On Mother’s Day, Celebrating the Gifts From My Mother

by | May 5, 2024

two women sitting on the grass mother daughter
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Featured image:  There are many lessons to be learned from our mothers | Photo by photopashova on Envato

Independence, Gratitude, Travel and More

by Joy Fox

On Mother’s Day, JourneyWoman Award winner Joy Fox, 89, reflects on the gifts from her courageous mother that became lifelong loves, including knitting, music, travel, gratitude and independence.

Twenty years ago, I attended a writing retreat on Gabriola Island. It was a beautiful bed and breakfast. The owner was a weaver. Her looms were arranged around the living room. The yarn she used covered one wall in the room.  One morning, I was the first guest to get up. I had slept well in a comfortable bed. The house was quiet when I headed downstairs to write my morning pages. I wanted to write with the looms and yarn around me. 

I have always loved the silence first thing in the morning, and this day did not disappoint. I heard the gentle creaking of the floors and felt the ambience of wood and wool around me. The house dog came and nestled down beside me. I made tea and stretched out on the sofa, ready to write. I was facing the wall of yarn.

Gifts from my mother

Decades after my mother died, I thought I had nothing that was hers, except for a black and white photo taken when she was 16 years old. She looked incredibly beautiful and innocent, in the photo. I still treasure it. 

That beautiful house on Gabriola brought that loss bubbling to the surface, no longer buried, but dug up, not weighted down by heavy memories, but everything seen clearly, light weight, floating away forever. I wrote about my mother that morning, because I realized that she had left me much more than a black and white photo

woman in a black and white photo joy fox mother
Joy’s mum Marjorie (1900-1975)  / Photo credit Joy Fox

The gift of knitting

As I looked at the beautifully arranged colours, I immediately remembered my mother teaching me how to knit when I was about four years old. She patiently sat me on her knee and showed me how to make knit and purl stitches. Her arms were around me, as she guided my hands around the needles. It was a wonderful memory to surface. The colours of the yarn reminded me of happy times at home, full of love and warmth. I remembered those days with a wistfulness. Mum was happy then. Cuddles were accompanied by smiles and kisses, and the love given was steeped in a cloak of security. 

Later, when my father left us, that cloak of security was ripped away. The love she felt for me was still there, but it was a preoccupied love that she now gave, always wondering how to provide the necessities. The idle hours to just sit and enjoy each other’s company were gone, priorities had changed to work, money, food, and lodging. The future looked bleak. She still loved us, but those close times were gone. She was usually too tired to give more than she had given to mundane necessities all day.  

I missed her joyfulness, the cuddles, the games, and I waited patiently for her to find the time to hug me and teach me more about knitting. I felt the loss of her warmth and happiness. Her sadness made me sad. A little girl knows nothing about broken hearts, bitterness, wounded pride, and the fierceness of a love that is unrequited. I just wanted her back the way she used to be. 

Knitting on the Road Less Ravelled by Joy Fox, dedicated to her mother/ Available on Amazon. 
I could see my mother in the yarn wall. There she was, like a wave of a magician’s wand, flitting happily around the looms, touching the coloured yarn, running her fingers over the colours, and feeling the texture, now laying her head against the beautiful blue, my favourite. If I look closely, I can see a tear tracing the lines on her work worn face. She is remembering those times too, the ‘if only’ times. If only it could have stayed that way, the two of us, teaching, sharing, loving, mother to daughter, daughter to mother. Oh, the magic of learning to knit, the appreciation of colour, the feel of the wool and the ability to create beauty with the needles, that is what those special times taught me and that is what that house gave me, a precious memory of a time long ago, unearthed and re-examined, my first appreciation of beauty and design. I closed my eyes that morning and felt my mother wrapping me in the yarn, blue skeins around my body like the umbilical cord, the other colours draping me like warm fluid, back in the womb, loved and nourished, wrapped in woolly warmth, a child again. 

When I opened my eyes, I was back with the yarn, but I felt her presence. I could see her face, worn by years of demanding work and the pain of heartbreak.  Now, in my late eighties, my love of yarn and knitting is still there, living, alive and part of my life, one of my passions. What a magnificent gift, one of several I was fortunate enough to receive. 

