Overcoming Evil with Good (a sermon on Romans 12:14, 17-21)

Back in the mid-1970s there was a time of severe gasoline shortages. In many places people lined up for miles at service stations to gas up their cars. There’s a story told about a man who was in a line like that, and as he waited for his turn at the pumps he was getting more and more concerned because his tank was already on empty. Finally, just before his turn came, his engine quit, and he had to actually get out and push his car to the pump. As he was doing this, the young woman who was in line behind him pulled out and slipped in ahead of him, laughing at him on the way.

Well, he found a novel way to get his own back. It turned out that she was driving the same kind of car as he was, with one exception: he had a locking gas cap, and she didn’t. So, while she was in the office paying for her gas, he quietly changed gas caps with her, giving her the locking cap. However, he kept the key firmly in his own pocket!

We can probably all laugh at a story like that, because we can easily sympathise with the young man’s annoyance, and his desire for retribution. It’s something we’ve all felt and will probably continue to feel as the years go by. But while we’re laughing, let’s pause for a moment and reflect on the suffering that this human drive for vengeance causes around the world. Let’s think about Israel and Palestine, where for half a century bombing has been followed by retribution which has been followed by more retribution over and over again, with no side willing to break the cycle for fear of being thought weak by the other. Or let’s remember Northern Ireland, where over thirty years of violence had its roots in actions that happened centuries ago. What’s particularly tragic about that situation is that the perpetrators claimed the name of ‘Catholic’ and ‘Protestant’ and invoked the name of Jesus to bless their violence – as has often happened, sadly, in Christian history.

Today’s reading from Romans deals directly with this subject. It’s a wide-ranging passage dealing with a lot of issues in the Christian community, and rather than trying to touch on everything it mentions, I want to focus on the second half of the passage; it deals with the question of how we as Christians should relate to the world around us. Paul suggests two things. On the one hand, we’re to do all we can by our words and behaviour to give the Christian message a good name in the world. However, when this fails to win us friends, and when we are attacked and even persecuted for our faith, our response is to be a Christlike one – not taking vengeance on our enemies, but rather loving them, forgiving them, and going out of our way to be a blessing to them. In this way, says Paul, we are to overcome evil with good.

In many places in the world today, of course, this is a life and death issue. In recent weeks we’ve seen the spectacle of ISIS terrorists telling Christians in Iraq that they have three choices: convert to Islam, leave, or be executed. And this is only one example of the sort of violence against Christians, and other people of faith, that exists in many parts of the world. For instance, in many countries in the Middle East it is a crime for a Christian to obey Jesus’ Great Commission and invite a non-Christian to put their faith in Jesus. In some countries in North Africa Christians have been subjected to vicious persecution, torture and rape and brutal murder. If you want to keep in touch with the harsh realities that many of our brothers and sisters in Christ face around the world today, one of the best ways to do that is to follow the blog of Canon Andrew White; Andrew is vicar of St. George’s Anglican Church in Baghdad, and over the last few weeks he has been posting some horrific stories about the evils being inflicted on Christians and other people of faith in the territories now controlled by ISIS terrorists.

Here in North America, we tend to face indifference and apathy rather than persecution, although if you try to live consistently by the teaching of Jesus, you’re going to get some dirty looks at times, and even some angry words. This is particularly true when it comes to the subject of loving your enemies; I’ve discovered that many people seem to be particularly offended by the idea that we should respond to evil with good. And of course, that brings us directly to what Paul has to say to us in Romans in today’s passage.

How is a Christian congregation to behave in relationship to the world around it? How are we as individual Christians to conduct ourselves? Paul has two things to tell us.

First, do your best to enhance the name of Jesus Christ by the way you live and the things you say. Paul says in verses 17-18: ‘Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all’. The New Living Translation, as usual, has a helpful paraphrase: ‘Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see that you are honourable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone’. So what’s this all about?

Nicky Gumbel tells a story about a Christian man nicknamed ‘Gibbo’, who was working at Selfridge’s, a big department store in London. One day the phone rang, and when Gibbo answered the phone the caller asked for Gordon Selfridge, the owner of the store. It so happened that Gordon Selfridge was standing right there, but when Gibbo told him about the call, he said, “Tell him I’m out”. Gibbo held out the receiver to him and said, “You tell him you’re out”. Selfridge took the call, but he was furious until Gibbo explained to him, “If I can lie for you, I can lie to you”. From that moment onward Selfridge had the highest regard for Gibbo and trusted him implicitly. He recognised the value of honesty, and even though it was inconvenient to him, he respected Gibbo for it. Unconsciously, you see, Gibbo was ‘taking thought for what is noble in the sight of all’, or ‘doing things in such a way that everyone could see he was honourable’.

To give another example: in some countries in South America, no food is provided for people who are in prison; it’s the responsibility of their families to provide food for them and to bring it to them each day. This is very difficult for those prisoners who have no families. In one of those countries, I’m told that the Christian organisation ‘Prison Fellowship’ has taken on the responsibility of preparing food for prisoners who have no families and taking it to them each day. In those countries, when you say the word ‘Christian’, the picture that comes to mind is, ‘the people who feed the ones who have no one else to feed them’.

So we’re to ‘take thought for what is noble in the sight of all’. But Paul is realistic about this; he adds, ‘If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all’ (v.18). In other words, he recognises that sometimes circumstances will be outside our control. I may work hard for reconciliation but the other person may have no interest in it whatsoever. Never mind; I’m to do all in my power to be at peace with that other person anyway.

If we try to give the Gospel a good name by the way we live and the things we say, over time this can often go a long way toward easing tensions. However, this will not always be the case. Paul recognises that sometimes society will still choose to attack the Christian church. What are believers to do in that situation?

First, we’re not to take revenge on those who hurt us. Look at verses 14 and 17: ‘Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them… Do not repay anyone evil for evil’. One of my vivid childhood memories is the phrase ‘Two wrongs don’t make a right’. If I heard it once, I probably heard it a thousand times, because my brother and I were always fighting each other! My Mum would say, “Don’t hit him”, and I would reply, “He hit me first!” Up would come her finger and she would say, “Two wrongs don’t make a right!”

Paul gives a simple and direct reason for this command: in taking revenge we are usurping the role of God. ‘Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord”’ (v.19). God alone knows all the details and all the motives of the human heart; God alone is the one who can be trusted to act with perfect justice and mercy. To take it on ourselves to take revenge is to claim to be God, and it’s a fundamental principle of the Christian life that God is God and I am not!

