Link back to Chapter 35.
This is the first draft of a work of fiction; it will probably be revised in the not-too-distant future. 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 that this is Chapter 36 of 47.
I was raised in the English school system, in which students, or ‘pupils’ as we were called, were required to wear school uniforms. At my high school, the boys wore grey trousers and blue blazers, white or blue shirts, and school ties; the girls wore grey skirts and blue blazers, and they were also required to wear blouses and ties. Very few of us actually enjoyed this; we were only a few years removed from the 1960s, and most of us would have been far more comfortable in open-necked shirts and flared jeans. Nonetheless, the rules required us to wear uniform, and although we all tested the boundaries from time to time, serious rebellion on this point was rare.
The contrast, when I moved to Meadowvale in 1982 and began to teach at the High School, could not have been more striking. The unofficial student ‘uniform’ seemed to be tee-shirts and jeans, and if the jeans had holes in their knees, no one thought anything of it. I remembered a day in the June of my last year of high school in Wallingford when the headmaster had sent word around that, because it was so hot, boys would be permitted to remove their school blazers (we often removed them without his permission, of course, and most of our teachers turned a blind eye to it, but the assumption that dressing smartly was more important than staying cool was one that many of them would have shared). In contrast, when the weather started getting warmer in Meadowvale, shorts and cut-offs soon became common, and some of the girls wore halter tops, which didn’t do anything to improve the concentration of the teenage boys in our classes. Will was reluctant to crack the whip about this kind of thing, but usually each year there came a time in mid-June when he felt he had to remind the students about what was and was not appropriate dress to wear in the classroom.
Personally I had always preferred dressing casually, and so I enjoyed the fact that I was not required to wear a jacket and tie to work, although a couple of the men on staff did so anyway. I stuck to open-necked shirts and dress pants, and I usually didn’t even bother with a sweater as I found the temperature in the school a little warm for that. “It’s a much more casual school culture”, I said to Owen when I talked about it with him on the phone in the middle of that first year; “Not that there’s any less discipline, or any less respect for teachers, but dressing up and looking smart isn’t really important here”.
I was very surprised, then, when I found out about the high school graduation celebrations; back in England, the only thing people ‘graduated’ from was university. I sat for my ‘A’-level exams in the June of 1977, and later on that summer I was notified by mail that I had passed, which meant that I would be able to accept the place at Lincoln College that I had been offered. In September my school had an awards night, which I went back to, and at which I was officially presented with my ‘A’-level certificates, but many of my classmates didn’t bother to come back for it, especially those who had gone further afield for university. And we certainly never had anything like a formal banquet or a dance to celebrate the end of our high school careers.
In Meadowvale, I discovered, my students would ‘graduate’ at the end of Grade Twelve, and would be presented with their high school diplomas at an official commencement ceremony toward the end of June. And this was not all; the ceremony would be followed by a formal banquet in the community hall at which the young men would wear suits and the young women expensive grad dresses, and afterwards there would be a dance which would last until the wee hours. “Not too many of them will go home afterwards”, Will explained to me; “There’ll be after-parties that last until morning, and I’m afraid some of our grads will be in pretty rough shape by then. There’s always an element that can’t resist the temptation to get drunk out of their tree”.
“And that’s allowed?” I asked.
“Well, there’s alcohol served at the grad banquet – wine at the tables, and a cash bar – and we try to make sure that the people who work the bar follow the law and don’t serve anyone who’s already drunk. But there’s not a lot that we can do about the after-parties, Tom”.
“No, I suppose not”. I thought for a moment, and then laughed and said, “I find it a little amusing that everyone’s going to get dressed up for this”.
“Well, you know, back home when I was in school we had to wear jackets and ties every day of the year, but we didn’t have anything like this sort of formal event. School here is so casual; I never would have predicted a banquet with suits and dresses”.
“You’d better believe it; some of our Grade 12 parents are going to spend some serious money, especially on the dresses”.
As the years went by in Meadowvale I got used to the grad weekend, and eventually, of course, I barely remembered that things were done differently back in England. In 1990, for the first time, I was asked to be a member of the planning committee, and each year after that everyone just seemed to assume that I would sit on it again. For some reason it was expected that the English teachers would help with the production of the yearbook (when I pointed out to Will that seventy-five percent of the yearbook was photographs, not text, he didn’t seem to understand the point I was making), and in my capacity as a drama teacher I was also expected to help decorate the community hall for the great event (“You’re used to arranging scenery for plays”, Will explained, with what I thought was a noble attempt at keeping a straight face).
