Jesus can be hard to get along with

Jesus can be hard to figure out sometimes – and hard to get along with.

After all:

  • He tells us that if we have two coats, we’re supposed to give one of them to someone who doesn’t have a coat (for the record, I have two cars, three guitars, and more coats than I can count).
  • He tells us that when someone hits us, we’re not to hit back, but let them hit us again on the other cheek (yes, I know there are all kinds of discussions about the significance of ‘left cheek’ and ‘right cheek’, but the glaring reality is – no hitting back!).
  • He tells us not to store up for ourselves treasures on earth, because (get this) it’s a less secure investment than treasures in heaven!
  • He tells us not to walk around in long robes and let people call us ‘Father’ (seen any small ‘c’ ‘catholic’ services lately?) or ‘Teacher’ (which is what ‘Doctor’ means – seen any staff lists at huge evangelical churches lately?).
  • He tells us to love our enemies and pray for those who hate us (imagine the President of the United States ending his speeches with ‘God bless you and God bless the State of Iran’!).
  • He tells us that when we give a banquet, we aren’t to invite our friends and rich neighbours, who can invite us back in their turn; instead, we’re to invite the poor and needy and homeless and orphans and widows, who can’t invite us back.
  • He tells us that we’re not to divorce our spouses (with the sole possible exception of when the marriage bond has already been broken by adultery).
  • He tells us that not killing people is only the beginning; we’re not to get angry with them or call them names, because that’s murdering them in our hearts.
  • He tells us that if we see someone who’s hungry or thirsty or in need of clothes, or sick or in prison, and refuse to help them, we’ve refused to help him.
  • He tells us that if we’re his disciples we’re supposed to go and make more disciples for him.
  • He tells us that if we love members of our family more than we love him, we’re not worthy of him.
  • He tells us to be like the flowers and birds and trust God to provide for us, rather than spending all our time worrying about food and clothing.
  • He tells us that if anyone wants to be the most important person, they should be the servant of all. Note: he’s not saying that if you serve others, you’ll be rewarded with an important position; he’s saying that if you serve others, you’re already in the highest position.
  • He tells us to use simple, unadorned speech, and not to swear any oaths, because everyone should know that if we say ‘yes’, we mean ‘yes’, and if we say ‘no’, we mean ‘no’.
  • He tells us not to expect that everyone will be jumping for joy because we’re his followers; rather, we should expect to be a minority, and a minority that frequently annoys people to the point that they try to get rid of us.

No wonder governments and churches have trouble with the teaching of Jesus. Plus, if we work hard enough at annoying him, he tends to start throwing tables around…!

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Meadowvale (a prequel to ‘A Time to Mend’): Chapter 23

Link back to Chapter 22

This is a work of fiction; I haven’t yet finished it, and it will probably get revised after it’s finished. It tells the story of Tom and Kelly’s marriage; readers of A Time to Mend will know that it will have a sad ending, but hopefully it will be a good story.

Note the things I said about revisions here.

As it happened, it was another three years before we visited England. This was partly due to our financial circumstances: Kelly chose not to work full-time, we had the mortgage to pay,  along with a few other unexpected expenses on the house, and both our vehicles died at the same time. Partly, however, it was due to my increasing annoyance at the fact that my father still refused to acknowledge my existence or take any interest at all in visiting his granddaughter, and I thought my mother was pandering to his prejudice against me by not coming either, even though I knew that she would have liked to have seen us.

Kelly had far more patience with this than I did. “She’s in a very difficult situation”, she said to me one day; “I assume she still loves him, and she wants to keep the peace in their marriage. Somehow he’s made it clear that he doesn’t want her to come over. What’s she supposed to do?”

“She needs to make it clear to him that marriage doesn’t mean subservience”, I replied, “and that she’s not going to be kept away from family members she loves just because he can’t get over his resentment that I refused to become a lawyer”.

“That’s easy for you to say, but you don’t have to live with him”.

“I had to live with him for nineteen years; that was long enough. And I’m not going to always be the one who compromises any more; it’s their turn to visit us, and until they do, I’m going to continue to enjoy our relaxing summer holidays in Canada”.

She frowned at me; “You’re as stubborn and pig-headed as him, you know”, she said.

“Oh no”, I replied archly; “You are not going to accuse me of being my father’s son”.

“You are your father’s son, Tom – whether you like it or not”.

“You know what I mean”.

“Yes, I do, and I don’t like it. I love you dearly and I always will, but I don’t like the way you’re digging your heels in over this. You and your dad are becoming mirror images of each other; you resent him just as much as he resents you. I don’t think that’s what Jesus is calling us to do, Tom”.

“And you”, I replied in annoyance, “have absolutely no idea what it’s like to have a father like that”.

“And you”, she said stubbornly, “need to stop making excuses and giving him control over your behaviour. If you keep doing that, you’ll be chaining yourself to the past forever”.

“I don’t want to talk about this any more”, I said angrily, turning to leave.

“Tom Masefield, don’t you dare walk away from me in anger!” she exclaimed.

“Well, you’re the one who made me angry!”

“Are you going to let Emma get away with saying a thing like that when she gets older? If you’re angry, it’s because you chose to get angry. I’m just telling you what I’m seeing. You and I decided a long time ago that we were going to try to live our lives by what we learned from Jesus; we both know that Jesus has a lot to say about forgiveness and reconciliation”.

“My dad doesn’t want to be reconciled; he’s made that very clear”.

“You can’t do anything about his attitude, but you can do something about yours”.

“Kelly”, I replied desperately, “I swear to God, I don’t know how!”

She stared at me for a moment, and then stepped forward and put her arms around me. “I’m sorry”, she said in a gentler voice; “I shouldn’t be lecturing you like this. I didn’t marry you so I could fix you”.

“You’re not wrong, Kelly, and I don’t disagree with you; I wish I knew how to get past this. Yes, I’m angry at him, and I resent him – I admit it. I’ve tried really hard to change that, but I can’t seem to get past it. And when I think of going over there and spending three weeks or a month in that house, knowing every day that he still resents the life I’ve chosen, and that every word he says to me will have that resentment behind it – well, I have to admit I don’t relish that prospect. I spent too many years walking on eggshells in that place; coming over here was a deliverance, and then meeting you, and learning from you how to relax and be happy and honest”.

“You already knew those things”, she replied, tightening her arms around me; “You just needed a little encouragement to be who you already were”.

“Maybe, but that house is the hardest place on earth for me to be who I am. When I think of walking into that place, I get this feeling of awful familiarity – a sort of ‘oh no, here we go again’ kind of feeling. I don’t like the person that house made me, and I find it very hard to resist slipping back into that person when I’m there”.

She looked at me, and then reached up and kissed me. “Well, let’s say no more about it for now”, she said; “At least we can afford to help Becca with her air fare, and we know Owen and Lorraine will come sooner or later”.

 

By the time Kelly decided she wanted to go back to work, her old position at the Meadowvale Special Care Home was no longer available, so she started taking shifts at the hospital, working about twenty hours a week. This meant that for the next few years, shift work became part of our life. Most weeks she would do two or three eight-hour shifts, mainly daytimes or evenings; on very rare occasions, she would work a night shift. At first she was disappointed not to be going back into geriatric work, but as the months went by she came to enjoy being back in a regular nursing position; she liked the variety of it, with many different sorts of people and different kinds of illnesses or injuries. “I’ll go back to the Special Care Home eventually”, she said to me, “but for now, I’m okay with this”.

For the first two years after her chemo ended she had a checkup every six months; after that, the frequency was reduced to once a year. Most of the time by now she was her old cheerful self, but every time her checkup came around she approached it with foreboding. On one occasion, the night before we went down to Saskatoon for her two-year appointment, I found her sitting on the bed in our darkened bedroom with tears running down her face. “I’m just so scared, Tom”, she said to me in a shaky voice; “I’m scared that one day I’ll go for a check-up and they’ll tell me it’s back. You hear so many stories like that”.