But our response is not just a negative one, the absence of revenge. Rather, we’re to be proactive, taking the initiative to love and do good to those who hate us. Paul says in verse 20 ‘If your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink’. In other words, take a look at this person who hates you. What needs do they have? Is there some way you can be a minister of God to them in their need? As Abraham Lincoln once said, ‘The best way to destroy an enemy is to make them a friend’. This is the way the Christian Church is meant to take the offensive against its enemies; not with the sword or the gun, but with hands that serve and hearts that love. Paul sums it all up by saying ‘Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good’ (v.20).

A moving story about this comes from the era of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in post-apartheid South Africa. At one meeting early in their work, the Commission gathered to reach a verdict on a particularly brutal case involving an elderly woman. A group of white police officers, led by a Mr. van de Broek, admitted their personal responsibility in the death of her eighteen-year old son. They acknowledged shooting him, setting his body on fire, and partying around the fire until the body had been reduced to ashes. Eight years later, the same officers took the woman’s husband into captivity. The woman was forced to watch while the officers doused her husband with gasoline and then ignited a fire. The last words her husband spoke to her, in the midst of the blazing pyre, were ‘Forgive them’.

Now the time had come for justice to be served. Those involved had confessed their guilt, and the Commission turned to the woman for a final statement regarding her desire for an appropriate punishment.

“I want three things”, the woman said calmly. “I want Mr. van de Broek to take me to the place where they burned my husband’s body. I would like to gather up the dust and give him a decent burial.

“Second, Mr. van de Broek took all my family away from me and I still have a lot of love to give. Twice a month, I would like for him to come to the ghetto and spend a day with me so that I can be a mother to him.

“Third, I would like Mr. van de Broek to know that he is forgiven by God, and that I forgive him, too. And, I would like someone to come and lead me by the hand to where Mr. van de Broek is so that I can embrace him and he can know my forgiveness is real”.

As the elderly woman made her way across the silent courtroom, van de Broek reportedly fainted, overcome by emotion. And then the silence was broken when someone began singing, ‘Amazing Grace’. Others soon picked up the words of the familiar hymn, so that finally the entire courtroom was joining in song.

The person who started the singing, of course, had identified the reason why Christians are to act in this way. God is a God of amazing grace, who has chosen to forgive us, not to take vengeance on us. We call ourselves Christians, which means ‘Those who follow Christ’. The reason we are to bless those who persecute us rather than cursing them is that this is the way Christ acted, and we are under orders to imitate him.

For us as Christians, this is the big issue. It’s not about ‘Does this way of living work?’ The gospel offers us no guarantees about that, and perhaps we should remember that both Paul and Jesus, who both lived this way, were eventually executed by the state! No – the reason they both command us to act in this way is not because it works, but because it’s the right thing to do, the thing that God does. This is what faithful Christian discipleship looks like. This is our calling as a Christian community. So let us pray that God will give us the help of his Holy Spirit so that we can be faithful to our calling and show the world the face of Jesus Christ.

I want to close with the words of a blessing based on this passage, a blessing I remember my dad using at services when I was very young. Maybe we’ll use it at the end of the service today too. This is how it goes:

Go forth into the world in peace; be of good courage; hold fast that which is good; render to no one evil for evil; strengthen the fainthearted; support the weak; help the afflicted; honour all people; love and serve the Lord, rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit.

And the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be upon you and remain with you forever. Amen.

Posted in Following Jesus, peace, Sermons | Leave a comment

Meadowvale (a prequel to ‘A Time to Mend’): Chapter 24

Link back to Chapter 23.

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

Note the things I said about revisions here.

Becca kept her promise to stay in touch with us; she wrote to us at least once a week, and we spoke to each other regularly on the phone. She went into her final year of high school determined to do well, and she did; she got three excellent A-levels, and she was accepted by several universities. One of them was Oxford, which she had applied to at my father’s request, despite her desire to get away and go somewhere else. This led to a few weeks of tension, so I was told, as my father urged her to go to Oxford, but she was determined to go further afield. Eventually, once again, my mother persuaded my father to back down, and Becca chose to go to Edinburgh, where she would begin her studies in the Fall of 1988. I knew, of course, that my sister-in-law Alyson was from Edinburgh and that her parents still lived there, but I wasn’t surprised when Becca told me that she was planning to avoid them if she could. “A bit too much like home, don’t you think, Tommy?” she said.

“I guess so. Are you looking forward to it, apart from that?”

“I really am. I’ll have my own flat, I’ll be studying stuff I’m interested in, and I’ll be able to arrange my life the way I want”.

We kept our promise to help her out with the air fare to visit us if she needed it. She came to us again in the summer of 1988 just after Glenn and Karla’s wedding, and she stayed with us for three weeks; as it happened, her visit overlapped with Owen and Lorraine’s, and we did a couple of camping trips together. Owen was finished his training now and had become a partner in a small medical practice in Headington; he was glad to see Becca again, and to hear that she was pursuing medical training and wanted to be a GP. “Who knows?” he said; “Perhaps you’ll come and work with us some day?”

“Perhaps I will!” she replied with a grin.


By that time, Owen and Lorraine were in the middle of a struggle of their own: the struggle to have children.

It was after Becca’s first visit to us, in the summer of 1987, that Owen had told me on the phone that they were having problems. “You’ve probably noticed that we’re not having a great deal of success getting pregnant”, he said. “We’ve actually never used birth control, because we wanted to get started on having a family as soon as we could. But it’s been three years now, and nothing’s happened”.

“So what’s going on?” I asked; “Do you know?”

“At the moment, no. There are all kinds of medical reasons for difficulties with conception, including something doctors call ‘unexplained infertility’. But Lorraine was a bit reluctant to treat it as a problem and do something about it, and I suppose I was too; we knew that people often don’t conceive right away, and we kept hoping that it was just a normal delay. We’re past that now; we went to talk to someone about it a couple of months ago, and we’ve started to have the tests – a whole battery of them, for both Lorraine and me of course”.

By the summer of 1988, when they visited us, they were not much further ahead. Tests had shown that there was no problem on Owen’s side, but nothing conclusive had turned up so far on Lorraine’s side, either, and her doctor had begun to speak in terms of ‘unexplained infertility’, which Lorraine found enormously frustrating. “How can it be ‘unexplained’?” she asked; “These people go to expensive medical schools where they benefit from the most recent advances in medical science, and all they can say is ‘unexplained infertility’? That sounds like ‘unexplained idiocy’ to me!”

