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Thursday, October 2, 2014

There is a woman who embodies everything I have ever wanted to be. The positive energy emanating from this person just swirls around her and fills the room. Her laugh cracks through the air and she is very quick to give you a big, warm smile, even if you have yet to be formally introduced. She isn’t happy because life is easy and good. She is happy because she is content with what she has. She is grateful, and blessed. I want to learn that trick. Maureen Kathleen Theresa Cullen Leeson is my mother, and we are celebrating her 70th birthday this week.
Mom was born and raised in Ottawa. She spent a fair amount of time in a house on Donald Street in the east end. Her mother, my grandma Vicky, raised five kids – four boys and one little girl – on her own. She took in boarders to make ends meet. Mom says they were poor growing up. She remembers going to the home of a more well-to-do friend one day after school, and being amazed by the bowl of fruit in the centre of the kitchen table. She told herself, when I’m married and have a family of my own, there will always be a bowl of fruit in the centre of the table. And so there always was.
My mother must have inherited her tenacious spirit from my grandmother. She had to be resilient, with four rather wild brothers sharing the small home. Many times my father would say, “it’s amazing your mother turned out normal, growing up with brothers like that.”
My childhood memories are full of song. My mother woke up singing. “Oh what a beautiful morning, oh what a beautiful day. I’ve got a beautiful feeling, everything’s going my way” – and she meant every word. I thought she surely must be one of the best singers in the world. She seemed to have a song for every occasion. The radio was always on, right beside the kitchen sink, so she could sing while cooking and doing the dishes. That too, was passed on from her French Canadian mother.
Mom taught us to be resilient too. I remember the first day of Grade 6, or maybe it was 5, when I was wearing a brown polyester A-line skirt and a lemon yellow tee-shirt and I thought I looked just fabulous, with my little pixie haircut and Mary Jane shoes. Until I got to school and someone told me that yellow doesn’t go with brown and my hair makes me look like a boy. A skinny, brown boy.
I was pretty upset when I got home and didn’t want to talk about it but Mom eventually got it out of me. “That’s ridiculous,” she said. “I studied the colour spectrum in my Interior Decorating course and yellow goes perfectly well with brown. That person just doesn’t know any better.”
Later, when I ran off and got married at 19, and later when I had serious trouble in my first marriage, and even when I decided to move to Asia, my mother was always there for me, showing support without meddling. I know she worried a great deal about me and my impulsive decisions, but she remained a steady, positive force I could always depend on. Never passing judgment.
My mother is abundantly generous. Whether it’s the loan of a vehicle, or extra place settings for Thanksgiving dinner, she always thinks of what you need and offers it, before you even realize you need it.
I’m constantly asking myself “What would Mom do?” Because in any given situation, that would be the right answer. It’s a safe bet, anyway.
Live life to the fullest. Speak your mind. Go out of your way for people. Enjoy a good glass of wine each night. Greet each day with a smile.
We celebrated Mom’s 70th with a professional family photo shoot. She is still the same classic beauty with the demure smile, the stylish dress, the matriarch of the family. She is the glue that holds us together.
My whole life I’ve been told I look and sound just like my mom. I didn’t see it much before but now I see it more and more every day. And that’s just fine with me, because there isn’t anyone I would rather be like, in this world. Happy Birthday, Mom. We love you.

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