Link back to Chapter 31
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.
Some time in the winter or early spring of 1994, Kelly and I came to the gradual realization that, without any real intent on our part, our lives had become extremely busy.
My job, of course, had always been busy. I know a lot of people find that hard to believe; they hear that teachers get two months off in the summer, along with two weeks at Christmas and a week around Easter, and, like my father, they rack their brains to think of any other profession that gets that much holiday time. And they look at the number of teaching hours in a day – in my case, from nine o’clock in the morning to three fifteen in the afternoon, with forty-five minutes for lunch and some extra-curricular work after classes – and they think that our working day looks pretty short.
I had this conversation with my brother once, during our holiday in England in the summer of 1990. He and his family were over visiting us at Mum and Dad’s house on a Saturday afternoon, and he was ribbing me gently about how short my working day was compared to the sort of hours he put in as a lawyer. I was in a belligerent mood that day – it wasn’t very long after I’d had the same conversation with my father – and so, instead of letting it go as I usually did, I said, “How long do you think it takes me to mark my kids’ assignments, Rick?”
“Oh, a couple of hours, I expect”.
“You think? Your math isn’t very good, is it?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, let’s start with a number; how many students do you think I teach in a week?”
“I’ve got no idea, bro”.
“Amazing; you’re making assumptions about how short my work week is, and you don’t really know the most basic thing about my work: how many clients I have”.
“There’s no need to get touchy about it”.
“Let’s just say I’ve heard this line of argument a few too many times, and every now and again I decide not to take it lying down; today you drew the short straw, I guess. So, for your information, I teach about a hundred and fifty students a week. Also, for your information, I give each of them at least one assignment a week, which I then have to read and mark. How long do you think it would take me to mark their assignments?”
“Oh, I don’t know, Tom – ten minutes each?”
“You’re being generous; I wish I had time to take ten minutes with each of their assignments. If I gave them each ten minutes, that would be twenty-five hours of marking per week. No, some take longer than others, but I average about four minutes per assignment; that means ten hours a week in marking. That’s one of my extra-classroom commitments. Then there’s lesson preparation, including chasing up any visual aids or movies or stuff like that, and standing in line for the use of our photocopier. Add to that one-on-one tutoring with kids who need a little extra help, also conferences with parents, staff meetings, special events like Christmas concerts, school plays – did I mention that I run the drama department as well, and we try to put on a good play at least once a year?”
“Alright, you’ve made your point”.
“I haven’t quite finished making my point. I know I don’t work the sort of hours lawyers work, but then, I don’t make the sort of money lawyers make, either. But I do know that I leave for school at 7.45 every morning, and I get home at about 5.15. I also know that on two or three evenings during the week I put in about two hours of work at home after supper, and on Sunday afternoons I put in another four hours. So I’m not quite the lazy bum that you and Dad seem to think I am”.
“I was only joking, Tom”, he said.
“Don’t”, I replied; “I’m tired of the joke”.
I went into teaching with my eyes wide open; when I first mentioned to Owen’s dad that I was thinking about it, he said, “Don’t do it unless you’re prepared to work long hours”. When I asked him what sort of hours he was talking about, he described for me pretty much the sort of working week that I later outlined for my brother. “If you’re single”, he said to me, “You’ll have time for an absorbing hobby. If you get married and have a family, you won’t; you’ll have time to be a teacher, and to be a husband and father – that’s all”.
“But you spend lots of time with your children”, I replied.
“I do”, he said, “and then I get up every morning at five and put in two hours of schoolwork before the rest of the family gets going. Also, my wife has never worked outside the home, so she’s always done the lion’s share of the housework, and she’s been happy to fit our life together around my schedule. That gets a bit more difficult when you’ve got to fit another career in as well”.
My problem, of course, was that I already had an absorbing hobby – music – which was one of the things that had attracted Kelly to me in the first place. And, of course, she had a career of her own, one that consumed a lot of emotional energy, because she wasn’t the sort of nurse who turned off her feelings and just went through the motions of caring for people, especially when she was working at the Special Care Home. Most of the old people who came to live there were already known to her, because she was a long-time resident of Meadowvale herself. When they got sick – and, sooner or later, died – they weren’t just patients to her; they were people she knew and cared for. A death at the Special Care Home, for Kelly, meant at least one evening at home fighting back the tears; Emma and I learned to expect that, and to be gentle with her when she was going through it. As Emma said to me years later, “That’s what made Mom such a great nurse – it wasn’t just a job for her. She really cared for people”.
“You saw how hard that made it for her sometimes, didn’t you?” I replied.
“Yeah, I did”.
“Is that what you’re going to do?” I asked, knowing the answer before the words even left my mouth.
She looked at me steadily for a moment, and then nodded her head; “I learned from the best”, she said quietly.
I felt the lump in my throat, and I smiled and whispered, “You sure did”.
In the early years of our marriage, Kelly and I were able to ignore the reality of our busy schedules. For the first fourteen months, it was just the two of us; yes, we were both working full time, but I wasn’t gigging with Ellie, and we had no young child to care for. After Emma was born Kelly went on maternity leave, and before her leave was over she was diagnosed with cancer, which absorbed our full attention for the next nine months. During that time, of course, she didn’t work outside the home, and she continued to stay home until Emma was nearly two; she went back to work part-time in September 1987, but didn’t return to full-time until four years later. During that period of our lives Ellie and I had gotten involved in playing live music in Saskatoon and closer to home; also, Kelly and I had started attending the Wednesday night study group at the church, and before too long we had taken on the young people as well.
It was only gradually that we came to realize how little time we actually had for ourselves. Each morning I would get up at six-thirty, get dressed and go for a half hour walk. When I got home I would make tea, take a cup to each of my girls to wake them up, and make breakfast for everyone. Sally would arrive at our door at about seven-forty, and Kelly and I would head off to work five minutes later; I dropped Kelly off at the special care home and then drove myself to the high school. I would have liked to have walked to work – it was only a fifteen minute walk – but I didn’t want to get out of bed at six-fifteen instead of six thirty, and I needed to be at school by eight to be ready for my classes to start at nine. Sally sat with Emma for an hour after Kelly and I left, before driving her over to the elementary school in time for the morning bell at 8.55; later, she would meet her after school and take her back to her place until Kelly and I picked her up on our way home just after five o’clock.