Kelly instinctively felt for Lorraine. Most of the time she was her old cheerful self, and only very rarely did she allow herself to spend much time in her own dark place because, as she said to me on one occasion, “There’s no point in it; if I once let myself get onto that downward spiral again, we’ll be back in the summer of ‘86”. Nevertheless, during Owen and Lorraine’s time with us she did allow herself to briefly revisit that sad place; she would sit out on the deck at night with Lorraine, as she had done with Becca, and sometimes I could tell from their faces when they came in that they had both been crying. And before they left, as so often happened with people who got to know Kelly, Owen said to me, “I know it was a good day for you when you met Kelly, but it was a good day for the rest of us, too. I just want you to know how grateful I am for all she’s done for Lorraine”.


While Owen and Lorraine were visiting us, Rob Neufeld said to me, “Maybe you two would like to do a house concert while Owen’s here?”

“A house concert?”

“Yeah – I’m sure you’ve heard of them”.

“Of course – I’ve just never thought of doing one in Meadowvale. And it’s summer time, and a lot of people are away”.

“Why don’t I call around and see if we can gather a few people? If it’s small, we’d be glad to host it; if it’s bigger, we can do it in the church if you like”.

It turned out that there were a number of people, from our music circle and beyond, who were interested in hearing Owen and I play; in fact, about twenty people said they would like to come. “It’ll be a little tight”, Rob said to us after church the following Sunday, “but we can fit everyone in our living room if we take the couch and the easy chairs out and replace them with hard chairs from the church basement. What do you think?”

“Well, we’re off to Jasper tomorrow and we’re back on Saturday, and Owen and Lorraine are leaving the middle of the following week. Do you want to do it Sunday night?”

“Sure. I’ll organize it”.

Of course, Owen and I had been playing music informally pretty well every day since they arrived, but we had never had anything like a formal practice. Nonetheless, we felt confident that we could still put across our old songs. “Do you just want to do the old songs?” Owen asked me, “or do you want to have a couple of solo spots where we can each share some of the stuff we’ve been learning since then? Maybe you and Ellie could do some of your stuff together too”.

“What do you think?” I asked Kelly.

“I think a 1988 snapshot would be better than a faded 1982 photograph”, she replied. “I love hearing your old stuff, but you’ve both moved on a bit, and it would be nice to hear some of that, too”.

And so we gathered the group together at the Neufeld house on the Sunday evening after our return from Jasper. Most of the guests were from our singarounds, although there were a few people from the church and from our circle of family and friends who had never attended any of our musical events. Owen and I sat on stools at one end of Rob and Mandy’s living room, playing without amplification as none was needed. We revisited some of our favourite traditional songs – pieces like ‘Lord Franklin’, ‘The Snow it Melts the Soonest’, ‘Clyde Water’, and ‘Scarborough Fair’. Owen had been learning more Irish and Scottish material lately – ‘Celtic’ music, as it was often called – so he played some of that by himself, and I played a couple of bluegrass tunes with Ellie, as well as one of Kelly’s favourite Bruce Cockburn songs, ‘All the Diamonds in the World’, and of course ‘Master Kilby’, which Owen joined us for. We ended the evening with an old favourite that we had known since our university days, ‘Mary and the Soldier’.

After the music was finished Rob and Mandy invited people into the kitchen or out on the deck for hot chocolate and munchies. I was chatting with a couple of people out on the deck when Don and Lynda Robinson came up to me with Amy (who was now twelve) and Beth (who was ten); I had been surprised to see the two girls come in with their parents, but they had sat through the whole evening and had seemed quite interested in the music.

“That was a great evening, Tom”, Don said; “You and Owen sound really good together. You can tell you’ve done it a lot”.

“It’s been a while, though”, I replied; “I was relieved to find that we still remembered those songs”.

“I’ve never heard songs like that before”, said Beth; “I liked the stories. Can you get that kind of music on records or CDs?”

“Yes, you can”, I said to her; “I’ve got lots of them. Maybe next time your Dad and Mum come over to have coffee with Kelly and me, they can bring you along, and I’ll play you some of those records”.

“That would be great!” she replied with a grin.

Don had brought his grandmother with him; she was using a walking cane all the time now, and after the concert she sat quietly by herself in the corner of Rob and Mandy’s living room while people were milling around drinking hot chocolate. I knew she preferred tea, so I made her a cup, took it over and handed it to her. “Well?” I said; “What did you think?”

“Very enjoyable!” she replied with a bright smile, taking the tea cup from my hand.

“Did you know any of the songs?” I asked.

“Yes, I did! My husband used to sing that one about the snow melting the soonest – I remember him singing it around the house, although of course he didn’t do it as well as you and your friend”.

“That’s an old Geordie song”, I said. “When Owen and I played together in university we had a girl who sang with us, Wendy Howard; she loved that song, and so we learned to play it so that she could sing it”.

“Well, it sounded very nice; I don’t mind telling you that it brought a tear to my eye”.

I sat down beside her; “How are you doing?” I asked. “Since Owen and Lorraine have been here I haven’t really made time to come over and see you”.

She shook her head; “You mustn’t worry about me, Tom”, she said. “My children and grandchildren are really good at looking after me; I see Michael or Ruth almost every day, and the others come over quite frequently as well. You know that I’m always glad to see you, but I don’t want you to feel you have to come when you’ve got other things to do”.

At that moment Kelly appeared at my side; she bent over and gave Joanna a kiss on the cheek; “You’re looking pretty good, Mrs. Robinson”, she said with a smile. “What did you think of my husband, then? He’s not a bad musician, is he?”

“I was just telling him how much I enjoyed it”, Joanna replied.

“When we’ve gotten rid of Owen and Lorraine and Becca, we’ll have to have you over for a meal one night”, Kelly said; “I’ll cook stew and dumplings, and Tom can make you a nice strong pot of tea. How would that be?”

Joanna reached up and put her hand on Kelly’s arm. “Kelly, you know I’m always glad to visit with you two and your delightful little girl, but I was just telling your husband that you mustn’t worry about me. I know you’re busy, and I’ve got lots of family who take good care of me”.

Kelly shook her head. “Who said anything about worrying?” she replied with a grin. “We’re always glad to see you. Why don’t we set something up after our company’s gone home?”

“Alright”, Joanna said with a smile; “I’ll look forward to it”.


