Character Studies
Reader's Digest Canada|May 2021
In lockdown, Mom and I were able to move past our clashing personalities and connect
John Danakas

LAST SPRING, when the first lockdown began in Winnipeg, the task to check in daily on our elderly mother fell to me. I was no longer working in an office, and since I lived alone, I could more easily limit social contacts and ensure her safety.

My brother and sister-in-law handled the weekly grocery shopping (dropped off at the side door) as well as Mom’s monthly haircut (with her seated smack in the centre of the backyard on a whitegone-grey plastic lawn chair).

Mom is 88 and lives on her own in the home she and my father moved into after their retirement. Dad passed away about 12 years ago—he fell ill just as my parents were about to celebrate their 50th anniversary.

She’s blessed, of course, to have her two sons and three grandchildren nearby, and my brother and I are lucky even to have been able to visit her. Still, I wasn’t sure how the visits would go. Mom and I agreed long ago that we have clashing personalities and, even as I’ve crossed into my late 50s, our differences still present challenges. She appreciates discipline and order; I favour improvisation. We do share a facility with language—but, unfortunately, when directed at each other, it can be biting.

Initially, I timed my visits to coincide with the Greek game shows she watches every afternoon on satellite TV. The icebreaker worked: soon we found ourselves rooting for the same contestants or comparing the relative appeal of the various hosts.

Mom became fascinated with my ability to find out trivial information almost instantly on my smart phone: the age of a Greek pop singer, the selling price of the house down the street, the year an acquaintance married.

“How can that little thing know so much?”

What I discovered when we turned away from the TV, however, was that my mother knew things Google didn’t. Soon I set aside my phone and made Mom my preferred search engine. I learned, for instance, that the German soldiers occupying her hometown south of Sparta during the Second World War sunbathed in the nude every afternoon, and that the trick to cooking wild dandelion greens so they are only slightly tart and still deliciously tender is not to over-boil them.

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