One year, when Kelly and I were sitting together at the banquet, I said to her, “I think your dad takes advantage of me every year, you know?”
“Yes. I mean, I’m his son-in-law; am I going to turn him down?”
And then she smiled at me in that utterly artless way that I had found totally irresistible from the very beginning, and she said, “You know you enjoy it, Tom”.
I looked at her in silence for a moment, and then I reached across the table and took her hand. “Well”, I replied, “it does have the added attraction that at least once a year I get to see you looking absolutely stunning in a formal dress”.
“You like that, do you?” she said mischievously.
“Very much”, I replied.
1996 would be my fourteenth grad in Meadowvale, and as I had explained to Becca, it was a special one for us, as almost all of our original Sunday night group were graduating. Dan Rempel, to my amazement, had managed to earn enough credits to get his diploma, and I enjoyed the moment after the commencement ceremonies when he came over to me, held out his hand and said, “You didn’t think I’d make it, did you?”
“I wondered sometimes”, I replied with a grin, shaking his hand, “but I’m always glad to be proved wrong”.
Beth, Katie, Jenny and Megan were all looking lovely in their grad dresses. Beth was heading off to Saskatoon in the Fall to start her nursing degree; she sat with her family at the banquet, of course, but afterwards she came over to Kelly and me with an envelope in her hand; she put her arms around us both and held us tight, and for a long moment none of us said anything. Eventually she released us, and she smiled and said, “I can’t even begin to thank you two for all you’ve done for me; you’ve always been there for me when I needed some extra love and support and advice”. She shook her head; “You honestly have no idea how much that’s meant to me”.
Kelly leaned forward and kissed her on the cheek. “We’re not going anywhere, Bethie”, she said; “You know you’ll always be welcome at our house”.
“Although we really should stop calling her ‘Bethie’ now”, I said with a grin.
Beth shook her head; “No, you really shouldn’t”, she whispered. She hesitated, and then handed the envelope to Kelly; “I wrote something”, she said, “but I’d rather you didn’t open it ’til later”.
Kelly slipped the envelope into her purse; “We’ll look forward to reading it”, she said.
“You’ll be around for a while yet?” I asked.
“I will”, she replied. “I’m not moving down to Saskatoon ’til the end of August, so I’ll be sticking around for the summer; I’ll be working part time at the deli, but I’ll have lots of free time too”.
“Tom’s mom and sister are coming next month”, Kelly said; “I hope you’ll stop by while they’re with us”.
“For sure; how long is it since your mom has been here, Tom?”
“The last time was at our wedding in October 1984, so it’s getting on for twelve years now”.
“Wow – she’ll notice some changes!”
“I think so”.
“Well, I’ll look forward to meeting her”.
I glanced over to the table where Beth had been sitting with her family; “I see Amy’s back from flight school”, I said.
“Yeah, she’s here for the weekend”.
“Is that a young man I see with her?”
“That’s her new boyfriend; his name’s Luke Bernard”.
“Is he a pilot too?”
“Yeah; he’s a neat guy actually”.
“Is Amy doing okay?”
“She’s doing really well; she loves flying”. Beth looked at us apologetically; “I really should get back to them”, she said.
“Of course”, I replied; “I’ll call you when Mum and Becca are here; we’ll have a barbecue if the weather’s good. But you don’t need to wait for that, Beth; you stop by any time you like”.
The school had honoured Will’s retirement with a presentation and a plaque, and Don had given a moving speech in tribute to him at the commencement ceremony. The crowd was larger than I had ever seen, and I recognised a lot of old students as well as some former teachers who had come back specifically for the occasion. Krista and Steve had come to Meadowvale for the weekend, leaving their kids with John and Ruth while they attended the commencement with us. Will had a few things to say at the end of the ceremony, of course; typically, he spent far more time praising the students and staff he had worked with through the years than talking about himself, and he ended with a word of encouragement for Don; “You’ve got the best group of teachers a principal could wish for”, he said, “and a wonderfully supportive group of parents”. And then he grinned and said, “And one more thing, Don – as you know, I’ll still be living in Meadowvale, but I’ll be doing my best to stay out of your way!”