So Owen and Lorraine went home, and a couple of weeks later Becca followed them, starting her studies at Edinburgh that Fall. We had thought of going to England the following summer, 1989, but that was the year that both our vehicles died, the Chevy Nova I had bought the first month I had lived in Meadowvale, and Kelly’s old truck. We talked for a long time about whether we needed two vehicles; Kelly liked having a truck, but we knew that a single cab wasn’t big enough for the three of us with Emma still in a car seat, and a crew cab was beyond our means financially. Eventually we decided to buy a one year old Ford Taurus and make that our only vehicle; “We can always borrow a truck from someone if we need one”, I said. Kelly accepted the fact that this made financial sense, but I knew she was disappointed, nonetheless.

That same year the old furnace in our house died on us, and we had to replace it, so financially we took a hit, and we had to postpone our trip to England. I knew that my mother was disappointed, and so was Becca, but the upshot was that Becca came back to visit us again for a couple of weeks in the middle of the summer; this time my mother paid her fare. We did our usual camping trips, and the people of Meadowvale gave her a warm welcome again.


Old Joanna Robinson had been born in the first decade of the twentieth century, and that winter, the last winter of the ninth decade of the century, she was getting very frail. She was moving very slowly now, and always with the help of a cane or a walking frame, and her mind, which had been very sharp up until a year or so ago, had begun to forget things. I found myself being asked the same question several times when we were visiting, and I noticed that she was starting to forget things other people said to her and to lose track of who had been to visit her and when they had been there.

In early April 1990 her family moved her into the Meadowvale Special Care Home. Joanna had not wanted this; she loved hosting people in her own home and making tea for them, and she loved sitting in her old familiar living room with the pictures on the walls and all her old furniture around her. I knew that she and her son Michael had been talking about the move for a while, and at first she had opposed it, but gradually she seemed to lose her will to resist, and eventually, when she moved, she seemed to be content to sit in the chair by the window in her room, looking out at the little garden behind the building, and sometimes shaking her head slowly.

Her family, as always, were very good at visiting her; all five of her children still lived in the Meadowvale area and most of them were in at least once a week. Michael, her oldest son, and his wife Rachel were in almost every day, and I knew that Don and Ruth frequently dropped in as well. I went by myself a couple of times a week, and Kelly and Emma and I fell into the habit of dropping in to see her on Sunday afternoons. As Kelly remarked to me, Joanna’s short-term memory might be failing, but there was nothing wrong with her ability to recognize people; her face seemed to light up when we walked into the room, and she was always especially glad to see little Emma, who was now four years old and very lively.

One evening in late April I was visiting with her by myself; I had made her a pot of tea the way she liked it, and we were chatting about England as we had known it. After a while she seemed to run out of things to say, and for a few minutes we sipped at our tea in silence. Eventually she said to me, “How long have you lived in Meadowvale now, Tom?”

“It’ll be eight years this summer”.

“Why did you move here in the first place?”

It was a question she had asked me several times over the last few months, and usually I had given her a fairly non-committal answer. But this time I looked at her for a moment, and then I said, “I had a long-standing quarrel with my dad, and eventually I came to the conclusion that we weren’t going to be able to fix it”.

“Oh, I’m sorry”, she said; “It was obviously quite serious”.

“Yes, it was. My dad’s a lawyer, you see, and his father was a lawyer before him. Dad had always assumed that I would become a lawyer too; in fact, he was pretty determined to make that happen. But I wasn’t interested, and we fought about it for three or four years. Eventually my mum made him back down, but he’s never forgiven me for it. He’s always been a very controlling person, and I guess I was a rebellious teenager. But I really wanted to be a teacher, and I wasn’t prepared to let go of that dream”.

I saw a faraway look in her eyes. “Sometimes a dream is worth fighting for”, she said softly. “I had a quarrel with my father too, you know”.

“Did you?” I replied cautiously.

“Yes. Like you, there was something I wanted and I knew he wouldn’t want me to have it. I was right. And Will and I ended up moving here to Canada so we could keep our dream”.

“You’ve never told me that story, you know”, I said.

“No, I haven’t told anyone”. She looked across at me and said, “I haven’t even told my children, you know, although I love them very much. It was a very painful experience for me, Tom. Perhaps one day I’ll tell you about it, but if you don’t mind, I don’t want to talk about it any more tonight”.

I reached across and put my hand on hers; “That’s fine”, I replied.

“Are you going to England this summer?” she asked.

“We are, actually; we’re going for six weeks, leaving on July 9th”.

“Will you be staying with your parents?” she asked.

“For three weeks. My little sister wants to take us off on a holiday through northern England and Scotland for about ten days, and then my friends Owen and Lorraine are hosting us at their place for a few days as well. Do you remember Owen and Lorraine? When they were over two summers ago, we played music together at Pastor Rob’s house”.

“Oh yes, of course! And your sister was there too, wasn’t she? Now what was her name?”

“Becca”.

“Becca, yes, of course. She’s the youngest in your family”.

“That’s right; you do remember her, then?”

“Yes”. I saw the faraway look in her eyes again; “I was the youngest in my family too”.

“Were you?”

She nodded. “There were four of us. Edward was the oldest, but he was killed in the Great War. Edith was the second, James was the third, and I was the fourth”.

“What was your name before you were married?”

“Rowley. I was Joanna Rowley”.

“Did you get on well with your sister and brothers?”

“I was closest to James. I looked up to Edward; I was very sad when he was killed”.

“I guess so; I can’t begin to imagine something like that”.

“No. Still, it was a sad time for many people; lots of families were losing sons and brothers”. She smiled at me; “Enough about me”, she said; “Are you looking forward to going?”

“Yes and no. It’s six years since we were there; the last time we went was the summer before Kelly and I got married. The only family member I’ve seen since then has been Becca”.

“So your father and mother have never seen their granddaughter?”

“No, and she’s going to be five in December. Neither has my brother”.

“Did I know that you had a brother?”

“I think I’ve mentioned it before”.

“I’m sorry, Tom; I’m getting so forgetful these days”.

I shook my head; “It’s not a problem”.

“Tell me about your brother”.

“He’s a lawyer; he works in my dad’s firm in Oxford, actually. His name is Rick and he’s married to Alyson, and they have a son called Eric who’s nearly four, and a daughter called Sarah who just turned two”.

“So your father’s pleased with him, I suppose?”

“I think so; I suspect he’s glad at least one of us went into the Law”.

“Do you and your brother get along with each other?”

“To be honest, I hardly ever hear from him. He never calls, and he only writes at Christmas and birthdays. Actually I should say he sends a card, and it’s actually in Alyson’s handwriting”.

“I’m sorry; that must be hard”.

I shrugged; “It is what it is. My mum keeps in touch all the time, and I’ve got the world’s best little sister”.

