Transcript: Plum Johnson: They Left Us Everything | Aug 27, 2015

Piya sits in the studio. She's in her forties, and has dark brown, slightly wavy hair to her shoulders. She wears a blue blouse and a purple blazer. Behind her, a wall screen reads “The Agenda with Steve Paikin.”

Piya says AFTER NEARLY 20 YEARS OF CARING
FOR HER ELDERLY PARENTS, AUTHOR
PLUM JOHNSON AND HER BROTHERS
BEGAN TO DEAL WITH THE GRIEF AND
SOLACE OF THEIR LOSS, AS WELL AS
THE SELLING OF THEIR FAMILY HOME
AND ITS VALUED POSSESSIONS.
AND SHE LAYS IT ALL OUT IN HER
AWARD-WINNING MEMOIR.
IT IS CALLED
THEY LEFT US
EVERYTHING.
AND PLUM JOHNSON JOINS US NOW.

A picture of the book appears briefly on screen. The cover shows the title inside a golden photo frame above a black and white family portrait.
Then, Plum appears on screen. She’s in her sixties, with long brushed brown hair. She’s wearing a red blazer and a matching beaded necklace.

Piya says WELCOME TO THE PROGRAM.

Plum says THANK YOU SO MUCH.

Piya says THIS IS SUCH A GREAT BOOK IN SO
MANY WAYS.
AND I THINK, UM, BECAUSE IT IS
ABOUT YOUR PERSONAL FAMILIAL
EXPERIENCE BUT IT SPEAKS TO THE
UNIVERSALITY OF FAMILY AND A LOT
OF THE THINGS THAT WE STRUGGLE WITH.
UM, WITH LOSS AND WITH GRIEF AND
GETTING RID OF ONE'S POSSESSIONS
SORT OF SPEAK.
WHY DID YOU WANT TO UNRAVEL YOUR
FAMILY?
WHY DID YOU WANT TO GO BACK THERE?

A caption appears on screen. It reads “Plum Johnson. Author ‘They left us everything.’.”
Then, it changes to “Family portrait.”

Plum says I DIDN'T--YOU THINK OF IT--I
DIDN'T THINK OF IT AS
UNRAVELLING MY FAMILY.
I FELT LIKE IT WAS MORE LIKE
UNRAVELLING MOM'S HOUSE.
AND THE INTERESTING THING IS
THAT WHEN I MOVED OUT THERE
AFTER SHE DIED TO CLEAR IT OUT I
WAS TAKING A BUNCH OF THINGS
OVER TO THE THRIFT STORE AND,
UM, THAT'S WHAT--YOU KNOW, THEY
WEREN'T THAT PLEASED TO SEE ME
WHEN I WENT BECAUSE THEY WERE
GETTING PILES OF STUFF JUST LIKE
MINE FROM--PEOPLE WERE JUST
THROWING IT IN THE BACK DOOR.
AND I--THAT'S WHEN I LOOKED AT
THAT AND I THOUGHT, “LOOK AT
THIS BIG PICTURE.
THERE ARE--IT LOOKS LIKE
EVERYBODY IS CLEARING OUT THEIR
PARENTS' THINGS.
AND WHY IS NOBODY WRITING ABOUT
THIS?”
AND THAT'S REALLY WHEN THE IDEA
FOR THE BOOK STARTED.

Piya says OKAY, SO LET'S GO BACK WITH YOUR
PARENTS, UM, 'CAUSE WE'RE GOING
TO MEET THEM.
HOW DID THEY MEET?

Plum says THEY MET DURING THE WAR.
THEY WERE, UM, MOM WAS, YOU
COULD CALL HER A WAR BRIDE.
I GUESS YOU COULD CALL DAD A WAR
HUSBAND, I GUESS THAT'S NOT A
TERM WE USE VERY OFTEN, BUT
THEY--THE WAR THRUST THEM
TOGETHER.
THEY WOULDN'T HAVE MET
OTHERWISE.
SO DAD WAS BRITISH.
MOM WAS SOUTHERN, AMERICAN, AND
THEY MET IN ENGLAND DURING THE WAR.

Piya says DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR?

Plum says YEAH.

Piya says UM, AND TALK TO ME ABOUT THAT
BECAUSE YOU WRITE ABOUT THIS IN
THE BOOK, ABOUT THAT PERIOD, THE
SECOND WORLD WAR, HOW IT SHAPED
YOUR FATHER, AND HIS PARENTING STYLE.

Plum says WELL, I THINK FOR MOM AND DAD
BOTH THEY--THEY HAD, YOU KNOW,
THE WAR WAS A VERY INTENSE TIME
FOR THAT GENERATION.
THEY, UM, HAD BASICALLY LOST
EVERYTHING.
THEY HAD LOST EVERYTHING IN THE
GREAT DEPRESSION BEFORE THE WAR.
AND SO THEY HAD LEARNED TO BE
FRUGAL AND TO DO WITHOUT AND--

Piya says AND SO YOU GROWING UP,
YOUR BROTHERS, WHAT--WHAT
WAS LIFE WITH YOUR DAD LIKE?

Plum says UM, WELL MOST OF THE
NEIGHBOURHOOD CHILDREN GAVE DAD
A WIDE BIRTH I THINK.

Piya says MEANING HE WAS STRICTER, MORE OF
A DISCIPLINARIAN?

Plum says HE WAS--HE WAS AT THE FAR END
OF--OF A, YOU KNOW, A LINE I THINK.
UM, YEAH, HE WAS--HE WAS
STRICTER THAN MOST PARENTS IN
THE NEIGHBOURHOOD.
AND, UH, WE HAD PRETTY STRICT
PUNISHMENT TOO.
YEAH.

Piya says THERE WAS--YOUR FATHER WAS ALSO
LOVING IN HIS--HIS WAY.

Plum says YES.

