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Immortality! Bill, you're so ungrateful


This fall marks the thirteenth year since the publication of Margaret And Me, a book about my wee Irish mother that I am proud to have written. Anytime you can bestow a little immortality to a loving and deserving parent it makes your own life a tad more meaningful.

If Margaret, who passed away in 1999 were reading this column she'd say: "Immorality! Bill, you're so ungrateful." She had that kind of sense of humour.

I dedicate this book to my mother, Margaret Mary McLean Thomas, the source of whatever goodness and humour I possess.

Margaret is and always has been the kindest, sweetest, gentlest soul on the face of the earth. A saint, really. So much so that I've often offered to send a letter off to the Vatican to get her name on that list for beatification.

And every time I mention this, she says the same thing: "That's nice, dear but they charge so dang much. I'll just get your sister to give me a perm."

Okay. So this woman is not quite grasping the concept of beatification. This doesn't make her a bad person, does it?

To Margaret's great amazement the book not only became a bestseller in hardback, but the rights were purchased by McCarthur And Company and republished with an additional section with stories of Margaret's last few years in Northland Manor titled Where There's Humour, There's Always Hope.

A chapter in the book that tells you more about our medical world than you want to know is 'How I Helped My Mother Flunk Her Short-Term Memory Test.' It began when I received an urgent, last-minute message to get my mother to the geriatrics clinic in Welland by 1 p.m. sharp "or else we'll never get another appointment."

My sister Gail and I were trying to get approval for a government home care program in which a trained health care technician would come to the apartment several times a week, spend time with my mother, and then leave with a really bad headache.

So at 1:05 p.m., my mother and I sit down with the local geriatrics specialist. It's the first time I've ever not spent an hour waiting to see a doctor, so I'm already a little suspicious. The doctor has no medical information on Margaret because the family doctor who did the referral hasn't yet forwarded the paperwork.

"So what's wrong with her?" the specialist asks in a matter-of-fact manner, and then he begins scribbling in an open file. The doctor is middle-aged, meticulous, and humourless.

"Well," I begin, "my mother will be 90 years old in a couple of months. She has arthritis in both hands, and one knee gives out now and then. She's been in two car accidents, which have left a bump on her head, a lump on her throat, and pain across her shoulders. She has an artificial hip and cataracts on both eyes, completely covering one eye."

I swear to God he looked directly at me and in a very professional voice said: "Has this caused her any problems?"

I instinctively turned around to look behind me to make sure he wasn't talking to someone else, like the evil phantom son who would whisper, "C'mon, Doc, it's only a hangnail. She's a chronic complainer!"

I thought he was kidding. So I said: "Well, she's thinking of quitting playing hockey in the Welland Industrial League."

Not originally from Canada and unfamiliar with our national sport, he made a check mark on my mother's chart, looked directly at her and said, "You know, at your age, Mrs. Thomas, you shouldn't be on the ice.'

I stared at him in silence. My brain froze. I was speechless. If I could find words . what I should have said was: "Oh, no, Doc, it's okay. She's a goaltender. She hardly ever leaves her crease!"

Of course, my mother is oblivious to all this, because like most seniors, she still prefers to keep her $400 hearing aid in a secret compartment of her purse, for safe keeping.

"Sorry," I said, "but I'll wait outside." And I left her alone with the specialist. I'd heard about this test- date of birth, today's date, phone number, names of children.

By the time the geriatrics specialist asks my mother to name the seven dwarfs I can just see myself doing my Richard Nixon impersonation in order to get her to say "Grumpy." I knew she would not do well on the test.

A week later we got word Margaret's home care application had been approved.

"I guess I did pretty good on that test, huh Bill?" She gave me an elbow in the ribs and a big boastful smile.

"I said, "You aced it, Marg. You really aced it."

There was just no way I was going to tell her the truth, that you have to fail the geriatrics test in order to qualify for the home care program.

First I'd get the rolling of the eyes and then the look, the look that says "I can't believe you ever got through university."

My mother flunked her short term memory test and I for one, could not be prouder of her.