“You’ll be fine”, I replied, putting my arms around her and holding her close; “You’ve never looked so well”.

“But that doesn’t mean…”

“One day at a time”, I said; “Every day’s a gift, and we just have to concentrate on making every day count”.

“I know”, she replied, her voice muffled against my shoulder, “and after tomorrow, I’ll be fine. But I just can’t seem to stop myself from getting all wound up about it; I know I won’t sleep much tonight. I’m sorry, Tom”.

I shook my head; “I will gladly lie awake and hold you all night long”, I whispered. “You know that; you know how much I love you”.

“Thank you”, she replied, tightening her arms around me; “I love you too”.

At first we were afraid to hope, but as the years went by, the sword of Damocles gradually receded, and we began to allow ourselves the luxury of optimism. Kelly’s hair grew slowly, and I, who had only known her with long hair, was fascinated by how different she looked at each stage of its growth: the military-style buzz cut of her early days after chemo, the boyish short hair she had when Becca was with us, the gradual growth until her ears were covered again in a kind of 1960’s pixie look, and eventually, after about three years, the old familiar look with her hair hanging loose down her back, or sometimes tied back in a ponytail or a tight braid.

“Don’t ever let me cut it short again!” she said to me with a smile one day; “If I ever talk about it, remind me of how much I hated it when it was short, and how long I waited for it to grow back!”

“Okay; I have to say, I like it long too”.

 

Emma was growing, of course, and I found her endlessly fascinating. She was slow to begin talking, despite having two very articulate parents; even when Becca came to visit us, when she was nineteen months old, she still wasn’t saying very much, although it was clear that she understood much of what was said to her. She would nod or shake her head, and occasionally say “Mommy’” or “Daddy” or (more frequently and vehemently) “No!”, but that was pretty well all we got out of her. However, a couple of weeks after Becca went home it was as if the flood gates were opened, and suddenly a torrent of words began to pour out of her mouth. Her enunciation, of course, was far from exact, and I found I had to listen hard at times to figure out what she was trying to say, although Kelly was better at interpreting it than I was. From then on, it was clear that she loved words; we would see her shaping them with her mouth, sounding them out, and playing with different sounds. She had always enjoyed it when we read to her, but if possible, she enjoyed it even more after she started talking, and before long, of course, she was memorizing the stories we read to her, and pretending to read them back to us.

We loved the fact that Joe and Ellie lived close to us, and I knew they loved it too. Jake was a year older than Emma, and Jenna just under a year younger, and the three of them were together constantly. Ellie continued to work part time, like Kelly, and they were always walking over to each other’s houses with the children for an hour or two of play and conversation. Emma could never remember a time when she didn’t know Jake, and it was obvious as they got older that she looked up to him and followed his lead. I would tease Joe about this from time to time; “That boy of yours is going to lead my girl astray one day!”

“You think? Usually it’s the girls that lead the boys astray!”

“Nope – he’s the leader, and she’s going to follow, so you need to make sure he leads her in the right direction”.

He laughed; “What about you teaching her some independence? Don’t you think that’s good for a girl?”

 

My summers, of course, were long and relaxing, and Kelly tended to take extra time off work at that time of year so that we could make frequent trips. We never went out of the country; in fact, we rarely ventured outside of Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia. We made a point of exploring new campgrounds every year, but we always came back to the two that we loved: Prince Albert National Park, where Krista and Steve lived, and Jasper, which held so many good memories for us. When they had a couple of days off Krista and Steve would often drive down to Meadowvale, and so Emma got to know her cousin Mike, who had been born two days after Jenna, and her younger cousin Rachel, who was born in June of 1988 and so was about two and a half years Emma’s junior. When the five of them got together the result was always an amazing blend of fun and chaos. It was Steve who first dubbed them ‘the Pack’, one day when they were all running and playing in our back yard, and that name somehow stuck. Occasionally the Pack was joined by members from our extended family, like Gary and Brenda’s son Ryan and their new baby daughter Jessica, who was born on March 8th 1988. Brenda took a few months at home with the baby after she was born, and during that time she frequently brought both children to Meadowvale to visit with their grandparents at the farm.

Kelly and I loved going away by ourselves with Emma, but we also enjoyed it when Joe and Ellie and their kids tagged along with us, and we made several trips to Jasper and Mount Robson with them. One of the enjoyable things about going to Jasper together like that was that we fell into the habit of offering babysitting for each other, which meant that, at least once during a trip, we would look after Joe and Ellie’s kids so that they could go off and do a more strenuous hike together, and then later in the trip they would do the same for us. By now Kelly had all her strength back, and I loved seeing her striding ahead of me on one of the high mountain trails, her ball cap on her head and her trekking pole in her hand; she never gave a hint of being tired, although I knew she often experienced what she referred to as ‘the delicious state of outdoor exhaustion’ at the end of those hikes, and she always slept well afterwards.

 

We continued our tradition of having regular singarounds at our house, usually once every couple of months or so, and by now we had a steady group of about ten musicians who came regularly. Ellie had been playing along with my songs with her fiddle for a long time now, of course, and I had also been picking up bluegrass tunes from her and Rob Neufeld so that I could accompany her. Gradually, as time went by, it became a rare thing for Ellie or I to play solo; if I was playing, she accompanied me, and if she was playing, I added a guitar part to her fiddle tunes, or sang the words of the songs with her. I also noticed that my voice changed a little when I did that; I usually sang my traditional songs in my own English accent, but when I sang bluegrass with Ellie, I found myself subconsciously letting a little of her American-style twang creep in, and I also sang more at the higher end of my register, as bluegrass singers tended to do.

One night as Joe and Ellie were helping us clean up after a singaround, Joe smiled at Ellie and me and said, “I think you guys have become a band”.

“I’ve noticed that too”, Kelly said with a mischievous grin. “Before we know it, they’ll be going down to the city to play gigs together, leaving us to look after the kids!”

“You guys are too funny!” Ellie replied with a twinkle in her eye; “We’re just playing songs together, that’s all”.

“No, it’s not”, Joe said quietly. “All joking aside, this has turned into something really good for you two. You’ve learned each other’s styles, so you’ve both grown as musicians, and you sound better together than you do apart. Why don’t you see if you can make something of it? You’ve both been in bands before, and I know you’ve both really missed it. What would be wrong with taking this to the next step?”

“Looking for open stages to play at, you mean?” Ellie said.

“Why not? You used to do that when you lived in Saskatoon”.

“That’s true, but we live eighty miles from Saskatoon now, and we’re both parents, and we both work – Tom works full time, in fact”.

“True”, Kelly said, “but there are weekends, and summers, and you guys are not single parents, you know!”

“And there are always local events like summer fairs”, Joe added; “they’re always looking for local musicians to play at those things”.

“Yeah, but they tend to be classic country people”, Ellie replied.

“It’s not too much of a stretch from country to bluegrass”.

Ellie grinned at me; “I think we’re being railroaded here!” she said.

I shrugged; “Actually, I don’t think it’s such a bad idea”, I replied. “We enjoy playing music together, and our styles are different enough to give some variety to a show”.

“Listen to this man”, Joe said to Ellie; “I think you should do it”.

 

Ellie and I talked about it for a while, and eventually we agreed to explore the possibility of playing some live music together. She had kept in touch with a few of the friends she had made at open stages in Saskatoon during her university years, and it wasn’t hard for her to find out about opportunities to play music in the city. And so, in late April of 1988, she and I drove down to Saskatoon one Saturday afternoon with my guitar and her fiddle in the back of the car. There had been some discussion about Joe and Kelly and our kids coming along, but eventually everyone had agreed that for now it would be easier if we went by ourselves; later on when the kids were a little older we might think about other arrangements. So Ellie and I had a light supper with Gary and Brenda and their children, and then we went over to an independent coffee shop in the downtown area where there was a Saturday night open stage. It was hosted by a tall, balding man in his mid-forties who Ellie knew from her university days; he recognized her immediately when we entered the café, and he came up to her with a broad grin on his face and gave her a warm hug. “Ellie Finlay!” he said; “I haven’t seen you for years!”