“She visits you regularly, doesn’t she?”

“Every year. She and Kelly are very close, and she’s very fond of Emma, too”.

“I expect she’ll be glad to see you”.

“Yes, she’s looking forward to it”.


Becca had been very pleased when I had told her on the phone that we were coming over for six weeks. “This year you’ll be in England for my birthday!” she said.

“Twenty years old”, I replied; “Where has my little Becs gone?”

“Don’t forget you’re twelve years older than me!”

“I know”, I replied ruefully; “I’m an old man of thirty-two!”

“Any grey hairs yet?”

“That’s for me to know and you to find out!”

She laughed; “Fair enough. I’m glad you’re coming, Tommy”.

“I’m glad we’ll see you and Mum; I’m not sure how I feel about staying at Mum and Dad’s”.

“Yeah, I know what you mean”.

“Does he ever talk about us when you’re there? Or about Emma?”

“He talks about Emma sometimes; I think he’s curious about her, despite himself”.

“Not curious enough to come to visit her, though”.

“He’s stubborn; so are you, you know?”

“Don’t you start!” I exclaimed.

“You’ll be fine, Tommy, and if it gets to be too much for you, well, I’ll take you three off somewhere to play tourist”.

“That’s right, I keep forgetting you’ve got a car now!”

“The whole of England is at your disposal”.

“I thought you wanted to take us to Scotland?”

“I do – Edinburgh, and over to St. Andrew’s, and maybe up into the highlands if the weather’s good and if Emma’s not bored”.

“Sounds good to me, Becs; I’ve only ever been to Scotland that time we went up for Rick’s wedding”.

“Well, we’ll try to give Glenallen a wide birth, shall we?”

I laughed; “That’s up to you! How are Rick and Alyson and the children, anyway?”

“They’re okay, as far as I know – not that I see them very often, and I only ever hear from him at birthdays and Christmas. Alyson’s got that familiar neglected Masefield spouse look these days”.

“He’s working long hours, then?”

“Oh yes; a regular chip off the old block, is our Rick”.

“Dad must be pleased”.

“I think so; he goes on at great length about what a fine lawyer Rick is, and how he’ll be a partner before too long”.

“I’ll probably hear a lot about that when I get there”.

“Don’t let it bother you, Tommy. You and Kelly are happy, and you make enough money to live on, and you wouldn’t want to live like Dad and Rick, would you?”

“Oh, believe me, I’m quite okay with the way we live”.

“Alright then – that’s all that matters, isn’t it?”

“You’re pretty wise, small one, even if you are only twenty!”

“Only nineteen, actually – I won’t be twenty ’til August”.

“Right”.

“I’m glad you and Kelly are coming, Tommy”, she said again.

“Me too”.

“See you soon, and give Kelly and Emma hugs for me”.

“I will”.


That spring Ellie and I played a couple of gigs of our own in coffee shops in Saskatoon. We had been participating in open stages for two years now, and we had gotten to know quite a few people in the music community in the city. We had developed a good repertoire of folk and bluegrass tunes, Ellie was getting more confident as a singer, and we were thoroughly enjoying ourselves.

Our families came down to the city with us for our first gig, which attracted a respectable  Friday night crowd in the same coffee shop where we had first played at Jerry Weaver’s Saturday open stage. Kelly and Joe brought the kids to the first half and then took them over to Gary and Brenda’s place while Ellie and I played our second set. When we were done we had a quick coffee with Jerry and a couple of other people and then drove over to Gary and Brenda’s to pick up our families and head for home.

After we put Emma to bed that night, Kelly and I lay awake on a caffeine high for a while; I was lying on my back with my arm around her, and she had her head on my shoulder and one leg hooked over my body. We were both tired, but neither of us could sleep, and so we lay there and talked for a long time.

“It was a wonderful evening”, she said softly; “You guys were very good”.

“Do you think so?”

“Of course I think so. You’re both excellent players and you chose good songs. I was very proud”.

“Thanks”.

“It kind of gives me a sense of what it was like when you and Owen were playing together regularly”.

“I guess so. This is different, though; Ellie’s very different from Owen”.

“Do you wish it was still Owen you were playing with?”

I shook my head; “That was then, and this is now. I’m always happy to see Owen, and I’m glad he and I are still good friends, but I don’t hanker after those days, Kelly”.

She kissed me softly; “Good to know”, she whispered.


In the middle of May, Joanna Robinson had a heart attack in her chair; fortunately Ruth was with her, and was able to get her down to the hospital in time. When I saw her a couple of days later she was on oxygen and blood thinners and was looking very pale, but she seemed glad to see me and we talked for a few minutes. I called Don a little later, and he told me that the family were trying to make sure there was someone with her all the time.

“Kelly and I could help with that, Don, if you’re short of warm bodies”, I said.

“Would you mind? I know she’s got a soft spot for you two”.

“No, we wouldn’t mind”.

So we visited her up at the hospital a few times, and we kept in touch with the rest of the family on a regular basis. A couple of weeks later she was released from the hospital and went back to her room at the Special Care Home, but her children and grandchildren still wanted to keep a close eye on her, and Kelly and I continued to take part in that.

On Friday June 1st I walked over to the Special Care Home after supper and sat with her for a couple of hours. She was sitting up in her bed with pillows supporting her back, but she seemed particularly bright that night, and I read some poetry to her and talked about it with her for a while. Having heard about her brother who had been killed in the First World War, I had guessed the reason why she appreciated the war poets of that period, and I made a point of reading to her regularly from Sassoon and Owen. That night I read Owen’s ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’, which describes a gas attack and the horror of watching someone die from it. When I was finished, we sat quietly for a few minutes, and then she said, “I never did find out how Edward died”.

“No?”

“No. The telegram just said, ‘Killed in Action near Cambrai, France, August 31st 1917”. She sighed; “I sometimes think I’d like to have known more, but then I wonder if perhaps it’s better that I didn’t”.

“I think I know what you mean”.

She was staring off into space now, and I knew that in her mind she was reliving her experiences in those long ago days while the Great War was raging and she was waiting anxiously at home for word from her brother. “I prayed for him”, she said; “I prayed every night that God would protect him and bring him home safely to us. His death dealt a real blow to my faith, but I kept on praying for the others from the village. What else could we do?”

“That’s what I think, too. I sometimes wonder why we pray about situations that involve human free will, but in the end I pray anyway, because it’s the only thing I can do; I can’t help myself”.

“That’s right”.

“What about your husband; did he serve in the war too?”

