In trucking, time is money so it’s very easy to become impatient when someone takes their time or is indecisive, but I wasn't in any particular hurry, I was heading back to reset at the home terminal so I waited patiently as this lady gave very specific orders as to what she wanted on the two subs the server was preparing. "Just a dash of salt. A smidgeon of pepper. A tiny bit of sub sauce please..." She was thinking about each ingredient, concentrating and I wondered if she was struggling with her memory. Then she suddenly said. "Oh no. I got them backwards." There was anguish in those words.
The server, not much more than 20, sighed, and said, "It isn't that much sub sauce."
"If they don't like it, tell them to get their own sub," I added softly and smiled.
She turned to me and I could see the concern in her eyes. "You don't understand, he's 13 years-old; he'll taste it."
I suddenly fell silent, that little interaction unraveling something inside me. I guess it was because I saw my own mother then, her grandmotherly attentiveness for getting something as simple as a food order right when it came to her own grandchildren. My Mother passed away back in 2002 in the aftermath of a heart attack and succumbing to an infection that took her two days later. Sadness enveloped me and I was distracted as the lady left the building with her order and I absently filled my own.
My Mother had a tough life. When I was just a young boy my two older brothers, Tony and Kenny, were playing on the St Lawrence River when the ice below Kenny's feet gave way and he fell into the cold unforgiving current. An older boy who was present grabbed for him, even caught his winter hat, but the ties were undone and when the current pulled him under the ice the older boy was left holding that empty hat. He was seven years-old, his life extinguished in one careless moment that happens in almost every boy’s life. My other brother Tony, who was a mere eight, was suddenly tasked with delivering the news of this tragedy to my mother. For him it would be a defining moment also and I wouldn't dare to minimize the impact it had on him, because I saw firsthand how my brother watched out for me the rest of my life. I know that I became his focus. As big brother and protector, his instinct was always to make sure I was safe. But on this day he was a messenger who brought home the worst news and coming from an Irish Catholic family he would find himself standing before a priest who would tell him that he had to: "Be strong. You're the man now."
That was because our own father didn't know how to take care of business. A habitual criminal, that included bank robbery, arson and god knew what else, my father was absent in his duties as a husband and parent. When they buried my brother in the Montreal cemetery my father had to watch from a distance, because he was wanted by the police. And yes, they had the funeral staked out. It's funny, of all the terrible things he did in his life, including kidnapping my mother with the intent of killing her, that one act is what I find most offensive. If one my own children were to die, I would go to jail for the rest of my life before I stayed away from their funeral.
After that event, my mother would go on to struggle with alcohol for the better part of her life . Before she broke away from my father, there were numerous violent outbursts of abuse. I remember being pulled from my bed as my desperate mother was crying frantically. "I killed him I killed him." Still in my pajamas we got into our car and hid out in a motel in Niagara Falls Ontario. I was four. She hadn't killed him, only knocked him unconscious by clobbering him with a lamp after he started beating on her.
I could write a book about all the things I saw during my upbringing, things like going to school under an assumed name because the Hamilton Police were looking for my father in connection with a bank robbery. For the record, my alias was Mark Gardner. Eventually my father would kidnap my Mother and the man who would become my step-father. Taken from a bar at gun point they were no doubt intended to be disposed of when a massive police take-down ended my father's plans. He was sentenced to 10 years for armed robbery and served six, but that severed the relationship for good.
The struggles with alcohol for my mother would carry on throughout her life. It would end her second marriage, cause turmoil with other family members. When she drank she was resentful, brooding, verbally abusive, but I attribute this to the lousy cards she was dealt. I don't excuse this behavior, but I understand it. At one point in my life I did not speak to my mother for almost a year because of her behavior when intoxicated. But I also remember the sadness in her eyes when Christmas came around, Kenny's Birthday and the anniversary of that tragic day on the St Lawrence.
She would eventually break free of her addiction. Perhaps it was when she realized that her life was going to waste. In the last three years of her life she refocused on her grandchildren and perhaps that is why I was suddenly reminded of her yesterday. She worried needlessly that all grandchildren got their fair share when it came to Christmas. She thought of things like: Mikey doesn't like onions in his food. Scott hates tomatoes. Corey loves tomatoes.
She would have said, "You don't understand, he's 13 years-old; he'll taste it."
After I got my sub I left the restaurant and climbed into my rig. Shifting gears, my mind turned over the memories and there was a sadness in my heart. I thought about the Grandmother in the Subway, agonizing over that unfortunate squirt of misplaced sub sauce. I considered my own actions and thought I should have leaned over to that attentive lady and said. "Your grandson is a very lucky to have someone like you."
I miss her.