Piya says I WANT--WE HAVE SOME TAPE HERE.
I THINK THIS IS OF YOU AND YOUR
FATHER, YOUR FATHER TEACHING YOU
HOW TO FISH.

Plum says WELL THIS IS--
YES.

An old homemade film plays on screen. It shows a family fishing in a pond on a sunny day.

Piya says THIS IS YOU AND YOUR
FAMILY, RIGHT?
SO TELL ME ABOUT, WHEN YOU SEE
THIS WHAT--WHAT ARE YOU
THINKING, THIS EXPERIENCE?

Plum says THAT'S SO INTERESTING
'CAUSE THAT--THAT'S ACTUALLY
WHERE OAKVILLE PLACE IS NOW.
BACK THEN OAKVILLE WAS THIS
SEMI-RURAL COMMUNITY AND DAD
USED TO TAKE US AND ALL THE
NEIGHBOURHOOD KIDS TO FISH THERE
IN THE FISHING HOLE.
UM, YEAH, DAD SPENT A LOT OF
TIME WITH US, TEACHING US THINGS.
AND SO FISHING WAS ONE OF THOSE.

Piya says AND AS YOUR, PLUM, AS
YOU'RE SORT OF GIVING AWAY YOUR
FATHER'S--WE'LL TALK ABOUT YOUR
MOM IN A SEC, BUT HIS
POSSESSIONS AND HIS STUFF,
WHAT'S THE IMAGE OF YOUR DAD
THAT'S COMING TO YOUR MIND AT
THAT TIME, SO MUCH LATER IN LIFE?

The caption changes to “Watch past episodes of The Agenda. Theagenda.tvo.org”

Plum says WELL HE WAS METICULOUS I THINK.
HE--HE DIDN'T OWN VERY MANY THINGS.
HIS CUPBOARD WAS, HIS CLOSET
WAS, PRETTY EMPTY BECAUSE HE
NEVER BOUGHT SOMETHING UNLESS
SOMETHING ELSE WORE OUT.
SO THERE WERE, YOU KNOW, THREE
SUITS AND TWO SHIRTS AND, YEAH,
A PRETTY EMPTY CLOSET COMPARED
TO MOM WHO OWNED HUNDREDS
OF--ALL KINDS OF THINGS.
UM, SHE WAS MESSY.
HE WAS NEAT.
IS THAT WHAT YOU MEANT?

Piya says WELL, YEAH, YOU KNOW AS WE
GIVE AWAY OUR PARENTS' STUFF IN
LIFE THEY EVOKE MEMORIES AND YOU
KNOW YOU LOOK AT SOMETHING OF
YOUR FATHER'S, WHETHER IT WAS
ONE OF THE THREE SUITS, WHAT
IMAGE WAS POPPING IN YOUR HEAD?

Plum says WELL--WELL, ONE OF THE THINGS
THAT SURPRISED ME IS IN HIS TOP
DRAWER, BECAUSE I HAD NEVER
THOUGHT OF HIM AS SENTIMENTAL,
BUT I REALIZE NOW THAT HE IN
FACT WAS THE SENTIMENTAL ONE.
AND IN HIS TOP DRAWER HE HAD MY
BROTHER, SANDY'S, BABY BRACELET.
HE HAD ONE MITTEN THAT HAD
BELONGED TO MY YOUNGEST BROTHER, VICTOR.
SO THERE WERE SURPRISES THAT WE HAD.
THERE WAS ALSO A NEWSPAPER THAT
HE HAD SAVED ALL THROUGH THE
WAR, UM, THAT WAS THE FIRST
NEWSPAPER THAT HAD BEEN PRINTED
IN SINGAPORE AFTER, YOU KNOW, IT
HAD BEEN LIBERATED.
AND SO THOSE--HE WAS VERY SENTIMENTAL.

Piya says AND THAT'S WHAT YOU LEARNED
ABOUT YOUR FATHER AS YOU'RE
UNPACKING THESE THINGS.

Plum says YES, PERHAPS I SHOULD HAVE KNOWN
THAT BEFORE BUT I HADN'T THOUGHT
OF IT, I HADN'T THOUGHT OF HIM
LIKE THAT.
SO THAT WAS A REVELATION.

Piya says ALL RIGHT, LET'S TALK ABOUT
YOUR MOM, SO TALK--WHAT KIND
OF CHARACTER WAS SHE?
WHAT WAS SHE LIKE?

Plum says SHE WAS THE OPPOSITE.
SHE WAS A VIVACIOUS SOUTHERN
BELLE WHO WAS A REAL PARTY GIRL.
BUT SHE WAS ALSO, HAD A--HAD A
VERY BRIGHT MIND.
SHE WAS CURIOUS ABOUT EVERYTHING.
SHE WAS--BUT SHE WAS A
RABBLE-ROUSER WHEREAS DAD WAS
SORT OF DIGNIFIED AND SHE--SHE
WAS A RABBLE-ROUSER.

Piya says MMM.
AND WHAT WAS THEIR RELATIONSHIP LIKE?
HOW WOULD YOU CHARACTERIZE IT?

Plum says OH, TUMULTUOUS.
UM, YEAH, I THINK IN SOME OTHER
GENERATION THEY WOULD HAVE BEEN DIVORCED.
BUT BECAUSE OF THE CIRCUMSTANCE,
BECAUSE OF THEIR GENERATION, THE
TIMING, AND PROBABLY BECAUSE
THEY HAD TOO MANY CHILDREN TO BE
ABLE TO AFFORD TO GET DIVORCED,
THEY WERE FORCED TO STAY TOGETHER.
THEY ALSO--THEY ALSO HAD A VERY
STRONG FAITH AND I THINK THAT
MADE THEM STAY TOGETHER.

Piya says RIGHT.

Plum says UH, AND SO THEY BATTLED IT OUT.

Piya says THEY WERE OPPOSITES.

Plum says YEAH.