Everyone laughed, and then as he stepped back from the podium we all got to our feet to give him a standing ovation. He came and stood between Don and me while the applause continued; “Okay, boys”, he said to us under his breath, “You can get me out of here any time you like”.
“I don’t think so, Will”, Don replied with a grin; “I think there’s going to be a lot of roasting before this night is out!”
Kelly went home at about eleven o’clock to relieve Emma’s new babysitter, Kathy Janzen, John and Ruth’s daughter. Kelly had been rather sceptical when I first suggested that we ask Kathy to babysit for Emma; “She’s only thirteen”, she said,
“Beth was only twelve when she started”, I pointed out to her.
“Yes, but she was eight years older than Emma”.
“Well I’m sorry, my love, but all the eighteen year olds in Meadowvale are involved in the Grad!”
Kelly gave me a rueful grin; “Well, I guess that’s true”, she admitted.
“Anyway, Em’s not going to need a babysitter for much longer. I’d give Kathy a year or two at the most, and then your daughter will rise up and protest”.
“At which point, you will support me, right?”
I grinned; “We’ll talk!” I replied.
So eventually Kelly agreed to give Kathy a try, but she decided that she would stay at the dance no later than eleven. We both knew that I would be lucky to get home before one-thirty or two in the morning; the dance officially finished at one, but there would be a lot of cleanup to do afterwards.
It was actually just after two in the morning when I slipped into the house; the light was on over the kitchen stove, but the rest of the house was dark and quiet. It was a hot night; I hung my suit jacket over one of the kitchen chairs, went to the sink, poured myself a glass of water and drank deeply. I could feel the tiredness in my bones; I knew Emma would want to get up for church in the morning, but I suspected that I would have to push myself to get out of bed in time.
I turned and saw the opened envelope from Beth on the kitchen table. There was a note beside it in Kelly’s writing; it said simply, “Read this”. I picked it up and took out a card and a folded letter; it was too dark by the table to read the note, so I went over to the stove to catch the light.
Inside the simple thank you card Beth had written, “I will never be able to find the words to thank you two for all the love you have showered on me. Please see enclosed note. I love you both and I always will. Beth”.
I put the card down and unfolded the two page letter. Beth had very neat handwriting, and I could read it easily in the light from above the stove.
Dear Tom and Kelly:
One of the earliest memories I have as a child is of a day when the two of you came over to visit at our house; I think I must have been about four or five, so it might not have been too long after Tom arrived in Meadowvale. Kelly, I remember you playing with Amy and me and reading to us; in fact, I remember very clearly that you got down on the floor with us and played with our toys!
Tom, do you remember that house concert that you did with Owen at Pastor Rob’s house when I was about ten? That was the night I first heard traditional folk music, and I loved it! And when I started asking you questions about it, you took me seriously, even though I was only ten; you explained how the songs had come to be written, and you let me borrow any record I wanted from your collection. Later on, of course, you taught me how to play guitar and included me in your singarounds, You also told me to help myself to any books I wanted to borrow from your bookshelves, and you were always ready to sit down and have a conversation with me about anything I’d read or listened to. If it wasn’t for you, I’d never have listened to Nic Jones or Planxty, Anne Briggs or Martin Carthy, and I’m sure I’d never have read Middlemarch or Pride and Prejudice or A Place on Earth or Who Has Seen the Wind? And I can’t even begin to imagine my life without those things.
Or without Christ, either, and again I have to thank you both, along with my Grandma. At first it was just Grandma, as you know; she was the one who started taking me to church and reading the Bible stories with me, and she taught me to pray. But when I started getting older and I had difficult questions I wanted help with, something told me to ask you two. I always saw you in church on Sundays sitting across from us, and I’d heard that you were a cancer survivor, Kelly, so I knew you’d been through tough times. So that night when I was starting to think about baptism, and Jenny and Katie were at my place and we were talking about it, I decided to call you and ask if we could come over, and to my surprise you said yes.
I don’t think I can adequately convey to you how absolutely formative those Sunday nights have been for me. You lived your faith so transparently in front of us; you took our questions seriously, helped us find answers for ourselves, and encouraged us to focus on Jesus and his teaching and example. No question was too difficult: we’ve thrown them all at you, and you’ve never gotten flustered; you’ve always taken us seriously and treated us as intelligent human beings, and helped us love the Lord our God with all our minds as well as our hearts. Oh yes, and along the way I’ve become a much better pizza cook!