“It’s Ellie Reimer now, actually, Jerry”, she replied with a grin; “I’m an old married lady living up in Meadowvale with my husband and my kids”.

“So you did marry Joe Reimer after all, then?”

“Yeah, I did”.

He held out his hand to me. “Jerry Weaver”, he said; “You definitely aren’t Joe Reimer!”

I laughed and shook my head; “No, I’m Tom Masefield; I’m married to Joe’s sister Kelly, so I’m Ellie’s brother in law”.

“And are you a bluegrass player too?”

“Well, I do play some bluegrass, but it’s not my native language”.

“I guess not, with an accent like that! You’re from the old country, right?”

“I am, and I play English folk music – traditional stuff”.

“Wow – that’s not something you hear very often!”

“Tom knows more traditional folk songs than anyone I’ve ever met”, Ellie said with a smile.

“Well, I’m glad you two decided to come down to the city and share some of your songs with us. Sit with me, okay? You and I should catch up, Ellie!”

 

The café was ideally laid out for live music: a big square room full of old-fashioned round wooden tables, with a coffee bar along one side and a small stage in the opposite corner. The walls were covered with paintings and photographs of old grain elevators, and there were a couple of tall bookshelves at the back of the shop. The place was already about half full, and I could see a few other guitar cases scattered around the room. Jerry was still setting up the sound gear on the stage, but he pointed us in the direction of his table, and Ellie took her seat while I bought coffee for us both. “How do you know Jerry?” I asked her when I returned to the table.

“His dad actually owns one of the oldest music stores in Saskatoon”, she replied; “They carry a lot of fiddles and mandolins and other bluegrass-type instruments. Jerry’s a fiddle player too, and he’s pretty active in the bluegrass community. He works in his dad’s store, mainly doing repairs and maintenance”.

“He seems like a pretty genial guy”.

“Yeah, he’s very friendly, and he’s a great musician too”.

I took a sip of my coffee and looked across the table at her. “You know, in all the years I’ve known you, I’ve never asked you how you got into bluegrass music”, I said. “Your family don’t really strike me as bluegrass people”.

She pushed a stray wisp of hair behind her ear. “My mom and dad weren’t musical at all”, she replied; “but my grandpa Finlay was an old-time fiddler; he used to play for barn dances and that sort of thing. I heard him play ever since I was a little girl, and for some reason I was attracted to that kind of stuff. It didn’t seem to grab Karla in quite the same way; she likes music alright, but she was never interested in Grandpa’s music”.

“Funny how that works sometimes”.

“Yeah. When I got into my early teens I asked Grandpa about where his music came from, and that’s when he started playing his records for me. He had all these albums by Bill Monroe and the Stanley Brothers and Earl Scruggs, and of course it was all brand new to me; no one at my school was listening to that kind of music! But I liked it, and before too long I asked Mom and Dad if I could have a fiddle and learn to play”.

“They were supportive?”

“They really were. Grandpa was really happy too, of course, and he gave me my first fiddle lessons”.

“Is he still alive?”

“Yes, he is, but he’s in very poor health”.

“Was he at your wedding?”

“He was – he and my Grandma were both there, but I’m sure there were so many people there that you might not have been introduced to them”.

“No, I think you’re right. I’d love to meet him, though”.

She smiled; “Well, then, we’ll make that happen!” she said.

 

We heard all kinds of music that night – contemporary folk, classic rock (played on acoustic guitars), country, and a little bluegrass too. When it was our turn, we played a couple of bluegrass classics – ‘Mountain Dew’ and ‘Wayfaring Stranger’ – and finished with one of my old English folk songs, ‘Lord Franklin’; Ellie sang the lead vocal on the first two songs and I took the lead in the last one. By then the coffee shop was full, and although there was inevitably some conversation going on, a lot of people seemed to be listening and enjoying our music. We chatted with some of the other musicians, and Ellie had a good visit with Jerry Weaver; when we left at about nine-thirty, he made us promise to come down again soon.

“We’ll do our best”, Ellie replied, “but you know we’re both parents, and it’s an hour and fifteen minutes, and we both go to church on Sunday mornings”.

“Excuses, excuses!” he said with a grin; “Just get yourselves down here! You guys sound really good together, and it’s a nice mix of styles. Just do it!”

 

So we got into the habit of driving down once a month to Jerry’s open stage. Until now I had spent very little time alone with Ellie, and she tended to be the quiet one in the four-way conversations when Kelly and I got together with her and Joe, so I didn’t know her anything like as well as Kelly did. However, I soon discovered that she was a good one-on-one conversationalist, and I enjoyed the opportunity to get to know her better. Not that we made all the trips by ourselves; we soon agreed that sometimes either Joe or Kelly would babysit for our three children so that the other spouse could come along and listen to the music. However, there were still times when it was just Ellie and me, and we enjoyed that too.

“I always thought that Ellie was quiet”, I said to Kelly one night in late June when we were getting ready for bed, “but I’ve discovered that she’s only shy in groups”.

“Yeah, she is; she actually has a lot to say when she’s in a one-on-one conversation”.

“That’s what I’m discovering”, I said as I hung up my shirt in the closet.

“It’s good that you guys are becoming better friends; you’re both musicians, and you can relate to each other in a way that you can’t with me or Joe”.

I stopped what I was doing and looked at at her as she brushed her hair in front of the mirror.  “Wow”, I said; “Where did that come from?”

“What do you mean?”

“Kelly, you’re okay with me and Ellie being friends, right?” I asked.

“Yeah, I am – of course I am”.

“It’s just that what you said made it sound as if maybe you weren’t entirely happy about it”.

For a moment she didn’t reply; she put the hair brush down on the dresser, turned and got into bed. She sat back against the pillow, opened her mouth to speak, and then closed it again; she shook her head and said, “Well, I guess maybe I am just a little bit jealous”.

I sat down on the bed and took her hand; “Tell me more”, I said.

She sighed; “I’ve found myself thinking of you and Wendy”, she said. “I know it’s stupid, but…”

“You’re not stupid, Kelly; what are you thinking?”

She frowned; “I remember when you talked about Wendy and all the things she enjoyed – walking in the country, and Victorian novels, and singing traditional folk music – and I thought to myself, ‘Wow, if that girl lived in Meadowvale, she’d be formidable competition for me’. Music’s such a huge part of who you are, Tom, and I can’t share it with you in the same way another musician can”.

I stared at her; “Are you seriously suggesting that Ellie and me…?”

She shook her head vigorously; “No, of course not! Oh my God, Tom, how could you even think that?”

“Well, you were the one that used the word ‘jealous’”.

“Ah, right”. She shook her head; “Sorry, that’s not what I meant”.

“Then what…?”

“I just meant that I’ve wondered sometimes if you didn’t wish that I was a musician too, so that you could share that part of your life with me”.

“I feel like I do share it with you, Kelly; I honestly do. Yes, I enjoyed singing with Wendy, and I like what Ellie and I do as well. But I like our marriage the way it is – I honestly do”.

“Really?”

“Yeah”. I thought for a moment, and then I said, “Look at it the other way around. You’re a nurse, and that’s a big part of who you are. But I can’t share that with you in the same way that your nursing colleagues can”.

“But nursing’s not the same as music”.

“No, it’s about insignificant things like saving people’s lives, and making them well again”.

She laughed; “Okay, point taken!” she said.

“I’ve always loved the fact that you’re a nurse”, I continued, “and when you were working at the special care home, I loved that too. You were so passionate about working with old people, and so committed to the relationships you made with them. I loved that, even though I couldn’t fully share in it”.

She looked at me, and I saw the vulnerability in her eyes. “So you really don’t mind that I’m not a musician?” she said.