Piya says THEY COMPLEMENTED EACH OTHER AND
CONTRADICTED EACH OTHER.

Plum says YEAH, AND YET THE
INTERESTING THING IS THAT, I
DON'T KNOW WHERE I READ THIS, SO
I DON'T KNOW IF IT'S TRUE, BUT I
READ SOMEWHERE THAT AS WE AGE WE
LOSE OUR LEARNED BEHAVIOUR.
AND THAT WAS CURIOUS TO ME
BECAUSE THAT'S WHAT I SAW AS THEY AGED.
THEY ALMOST SEEMED TO FLIP, UH,
PERSONALITIES.
SO DAD BECAME THIS SWEET, GENTLE
PERSON AND IT MADE ME REALIZE
THAT HIS--THAT ALL THESE OTHER
THINGS THAT WE'D SEEN IN THIS
STRICT DISCIPLINARIAN AND TOUGH
TASKMASTER, THAT HAD ALL BEEN
LEARNED BEHAVIOUR.
AND MOM, YOU KNOW THIS
VIVACIOUS--SHE--SHE BEGAN TO
LOSE HER FILTER.
SO SHE BECAME QUITE CRANKY IN
HER OLD AGE AND TOUGH TO DEAL WITH.
SHE HADN'T BEEN BEFORE.

Piya says RIGHT.
YEAH, WELL I WANT TO SHOW
SOME--I THINK--IS THIS YOUR MOM
MAYBE PLAYING TENNIS I THINK HERE.

A homemade video shows a woman in her thirties playing tennis.

Piya says THAT'S YOUR MOM?

Plum says YEAH.
SHE SPENT MOST OF HER DAYS
PLAYING TENNIS.
AND THIS IS AN UNUSUAL BIT OF
FILM ACTUALLY BECAUSE IT SHOWS
HER RUNNING AROUND.
SHE WAS ACTUALLY A STRATEGIST
AND SHE--SHE--HER THING WAS TO
STAND IN THE MIDDLE OF THE COURT
AND MAKE EVERYBODY ELSE RUN.

[PIYA LAUGHS]

Plum says GOOD STRATEGY.

Piya says YEAH, PRETTY GOOD STRATEGY.
YOU MOM, YOU KNOW, WE TALK ABOUT
YOUR MOM AND DAD BEING KIND OF
OPPOSITES AND CONTRADICTIONS TO
ONE ANOTHER.
YOUR MOM WAS A CONTRADICTION
HERSELF.
YOU TALK ABOUT THIS IN THE BOOK.
I WANT TO READ A SMALL BIT FROM
YOUR BOOK.

Plum says SURE.

Piya says HERE'S WHAT YOU WRITE ABOUT YOUR
MOM'S APPEARANCE.

A quote appears on screen, under the title “O mother, where art thou?” The quote reads “She has no wrinkles, even in her nineties, and no eyelashes – or at least none that we’ve ever been able to see. She has never plucked her eyebrows or had a facial, something she’s always considered vain and a waste of money: ‘Men never have facials, they never use face creams... just soap and water... and do they have wrinkles? No!’ Her fingernails are painted red, though, because she will, from time to time, have a manicure. She also dyes her hair brown because, she says, ‘There’s already too much gray in the world. Why would I want to add to it?’”
Quote by Plum Johnson, “They left us everything.” 2014.

Piya says THIS IS WHEN YOUR MOM'S IN HER 90S.
LOVE THAT, THERE'S ALWAYS TOO
MUCH GREY IN THE WORLD.

Plum says YES.

Piya says HOW MUCH OF A CONTRADICTION WAS SHE?
BECAUSE SHE'S BEAUTIFUL, AS YOU
SAID, A SOUTHERN BELLE, BUT NO
FACIALS FOR ME, THAT--THAT'S TOO VAIN.

Plum says WELL BECAUSE SHE WAS VERY
PRACTICAL AND DOWN TO EARTH ALSO.

Piya says YEAH.

Plum says YEAH, SO--SO--AND SHE DIDN'T
BELIEVE IN, YOU KNOW, EXTERIOR STUFF.

Piya says YEAH.
WHAT DID YOU LEARN FROM HER?
I MEAN WHAT--WHAT WAS THE LESSON?

Plum says I LEARNED NOTHING ABOUT MAKEUP
OR ANYTHING.
I LEARNED NOTHING ABOUT BEING A
FEMALE FROM HER.

Piya says REALLY?

Plum says REALLY.

Piya says MEANING WHAT?

Plum says UM, IT'S INTERESTING, I'VE
THOUGHT ABOUT THIS.
YOU KNOW SHE WOULD NEVER LET ME
TOUCH ANY--I WAS THE ONLY
DAUGHTER SO IT WAS A SEA OF MEN
ALL THE TIME IN THE HOUSE.
UM, SHE NEVER LET ME TOUCH ANY
OF HER LIPSTICK, WHICH IS ABOUT
ALL SHE HAD, AND NAIL POLISH,
LIPSTICK AND NAIL POLISH.
SHE DIDN'T REALLY--WE DIDN'T
HAVE THAT KIND OF RELATIONSHIP
WHERE SHE TAUGHT ME HOW TO BE
FEMALE REALLY.
IT'S INTERESTING.
I'M SORT OF--I'M SORT OF ENVIOUS
OF FRIENDS WHOSE MOTHERS TOOK
THEM OFF TO, I DON'T KNOW, SPAS
AND WHATEVER, 'CAUSE I NEVER SAW
ANY OF THAT.
IT WAS MORE OF THE INTERIOR THAT
SHE WAS INTERESTED IN.

Piya says AND AS YOU'RE, UM, YOU KNOW, AS
YOU GET OLDER, AS THEY GET
OLDER, YOU SPENT YEARS TAKING
CARE OF YOUR ELDERLY PARENTS,
YOUR FATHER FIRST.
20 YEARS RIGHT, IS HOW LONG YOU?