Now I’m graduating from high school, and I’m going to university, and I find I’m in a reflective mood. I’ve been blessed with two of the most wonderful and loving and supportive parents any girl could ask for, and a grandma who has been a true spiritual mentor for me. But with you two, I feel I’ve been given two wonderful older friends who’ve always been there for me when I needed extra love and guidance and wisdom, not to mention fun! If I live to be a hundred I’ll never be able to adequately thank you. I only know I love you both and I always will.
I read the note through again, then put it back in the envelope with the card, set it down on the kitchen table, and made my way down the corridor toward our bedroom. I undressed quietly in the darkened room, put on my pyjama shorts and tee-shirt, and slipped into bed. Kelly was sleeping on her side with her back to me, but as I got into the bed she stirred, rolled over, and said, “Hey”.
“Sorry”, I whispered; “I didn’t mean to wake you”.
“What time is it?”
“About two fifteen”.
“Are they all done at the hall?”
“Darren and Grant are still there, but they told me to come home. Were you sleeping?”
“Yeah, I fell sound asleep pretty much as soon as my head hit the pillow”.
“Was Kathy okay?”
“She said it went fine”.
“Well, we pretty much knew it would”.
“Is that an ‘I told you so’?”
“Maybe”, I replied with a grin.
“Did you see Bethie’s note?”
“I did; that’s a keeper”.
“Yeah”. She paused for a moment, and then she said, “It made me cry”.
“I love her so much; I’m really going to miss her when she goes to Saskatoon”.
“I’m guessing we’ll still see plenty of her”.
“I hope so”.
I put my arms around her and drew her closer; “You’ve done a lot for her”, I said.
“Hey, didn’t you say you’d read her note? Seems like you’ve done just as much, or even more”.
“I’d say she’s earned her keep”.
I felt her nodding against my shoulder; “Yes, she has”.
I yawned; “Are the kids coming over tomorrow night?” I asked.
“Bethie said she thought so, depending on how everyone felt after tonight”.
“Well, then, we’d better get some sleep”.
“Are you going to get up for church with us in the morning?”
“Do you want me to get up and make you coffee?”
“How will you do that unless I wake you up with a cup of tea first?”
She laughed softly; “You have a very good point there”.
“I know”. I kissed her on the forehead; “Goodnight, Kelly Ruth”, I said.
“Goodnight, Thomas Edwin”.
My mother and Becca arrived in Saskatoon on Wednesday July 24th. We gave them a couple of days to recover from the flight, and then on the Friday night we had a backyard barbecue for them at our place. To our surprise, despite the fact that it was the middle of the summer holidays, it turned out to be one of the best attended barbecues we had ever hosted.
Will and Sally had been away on the west coast for a couple of weeks, but they came home in time for the event; they were both looking tanned and happy, and I thought Will was looking more relaxed than I had seen him in years. Joe and Ellie were there of course, with twelve year old Jake and ten year old Jenna; we hadn’t said anything about music, but Ellie arrived with her fiddle in her hand, and as I mentally ticked off the guest list I realized that the potential for an accidental singaround was pretty good, and so it turned out. Darren Peterson arrived with an instrument in each hand, Rob Neufeld brought his guitar, and Beth brought hers as well. Will had left his at home, but when he saw what was going on, he promptly went back and got it.
Most of our Sunday night group were there, including Beth, Megan Neufeld, and Dan Rempel, which surprised me as Dan was not normally into these kind of events. Glenn and Karla brought Molly, who was now five, and Tommy, who had just turned two; Krista and Steve, who had just finished moving to Saskatoon, came up with Mike and Rachel (now nine and eight, respectively). Brenda and her kids were there, and Don and Lynda Robinson dropped by for a while, as did John and Ruth Janzen.
It was a fine evening and most people stayed outside until the mosquitos started getting fierce. At one point Kelly and I found ourselves in the kitchen at the same time, refilling our coffee cups; I smiled at her and said, “I think it turned out pretty well”.
“It sure did”. She was quiet for a moment, and then she said, “You know what I was thinking?”
“We should have invited Leanne and Brad”.
“Yeah?” Earlier that summer, just after the grad, Leanne Collins had married Brad Melnyk, the grade six teacher at the elementary school, who had moved to Meadowvale two years ago from Vegreville.
