The temperature dropped to 9 degrees last night, which surely means that winter is on its way. And that in turn means that many of us Mitchells Islanders will be partaking of our annual migration to warmer climes over the next few months. Our good friends Kerry and Gordon leave on Tuesday for the Galapagos, then on to Europe, New York and Japan. Rick and I head off for Canada soon; in July Eve and Daniel take in a wedding and some touring in the USA; in September Judy and Michael will go dancing their way across Cuba and the southern United States.

My mother surrounds meAnd what that means is that we won’t all be together again until the end of October. So we decided we should get together for a farewell-to-travellers’ dinner last night. As icing on the cake, housemate Judy suggested that, since the dinner would be on the eve of Mother’s Day, we each take the opportunity to honour our own mothers by telling some of their story.

So after indulging in one of Rick’s Massaman curries, a fine Penfold’s red, and some champagne, we talked about our mothers—one at a time. You should have met these eight mothers! I wish you could have gotten to know them all as I did last night. We were shown photographs, we had bits of letters and interviews read to us, and we were told remarkable stories. We’ve heard about these mothers, but last night each one came alive in our imaginations, as never quite before.

They were a varied lot, these mums. The oldest was born in 1905, the youngest in 1921. One had died in her thirties; only one is still alive, at age 93 (my own lovely mother). They were all deeply influenced by the Great Depression, and were young women through World War II.

There was a politician’s wife, a famous model, and someone who had been visiting family in Poland when the Germans invaded. Someone had run a number of family businesses. One had nine children. Four of the eight mothers were farm women. There was an artist, a drummer, a couple of gardeners, an accountant, some seamstresses. Several began a second career or took up studies when their families had grown. In keeping with the times, most ran a tight ship. All had been tested by and survived serious challenges: abandonment, bad marriages, loss of offspring, being judged by family and community. Religion, divorce, war and poverty all had their impact.

There were wonderful photos; I stared into those faces to see what I could discern about these smiling women with their arms around children who I know today as 60 and 70 year olds. Old photos are always like that: they hold their secrets, some of which I couldn’t begin to guess at. We became present to a very different time: a more conservative time, a time of fewer choices, when things moved more slowly. We could sense a culture by which our own has been shaped.

If you met my mum you would understandAs people spoke, a few shadowy silhouettes slid into the room with us. The children we were when our mothers were young women showed up as the stories were told: there was a little Eve helping to hold the family together while her mum had a rough patch, as well as a little Judy swaddled in family secrets and a little Michael dealing with his mother’s illness. Also there in the room we could sense fragments of our mothers in who we are today: ”Aha! – I see you in what you’re saying about her.”

The love each of us had for these women who gave birth to us was palpable, as well as how much they mean to us now. And we could feel the love they clearly had for us, and for our siblings. Their courage, beauty, exuberance, commitment and caring filled our living room.

This parade of mothers populated my dreams last night, and they’ve been strolling through my head since. I hear echoes of their voices and the click of their high-heeled shoes. I sense their strong feelings and their brows furrowed with concentration. They are women from the past who have had an immeasurable impact on people I love in the present, and they came alive last night.

It was a great exercise, which I strong recommend. There are still a few hours of Mother’s Day left. Especially if you haven’t seen your mother for some time, grab some friends and take a half hour each to bring Mum to the table with you.

And if you can’t get to it today, do it next week—because, actually, any day is a good day to acknowledge one’s mother and reflect on one’s roots.

Sometimes when I open my mouth my mother comes out.