Plum says MY BROTHERS AND I--

Piya says YEAH, TOGETHER.

Plum says TOGETHER, YES.

Piya says 20 YEARS!

Plum says YEAH, IT WAS ALMOST 20 YEARS.

Piya says UM, AND SO WHAT WAS THAT--WHAT
WAS YOUR RELATIONSHIP LIKE WITH
YOUR MOM IN THOSE FINAL YEARS?

The caption changes to "The long goodbye."

Plum says WELL THEY HAD DETERIORATED AND
CONTINUED TO DETERIORATE.
THAT WAS THE SAD PART ABOUT IT.
AND PART OF IT I THINK WAS
TIMING BECAUSE, YOU KNOW,
DAD'S ALZHEIMER'S CAME FIRST.
SO BY THE TIME MOM CAME ALONG WE
WERE EXHAUSTED.
AND I WASN'T AS COMPASSIONATE AS
I WISH I COULD HAVE BEEN BECAUSE
SHE'D BEEN--THAT WAS TOUGH FOR
HER TO GO THROUGH DAD'S
ALZHEIMER'S AND SHE WAS
WONDERFUL WITH HIM.
SHE SHOWED A LOT MORE PATIENCE
THAN I EVER THOUGHT SHE—SHE HAD.
UM, AND SO, YEAH, BY THE END SHE
WAS CRANKY.
SHE WAS ON OXYGEN.
SHE WAS VERY HARD TO DEAL WITH.
SHE'S A DOMINANT PERSONALITY
ANYWAY.
AND, UH--

Piya says SHE LIVED INTO HER 90S.

Plum says YES.

Piya says YEAH, WHERE'S SHE LIVING IN HER
FINAL YEARS?

Plum says AT HOME.

Piya says AT HOME?

Plum says SHE DIDN'T WANT TO GO TO A
RETIREMENT HOME.
THERE WAS A--
WELL THERE--THERE'S A SECTION IN
THE BOOK WHERE I TALK ABOUT HER
GOING TO THE RETIREMENT
HOME TEMPORARILY.
AND SHE DIDN'T LAST VERY LONG THERE.
SHE CLAIMED SHE WANTED TO DO THAT.
WE TRIED TO TALK HER OUT OF IT.
AND THEN OF COURSE SHE BLAMED US
FOR GOING THERE.
AND THE RETIREMENT HOME CALLED
US WITHIN A WEEK AND SAID YOU'VE
GOT TO COME PICK HER UP.
SHE'S NOT--

Piya says IT'S NOT WORKING OUT.

Plum says IT'S NOT WORKING OUT.

Piya says YEAH.

Plum says YEAH.

Piya says YEAH, AND IN THOSE FINAL YEARS,
PLUM, BECAUSE A LOT OF THIS BOOK
IS ABOUT A CHALLENGE THAT LOTS
OF CANADIANS FACE, WHICH IS
TAKING CARE OF THEIR ELDERLY
PARENTS.
AND AS YOU SAY, YOU AND YOUR
BROTHERS ARE EXHAUSTED FROM
TAKING CARE OF YOUR DAD.
WHAT--JUST TAKE ME--SORT OF THAT
EMOTIONAL TENOR, LIKE WHERE
ARE--

Plum says I WAS GOING TO SAY REMEMBER
ALSO, THAT WE HAD HIRED HELP.
SO WE WEREN'T JUST TAKING CARE
OF THEM BY OURSELVES.
WE ALSO HAD HELP AND STILL WE
WERE EXHAUSTED.
SO--SO WITH DAD IT WAS, UM,
THERE WAS A LOT THAT WE HAD TO
LEARN ABOUT MEDICAL, UH, ABOUT
ALZHEIMER'S AND MEDICAL THINGS.
AND WE HAD TO--WE ESTABLISHED
EARLY ON THIS HABIT OF WHAT WE
CALLED SIBLING SUPPERS, WHERE
THE SIBLINGS CAME IN FROM
WHEREVER THEY WERE LIVING AND WE
WOULD BASICALLY HAVE A THERAPY
SESSION, TALK ABOUT MOM AND DAD,
ALL THE ISSUES.
KEPT US ON THE SAME PAGE.
WE'D DO THAT SEVERAL TIMES A
YEAR AND WE--LUCKILY WE ALL
SHARED THE SAME SENSE OF HUMOUR,
WHICH COULD BE QUITE BLACK IN
THOSE DAYS.
AND I THINK THAT WAS ESSENTIAL.
THOSE SIBLING SUPPERS REALLY I
THINK GOT US THROUGH IT.

Piya says THROUGH IT.

Plum says YEAH.

Piya says WELL I WANT TO READ SOMETHING
YOU WROTE ABOUT YOUR DAD AS HE
GOT OLDER.
SO HERE WE GO.

A quote appears on screen, under the title “Fading away.” The quote reads “Occasionally, Dad got angry and lashed out, but we learned to exploit his long-term memory, resurrecting his navy days during the war when discipline was key. Any time he’d try to raise his arm in anger, we’d say ‘Sir! Do you have written permission from headquarters to do this?’
‘No, sir!’ he’d say.
‘Then lower your arm, sir, if you don’t have permission!’ And like a dutiful officer, he’d obey.”
Quote by Plum Johnson, “They left us everything.” 2014

Piya says THAT'S AMAZING THAT YOU
FIGURED THIS OUT.

Plum says YEAH.

Piya says I MEAN WHERE--HOW DID YOU FIGURE
THIS OUT?

