Even now there was no stopping the guilt that rose up when we thought of her. We did not try to look for our mother. She was gone, like a cat who goes out the back door one night and doesn’t return, and you don’t know if a coyote got her or a hawk or if she sickened somewhere and couldn’t make it home. We let time pass, we waited, trusting her, because she had always been the best of mothers. She’s the mother, that’s what we said to each other, or we did in the beginning. I don’t know who started it.
That’s not true. It was me. Jenny said, “We should look for her.” I said, “She’s the mother.” When I said it, I didn’t know the power those few words would take on in our lives. They had the sound of truth, loaded and untouchable. But they became an anchor that dragged us back from our most honest impulses.
We waited for her to come to get us and she never did.
There was no sign that this would happen. I know people always look for signs. That way they can say, we’re not the type of people things like that happen to, as if we were, as if we should have seen it coming. But there were no signs. Nothing except my worry, which I think I was born with, if you can be born a worrier—Jenny thinks you can.
"Thankfully, Greenslade doesn't shy away from the knotty emotions of other aspects of mothering and she has a particular knack for capturing every nuance of her emotional state throughout the first year of her son's life… this is a book she should be proud to show her son, years from now."
— WINNIPEG FREE PRESS
"An educator and acclaimed non-fiction writer, Greenslade weaves tales of mythology into her meditation on her experience, contrasting timeless and universal beliefs with contemporary bizarreness surrounding mothering. It's lovely, thoughtful and ultimately uplifting…"
— THE TORONTO STAR
"For Frances Greenslade, in By the Secret Ladder, the journey of giving birth and becoming a mother is fraught with obstacles. Like a mythical heroine, she must travel into dark, unknown territory and battle with demons. In rich, lucid prose, Greenslade's particular rite of passage reads like a timeless epic."
— JUDY FONG BATES, author of Midnight at the Dragon Café
"Frances Greenslade has a real gift as a teller of stories, and she tells them in the clearest, most accessible prose, so that they flow one into the other. Once I started reading A Pilgrim in Ireland, I was so engrossed that I couldn't stop. Before I knew it, an entire afternoon had flown by."
— SHARON BUTALA
"[Frances Greenslade] is an accomplished storyteller who demonstrates a deft touch with ironic humour, a rare gift. She also managed to find the perfect voice for this particular piece of work."
— THE STAR PHOENIX, SASKATOON
"Weaving back and forth from the land she's standing on to the country that's home, Greenslade takes a look at the things that have made her the person she is, and the things that have made Canada what it is.… Her openness draws us into her trip, making it as much ours as it is hers."
— THE TORONTO STAR
Jenny was the one who asked me to write all this down. She wanted me to sort it for her, string it out, bead by bead, an official story, like a rosary she could repeat and count on. But I started writing it for her, too. For Mom, or Irene as other people would call her, since she abandoned a long time ago whatever “Mom” once meant to her.
A Pilgrim in Ireland: A Quest for Home