“I really don’t. I love it that you enjoy my music, and you always support me in it, but I’m quite happy with things as they are. So don’t worry; Ellie isn’t fulfilling some secret need in me that’s been starved ever since Wendy and I parted company”.

She gave me a sheepish grin; “Well, when you put it like that…”

I leaned forward and kissed her. “This is a strange conversation for you and I to be having”, I said softly; “You’re usually pretty sure of yourself, or at least you have been since you got through your chemotherapy. Is there anything wrong? Have I said something, or done anything to make you think…?”

She shook her head. “No, it’s not you; you haven’t done anything”.

“What then?”

She looked down, and for a moment she didn’t reply. Then she shook her head and said, “I’m just being silly, Tom”.

“Kelly, are you going to make me dig?” I asked with a grin.

She laughed suddenly; “Touché”, she said. She squeezed my hand and looked at me, and again I saw that look of childlike vulnerability in her eyes. “Tom, do you resent the fact that I can’t have any more children, and that I don’t want to adopt?” she asked.

Resent it? Where did that one come from?”

“Well, I know you wanted more children, and if it wasn’t for me…”

I looked at her for a moment, and then I leaned forward and kissed her gently on the forehead. “No”, I said softly, “I don’t resent it at all. I never, ever think about it. Marrying you was the best thing that ever happened to me, Kelly, and nothing that’s happened to us since then has changed that. All I want from the rest of my life is to share it with you, and to watch Emma grow up to be just like you”.

She smiled at me then; “I hope she’s like you, too”, she said quietly.

 

That July, Glenn Pickering married Karla Finlay in her home town of Humboldt.

In the two years since Glenn had first told us that he and Karla were dating, they had gradually been spending more and more time together, until eventually, in the Fall of 1987, she had moved up to Meadowvale so that they could live together. She had done casual work around town for a few months until Joe and Shauna had hired her as the office manager for their veterinary clinic. “Since Ivor retired we’ve been run off our feet”, Joe said to me, “and there’s just not time for Shauna and me to do the administrative stuff any more. I wish we could get another vet up here too, but for now, having an office manager will help a lot”.

It quickly became obvious that Karla was a good office manager, but she was good for Glenn in many other ways, too. She shared his enjoyment of children, and she embraced his Pickering nieces and nephews as enthusiastically as he did. She was glad to be closer to her sister Ellie as well, and although Jake and Jenna didn’t know her as well as they knew Kelly and me, she was patient and persistent with them, and they gradually came around to the idea of having another auntie in town. Glenn also continued to be very fond of our Emma; he and Karla would come over to our place for coffee, and sooner of later he would get down on the floor to play with her for a while, or go and sit on the couch with her to read her a story. Karla would watch him, her coffee cup in her hand, with the ghost of a smile playing around her lips, and Kelly and I would exchange glances.

“I think Karla wants kids as much as Glenn does”, Kelly said to me one night after they left. “Has he ever said anything about it to you?”

“No, but then, it’s not often that conversation with him gets really personal. But I think you’re right; did you see the look on her face when she was watching him read to Emma?”

“Yeah, I did. I’m really happy for Glenn”.

“Me too”.

Karla and Glenn were married on July 23rd, and of course Kelly and I attended the wedding; Ellie was Karla’s maid of honour, and Glenn’s brother Scott was his best man. The reception was held at the same community hall where Kelly and I had danced together for the first time, five years ago, at Ellie and Joe’s wedding; Kelly was wearing a simple white dress, with her hair hanging loose down her back as usual, and I could see by the look on her face that she was remembering. She smiled up at me after the first dance, her eyes shining, and said, “You practiced”.

“I did”.

“You’re a very good dancer, Mr. Masefield”.

“You’re a wonderful dance partner, Mrs. Masefield!”

A little later on, while we were sitting together sipping our drinks, Ellie brought a frail-looking elderly man over to our table; he was wearing a dark suit and an open-necked shirt, and I recognized immediately that he was her grandfather.

“Tom”, she said as I got to my feet, “This is my grandpa, Lawrence Finlay. Grandpa, this is Kelly’s husband Tom Masefield; he’s the one I play music with”.

The old man took my hand carefully, and I could see that he had rather severe arthritis in his fingers. “A bluegrass player from the old country, Ellie tells me”, he said with a smile.

“She’s taught me well!” I replied. “Were you born in the old country, Mr. Finlay?”

“Call me Lawrence!” he said. “I was born in Falkirk, Scotland in 1910, and my parents brought me here to Canada in 1924. Do you know how old that makes me?”

“I’d say, about seventy-eight”, I replied with a grin.

“That’s exactly right!”

“Ellie’s a really good fiddler, Lawrence”, I said; “You obviously taught her well. Do you still play?”

“Not as much as I used to”, he said; “It’s my arthritis, you know. I just can’t hold the bow for long any more, but I still love to listen. Would you and Ellie play for me some time?”

“I’d like that”, I replied; “If I’d thought about it, we could have brought our instruments down today”.

“We’ll make it happen soon, Grandpa”, Ellie said.

“Make it real soon”, he replied; “When you get to my age, you don’t take things for granted”.

“We’ll do it before the end of the summer”, I said. “My sister’s coming over from England next week, and she’d enjoy a little road trip, so we’ll bring her down here for a visit at a time when Ellie can come too”.

“Good”, he said; “I’ll look forward to that”.

 

We had left Emma with Sally and Will at their place, even though we knew that it would probably be very late by the time we got back to Meadowvale, and in fact it was about one-thirty in the morning when I carried her in from the car, still fast asleep in my arms, and laid her down in her own bed. It was a warm summer night; Kelly was still wearing her dress from the wedding, but I had slipped out of my jacket and tie. I could feel the tiredness in my bones, but nevertheless we stood quietly in Emma’s room for a few minutes, looking down at our little girl in the dim light from the hall as she slept peacefully in her bed. I slipped my arm around Kelly’s shoulders, and felt the answering touch of her hand on my back.

“She’s so beautiful”, Kelly whispered.

“Like her mum”, I replied.

“I love you”.

“I love you too”.

We were quiet for a moment, and then she said, “Karla and Glenn looked so happy tonight”.

“They did”, I agreed; “You looked pretty happy yourself, Mrs. Masefield”.

“I was happy for them, but I was happy to be there with you, too”.

“You were thinking about the last time we danced in that hall”.

“I was”. She laid her head on my shoulder; “It was only a few weeks after we first talked about being in love”.

“I remember that. I remember you were very patient with my clumsy dancing”.

“I wouldn’t have called it clumsy”.

“That’s because you were madly in love with me, and as you know, love is blind”.

She laughed softly and kissed me on the cheek. “I like to think I’m still madly in love with you, and I have to say your dancing’s improved”.

Emma stirred a little in her sleep; Kelly looked at me and put her finger over her lips, and we quietly slipped from the room and went down the hall to the kitchen. I went down the stairs and locked the back door, and when I came back up she was standing at the kitchen sink, a glass of water in her hand.

“Are you tired?” I asked her.

“A little”.

“Do you want anything?”

She finished her water, put the glass in the sink, and then turned and came over to me, putting both her arms around my neck. “Yes”, she whispered, kissing me on the lips; “I want you to take me to bed and make love to me”.

I put my arms around her and drew her close; “I like the sound of that”, I replied.

Posted in Fiction, Meadowvale | 1 Comment

Meadowvale (a prequel to ‘A Time to Mend’): Chapter 22

Link back to Chapter 21

This is a work of fiction; I haven’t yet finished it, and it will probably get revised after it’s finished. It tells the story of Tom and Kelly’s marriage; readers of A Time to Mend will know that it will have a sad ending, but hopefully it will be a good story.

Note the things I said about revisions here.

