The Magical Realism of Life of Pi

The Magical Realism of Life of Pi
Review by Margie Taylor

Thursday, February 5, 2015


Fox and Geese

What My Mother Wore
By Joan M. Baril

Winter is coming and everyone grieves. Or so it seemed in the bank last week. “The weather is horrible, horrible,” said the woman behind me in line. I wanted to say, “this is January. This is Northern Ontario. It’s only minus 15 out.  Not really that bad. Suck it up, Buttercup!” Even though I said nothing, the incident got me thinking.

Later, as I drove to the gym, I saw a woman run to her car wearing jeans and a heavy sweater but no hat, boots, scarf or mitts. I too was poorly dressed on the way to Curves in work-out pants and runners. I was very aware that my good winter jacket was not enough to prevent the shivering as I waited for the car to warm up. Almost every one who arrived at the gym complained bitterly about the weather. Yet none of them was dressed for winter.

It occurred to me that when I was growing up in Thunder Bay I never heard as much grumbling about the weather as I do now. Perhaps, in those long ago days, there was no alternative, no “down south” to go to, no television ads of Caribbean resorts to provide an alternative, if it only as a day dream. Also we had never heard of the ominous Polar Vortex or the Alberta Clipper and the local officer of health never gave out snow warnings. We mostly got our weather report by checking the outside thermometer and looking out the window.

In my long a go ‘40s and ‘50s, people dressed for the weather every single time they stepped out the door. They did not run for the car and drive off waiting until the heater kicked in to warm them up.  Most women had no car to run to. Many, like my grandmother or aunt, walked to the streetcar stop and then waited outside until it arrived.


My family lived on upper Van Norman Street and so, when my mother went shopping, she walked the three or four blocks down town no matter what the weather. I do not remember her complaining about the cold on the walk down the hill or as she moved from store to store. And why should she? She was warm.

What did she wear?

A wool vest next to the skin and a pair of rayon wide-legged panties completed the first layer. Next came a long corset which in itself must have been warm. The corset had suspenders which held up warm stockings, usually of knitted cotton.  A pair of wool bloomers or snugglies went over all. The snugglies were made of knitted wool, the legs in the shape of wool tubes which came to the knees. A cotton or rayon slip topped the underthings and provided a fourth layer while the long sleeved dress, usually of wool crepe, was the fifth but not the last.

A wool scarf went around the neck and this scarf was sometimes pulled up over the face on windy days. Next came the muskrat coat, heavy and very warm. It reached almost to the ground covering most of her body. On her head, she wore a hat or a knotted triangular scarf. Knitted gloves, sometimes fur lined, completed the outfit. If her hands got very cold, she had plenty of room for them in the deep pockets of the fur coat. Her boots were fur lined and reached just above the ankle.

I do not remember if her fur coat had a hood but my aunt had a cloth coat with a fur-edged  hood.  This long voluminous covering sported a wide fur collar that could be pulled up over the lower face on a windy day. Cloth coats had quilted linings and were almost as warms and heavy as the fur coats.

What did I wear as a child?

First came cotton panties and a short-sleeved woolen vest and over this a cotton garment called a waist which held the suspenders for the wool or ribbed cotton stockings. The bare section of the upper thighs between the panties and stocking tops was well covered by the heavy flannel bloomers which reached to just above the knees. I did not wear a slip and usually not a dress. I wore a woolen skirt, and a thick wool knit sweater with long sleeves. I then struggled into the snow pants which were made of woolen cloth or later, some sort of padded material. These had cuffs on the ankles to keep out the snow. Some snow pants added a bib for extra warmth to the chest area.  If the weather was fairly mild, the wool scarf crossed over the chest with the ends tucked into the waist band of the snow pants. However, if it were very cold or windy the scarf was often wrapped around the neck, another turn covered the mouth and sometimes a third turn covered the forehead. After donning a knitted hat, I put on the long snow jacket. The hood was always worn pulled up and I remember a scarf was often wrapped around the bottom of the hood to hold it in place. Wool socks went on the feet over the wool stockings and the boots were pulled on over that. Lastly came the woolen mittens, either one or two pair worn one inside the other. By the time we were five or six years old, we pulled on all this outerwear—snowpants, jacket, scarf, mitts, socks and boots— ourselves. At school, we had no help and we repeated the dressing and undressing eight times a school day. Only on extremely cold days did we stay in for recess.

We never went outside for any reason without wearing the entire kit. No one ran to the store in their shoes, without mitts or gloves, or without a coat or hat. To do so would not have seemed sensible. In fact, it would have seemed stupid. If my mother had seen the parade of poorly dressed women coming into the gym in January 2015, all whinging  about the cold, she would not have been able to understand it.


I loved winter. Only occasionally was I cold. Usually, it struck my feet first, especially if I was standing watching an outside hockey game. My boots were not especially warm; they were the weak link in the outfit. Also after an hour or so of tobogganing or playing in the snow, my woolen mitts would get wet. But coming and going to school, or on errands for my mother, or on visits to my friends, I do not remember ever being cold and I certainly would not say, the weather is horrible.


1 comment:

  1. Great piece of remembrance, Joan. The main thing I remember is having to wear those god-awful yellow galoshes!!

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