Once I was at school in the morning, I grabbed a cup of coffee from the staff room, stuck my head around Will’s door to say hello, and then went straight to my classroom, where I spent the next fifty minutes in preparation work or marking, unless there was an early morning meeting, or a conference with a student or a parent. The first bell rang at eight fifty-five, my home room class came for registration, and at nine o’clock the teaching day started. Each period was fifty-five minutes long, with a five minute break in between them, except for double periods, of which I had several. I taught all the senior high English Language Arts classes – grades ten to twelve – as well as a couple of senior high journalism classes, and the drama program for the whole school. Two other teachers shared the junior high ELA classes, and by 1992 I was in overall charge of the English Language Arts department at our school, which gave me some administrative responsibilities as well. I had joked with Don Robinson about not being a good administrator, and I was well aware of my limitations in that area, but the fact was that I was the most experienced English teacher in the school, and thus the logical choice to be in charge of the department. “And”, Will said to me, “it also gives you the right to decide who teaches each class; I know you want to keep those senior high classes”.
“True enough”, I replied.
“Well, you’ve earned them”, he said quietly, “and you teach them well”.
My days were full, and for the most part I enjoyed them. Every year I had some students who persistently challenged my authority, and some students who needed extra attention just to keep up with the minimum requirements of the classes. But also, every year I had some students who absolutely loved English and made my classes a joy to teach, and many of them remained my friends after they graduated (and, in most cases, moved away from Meadowvale). Also, as time went by and I got a little older, I found more and more students coming to talk to me about personal issues. We had a counselling consultant on staff at our school, and there was also an unspoken understanding that Don Robinson was available if people needed a listening ear, but I gradually came to realize that students will decide who they’re going to trust, and when they place that trust in you, you have to take it seriously.
As time went by, I gradually learned to enjoy this role, which I saw as fitting into the grey area between ordinary helpfulness and professional counselling, but at first it was something of a surprise to me. I mentioned this to Kelly one evening, and she smiled at me and said, “You honestly didn’t expect it?”
“Not really, although when I think about it, I don’t know why”.
“Didn’t you have someone you went to talk to when you were in school – a teacher or a counsellor or someone like that?”
“Not really. I looked up to Owen’s dad, of course, and we talked about books a lot. And now and again when I was visiting at their place, he and I had some good general conversations about life. But to tell you the truth, I didn’t really have anyone who I approached in a counselling capacity – any adult, that is. Owen and I talked about stuff, of course, but that’s different”.
“No school counsellor at Wallingford School?”
“Not that I remember. Of course, I might not have noticed; I did tend to move in my own little world in those days!”
She came over to where I was standing by the sink, put her arm in mine, and said, “Well, my spies tell me you’re a very good person to talk to”.
“You have spies, do you?”
“Of course”, she replied with a mischievous grin; “I like to know what my husband’s up to!”
At the end of the working day, when we arrived home with Emma, Kelly would head straight for the stereo system to put on some music from the loud and lively end of her record collection. She enjoyed a number of classic rock bands like Fleetwood Mac, Queen, or the Steve Miller band, and she was also fond of some more recent artists, especially Billy Joel, Bruce Hornsby, Huey Lewis, and Bruce Springsteen, but her favourite bands for late-afternoon listening were the Police (including Sting’s more recent solo albums) and Dire Straits. This was not the sort of music that I was naturally inclined to be interested in, but over the years of listening to it while we were in the process of getting ready for supper I became quite fond of some of it, especially Dire Straits. Even today, when I hear a Dire Straits or Mark Knopfler song on the radio, it takes me straight back to those days, when one of us would be playing or reading with Emma in the living room while the other one got our supper ready.
We got better at the supper preparation business as time went by, planning our meals carefully so that we could re-use leftovers and cut down on the time it took to get the food on the table. We both enjoyed cooking, and we both enjoyed each other’s cooking, which made things a little easier for us. We usually had supper on the table by about six, and we both liked lingering for a while after the meal was over, making a pot of tea and talking about what our individual days at work had been like. If Emma was in the mood for staying at the table, the talk tended to focus on her, but if not, and if she wanted to go off and do something by herself, we tended to sit a little longer and talk more between the two of us.
There was a limit to the amount of time I could give to this, though; as I had said to my brother, for two or three nights a week, I needed to put in a couple of hours of marking or preparation time. Generally speaking, Kelly learned to expect this on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and sometimes Mondays as well. On those nights, I would spend an hour or so with Emma while Kelly cleared up from supper or puttered around doing odd jobs; sometimes she came and joined us and the three of us had family time together. If the weather was good Emma usually liked to be outside, and since Kelly and I enjoyed this too, that tended to be our default choice from April to October. But by eight o’clock, I was usually down in the basement at my desk, and I would work clear through until ten. By that time I was tired and ready for bed; Kelly was more of a night owl, and sometimes she liked to stay up later than me, but we made a habit of praying together at around ten while I was still awake. By ten-thirty I was invariably in bed; Kelly was usually with me, although sometimes she read for another hour by the dim light of her bedside lamp. Fortunately, the light didn’t usually keep me awake.
On Wednesdays, of course, this schedule varied, because we liked to go to the study group at the church. Gradually it had become the custom for Beth to eat with us on Wednesdays, and this was something we both looked forward to. Sometimes she and Kelly worked on supper together, or sometimes she brought a guitar over with her and she and I played some songs while Kelly got supper ready; Emma loved music and was always happy to listen while Beth and I were playing. When Beth turned sixteen, in April of 1994, her parents bought her a Seagull folk guitar, a lovely three-quarter size instrument with a solid cedar top, and she gradually got into the habit of bringing it over with her on Wednesday nights, because Emma was starting to get interested in playing music.
Emma had been picking up my old Martin from time to time and trying to play it, but of course she didn’t know any chords, even though I saw her sometimes trying to stretch her eight-year old fingers across the fretboard to form them. But one Wednesday evening in the Fall of 1994 Beth and I were playing a few tunes together before supper; we were sitting in the living room, and when we finished ‘John Barleycorn’ Emma came over, sat down on the couch beside me, and said, “Will you teach me to play guitar, Daddy, like you taught Beth?”