“No, he was too young. He was only fourteen when the war ended”.

“Of course”.

“He lost a brother too, though; his oldest brother Sam was killed right at the beginning of the war, in the first Battle of the Marne, on September 10th 1914”.

“You have a very good memory for these dates”.

She turned and looked at me. “I remember those things as if they were yesterday, Tom”, she said. “Not that I knew Will when Sam was killed, but he and I often talked about it in later years”.

“Was your son Sam named for him?”

“Yes”.

“Did either of you keep in touch with your families after you moved to Canada?”

For a moment she didn’t reply, and I wondered if I had gone too far, but eventually she smiled and said, “Will did; he and his father wrote to each other until his father died in 1946, but they never saw each other again after we moved here”.

I didn’t reply, but I reached across and put my hand on hers, and she nodded and put her other hand on top of mine.

After a moment she sighed and said, “I don’t think I’ve got much longer, Tom”.

“Why do you say that?”

“That heart attack scared me, and I feel very weak all the time now. I’m actually getting quite tired tonight”.

“I should leave you then, so you can sleep”.

“No, I’d like you to stay for a few minutes more, if you don’t mind”.

“I don’t mind”.

She turned to look at me again. “How long have you and I known each other now?” she asked.

“Six years and a few months, I think”.

“You’ve been very kind to me, Tom – you and Kelly, but especially you. I want you to know that I appreciate all the hours you’ve spent with me”.

“I’ve enjoyed it”.

“So have I. I’ve also appreciated that you’ve been very respectful of my privacy”. She smiled at me again; “Don’t think that I haven’t realized how curious you are”, she said. “I know that you’ve suspected for a long time that there was a lot I wasn’t telling you about my life before Will and I moved to Canada”.

“I have wondered…”

“Of course you have. And I very carefully haven’t told you anything. In fact, I haven’t told anyone anything”.

“And I’m fine with that”, I said quietly; “I don’t especially enjoy washing my family’s dirty laundry in public either”.

“No, and I know you understand how difficult it can be when there’s family conflict”. She was quiet for a moment again, and then she said, “Still, I think it’s time I told someone”.

“Shouldn’t it be one of your children or grandchildren?”

“No; I love them all very much, but I don’t want them going back and digging up the past, when I have no idea who’s left and how they might feel about me”.

“You want me to leave things as they are?”

She gave a heavy sigh, and then said, “I would prefer if you did that”.

“Okay”.

“Tom, could you possibly get me a glass of water?”

“Of course”. I got to my feet, went over to her little sink, poured her some water and brought it over to the bed. She took a few sips of it, then handed it back to me with a smile, and I put it on the bedside table.

“I was born in a stately home called Holton House”, she said; “The estate was called Holton Park, and my father was the owner”.

“Your father was the squire, then?”

“Yes, I expect some people would have called him that”.

I nodded slowly, and she smiled and said, “You’ve guessed as much, haven’t you?”

“I noticed that you didn’t have a typical midlands farmer’s wife accent; you sound more upper-middle class, like my parents”.

“I’ve come down a bit, then; we weren’t in the nobility or anything, but our family had owned Holton Park since the days of Elizabeth I, and my mother was a Courtenay, of the family of the earls of Devon”.

“Definitely aristocratic, then”.

“Yes, but I lost patience with a lot of that stuff when I was a teenager. I was confirmed at the end of the Great War, you know, and my parents gave me a Bible for my confirmation. I don’t know whether or not they expected me to read it, but I did – I read it all the way through. I struggled with the Old Testament, of course, or parts of it anyway. But when I got to the New Testament, and the stories of Jesus, the light went on”.

“I know what you mean; it’s like you’re seeing every part of your life differently, isn’t it?”

“Exactly. And I met Will in 1919, when I was still reading the gospels and thinking about what Jesus had to say there. I was already beginning to think that our life in the aristocracy was completely contrary to what Jesus had taught. You know what I mean, I’m sure – the way we were so comfortable with wealth and power. I had servants, of course, but I hardly ever talked to them; it was as if we thought they weren’t really there”.

“Was Will one of your servants?”

“Will’s father was one of my father’s tenant farmers, but Will came to Holton House to work as a stable groom in 1919, when he was fifteen. He was my groom – he looked after my horse. I was really interested in horses and I asked my father if I could help look after Diamond, and that’s how Will and I started talking”.

“And you fell in love”.

She smiled again; “It took us a long time to reach that point. He was quite interested in books, but of course his family was very poor and he didn’t have the opportunities I had to read and learn. I think he would have loved to have stayed in school longer, but all the boys in his family went out to work very young; they had very few financial choices. Anyway, I started lending him books and we talked about them together while I was helping him look after Diamond. and that’s how it started”.

“So you got married?”

She nodded. “By then we were making secret arrangements to meet each other when I went out riding. We were pretty sure our parents wouldn’t approve, but we were naive enough to think that if we presented our marriage to them as a fait accompli, they would accept it. So we eloped; we went to Scotland to get married, and then we came home and told our families what we had done”.

“That didn’t go well, I take it?”

She shook her head. “I had never seen my father so angry in all my life; my mother had to physically restrain him from assaulting Will. I won’t go into the details, but the upshot was that Will was dismissed from his job, and we had to find a place to live and a way for Will to earn a living. His family were as offended at what we had done as mine were, and they didn’t want to risk the anger of their landlord by helping us, so we were truly out on our own”.

“So what did you do?”

“Well, Will got farm labouring jobs in the area, although word had spread about what we had done, and some people were shy about employing him. Some months we did well, but other months he had a difficult time finding work, and we found ourselves in rather desperate circumstances”.

“Your family never reached out to help?”

“My father had disowned me and wanted nothing to do with us any more, not even when we sent word that Michael had been born and that my mother and father had a grandson”.

“Was that their first grandchild?”

“No; my sister Edith was married with three children, and I found out later that my brother James and his wife had a daughter about the same time that our Michael was born”.

“So eventually you decided to move to Canada?”

She nodded. “It was obvious to us that we were always going to be living a hand-to-mouth existence, and we were both very upset about the way our families were treating us. Will’s family were in a different situation, of course; I truly believe that if they had tried to help us, my father would have found a way to punish them for it, and he was their landlord, so there wasn’t much they could do about that. But I was furious with my father. I tried not to be, Tom; I tried very hard to remember all the things Jesus had said about forgiving people, but I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t believe that he felt so strongly about this class nonsense that he would go so far as to disown me, as if I was no longer his daughter”.

I squeezed her hand, and she smiled and said, “Yes, you understand, don’t you?”