While I was writing that morning, I realized that what she had taught me had stayed the course, sunk in. I can create with yarn, design with it, I have taught others to knit, written about it, and travelled to learn more about beautiful yarn. I am content when I knit, and I spend the first hour of each day knitting, a quiet time, while I think about the day ahead. The warmth of creating beauty though knitting is comforting. To give a garment or a knitted piece lovingly made by hand, means more than I can say here. 

Teaching me to knit was her first gift. She left me with so much more, essential tools to get me through life. 

The gift of writing

In my early years, I was shy and quiet, but I loved to write. Mother encouraged me to write, stories and poems, to learn as much as I could, to read books. I was good at writing, English language, spelling, and literature, so got good marks throughout my school years. 

I continued to write regularly throughout my life. At work, writing letters and reports came easily. In these days of email, I still write letters and cards. 

During my working life, I drafted and authored many articles for magazines and newspapers. My current writing project is my memoir based on my youth during World War 11. It is really about my mother though, for it was she, as a single parent, who got us through it. Writing is another gift my mother gave me. How fortunate and grateful I am. 

An old photograph of Joy, wearing a white blazer and pearls
Joy Fox / Photo credit Joy Fox

The gift of music

She also gave me a love of music, her fingers on the piano keys, my voice lifted in song. She gave me her talents, everlasting gifts, for she had nothing material to give. 

Mother was an exceptionally good pianist. I should have learned how to play, but that is hindsight. She wanted to teach me, but my cold hands would not cooperate. Piano paying did not stay with me, but singing did. 

Music is freedom of the spirit. Singing opens the heart and soul and permits one to be in another world, lost in the magic of music. As the notes soar, so does the spirit. I thank her for those Sunday afternoons, during the war and after, when she played the piano and I sang popular songs, windows pushed up, neighbours leaning in, listening, smiling, and dreaming their dreams, while we lost ourselves in ours. Our first audience. 

Mum taught me to sing and to enjoy it. I wish I had paid more attention to learning the piano. I made sure our children took lessons. Listening at their recitals, I knew my mother’s gift of piano was being enjoyed, but it had skipped a generation. I do have a little keyboard though, so maybe not too late. 

Singing though, I continued throughout my life. Now nearing ninety, I still sing in two choirs, have sung in bands as lead vocalist, and travelled to sing. This year I will be singing in Malta and Italy with one of my choirs. I sing on cruises, at parties and anywhere I can perform. Music, what a wonderful gift and I am profoundly grateful for it.  

The gift of fashion

Another gift, she gave me unknowingly, was a love of fashion. Before my father left us, mother was an officer’s wife, travelling the globe with him. She always dressed very fashionably. During the war years, when I played dress up in a couple of the dresses she had kept, I pretended to be a fashionable lady.

As I grew up and started work, Mum would save what little money she could, and buy me clothes from a catalogue, paying insignificant amounts weekly until the garment was paid for. As I started work, I did the same thing, buying clothes and looking as good as I could. I still do this. I do not aspire to dress like everyone else, or even in the latest fashion of the day. I buy and wear what suits me. I do love clothes and dressing nicely. Another gift, her fashion sense. 

Joy Fox is the first recipient of the JourneyWoman Evelyn Hannon Award
Joy having fun with fashion / Photo credit Adrienne Guinn

A gift of dancing

Mum always had a tiny scrap of yellowed newspaper in her possession. On it was a little bordered square with the words ‘Joy – a young girl dancing.’ That piece of newspaper has gone now, misplaced during moves over the years. Mum cut it out and kept it because she wanted her daughter to be able to sing and dance. She had lost two baby girls before I was born, so she had not had the experience and pleasure of teaching a girl to be interested in music. She made sure I would love song and dance! 

It started with little red, tap-dancing shoes. She bought them during the war, so heaven knows where she got them, or how she paid for them. She asked someone to teach me the basics of tap dance, so I learned to shuffle. Whatever tap dance steps I learned had to be performed, in front of the family later in the day. I had to sing too, at these impromptu performances. 