“Of course I will”, I replied with a smile; “We can start any time you like”.
“But I think your guitar’s still too big for me”, she said.
Beth smiled at her. “Come sit over here, Em”, she said, “and try my guitar; it’s a little smaller. It’s still big for you, but you might be able to get your hands around it”.
So Emma went and sat with her, and Beth put her guitar on her lap. She was right; even though it was still too big for my eight-year old daughter, it was a much better fit than my Martin. I watched as Beth crouched down in front of Emma and showed her how to form the G and C chords with her hands, moving the fingers for her until they were holding down the right strings. Emma got frustrated a couple of times, but Beth was patient with her and encouraged her, and after a few minutes Kelly came into the living room and stood with her hand on my shoulder, watching spellbound with me as our daughter took her first faltering steps as a guitarist.
Later that night, when I drove Beth home after Kelly and I returned from the study, I said, “You were amazing tonight, teaching Emma those chords; you were so patient with her”.
“She’s been curious for quite a while”, she replied; “I’m actually surprised it’s taken her this long to ask you”.
“I’m going to have to do something”, I said; “That Seagull of yours is a better fit for her than my Martin, but it’s still a bit too big for her”.
“Aren’t there some child sized guitars you can get?”
“Yes, I think there are. I’ll talk to Kelly; I’ll have to see if we can get one for her”.
“She does have a birthday coming up”.
I grinned at her; “Yes, she does”, I replied.
I resolutely refused to do any schoolwork on Friday nights and Saturdays; I guarded those days jealously. Usually I was pretty tired Friday nights, so Kelly and I fell into the habit of having what we jokingly referred to as ‘in-house dates’. We took a little longer to fix supper, making something a little more elaborate than our usual weekday fare, and we often had wine with the meal as well, something we tended not to do during the week. We would clear up and wash the dishes together, and then we would play or read or do other things with Emma until it was time for her to go to bed. After that, we would take the bottle of wine and curl up on the couch to watch a movie. There were times, more often than I care to remember, when I would fall asleep before the movie ended, and Kelly would wake me up gently while the closing credits were rolling and ask me if I wouldn’t be a little more comfortable sleeping in bed. Sometimes, however, I wouldn’t be so tired, and then we would tiptoe down the hallway to our bedroom, close the door, and make love together, taking care to be quiet for fear of waking up our little girl in the next room.
Those were good nights. In the early years of our marriage, after Kelly had recovered from her cancer and before she went back to work full time, we had made love much more frequently, but as we got into our thirties and our working lives got busier, we found ourselves going from weekend to weekend without much in the way of sex at all. I think we were both a little sad about this; Kelly’s early-onset menopause had given us some challenges for a while, but gradually we had found ways to compensate for it, and we had both come to look forward to our times of making love together. But the truth was that with both of us working full time, especially in a demanding job like mine, we were just too busy, and too tired, and we didn’t really know what to do about it.
My musical hobby didn’t help the situation. Since Darren had joined Ellie and me, our gigging had gotten a lot busier; he was young and enthusiastic, and, of course, he was single. I’m sure he would have been happy to go down to Saskatoon every weekend, for three evenings if he could get away with it, taking advantage of every possible opportunity to play open stages and gigs of our own. And there was no doubt that he added a huge amount of energy to our band; his mandolin and banjo playing was bright and rhythmic, and he knew a lot of songs that really augmented our repertoire. Ellie clearly loved playing with him, and before long the two of them were writing songs together – songs, of course, that they were eager to try out in live performance.
When the band was going down to play in Saskatoon on a Saturday night, we usually got together for a couple of hours late Saturday morning to practice, which, of course, was prime family time for the Masefields and the Reimers; the trouble was, there was just no other time that we could do it. By the Fall of 1994 we were going down to the city twice a month, once to an open stage and once to play a gig of our own; by then there were several coffee shops that were happy to have us play for a couple of hours on a Saturday night, and we were also getting to know other bluegrass players in the city, which gave us even more opportunities for playing. I drew the line at twice a month, but I knew in my heart that even that was too often. The trouble was, I was having fun; even though bluegrass wasn’t my native musical language, I loved the energy and electricity of being up on stage with Ellie and Darren.
Gigging in Saskatoon meant driving down late in the afternoon, having supper in the city, setting up our sound gear and playing from 7.30 to 10.00 or 8.00 to 10.30, and then clearing up and driving home. We usually found that we were getting into Meadowvale around 12.30, or later if the roads were bad and we had to drive more slowly. When Ellie and I had first started playing together, Kelly and Joe had sometimes taken it in turns to babysit for each other so that one of them could come down and listen to our music, but gradually, over the years, they had stopped doing that. Kelly, being a night owl, was usually still awake when I got home, and sometimes she would make me a mug of hot chocolate and sit and talk with me for a few minutes, but she was keen to get to bed in order to be up for church on Sunday mornings, and usually, by the time I got home, I was pretty tired anyway.
On Saturdays when I wasn’t gigging, we would shop and clean the house, do outings with Emma, visit with family members, and do all the other things that had once filled our lives when weekends were quieter and Kelly wasn’t working full time. If the weather was good we would often go up to Myers Lake and walk or canoe, or go snowshoeing in the winter. Or we might go up to Hugo and Millie’s and ride the horses; Emma had become quite an enthusiastic little rider, and I knew that Kelly often took her out there on Saturdays when I was busy with music.
Occasionally we would share a supper with Glenn and Karla and their family. In the summer of 1994 Karla gave birth to a baby boy, and to my surprise they named him Thomas. Becca, who was visiting with us at the time, immediately started calling him ‘Tommy’, and the name stuck. Glenn was forty-five when his son was born, and Karla was thirty-nine, and a couple of months later, on one of the rare occasions when I was able to make time to go for coffee with Glenn, he confirmed to me that with Molly and Tommy their family was now complete. “I don’t want to be going to my kids’ hockey games in my wheelchair!” he said with a grin.
Sundays, of course, we went to church, although on some Sunday mornings I was pretty sleepy after getting home late. Church was slightly less comfortable for us than it had been at one time; there was a small but influential group who had not gotten over the fact that Kelly and I had been supportive of Donny and Alan, and that we had even been known to have them over for coffee or a meal at our house from time to time. There had been occasional conversations on the subject at our Sunday night youth gatherings; we had been careful to follow Rob’s suggestion, clearly setting out the case for the various views, and then encouraging the kids to ask questions and share their opinions. Never at any time had we attempted to persuade them to adopt a particular viewpoint, but of course there were people in the church who could not believe that.