We spent a relaxed week in Meadowvale, walking around the town, swimming at the open air pool, and occasionally going out to Myers Lake. There was a boat launch at the lake, and on a couple of occasions I borrowed Will and Sally’s canoe, loaded it onto the roof rack of my car, and took Becca canoeing; this was something we had done on the Thames when she was a young girl, but it had been years since we had been in a canoe together. The lake, of course, was a very different experience from the flowing water of the river; we paddled for half an hour or so, then sat quietly and let the canoe drift, watching the grebes swimming contentedly on the surface of the water, or diving without warning and reappearing a moment later further down the lake. Once we saw deer under the trees by the lakeshore, and a while later I thought I saw the grey shape of a coyote hiding furtively in the undergrowth, but by the time I pointed it out to Becca it had already disappeared.

I asked Becca if she was interested in meeting any more of our friends around town, and she said she wouldn’t mind doing a little of that, so we brought old Joanna Robinson over for tea one day and had a very enjoyable visit with her. Afterwards, Becca agreed with me; “That’s definitely an upper-middle-class accent”, she said.

“That’s what I thought, and I don’t think there’s any way she would have picked it up after she moved to Canada. Kelly says her husband almost completely lost his English accent before he died”.

“Really? She sounds like she just got here last week!”

“That’s what I thought. And then there’s the fact that I’ve never seen any photographs in her house dating back to before they came to Canada in 1929, and she’s never said anything to anyone – family or friends – other than that her husband was a farm labourer in the old country and he couldn’t find steady work over there”.

“Kind of amazing that they were able to afford to move here, then, don’t you think?”

“I never thought of that”, I said; “You’re right, it is surprising”.

“Have you ever talked to her about any of this?” Becca asked.

“I’ve got near it with her a couple of times, and she’s stonewalled me both times”.

“And her family members really don’t know anything?”

“I’ve never heard them say anything about it in all the years I’ve known them”, Kelly replied, “and I’m pretty close to Don and Ruth, because their mom is my aunt and we’ve always gotten along well. Tom thinks that the chances are that Mrs. Robinson has never told them anything and doesn’t want them to know. And he thinks that if we started asking them questions, they might ask her, and that might not be something she wants to have to deal with”.

“Why would she not want them to know?” Becca asked me.

“There are all kinds of possible reasons”, I replied. “Maybe they didn’t leave England in particularly pleasant circumstances; maybe there was a family quarrel or something”.

“Or maybe”, Becca said with a mischievous grin, “they were fugitives from the law, and their name wasn’t really Robinson at all!”

We laughed, and I said, “Well, all joking aside, like I said to Kelly once, I can understand why a person might not want to be asked those kinds of questions. When I first came here I didn’t really like being asked why I had come to Canada; I really didn’t want to be forever retelling the story of my quarrel with Dad, so I just gave general answers and changed the subject as quickly as I could. And if Mrs. Robinson really doesn’t want to talk about it – and it seems pretty clear to me that she doesn’t – then I think we should respect that”.

“She really seems quite fond of you, though”, Becca said.

“I like her too; I think she’s a grand old lady and I enjoy her company”.

 

One morning I took Becca down to meet old Charlie Blackie, warning her first, of course, that he would probably ask after the state of her soul. To my surprise, though, the old man behaved himself admirably, telling her how glad he was to meet her and how much he enjoyed visiting with me; we sat and drank coffee together and enjoyed half an hour of relaxed conversation, and then he apologized to us and told us he had to get back to work, as he had a customer coming just after lunch to pick up a sewing machine he had been repairing.

As we walked back to the house, Becca said, “Are you sure that was the same man you were talking to me about?”

“I’m as mystified as you are”, I replied; “I’ve never seen Charlie so docile”.

“Have you ever taken a woman to visit him before?”

I thought for a moment, and then said, “Just Mum, when you came over for our wedding, and come to think of it, he was pretty well-behaved with her, too. Well, who knew? Apparently Charlie doesn’t get after girls about their souls!”

“Are there even any women in his life?”

“He lost his wife about fifteen years ago; I don’t know how. I think there’s a daughter somewhere down east; he doesn’t talk about her very much, and I get the idea he doesn’t have much contact with her. I’ve got a vague idea that she’s in business of some kind, but beyond that, I’m not really sure”.

“I’m getting the idea there are definitely things he doesn’t talk about”.

“That would be true; he’s a private person, despite the fact that he’s very sociable. He’s never been very open about his personal life – at least, not while I’ve known him”.

Becca grinned; “That seems to be a common character trait among your elderly friends in Meadowvale”.

I laughed; “Well, with Mrs. Robinson and Charlie, anyway! We’ll get Kelly’s Grandma Reimer over one day and she’ll tell you so many stories about her life that your head will be spinning!”

 

That evening after supper I came into the living room to find Becca looking at the photographs on the wall.

“See anyone you know?” I asked as I crossed the room and stood beside her.

“Is there a particular reason why you’re displaying a picture of me when I was eleven?”

“Because you were so cute, of course!”

She turned and swatted me gently across the side of my head. “You can be a brat, you know, when you want to be!” she said with a grin.

“And apparently you can be a thug, too!”

She laughed, and then nodded toward one of the old family photos Kelly had recently had framed. “Who are those people?” she asked.

“Do you recognize Kelly’s Grandma Reimer?”

She leaned forward and peered closely at the photograph; “Is this her wedding picture?”

“Yes it is”.

“Was it taken in Meadowvale?”

“No, it was taken in the village of Rosenthal, in the Chortitza Mennonite colony in Russia, in 1920”.

“Wow”. She scrutinized the photograph for a moment, and then said, “Do you know who all the people are?”

“I know some of them, but Kelly knows them all”.

As if on cue, Kelly walked into the living room with Emma on her arm. “Did I hear my name?” she asked.

“Becca was asking about the people in this picture”.

“Right”. She came and stood beside us; “Well, the couple in the middle are my Grandpa and Grandma Reimer, Dieter and Erika; the picture was taken on their wedding day in 1920, in Chortitza”.

“That’s what Tommy was saying”.

“That’s their parents on either side of them; Peter and Anna Reimer, and Franz and Helena Rempel. Helena was from the Kroeger family; have you ever heard of Kroeger clocks?”

“No, I haven’t”.

“Well, they were very famous wall clocks; if you can find them today, they’re very valuable. My great-great grandpa, Helena’s father, was one of the best-known clockmakers in Chortitza”.

“So did your great-grandparents come to Canada too?”

“Anna Reimer did; she was the only one still alive in 1924. Her husband Peter died of starvation in 1922, and both of my grandma Reimer’s parents died of typhus in 1921”.

“Was there some kind of an epidemic?”

I smiled at Kelly; “Do you want me to take Emma?” I asked.

“Maybe”. She grinned at Becca apologetically; “Tom’s smiling because he knows that you’ve accidentally gotten me talking about something that’s become really important to me, but it may not be so interesting to you. I’ve spent a lot of time with my grandparents over the past few months finding out about my family history; I know a lot more now about the things they went through in Russia between 1917 and 1924, although there’s still a lot I don’t know. Do you want me to tell you some of it? I honestly won’t be offended if you’re not interested”.

“No, I don’t mind”, Becca replied; “I remember you mentioning something about it when we were in Edinburgh for Rick’s wedding, but it hasn’t really stuck in my mind”.

I held out my hands to Emma, and she gave me a big smile as Kelly passed her to me. “I’ll leave you to it”, I said; “I’m going to take Emma out to the back yard for a few minutes so she can help me pull some weeds”.

“Don’t let her eat dirt!” Kelly replied with a grin.

 

A couple of nights later I woke up at about one-thirty in the morning and realized I was still alone in our bed. I had left Kelly and Becca out on the deck at about ten-thirty; Kelly had told me she would be in to pray with me in a few minutes, but eventually I had fallen asleep waiting for her. It was a warm night and I was lying on top of the comforter; I got to my feet quietly, slipped out into the darkened corridor and checked that Emma was still sleeping peacefully in her room. I went out to the kitchen to get a glass of water, and it was then that I noticed the light on the deck. I filled up my glass at the kitchen sink, then went round to the sliding door at the back of the dining area; the door was open, and I slid open the screen and stepped outside. Kelly and Becca were still sitting in the wooden deck chairs on either side of the picnic table, a teapot and a couple of empty mugs between them, and the citronella candles burning around them. Kelly grinned at me apologetically; “I guess I didn’t make it in for prayers, did I?”