Plum says WELL, WE HAD--WE HAD HELP
FROM--FROM PELMO, WHO WAS A
TIBETAN CAREGIVER, WHO'S A SAINT
IN MY OPINION.
UM, AND YOU HAVE TO COME UP WITH
A LOT OF CREATIVE WAYS TO DEAL
WITH AN ALZHEIMER PATIENT AT
HOME I THINK.
AND WHAT WE LEARNED PRETTY EARLY
IS TO SIMPLY GO ALONG WITH IT.
THERE'S NO POINT IN, YOU KNOW,
IF THEY--IF THEY THINK THEY'RE,
I DON'T KNOW, IN HAWAII,
WHY--WHY CORRECT THEM AND SAY,
“NO, YOU'RE IN THE KITCHEN IN
OAKVILLE”?
JUST GO ALONG WITH HAWAII
BECAUSE YOU'LL END UP HAVING A
PRETTY GOOD TRIP YOURSELF, YOU KNOW?
YEAH, THEY'RE JUST CREATIVE WAYS
TO DEAL WITH IT.

Piya says YOU SAID YOU HAD THESE SIBLING
SUPPERS, BECAUSE ONE OF THE
THINGS, UM, LIKE YOUR STORY IS
UNIQUE BUT IT'S ALSO SO
UNIVERSAL.
MANY FAMILIES ARE GOING THROUGH
THIS RIGHT NOW, HOW TO TAKE CARE
OF AN ELDERLY PARENT OR PARENTS.
BUT YOU SEEMED TO--THESE SIBLING
SUPPERS SEEMED TO BRING YOU AND
YOUR BROTHERS ALL ON THE SAME
PAGE IN TERMS OF APPROACH.
'CAUSE LOTS OF TIMES THIS IS
WHERE THINGS GO AWRY REALLY--

Plum says YEAH.

Piya says IS THAT SIBLINGS DON'T
AGREE ON WHAT THEY SHOULD DO.

Plum says YEAH.

Plum says SOMEONE DOESN'T WANT TO TALK
ABOUT HAWAII, THEY WANT TO
ENFORCE THAT WE'RE ACTUALLY IN
OAKVILLE AND THAT'S IMPORTANT.

Plum says YEAH.

Piya says HOW DID YOU GUYS SORT OF
NAVIGATE THAT?

Plum says WELL FOR ONE THING, AT THE
SIBLING SUPPERS NO SPOUSES WERE ALLOWED.
SO THAT TOOK US BACK TO OUR
ORIGINAL DYNAMIC.
AND I FELT THAT WAS KEY AS WELL.
UM, IT, I DON'T KNOW, IT JUST
TOOK US BACK TO A DIFFERENT TIME.
AND IT--IT MEANT THAT WE WERE
ALL--WELL TWO OF US OBVIOUSLY
LIVED CLOSEST AND TWO LIVED
FARTHER AWAY SO WE JUST SHARED
OUR EXPERIENCES WITH MOM AND DAD
AND IT JUST HELPED KEEP US ON
THE SAME PAGE.

Piya says RIGHT.

Plum says YEAH.

Piya says AND AS YOU SEE YOUR DAD SORT OF
FADE AWAY IN ALZHEIMER'S, WHICH
IS A HARD THING FOR ANYONE TO
GO--TO WATCH SOMEONE ELSE DO THAT.
IN YOUR CASE YOU HAVE THIS IMAGE
OF YOUR FATHER, WHO HE WAS, AS
THIS STRICT, YOU KNOW, MAN OF A
CERTAIN GENERATION, AS YOU SAID,
WIDE BERTH ON THE STREET.
WHAT WAS IT LIKE 'CAUSE THAT WAS
SUCH A CONTRADICTION TOO TO SEE HIM--

Plum says WELL IT WAS LOVELY OF COURSE
BECAUSE YOU--I MEAN THAT'S THE
THING, YOU GET TO HAVE--TO
DEVELOP A WHOLE NEW RELATIONSHIP
ALMOST WITH A--WELL IT'S A
DIFFERENT SIDE OF THE SAME PERSON.
BUT THERE ARE OFTEN
CHARACTERISTICS THAT YOU'VE
NEVER SEEN BEFORE.
SO I HADN'T SEEN THIS--WELL I
HAD SEEN THE SOFTER SIDE TO HIM
BUT NOT TO THE SAME EXTENT AS HE
WAS TOWARDS THE END.

Piya says THAT'S INTERESTING BECAUSE A FEW
PEOPLE, OH WELL, MAYBE NOT A
FEW, A LOT OF PEOPLE WOULDN'T
SAY THAT'S A GIFT, HE WAS A
DIFFERENT PERSON.
BUT YOU SAW IT AS GIFT THAT YOU
GOT TO SEE A NEW SIDE OF HIM.

Plum says YES.
I THINK A LOT OF--A LOT OF
PEOPLE WHO ARE DEALING WITH
THEIR PARENTS, WHO HAVE
ALZHEIMER'S, ARE FINDING THAT,
THAT THERE IS THIS WHOLE SOFTER,
GENTLE, ALMOST CHILDLIKE
QUALITY THAT COMES THROUGH.
THERE'S ALSO THE ANGER.
YOU KNOW, THAT'S PART OF THE
DISEASE AS WELL, THAT'S VERY
HARD TO DEAL WITH.
BUT THE CHILDLIKE QUALITIES ARE LOVELY.

Piya says AND AS YOU'RE DEALING WITH YOUR
FATHER BEING ILL, AND THEN YOUR
MOTHER, YOU HAVE CHILDREN OF
YOUR OWN.
I MEAN YOU'RE JUST LIVING LIFE,
RIGHT?

Plum says YEAH, SURE, PART OF THE SANDWICH
GENERATION.

Piya says YEAH.
AND WHEN YOU THINK--

Plum says TOAST.

Piya says TOAST, YEAH.

Plum says HARD TOAST SOMETIMES.

Piya says HOW ARE YOU MANAGING IT ALL,
DOING ALL OF THIS?

Plum says WELL IT'S A VERY INTENSE TIME
AND SO I THINK YOU'RE JUST DOING IT.