Chief among that group was John Redekopp. John was a local businessman and a lifelong resident of Meadowvale; he was now the moderator of our church and he had a lot of influence. The funny thing was that I actually liked John a lot; he had a quirky sense of humour and a fine bass singing voice, and on Sundays he usually sat a couple of rows back from Kelly and Emma and me. Sometimes when Emma was little she would turn and look at him while he was singing the deep bass notes in one of the hymns, and he would wink at her and make her laugh. He was a good reader, too, and Rob often asked him to read the scripture passage, which he did with obvious love and reverence. From time to time on Sundays we would have a discussion after church based on Rob’s sermon, and I always enjoyed John’s insights and the questions he would ask.
However, it was plain to see that John was troubled by the revelation of Donny’s homosexuality and the fact that some of us were not as sure as he was that Donny needed to repent, leave Alan, return to church and settle down with a nice girl. There were others who shared that opinion with him, including his wife Edna, John Janzen’s uncle Peter, and George and Elizabeth Penner. They were not confrontational, but I noticed that after church on Sundays they tended to group together, and they didn’t have much to say to people who disagreed with them.
Occasionally John would come over and ask me how ‘the youth group’ was going; I would patiently explain to him every time that it wasn’t actually a youth group, just a few kids who liked coming over to our house to drink hot chocolate and discuss their questions with us and each other, and he would smile and say, “Yes, of course, I understand that; what sort of questions do you talk about with them?” And I would reply in a general sort of way, telling him they tended to be questions about how following Jesus connected with ordinary daily life, and I would resolutely ignore his hints about going into more detail; the last thing either Kelly or I wanted was for the kids to get the idea that we were breaking confidentiality and talking about their discussions with members of the wider church community.
Thankfully, tension and suspicion were not the whole story of our church life. I still enjoyed the Sunday services and found the sermons as thoughtful and challenging as ever. It had never been the Mennonite tradition to rely exclusively on the pastor for sermons; Rob did about two thirds of the preaching, but two or three others took their turn as well, and lately Joe had been one of that group, which I particularly appreciated. I enjoyed leading music with Will and Ellie, although we didn’t get as much time for practising as I would have liked. I enjoyed sitting with Kelly and Emma, with Joe and Ellie and their kids beside us, and across the aisle John and Ruth and their family sitting with Rachel and Beth. Our church seemed to be growing slightly; our Sunday attendance hovered around a hundred and fifty, with a good number of younger families with small children. A significant number of people were involved in Habitat for Humanity in Saskatoon; John Janzen was the one who had gotten people interested in this, and he was still spreading the word and encouraging people to go down and volunteer on the building sites, or find other ways to help out. Kelly and I continued to spend a week every summer working alongside John and Ruth on Habitat builds, and lately John had even talked his father-in-law Mike Robinson into joining in.
On Sundays after church we would often have lunch with Will and Sally, then go home and take it easy for a while. Sometimes I would take a nap, or I might call my mother or Becca in England, or Owen and Lorraine. In the summer of 1994 Lorraine gave birth to another child, Katherine Anne, who we all called ‘Katie’. When I asked Owen how long he was going to keep us waiting before they brought her for a visit, he chuckled and said, “You’re getting confused about the natural order of things, mate; it’s your turn to come to visit us. You haven’t been here for four years, and we were there two summers ago”.
Becca also was dropping hints, and from time to time she would be more direct about it. “Is it going to be six years between your visits again?” she asked me on the phone one day. “You know I love Meadowvale and I’ll always come over to see you, Tommy, but it’s been a long time since Mum’s seen her granddaughter”.
“She could always come and see us”, I replied.
“Now don’t start that again; you know that it’s difficult for Mum”.
“Well, it’s not exactly easy to visit at that house either, walking on eggshells all the time and waiting for Dad to get all bent out of shape about something”.
“Tommy, you should stop making excuses and just come”, she said.
“And you should stop bossing your big brother around, small one”.
“Way to change the subject, big brother!”
Kelly raised the issue with me one night. “Why don’t you want to go back?” she asked; “It’s been four years since your mom has seen Emma”.
I shook my head slowly; “Well, there’s the obvious issue of Dad”, I replied. “I still can’t find a way to get past all that with him. But it’s not just that”.
“What is it, then?”
We were sitting up in bed, having just finished our prayer and Bible reading time, and I put my hand on hers and said, “Honestly, Kelly, I get so tired through the year, and by the time summer rolls around I’m just exhausted. I really look forward to our restful summers here; I like the times when you’re still at work and I get to spend the whole day doing things with Emma, and then I like the times when we go on our trips to the mountains and Waskesiu and the Edmonton Folk Festival and Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan, and I like our weeks with Becca and the way she’s become such a part of the Meadowvale community. We’ve got a nice, restful summer routine, without much in the way of emotional drama. Going to England, on the other hand, always involves tension and melodrama sooner or later; I enjoy visiting with Mum and Becca and Owen and Lorraine, but overall, I find the whole thing so draining”.
She laid her head on my shoulder then; for a moment she didn’t reply, and when she finally spoke, I was surprised to hear the emotion in her voice. “Oh, Tom”, she said; “I know exactly how you feel. All year long I look forward to the summer, when we can slow down and do things together as a family. You’ve no idea how much I look forward to it”. She lifted her head and looked at me, and I saw the tears in her eyes. “Everything we do in the winter is good, and we enjoy it, but I sometimes feel like the weeks flash by so fast, and we hardly get to talk to each other at all. I’m so glad when summer comes”.
I lifted my hand and wiped a tear from her cheek. “Are you okay?” I asked; “I didn’t realize you were upset”.
She shook her head; “Not upset”, she replied. “Maybe a little sad sometimes”.
“Sad about what?”
“Well, I married you because I loved you, and I wanted to spend the rest of my life with you”.
“That’s why I married you, too”.
“But sometimes in the winter I feel like we’re not spending our lives together; I feel like we eat together and sleep together, and occasionally if we’re feeling energetic enough we make love together, but there are huge blocks of time when we hardly connect at all”.
