The Blind Harper

This is a light rewrite of the old Scottish folk song ‘The Blind Harper’. The earliest version in Francis James Child’s ‘The English and Scottish Popular Ballads: Vol. IV’ (1890) dates back to 1791, but there are many other versions. Emily Smith sang the song in 2005 on her CD ‘A Different Life’. She says in her liner notes:

Another song from my home region of Dumfries and Galloway. This version dates back to the 1500s and tells the tale of a harper, in some versions a blind harper, who stole the King of England’s best horse, the ‘wanton broon”

Nic Jones did a rewrite of the song for his 1978 album ‘From the Devil to a Stranger’, anglicizing the Scottish brogue and shortening the story a bit. I’ve worked from Nic’s version but have also consulted some of the older versions, added some lines from then, and written a few of my own as well.

The biggest change is that all the older versions, including Nic’s, refer to King Henry’s horse as his ‘wanton brown’, but ‘wanton’ today means something different from what it meant when the song was written: ‘playful, frolicksome’. I’ve chosen ‘headstrong’ as a near equivalent that fits the lines well. Here’s my version (my changes from Nic’s version are in red):

The Blind Harper
Have you heard of the blind harper,
How he lived in Lochmaben town?
How he went down to fair England,
To steal King Henry’s headstrong Brown.

He thought him hard and thought him long,
And then unto his wife did go,
“One thing”, said he, “will make this work-
We’ll need a mare that has a foal”.

Said she, you have a good grey mare,
She’ll run o’er hills both low and high,
Go take the halter in your pack,
And leave the foal at home with me.

He’s up and off to England gone,
He went as fast as fast could be,
And when he got to Carlisle gates,
Who should be there but King Henry?

“Come in, come in you blind harper,
And of your music let me hear”,
But up and said the blind harper,
I’ll need a stable for my mare”.

The king looked over his left shoulder,
And said unto his stable groom,
“Go take the poor blind harper’s mare,
and put her beside my headstrong brown”.

Well then the harper played and sang;
‘til all the lords fell sound asleep,
Then quietly took off his shoes,
And down the stairway he did creep.

Straight to the stable door he’s gone,
With a tread as light as light could be,
And when he opened and went in,
There he found thirty steeds and three.

He took the halter from his pack,
And from his purpose did not fail,
He slipped it over the brown’s long nose,
And tied it to the grey mare’s tail.

He let her loose at the castle gates
O’er hill and dale she found her way,
And she was back with her own colt foal,
Three long hours before the day.

The harper’s wife rose up from sleep
Said she, “What do my eyes behold!”
“Upon my word!” then said the lass,
“Our mare has gotten a great big foal!”

King Henry’s groom rose with the dawn,
But at the stable he did stare,
“King Henry’s headstrong brown’s away,
And so is the poor blind harper’s mare!”

“And oh and alas”, said the blind harper,
“And ever alas that I came here!
In Scotland they only stole my foal,
But in England they did steal my mare!”

“Oh, hold your tongue!” King Henry said ,
“You have no cause to curse and swear;
Here’s thirty guineas for your foal,
And three times thirty for your mare”.

Again he harped and again he sang,
The sweetest music he let them hear,
He was paid for a foal he never lost,
And three times for the good grey mare.

Have you heard of the blind harper,
How he lived in Lochmaben town?
How he went down to fair England,
To steal King Henry’s headstrong Brown.

Here is Nic singing his version of the song, with a little instrumental added to the end.

Posted in Traditional Folk music, Music, Folk music, Nic Jones | Leave a comment

Meadowvale (revised): Chapter 22

I’ve gone through the ‘Meadowvale’ story and done a rewrite; I’m posting the revised chapters here at the rate of about two a week. The originals are still on this site (go to ‘Meadowvale’ in the sidebar) in case you want to compare! Enjoy!

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; “She still loves him, she wants to keep the peace in their marriage, and 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 past his feud with me”.

“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, and 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 open and honest, and happy”.

“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 1960s 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 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. One day when they were all running and playing in our back yard Steve referred to them as ‘the Pack’, 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 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 both came, but I’m sure there were so many people there that you might not have been introduced”.

“I’d love to meet him”.

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 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 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. 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”.


“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 chemo. 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 or later he would get down on the floor to play with her for a while, or go and sit on the couch with her to read her a story. Karla would watch him, her coffee cup in her hand, with the ghost of a smile playing around her lips, and Kelly and I would exchange glances.

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

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

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

“Me too”.

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

“I did”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That’s exactly right!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“She’s so beautiful”, Kelly whispered.

“Like her mum”, I replied.

“I love you”.

“I love you too”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I wouldn’t have called it clumsy”.

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

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

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

“Are you tired?” I asked her.

“A little”.

“Do you want anything?”

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

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

Posted in Fiction, Meadowvale, Meadowvale (Revised) | Leave a comment

Meadowvale (revised): Chapter Twenty-One

I’ve gone through the ‘Meadowvale’ story and done a rewrite; I’m posting the revised chapters here at the rate of about two a week. The originals are still on this site (go to ‘Meadowvale’ in the sidebar) in case you want to compare! Enjoy!

We met Becca in Saskatoon around supper time on Sunday July 19th; she had finished school on the Friday, packed on Saturday, and come straight to us the next day, flying by way of Toronto. The plane was full, but she was one of the first people through the door into the arrivals lounge; I saw her immediately, dressed in a black tee-shirt and blue jeans, with a backpack on her back, a single suitcase in her hand, and headphones down around her neck plugged into a walkman at her belt. “There she is”, I said to Kelly.

“She’s cut her hair!” Kelly exclaimed.

“Yeah – it’s almost as short as yours!”

Kelly laughed; Becca’s dark hair was indeed cut boyishly short, and it made her look younger than her sixteen years, although she was now taller than Kelly and almost as tall as me. She saw us standing together, waved, and threaded her way through the crowd toward us.

When she got to us she gave us both warm hugs; “It’s so good to see you!” she said with a smile.

“Good to see you, too, little Becs”, I replied.

She looked at me for a moment, the emotion plain on her face, and then she said, “You haven’t called me that in a long time”.

“I know”.

She smiled again; “So where’s Emma?”

“We left her with Ellie and Joe”, Kelly replied, “but she knows you’re coming. We’ve been showing her your picture, and telling her you’re her Auntie Becca. Of course”, she added with a grin, “you had long hair in that picture, so she might not recognize you!”

“Yeah, I just got it cut last week”.

Kelly smiled at her and kissed her on the cheek. “I don’t think I can introduce you to people as my baby sister any more”, she said with a grin; “When did you get to be so tall?”

“It helps that you’re kind of short”, I said.

“Well, that’s true!” she replied ruefully.

“You look so well, Kelly”, Becca said; “Are you feeling all right?”

“I feel fine; don’t worry about me. Now, have you got everything?”

“This is it”, Becca replied, holding up her suitcase; “I thought I’d travel light”.

“What do you need, Becs?” I asked; “Coffee? Supper?”

“We ate and drank on the plane from Toronto”.

“Right – shall we just head out of town and straight home, then?”

“That would be great”.

“What’s on the walkman?” I asked her as we turned and made our way through the crowd of people toward the exit doors.

“The Smiths”, she replied; “Do you know them?”

“I don’t think so; what are they all about?”

“Indie rock, I suppose; not really your cup of tea, Tommy”.

“I don’t know anything about it; you like it, do you?”

“I like some of it; I like some folk punk stuff too – you know, the Pogues, Billy Bragg, that sort of thing”.

“I’ve vaguely heard of Billy Bragg. Did you bring some cassettes?”

“I’ve got a few in my bag”.

“I’ll have to have a listen while you’re here”. I put my arm around her shoulders; “Turned your back on Mum’s classical music, have you?”

“A bit; I still play the piano sometimes, though”.

“Wow – I’m impressed!”

“I am impressive, aren’t I?” she replied mischievously.

I resisted the temptation to reach over and tousle her hair; “Cocky, too!” I said.

“Well, you’ve got to stick up for yourself, haven’t you?”

“I guess so!”

Becca rode in the back seat, and she slept most of the way to Meadowvale; it had been a long day for her, with two flights and a two hour layover in Toronto, and I knew her body clock would be messed up. Kelly and I held hands and talked quietly all the way home; she had been spending a lot of time outdoors since the warm weather arrived, and her face and arms were deeply tanned. She was still wearing her ball cap, although her hair was about three inches long by now.

We pulled up behind Kelly’s truck at the back of our house at about eight o’clock; Becca yawned, stretched, and said, “Did I sleep the whole way?”

“You sure did!” Kelly replied as she got out of the car. “I’m going to walk over to Joe and Ellie’s and get Emma; Tom will get you settled in, okay?”

“Of course; thanks, Kelly”.

It was a beautiful summer evening in Meadowvale; the sky was a clear blue, the sun was still high in the west, and a gentle breeze was lifting the branches of the trees. I could hear our neighbour’s children in their back yard, and through an open window somewhere the faint sounds of a radio playing country music. Kelly kissed me on the cheek and disappeared around the house on her way to Joe and Ellie’s, and I opened the trunk and lifted Becca’s bags out.

“So this is your new home!” she said as we walked up to the back door, with the deck beside us.

“This is it”.

“And you moved here in May, right?”

“That’s right”.

We went in by the back door, and I kicked off my shoes and climbed the three steps to the kitchen. “We haven’t quite got the basement fixed up yet”, I said, “so you’re in the guest room on the main floor. Sorry – it would have been cooler for you in the basement, and I’m afraid we haven’t got air conditioning”.

“I’ll be alright”.

“Well, it gets pretty warm at nights here in the summer”.