I leaned over and kissed her; “You two okay?” I asked.

“Girl talk”, she replied, nodding at Becca. I glanced at my sister, and saw immediately that she had been crying. I put my hand on her shoulder, and immediately she covered it with her own.

“I should go back inside”, I said softly; “I didn’t mean to interrupt”.

“Sorry, Tommy”, Becca whispered; “I didn’t mean to shut you out. It’s just that Kelly and I started talking, and then…”

I shook my head; “If and when you’re ready”, I said quietly.

“I’m not”, she said apologetically; “not yet, anyway”.

“That’s okay. I’ll leave you girls to it, then”.

“Thank you”.

Kelly smiled at me and put her hand on my arm as I went past; “Thanks”, she said; “I really will be in before too long. Is Emma okay?”

“Yeah, she’s still sound asleep”. I kissed her again, and then went back inside.

 

The story eventually came out a few days later, around a campfire at Whistler’s Campground in Jasper; we had come up to the mountains after spending three days with Krista and Steve at Waskesiu. It was a warm evening; after a day at Maligne Lake we had come home to cook our supper and eat, and then we had wandered with Emma for a while. She was the kind of toddler who loved everything about being outdoors; she wanted to splash in every stream and stop to listen to every strange noise, and every time she saw one of the elk who wandered freely through the campground at Whistler’s she would squeal with delight, and we would have to restrain her from trying to run over and give it a hug.

It took her a long time to settle down when we got back to our campsite; she finally fell asleep in the tent at around nine-thirty, and then I boiled water over the camp stove, and the three of us sat around the small fire I had made, drinking hot chocolate and eating roasted marshmallows. Becca was sitting to the left of me, and Kelly to my right, in a rough semi-circle around the fire pit. Whistler’s is a big campground; we could hear the occasional sounds of talking and laughter from other nearby campsites, and now and again campers would walk past the entrance to our site in the gathering dark. We talked about our day at Maligne Lake and the other places we had seen so far on our trip, and eventually, without any sort of prompting from Kelly or me, Becca started talking about Peter.

“How long have you known him?” I asked gently.

“Ever since I went up to high school in Wallingford. He’s actually from Wallingford; he was a year ahead of me, and we were both swimmers. That’s how we met. But we were friends for five years before we started going out”.

She looked down at the empty mug on her lap. “He’s not just a swimmer”, she said, “he’s a distance runner too, and a really good student. He’s in sciences – he wants to be a marine biologist. He’s going up to Cambridge in September to read biology, I think, but I’m not really sure; I haven’t actually spoken to him since the end of May”.

She was quiet for a moment, and I leaned forward and tossed another log on the campfire. We watched as the flames licked around it and the wood began to crackle, and then she said, “He asked me out last June, about the same time you told us that Kelly was going to have chemo. I was really happy; I’ve liked him for a long time, and occasionally I thought perhaps he liked me too. It turned out that he did, and we spent most of last summer doing things together”. She smiled ruefully; “I might have been a bit obsessed”, she said, “but he was really good to me, kind and considerate, and he was always lots of fun”.

She glanced at me; “You know I’ve always been ‘Becca’, ever since I can remember; that’s the name I liked, and everyone’s always called me that. But Peter always called me ‘Rebecca’; I didn’t like it at first, but eventually I got used to it, and then I actually liked it a lot; it sounded – well, sort of formal and courtly, you know? As if we were in Camelot or something. And he was never ‘Pete’ – always ‘Peter’. That’s the way it was for us for the first few months – he was playful and romantic and fun, but he was always gentle and respectful as well”.

“You loved him”, I said softly.

She nodded, and I saw the tears in her eyes. “Totally”, she said; “He was my first real boyfriend, and I fell for him, head over heels”.

I reached over and took her hand in mine, and she smiled, and wiped her eyes with the sleeve of her fleece top. “It was like he was my safe place”, she said. “Mum does her best, like you said, but she can’t change Dad, and you know what it’s like around our house – when he’s home, it’s like tiptoeing through a minefield. Of course, it’s not like I haven’t got good friends, like Stevie and Corinna – and Chrissie – or at least, Chrissie was my friend…”. She shook her head; “But he was my safest place”, she continued. “I knew he’d always be gentle and he’d never intentionally hurt me or put me down or anything like that”.

“That must have been really special”, Kelly said softly.

“Yes, it was. While it lasted”.

She lapsed into silence again, and I waited, knowing that she would continue the story when she was ready. Kelly drained her mug, leaned over and put it down on the ground beside her chair. I glanced at her surreptitiously, knowing that she had been burning the midnight oil a few times with Becca; even now, nearly six months after she had been given a clean bill of health, I couldn’t stop myself from feeling protective of her or feeling anxious that she would tire herself out.

“He wanted to sleep with me”, Becca said suddenly, and I could see that she was watching for my reaction.

“He told you that?” I asked, trying to keep my voice even.

“Not at first. Sometimes when we went for walks we would kiss a lot. And sometimes when I was out babysitting he would come by after the kids were asleep, and then, well, you know, we’d make out a bit on the couch…”

I opened my mouth to speak, but Kelly put her hand on my arm, and I waited for Becca to continue.

“I didn’t want to go any further than that, but I soon realized that he did. This would have been back in February or March. He kept trying to go further than I wanted to. He wasn’t rough with me or anything, but he kept after me about it. Then one night when Mum and Dad were out late at a party he came over to the house, and – well, that’s when I finally let him…”

“Please tell me that you used some sort of protection”, I said.

She looked at me, and I saw that her eyes were wet. “Please don’t be mad at me, Tommy”, she said desperately; “I knew you’d be upset, and that’s why I didn’t want to tell you…”

I shook my head, leaned forward and took her hand again. “I’m sorry”, I said; “I didn’t mean to sound like I was angry. I’m not Dad, Becs; I’m just me. Tell me what you want me to know, and I promise I won’t judge you or anything like that”.

She blinked back her tears, squeezed my hand, and said, “I really didn’t enjoy it, Tommy; I was so afraid that Mum and Dad might come home early and find us, or something like that. But he wanted it so much, and I loved him and I didn’t want to disappoint him…”

“Did he force you?” I asked.

“No, it wasn’t like that. He knew I wasn’t wild about the idea, but I didn’t tell him he couldn’t”. I saw the sudden understanding dawn on her face, and she said, “You’re asking me if he raped me, aren’t you?”

“I guess I am”.

“No, he didn’t force me. But afterwards I was upset; I tried to hide it, but I think he knew it. We slept together three or four times after that, always at his house when his mum and dad were out – I should have said that he’s the youngest son, and the only one left at home. But I could never shake that fear of us being discovered, and I don’t think it was very enjoyable for him”.

“So he started looking elsewhere”, I said softly.

She nodded, and I saw the tears in her eyes again. “I knew he and Chrissie had become friends through the swim team, but I didn’t know that she fancied him too”.

“How did you find out?”

“He told me himself, if you can believe it”. She smiled grimly; “He was very gentlemanly about it at first; he said he could see that I wasn’t happy with him any more, and so maybe it would be better if we parted so that we could each find someone more suited to our needs. I don’t know why – just instinct, maybe – but I asked him if he had someone in mind, and at first he tried to avoid the question, but eventually he admitted he’d been seeing Chrissie for a few weeks. And then I got angry with him and started shouting at him; I asked him if he thought she’d be any better in bed than I was, and that was when he lost his temper and said yes, actually, she was much better than me, and they’d been having some pretty wild times together”.

“Bastard!” I whispered.

Again she shook her head; “I wish I could just be mad at him like that; it would be so much easier if I could. I’ve called him names like that, and worse, but the thing is…” Her voice petered out and she put her hand over her mouth, the tears running down her face.