“Well, we both have jobs, and mine is very busy”.
“I know, and of course, I went into that with my eyes wide open; I knew from growing up in a teacher’s house how busy a teacher’s life can be. But I miss you sometimes, Tom”. I saw another tear running down her face, and she whispered, “I miss you a lot, actually”.
“Is there anything I can do to make things better?” I asked.
“I know you can’t do anything about your working hours, and sometimes I’m amazed at how much time you do manage to get free from that. But maybe at some point we can have a conversation about the rest of our schedule”.
“Alright”, I agreed; “Let’s do that”.
Sunday evenings were one part of our schedule that we all enjoyed. Beth usually let us know by Friday night if the kids were planning on coming over; if they weren’t, I would call Joe, and our two families would get together for supper, either at their place or ours. By the summer of 1994 Jake was nine, Emma was eight, and Jenna was seven. All five members of ‘The Pack’, including Steve and Krista’s children Mike and Rachel, were close to each other, but it was natural that Jake, Emma and Jenna would be closer, as they all lived in Meadowvale, went to school together, and saw each other many times during the week. Jake had always been the acknowledged leader of the Pack, and Emma in particular looked up to him and followed his lead in almost everything; he was also the most outgoing of the three, while Jenna and Emma tended to be quieter and more reserved. But they were never at a loss to find things to do together; Joe and Ellie and their kids would arrive at our place, and immediately the three children would gather and go to Emma’s room, or go downstairs, or outside into the back yard. Sometimes we got them all together with us for family board games and things, but at other times we let them run and do what they wanted to do while the four of us sat at the table, drank coffee, and talked: long, deep, satisfying conversation. By now Ellie was almost as close a friend to me as Joe, and there was very little that the four of us would not say to each other.
By the summer of 1994 Joe and Shauna had another vet working for them at the clinic, and Karla Pickering was job sharing with another administrator, who would be moving to full-time while Karla stayed home for the next year with Tommy. “We’ll miss her”, Joe said to me, “but she’s trained Marissa well. I’m glad they’re job sharing; it takes the stress out of Karla’s life a little, and it makes it easier for us when she’s away”.
“Sometimes I wish I could find someone to job share with”, Kelly said wistfully.
“Yeah?” Joe looked at his sister’s face for a minute, and then said, “Are you getting stressed too?”
“Just busy, like everyone else”, she replied, glancing at me with a guilty look on her face. “One of these days Tom and I are going to have a conversation about our schedule”.
On Sundays when the kids were coming around, Kelly would bake cookies in the afternoon while I was working on my school prep for the week. We would have a light supper – often a thick vegetable soup and biscuits – and then when the kids arrived we would make hot chocolate, go into the living room, and talk. The core group had not changed, but the kids had gotten older of course; Beth had turned sixteen in April 1994, and her friends Katie Thiessen and Jenny Ratzlaff were the same age, with Jenny’s brother Ricky, Megan Neufeld and Dan Rempel a year older. In June, after a couple of years of thinking and praying about it, Beth and Megan had been baptized together, and I knew that Jenny and Katie were close to making that decision as well. Dan liked to joke that he was the ‘resident pagan’ in the group, although I knew him well enough by now to know that there was still a spark of faith deep down in him. Nonetheless, he was the one who raised the hard questions and pushed us when he thought we were giving pat answers, and he was the one who kept his emotional cards closest to his chest.
Emma would usually sit with us for the first half of the evening, unless we thought that the issue we were talking about was a little too grown up for her, in which case I would excuse myself and take her off downstairs for a while until it was time for her to go to bed. Emma didn’t like those times at all; she liked the kids in the group and enjoyed the fact that they came to her house, and of course she was especially close to Beth, who would occasionally spell me out with her. At first Kelly and I had felt a little awkward about having Emma there with the group, but gradually we came to realize that this was part of our witness to them, and in fact, years later, Jenny Ratzlaff said to me, “When I became a mom myself, I knew I wanted to be the same kind of mom as Kelly. She showed us the way, you know – in all kinds of ways, including mothering”. And then she grinned and said, “We knew she was mothering us too, of course!”
“Yeah”, I replied; “She knew you guys weren’t really her kids, but she enjoyed spoiling you and then sending you home so your parents could deal with the consequences”.
“A little like grandparents, eh?”
“Yeah – that was the way her dad described it, anyway”.
The kids would sit with us until about nine or nine-fifteen, and then their parents would come and collect them. Kelly and I would give them hugs – except for Dan, that is; he would accept a hug from Kelly, but a handshake from me was as far as he would go – and then we would stand at the door and watch them as they got into the cars and drove off, or, in Beth’s case, walked the fifteen minutes back to her home. When they were all gone we would go back inside, wash up the dishes and tidy up the living room, talk about how the evening had gone, and then usually head toward our own bedroom for an early night, knowing that the week ahead was going to be as busy as the one that had just passed.
From time to time, in the early Fall of 1994, Kelly would remind me that we needed to sit down and have a conversation about our schedule, and I would agree with her and apologize for putting it off. “When we get an hour we can call our own, some night after Emma’s gone to bed, let’s make a point of doing it”, I said. But, of course, that never happened; two or three nights a week after Emma had gone to bed I was hard at work on marking and lesson preparation, and Wednesday nights we had the study group, and some Friday nights we had singarounds, and two Saturdays a month Ellie and Darren and I were gigging again, and Sunday nights we had supper with Joe and Ellie and the family or had the kids over to our place, and so things went on as usual, at the same old insane pace.
Eventually Kelly gave up reminding me, but of course she resented the fact that I had not kept my promise to talk about our schedule, and for the first time since the dark days of 1986, she began to withdraw from me. She was not unkind or inconsiderate, and with other people she was as warm and friendly as ever, but gradually I noticed that she was less inclined to have the sort of open and honest conversations we had always enjoyed, even when she was desperately ill. Later on, of course, I realized what had been going on; she had given up and accepted the fact that I was not prepared to do anything about the insane pace of my life. We still ate and slept and prayed together, and we even had enjoyable conversations from time to time, but there was a sadness in her now, and she would not let me anywhere near it.