“My father’s never disowned me, but he’s never reconciled himself to what I did”.

“No”.

We were quiet for a few minutes; I continued to hold her hand, while she stared off into empty space, her eyes far away. Eventually I said, “There’s another thing that has puzzled me”.

“What’s that?”

“Well, I guessed some of this story, though not the exact details, of course. But I’ve always wondered where you and Will would have found the money to come to Canada, in the late 1920s, when you were obviously quite poor”.

“My sister gave it to us”, she said.

“Your sister? But I thought you had no more contact with your family?”

“Could you pass me that water again, please, Tom?”

“Of course”. I handed her the glass, and she took a few sips from it and then gave it back to me. I replaced it on the bedside table, and she said, “My sister Edith was married to Reginald Willoughby, another landowner with an estate in Leicestershire. She had apparently been keeping a surreptitious eye on us, and she came to visit me one day”.

“You must have been surprised”.

“I was flabbergasted. Here she was, the fine lady, dressed in her expensive clothes with her car and driver outside, standing in my tiny kitchen in the farm cottage where Will and I were living. I had a brand new baby I was looking after, and of course my sister’s children were all being raised by a nanny, so she was obviously quite uncomfortable with the sort of life Will and I were living. She told me that she wanted nothing to do with me and was still very upset about what I had done, but she didn’t want Will and I to starve or end up totally destitute, so she was prepared to give us the money to emigrate and start a new life somewhere else”.

“Had she and her husband…?”

“I don’t think so. Edith had money of her own, of course, that she had taken into the marriage, and I think she used some of it to help us. I’d be very surprised if her husband even knew about it”.

“You must have been conflicted about the whole thing”.

“Yes, I was. Will was out at the time, and I told her I would have to talk with him about it. She said she would come back in a few days to hear what we had decided. So I talked to Will; of course he wanted to do it, but he was proud, too, and he didn’t want to accept charity. I remember we knelt beside our bed that night and prayed that God would guide us. And I suppose he must have done so, because we both agreed that it would be for the best. So my sister paid our passage and our train fare to western Canada, and she gave us a good sum of money to help us get started on a farm out here. We made the journey in the spring of 1929”.

“Did either of you see your families before you left?”

“Will went back to visit his father, and they had a very tearful parting, so he told me. Edith had told me not to contact our family; she didn’t want them to know that she had helped us. I never heard from her again, or anyone else in my family”.

I shook my head slowly; “I can’t begin to imagine…”

“We never looked back, Tom”, she said quietly. “Even in the hard years of the dirty thirties, when we very rarely made a profit on our crops and basically stayed alive on what we could grow and raise ourselves, we never once thought about going back. It was desperately hard out here, but we were free to be ourselves. Of course, I had my struggles; other farmers’ wives knew how to cook and clean and make clothes and so on, and I’d never learned those things. I’m sure sometimes Will wished I could help him with the farm chores like other farmers’ wives did, but I was never very good at that. I wish we hadn’t been estranged from our families, but we were, and that being the case, I’ve never regretted that we came to Canada. We made a good life for ourselves here, and we passed a good farm on to Sam”.

“And you’re the matriarch of a huge tribe now”, I said.

“I am, and they take good care of me, and I’m proud of them”.

“You’re sure you don’t want them to know this story?”

She was quiet for a long time, and then she said, “They will find it out after I’m gone, Tom”.

“How so?”

“I’ve kept a diary for most of my life. The diaries are in a box in my cupboard, with instructions that they go to Michael. Only Michael; I have some faith that he won’t do anything rash about them. I don’t want anyone going back to England and digging up skeletons. As I said, I have no idea who may or may not be alive, or what attitude they might take to my children and grandchildren, and I don’t want to expose my family to that. I think Michael will feel the same way”.

“What do you want me to do?”

“I want you to keep this to yourself. I don’t mind if you tell Kelly, but I don’t want anyone else to know. I don’t even want you to talk to Michael about it unless he talks to you”.

“Okay; if you’re sure”.

“I am sure. And now, Tom, I need to sleep; I’m feeling very, very tired”.

“Right; I’ll be on my way, then”.

“Perhaps you’d be good enough to pray with me before you go?”

“I will”.

She reached out again and touched my hand; “Tom, I want to thank you for being my friend”, she said. “I never expected to have this sort of friendship with a young man less than half my age. But you and Kelly have been very good to me – you especially – and I want you to know that it has meant a great deal to me”.

I leaned forward and kissed her on the cheek; “It’s been my pleasure”, I replied.


The next morning was a Saturday, and Kelly and I were clearing up the dishes after breakfast when the phone rang. I went into the living room and picked it up; “Tom and Kelly’s”, I said.

“Tom, it’s Mike Robinson here”.

“Mike; is everything okay?”

“Tom, I just wanted to let you know that Mom died early this morning. She had another heart attack, and she died before they could get her to the hospital”.

I sat down on the couch, suddenly unable to speak. Kelly came around the corner from the kitchen and looked at me; I pursed my lips, blinking back the tears, and held out the phone to her. She frowned and took it from me; “Kelly here”, she said. “Oh, yes, Uncle Mike; what…?”

I heard him talking through the receiver, and I saw the sudden stillness on Kelly’s face; she reached out and took my hand, and after a moment she said, “Okay, Uncle Mike, thanks for letting us know. Yes; Tom’s a little upset right now, so he probably can’t come back to the phone, but I’m sure he’ll call you back in a while. Let us know about arrangements, will you? Thanks Uncle Mike; give our love to all the family”. She put the phone down, then sat down beside me on the couch and put her arms around me. “Are you okay?” she said.

I shook my head. “I think I may have been the last person to see her alive”, I replied.

“And you had a pretty amazing conversation”.

“It was like she knew”, I whispered; “The way she thanked me at the end for being her friend, and the way she wanted to make sure I knew the whole story before she died. It was as if she knew what was going to happen”.

“Maybe she had a hunch; I’ve known old people who experienced that”.

“Maybe”. I looked at Kelly through my tears; “She was an amazing lady”, I said hoarsely.

“You loved her”.

“I did. It was almost like she was an honorary grandmother to me”.

Kelly nodded slowly; “An honorary English grandmother”.

“Yes”.

“So what are you going to do about the story she told you?”

“I’m going to do exactly what she asked me to do”.

“You’re going to keep it to yourself?”

“Yes”.

“Won’t that be a little difficult, with Don and Ruth being such good friends of ours?”