Kelly had finished decorating the guest room a couple of days before; it had a double bed, a dresser and an easy chair, and a built-in closet, and there were vertical blinds hanging at the window, which looked out onto our front yard and the street beyond it. A bookcase stood against one of the walls, crammed with books stacked two deep on the shelves. Becca put her suitcase and backpack on the bed, looked around slowly, and said, “This is nice”.

“Well, it’s not quite as fancy as home, I know…”

She shook her head; “I’m just glad to be here, Tommy. I don’t care how fancy it is at home, I just needed to get away”.

I put my hand on her shoulder; “Kelly told me what happened”, I said softly.

“I haven’t told her everything yet. At the moment, I don’t even want to think about it”.

“Fair enough. Would you like a cup of tea or something? Kelly’ll want me to make some for her; she often likes peppermint or chamomile tea at this time of night”.

“That sounds good. The facilities are across the corridor, are they?”

“Yeah, they are. Okay, I’ll leave you to settle in; come out when you’re ready”.

“How far is it to Joe and Ellie’s from here?”

“A five minute walk there and a fifteen minute walk back”.

She raised an eyebrow, and I grinned and said, “Emma’s into this walking business in a big way”.

“Oh, I see!” she said with a smile; “She’ll want to walk home”.

“Yeah, and Kelly never rushes her”.

Her eyes searched my face for a moment; “Is Kelly really okay, Tommy?” she asked.

“Yes, she is, but you’ll notice that at the moment she’s got very little patience for anything that doesn’t involve the people she loves”.

“Well, she wouldn’t have, would she?” She turned to her suitcase, unzipped it, and said, “Have you got a shower in your bathroom?”


“Do you mind if I have a quick one while we’re waiting for Kelly and Emma?”

“Of course not; help yourself. Oh, and I’m sorry about this bookshelf; we’ve got so many books, and we haven’t got all the shelves up in the basement yet, so we’re a bit short of places to store them all”.

“I’m not bothered”, she said. “I’ll enjoy looking through your shelves, actually”.

When she emerged from the bathroom with her hair still wet from the shower, Kelly and I were on the living room floor playing with Emma. We were surrounded by plastic farm animals and dinosaurs, and Becca laughed and said, “She’s big!”

“She’s grown a little since the last photograph”, Kelly said with a smile. “Did you find everything you needed?”

“I did, thanks”.

We got to our feet, and Kelly picked Emma up. “Em”, she said, “this is your Auntie Becca”.

Emma looked at her doubtfully for a moment, but Becca didn’t hesitate; she held out her arms and said, “Hello, Em – are you going to come to Auntie?”

To my surprise, Emma immediately reached out to her. Kelly passed her over with a grin; “Wow – she’s not normally this friendly on the first meeting!” she said.

Becca took her in her arms, smiled at her, and said, “Shall we be friends, then?”

Emma looked at her for a moment, and then nodded solemnly, and we all laughed; “Well, it didn’t take you long to win her over”, I said.

Becca smiled and kissed Emma. “What does she like?’ she asked; “Stories, games, videos?”

“All of those”, Kelly replied, “but in a few minutes I’m going to give her a bath and put her to bed. There are some little books she likes over on the corner table, if you want to try sitting and reading to her. I’ll pour the tea; do you want some, Becca?”

“Yes, please”.

The next morning I got up around six-thirty, pulled on jeans and a long-sleeved shirt to keep the mosquitos away, and went out for my half-hour walk as usual. There were already a few trucks moving on the streets of Meadowvale, on their way to the Travellers’ for early morning coffee, or getting an early start on the day’s work, and I acknowledged a few waves as I worked my way around the perimeter of the town. The sky was a clear blue, and I could tell it was going to be another warm day.

When I got back to the house just after seven-fifteen Kelly was making tea and Becca was holding Emma on her lap at the kitchen table and encouraging her to eat a slice of toast and peanut butter. I grinned at them; “So the human alarm clock strikes again, eh?” I said. “How long has she been up?”

“About half an hour”, Kelly replied sleepily as she poured the hot water into the kettle.

I put my arm around her and kissed her, then turned to Becca and said, “How was your night?”

“I woke up for a couple of hours around four, but I’d fallen asleep again when I heard Emma. I was afraid I might have woken you up earlier on; I got up and made myself a cup of tea around five o’clock”.

“Didn’t hear a thing”, I replied with a grin. I turned back to Kelly and said, “Do you want to go and have a shower? We can cover things here”.

“Sure; thanks”. She shuffled off down the corridor, and I grinned at Becca and said, “She’s not a morning person”.

“That’s got to be hard when you’ve got a human alarm clock”.

“Yeah – I try to get out for my walk really early so I can be here when Emma wakes up, but I don’t always make it in time. Do you want some more tea?”

“Do I? I could murder a cup of tea!”

“Coming right up”. I poured tea for us both, put one mug down in front of Becca just out of Emma’s reach, and then sat down across from her with mine. “Do you want me to take over with her?” I asked.

She shook her head; “I like this kid”, she said.

“Good; she seems to have taken to you, too”.

“You must have done a lot of this sort of thing when Kelly was sick”.

“Yes – last summer when she was having chemo, I pretty much took the morning shift. Fortunately, being a teacher, I had July and August off”.

“Tell me about chemo, Tommy”, she said quietly; “Is it as bad as they say it is?”

“Well, I think you’d be better to ask Kelly about that; I watched it, but I didn’t go through it myself”.

“Will she mind? I wasn’t sure whether or not she’d want to talk about it”.

“I don’t think she’ll mind, not with you, anyway”.

“I’m afraid I was rather preoccupied with other stuff last summer and autumn; I didn’t do a very good job of keeping in touch with you”.

I shook my head; “We were hearing from you about once a month until this spring some time; we were always glad for your letters and pictures”.

“I’m afraid they rather dried up after about March”, she replied apologetically; “I’m sorry about that. And I’m sorry I didn’t ring you more often last year; I really wish I’d done a better job of being there for you both, especially Kelly”.

“Well, you did offer to come over, and we turned you down”.

“No, I totally get that; everyone says chemo makes you feel like death warmed over, and the last thing she needed on top of that was to have to look after a house guest from England. But I know I could have done a better job of writing regularly, and talking on the phone”.

Down the corridor I heard the sound of the shower starting up. “Honestly, Becs”, I said, “this time last year she was totally absorbed in what was going on with her own body. She’d had major surgery, she’d lost her dream of having a big family, and she was right in the middle of a deep, dark depression. She was having chemo injections every three weeks, and she’d had to stop nursing Emma because of it. Believe me, some days she barely noticed me, never mind who was writing and who wasn’t”.

“It must have been awful, Tommy”.

“It’s not an experience I’d care to repeat”.

“I don’t think I realized how bad her depression was; did you mention it to me in your letters?”

“Probably not, or not very much anyway; she was reading your replies, and I didn’t want to start a conversation with you that would invite her to feel guilty. She didn’t need that along with everything else she was going through”.

“Why would she feel guilty?”

“Believe me, the mind does funny things when it’s depressed, but I’ll let her tell you about that”.

“Fair enough”. She looked down at Emma and grinned; “Wow, look at that peanut butter mug! Maybe Auntie should find a face flannel and wipe it”.

“Hanging just beside the sink”, I said, pointing her in the right direction.

A few minutes later Kelly came back into the kitchen, dressed in shorts and a tank top, her feet bare and her hair still wet from the shower. “Thanks”, she said to me as I poured her a cup of tea and passed it to her; “I feel a little better now. Does anyone want any breakfast?”

“Sit down and drink your tea”, I said to her with a grin; “I’ll get it. Is everyone okay with toast and peanut butter, or is anyone hankering for scrambled eggs or anything?”

“I could enjoy scrambled eggs”, Kelly said with a smile.

“Me too”, Becca added.

“Right then”, I said; “I’ll get busy cooking!”

We spent the day quietly, playing with Emma in the house or in the back yard, walking down to the Co-op for some groceries and a coffee at the deli, and just enjoying conversation together. In the afternoon we went to the swimming pool and spent a couple of hours in the water; Kelly and I played with Emma in the splash pool while Becca swam some lengths, and then she offered to take over for us so that we could have a bit of time in the main pool together. Once again, Kelly and I were amazed at how quickly and completely Emma had taken to Becca; “She must recognize the genes, I guess!” Kelly said.

When we got home, Becca took a nap for an hour or so while we were getting supper ready; Kelly cooked a spicy chicken curry, knowing from our trip to England that Becca enjoyed Indian food and never got it at home. We were just finishing up the dishes when we heard the back door open, and Joe called up to us, “Anyone home at the Masefields?”

“Follow the smell of curry”, I replied.

Joe and Ellie and their children came up the stairs and crowded into the kitchen; little Emma was excited to see Jake, and the two of them quickly ran off into the living room to find the toy box, while eight-month-old Jenna was still sleeping in Ellie’s arms. Joe held out his hand to Becca; “You’ve cut your hair since the last time you were here”, he said with a grin.

She smiled; “I did it last week, actually”, she replied as she shook hands with him.

“It sure makes you look different!” Ellie said; “Any particular reason?”.

Becca flushed; “Not really”, she replied, avoiding everyone’s looks.

Kelly shook her head; “No, I don’t buy that, Becca Masefield! I miss my long hair every minute of the day; I don’t believe you just did it on a whim – there has to be a reason”.

Becca shook her head silently, but I smiled and said, “She’s got a reason; she just doesn’t want to make a big noise about it”.

Kelly stared at her; “You didn’t do this for me, did you?”

Becca nodded reluctantly, the embarrassment plain on her face. Kelly shook her head slowly; “You cut off your beautiful hair for me?”

“It seemed like the least I could do”.

