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Where there's humour, there's always hope

I do believe that equation, where laughter lingers, promise resides.

The revised edition of Margaret And Me carried that title Where There's Humour, There's Always Hope and it highlighted humorous stories from the nursing home where my mother spent the last two years of her life. In a place where overworked staff take care of aging and often confused residents, humour is the common denominator that keeps everyone upbeat and functioning.

In her prime, my mother ran a small boarding house in Schumacher for Irish immigrants who had come to work in the gold mines of Timmins, Ontario. My mother came from a burly bunch of immigrant Irish miners- first lead in Colorado, then coal in Sydney, Nova Scotia and finally the McIntyre and Hollinger gold mines of the north.

She drifted back there occasionally through the fog of dementia in her last years. I'd go to visit her at Northland Manor and she'd be sitting off to the side scowling as forty fellow residents enjoyed lunch in the dining room.

"I don't want to talk about it."

"Well, we gotta talk about it, what's the matter?"

"What's the matter? You try making lunch for this bunch." she said pointing at the diners. Then she looked at me, shook her head and said: "There must be forty of 'em and they all showed up at the same dang time!"

In her slightly warped time machine, a busload of seniors showed up at Margaret's house back in Schumacher.

I did attend the Alzheimer meetings in which they encourage you to go with the flow. Wherever Margaret's mind wandered I was supposed to follow. I just could not do that. I was always trying to bring her back to reality and real time.

Like the day I was warned upon entering Northland Manor that I had a real problem- "Your mother found her mother this morning at breakfast."

It was late afternoon and my mother Margaret was still in her bathrobe and slippers. She had been searching the nursing home all day for Nanny. She was inconsolable.

We sat out in the garden on a park bench and I opened two cans of cold beer from the little cooler I'd brought.

"I hate to be the bearer of bad news, Marg, but Nanny passed away a long time ago."

"Oh, don't be silly, Bill. She's here. I saw her."

"No, I hate to put it this way but- Nanny is deceased."

My mother shook her head defiantly.

"Okay, let's try logic. Just for the sake of argument Marg, how old are you?"

"I have no idea." my mother shrugged.

"Well you're 92 years old."

"Gee," she said, giving me the thumbs up, "that's good."

"Oh yeah, that's good. Now if . if Nanny was still alive how old would she be?"

"My mother shook her head, "I have no idea."

"Well, Nanny would be like 131 years old."

"Gee, that's really good!" my mother said giving me two thumbs up.

"No, no, no, Marg. You're missing the point. Nanny died about 40 years ago. Sorry Marg, but Nanny is dead."

To which my mother got this big smile on her face, looked down at her slippers and then up at me and said: "Well Bill, that's going to come as a big surprise to her because this morning . she was just as peppy as she could be!"

I hung my head and then took a swig of beer.

"Okay Marg, drink up and let's go look for Nanny."

When Margaret And Me was published I did a reading at the Roselawn Theatre in Port Colborne and 300 kind people showed up as well as Margaret. Monica Rose, Margaret's friend and caregiver kept Margaret backstage and just out of earshot because even at the age of 92 she could still get a lawyer.

Later upstairs in the signing lounge Margaret sat next to me looking both surprised and proud as I autographed books for the subscribers of the reading series.

Coming from a family of men who muscled gold out of the ground to survive, my mother never understood how her son could stay at home and make a good living from making fun of his dog. But somehow she understood, tonight was special.

And then somebody in line asked my mother to autograph a book and my radar went through the roof. I didn't think she could do it.

Pressing hard on the pen with her arthritic fingers, my mother managed to script her full name - Margaret Mary McLean Thomas. The pride that welled up in both of us will be with me to the end.

And then the next person requested her autograph and the next person and pretty soon Margaret's signature was getting bigger and bolder than my signature and then we got into a fight about who wrote the damn book anyway.

There was a very telling moment when Alex MacBeath the sponsor the author series came over and asked my mother if she wanted another beer.

"Hell yes," she said. "this is hard work."

So although my mother never quite understood what I did for a living, she knew it wasn't easy.

Funny, impish, eyes sparkling with pride over a pint of ale - Margaret Mary McLean Thomas - Irish to the very end.