“You’re still in love with him”, I said.

“I’m pathetic, aren’t I?” she sobbed.

I got up then, took her hand, and said, “Come here”. She got to her feet, and I put my arms around her and hugged her. “You’re not pathetic”, I said, continuing to hold her close; “He was wrong to put pressure on you to have sex when you really didn’t want to, and he was wrong to betray you when he wasn’t getting what he wanted out of you. And now you still love him, and he’s hurt you very, very badly, and so you’re confused and you can’t figure out what you should feel”. I leaned back, looked at her, and said, “I know what I feel; I want to find him, hold him down, and remove some of his body parts without the benefit of anesthetic!”

She laughed suddenly through her tears; “Oh, Tommy!” she said, “I’ve been so scared to tell you about this; I wanted to, but I was scared you’d be angry at me”.

I hugged her again; “Not angry at you at all”, I replied. “I know it was hard for you to talk about this with me, what with you being a girl and me being a boy, and your big brother too”.

I felt her nodding against my shoulder; “Kelly told me to trust you. She was right, of course”.

“I’m guessing you haven’t told anyone else about it”.

“Well, everyone at school knows he dumped me and moved on, but no one knows the details, no. Kelly was the first person I told”.

I heard Kelly get to her feet, and I felt her putting her arms around the two of us. “You were right to tell us”, she said softly; “You needed to talk to someone about it; it must have been hard for you to carry this around all by yourself for the last two months”.

“Yes – I know Mum suspects something, but of course, I was even more scared of talking to her about it. And as for Dad…”

“Yeah, enough said”, I replied.

After a moment the three of us separated; Becca took out a handkerchief and wiped her eyes, and we sat down again. “So you wanted to get away so that you wouldn’t have to see him all summer, right?” I asked.

“It wasn’t that I didn’t want to see you, too”, she replied, “but the main thing was to get as far away as I could. Not that I’d usually see him in Northwood, but you know, we go into Wallingford fairly often, and…”

“Yeah. But by the time you go home, it’ll only be about three weeks until term starts in Cambridge”.

“Yes. Of course, I’ll have to go to school in Wallingford, but hopefully I won’t see him before he leaves town. I really need to find a way of getting him out of my head before term starts, or I’m going to be totally messed up for the Upper Sixth, and I’ve really got to concentrate and work hard”.

At that moment we heard a whimper from the tent, and then a little cry. Kelly got to her feet; “I think she’s dreaming”, she said; “I’ll go make sure she’s okay”. She got to her feet and put her hand on Becca’s shoulder. “I’m going to get into my sleeping bag pretty soon”, she said; “Do you mind? I’m actually really tired”.

“Of course I don’t mind! I’m sorry, Kelly; I’ve been keeping you up late a lot, and I know you need to get your rest”.

“No need to apologize; I like sitting up and talking with you. Okay, I’d better go and settle her down again”.

She went over to the tent, bent to unzip the door, and slipped inside, zipping it up again behind her. I looked across at my sister; “Are you okay?” I asked.

“I will be. I feel a lot better now I’ve told you the story”.

“Thanks for trusting us; we don’t take that for granted”.

She was quiet for a minute, and then she said, “Tommy, thank you for marrying Kelly”.

I laughed softly; “I think I know what you mean, but it sounds funny to hear you say it”.

“I’ve never met anyone like her”, she said; “She really cares about people, and she’s so genuine and honest. And after all she’s been through, to care about my stuff the way she does…”

“Yeah, I know I’m a lucky man”.

“We all are. It sounds cheesy, but she’s the best person I know”.

“It doesn’t sound cheesy at all. And just so you know, I agree with you”.

She stretched her arms over her head and said, “So, on a completely different subject, what are we going to do tomorrow?”

“Well, if the weather’s good, I might take you on a long hike up a steep slope”.

“What about Kelly and Emma?”

“Kelly told me to take you on a couple of long hikes, so you wouldn’t miss out on everything that Jasper can offer. What do you think? Do you feel ready for something pretty strenuous?”

“I’m game; where are we going?”

“Edith Cavell Meadows.”

“That’s the big white mountain behind Whistler’s, right?”

“Yes, but we won’t be climbing the mountain itself; you need ropes and pitons to do that. The Meadows trail climbs the ridge beside the mountain, on the other side of the glacial pool. You drive up to the parking lot, and then it’s about a three kilometre hike to the top of the trail, with about a five hundred metre elevation, so it’s fairly steep at times. But the views are spectacular; it’s my favourite hike in Jasper”.

“How long does it take?”

“From the parking lot, it takes me about two hours to the top, and an hour back down. But of course, if the weather’s nice, there’s no hurry. And then we can cool off in Annette Lake afterwards”. I grinned at her; “What do you think – are you up for it?”

“I think I am”.

 

We got back to Meadowvale on August 11th, a couple of days before Becca’s seventeenth birthday. We had been gone for just over two weeks; we had spent the first three days with Steve and Krista and little Michael in Prince Albert National Park, going swimming and canoeing, along with a little horseback riding and a lot of sunbathing on the beach. Emma and Michael had gotten to know each other a little better, and Krista and Steve had made Becca very welcome, as I knew they would.

From there we had driven straight to Jasper, where we had camped at Whistler’s for a week. We had taken Becca down to the Columbia Icefields and shown her the glaciers; we had done the spectacular boat trip to Spirit Island on Maligne Lake, and we had walked Maligne Canyon with Emma riding in a child carrier backpack on my back. Becca and I had done our hike up the Mount Edith Cavell trail, we had all gone canoeing at Pyramid Lake several times, and we had ridden the tramway up the side of Whistler’s Mountain and then hiked to the top, with me carrying Emma on my back once again. And on our last full day in Jasper we had driven west across the B.C. border to Mount Robson Provincial Park, where we had hiked up to Kinney Lake and back, enjoying the luxurious vegetation on the western slope of the Rockies, and the deep green of the lake with the grey mountains rising steeply on every side.

At the end of the week we had driven east to Edmonton, where we had enjoyed the music at the Folk Music Festival for three nights. The musical styles were more to my taste and Kelly’s than Becca’s, but she told us that she was enjoying herself nonetheless, wandering from stage to stage listening to the many different performers, sampling food at the various food tents, and just generally breathing in the atmosphere of the event. “I feel like I’m at Woodstock or something”, she said to us on the Saturday afternoon while we were sitting on the hill in Gallagher Park, eating pizza and looking down on the main stage.

“You look the part, too”, I replied, gesturing toward her cut-off jeans, psychedelic-coloured tee-shirt, and open sandals. “All you need now is some beads and a headband”.

She laughed; “If Dad could see me now!” she said.

After the festival was over we drove down to Saskatoon where we spent a night with Brenda and Gary and Ryan; Ryan was nearly four now, and of course he and Emma knew each other well. Brenda and Gary both took a night off work to be with us; Gary barbecued steaks for us, and afterwards we had a long and enjoyable conversation over a bottle of wine. That was when Brenda told us hesitantly, watching Kelly out of the corner of her eye, that she had just discovered she was expecting another baby at the beginning of March. We all congratulated them, but I knew Kelly well enough to know that beneath her cheerful smiles and good wishes she was struggling not to cry, and I was pretty sure that Brenda knew it too. Before we went to bed I saw the two of them talking quietly together, leaning back against the kitchen sink, and before they parted for the night they hugged each other for a long time.

It was an easy drive back up to Meadowvale the next day; we left the city after lunch and we pulled into our driveway around two-thirty in the afternoon. Emma was visibly delighted to be home, and she ran through the house, checking every little nook and cranny to make sure everything was in its proper place, before settling down in the living room to get reacquainted with her friends in the toy box. Kelly went through the house herself, opening windows and letting the fresh air in, before starting a load of laundry, unpacking all our camping gear and putting it back on the shelves in the basement.

