I have just returned home from my friend Marlene's adorable cottage in Quebec, on Lake St. Pierre. She held a party celebrating her Mother Odette's 90th birthday today. The house was filled with family and friends, and I was honoured that she'd included my husband and myself for this momentous event.
I sat next to Odette, who is quite sprightly considering her age, but has definitely lost a few of her marbles, bless her. Every so often, she'd reach other and grab my arm. As I turned to face her she'd say "You know, you look very familiar to me."
"Odette," I laughed. "I'm Jo and you've known me for 44 years."
Each time this happened, face would break out in a big smile. "Oh of course, Jo, I remember you well. I love you."
"I love you too Odette," I'd answer, and I meant it. She is the sweetest and kindest person I've ever known, who treated me like a fifth daughter. Since my own Mum was thousands of miles away from me living in Rio de Janeiro at the time, Odette became my adopted second mother.
She was quite a naughty lady in her youth. Marlene is her eldest, followed by Susan - they share the same father. However, Carol and Anne both have different Dads and the wonderful part of it all is that it doesn't bother them in the least bit - or anyone else for that matter.
Even at the ripe old age of 90, Odette still has a naughty twinkle in her eye and flirts outrageously with any man in her vicinity, including my husband who, being a somewhat stiff and starchy Brit, is vaguely uncomfortable about it!
On our way there, he said "I suppose Odette is going to flirt with me?" and heaved a big sigh.
"Oh come on, play along with it and give the old dear a thrill."
As I sat there in their cosy living room, sipping my drink and looking around at the large gathering, I started reminiscing about my life back when Marlene and I first became lifelong friends.
I met her 44 years ago and the reason I can be this precise about it is because she was wheeling her oldest son, Tyrone, in a pram along the street, and I was pushing my oldest son Paul, along in his buggy. I remember looking into Marlene's pram and thinking to myself "Cute baby, but not as cute as mine." Marlene told me some time later that she'd glanced at Paul and had thought that he was nowhere near as cute as her Tyrone!
Marlene lived just down the street from me, and we'd often get together with our kids.
I used to sing in a woman's barbershop chorus and roped Marlene into joining, although to be honest, Marlene can't carry a tune in a bucket. Every year, barbershop choruses from the U.S. and Canada all congregated in the same designated hotel for the big annual competition. We used to have the time of our lives and it wasn't a matter of concern to any of us that our chorus didn't win!
I was 8 months pregnant with my son Mike, and Marlene 4 and a half months pregnant with her youngest son, Vern,at competition time, which that year was being held in Burlington, Vermont. Everyone in the Chorus were concerned that I'd go into labour on stage, and end up by having a little American, instead of a Canadian boy. They were kidding me that if this were to happen, I'd absolutely have to name the poor little blighter "Burl" in honour of the city where he was born. As if ...
At the U.S. border, out of curiosity, I asked the customs official what I'd have to do if I had the baby in the U.S. and was bringing him back to Canada.
"Madam, you'd have to declare him," the customs official said.
I honestly thought he was kidding, and laughed uproariously.
"No Madam, I'm serious. You'd have to declare that he'd been born in the U.S. for official reasons!" Well pick my peas ...
Mike was not born in the U.S. - he was born 3 weeks later in Montreal, by C section. But that's another story.
Marlene and I both decided to be stay-at-home Mums, even though it meant living from our husbands' pay check to pay check. In my case, I opted to go out at night selling Tupperware in order to help the family finances. The money I brought in covered birthday and Christmas presents - a luxury at the time, where our family budget was stretched to the limit.
Neither Marlene nor I were earth mothers. We didn't get off on finger painting on the floor with our kids, and found the lack of mental stimulation very hard to take. I can't tell you how often I'd walk over to Marlene's house, kids in tow, (she always claimed it was shorter for ME to walk to HER house than vice versa!) with a bottle of vino tucked under my arm, confident in the knowledge that she and I would kill that bottle before the afternoon was over. We'd giggle, tell jokes, laugh our heads off and I'd totter home with my kids in time to prepare the family dinner, feeling happy and stimulated - not just from the wine either.
Then Marlene's husband got transferred to Ottawa. I was heartbroken. My best friend and drinking buddy was leaving. My sorrow was deeply shared by her Mum Odette, who lived in Montreal at that time. Little did we know that just a few years later, my husband would be transferred to Ottawa too and we'd be reunited. Or that Odette would come to live with Marlene and her family.
I remember Marlene, Odette and myself, sitting around her kitchen table, killing not one, but two bottles of wine. Every so often, one of us would start bawling over her impending departure, and the other two would join in. We howled and cried our eyes out, but I believe it was very therapeutic and did all three of us the world of good.
I remembered all this at Odette's birthday party today. When she grabbed my arm and said "You look familiar to me," I felt tears prickle the back of my eyes remembering how much she'd done for me all those many years ago.
Odette, I love you. Happy birthday sweetheart.