My mother was a struggling single parent in a much simpler time, but even with very scarce means, we always had a newspaper in the house and a television set that never missed the newscast. I have to agree with those who say reading is enjoyed by those who watch others enjoy reading.
Our after-school ritual involved her cooking dinner as I lay on my stomach on the kitchen linoleum, leaning on my elbows, to read the sports section of the Toronto Star or Toronto Telegram. We'd talk sports, particularly hockey, which she followed avidly all her life. (My first job at age 10 was to deliver the Telegram.)
Comics hardly ever appealed to me in the paper, but the Entertainment section did, and it was my mother's encouragement of my music interests that educated me early to the sounds of Pink Floyd, Bob Dylan and The Rolling Stones before I was a teen and made me comfortable to write about music once I had a venue. Without that early income, I wouldn't have made it through college to get the jobs I have.
I still remember her telling me one Sunday morning that some girl had come down with a bad cold and that there was now a spare ticket for a concert that afternoon for The Beatles. She put me on the streetcar alone, age six, and my cousin met me at the stop at Maple Leaf Gardens. Guess you couldn't do that today without a visit from a child services worker.
I watched the Canadian and American newscasts to give me some first impressions of the wider world. We had no money to travel --- I didn't board a plane until I was in college, at my school's expense --- but my mother's latitude on my TV consumption was a cool thing. As long as what I was watching seemed to bring knowledge, she would let the TV run day and night. It didn't stop me from watching junk, but along the way I got to understand the structure of newscasts, the concept of a talk show, and the methods to appropriate should I ever be so lucky.
I hope to discover in her apartment in the days ahead copies of my first newspaper, a Grade Six regular masterpiece printed with Gestetner fluid called The Editorial. It was created at Canada's first-ever experiential (meaning, free-form and largely unaccountable) school, Dewson Public School in central-west Toronto. My teacher was Mrs. Waverman, who told my mother that I had a particular gift to one day be a writer. One day Mrs. Waverman decided to give up teaching. She is now Canada's most acclaimed food writer, the Globe and Mail's Lucy Waverman.
Once I moved away, my mother kept as many early clippings in community newspapers, trade publications and campus papers as she could find and I could deliver. Eventually she made sure anything I wrote that showed up in the Star or the Globe and Mail made its way to her. She was a voracious collector and I was a productive supplier.
I don't think my mother ever came to more than one or two school sports events of mine --- a good thing, considering my athletic prowess --- but she rarely missed anything I did on television, even that Wayne's World-like community cable show I did in my teens that featured loud music, rock interviews and the first wave of rock videos. I held a number of jobs in news services and newspapers, but the ones she most understood were in television. When she could see what I did with the medium of her generation, she could comprehend what I did for a living. Even with her curiosity on what people I'd met were like, the writing and managing were abstractions for someone with three years of her own education and three decades in factories.
The only time she'd be upset with me, it seemed, was when I'd be on TV and she didn't know about it. She really hated to hear about my shows from her friends, but she always said they said flattering things. Actually, she was also uncomfortable hearing about the long hours I worked (my employers vehemently disagreed), but came to understand that her struggle to put food on the table informed my work ethic to seize opportunity and never let my family come as close as we did to poverty.
She was not ever going to be technically savvy. I must have offered her a dozen computers, cellphones and tutorials in the last two decades, but she declined the offer and stopped absorbing tech at the VCR and CD player. She tried but never quite got the hang of recording my programs. It didn't matter: She seemed to know everyone on them and everything we said.
At long last, a cousin one day got her online and watched her peck away an email to me. My mother phoned to make sure I got it.
I was proud to earn enough money at age 15 to buy her first colour TV --- a gift of media for her encouragement of it. I smuggled it to the house by cab when she was at work. I think it weighed about 50 pounds. More than 35 years later, I brought her a flat-screen for her birthday in April. I know it weighed less than 10 pounds. I figured it was her last one, but didn't know until today how soon it would be so.