Sunday, May 10, 2015


Agnes McGinnis née Murphy, Mount Dennis, early '40s

MY MOM LOVED BING CROSBY. Sure there might have been other singers, but for her it would always be Bing. When I was learning about jazz - thanks to a Benny Goodman sextet record I used to hear in a vintage clothing store - I asked her what she thought about Billie Holiday. She didn't like her, she told me. She had a lisp.

My mother and father were nearly sixty when they adopted me, so I never knew the woman in this photo, taken twenty years before, probably by my cousin Terry, the family photographer. She was stylish; she liked her clothes. She also liked dancing, and was a regular at places like the Maple Leaf and the Palais Royale, apparently. I would have liked to have met this woman.

Agnes and Marty McGinnis, Mount Dennis, 1946

I love this photo. It's from the trove of negatives I've been slowly scanning for the last few months. Judging from the expression in her eyes it was taken by my father, and like the photo at the top - and so many others - it was taken in the backyard of the house on Grandville. My brother still makes that face today.

My mother was nearly a senior citizen by the time my first real memories begin, so I never knew this woman - the young mother in her late thirties, newly married and finally starting the family that she and her husband had put off for years while they took care of their own ailing mothers. It's such a happy scene, and her pride in her baby and her husband radiates from the picture.

Agnes McGinnis, Mississauga, Christmas 1985

My own mother was ailing for most of my life - a misdiagnosed ailment that, in the end, was probably ALS. This was taken at my sister's house, on the second last Christmas she'd live to see, just a few months after I bought my first camera. A year later she'd be unable to leave her nursing home, and we'd drive from Caledon to visit her there. She was wrapped up in blankets on the couch in her room and barely spoke. A few weeks later she was gone.

I have a lot of regret, still, when I remember my mother. I wish I had been able to cope with the illness that gradually sapped her strength for years. I wish I had been a bit older, and able to see past my own chaotic life. I wish I'd had a chance to see her as the young, energetic woman in the old photos I've been scanning. She has a granddaughter now who carries her name. It was the least I could do.


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