“Yeah”. She came over, put her hand in my arm, and rested her head on my shoulder. “It’s time for me to get over myself”, she said softly. “It’s been a year and a half, and she apologized almost from the start, and she’s obviously moved on, and so have we. I’ve been hanging onto this thing with my fist clenched tight, Tom, and it’s time for me to let it go and act like a Christian”.
I turned to face her, kissed her on the forehead, and said, “Well, that’s entirely up to you. You said you had a right to ask me to cut her out of my circle of friends for a while, and I agreed with you; I still think it was the right thing to do”.
“Yes, but time’s gone by, and I know it’s really awkward for you at the school. And anyway, with Mabel in the Special Care Home and Wilf still refusing to leave the farm, she’s got plenty of stress in her life, and I’m guessing she needs all the support she can get”.
“Well, that’s definitely true”.
“So I think that after your mom and Becca go home, I’ll call her”.
“Are you sure?”
“I am, Tom; it’s been on my mind for a while, actually”.
I put my arms around her and held her close. “I love you”, I said.
“I love you too”.
At that moment Becca came into the kitchen, stopped and smiled and said, “Sorry, am I interrupting?”
“Not at all”, Kelly replied; “We were just coming back out”.
Becca, of course, knew everyone in our backyard that night, and they all greeted her like a long-lost cousin, as they always did. She sat with Joe and Ellie for a long time while we were eating hamburgers, and later when the music started she wandered in the yard with Brenda and stopped for a chat with Hugo and Millie, who arrived later than everyone else. Hugo apologized profusely for being late; his tractor had broken down, he said, and he had needed to drive into town to get a part before he could fix it. The kids from the pack kicked a soccer ball around the yard for a while, and Becca joined them; later on she sat with the music circle and listened to the songs. With three bluegrass players and one old time country singer, the music had a definite slant that night, but Beth and I managed to get some English folk music in there as well, and Ellie of course could play along with all my stuff.
By about nine o’clock most of the parents with young children had gone home, but Will and Sally and Hugo and Millie were still on the deck; Dan was sitting with them, and Beth had a very sleepy Emma on her knee. Kelly had made a big pot of herbal tea and some decaf coffee, and Hugo and Will were reminiscing about the old days, with Becca and my mother listening and making occasional comments.
“So you were all born here, then?” my mother asked at one point.
“Karl was born in Russia”, Hugo replied, “in Chortitza, in 1923; he was not quite one year old when the family moved to Canada in 1924. There were already a couple of Mennonite families out at Spruce Creek then, so my Dad and Mom got a homestead out there and broke the land”.
“Of course, there wasn’t much out there in those days”, Will added; “There was a dirt road leading out there from Meadowvale – not much more than a cart track, really – no electricity, no telephones or radio reception or anything like that. There was a general store just north of the creek, where people could get a few basic necessities, but when we were kids we mainly grew or made what we needed”.
“Did your father build your house?” my mother asked.
“He sure did”, Will replied. “It was just a log cabin, really, with a barn attached to it – that was the style in the old country, so a lot of people did it here too”.
“It was about twenty-four feet long”, Hugo said, “and about twelve feet wide. Downstairs there was a kitchen area, a living room, and a bedroom for Mom and Dad; and there was another sleeping area on the rafters upstairs; that was where we kids slept when we got big enough”.
“You remember that personally?” Becca asked.
“Yeah, I do. I was born in 1928, after Karl and Elizabeth, and we lived in that place until 1934, when I was six. Then Dad tore it down and built a bigger place”.
“Dad liked building houses”, Will said.
“And sheds”, Hugo added, giving his brother a mischievous look. They both laughed, and Will said, “We used to kid Dad that he’d built some kind of shed every year. I think he would have been happy as a carpenter, actually”.
“He was a good farmer, though”, Hugo added.
“He was”, Will agreed.
“In the early days our mother made pretty well all of our clothes”, Hugo continued, “and she always had a huge vegetable garden. We grew fresh vegetables for the summer, and did lots of preserving for the winter”.
“I used to weed that garden”, Will said with a laugh; “It seemed as big as a forty-acre field to me!”
The two brothers laughed, and Hugo said, “It was big, all right. We’ve still got the garden plot, of course, but we only use about a quarter of what Mom used – if that”.
“Right”, my mother said to Hugo, “I’d forgotten that you still live on the original homestead”.
“Yeah, but I’m a lazy farmer compared to my dad. I’ve got a few cows and some chickens, but I don’t raise hogs like he did, and of course I don’t use horses to plough either; I sit on my tractor in air-conditioned comfort!”
