Pierrette Mireault (1929-2018)

My mother passed away on Saturday, April 21st.  My sister, her family and I were with her during the last days.  It was a difficult time but there was so many beautiful moments of hugs and kisses.

By her own account, my mother was a nervous little girl forcing her to skip an entire year of grade school and live with her grandmother in a village away from the bustle of Montréal.  Later, she suffered from anxiety which she battled most of her adult life.  It couldn’t have been easy.  Here is an early photo of her and her sister, Cécile.  My mother is on the left with her very fashionable marcel curls!

 

Pierrette

Pierrette and Cécile

Perhaps the earliest memory I have of my mother was a summer’s day walk to Woolworth’s.  My mother wanted to buy herself a 45 rpm record.  I thought to myself, “they have records for adults?”  We only had children’s records at home.  When my mother played the 45 on our portable record player, I was disappointed.  Edith Piaf sang, “Padam, Padam, Padam…”  I didn’t know what the word “padam” meant!  I never thought about it much until a few weeks later when I tried the flipside.  The first words were terrifying, “Le ciel bleu sur nous peut s’effondrer, et la terre peut bien s’écrouler.”  Woah!  I thought, I’ll stick to Bibbidi bobbidi boo from Walt Disney’s Cinderella.  Of course, later in life, after having loved and lost, I understood the meaning of the words of L’Hymne à l’amour and today, it is my absolutely favourite French song and it always reminds me of my mother.

My mother was very much ahead of her time.  Although she probably wouldn’t have called herself a feminist, she had very little regard for male authority.  When a school principal threatened to give me the strap because I had forgotten to do homework, she threatened to call the police (click here for details).  She instinctively knew that the state had no business disciplining her children.  That was her job.  As for the men in red cloaks who lived at the Vatican, they weren’t about to tell her how to conduct her personal life.  She was Christian and she believed in God but the rules from Rome?  I don’t think so.  Closer to home, she would even tease my father about his work as an administrator at CN hinting that more time was spent at the office water cooler than at desks actually working!  He would just laugh it off.  If nothing else, she could ALWAYS make him laugh.

As for competing with men, she would have thought…. why compete with men when I can manipulate them?  It’s much for fun!  When I think of my mother, I think of hair, lipstick, cleavage, legs, high heels and perfume!

pierrette3

My mother’s official engagement photo.

My mother’s choice in perfume reads like a hit parade of 20th century perfumery.  When the above photo was taken in the early 50s, she would have been wearing Fleurs de Rocaille by Caron, the 1934 version when it was a classy, soapy-clean floral… perfect for a doctor’s daughter.  Later in the early 60s, she wore Crêpe de Chine by Millot (1925), the first perfume I remember her wearing.  Then, L’Air du Temps by Nina Ricci (1948) when it was still great followed by Fidji by Guy Laroche (1966), when IT was still great.  I can also remember Calandre by Paco Rabanne (1969).  So, as you see, my mother was constantly updating her perfume to suit the taste of the day.  Later in life, she wore Muguet des Bois by Coty (a drugstore marvel) and my sister kept her well stocked with Happy by Clinique (1998) eau de toilette and handcream, which she loved.

When my father and I had a falling out, my mother extended the olive branch.  She coyly disguised an invitation for supper to myself and my first boyfriend, Clément, challenging us to ride our bikes from our downtown apartment to my parents’ house in Saint-Laurent, perhaps an hour’s ride.  “If you can get here on your bikes, I will provide the steaks.”  My dad cooked them on the grill in our backyard.  The reconciliation with my father started on that day.

There is so much more I could write, it would take a novel but suffice it to say that she raised 4 children and when the kids were grown up she volunteered 2 days a week for over 20 years at a local hospital, no doubt with lots of perfume trailing her down the corridors back when wearing perfume wasn’t a felony!

In her last days, she refused to eat.  My sister and I knew the end was near… without food how can we sustain life?  I thought of Frida Kahlo’s last painting of the luscious, juicy watermelons (1954).  She painted the fruit cut open exposing the red and pink flesh and the seeds, suggesting more watermelons to come.  Eight days before she died, Frida signed the painting with red paint and added the words “Viva la Vida”.