Leanne Collins had been teaching at our school for just over a year now, and she and I had become good friends, a friendship based on past acquaintance with her and her grandparents, and cemented by enjoyable conversations in the staff room and a lot of mutual respect for each other as teachers. She was still living at her grandparents’ farm about eight miles north of town; Wilf and Mabel were doing a little better health-wise, although I knew that Wilf was in a lot of pain from arthritis, but they were very happy to have Leanne with them. “Of course, she’s good company for me and Mabel”, Wilf said to me one day when I bumped into him in the Co-op, “but she’s a big help for me with the farm chores, too. I’d forgotten what a good little farmer she is; she’s more use around that place than any of my sons ever were”.
Neither Kelly nor I ever heard a word of complaint from Leanne, but between ourselves, we sometimes speculated about what sort of life she had. “She’s twenty-seven years old”, Kelly said to me one day, “but she spends all her free time helping Wilf and Mabel. I don’t think she’s had a date since she moved here, and I’m sure she doesn’t have much of a social life. I mean, I know how busy you are preparing for classes and marking and so on; she does all that, and works as an unpaid farm hand for Wilf, too. It’s not much of a life for a girl her age”.
I had asked Leanne once where she found the time to do as much work as she did around the farm; she gave me a rueful grin and said, “I teach, I farm, I sleep”. She and I had talked about the subject a few times since then, and she had admitted to me that she was probably enabling Wilf and Mabel to stay longer on the old farm than they should have done. “Grandpa’s seventy-four now”, she said, “and he’s in a lot of pain from arthritis, and Grandma’s getting very forgetful. It’s not that we never talk about them giving up the farm, but I have to be tactful, Tom; Grandpa’s poured his whole life into that place, and none of his sons was even remotely interested in carrying on after him. I can’t even begin to imagine how that must feel”.
“I know”, I replied; “I sometimes think about that, too. His generation are connected to the land in a way that our generation never will be; when your grandpa and grandma were kids, literally everything they ate was grown or raised on the soil they could see outside their windows”.
“I know. They’re still pretty self-sufficient, but it’s not as extreme as it was years ago”.
One of the things I remembered about Leanne from when she was one of my students was that she liked live theatre. She had been in pretty well every play we had put on – and we tried to do at least one, and sometimes two, every year – from 1982, when I arrived in Meadowvale, to her graduation in June of 1985. During her first year as a teacher she had not been involved in the drama department, but early in September of 1994 I asked her if she would like to help out with our Christmas play – we were planning to put on an adaptation of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol – and to my delight, she agreed.
We started work in earnest toward the middle of November; I produced the play and ran the rehearsals, and Leanne helped me coach the actors as well as organizing the costumes and makeup. She got her grandmother involved in making some of the costumes too, something that Mabel enjoyed, and from time to time I drove out to their place on the weekend to consult with Leanne and see how things were coming along. At least once a week we had an after-school rehearsal which went on quite late, and so on that day Kelly would drive me to work in the morning, take our car to the Special Care Home, and pick Emma up and drive her home after work, while Leanne would give me a ride home in her truck at about 5.45 when we had finished cleaning up after the rehearsals.
From time to time, on those drives home, she would talk to me about her struggles with her grandparents. Now that the snow had returned Wilf was in a lot more pain with his arthritis, and Mabel was getting even more forgetful. “I guess I’m going to have to accept the fact that it’s dementia”, she said to me one day as she pulled the truck into the driveway behind my house.
“Is she safe to be home by herself when Wilf’s out doing farm chores?” I asked.
“I don’t know, Tom; I wish I knew. And I wish the rest of the family were closer. Auntie Brenda’s good; she calls every day, and she comes up to visit once a month. But of course, she and Uncle Dennis are living in Estevan, and that’s a long way. And as for Uncle Jim and Uncle Wally, we hardly hear from them at all”.
She pulled up behind our car, put the transmission in neutral, and said, “To be honest, I think we’ve gotten past the point where Grandma and Grandpa can move into a place of their own in town. Especially Grandma; I think she’s going to need someone to keep a close eye on her all the time, and I don’t think Grandpa can do that”.
“So you think they’ll need to move into the Special Care Home?”
“I suspect they will. But of course, they aren’t going to like that”.
“I guess not. It’s going to be tough for you, too”.
She nodded; “Yes, it is”.
“How old were you when you first went to live with them?”
“I was ten. Mom and Dad broke up, and neither of them really wanted to look after me, so Grandma and Grandpa told me to come and live with them, and for the first time ever, I discovered what a stable home life was like”.
“You must love them a lot”.
She looked at me for a moment, and then she said, “I really do; I’ll be grateful to them for the rest of my life”.
The following week we had another after-school rehearsal; the play was coming together nicely now, and the students were starting to get a feel for their parts. They left at about five -thirty, and Leanne and I worked together for a few minutes to clean up my classroom, where we had been having the rehearsal.
“Have you guys decided yet whether you’re going to England for Christmas?” she asked me.
“We have, actually; we’re leaving the day after school finishes”.
“This will be the first time you’ve been home for Christmas since you moved here, right?”
I grinned at her; “What do I have to do to convince you that this is my home?”
“Right – I should know that by now! Let me reword the question: this will be the first time you’ve been back to England for Christmas since you moved here, right?”
“Right – first time in thirteen years I’ll have had Christmas at my parents’ place, and the first time Kelly and Emma will ever have been away from the Reimers for Christmas”.
“That’ll be different”.
“Yeah, but we need to do it; it’s been four and a half years since we were there, and Becca’s getting annoyed with me”.
“Well, she does come every year”.
“Yes, she does, and she loves Emma like crazy”.
“They’ll be glad to see each other, then”.
“I think so”.
“What about Kelly; does she like it over there?”
“She gets on well with my mum and Becca, but I’m not really sure this year whether she’s looking forward to it or not”.
She glanced at me with a slight frown on her face. “Is she okay?” she asked.
I shrugged as I moved a couple of desks back into place. “We’re just busy, that’s all”.
“You have a lot on your plate”.
“Yeah, and I’m not always very smart about my schedule. Sometimes that causes trouble”.
I saw the concern on her face, and something else as well, something that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. “Trouble?” she asked.
“You know what, I’m probably making something out of nothing. We’re a bit frayed around the edges right now, but I expect we’ll be fine in the long run”.