“Listening to rap music in your headphones, no doubt”, Kelly added with a grin.
“Rap music?” Hugo said; “Dan tried to get me to listen to that once, but I only lasted about five minutes!”
“M.C. Hammer”, Dan replied with a smile; “It was actually pretty mild rap, Grandpa!”
“Well, it was a little too weird for me, I guess”.
“Times have changed”, I said; “There sure wasn’t anyone listening to rap music in Meadowvale when I moved here!”
“That was what, about 1953?” Dan asked mischievously.
“Smart ass!” I replied.
“Yes, sir, Mr. Masefield – are you actually supposed to use those kind of words in class?”
“We’re out of class now, Mr. Rempel, and you’re a responsible adult!”
“Holy crap, I never thought I’d hear my name associated with the words ‘responsible adult’!”
I laughed softly. “Tell me again exactly how many acres of your grandpa’s land you seeded this spring?”
“Half of it”, Hugo replied, and I could see the pride in his face. “He’s got a lot more energy than I have these days”.
“Are you going to be a farmer, then, Dan?” Becca asked.
“I don’t know right now”, Dan replied; “Mike Robinson’s taken me on as an apprentice carpenter, but I’m not sure yet whether I’ll stick to it. I like construction alright, but I don’t mind helping grandpa when he needs me; I actually quite enjoy it”.
“I’ve told him the farm can be his one day if he wants it”, Hugo said; “I’d sure like to see it stay in the family”.
“I should think so”, my mother replied; “What is it, over seventy years now?”
“Seventy-two”, Will said.
“Why didn’t it go to the oldest son?” Becca asked.
“Karl didn’t want it”, Hugo replied. “He worked with my Dad for years, of course, but then he got married and had a family, and he wanted a farm of his own, but Dad was still relatively young and strong and he wasn’t anywhere near ready to pass it on. So Karl went out and borrowed some money and bought his own farm. Me, I worked with Dad through the years, and we bought more land and added to the property together. We were a partnership, I guess”.
“So it ended up going to you”, Becca said.
“Yeah; Dad died in 1979, but he and Mom had moved into town a few years before that, and he’d been gradually slowing down, of course; I’d kind of become the senior partner after about 1965 or so”.
“There wasn’t much of a quarrel in the family about it”, Will added; “We all knew how hard Hugo had worked there over the years. Of course, we all shamelessly took advantage of him after that”.
“I never minded growing vegetables for the whole family”, Millie said with a grin, “except when you all forgot to come out and weed your gardens”.
“And then there were the horses”, Kelly said quietly; “You always let us ride the horses”.
I was sitting beside her, and I took her hand in mine. Hugo nodded; ‘You always did like the horses, right from when you were only three or four”, he said.
“I did”, she agreed. She was quiet for a moment, and then she said, “Thank you”.
“You’re more than welcome”, he replied, and I saw the sympathy in his eyes.
We were all quiet for a moment, and then Kelly smiled, got to her feet, and said, “I’m going to go in and boil a kettle. Is the herbal tea okay, or would anyone like more coffee?”
“I’d sure enjoy another cup of coffee, Kelly” Hugo replied.
“Me too”, Dan added; “Do you want me to help you with it, Kelly?”
“No, no – you sit tight, I’ll only be a minute”. She glanced at Emma, who was still sitting on Beth’s lap with her head resting against her shoulder; “Are you okay?” she asked.
“Do you want to stay out here, or are you ready for bed?”
Emma glanced at Beth, and Beth smiled at her and said, “You can stay here as long as you like, short stuff”.
“Maybe I’ll stay a little longer”, Emma said.
The following week, when we went up to Jasper, my mother surprised us all. She had insisted on sleeping at the campground with us, so I had borrowed an extra tent from Joe and Ellie for Mum and Becca to use. Out on the mountain trails she did quite well keeping up with us, although I was aware that Kelly, who was by far the nimblest on her feet, was holding herself back a little. We spent our first couple of days on fairly easy walks – the Valley of the Five Lakes, and the various trails on the bench behind the Jasper townsite – before riding the cable car up the side of Whistler’s Mountain on the third day, and then hiking to the top. We also went white water rafting on the river and canoeing on the placid waters of Pyramid Lake. My mother was tired every night and stiff every morning when she got out of her sleeping bag, but she wouldn’t hear of slowing down. “No, no”, she would say; “This is why I came, so I could see all the things you talk about every year. It’s a wonderful place, and I want to enjoy as much of it as I can”.
