rubber ball and a ratty little stuffed bear.

The late spring day was long and warm, so they could have continued playing well into the evening. But Townships farmers were accustomed to a punctual five p.m. suppertime. They both heard the clanging and rattling of the horses and wagons heading in from the fields long before they actually arrived.

The pair ran from the front yard, past Mama Lydia’s lilac bush, heavily laden with lavender blossoms. They climbed up onto a huge chunk of White Pine waiting in the door yard with other wood for splitting. The flat surface was waist high for Trina, and as wide as she was tall. Using other chunks, she stair-stepped her way up onto her observation platform. Jake bounded effortlessly up right beside her.

She began waving, slowly at first, then with greater enthusiasm until the wagons and teams drew close enough to see her clearly. She then began jumping up and down as high as she could, frantically waving both her arms.

Moments later, Papa George, driving the team, glanced homeward and waved an acknowledgment. Seeing this, Tom looked back as well to see Trina’s frantic waving. For a brief moment, his mind flashed back to the day Trina’s mother Catrina stood not far from that very spot, waving a bright red rag in a desperate attempt to get his attention. That had been the disastrous and wonderful day that Trina was born.

Tom stood tall above the saddle, removed his hat and used it to make a grand bowing gesture, then threw kisses Trina’s way.

As the teams turned toward the barns, Trina climbed down off the stump. Jake headed for the barn; Trina for the house.

“Mama! Mama!” she cried throwing the front door open. “The men are back for supper!” She ran directly over to Mama Lydia and gave her the biggest hug she could. “Can I help set the table?!”

“You sure can, sweetheart. You sure can.”



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