She hesitated, and then came across to where I was standing, put her hand on my arm, and looked up at me. “Are you okay, Tom?” she asked softly.
I looked at her for a moment without speaking. Leanne had grown into a beautiful young woman, with long dark hair and deep brown eyes, and it was impossible to mistake the message that those eyes were giving me as she stood there, her fingers still touching my arm. I was startled, suddenly realizing that something had been going on in front of me for some time now without me really noticing it. I caught the intoxicating scent of danger, and for one brief moment I was tempted, but then I caught myself, and I was suddenly terrified of what I had almost done.
I backed away slightly, so that she was no longer touching me. “I’m okay”, I said; “Every marriage goes through stress from time to time, and Kelly and I are no exception, but we’ll be okay”.
I saw in her eyes that she understood what I was telling her. For a moment she hesitated, and I could see that she was embarrassed, but I knew that I could not allow myself the luxury of feeling sympathy for her. I turned away, pushed the last of the desks into place, and then spoke with my back still turned to her. “You know, it looks like a nice winter evening out there”, I said; “I think I’ll walk home tonight”.
“Are you sure?”
“Yes. I’ll see you tomorrow, Leanne”.
For a moment there was silence between us, until I turned and saw that she was still looking at me. She opened her mouth to speak, then closed it again, standing as still as a statue. And then she did something I wasn’t expecting, something that dramatically increased the respect I already felt for her; she said, “Tom, I just did something really stupid. I know it, and I’m sorry. You’ve been such a good friend to me, and now I’ve destroyed all that”.
For a moment I didn’t reply. I realized that I was not angry with her, but I was furious with myself; I knew that somehow, without intending it, I must have given her the impression that this sort of an advance would be welcome to me. I shook my head; “You haven’t destroyed it”, I said, “but I may need to pull back for a while”.
“I understand. Again, it’s my fault; I’m very sorry”.
I nodded; “Apology accepted”.
“Are you going to tell Kelly?”
I didn’t hesitate. “I have to, Leanne; you must see that”.
It was her turn to nod; “Of course”. She paused, and then she spoke in a small voice, “She’s going to hate me, isn’t she?”
“She’ll be angry, for sure”.
She swallowed, and I saw the tears brimming in her eyes. “I think I’d better go”, she said.
“That would be good”.
I knew that Kelly had noticed how quiet I was during supper, and for the hour or so afterwards, while we were clearing up and doing things with Emma. I also saw that she was surprised that I didn’t go down to my den in the basement for my customary two hours of work. “Aren’t you doing schoolwork tonight?” she asked.
I shook my head. “There’s a promise I made to you that I need to keep”, I replied.
She looked at me for a moment, and I saw in her eyes that she understood immediately what I meant. “Okay”, she said; “I’ll make some peppermint tea after Emma goes to bed”.
She sat at the kitchen table with me, not saying a word while I described what had passed between Leanne and me earlier that evening. When I was finished, she was quiet for a few minutes, and then she said, “Have you told me everything?”
“You know, in a strange sort of way, I’m not really surprised. I had a feeling she was attracted to you”.
I stared at her; “How did you pick that up?”
“I’m a woman; we know these things”.
“But you never said anything to me”.
“What would have been the point? For all I knew, you might have welcomed her advances”.
She looked at me steadily. “Tom, you’ve been quietly pulling back from me for a year now”, she said.
I shook my head; “Kelly, I swear…”
“Don’t swear to what you know isn’t true. How long has it been since I told you I wanted to have a conversation about our schedules?”
“I don’t know, a couple of months, maybe?”
“Three months, actually. For three months you haven’t been able to make time for it, although you’ve had plenty of time to practice music with Ellie and Darren, and drive down to Saskatoon for gigs and open stages, and put in extra hours at school rehearsing for the Christmas play”.
“I know; I’m really torn, Kelly”.
“Torn?” she exclaimed, and I saw the sudden flash of anger in her eyes; “Why are you torn? What’s to be torn about?”
“You know I love you”, I said.
“I thought I did”, she replied, “but I guess I’ve known all along that if there was ever anything I had to fear, it wasn’t another woman; it was your music”.
“But Kelly, you encouraged me to start gigging with Ellie”.
“Yes”, she admitted; “I did, but I didn’t realize at the time how much of your life it was going to swallow up”.
“Well, that’s fair”, I replied; “I know that since Darren joined the band, we’ve been going down to the city a lot more often than we should”.
She got up from the table, went over to the kitchen sink and stared out of the window into the dark of the night. For a few minutes there was silence in the room, but I could hear the pounding of my heart in my ears, and I was mentally kicking myself, and asking myself how I could have been so stupid as to let things get to this point.
Eventually she turned and looked at me, her face expressionless. “So what do you want to do?” she asked stonily.
“I want to do whatever it takes, Kelly”, I replied. “I’ve been an absolute idiot to allow things to get to this point. If there’s something I can do to start us moving down the right path again, I want to do it”.
She looked at me for a moment, then came back over to the table and sat down beside me. “The thing is, Tom”, she said, “there’s not a damn thing either of us does that we don’t enjoy, but we just don’t have room in our lives to fit it all in”.
I looked down at the table; “I know”, I whispered.
“So it just comes down to choices; what are we willing to give up? I know what I’m going to do; I’m going to ask if I can job-share at work, so I can go down to half time. I love my work, and I love the people there, but I just don’t have time to love you and Emma and the Sunday night kids and everyone else in my life, and do most of the housework around here, and work full time too. I know it will mean taking a hit financially, but I also know I have to do it. Is that okay with you?”
I nodded; “Yes, it is. We can tighten our belts; we’ve done it before”.
“Over to you”, she said, looking at me steadily; “What are you willing to give up?”
“Playing music in Saskatoon”, I replied. “Like you said about your work, I know I love it, but it’s just too far away to be possible on a regular basis. We’ll still do singarounds here, and maybe I’ll do the occasional summer fair if Ellie and Darren still want to play with me, but I’m done with the band”.
She hesitated, and then reached out and put her hand on mine. “Are you sure?” she asked.
“I am. I nearly lost you once, Kelly; I’d have to be really stupid to do it again by putting anything else ahead of our marriage and our family”.
“What about Leanne?”