Piya says YOU JUST DO.

Plum says I THINK YOU DON'T REALIZE HOW
STRESSED YOU'RE GETTING IN A LOT
OF WAYS TOO.
AND THAT REFLECTED ON MY
RELATIONSHIP WITH MOM,
UNFORTUNATELY, WHICH IS WHY I
HAD A LOT OF GUILT.
I HAD RESENTMENT AND THEN I HAD
GUILT FOR--

Piya says OKAY, LET'S TALK ABOUT
THOSE THINGS.
SO LET'S TALK ABOUT THE
RESENTMENT.

Plum says YEAH.

Piya says WHY--WHAT WAS MAKING YOU BE
RESENTFUL?

Plum says WELL, I THINK BECAUSE I HADN'T
IMAGINED THAT THIS STAGE OF MY
LIFE WAS GOING TO BE LIKE THIS
FOR ONE THING.
BECAUSE WHEN THIS ALL STARTED I WAS 45.
AND WHEN I CAME OUT THE OTHER
END OF THE TUNNEL I WAS 65, LIKE
A SENIOR MYSELF.
AND IT FELT LIKE I HAD LOST
THOSE YEARS.
AS I WAS GOING THROUGH IT I WAS
THINKING, I WAS FEELING A LOT OF
RESENTMENT, UM, ALMOST LIKE
THESE YEARS WERE BEING
SACRIFICED.

Piya says RIGHT.

Plum says AND THAT'S AN AWFUL THING TO
EVEN THINK, RIGHT, MUCH LESS
THAN TO SAY.
BUT I WAS HAVING THESE
CONVERSATIONS WITH GIRLFRIENDS
OF MINE.
WE WERE BEING HONEST WITH EACH
OTHER AND A LOT OF US WERE
ASHAMED TO ADMIT IT BUT WE WERE
FEELING THAT WAY.

Piya says YEAH, RESENTFUL.

Plum says YEAH.

Piya says WHEN'S IT MY TIME BECAUSE I
RAISED THESE CHILDREN AND NOW I
GOT TO TAKE CARE OF THESE
PARENTS, WHEN'S MINE?

Plum says AND YET--AND YET, YOU KNOW, I
FELT I SHOULD HAVE BEEN ABLE TO
STAND BACK AND SAY, “WAIT A
SECOND, MY PARENTS SPENT ALL
THAT TIME DEVOTED TO ME, YOU
KNOW, HOW COULD I BE SO SELFISH?
WHY CAN'T I BE MORE GENEROUS
ABOUT THIS?”
I WAS GOING THROUGH THE MOTIONS.
I WAS DOING EVERYTHING.
I WAS BEING THE DUTIFUL DAUGHTER.
UM, AND I--I LOVED BEING WITH DAD.
BUT BY THE TIME, YOU KNOW, YEAR
14 ROLLED AROUND AND THEN MOM
WAS BEING CRANKY I WAS--I WAS
FINDING MYSELF DRIVING OUT TO
SPEND THE WEEKEND WITH HER, FOR
EXAMPLE, AND I WOULD INSTEAD OF
GOING IN THE DRIVEWAY, I'D SPEND
THE NEXT 15 MINUTES JUST
DRIVING, I DON'T KNOW, AROUND
THE BLOCKS STALLING, NOT WANTING
TO GO IN THE DRIVEWAY.

Piya says DIDN'T WANT TO DEAL WITH HER.

Plum says AND THAT'S AWFUL.

Piya says THAT'S WHERE THE GUILT COMES IN.

Plum says OF COURSE.

Piya says SO THE RESENTMENT AND THE GUILT.

Plum says OF COURSE.

Piya says SO ON THE ONE HAND YOU WANT TO
BE THERE FOR HER, ON THE OTHER
HAND YOU'RE LIKE, “I JUST SO
DON'T WANT TO BE DOING THIS.”

Plum says AND I FOUND AFTER SHE--SINCE SHE
HAS DIED, IT'S ALMOST LIKE, UM,
I FEEL LIKE I'M BECOMING MORE
LIKE HER.
I FEEL LIKE I'M BECOMING THIS
OPINIONATED, UM, CRANKY PERSON TOO.
BUT I REALIZE THERE'S SO MANY
THINGS THAT I REALIZE NOW THAT I
WISH I HAD REALIZED BACK THEN.
BECAUSE OF COURSE WHEN, YOU
KNOW--NOTHING SHIFTS YOUR
PRIORITIES QUITE AS MUCH AS
SEEING TIME, YOUR OWN TIME
RUNNING OUT.
SO I REALIZE THAT SHE--WHEN YOU
GET TO THAT END STAGE YOU DON'T
WANT TO DEAL WITH TRIVIAL STUFF.
YOU DON'T HAVE THE TIME.
YOU DON'T HAVE THE TIME TO EVEN
FILTER AT LEAST.
I SUPPOSE THERE'S--I KNOW THERE
ARE A LOT OF PEOPLE WHO ARE
GENTLE RIGHT UP UNTIL THE END.
BUT FOR MOM, AND NO DOUBT FOR ME
IN THE FUTURE, I CAN SEE NOW WHY
SHE WAS, UM, SO IMPATIENT.
SHE DIDN'T HAVE TIME FOR THE
NICETIES, RIGHT?
THERE WASN'T TIME FOR ALL THAT.
SHE WOULD CONSIDER THAT SORT OF FLUFF.
AND SO, YEAH.
BUT IT WAS HARD TO DEAL WITH.

Piya says AND AS YOU LEARN THESE THINGS
AFTER YOUR PARENTS PASS,
BUT ALSO DURING, AND AS YOU
WRITE THIS MEMOIR, ARE YOU
THINKING ABOUT YOUR CHILDREN?
LIKE WHAT ARE YOU TAKING AWAY
FROM THAT EXPERIENCE OF WRITING
THIS ALL DOWN AND THINKING ABOUT
IT AND GOING THROUGH--FEELING
YOUR WAY THROUGH THOSE FEELINGS
OF GUILT AND RESENTMENT?
HAS IT CHANGED YOUR OWN
PARENTING STYLE?
YOU'VE GROWN CHILDREN, BUT HAS
IT CHANGED YOUR OWN PARENTING STYLE?