Becca disappeared into her room for a while; I helped Kelly with the camping gear, answered some telephone messages and drove down to the Co-op to get some groceries, and then came home and made a pot of coffee. The door to Becca’s room was not quite closed, so I poured her a mug of coffee and then knocked lightly; “Are you awake, Becs?” I asked. “I poured you some coffee”.

“Come in, Tommy”, she replied.

I pushed the door open to find her sitting cross-legged on her bed writing in her journal, with the curtains closed and a fan blowing warm air across the room. “It’s a bit warm in here”, she said with a grin.

I put the mug down on her bedside table. “There’s a nice breeze outside”, I said, “but it’s not blowing from the right direction to get into this room. You might find it more comfortable out on the deck; I was going to rig up the umbrella to keep the sun off the table anyway”.

“I just wanted to be alone for a while”, she said; “I got behind writing up my journal while we were in Edmonton, and I wanted to get it all down while it was fresh in my mind”. She smiled at me; “It was a wonderful trip, Tommy; one of the best holidays I’ve ever had. Thank you”.

“You’re welcome. I’m going to go out to the deck now and rig up that umbrella, and then I might just fall asleep in my chair out there. Come and wake me up when you’re ready; I’ve got something I need to ask you about, but it’ll keep until you’re done”.

She woke me up about half an hour later; I had taken my coffee and my current book out there, but the warm air and the gentle afternoon breeze had done their work, and I had very quickly fallen asleep. I woke to the touch of her hand on my arm; “I poured you a fresh cup”, she said with a grin; “Yours was cold”.

“Thank you”, I replied with a yawn, sitting up in my chair; “Where’s Kelly and Emma?”

“Kelly told me to tell you she was taking Emma down to the swimming pool, and we could meet them there if we wanted”.

“Sounds good”, I replied, taking a sip from the mug she had filled for me.

“What was it you wanted to ask me about?” she said, sitting down across the picnic table from me with the umbrella shading her face from the sun.

“Ah, yes, well, Will and Sally have gotten wind of the fact that Thursday’s your birthday”.

“I wonder who might have told them?” she replied reproachfully.

“Well, that’s for me to know and you to find out!”

She laughed; “So, what’s going on?” she asked.

“Nothing that you don’t want to go on. Will just told me that he and Sally haven’t seen as much of you as they’d have liked so far, and if you were okay with it, they’d be glad to host a little party for you on Thursday night”.

“Who would be there?”

“Relatives, I expect”.

She looked at me archly; “Tommy, you have rather a lot of them!”

“I guess I do”, I replied with a grin. “Well, Will thought he’d invite Joe and Ellie and the kids, and apparently Krista and Steve and Mike are coming tomorrow – which, by the way, I didn’t know”.

“So this would be a gathering of Will and Sally’s family, for my birthday”.

“Something like that”.

“I think I could go along with that!”

“I somehow thought you would”.

 

And so Becca’s last two weeks with us went by; it would be wrong to say that they went fast, because we spent the days as lazily as we could, and in fact, for two or three of them, we did nothing all day except play with Emma, take her to the swimming pool in the afternoon, and sit out on the deck reading. Becca, like me, enjoyed reading, and she had been raiding my bookshelves, sampling authors she had never heard of before, as well as revisiting a couple of old favourites. On two or three mornings Kelly left Emma with me and took Becca up to Hugo and Millie’s to ride the horses, and once again, on a couple of warm nights, the two of them sat up late on the deck, drinking herbal tea and talking.

“What are you guys talking about out there?” I asked Kelly one morning.

“Lots of things”, she replied. “We’re still talking about the whole Peter thing but we’ve also got onto your dad…”

“Ah; she and I have had that conversation as well”.

“Yeah, well, it’s a big one. And then there’s a whole big theme called ‘life’, what’s important and what’s not important, what works and what doesn’t, and all that. Oh, and stories, too – she’s very interested in what it was like to grow up here, and in my family history, and we’ve even touched on Christianity a few times”.

“I’m glad you guys are getting on so well”.

“So am I, but I’m going to back off for the last few days, Tom”.

“Why?”

“Because she’s your sister, and I feel like I’ve kind of monopolized her while she’s been here”.

“No, not at all; like you said, she needed someone she could talk girl talk with. She’s got friends, but a sister’s different, if she’s a sister you can get along with. I feel that way about Joe, you know; he’s the brother I can get along with”.

“Yeah, I know. But anyway, I think you should take her out to the lake a couple more times and just keep her to yourself for a few hours”.

“Might be hard; she’s pretty taken with Emma too”.

“Yeah, I guess that’s true!”

 

Becca flew home on Monday August 24th; I was starting work the next day. We had a few people over for supper the night before to say their goodbyes, and then Kelly and Emma and I drove her down to Saskatoon the following afternoon to catch the overnight flight.

When it came time for her to leave us and go through security she clung to us desperately. “I wish I didn’t have to go”, she said to me; “This has been my best ever holiday”.

“It’s been great to have you”.

“I’m better, Tommy; I want you to know that”.

“Are you?”

“Yes; I don’t mean that I’m completely over Peter, but I’m in a much better frame of mind than I was five weeks ago”.

“That’s good, then”.

She turned to Kelly, and the two of them put their arms around each other and held each other tight. “You be sure to write, now”, Kelly said, “and call me any time. I’ll always be glad to hear from you”.

“Thank you – and thank you for everything”. Becca stepped back, and I saw the emotion on her face. “Will you be coming to England next year?” she asked me.

“I don’t know”, I replied, glancing at Kelly, “but if we’re not, you come back again. If money’s an issue, we’ll send you the fare. We’ve talked about this”.

She hugged me again, and then picked Emma up and said, “Don’t forget me now, Em; I’m your Auntie Becca, remember?”

Emma nodded solemnly, and then put her arms around Becca’s neck. “Aw, that’s a nice hug for Auntie Becca”, Kelly said.

Becca kissed Emma, smiled at her, and said, “Right – Auntie’s got to go, now”. She slung her backpack over her shoulder, hugged Kelly and me one more time, and said, “I’ll ring you when I get home”.

“You be sure to do that”, I said, “and give Mum and Dad my love”.

Link to Chapter 23

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Some revisions to ‘Meadowvale’ (mainly concerning Krista Reimer)

My number one critic, the lovely lady to whom I’m married, pointed out to me a few weeks ago that although Kelly has two siblings, we don’t see much of Krista. I’d kind of felt that too, so I’ve gone back and written her into the story a little more. There will be a new chapter next Saturday, but those of you who have been following the story to date might like to go back and re-read the previous chapters; some have had significant additions, many have had minor changes, one or two have had no changes at all. You can find the links to the chapters so far here.

Posted in Fiction, Meadowvale | 2 Comments

Taking a break until August 18th

I’m going to be continuing my blogging break while I’m on my summer vacation. Sadly, this will also include my weekly instalments of ‘Meadowvale’ (apologies to JP, Wendy, Elaine and my other faithful readers). I really don’t know how Dickens and those other authors who wrote for weekly newspapers managed it. I’ve gotten into a bit of trouble with the next few chapters (I had written as far as 34), and I’m going to need to go back over them and do some rethinking while I’m on holiday. But I promise I’ll start posting again as quickly as I can.

Meanwhile, for those who have the misfortune not to live within driving distance of the Canadian rockies, here are a couple of photos from this past week. I’m pretty sure Kelly would have known these spots very well when she lived in Jasper!

Spirit Island, on Maligne Lake:

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Pyramid Lake, with Mount Edith Cavell in the background, and some nice cloud reflections in the lake too!

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Medicine Lake:

 

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Maligne Lake.

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Posted in Blogging, Fiction, Jasper, Meadowvale, pictures | 2 Comments

Peace and quiet

This blog will be quiet for a few days while Marci and I enjoy some hiking in the mountains (hopefully, if we aren’t rained out or smoked out by forest fires!).

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My favourite songwriters #9: Larry Norman

The father of Christian rock music was definitely a flawed character, but he wrote some awesome songs. Here’s my favourite:

http://larrynorman.com

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