Kelly went over to her and put her arms around her. “Thank you”, she said softly; “You didn’t have to do that!”

“I thought you must be missing your hair, and I didn’t want to make you feel bad; mine was about three feet long”.

“I know – I saw the pictures”. Kelly stepped back and looked up at her; “Becca, I can’t believe you did that”, she said, shaking her head in wonder. “Thank you; thank you so much!” She kissed her on the cheek, then turned to me and said, “This sister of yours is a class act!”

“I’ve always known that”, I said, smiling at Becca. “Nicely done, Becs”.

“Thanks, but could you all stop embarrassing me now?”

We laughed, and Kelly said, “Tea, anyone?”

“Is there any iced tea in the fridge?” Joe asked.

“There is actually”, I replied, “and it’s home-made. Shall we take it out on the deck and light some citronella candles?”

“Brilliant idea!” Ellie replied.

“What are citronella candles?” Becca asked.

“Well”, I replied, “the theory is that they keep mosquitos away!”

“Oh, right!”

We sat out on the deck with Joe and Ellie for an hour or so, sipping iced tea and talking quietly while Jake and Emma ran around in the back yard and Jenna continued to sleep in her mother’s arms. Becca didn’t have a lot to say, but I could see that she was enjoying just being part of the Reimer family circle, where conversations were relaxed and friendly and the emotional dynamics were simple and straightforward. Eventually Joe and Ellie excused themselves, saying that they needed to get home to get the children ready for bed, and not long afterwards I took Emma inside, gave her a bath, read to her for a little while, and then carried her out to the deck to say goodnight to Kelly and Becca, who were still sitting out there in quiet conversation with the citronella candles burning around them.

“I’ll come in and put her to bed”, Kelly said apologetically.

“No need”, I replied; “she’s fine with me. You girls carry on doing whatever it is you’re doing, and I’ll come out and join you again when she’s asleep”.

“Are you sure?”

“Of course. Give Mummy a kiss, Em”.

Emma gave Kelly and Becca hugs and kisses, and then I took her inside, put her in her bed, and sat in the living room for a few minutes until I was sure she was asleep. By now it was about nine o’clock, and I boiled a kettle, made three mugs of hot chocolate, and took them out to the deck. “Am I interrupting?” I asked as I set the mugs down on the picnic table.

“Not at all”, Kelly replied with a smile; “Come and join us; we’re just talking about holiday plans”.

I sat down with them, picked up one of the mugs, and glanced at Becca; “Is there anything you especially want to do?” I asked.

“I’m just happy to be here with you”, she replied quietly; “Kelly was talking about doing some travelling next week, and that’s fine with me. I’ll be glad to go wherever you want to take me and see whatever you want to show me”.

“Well, we definitely have to take you up to Jasper”, Kelly said; “That’s where I lived when Tom and I first met, and it’s breathtakingly beautiful”.

“Of course, we won’t be able to do the hikes we used to do”, I said, “not with Emma”.

“Well, you and Becca could do a couple of longer ones; I could stay with Em”.

I shrugged; “Maybe. We can all see the Icefields, and Maligne Lake, and Athabasca Falls and that sort of thing”.

“And we could ride the tramway up Whistler’s”, Kelly added.

I looked at Becca and said, “And then there’s Prince Albert National Park, where Krista and Steve live, and the Edmonton Folk Music Festival”.

Becca laughed; “You haven’t inflicted any miserable folk songs on me yet!” she said.

“Well, there’s still plenty of time!”

“We should see if anyone’s in town for a singaround Friday night”, Kelly suggested.

“Now there’s a good idea!”

“What’s a singaround?” Becca asked.

“We get a few musicians together”, Kelly explained, “sit them in a circle, and then we go round the circle, with people sharing their songs. Tom introduced us to the idea here, and we’ve got a good regular group now”.

“Owen and I used to go to them sometimes in Oxford”, I added. “Ours were mainly folk singarounds, but here we get lots of variety”.

“Well, it all sounds great”, Becca replied softly, sipping at her hot chocolate and looking out over our back yard. “You’ve got absolutely no idea how nice it is to sit out here with you two and have a relaxed conversation, with no emotional manipulation going on, and no one criticizing anyone or judging anyone”.

“Mum does her best, Becs”, I said.

“I know she does”.

We were quiet for a minute; I was looking at my sister and wondering what had happened to the little girl who used to sit drinking hot chocolate beside the Christmas tree with me. She was still gazing out reflectively over the back yard; “I like this house”, she said softly, “and especially this garden. What made you decide to move?”

“Well, we’ve wanted to buy our own place since we got married”, I replied, “but interest rates were high and we couldn’t really afford it, and then Kelly got sick and we had too much on our plate to even think about it. But this year, things were better”.

“I got a clean bill of health”, Kelly said with a grin.

“And I got my legacy from Grandma and Grandpa Masefield”, I added.

“Oh right”, said Becca; “mine’s still in a trust fund”.

“It just felt like a good time for a fresh start”, Kelly said. “1986 was a tough year for us, and we wanted to put it behind us and move on”.

“Ah”. Becca frowned thoughtfully, glanced at me, and then said to Kelly, “So you’d rather not talk about your…”

“About my cancer?”

Becca nodded; “Sorry, Kelly – I don’t want to upset you”.

“I’m not upset, and I don’t mind talking to you about it if you want me to”.

“It’s just that I feel bad about not doing a better job of keeping in touch with you last year when you were going through all that. I feel like I should have been writing and ringing you a lot more often that I did”.

“I know you had a lot going on in your life, too”, Kelly replied.

Becca shook her head dismissively. “Studying for my ‘A’-levels and going out with Peter? It hardly compares with what you were going through”. She hesitated, then said, “Were you scared, Kelly?”


“Was it – if you don’t mind me asking – fear of…?”

“Fear of dying? I guess there was some of that, although I don’t think I’m especially afraid of death. I didn’t want to leave my husband or my baby, that’s for sure”.

“I can’t even begin to imagine what it would be like to be told I had cancer; I think I would be terrified”.

“Yeah, I’d never imagined the possibility of it happening to me, either. Of course, we weren’t sure at first what it was – not until after I’d had my surgery, actually; until then, I was still thinking it might be ovarian cysts or diverticulitis. Owen was the one who first raised the possibility of dysgerminoma; I don’t know what we would have done if he hadn’t mentioned it. It’s thanks to him that we asked my gynaecologist if we could have an oncologist present when I went into the operating room”.

“I’d never heard of dysgerminoma before Tommy mentioned it on the phone”, Becca replied, “but then I went and looked it up. It’s pretty rare, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, all the statistics were against my having it; only one percent of ovarian cancers are dysgerminomas, and you only get them in both ovaries about ten percent of the time”.

Becca shook her head slowly. “Statistics are so cold and impersonal”, she said softly; “It’s different when you know someone who’s been through it”.

“I know”. Kelly gave a little smile; “Of course, when they put me under for the surgery, I was still hoping that the statistics were on my side”.

Becca stared at her for a moment, and then she said, “I am so dense sometimes! It’s only taken me over a year to notice the blindingly obvious – the fact that by the time you found out it was cancer, they’d already operated on you”.

Kelly nodded; “My ovaries and my uterus were already gone”, she replied softly.

“You knew that was a possibility, right?”

“We’d talked about it together, and we’d even given them permission to do what they thought was best. But somehow, in my heart, I’d never really believed it would happen. I just couldn’t bring myself to believe that at twenty-seven years old I would turn out to have a malignant cancer that would take away my ability to have any more children”.

“No wonder you went into a depression”, Becca said quietly.

Kelly took a sip of her hot chocolate, cupped her hands around the mug, and said, “I’d set my heart on having a big family, and it seemed totally unfair to me that I’d been robbed of that. And when I found out I had to go through chemo, I had to stop nursing Emma, and I really resented that”. She shrugged; “At that point, I think I just gave up. I did a lot of crying. I remember one time I woke up in the night crying uncontrollably; I was afraid of waking Tom and Emma, and I went out to the living room and just sat there and cried for half an hour. Eventually Tom found me, and of course he was very gentle and patient with me. But it was a very hard time for him, Becca; I know it now, and I still feel guilty about it”.

“There’s nothing for you to feel guilty about”, I said; “You were sore and scared and devastated by what had happened to you, but it wasn’t anyone’s fault; it just happened, that’s all, and we’ll never know why”.

Kelly smiled at Becca. “He was very patient with me”, she said; “I know I’d never have got through it if it wasn’t from him”.

“Not just me”, I replied; “There were a lot of people helping us”.

“That’s true”, Kelly conceded, “but for me, I know you were the one I leaned on the most”.

“What about your faith?” Becca asked hesitantly; “Did it help you at all?”

“Not when I was in the blackest part of my depression. At the beginning, before my surgery, I remember having a conversation with Tom about not wanting to rant at God, because I needed God to be with me, and I wanted to feel that he was with me through the whole thing. And I have to say that I never stopped believing in God, but I did wonder a lot of the time whether God cared about me, or whether he even noticed me. Of course, it completely escaped my attention that God cared about me so much he’d given me a kind and loving husband, who did everything that needed to be done without once getting impatient with me or telling me to snap out of it, or anything like that”.

“Okay, enough about me”, I said.

“It’s true, though”, Kelly replied.

I reached across and put my hand on hers; she looked at me questioningly for a moment, and then she gave me a little smile. “Don’t worry”, she said softly; “I’m okay”.

“Are you sure?”

“I am”.

“We don’t need to carry on if you’d rather not, Kelly”, Becca said.

Kelly shook her head; “You’re my sister”, she said, “and this is the first time we’ve really had a chance to talk about this. If I want to stop, I’ll tell you, okay?”