The caption changes to "Unpacking the past."

Plum says WELL MY PARENTING STYLE, YOU
KNOW, LIKE MOST PEOPLE, IS VERY
DIFFERENT FROM MY PARENTS 'CAUSE
WE ALL TEND TO TRY AND DO THE
OPPOSITE OFTEN.

Piya says REBEL, YES.

Plum says AND SO THAT'S WHY THE PENDULUM
KEEPS SWINGING BACK AND FORTH.
BUT--SO I WAS MORE PERMISSIVE.
BUT I THINK I COMMUNICATED WITH
MY OWN CHILDREN THROUGHOUT THIS
PROCESS 'CAUSE THEY WERE RIGHT
THERE SUPPORTING ME AS WE WERE
ALL GOING THROUGH THIS.
AND I THINK I CAN--I HOPE I
CONTINUE TO WARN THEM THAT, YOU
KNOW, THEY MIGHT HAVE TO FACE
THIS WITH ME.
SO--AND THEY GAVE ME GOOD ADVICE.
AND OF COURSE BECAUSE THERE WAS
A GENERATION STEP DOWN THEY
COULD BE MUCH KINDER TO MOM.
MY YOUNGEST DAUGHTER, FOR
EXAMPLE, WAS VERY, UM, SIMPATICO
WITH MY MOTHER.
SO SHE WOULD OFTEN EXPLAIN TO ME
HOW MOM WAS FEELING.
YOU KNOW I'D PRESENT SAY, YOU
KNOW SHE DID THIS AND LA, LA--.
AND JESSICA WOULD SAY, “BUT THIS
IS HOW SHE'S REALLY FEELING.”
SO SHE WAS VERY HELPFUL.

Piya says SHE'S LIKE A TRANSLATOR.

Plum says EXACTLY.

Plum says YEAH, GOOD CHOICE OF WORDS.

Piya says AND AS YOU, 'CAUSE THEY LIVED IN
A VERY BIG HOME IN OAKVILLE, AND
YOU SAID YOUR MOTHER HAD LOTS
AND LOTS OF POSSESSIONS.
AND YOU FIND THESE LETTERS.

Plum says IT WAS 65 YEARS' WORTH OF STUFF, RIGHT?

Piya says YEAH, THAT'S A LOT OF STUFF.

Plum says AND THEY HAD BEEN THERE SINCE,
YOU KNOW, FOR--

Piya says SO YOU FIND--YOUR MOTHER
WAS A LETTER WRITER.
SHE WROTE THOUSANDS OF LETTERS
AND LETTERS.

Plum says YES, UH HUH.

Piya says WHAT--WHAT DID YOU LEARN FROM
THOSE LETTERS ABOUT HER?

Plum says I LEARNED MANY THINGS ABOUT BOTH
MY PARENTS THAT--
THIS WAS--THIS WAS ONE--YOU
KNOW, FOR ME THE REAL TREASURE
THAT WE FOUND IN THE HOUSE,
BECAUSE WE FOUND OVER 2,000 LETTERS.
AND SHE HAD NEVER WRITTEN A
DIARY THAT I COULD FIND.
I KEPT LOOKING FOR ONE, A JUICY ONE.

Piya says AND THE LETTERS THAT SHE WROTE
SHE SENT AWAY SOMETIMES TO HER
FRIENDS AND THEY SAID, THEY
GAVE THEM BACK TO HER AND SAID,
“KEEP THESE.”

Plum says BECAUSE THEY WERE SO FASCINATING.
SHE--SHE WAS A WONDERFUL WRITER.
SHE HAD NO AMBITION TO BE A WRITER.
I THINK SHE WAS PROBABLY TOO
LAZY TO BE AND DIDN'T HAVE THE
DISCIPLINE TO BE A WRITER, WHICH
IS A PITY BECAUSE SHE WAS A GOOD ONE.
BUT, YES, SHE WROTE THESE
LETTERS TO ALL KINDS OF PEOPLE,
OF COURSE TO DAD EVERY DAY
DURING THE WAR, AND THEN TO HER
MOTHER EVERY WEEK AND SO ON.
AND SHE WOULD ENCLOSE, YOU KNOW,
BITS AND PIECES OF THINGS.
IF THERE WAS, I DON'T KNOW, AN
ELECTION GOING ON IN MALAYA AND
SOMEONE WAS HANDING OUT A
PAMPHLET SHE'D STICK IT IN.
SO THERE ARE ALL THESE
FASCINATING BITS OF HISTORY AND
POLITICAL EPHEMERA THAT
SHE--THAT ARE IN THE LETTERS ALSO.
SO, UM, YEAH I--I CAME AWAY WITH
A NEW ADMIRATION OF WHAT SHE HAD
LIVED THROUGH AND HOW SHE HAD
DEALT WITH HER LIFE.

Piya says YEAH, SHE WROTE TO A FRIEND,
PAT, YOU WRITE ABOUT A FRIEND
THAT WAS CLOSE TO YOUR MOM NAMED
PAT, AND HOW SHE HELPED YOU UNDERSTAND--

Plum says MY OTHER MOTHER, PAT?

Piya says YEAH, YEAH, HOW SHE HELPED
YOUR UNDERSTAND YOUR
RELATIONSHIP WITH YOUR MOTHER.
WHAT DID THAT MEAN TO YOU TO PUT
ALL THESE PIECES TOGETHER AND
SEE A DIFFERENT PICTURE OF YOUR
PARENTS AFTER THEY PASSED?