Long live life.

Watermelons

 

 

 

 

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28 Comments

  1. Johanne

     /  April 24, 2018

    Wow Normand, you made me cry! Quelle belle plume tu as!

    Reply
  2. Nathalie Boivin

     /  April 24, 2018

    Toutes mes condoléances Normand. J’espère que tu as en ta possession quelques bouteilles vintages de la collection de ta maman. Le parfum est tellement évocateur.

    Reply
  3. Tara C

     /  April 24, 2018

    What a beautiful tribute to your mom, she was stunning! Thank you for sharing her stories with us.

    Reply
  4. gaylefeyrer

     /  April 24, 2018

    Beautiful tribute.

    Reply
  5. FiveoaksBouquet

     /  April 24, 2018

    Heartfelt condolences, Normand. Your mom was gorgeous and very elegant. The perfumes you mentioned were largely aldehydic florals, my favourite category. Some people may feel that women need to compete in various fields or professions to excel but the more I see women like your mom it seems to me that women have the capacity to excel in whatever they do. May she rest in peace.

    Reply
  6. Nadia

     /  April 24, 2018

    Wow! Tu as un don pour te raconter Normand. Ce billet est touchant, inspiré, sensible et absolument magnifique. Quelle belle finale, optimiste malgré tout, viva la vida! Je t’offre mes plus sincères condoléances. Longue vie à ton blogue.

    J’ai souri à ces mots: «she volunteered 2 days a week for over 20 years at a local hospital, no doubt with lots of perfume trailing her down the corridors back when wearing perfume wasn’t a felony!»

    Reply
    • Merci Nadia! Je pense que c’est le billet qui m’a pris le moins de temps… et pourtant, un sujet difficile.

      On se parle bientôt.

      Reply
  7. Julie D.

     /  April 24, 2018

    Quel bel hommage! Ta plume nous fait découvrir une mère au grand cœur et une femme accomplie qu’on aurait aimé connaître. Normand, toutes mes condoléances ainsi qu’à ta famille.

    Reply
  8. Andrea

     /  April 24, 2018

    I’m so sorry for your loss. You have written such a beautiful and moving tribute. Your mum certainly had incredible style… in her taste and how she lived her life.

    Reply
  9. “When mothers die, you lose one of the points of the compass”, says the Swedish writer Göran Tunström in one of his books. My heartfelt condolences and thank you for your wonderful tribute to her.

    Reply
  10. Brigitte

     /  April 25, 2018

    I am so sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing your mother with us. What a beautiful and fascinating woman….and she had impeccable taste in perfume.

    Reply
    • You are welcome. Oh yes, she was incredibly beautiful. Later in life she went Marilyn Monroe blonde and she was even more striking, particularly with her blue eyes.

      Thanks for writing!

      Normand

      Reply
      • Brigitte

         /  April 25, 2018

        and on a lighter note I just want to say that I remember Woolworths!!! Sadly they went out of business in the States…..are they still in existence in Canada?

        Blonde hair and blue eyes is striking…I also LOVE the red lips that are apparent even in the black and white photo.

      • No, Woolworth’s is no longer here as well. M would take me to the lunch counter for cheeseburgers and vanilla milkshakes. Mmmmm

      • Brigitte

         /  April 25, 2018

        And my father did the same with me..I remember those lunch counters and I remember all the wonderful little treasures in Woolworths….lovely memories for both of us!

      • Yesss! The cave of Ali Baba!

  11. Dear Normand, I’m so, so sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing your loving memories about your beautiful mother. We, who came here to read your post and who didn’t know her and would not have known about her if it weren’t for this post, have now warm thoughts about her. We “met” her after she left this world – and some knowledge of her will stay with us.
    I wish you strength to live through the roughest time of “it just happened” and peaceful memories of her going forward.

    Reply
    • Thank you Undina! In the last year, she started to deteriorate and so it was expected but still a shock when it happened. Thanks for the kinds words.

      Reply
  12. Anonymous

     /  April 29, 2018

    Please accept my sincere condolences on the loss of your elegant, intriguing mother.
    Carolyn

    Reply

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