One of my mother’s oldest and dearest friends died last Friday. So, after work today, my sister and I went to the wake. It was a bit of a memory trip, to be honest. Frieda Squires worked at the gift shop my parents owned in the late 1970s and early-mid 1980s. She, along with the women of Cedar Gift Shop, Mrs. Fox and Ora, spent a lot of time mothering us as we grew up while our parents worked long hours in retail. The original store sat where Peddler’s Pub now sits. Somewhere near that front bar, there is a wide set of stairs that was covered over, stairs that led down to a plethora of parkas. They were popular in the gift shop trade back in the day, covered with fluffy furs and beautiful beading. Stacy and I weren’t supposed to, but we often scuttled down into the centre of the coven of circle racks, feeling the fur collars and cuffs, surrounded by bright colours and warmth. Parkas were the thing back then, but they were also very expensive, so we had to use stealth mode when we wanted to play hide and seek down there. (We both knew the back hallway leading to the freezing cold bathroom must’ve been haunted, so we avoided going there without one another. We weren’t stupid.)
The other thing I remember are the German chocolate bunnies wrapped in foil at Easter, and the marzipan candies at Christmas. They were leftovers from the previous owner, a man named Mr. Sloan. I remember meeting him once, but I was more impressed by his marzipan, his sharp German accent, and his love of (and respect for) Hudson Bay blankets and parkas. Then there were the soapstone carvings, the moccasins, the Canadian kitsch.
Above all of this, though, I remember Mrs. Squires. She had a fabulous laugh, a kind and warm smile, and when we were old enough to work at the shop when it moved to Southridge Mall in our early to mid-teens, she trained us on cash and the art of dusting. She had an eye for display. I think, looking back now, that my love of art and beautifully and uniquely crafted things was born in my parents’ gift shop. Mum and Frieda dusted consistently, creating little vignettes of crystal vases, or gatherings of little paintings. They were artists. Best of all, though, were the Christmas windows on Cedar Street. Mum and Frieda would plan and plan, ordering big ornate sparkly snowflakes that they could hang from the ceiling in mid-November. There were cotton ball snowdrifts, little twinkly faery lights edging the window, and a heavy European nativity scene. Each seasonal change meant a shift in the window-scape. They would sit with coffee and cigarettes in the downstairs office, gossip about having caught a chronic downtown shoplifter, talk sales, share news of their kids, and plan out the new window design. It was a kind of art, really, their friendship.
After Mum died in 2008, I reconnected with Frieda. We often shared telephone conversations, and she shared her memories of Mum. When Dad died in 2011, she called more often. They had shared the same birthday, she often said, so she felt very connected to him. While we spoke together, we grieved, we laughed, we reminisced. It was tumultuous, but I’ll remember those conversations for the rest of my life. Sharing my memories of them with her made them seem less distant from me, less far off.
Speaking with her daughter today made me miss my youth. Those years were hard working ones for my parents, but they were also full of laughter and shared storytelling. I wish I’d known then that things would not always be so simple. I might have valued that time more, if I had known. Talking to Frieda’s husband, Ronnie, was like being pulled back in time. “Is that you? Kim and Stacy? Look at you two, all grown up and pretty.” Then, he went on to tell us about the time the four of them had gone to the casinos of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. “Your mum was there, sitting next to me, quiet as a little mouse, playing the slots. Then she won the $5,000! She was so excited!” What? She won big money?! All of those years that I spent, driving Mum and Dad to early morning bus pick-ups, or collecting them late at night before going to work at 7:30am, she never once mentioned winning it big. :)
So, there in the middle of the funeral home visitation room, I laughed out loud, squeezed Ronnie’s hand and told him we were sorry about Frieda’s going. In the midst of that sadness, of missing a woman who was like a second mother figure to us, I felt more connected to my own mum than I have in a long while.
It’s funny, when you get to thinking about it, the little ripples of memory and serendipity that tug at the heart when you least expect it.
I figure, based on Mum, Dad, and Frieda’s long-term friendship, they’re off somewhere having a drink and a laugh. Maybe, just maybe, they’re winning it big. I hope so. Missing all three tonight, but feeling them in my heart. Solidly so. Thankfully so.
peace, friends. .and remember to hug the ones you love.