Happy Birthday Mom! – Hazel Hilles – Sept 18, 1926 – Jan 20, 2012

Posted: September 18, 2013 in Samples of My Writing, Writing Posts


We miss you!

Today would have been my mother’s 87th birthday. It is will great sadness that I mark her birthday without her being here to connect to. The poems below and write up help some with the pain.

Hazel Hilles Memorial Short Fiction Prize

Here is more about my mother:

My mother was born Hazel Holmes in Dryden Ontario and grew up with six sisters (Helen, Mary, Lena, Geraldine, Vera and Orchid) and three brothers (Jerry, John and Wendell). Her father Gerry Wendell Holmes wrote poetry as did she. Her mother Lena Holmes (Webster) played piano and taught piano lessons. My mother left Dryden after grade nine when she was about 16 and worked first in Winnipeg as a domestic and then later as a chambermaid at Redden’s Camp on Longbow Lake and Barney’s Ball Lake Lodge on Ball Lake.

She met my father Austen Hilles (Micky) through Mary Redden when she worked at Redden’s Camp cleaning cabins. My parents were married on Nov 3, 1950 and lived first in Kenora and later at Longbow Lake. I was born the following November. My brother Brian was born in September 1953 and my sister Cathi in March 1958. My mother loved all her children deeply and lived for them. When my father retired they moved from Longbow Lake to Winnipeg in 1986. When my father died in 1995 she moved into her first apartment and lived there until she had to go into a more extended care facilities in 2005.

She was a very warm and loving person right to the day she died and always made her children feel special and loved. No matter how frail she became she never forgot her children and lit up any time we visited. When my brother died in 2008 she said, “We must go on.” And in that spirit we will go on Mom. Still my sister and I will miss her most deeply but we have our families to help us through it. I have  Pearl and my children Breanne (her husband Kyle), Austin and Amanda (her husband Steven) and our grandchildren. Pearl has helped me through all of these rough days so far. My sister has Robert and her two sons Camille and Ben. My brother’s son Michael and his family in Calgary and my brother’s widow Pam and granddaughter Keanna will also miss her.

Without her influence I would never have started writing and from an early age she instilled in me a love of poetry and music. She wrote many poems and songs and I wish I had a record of them now, but most disappeared either in the fire of 1964 (when our house burned down) or the many moves after that. The one song of hers I remember her writing and playing on the piano when I was a boy was called “I Gave You My Heart.” She has appeared in many of my poems over the years. Below you will find two of them. One reflects on the recent past, and the other focuses on my memories of her from my childhood.

Mom succumbed to pneumonia on the afternoon of January 20th, 2012 in room 525 of the Victoria Hospital in Winnipeg. My father also succumbed to pneumonia in the morning of July 16, 1995 in room 516 of the Victoria Hospital in Winnipeg. Poetry even in that small final coincidence.

Goodbye Mom. We will always love you!

Bob Chelmick reading On Credit for her:


On Credit

Each season is a form of temper
And living creatures all
Emerge from the same swamp
We are the most bug-like
As we lay out gardens
Line up plants
Along the perimeter of a fence
If we were cold blooded we’d
Swim in icy water until our hearts stopped.

In Winnipeg the Red River nearly spills its banks
I hold my mother’s hand
As we listen to a band playing
Love Me Tender
And remember the Elvis movie she took me to
As a boy of five
And I know the whole truth is out there somewhere
And that she and I are mixed in with it

Later she lies bundled in bed for the night
The broadest smile on her face
Each day is what she wakes to
Nothing more than breath
And moistened eyes
She blows air at me
And I know she is trying to communicate
I hear sirens out her window
Proof the outside world still exists.

There are atoms that pulse so
Regularly they do not lose a second in 37 million years.
The universe is a spring that
Winds up and then down again
And has been doing so forever
When I look
Into her fading eyes
I see back to a cloudy moment
Before I was born.

After I kiss her good night
I stand at the door to her room
Until she closes her eyes
Her mouth a happy grin
I want to hold onto this moment
Want it to go on for a very long time
But as I turn to leave it has already passed.
I walk a few steps up the hall to the elevator
But come back for one more look.
Her eyes remain closed and if she senses me
She makes no sign of it.
I am struck by how peaceful she is
And separate from me
As if I have paused at a stranger’s room
I think of melting snow in April
How spring pushes forward
With force at this latitude.

When I return to the street
The parking lot has filled with large puddles
From the rapid melt
Spring is the season of most flux
Change more sped up
As the earth works quickly
Through rain and sun
As purposeful as anything
God has done on our behalf.

And as I get in my sister’s car
My mother is sound asleep
This day for her already over
Although it is barely 8 PM
That’s just how it is after a certain age
We’re but spread apart fingers
And a light puff of air
That can be quickly stopped.

And a poem remembering my mother many years earlier:

All Dolled Up

Time blurs the truth
And lies become clearer.
My mother used to get all dolled up
Before she went into Kenora
That was how she put it.
I need to get dolled up
Now she never wears make-up.
In a photo of her taken when she
Was twenty-one she wears
Lipstick and mascara
In all the others she wears none.

I liked her best without make-up
And when I’d watch her get ready
I never wondered why she wore some
And my father didn’t.
Most of those memories are badly lit.
I can’t make out much of them
No sounds or smells
Not the colours of furniture or clothes
Just a few words here and there
And some song in the background always there
Unforgettable or Moon River
What remains
Are quick hand movements in poor light

On those days my mother wore makeup
My father would drive her into Kenora
In his 1951 Ford half-ton
And she shopped for groceries or clothes for us kids.
My father waited in the truck
His hair a mess his hands dirty
If someone came by that he knew
He’d get out and talk to them
With one foot resting on the front bumper
My mother would return to the truck
Weighed down with her shopping
And my father would hoist each bag
Into the back where my brother and I waited

At home, my mother never took off
Her make-up until she went to bed
The lipstick usually smeared a bit
And the rouge vanished first
And the eye shadow ran
By the end of the day
She looked as if her face
Were slipping away.