“I liked having Leanne as a friend; I admire her as a person, she’s a great teacher, and she really puts herself out to look after Wilf and Mabel. But tonight, I realized how totally blind I’ve been to what’s going on. I’m not angry with her, but I’m furious with myself for letting something like this happen. I broke the privacy of our marriage tonight; I absolutely should not have said anything to her that gave her the impression that you and I were having problems. I’m really sorry, Kelly”.
She nodded, her hand still touching mine, and then she said, “I need you to pull back from your friendship with her for a while. I know you have to work with her, and I know you need her help to put the play on. But I need you to shut her out of your circle of close friends, at least for now. I think I have the right to ask that”.
“You do; I already knew I had to do that”.
“I promise you, Kelly, that I will shut her out. And I’ll talk to Ellie and Darren tomorrow”.
She nodded; “I don’t think Ellie will be surprised”.
“I have a confession to make; you’re not the only one who’s broken the privacy of our marriage”.
“You’ve been talking to Joe?”
“I’m not surprised; why wouldn’t you? He’s your best friend”.
She shook her head. “No, my dearest husband”, she whispered, “You’re my best friend. At least, you have been, and I’m hopeful now that you will be again”.
“That’s what I want”.
She leaned forward, put her hand on my cheek, closed her eyes and kissed me on the lips. “I love you, Tom”, she said.
“I love you, too”.
“Would you just hold me for a minute?”
I leaned forward on my chair and put my arms around her; “I’ll hold you for as long as you want”, I said.
I asked Darren to meet us over at Joe and Ellie’s place the following night; I had already asked Ellie on the phone if we could get together and talk about the future of our band. For a moment she didn’t reply, and then she said, “I know what this is about, Tom”.
“You’ve already had this conversation with Joe?”
“Are we okay?”
“We are”. She was quiet for a moment, and then she said, “We’ve been living in a fantasy, but it’s time for the fantasy to end”.
“Yes, I’m afraid it is. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy it”.
We sat in Joe and Ellie’s living room while the kids watched The Lion King in the basement. Ellie had made a pot of decaf coffee; she handed around the mugs, and then she broke the news to Darren. “Tom and I have to pull out of this musical partnership, Darren”, she said; “We’ve both realized over the past few days that we’ve been doing serious damage to our families by being away so much”.
“It’s not that we haven’t enjoyed it”, I added, “and it’s not that we haven’t enjoyed having you play with us”.
He nodded slowly; “Actually, I’ve been expecting this”, he said.
“You have?” Ellie replied.
“Yeah. I knew in my heart that it wasn’t sustainable. And to be honest, it wasn’t really what I had in mind when I came here, either”.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“I didn’t move to Meadowvale so that I could spend time in Saskatoon; I came here because I wanted to live in a small town and get in touch with my roots”.
“So you’re okay with this?”
“I am, Tom. And I have to apologize for kicking up the pace the way I did. We can still get together and play music from time to time, right?”
I looked at Kelly, and she nodded; “Singarounds, jams, even the occasional summer fair”, she said to Darren. “I’m just tired of spending so many Saturday nights as a music widow in my own home”.
“Understood. And again, my apologies”.
“Let’s all chalk one up to experience”, Joe said quietly, putting his hand on Ellie’s. “Darren, you’ve taken this one like a real gentleman. On behalf of my sister and me, thank you”.
“No”, Darren replied, “Thank you – for being honest, and for helping me see what’s important. This has been a good lesson for me”.
“It’s been a good lesson for all of us”, Ellie said.
“I need to talk to Leanne”, I said to Kelly that night, as we were lying in bed together, holding each other.
“Yeah, you do”, she replied.
“I’d thought I could just give her the cold shoulder and assume she would get the message, but I’ve been thinking about it, and I don’t think that’s the Christian way”.
“No, I think you’re right”.
“You’re okay with me having it out with her?”
“I am”. She was quiet for a moment, and then she kissed me and said, “Tom, the other night I said some really unkind things to you, about you welcoming Leanne’s advances, and about you pulling back from me. I shouldn’t have said those things. I was just scared – scared that I was losing you, and maybe just a little bit scared that you might secretly have been wishing that you had taken her up on what she was offering”.
“I understand, and it’s not your fault. I’m the one who messed things up, and I realize it’s going to take time for me to build it up again so that you feel secure”.
“You’re okay with that?”
“I wish it wasn’t necessary, but I know it’s the way it has to be”.
“Thank you”, she whispered.
I kissed her forehead and tightened my arms around her.
I sent Leanne an email asking her to stop by my classroom the next day at about ten to five, if she was free. I was marking Grade 12 essays when she came in; she pulled up a chair, sat down across my desk from me, and said, “Hi, Tom”.
“You wanted to see me?”
“Yes, I did”.
“I guess you talked to Kelly, eh?”
“I did. I thought at first that I should just do my best to avoid you and give you the cold shoulder, but it didn’t take me long to realize that wasn’t a good idea. We have to work together, and anyway, it’s not the right way to go about it”.
“I appreciate that”.
We were both quiet for a moment, avoiding each other’s gaze; I had been thinking all day about what exactly I should say to her, but now that the moment had arrived, I found that foresight had failed and I was still searching for the right words. Eventually I said, “Well, as I said the other night, I’m going to have to pull back from our friendship for a while”.
“I understand; I’m not surprised that Kelly was angry”.
I looked at her for a moment, and then I said, “You must understand that I’m not going to tell you anything about the things Kelly and I discussed”.
“Of course”. She looked away toward the windows, and again there was an awkward silence, until she said, “Do you want me to stop working on the play with you?”
“No, of course not. I don’t want to embarrass you in front of the staff and students, and I don’t want to do anything that would cause awkward questions to be asked”.
“Thank you”. She hesitated for a moment, and then said, “Are you going to say anything to Will?”
I could see that she was surprised; “You’re not?” she said.
“I appreciate that, Tom”.
“No need. As I said, I don’t want to embarrass you”.
“Thank you. And once again, I’m really sorry”.
“And as I said the other night, apology accepted”.
“Is there anything else?”
She got to her feet. “Okay; I’d best be going, then”. She turned and walked toward the door, but then she stopped and turned around again. “Please tell Kelly that I’m sorry”, she said in a small voice; “I hope some day she can forgive me”.
“I’ll tell her”, I replied.