“Yes, it will, but it’s what she wanted. She didn’t want to expose them to the possibility of going back there to England and being rejected the way she was rejected”.

“But that might not happen. That was over sixty years ago; times have changed”.

“I know, but I can’t do otherwise, Kelly; it’s what she asked me to do, and I won’t go against her wishes”.

She nodded; “I think I knew that”, she said softly. “You’re a very honourable man, you know”.


Mike Robinson talked to me about his mother’s journals a few days later. Her funeral was held at the community hall with the local Anglican minister presiding, and to my surprise the family asked if I would read the eulogy. When I protested that surely one of them would be more appropriate, Sam shook his head and said, “I’m not sure I could get through it”.

“Me too”, Shirley added.

We were sitting around the kitchen table at Mike and Rachel’s house; Mike looked across at me, and I saw the sympathy in his eyes. “But perhaps”, he said, “you’re not sure you could get through it either, Tom. We know you were very fond of Mom”.

I shook my head. “No, I’ll do it for her”, I said; “Thanks for asking me”.

At the reception after the funeral he came over to where Kelly and I were standing talking with John and Ruth Janzen. “Could I have a word, Tom?” he asked.

“Sure”.

I followed him outside into the sunny June afternoon; we moved away from the main doors, and he put his hands in his pockets, his eyes down. “Can I ask you something?” he said quietly.

“Of course”.

“Did Mom ever talk to you about her past?”

I nodded; “She did, on the night before she died”.

“I thought maybe she had; I know you and her became pretty close friends”.

“Mike, I hope you’re not offended; she asked me not to talk with you about it unless you raised it”.

He shook his head; “I’m not offended”, he said. “She left me a big box of those journals, and a letter about them, giving me the bare bones of the story. I’m not surprised, although I hadn’t guessed anything about it”.

“She told me she didn’t want you guys going over there and digging up the past; she said she had no idea who was still alive, and how they would feel about it. I got the sense she was trying to protect you guys”.

He nodded; “She asked me in the letter to keep it to myself, and not to pass the story on to anyone else in the family. Well, I talked to Rachel about it, so I guess I disobeyed her, but I haven’t told anyone else, and I don’t plan on it. Does Kelly know?”

“Yes; she told me I could tell Kelly”.

“Maybe she won’t rise up and haunt me for telling Rachel, then!”

We both laughed softly, and I said “Have you read the journals, Mike?”

“No, and I don’t think I’m going to. I can’t see any point in dredging up the past. I was going to burn them, but Rachel persuaded me not to; she said that some time in the future, when us old people are all gone, someone might find them interesting. I don’t mind telling you we had a bit of a disagreement about it, but she persuaded me in the end. She can be quite persuasive”.

“I think I can imagine that”.

He looked at me and said, “We’re going to respect Mom’s wishes, though; right, Tom?”

“That was my plan”.

“I know it will be tough for you, with you and Kelly being so close to Don and Ruth and their families”.

I shook my head; “The subject need never come up, Mike. Your mum made it quite clear to me what she wanted, and I would never go against that; I respected her too much”.

He held out his hand to me; “You and Kelly were good friends to Mom these past few years, Tom. I want you to know that we appreciate it”.

I took his hand firmly; “It was a pleasure”, I replied. “I’ll always be glad I had the chance to get to know her”.

“Thanks”. He put his hands back in his pockets; “So you and the family are heading off to the old country again soon, Ruth tells me?”

“Yeah, in a few weeks; we’re leaving on July 9th and we’re staying ’til August 20th”.

“That’s a long holiday”.

“Yeah; I haven’t been back for six years, and my mum and dad have never met their granddaughter”.

“They’ll be glad to see you, then”.

“Yeah, I think they will”.

“Well, I’d better go back inside. Thanks, Tom”.

“Thank you, Mike. Let me know if there’s anything I can do”.

“I appreciate that”, he said, and then turned and went back into the hall.

Posted in Fiction, Meadowvale | 1 Comment

Jesus can be hard to get along with

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

After all:

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

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

Posted in Following Jesus, Gospel, Jesus | Leave a comment

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

Link back to Chapter 22

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

Note the things I said about revisions here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You know what I mean”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

“But that doesn’t mean…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

“Yeah, I did”.

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

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

“And are you a bluegrass player too?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

“He seems like a pretty genial guy”.

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

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

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

“Funny how that works sometimes”.

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

“They were supportive?”

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

“Is he still alive?”

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

“Was he at your wedding?”

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What do you mean?”

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

“Yeah, I am – of course I am”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Then what…?”

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

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

“Really?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What then?”

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

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

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

Resent it? Where did that one come from?”

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Me too”.

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

“I did”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That’s exactly right!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

“She’s so beautiful”, Kelly whispered.

“Like her mum”, I replied.

“I love you”.

“I love you too”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I wouldn’t have called it clumsy”.

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

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

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

“Are you tired?” I asked her.

“A little”.

“Do you want anything?”

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

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

Link to Chapter 24

Posted in Fiction, Meadowvale | 2 Comments

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

Link back to Chapter 21

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

Note the things I said about revisions here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

“Are there even any women in his life?”

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

“Because you were so cute, of course!”

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

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

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

“Do you recognize Kelly’s Grandma Reimer?”

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

“Yes it is”.

“Was it taken in Meadowvale?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That’s what Tommy was saying”.

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

“No, I haven’t”.

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

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

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

“Was there some kind of an epidemic?”

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Thank you”.

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You loved him”, I said softly.

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

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

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

“Yes, it was. While it lasted”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Did he force you?” I asked.

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

“I guess I am”.

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

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

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

“How did you find out?”

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

“Bastard!” I whispered.

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

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

“I’m pathetic, aren’t I?” she sobbed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yeah, enough said”, I replied.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yeah, I know I’m a lucky man”.

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

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

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

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

“What about Kelly and Emma?”

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

“I’m game; where are we going?”

“Edith Cavell Meadows.”

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

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

“How long does it take?”

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

“I think I am”.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Come in, Tommy”, she replied.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Who would be there?”

“Relatives, I expect”.

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

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

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

“Something like that”.

“I think I could go along with that!”

“I somehow thought you would”.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why?”

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

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

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

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

“Yeah, I guess that’s true!”

 

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

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

“It’s been great to have you”.

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

“Are you?”

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

“That’s good, then”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link to Chapter 23

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

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

Posted in Fiction, Meadowvale | 3 Comments

Taking a break until August 18th

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

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

Spirit Island, on Maligne Lake:

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

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Medicine Lake:

 

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Maligne Lake.

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