Now she sits in her wheel chair and watches TV
Or waits to be wheeled down for a meal
She says words at random
Although in her head
They make perfect sense
We travel time together
Momentary bliss
All we have.

Our memories
Aren’t our lives
But what we’ve dolled up
In front of a mirror
To us they look beautiful
All made up.


  1. my goodness, Robert. These are extraordinary poems about your mother, and so much more. I know you know this, but your mother is not only in the poems, but in the one who makes them, in a way that helps you to make them just the way they are. How could it be otherwise? There’s a way a mother cares for a child that allows a poet to grow strong. Nothing takes that away. Thanks so much for making this page for her, for us.

    • Peter Levitt says:

      hi robert – sorry, my name got left off of that one, and I don’t want to be an email address to you, even if you know who it is.


    • Thanks Peter you put this so much better than I ever could have. Thank you for thinking of my mother and remembering her. That is all we can do now. Thank you too above all for believing in the poems.


  2. Your sorrow is shared, Robert.

  3. Elle says:

    moving poems, beautiful photos and memories.

    • Elle first thanks for taking the time to look at the photos and read the poems. I really helps to know people are thinking of her even if they only met her through the poems and photos.


  4. Hi Robert — lovely and touching pieces, a real tribute to your love for your mother and hers for you. I’ve been writing about similar things recently — our mothers are so important… Like you, without my mom, I wouldn’t be a poet.

    Please accept my deepest sympathy on your heart-wrenching loss.

    • Thank you so much for these thoughts Susan and for sharing your own story about your mother. I had not known that and really value hearing it right now. I will read your poems differently knowing that! Thank you again for reaching out at this difficult time.


      • Peter Levitt says:

        Hi Robert and Susan – maybe this is a good time to bring this one out, given what’s being said about being poets and our mothers. Robert, you may remember from One Hundred Butterflies. I offer it to you personally now because yr heart is so loving and so clear:

        Mother, you were born
        so I was born.
        You will die
        and I will follow you there.
        How can I thank you,
        all this time
        preparing the ground?


      • Peter thank you so much for that poem from One Hundred Butterflies. So fitting at this moment. Thank you. I hope others check out that wonderful book too!


  5. Murray Reiss says:

    What a touching tribute, Robert. Your words do so much to bring your mother to life. No wonder you feel such sadness at her loss. She does look beautiful, all made up.

    • Murray thank you for such a kind response and for taking the time to read these poems. I hope all is well with you and Karen. It is a sad time but it helps to know others are thinking about my mother.

      • Chris Wiseman says:

        Robert – I’m really sorry about your mother’s death. I, too, wouldn’t have been a poet without my mother, and even though she’s been gone since 2001, I still dream about her often and think about her every day. As you know, I have quite a few poems about her in my books. They sometimes seem like a small gratitude, but they may keep the memory of her remarkable life alive for a little longer. Sympathies and warmest wishes. Chris

      • Chris thank you for reaching out. I remember your many trips to England to visit your mother. Sad to know it is already more than ten years since she died. I remember those poems for your mother fondly. At least the poems carry through time what our memories can’t.


  6. Dennis B says:

    Sandra and I are so very sorry to hear of your loss, Robert. I really enjoyed reading the history, and learning more about how your mom and dad met. Reading the poems brought back some really vivid images of both your mom and dad, and Kenora, and then of you and I wandering the streets of Kenora, coffees at Ted’s Cafe, Sandra and I staying with you at your parent’s place before the great adventure to Montreal. It was like flipping through an old photo album, except the pictures were videos. My heart goes out to you and your family Robert. She will live forever in you and your children, and in all the other people she touched with her kindness and her gentle soul.

    • Dennis thank you and Sandra for your kind words. Thanks too of the memories especially of Ted’s Cafe. I remember it so well and the jukebox and hanging out there with you and Lloyd and Brian. And of course that amazing drive to Montreal and back. Thanks for remembering her as you knew her when she was so much younger. She was hip without really trying or meaning to be hip back then. Maybe it was because she was so accepting. My best to you and Sandra and your family. I remember the boys as mere babies and so grown now and with such full lives of their own. You must be so proud. We must connect the next time I am in Calgary.

  7. Peter Schnitzler says:

    Dear Robert. You’re much on my mind these days, thinking about your mother, my mother, death and loss, death and loss. What a beautiful tribute you have fashioned, as thoughtful and loving as you are. Peter S.

    • Peter thank you for such a kind and moving response to my poems and tribute to my mother. And thank you for reading this and thinking about her along with your mother. I do the same thinking of your mother and of you having to clean out her house. Strange place we’ve arrived at you and I without our mothers. Wish you well and look forward to seeing you and Alexa again on Salt Spring.

  8. stephentberg says:

    A moving tribute. Beautiful poems.

  9. A lovely tribute, Robert, to your mother and to all the people who did the best they could. I like to think they would be happy knowing that their lives are honoured by our poets, and, in fact, live on in the poems.

    • Merna:

      Thank you for such kind words. That means a lot coming from you and thank you for all the wonderful support you have given me and my writing over the years. It has made a huge difference and I am sorry if I haven’t made that clear before. My mother would have liked very much what you said here so thank you for posting this.


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