“Alright”. Becca drank some hot chocolate, cupped her hands around the mug, and said, “What’s it actually like to go through chemotherapy? Everyone says it makes you feel like shit”.

Kelly shrugged. “In my mind, it’s hard for me to separate it out from the depression I was in, which had already begun before I had my first treatment. Chemo does funny things to your brain, Becca; my memories of that time are a little confused, even today”. She glanced at me; “Feel free to jump in”, she said.

“There was a pattern”, I said. “We’d go down to Saskatoon for her injection once every three weeks, on Mondays, and she wouldn’t feel bad on Tuesdays, but then by Wednesday and Thursday she’d get horribly sick to her stomach, and totally exhausted”.

“That’s true”, Kelly agreed. “I started losing my hair almost immediately, and eventually I just cut it all off, which upset me because I loved having long hair. Of course, I knew all this was going to happen, but again a part of me had somehow refused to accept that it would. Fortunately for me my treatments started right when Tom’s school year was ending, so he and my mom basically took over everything at home for me. As the chemo went on I got a horribly sore mouth, and then it got ulcerated, and food tasted awful, even tea. And my bones ached, and my skin felt like things were crawling on it, and I got horribly dry, and my head was often confused”.

Becca looked at me; “It must have been awful for you to watch it happening”, she said.

“The worst thing was feeling so helpless”, I replied, looking at Kelly even though I was talking to Becca. “When someone you love so much is going through something like this, you want more than anything else to be able to rescue them from it, and of course I couldn’t do that. I did everything I could do – cooking, and housework, and looking after Emma, and trying to comfort Kelly and hold her and hug her and let her know I still loved her – but of course, I couldn’t protect her from what she was going through. I prayed a lot, and I have to say that it really helped; I did have a sense that God was helping me get through it all. And like I said, we had lots of help from people, too: Will and Sally, and Joe and Ellie, and Brenda, and Steve and Krista, and Pastor Rob and his wife Mandy – they were all amazing. But that sense of helplessness was absolutely the worst thing for me”.

Kelly put her hand on mine; “We got through it”, she said.

“We did”.

“Did your depression go away when you finished the chemo?” Becca asked.

“Actually, I got through the depression before the chemo was done”.


“It was the end of August last year”, Kelly said, “and Joe and Ellie came over with Jake one night; Ellie was still pregnant with Jenna at the time. After supper, Ellie and I were playing with the children, and Tom and Joe were out on the deck talking. Eventually Emma fell asleep, and Ellie was reading to Jake, and I wandered out to see what the guys were doing. They had the sliding door to the deck open, but the screen door was closed, and I was about to go out when I realized that they were talking about me”.

“Uh oh”.

Kelly shook her head; “No, it wasn’t like that. Joe had asked Tom how he and I were getting along, and Tom, bless him, didn’t say a word of blame, but at one point Joe said ‘Not quite the marriage you had in mind, though?’ and Tom said – and I’ll remember this until the day I die – he said, ‘I have to admit that I miss her; I miss her a lot’. And then I heard Joe telling Tom that I had basically shut him out of my life, and he was finding it really hard because I’d always been his best friend, ever since we were kids. And I stood there and listened to these two wonderful guys, both of whom I loved so much, and neither of them was condemning me, but they were both so sad because of me, and it suddenly hit me that it didn’t have to be that way; if I could just find a way to be a little less absorbed in what I was going through, and spend less time making excuses for myself and feeling sorry for myself, I could make their lives a lot better. So I decided to step out onto the deck and let them know I’d heard them, and I apologized and told them I was going to try to do better”.

“I don’t think you could have made that decision a couple of weeks before”, I said to Kelly; “I think you had to have a certain amount of distance from the surgery and the realization of what you had lost. I don’t think you should blame yourself for being so inward-focussed all summer; it just had to be, until you were ready to move on”.

Kelly smiled at Becca; “He’s trying to be kind to me”, she said, “but he doesn’t realize that he’s portraying me as a helpless victim of my circumstances, and the truth is that I didn’t start coming out of the darkness until I stopped thinking of myself that way”.

“We’ve had this argument a few times”, I said to Becca.

“Well, anyway”, Kelly said, “The chemo was still awful, and the depression still pulled me down sometimes, but gradually I discovered that I could fight the darkness, and the best way to do that was to keep busy thinking of other people and trying to do things for them, and to choose to stop making excuses for myself and feeling sorry for myself. I told myself that I was alive, and I had the best husband and the most supportive family in the world, and a beautiful little girl. And so I made it through the last few rounds of chemo, and by the time I was done, I was in much better emotional shape”.

“Did you feel better – physically, I mean – as soon as the chemo was finished?”

“No, it was gradual. Even now, I still get more tired that I used to. I don’t think there’s any going back”. She smiled ruefully; “Well, certainly not for my reproductive system”, she said.

“Her personality’s a little different, too”, I said.

“How?” Becca asked.

“She’s still an extrovert, but she’s quieter and more reflective, and she’s less apt to go looking for new friendships than she used to be”.

“It’s true”, Kelly agreed; “I find I’m wanting to spend as much time as I can with the people who are close to me, the people who I love the most. I can’t take anything for granted; cancer taught me that. I have to make every day count”.

“You’re amazing, Kelly”, Becca said, shaking her head.

“No, I’m really not – I’m just an ordinary girl who had to go through things no ordinary girl expects to have to go through”.

“But you did get through them”.

“In the end, although I still see myself as a cancer patient. Like I said, I don’t take anything for granted. One day at a time, and I’m thankful to God for every fresh sunrise”.

“Do you still get sad sometimes?”

Kelly nodded; “I do – usually when I see other women with new babies”.

“Do you think you might adopt?”

Kelly looked at me, and I looked at her, and I said, “The jury’s still out on that one”.

“He’d like to”, Kelly said, “but I don’t think I’d feel the same, and I’d rather help Ellie with Jake and Jenna, and make sure Emma grows up close to them”.

“The conversation’s ongoing”, I said.

Kelly shrugged; “That’s about all there is to say, Becca. I can’t really think of anything else except that I’m alive, and I’m grateful”.

Becca looked at her for a moment without speaking, and then she said, “Thanks for telling me all that; thanks for being so open and honest with me”. She grinned sheepishly; “I must admit that I really don’t know how you do it”, she added, shaking her head a little. “I don’t think I’d be able to just put everything out in the open like that, even with someone I really loved and trusted”.

Kelly grinned at me; “Sounds like someone else I know!” she said.

“But he doesn’t seem quite so shy any more”, Becca replied.

“He has come out of his shell quite a bit since I’ve known him”, Kelly agreed.

“You’ve had a good effect on me, I guess”, I said.

Becca stifled a yawn. “Well”, she said, “I think I should take my jet-lagged body off to bed”.

Kelly got to her feet, held out her arms and said, “Come here”.

Becca got up and went around the table, and they put their arms around each other and held each other close. “I’m so lucky to have you for my sister”, Kelly said softly, “and I still can’t believe you’d cut off your beautiful hair just so that I wouldn’t feel bad about having short hair. You’re the only one who’s done anything like that for me, Becca; thank you”.

“Like I said, it was the least I could do”.

“Well, I appreciate it”.

They were quiet for a moment, holding each other tight, and then they stepped back and smiled at each other. “Thank you again so much for letting me stay”, Becca said.

“We’re glad you’re here”, Kelly replied; “Don’t ever doubt that”.

“Thanks. Well, I think I’d better go and find my bed. Goodnight”.

“Goodnight”, we said together, and I added, “We won’t be long after you”.

She turned and went inside, and for a moment Kelly and I looked at each other. I held out my hand again, and she took it. “Are you really okay?” I asked.

“Yeah, I am, Tom”.

“It was hard for you to relive all that”.

“It was, but it was important to her; she wanted to understand”.

“You’re a very wise woman”, I said,

“Married to a very patient man”, she replied. “But now, my patient man, I need you to take me to bed, because I’m suddenly very weary”.

“Well then, if you’ll just take my arm, Mrs. Masefield, I’ll do my best to get you there in one piece”.

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 white-tailed 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 her 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 the photo of Owen, Wendy and me. “That’s Wendy Howard, right?” she said.

“Yes it is”.

“I haven’t heard of her for a long time; are you still in touch with her?”

“No; she moved to London about the same time as I came to Canada; I had one exchange of letters with her, and after that I didn’t hear again”.

She frowned; “I thought you were pretty good friends”.

“Yeah, me too, but she’s obviously moved on to new things, and there’s not much I can do about it”.

She smiled at me; “You’ve moved on to new things, too!” she said.

“Yes I have”, I agreed, “although that doesn’t mean I’ve abandoned everyone I knew before”.

She turned back to the photographs, pointing toward one of the old family pictures 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 1921”.

“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. “The couple in the middle are my Grandpa and Grandma Reimer, Dieter and Erika; the picture was taken on their wedding day, August 23rd 1921, 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 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 and little Michael in Prince Albert National Park. We had gone 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.

It was a warm evening in Jasper; 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. 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. “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 – 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; God knows I’ve done plenty of things I’m not proud of myself”.

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.

She stared at me for a moment, and then 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, it wasn’t like that. He knew I wasn’t wild about the idea, but I didn’t tell him he couldn’t. Afterwards, though, he knew I was upset”.

“Did you tell him that?”

“No, I tried to hide it, but I don’t think I did a very good job of it. Well, actually, I know I didn’t do a very good job of it”.

“What happened after that?” I asked.

“We slept together three or four times over the next few weeks, 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”. 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”.

“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 apologetically, “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.

She shook her head. “Not yet; thanks for listening, though”.

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

She was quiet for a minute, and then she said, “Tommy, Kelly’s an amazing person, you know”.

“I know she is”.