On the morning of our fourth day I woke early, as I always did when I was camping. It had been a cool night in the mountains, and I was glad of the warmth of my fleecy as I walked over to the bathroom to wash up. When I got back to our campsite I lit the Coleman stove as quietly as I could, made a small pot of coffee, poured myself a cup and then sat in my camp chair for a few minutes, enjoying the early morning stillness. There were tents under the trees in the campsites all around us, but it was not yet seven o’clock and very few people were up.
After a while I heard movement in the other tent, followed by the sound of the door being unzipped, and my mother stepped out; she smiled, walked over to where I was sitting, and stooped to give me a kiss. “Good morning”, she said quietly.
“Good morning; would you like some coffee?”
“After I use the facilities”.
“Okay. Is Becca still dead to the world?”
“Sound asleep; I don’t think she gets much exercise in Edinburgh”.
I laughed softly; “You’re the one who’s amazing me, Mum”, I said.
She smiled; “Ah, well, I’ve been training for this for several months, you know”.
“Really, but I’ll say more when I get back from the facilities”.
She walked off down the footpath toward the washrooms with her towel in hand. I sat in silence again, sipping at my coffee; a family of grey jays made a brief stop at our campsite, checking to see if there were any pickings there before moving on, and in the tree above my head I heard a squirrel chirruping at them.
Eventually my mother returned; she sat down beside me, and I poured her a cup of coffee. “I didn’t know you’d been training”, I said, handing it to her.
“Well, I knew you’d be doing this sort of thing, and I wanted to be able to keep up with you. Of course, I’ve always been a walker, but I stepped up my daily walks; I’ve been doing at least an hour a day for the past two months”.
“Thank you, but I can assure you, the benefit’s all mine. I am thoroughly enjoying myself here, despite the fact that I’m stiff and sore every morning when I wake up”.
“I’m glad you got to see Jasper”.
“Yes; I keep trying to imagine you and Kelly here, the first time you came”.
I smiled; “That was earlier in the year; there was a lot more snow, and the campgrounds weren’t really open yet”.
“Oh right – it was after Easter, wasn’t it?”
“You’ve got a good memory, Mum”.
“Well, I try to remember everything you’ve told me”.
“We did go out for supper at the Pyramid Lake Resort, though – the place we had coffee the other night. That was the first time Kelly and I went out for a meal together”. I smiled at her; “Call me romantic, but I remember the date: it was Friday April 8th 1983”.
“You are a romantic!”
“Thanks; I’ll take that as a compliment”.
We were quiet for a moment, the stillness of the early morning a tangible presence all around us. She took a sip of her coffee, and then I said, “Can I ask you a personal question, Mum?”
“What made you decide to come, after all these years?”
“I’ve been waiting for that question, actually”, she said.
“Sorry, I’m not trying to be nosey”.
She shook her head; “No, it’s a fair question”. She was quiet for a moment, cupping her coffee mug in her hands. Eventually she said, “The only thing I can say is that this summer your father is representing one of his corporate clients in a huge trial that will probably keep him busy all of July and August”.
“So you weren’t going to see much of him anyway”.
“Well, you know, I never really see that much of him, but usually in the summer he manages to extricate himself for two weeks so that we can go away somewhere. I’m never sure when exactly that’s going to be, so I just make myself available”.
“But this summer you decided not to”.
“He told me that he thought it was very unlikely that he would be able to get any time off at all through the summer months. Well, I thought about that for a few days, and then I decided that I’d waited long enough”.
I reached across and put my hand on hers. She gave me a grateful smile; “Please believe me”, she whispered, “when I tell you that I’ve wanted to come many, many times – when Emma was born, when Kelly was ill, when you moved into the new house, when you were playing concerts with Ellie and Darren. Every summer when Becca came over, I’ve wanted to come with her”.
“I understand, Mum”.
“I’m very sorry, Tom”, she said softly.
I shook my head; “You’ve got nothing to apologize for. In fact, I should be thanking you; I can only imagine what you’ve been through since you told him you were coming to see us”.
She didn’t reply; she drank some coffee, then set her mug down on the picnic table beside us, got to her feet slowly, and stretched her back. “I think every muscle in my body is stiff”, she said.
“Jasper does tend to have that effect”.