Plum says WELL, I--YOU KNOW IN TERMS OF
MY--PAT, WHO WAS MY,
I THINK--WHO IS MY OTHER MOTHER.
UM, MOM ALWAYS SAID YOU SHOULD
HAVE FRIENDS 15 YEARS YOUNGER
AND 15 YEARS OLDER AS YOU MOVE
THROUGH LIFE, UM, TO GIVE YOU
THE DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVES.
AND SHE DID THAT.
SHE HAD OTHER DAUGHTERS THAT I
FOUND OUT AFTER SHE DIED.
UM, AND--AND I HAD THIS OTHER MOTHER.
SO, UM, YEAH, THOSE PERSPECTIVES
ARE IMPORTANT I THINK IN--

Piya says WHAT'S THE TAKEAWAY FROM PLUM
JOHNSON'S MEMOIR FOR US?
BECAUSE WE WERE TALKING BEFORE
WE STARTED ABOUT HOW THERE'S SO
MANY PEOPLE TAKING CARE OF, YOU
KNOW, BEING A PART OF THAT
SANDWICH GENERATION, TAKING CARE
OF ELDERLY PARENTS, AND THEN
UNPACKING THEIR POSSESSIONS AND
REFRAMING HOW THEY SEE LIVES LIVED.
WHAT DO YOU WANT PEOPLE TO LEARN
FROM YOUR BOOK ABOUT HOW THEY
APPROACH THEIR OWN FAMILY?

Plum says WELL, I'VE BEEN ACTUALLY
SURPRISED AND DELIGHTED TO HAVE
READERS TELL ME THAT THEY'RE,
UM, AFTER READING MY BOOK,
THEY'RE GOING TO BE KINDER TO
THEIR MOTHERS.
UH, I DON'T KNOW WHAT THAT SAYS
ABOUT ME, ABOUT WHAT THE
TAKEAWAY WAS, BUT YOU KNOW I
WISH THAT I HAD BEEN ABLE TO
READ SOMETHING LIKE THIS BEFORE
MOM DIED.
THE TAKEAWAY THAT I'M--ONE OF
THE TAKEAWAYS IS THAT PEOPLE
VIEW THIS TASK AS KIND OF A
DAUNTING ONE, AND ACTUALLY IT'S
A PROFOUND ONE THAT I'M HOPING
PEOPLE, YOU KNOW, IF YOU CAN,
SOMETIMES IT'S TOO DIFFICULT.
SOMETIMES YOU LIVE FAR AWAY, UM,
OR THERE AREN'T THAT MANY
CHILDREN TO HELP WITH THE TASK,
BUT IF YOU CAN, VIEW IT AS
A--TAKE THE TIME TO VIEW IT AS
THIS PROFOUND JOURNEY, UH--

Piya says RATHER THAN A BURDEN WHICH--

Plum says RATHER THAN A BURDEN.
AND ALSO FROM THE OTHER
PERSPECTIVE, IF YOU'RE ELDERLY
AND DON'T WORRY ABOUT THE STUFF
THAT YOU'VE LEFT BEHIND, LEAVE
IT FOR YOUR CHILDREN.
DON'T--YOU DON'T NEED TO SORT IT
ALL OUT BEFORE YOU GO BECAUSE
YOU'RE ACTUALLY GIVING THEM A
GIFT OF BEING ABLE TO, YOU KNOW,
FIND THINGS ABOUT YOU.
AND DON'T THROW AWAY YOUR DIARIES.
LET YOUR CHILDREN FIND THEM.

Piya says AND WRITE THEM DOWN.
DON'T PUT THEM ON A COMPUTER.
YOU WRITE ABOUT THAT IN YOUR MEMOIR.

Plum says OH, YEAH.
BECAUSE, YEAH, WHO KNOWS
WHAT--WHAT'S GOING--
AND I THINK A LOT OF PEOPLE,
ALSO THIS WHOLE, YOU KNOW THIS
WHOLE ELDER CARE SITUATION THAT
WE'RE FACING, UM, THOSE OF US IN
THE SANDWICH GENERATION RIGHT
NOW WHO ARE--I THINK WE'RE, UM,
WE'RE AFRAID OF WHAT'S AHEAD OF US.
BECAUSE I DON'T THINK, UM,
SOCIETY--OUR SOCIETY IS PREPARED
FOR THIS.
YOU KNOW, AND WE'VE--IF YOU ASK
MOST PEOPLE THEY WILL SAY
THEY--THEY WANT TO DIE AT HOME I THINK.
AND YET WE'VE ALL MADE CHOICES
THAT WILL PRE-EMPT THAT DECISION
BECAUSE WE'VE--WE'RE HAVING
SMALLER FAMILIES NOW.
WE'VE--WE'VE DOWNSIZED TO
SMALLER SPACES SO THERE AREN'T
THAT MANY PEOPLE TO--CHILDREN TO
CARE FOR US.
AND WE HAVEN'T SAVED FOR OUR
FUTURE THE WAY OUR PARENTS DID.
SO I THINK IT'S GOING TO BE A
PROBLEM.

The caption changes to "Theagenda.tvo.org"

Piya says THIS IS YOUR FIRST NOVEL.
IT'S DONE REALLY WELL AND IT'S
RESONATED WITH SO MANY PEOPLE.
YOU HAVE OTHER BOOKS INSIDE OF YOU.

Plum says YES, I'VE GOT LOTS.

Piya says YEAH, YOU'RE WRITING MORE.
UM, THANK YOU FOR WRITING THIS.
LIKE YOU SAID, YOU WISH SOMEONE
HAD WRITTEN THIS FOR YOU.
WELL NOW YOU'VE WRITTEN IT FOR
OTHER PEOPLE.

Plum says YEAH.

Piya says SO THANK FOR WRITING IT.

Plum says THANK YOU.

Watch: Plum Johnson: They Left Us Everything