“I’ve never met anyone like her, she’s so gentle and honest and real. And after all she’s been through, to care about my pathetic love life the way she does…”

“I know what you mean”.

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

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

“Well, you would, wouldn’t you?” she said with a grin.

“If you’re accusing me of being in love…”.

“You got lucky, didn’t you?”

“Yes I did”.

She sighed, stretched her arms over her head, and said, “Okay, do you mind if we change the subject now?”

“Not at all; what do you want to talk about?”

“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 were away from Meadowvale for just over two weeks. In Jasper we took Becca down to the Columbia Icefields and showed her the glaciers; we did the spectacular boat trip to Spirit Island on Maligne Lake, and we walked Maligne Canyon with Emma riding in a child carrier backpack on my back. Becca and I did our hike up the Mount Edith Cavell trail, we all went canoeing at Pyramid Lake several times, and we rode the tramway up the side of Whistler’s Mountain and then hiked to the top, with me carrying Emma on my back once again. On our last full day in Jasper we drove west across the B.C. border to Mount Robson Provincial Park, where we 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 drove east to Edmonton, where we 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.

The next day, August 11th, we did the short drive home to Meadowvale; 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 are 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 is 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.

“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’d be okay with that”

“Right, then; I’ll let them know we’ll be coming”.

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. She also played me some of the tapes she had brought with her, and I was surprised to discover that although I didn’t really care for the Pogues or the Smiths, I rather liked Billy Bragg. “I’ll have to look out for some of his records”, I said; “Can you write me a list?”

“Absolutely; I think there’s just four, and I’ve got all of them”.

I grinned at her; “What does Dad think of him?” I asked.

She laughed out loud; “You don’t honestly think I’d play this sort of stuff in public when Dad’s around, do you? I usually just listen to it on my Walkman!”

Kelly and Becca continued their long conversations, 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 other 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”.


“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 fiercely. “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”.

Posted in Fiction, Meadowvale, Meadowvale (Revised) | Leave a comment

Meadowvale (revised): Chapter Twenty

I’ve gone through the ‘Meadowvale’ story and done a rewrite; I’m posting the revised chapters here at the rate of about two a week. The originals are still on this site (go to ‘Meadowvale’ in the sidebar) in case you want to compare! Enjoy!

On February 12th 1987, Kelly was officially declared cancer-free. By then Jake had a new baby sister, Jenna, born on November 30th; Krista had given birth to her first son Michael on December 2nd, and Emma was eating solid food and walking all over the place. In addition, I had received a legacy of approximately $10,000 from the estate of my Masefield grandparents, which we had used to put a down payment on a modest three-bedroomed house on the northwest corner of town. It was actually very similar to our rental house, but it had one additional feature that both Kelly and I were looking forward to: an open fireplace in the living room. The house was about thirty years old and in need of some work, but John Janzen had agreed to help us out – by which we meant, take the lead on the project, with us as his unskilled helpers. Our plan was to do some major renovations in March and April, and then move into the house in early May.

“We’re lucky to get John, you know”, Kelly said to me; “People say he’s already one of the best carpenters in Meadowvale”.

“You do have some very useful relatives”, I replied mischievously; “I did a very smart thing when I married you”.

“Yes, you did”, she said with a twinkle in her eye, “and I’m glad you recognize it!”

On the evening of February 12th, when we got back from our appointment with Dr. Smith, we went round to Will and Sally’s for a while and told them the good news. Sally called Joe and Ellie, and they came over to celebrate with us; Kelly also called Krista, who was now living in Waskesiu, where Steve was working as a wildlife biologist in Prince Albert National Park.

Later on after we had gone home and put Emma to bed I put one of my Nic Jones albums on the record player on low volume, and we made ourselves mugs of hot chocolate and sat on the couch in the living room with our feet up on the coffee table. Kelly had gained a little weight back since finishing her chemotherapy in November, and she also had about an inch and a half of hair on her head again, which she referred to as “my G.I. Joe haircut”. I put my arm around her, and she leaned back against my shoulder with a sigh. “Have I ever told you how comfortable you are?” she said softly.

“I think you may have mentioned it. Have I ever told you how beautiful you are?”

“Many times, and every time I’ve enjoyed hearing it”.

We both laughed, and then we sat quietly for a few minutes, sipping our hot chocolate and enjoying the closeness and warmth of each other.

“It’s been quite a ride, Tom”, she said eventually.

“Yes, it has”.

“It scares me now, to think how close I was to going under last summer”.

“Let’s not think about it; we got through it, and that’s all that matters”.

She shifted her body a little and looked up at me. “I still get sad sometimes”, she said.

“I know you do”.

“I kinda miss those body parts I lost, and this early-onset menopause business sucks big time”.

“I know”.

“But I am very thankful to be alive”, she said, “and to have you and Emma”.

I tightened my arm around her and kissed her on the top of her head. “And it looks like your hair will still be blond”, I said, “so I’ll still recognize you”.

“Well, that’s good; I wouldn’t want to be a stranger in my own home”.

We were quiet again for a few minutes, and then she said, “Tom, do you think we’re going to be okay financially?”

“I think so, if we’re careful. We can manage the mortgage payments and the extra work we need to do on the house, but we probably won’t be able to afford to make a trip to England this year”.

“Are you sad about that?”

“Maybe a little, but I don’t think about it very much. Why were you asking about the finances?”

“Because, if it’s okay with you, I’d rather not go back to work for a while yet”.

“I think that’s fine; like I said, I’m making enough to cover the expenses we can foresee, and I know you want to be with Emma as much as you can”.

“I really do; I feel like I got cheated out of a lot of my first year with her, and I want to make up for it now. I might see if I can work part time in the Fall, but for now, I’d just rather be home with her, and be able to help Ellie with the kids as well”.

“I think that’s a good idea”.

She grinned at me; “So you’re okay with me being a kept woman?”

“Well, I’m very glad that I get to keep you”.

She laid her head back down on my shoulder; “I’m glad about that, too”, she said.

We had resumed our tradition of Sunday night suppers with Joe and Ellie a couple of times a month, and of course, given that we now had three small children between us, those suppers were not the quiet affairs they had once been. Still, it was not uncommon for them to go late, and after the children had fallen asleep the four of us would often talk until nearly midnight. Joe was probably the deepest thinker of the four of us, and Kelly liked talking and discussing Bible passages with him.

Krista and Steve were now a little further away; it took about two hours and fifteen minutes to drive up to Waskesiu from Meadowvale, and given that Kelly and Krista both had small children, it tended not to be something either of them did for a day trip. However, Steve got most weekends off, so he often brought his little family down to Meadowvale on Saturdays, arriving in time for lunch and leaving again early on Sunday afternoons. When it came to finding a place to stay they had several options, of course, but Kelly especially enjoyed it when they came to us.

“So Doctor Janzen’s a full time mum now”, I said to Steve one afternoon as we were watching Krista and Kelly talking together while Krista nursed Michael and Emma sat on Kelly’s knee.

“Yeah; she’s told David she wouldn’t mind working with him again on a part-time basis after six months or so”. 

“Would that mean travelling to Saskatoon?”

“No; she won’t be doing any teaching for a while; she’ll be helping David with his policy work. The way they tend to do it is that he drafts material and then gives it to her; she comments on it, and adds extra stuff if she thinks it’s necessary. Of course, at the beginning of the process there’s usually a significant amount of reading and research to do, but David will handle the field work side of it until Michael’s a little older”.

“And if Michael gets a baby brother or sister sooner rather than later?”

Steve grinned; “Then we’ll be testing David’s patience”, he said, “although he’s a grandpa himself, so he knows how things go!”

I gradually realized that, even though she had managed to get through her depression and get her emotional life back onto an even keel, it was nevertheless true that cancer and chemotherapy had changed Kelly. She still loved being with people, but she wasn’t the bubbly extrovert I had married; she was quieter, and more content to stay in her circle of family and friends. She was less likely to want to go out in the evening, and happier to stay home with Emma and me. And if Emma went to sleep early, she was very happy to curl up on the corner of the couch and read a book, or to listen as I read to her. She had always enjoyed good poetry, and ever since the earliest days of our friendship she had been helping herself to novels and other books from my shelves, but now she was branching out a little more into areas of her own interest, including books about Anabaptist spirituality and Mennonite history.

One evening when we were sitting on the couch together having a cup of herbal tea after Emma had fallen asleep, I glanced at the book on the coffee table in front of me; it was called Czars, Soviets, and Mennonites. I picked it up and leafed through it; “What’s this about?” I asked.

“Mennonite history in Russia, especially during the revolution and afterwards”.

“That would be when your grandparents moved to Canada”.

She nodded; “I’ve always known that they went through a bad time after the Communists took over, but I’ve never really understood much about the details”. She took a sip of her tea; “You know how they talk about it; they say the Communists ‘didn’t like’ Mennonites, or Christians in general. But they’ve never gotten very specific about what that means – at least, not to Joe and Krista and me”.

“And you’re getting curious?”

“Yeah”. She was quiet for a moment, and then she said, “When Dad and Mom were kids, Sunday afternoon was when people would do their visiting; they’d go to church in the morning, and then for the rest of the day neighbours and relatives would get together to share meals or have coffee. Dad told me that after the meals, the kids would play or read and the adults would sit around and talk – in Low German, of course. We’re talking the nineteen-thirties and early nineteen-forties, when my grandparents were younger than Mom and Dad are now”.


“Dad remembers sitting in the living room at the old farm and hearing them all telling stories about Russia – the ones who had come over together, I mean – my Grandpa and Grandma, and Dad’s Uncle Helmut and Uncle Werner, and their other cousins and friends. He says he often heard them talking about people who’d been arrested, people who’d been killed or had just disappeared, or people they’d just lost touch with; after about 1930, it got a lot harder to communicate with people in the Soviet Union”.