I must hand it to mum. She knew something I did not. From that first pair of tap shoes, I was utterly crazy about various forms of dance. Tapping was one of my pleasures for several years. I tapped as an adult in a competitive group and loved it. It can be solitary or a team involvement. I also tried an alternate form of tap – clogging, as an adult and enjoyed that too. 

Tap eventually gave way to ballroom dancing. This allowed touching boys. The delicious thrill of dancing thigh to thigh with the object of puppy love, was something else, what that something was, could not be defined then – that would come later, when I understood better the thigh-to-thigh thrill. What a romantic thing it is to dance in the arms of a lover, bodies moving in time with the music and in rhythm of our heartbeats, or at least I liked to think so. Dancing can lead anywhere; no wonder people love it. To dance well is to experience a freedom of the spirit, a lifting of the veil, revealing a glimpse of the real person. In the tempo of the music, the swirling of the skirts, the touch of a sweaty palm to sweaty palm, the smiling eyes, meeting and holding, is the promise of love, wonder and hope. When the music fades and the couple parts, reality kicks in, we put on our ‘other’ faces and pretend that was not our real self on the dance floor, but we lie. 

Ballroom dancing gave way to jazz dancing, line dancing, fitness dancing and double time stomp. Mum’s early wishes have paid off countless times. I am glad she believed in me before I believed in myself.  

The gift of gardens

Mum was always enthusiastic about flowers. She loved them. I happened to marry a gardener and together, we created some beautiful gardens over the years. Each garden has had a memorial plant for Mum. She has been able to enjoy two or three of our gardens, but she had none of her own. I think she would love my current garden. I truly wish she could sit and drink her Guinness in my back garden. It would give her the peace she was denied in life. 

woman singing in a band with two others

Joy singing at a party/ Photo credit Joy Fox

Joy with her beloved husband Mike / Photo credit Joy Fox

Joy performing with a band / Photo credit Joy Fox

The gift of travel

Mum often talked about her travels with my father. Those talks planted the seeds of travel in me, and that has fueled my enduring love of travel. When I was 20, I was able to get to Italy on my own. My fiancé had jilted me, so I sold the ring and set off on my first travel adventure. That started a lifetime of travelling solo, as well as with my husband when he was alive.

Mum was also instrumental in our decision to emigrate to Canada. We all needed a better life, and she made it happen. I have travelled regularly since that first trip to Itay, sometimes alone, sometimes with a group, so those early chats with Mum turned into a passion that has been with me all my life. 

Mum was not good at art, but she recognized my talent and encouraged it. If she could have sent me to an Art College, she would have, but there was no money for that. Eventually I took lessons and still do. Another gift passed along. 

Joy Fox in Venice

Joy in Venice / Photo credit Joy Fox

I have often wondered how she became so strong, when her life changed so dramatically, her husband leaving her, losing two babies, looking after the children on her own during the war, losing the house when it was bombed, being evacuated with the children, having to fight my father to pay alimony and taking him to Court when he didn’t pay, (which was often), working in menial jobs to make ends meet, wearing second hand clothes and fighting for everything denied to her as a single mother in England. 

There must have been a vein of steel in her. I expect she just did what she had to do, to survive. Her strength is mine now and I am forever grateful for it. She always said I could do anything I wanted to do in life and to reach for the stars. So far, I have done many things I am proud of, and I aspire to do more. My challenges are nothing compared to hers. She set an amazing example, during incredibly challenging times her strength sustains me. 

The gift of independence

So, while I treasure that old photo, it is most definitely, not the only thing she left me. Mum passed on her talents and encouraged me to develop my own. I will always be grateful for what she left me. 

I wish she could be here to play the piano while I sing, read my writing and cry at the sad bits, dance to the radio, raid my closet and try on clothes, enjoy my garden, come on a road trip, and check out my art. 

The photo is only a physical thing, but her talents and gifts have been life affirming, and they are in capable hands. 

This now older girl, singing, writing, painting, travelling, gardening, not so much dancing now, is enjoying life as a strong independent woman.  

The ultimate gift from my mother. 

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