She wandered over to the edge of the campsite for a moment, staring off into the trees. Eventually she turned, came back and sat down beside me again. “I do wish that you and your dad could get past this quarrel”, she said.
“Believe me, so do I”.
I stared at her; “What do you mean?”
“I’ve wondered sometimes whether you’d just given up”.
“Well, I’m not sitting around waiting for him to get over himself, if that’s what you mean. I’ve been over to England three times since I left; back in 1990 we spent six weeks, pretty well our whole summer, and what happened? He just couldn’t manage to free himself up to spend time with us; all I got was a speech about how I was a lazy teacher, and how ordinary hard-working citizens never enjoyed the luxury of the sort of holidays I get. So as far as I’m concerned, Mum, I’ve gone above and beyond the call of duty; the ball’s in his court”.
“And of course, you don’t really need him, do you?”
“What do you mean?”
“Tom, anyone can see how happy you are over here. You’ve got Kelly, and she’s a wonderful woman, and you’ve got a beautiful daughter. Will’s been like a father to you; he and Sally have adopted you into their family, and Joe and Ellie and Steve and Krista are like brothers and sisters to you, and beyond that there’s the whole Reimer clan, with more cousins and nephews and nieces and uncles and aunts than you’d ever imagined having”.
I stared at her; “What are you saying?” I asked.
She shook her head; “I’m not blaming you; how could I? Your dad hasn’t been there for you, and neither has your brother”.
“Mum”, I said slowly, “I haven’t abandoned anyone. I’m not the one who’s walked out of anyone’s life. I’ve done my best to stay in touch, all through these years. I haven’t shut the door in anyone’s face; it’s the other way around”.
“So, what exactly are you saying?”
She shook her head; “I don’t really know”, she said, and I heard the note of sadness in her voice. “I suppose I’m just sorry that you couldn’t find this sort of love in your own family”.
I shook my head; “Becca and I are doing fine, Mum”, I said, “and I think you and I are too”.
“I know; you know what I mean”.
I got up from my chair, went over to the Coleman stove, and poured myself another cup of coffee from the pot. “Mum”, I said, “I’m not going to stop coming over to England. We’ll be there next summer, if all goes according to plan, and there’s even talk of Joe and Ellie and the kids coming with us for part of the time”.
“Yes; they’ve never been to England, and they want to see it – and, of course, they enjoy spending time with us”.
“We’d love to have them; we’ve got plenty of room”.
“That’s what I told them. But Mum…”
“This thing with you and Dad this summer – this realization that you came to, that you just couldn’t keep on putting your life on hold until he decided to take notice of you”.
“That’s a rather harsh way of putting it”.
“Be that as it may, I came to that realization a long time ago”. I went back to my chair again, sat down, and took a sip of my coffee. “I’m happy here”, I said.
“I know you are”.
“I’m not shutting Dad out, but I swear to God, if there’s a hundred miles separating us, I feel like I’ve walked ninety. I can’t walk the other ten; that part’s up to him”.
“I know. I can’t make him do it”.
“I understand that. I’m just saying that I’m not going to put the rest of my life on hold while I wait to see if he’ll decide to take that walk”.
At that moment I heard the sound of our tent being unzipped, and Emma stepped out into the cool morning air, her hair still messed up from her sleeping bag. She came over and sat down on my knee. “Is there any tea?” she asked.
“Not yet, but I could make you some if you like?”
“Okay. I think I need to go to the bathroom”.
“Alright; I’ll start warming up the kettle while you’re gone. Is your mum awake?”
“She rolled over and said hi to me a minute ago, but she’s very sleepy”.
“I’ll bet she is. I’ll make her a cup of tea too”.
“Okay”. She rested her head on my shoulder for a moment, and I kissed her forehead. “Did you sleep well?” I asked.
“I slept like a log, Daddy; did you?”
“What are we going to do today?”
“The same thing we did yesterday, sweetheart – try not to get eaten by bears”.
She laughed; “That’s a good idea”, she said, getting to her feet and smiling at my mother. “Good morning, Grandma”.
“Good morning, Emma”, my mother replied.
“Is Auntie Becca still sleeping?”
“No, she’s awake”, came a voice from the tent where my mother and Becca had slept.
“Looks like I’d better make some tea for her, too”, I said to Emma with a grin; “How about you go do your bathroom stuff, and when you get back, I’ll have a nice hot cup of tea ready for you?”
“Sounds good”, she replied.