Vendor Voices: Bob Dennis talks about his complicated history with his mother, and the love they share
For my mother
By Bob Dennis
My mother Norah Winnifred Parlett was born in London, England to William and Florence Parlett on June 27, 1923. My mother had two older sisters: Florence Junior, who passed away June 3, 2015 at age 105, and Helen, who passed away at age 82 in April 1994. Both of her sisters suffered from strokes.
When Mum was born, her parents were both happy as she was the last daughter who survived birth since 1912. Grandpa William was so proud of Norah. Unfortunately, he only knew her for six months because he died from a heart attack. He had other health complications from inhaling gas on the battlefield fighting the German army in the First World War. I resemble my Grandpa William—loss of a bit of hair on top (Ha! Ha!) and a moustache.
When Mum turned 16, she worked in a dress shop in London. In 1941, when she turned 18, she joined the Air Force, a job in which she spied on the Germans during the Second World War.
In 1948, her and Nanny Florence came to Canada and settled in Vancouver. Mum got a job in a bank as a teller. Mum met Dad in 1949. They were married Dec. 8, 1951 in Vancouver. I was born Dec. 26, 1952. Mum was off work with me for six months. She would take me to the beach in a stroller as well as Stanley Park.
Mum returned to work after I was six months old. Fifteen months later, she was pregnant with my brother Stephen, born June 7, 1955. We moved from the West End to a house at the top of Lonsdale Avenue in North Vancouver on June 17 that same year.
Steve and I were a handful. I was jealous of the attention he got. I used to push him around. After awhile, Mum was working at a bakery a block from our house on Lonsdale Street.
My dad and his father tried to operate a concession at Ambleside Beach. He wanted a change from being a draftsman. The business went belly up. He piled lots of French fries to an order and tripled the scoops on ice cream cones. Mum brought in the money. Dad took me to work where I’d watch the ships come in. Steve was babysat at a neighbour’s. Poor Dad, he never had a business head even when he owned two houses and an apartment.
Then my mum gave birth to my brothers Michael and David. In 1957, Mum stopped working. My brothers and I were all close in age. Mum was very playful and baked us cookies. She was a very good entertainer for her mother, and sister Florence Junior, and Dad’s parents. This continued till we moved to Dunbar, and then my sister Lisa came along.
A year and a half later, Mum had to return to work at the local drug store. With Dad’s drinking we were getting into debt. We stayed in Dunbar till Dad’s transfer to Winnipeg with Crippen Acres Engineering and Drafting. Mum soon worked at a department store in Winnipeg.
Mum was always there for me despite my drug using and getting picked up by the cops for drinking and petty things. I was picked on in school. When I got away from the drug crowd, I joined Mum and her friends at the local Legion.
We (except brother Steve) returned to B.C. in 1978. I had a dishwashing job and an apartment. When Dad was out of town, I’d visit Mum in Richmond and see my two brothers and sister.
I was shattered in 1986 when mum and Dad divorced over his drinking and mismanagement of the property he owned. The divorce brought Mum and me closer. We lived opposite each other for 14 years. Over a period of time, she lost her sight and went into assisted living. She then lost her ability to walk. Mum has dementia now but still knows the family. I get up to see her as much as I can. I have to because I live the closest. Steve lives in Winnipeg. My brother Mike lives in Burnaby. David and his wife are in Victoria. Lisa and her husband live in Surrey.
I feel blessed I had her. How she went to work to keep a roof over our heads, dealing with the police over my dad. Dad said he was a fool the way he treated her at her 85th birthday to her late friend Gladys.
Her 93rd birthday was on June 24. I miss my aunts, dad’s cousins, and my mum’s friends who have all passed on.”
Bob Dennis sells Megaphone outside Choices Market on 19th and Cambie in Vancouver.
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