“The communists were trying to control the flow of information?”

“They were”. She was quiet for a moment, and then she said, “There’s a German word that Dad remembers hearing over and over again in those conversations – ‘verschleppt’”.

“If I remember my German correctly, that means something like ‘snatched’ or ‘hauled away’ or ‘carted off’”.

“Yeah, that’s right”. She smiled at me; “I keep forgetting that you speak pretty good German”.

“My German’s a little different from the Low German your family speaks, though. So when they used that word ‘verschleppt’, they were talking about people being take away by the secret police?”

“Yeah. Dad told me he thinks there must have been hundreds of people who were lost in the years before his parents got out of Russia”.

“Have you ever asked your grandparents about it?”

She shook her head thoughtfully. “They’ve never volunteered any information, and I’ve been shy to ask”.

I looked at her for a moment as she sipped at her tea, a faraway look in her eyes. “What’s got you interested in this?” I asked

“I’m not sure I know how to answer that”, she said, and then she frowned thoughtfully, looked back at me, and said, “Maybe I’m looking for ways to be strong”.

I put my hand on hers; “I’ve been really careful about using that word with you since that day in Doctor Smith’s office, when he talked about you being a ‘strong person’”.

“Yeah”. She was quiet for a moment, sipping at her tea, and then she said, “I didn’t feel very strong, and to be honest, I still don’t, even though I’ve come through the worst of it. But my grandparents were strong people; I don’t know if they felt strong, but somehow they got through it all and they made it here, and now I’m here, thanks to them”.

“And you want to be like them”.

She gave me a sheepish grin; “It sounds kind of cheesy when you spell it out, doesn’t it?”

“No, not at all”.

“Really? Do you really think that, or are you just being nice to me? That’s a genuine question, by the way – sometimes I still feel as if my brain’s been scrambled by the chemo, and I wonder if the way I’m seeing things is really the way they are”.

I squeezed her hand. “Your grandparents are outstanding people, Kelly; I know you’ve always admired them and been proud of them. I wish I had role models like them in my family”.

She smiled; “I’ll share them with you if you like. After all, you’re in the Wiens and Reimer family trees now”.

“I guess I am”. I frowned and said, “I wonder how many people they left behind?”

“Brothers and sisters, you mean?”


“I’m not sure; they’ve never spelled that out for me. Mom’s parents came over with Grandpa Wiens’ mom and dad and two other siblings, but I don’t know how big their family was to start off with. I know Grandpa and Grandma Reimer had two of grandpa’s brothers with them; Helmut was already married when he got here, and Werner got married soon afterwards”. She shrugged; “Again, I don’t know how many siblings they left behind, or what happened to them, or whether their parents were still alive when they left”.

“Are you going to ask them?”

“Yeah, I think I am. With Grandma Reimer, I think we’re close enough that I can just initiate a conversation with her about it. With Grandma and Grandpa Wiens, maybe I’ll talk to Mom first”.

“I like this plan”.

“Do you?”

“Yes. Quite apart from what you want to get out of it for yourself, one day in the future Emma’s going to be asking questions about this, and I think we should have some answers ready for her”.

She looked at me steadily for a moment, and then she leaned forward and kissed me gently on the cheek. “Thank you, Tom”, she said quietly.

“You’re welcome”, I replied.

She called her Grandma Reimer a couple of days later, told her that she wanted to ask her some questions about Russia, and asked her if she’d be willing to come over and have a conversation with us. The old lady agreed, but when Kelly mentioned that she was going to ask her Wiens grandparents as well, Mrs. Reimer suggested that we let her talk to them first. “Maybe they’ll come over with me”, she said to Kelly; “It might be easier for them”.

“Is there a problem, Oma?” Kelly asked, using the old German word for ‘Grandma’.

“Maybe, maybe not. I should let them tell you, if they want to. It’s been a long time, Kelly; they might be okay”.

“Should I just leave it?”

“No, I’ll ask them if you want me to”.

“There were three things”, Sally’s father said, as he sat at our kitchen table with a mug of tea cradled in his hands. “First, the civil war, and the bandits, and Nestor Machno and his men. Next, the famine. And then, the new government arresting people and taking away their land and all they had and leaving them with nothing”.

“Don’t forget the German army”, his wife replied softly; “They came first”.

“That’s right”, the old man said, his eyes far away; “I’d forgotten about that. I guess with all that came after…”

It was a cold Sunday afternoon in late February; Kelly had put Emma down for a nap, and Will had picked up his mother and Sally’s parents and driven them over to our place for tea and conversation around the kitchen table. Will’s mother Erika Reimer was in her eighty-sixth year now, and she was beginning to look frail, but her mind was still as sharp as a tack, and I knew her well enough to watch for the slow smile and the twinkle in her eye that meant I was about to be teased. She had been using a walking stick for a couple of years now, but she still enjoyed dressing in faded jeans and check shirts, and in fact she looked quite a bit younger than Karl and Anna Wiens, Sally’s parents, even though Karl was two years younger than her, and Anna was younger still. As always, they were dressed in the old style, Anna wearing an old-fashioned print dress with her hair in a bun, Karl in black trousers and suspenders, with a thick white beard and no moustache.

“You should start at the beginning, Karl”, said Erika; “the kids won’t understand if you start in the middle”.

He nodded; “I guess you’re right”, he said. He sat back in his chair and looked at Kelly; “Our family owned a lot of land”, he said. “We were too rich for our own good, maybe. Our farm was in the Schoenfeld area, east of the original village of Chortitza. We had about a thousand acres, much more than I ever farmed here. It was good land too, and we had lots of labourers working for us. I was the oldest son; I was born in 1902, so I was only twelve when the war started, not like your Grandpa Reimer’s older brothers, who did military service”.

“Military service?” Kelly replied.

“A lot of Mennonite boys were allowed to do alternative military service”, Erika explained. “Your Grandpa had three older brothers and a brother in law who served as medics, although he was too young himself. And one of his brothers was an engineer in the army”. She looked down at the table; “Not everyone stuck to our teachings about war and peace”, she said.

“It was a hard time”, Karl said quietly; “The country was at war with Germany, but we Mennonites had German names and we spoke Low German, and so people were suspicious of us. That went on afterwards, too, when the Communists took over; they called us traitors, as well as kulaks”.

“You’re getting ahead of yourself again, Karl”, Erika said.

He smiled at her; “My memory doesn’t go in a straight line any more”, he said.

“Kelly told me that the Mennonites had been in Russia for over a century”, I said.

“Yeah”, Erika replied, “since about 1780. At first they were exempt from any military service, but then in 1870 the law was changed. That’s when the first group left and came to America and Canada, but most stayed; they negotiated with the government to be allowed to do alternative service”.

“Getting back to Grandpa Reimer’s brothers”, Kelly said to her; “Who were the ones who worked as medics?”

“Heinrich Konrad, who married Dieter’s older sister Gertrude, and Dieter’s brothers Helmut, Johann, and Werner”.

“I don’t remember hearing about a Heinrich Konrad”, Kelly said.

“He was killed by bandits in 1920, along with his two oldest daughters”, Erika replied, looking steadily at Kelly. “They were also raped before they were murdered. His wife and her two youngest children died of typhus in 1921”.

Kelly was quiet for a moment, and then she asked, “Was anyone left from that family?”

“A son, Thomas, our nephew. He was born in 1912, so he was nine when his mother died. He went to live with his uncle Johann and his wife Lena. They also took in Abraham Reimer, another nephew of Dieter’s who lost his whole family. Johann and Lena looked after him for a while, but after the Fall of 1927 we didn’t hear from any of them for about five years; they were taken to Siberia”.


“A lot of people were disappearing at that time. When the Communists disenfranchised you for being too rich, they took all your possessions and your land and distributed them to everyone else in the community. Then they branded you as an enemy, a ‘kulak’, and if anyone helped you, they could be arrested and imprisoned as well. People were literally left on the street, with nowhere to turn to and no one to help. People starved to death. And eventually, people were sent away to Siberia. We had no idea what happened to them”.

I looked at her for a moment, and then I spoke quietly. “It sounds as if you know this from experience, Oma”, I said.

She nodded slowly. “My father and mother, and Dieter’s father and mother – they were disenfranchised. My parents died in the typhus epidemic in the early 1920s. My father-in-law died of starvation in 1922. My mother-in-law survived, and she came to Canada with us in 1924”.

Kelly stared at her, and then she turned and looked at her father. “You knew?” she whispered.


“You never told me”.

“No”. He sat forward in his chair, put his elbows on the table, and said, “Kelly, you know that I’m not given to flights of fanciful rhetoric, but there is a river of blood and an ocean of tears bound up with the story of our two families and the Russian revolution. Mom and Dad hardly  ever talked about it with me, and I already know more than I want to know. Are you sure you want to go on with this?”

Kelly looked at him for a moment, and then she turned to Sally’s parents. “What happened to your families?” she asked.

“Have you ever heard of Nestor Machno?” Karl said.


“He was a Russian anarchist with a huge army. They rode around the country, terrorizing Mennonite farms and estates. Like I said, we were probably too rich for our own good. I have no idea how much my father paid our Russian workers, but I’m sure it wasn’t anything like what we were living on. The Russian peasants were angry, and the law was collapsing everywhere, so they raped and burned and murdered and looted all over the country. Machno and his army came to Chortitza in the Fall of 1919 and occupied the place for two months, killing whoever they wanted, raping whoever they wanted, and taking whatever they wanted”.

“Your parents?” I asked.

“No, thank God – they survived and came with us to Saskatchewan in 1924, and died in peace a few years later. But I lost a sister and a brother. My sister Sarah was raped and killed; she was fifteen. And my brother Johannes was beaten to death when he tried to protect her; he was twelve”.

“Oh my God”, I whispered.

“You should not take the name of the Lord in vain, Tom Masefield”, Anna said quietly.

“I’m sorry”, I replied; “I never suspected it had touched you so closely”.

“I lost my grandparents and my brother and sister”, Karl said. “Anna lost her parents, and two uncles and an aunt, two sisters and a brother-in-law. Some from bandits, some from starvation, one was taken away. And we don’t know about some others; like Erika says, we lost touch with most them after we came to Canada. We hear occasionally from my nephew and niece, Cornelius and Sarah Dueck, the children of my sister Margaret; they’ve lived for years in Ulan Bator in eastern Siberia. They’re the only members of my family we have any contact with”.

“So you lost eleven people on your side of the family”, Kelly said.

“I guess, though we don’t really count, because like I said, some we don’t know”.

“What about you, Oma?” Kelly asked Erika.

“Like Karl says, it depends how you count. Machno’s anarchists brought typhus to Chortitza – do we count people who died of typhus, or starvation?”

“Why did they starve?” I asked.

“Because the war and the Communist takeover destroyed the farm economy. There was just nothing to eat”. She shrugged; “If you include those, then it would be my parents, and Dieter’s father. Then Dieter’s oldest brother Cornelius was killed at the front in 1915, and his wife Anna died of starvation in 1923. They had six children; only Abraham survived, the one who Johann and Lena took in”.

She was quiet for a moment, and I could see that she was remembering. “Next came Gertrude, Dieter’s sister”, she said; “She married Heinrich Konrad, like I said, the one who was killed by the bandits along with his two daughters in 1920, and Gertrude and her two youngest children died of typhus in 1923. What’s that so far – fourteen?”

“I think so”, Kelly whispered.

“Like I said, Johann and Lena had five children, and one died of malnutrition in 1923, but when we left in 1924, the rest were still alive, and Johann was working as a hospital orderly. But after they were taken to Siberia in 1927 their daughter Anastasia froze to death. Then there was Dieter’s sister Aganetha; she married a guy who was killed in action in 1916, and she was murdered by Machno’s men along with her sister Helena. And me, I had two brothers taken by the police, and a sister and a brother died of starvation, and two nephews as well”.

I had been counting on my fingers. “Twenty-four”, I whispered.

“How on earth did you get through it all?” Kelly asked.

“We only had God to help us”, Erika replied; “Who else was there to turn to? All we could do was pray”.

“But it must have been tough to hang on to God, when so many prayed, but still died?”

“Yes”, Karl replied softly; “Some people gave up on God. And many young men gave up on peace; they armed themselves and fought to protect themselves from Machno and his men”.

“That’s understandable”, I said.

“Yeah, but lots of their weapons came from the German army”, Erika replied; “That did not make them popular with the Communists and the peasants, who all hated the Germans”.

“The Germans gave them guns?”

“The Germans left a lot of weapons behind when they left the Ukraine at the end of the war”.

“So it was accidental?”

Erika shrugged; “Who knows?” she said.

“Are you in touch with anyone from your side of the family, Oma?”

Erika nodded; “I hear from Justina Wiebe occasionally; she’s the daughter of Abraham Reimer, who was taken in by Johann and Lena. She tells me that they were killed in a bombing raid in the Ukraine during the German invasion in World War Two. Her husband is a schoolteacher and they live in Zaporozhia, not far from our old home in Chortitza. They have two married sons. And then there was Thomas Konrad; he kept in touch with me until he died in 1983. He lived in Omsk, in southern Siberia. He has two children; one of them was in the Russian air force for a long time, but now he flies airliners for Aeroflot. I hear from him occasionally; his name is Nikolai, and he and his family live in Moscow”.

“They must have had a hard life under communism”.

“Some of them have. Not all of them are Christians, and the ones who are Christians don’t say very much about what they go through; I get the sense they’re afraid of censorship”.

Kelly put her hand on Erika’s. “Can I ask you a hard question?” she asked.

The old lady smiled; “They’ve all been hard questions”, she said.

“I know”.

“What is it, then?”

“Do you ever wonder why?”

“Of course I do. But then I remember that God never promised us it would be easy. Jesus told us we would have trouble if we followed him. Christians are baptized in water, but there’s also a baptism of blood; it’s just what happens when we take up our cross and follow Jesus. And we Mennonites have been suffering right from the start; we were always the defenceless Christians”.

“Your faith wasn’t threatened at all?” I asked.

“I didn’t say my faith wasn’t threatened, Tom”, she replied quietly. “I had times of doubts and times of anger against God. But I never felt he’d lied to me. And you know, we all grew up hearing stories of the old Anabaptists who were killed for their faith, so I guess you could say we were ready for it. Although that would only be half true; I don’t know if you’re ever really ready for the sort of thing we went through. And in the end, the Communists didn’t win”.

“What do you mean?” Kelly asked.

“They wanted to make us turn away from the Lord”, the old lady replied quietly, “but we didn’t”.


“But you”, she said to Kelly, “You had a worse baptism of suffering than we did”.

“How do you figure that?”

“Our suffering came mainly from the wickedness of man, not from God. But yours came from a disease, and a rare one, that hardly ever affects young women. My faith has a harder time with deadly diseases than with human cruelty and murder; I understand why God doesn’t interfere with man’s free will, but why doesn’t he protect us from these diseases? I often struggle with that. If I were finding it hard to hang on to my faith, I think I would find your suffering more of a challenge than ours”.

Kelly shook her head slowly; “You can say that, when you lost twenty-four members of your immediate family?”

“Yes. I’ve always taken comfort in the thought that they’re safe with the Lord where the cruelty of men can’t touch them any more. And my husband is with them now, too, so he hasn’t lost them. And one day, before too long, I’ll see them again”.

They looked at each other for a moment, and as I watched them I could almost see the bond between them: I knew that Kelly loved all of her grandparents dearly, but she was especially close to this feisty old lady. Eventually she spoke in a quiet voice; “And if I had died of my cancer?” she said.

Erika nodded slowly; “Yes”, she replied softly.

Kelly looked at her for a moment, and then leaned forward and put her arms around the old lady. For a moment the two of them held each other in silence, and then from down the hallway I heard the sound of a whimper.

“Sounds like my baby’s waking up”, Kelly said, releasing her grandmother and surreptitiously wiping a tear from her eye.

“I’ll go”, Will said, getting to his feet with a smile; “If that’s okay?” he added.

“Sure”, Kelly replied; “Thanks, Dad”.

As Will went down the hallway to Emma’s room Kelly smiled at her three grandparents and said, “Thank you”.

“Are you sure you want to thank us?” Anna replied softly.

Kelly nodded. “Truly”, she said; “I know it must have been hard for you to talk about it”.

“We didn’t like talking about it for years”, Karl replied, looking down into his empty tea cup, “but it’s okay now. It’s hard to believe it’s fifty-three years this summer that we came to Canada. Sometimes it seems like a long time ago, but sometimes it just seems like yesterday”.

Anna laughed gently. “Look at your white hair and wrinkles in the mirror, old man!” she said; “It’s not just yesterday!”

We laughed, and then Kelly spoke hesitantly. “Would you mind if I wrote a few things down?” she asked.

“What things?” Karl replied.

“Names. I’ll never remember all the names you’ve told me today, and I don’t want to forget them. One day I want to tell Emma about them”.

The three old people looked at each other for a moment, and then Erika put her hand on Kelly’s again; “I think that would be fine”, she said.

So Kelly started making notes. She spent time individually with her Grandma Reimer and her Wiens grandparents, carefully writing down all the names they told her and all the information they remembered about the people they mentioned. They showed her the letters they had received over the years from relatives who still lived in Russia, and she included some of the information from those letters in her notes. She found a map of the old Chortitza settlement and located the communities her grandparents had lived in, and she had copies made of some of the old photographs they showed her, including Erika and Dieter’s wedding picture which included several of the family members they had mentioned.

When she showed the notes to me a couple of weeks later, I noticed that some of the names were starred. “Who are these?” I asked.

“The unknowns”, she replied.

“The unknowns?”

“I know that some people died before my grandparents came here, and I know some people came here with them. We know what happened to some of the ones who were left behind, but not all of them; the unknowns are the ones we don’t know about”.

“Right. So why have you starred them?”

“Who knows? The world may change one day, and if it does…”

“You might be able to find out more”.

She nodded; “Yes”, she replied.

A few nights later, when we were sharing a cup of herbal tea in the kitchen before going to bed, she said, “You need to start visiting Mrs. Robinson again”.

“I probably should”, I agreed; “I kind of got out of the habit while you were sick”.

“Well, I’m not sick any more”, she said, “and she’s not getting any younger. And she obviously likes you”.

“I think she likes you, too”.

“I know she does, but you’re English, and you’re like a voice from home for her. She likes making you tea in the old English way. Do you know she’s going to be eighty-two this year?”

“No, I didn’t; was Ruth telling you that?”


“Well, she seems to be doing pretty well, apart from her hearing”.

“Do you think maybe we should invite her over for a meal some time?”

“If you think it wouldn’t be too noisy and chaotic for her with Emma around”.

“Well, she is a great-grandmother”.

“Yes, I know, but some people find it harder to deal with little kids as they get older”.

“Well, why don’t you ask her some time, and see what she says?”

“I’ll do that”. I smiled at her and put my hand on hers.

All through the winter Becca had been busy at her sixth form studies, but also, according to my mother, she had been spending a lot of time with her boyfriend, Peter Davies. She still wrote to us about once a month, and in one of her letters she sent us a few photographs of her and Peter together. He was taller than her, with curly hair and a boyish grin, and according to my mother they were quite taken with each other. Kelly made sure that my mother and Becca had regular photographs of Emma as she grew, and she had also sent them a couple of shots of herself with her short hair. I was actually a little surprised at this; most of the time, she still wore a ball cap, even though her hair was growing back, and I knew she missed her long hair and didn’t really like having her photograph taken without it. “Better get used to it, though”, she said to me once with a rueful grin; “At half an inch a month, it’s going to be about four years before it’s as long as it used to be”.

In March and April we were busy with John Janzen at the new house, and we spent most of our free time working over there, so it took a while for us to notice that we weren’t hearing from Becca quite so often. Kelly was feeling a lot stronger by then, but she still got tired more easily than before, and when we came home after two or three hours’ work in an evening, it was usually all she could do to keep her eyes open long enough for us to pray together before she fell asleep. Of course, I still brought schoolwork home in the evenings as well, so we were busy most of the time and the days seemed to flash past. On Saturdays Joe and Will often came over to the house to help us; Will liked to joke that he had been born on a farm with a hammer in his hand, and Joe would grin and say, “But you dropped it real soon, didn’t you?” Sometimes Hugo and his son-in-law John Rempel came to help us out as well; our house was rapidly becoming a Reimer family project, and I was grateful for all they were doing. I had rarely done that kind of work before, but I was surprised to find that I was having fun; John Janzen was a good and patient teacher, and I enjoyed his company.

One Sunday toward the end of April we came home from church and had lunch, and then I said to Kelly, “Do you mind if I have a lie down for twenty minutes or so? For some reason I’m feeling pretty tired today”.

She shook her head; “No, that’s fine; I’ll read to Emma and keep her occupied for a while. Do you want to go out to the lake when you get up?”

“Sure; that’d be fine”.

I fell asleep almost as soon as my head hit the pillow, and it seemed no time at all before I heard the phone ring. A moment later Kelly slipped into the room, kissed me on the forehead, and said, “Sorry – it’s your mom”.

I opened my eyes, rolled over and sat up, and said, “Is everything alright?”

“I think so. Would you like me to make you a cup of coffee?”

“Would you? That would be fantastic”.

I got to my feet, stretching my back, and followed her down the hallway to the living room. Emma was lying on the rug on her belly, playing with a farm animal set; I stooped down and gave her a kiss, and then I picked up the phone and said, “Hi Mum”.

“Hello Tom; sorry to wake you”.

“That’s fine”, I replied, sitting down and glancing at my watch; “I was just about to get up anyway. We’ve been doing a lot of work at the house, and I was just feeling a little weary after church”.

“Is it going well at the house?”

“Yeah, I think we’re on schedule. We want to have it all ready by the end of the month so that we can start moving in there”.

“You must be looking forward to that”.

“We are. How about you; how are things with you?”

“I’m very well, thank you”.

“How’s my little nephew; is he crawling all over the place?”

“Oh, he’s a busy boy, all right, and he keeps his mother busy too”.

“And Becca? We don’t seem to hear as much from her these days”.

There was silence for a moment, and then she lowered her voice and said, “Something’s going on there, Tom, and I’m not quite sure what it is”.

“Something wrong? I assumed she was just busy studying for ‘A’-levels?”

“Well, I’m sure that’s true, but something’s not right between her and Peter”.

“How do you mean? Has she said anything to you?”

She laughed grimly. “Oh, please: she’s a sixteen year old girl, and I’m her fifty-five year old mother; there are some things she’s not going to talk to me about!”

“I suppose”. Out in the kitchen I could hear Kelly grinding coffee, and a moment later she came back into the living room and dropped down onto the rug beside Emma.

“She seems unhappy”, my mother continued; “When she first started going out with Peter she was really happy about it, but now she seems almost depressed. I’ve got no idea what’s going on”.

“They haven’t broken up?”

“I don’t think so – if they have, she hasn’t told me. But I’m worried; she’s got to do well over the next year or so if she’s going to get three good ‘A’-levels and get into a good university”.

“She’s still got her heart set on becoming a doctor?”

“As far as I know”. She hesitated, and then said, “Perhaps you could talk to her some time? I know she really looks up to you”.

“That’s true, Mum, but if it’s girl stuff…”

Kelly looked at me quizzically, and I mouthed the words “Becca – boy trouble”. She nodded and pointed to the speakerphone button.

“Mum”, I said, “do you mind if I put you on speakerphone so that Kelly can hear what we’re saying?”

“No, of course not”.

I pushed the speakerphone button and asked her to repeat what she had said to me. When she was finished, Kelly frowned and said, “We’ve been so busy, we didn’t notice at first that she hadn’t written to us in a while. I’ve been at fault there, too – I let it slide. Maybe I’ll write to her, Irene, and make a point of writing every week, whether I hear back from her or not”.

“Would you mind, Kelly? I know she really looks up to you, too”.

“No, of course I wouldn’t mind”. She glanced at me, and then said, “Irene, what do you think of the idea of her coming over to spend a few weeks with us this summer?”

For a moment my mother didn’t reply, and then she said, “If she’d agree to it, I think it would probably be a good thing; she loved Meadowvale when we were there. But I don’t know if she would agree to it; she’s so taken up with Peter…”

“Do you mind if I mention the possibility when I write to her?”

“No, I don’t mind”.

“Okay; I’ll write to her tonight, Irene”.

“Thank you”. My mother was quiet for a moment, and then she said, “I miss you both so very much. Are you well, Kelly?”

“I feel pretty good most of the time. I still get tired quicker than I’d like to, especially after we’ve been working for two or three hours at the house. But I’m almost back to the weight I was before I got sick, and I’ve even got about two inches of hair back on my head now, so I don’t look like an inmate in a concentration camp any more”.

“So you’re eating well?”

“I am, especially when Tom cooks for me; he was already a good cook when we got married, but he got to be quite an expert while I was sick”.

My mother laughed; “Well, he’s doing better than his father”, she said. “Frank can boil an egg and make a cup of tea, but I think that’s about it!”

“Yeah, Tom’s a little further on than that!” Kelly replied with a grin.

“Well, children, I should let you go”, my mother said.

“It’s good to hear your voice”, Kelly said; “I’ll get busy writing to Becca”.

“Thank you so much. I love you both; give my love to Emma. ‘Bye for now”.

So Kelly started writing once a week to Becca, whether or not she heard back; I wrote as well, and after a month or so we began to get short replies. Becca didn’t say anything about her relationship with Peter, and she didn’t respond to Kelly’s suggestion that she should come to visit us for a few weeks in the summer. She talked about her studies, her friends, her swimming and gymnastics, and her frustration at my father’s continuing attempts to control her life. When we read her letters, Kelly looked at me and said, “There’s a big hole here”.


“Yeah. When we started to go out, and you wrote to your mom or Owen, did you mention me?”

“Of course I did”.

“Right. Well, she’s been going out with this boy since last June, and he doesn’t even rate a single mention in her letters? That can’t be right”.

“There’s something else, too”, I said.


“I can’t really put my finger on it, except to say that Mum’s right – she sounds depressed. I mean, Becs can be moody, but she’s usually got her upbeat side, too. That’s not coming through”.

“No, I think you’re right”.

In early May we were busy moving, and by the middle of the month we had emptied the rental house that we had lived in since our wedding, and that Kelly had lived in for a year before that. When it was all emptied and cleaned, we stood together in the living room, looking at the bare walls and thinking of all the memories we had made in that house.

“Our first home…” Kelly said wistfully.

“I know”.

She wandered down the corridor to the empty master bedroom; I followed her, and I put my arm around her as she stood in the middle of the floor. “Do you remember how we lay awake and talked that first night, over at your old place?” she said.

“I do. That was a wonderful night”.

“It was”, she replied mischievously, “and it was followed by many more while we were busy making Emma”. We laughed, and I felt her hand on my back; “We’ve had the happiest times and the hardest times in this house”, she said softly.

“That’s true”.

She turned to me, lifted her face to mine, and kissed me. “Thank you for asking me”, she whispered.

“Thank you for saying yes”, I replied.

We held each other close for a long moment, and then she said, “Okay – time for us to move on to the next chapter”.

By early June the weather was warm and the days were long. We were moved into our new place, but we still had a few jobs left to do, and most evenings we spent an hour or so putting up shelves, or working on the den in the basement. We were talking about the summer, too; Kelly was planning to go back to work part time in September, and she wanted to make the most of the warm days. “Let’s go camping as much as we can”, she said; “We can go to Waskesiu and spend some time with Steve and Krista, and then go up to the mountains again”.

“I don’t think Emma’s quite ready for the Edith Cavell Meadows trail yet”.

She smiled; “Maybe not, but there’s still lots she can enjoy”.

“Sounds like a fantastic plan, Kelly”, I said, “and there’s something else, too. I hear they’ve got a really good folk music festival in Edmonton on the second weekend in August”.

She laughed; “I can see where this conversation’s going!” she said.

“What do you think?”

I saw the delight in her eyes as she smiled at me; “A weekend listening to folk music with my husband? What’s not to like?”

Old Joanna Robinson had been admitted to hospital with a bad chest infection toward the end of May. I went up to visit her a few times, and on one occasion I met her son Sam and her daughter Shirley, who were sitting with her when I arrived. I realized as soon as I was introduced to him that I had seen Sam Robinson having coffee in the Travellers a few times; like many Meadowvale farmers he was strongly-built, with broad shoulders and big hands, but he was also soft-spoken and a little shy. “Ruth told us you’d been keeping an eye on Mom sometimes”, he said to me quietly; “We appreciate that”.

“It’s no trouble”, I replied; “She was just a three-minute walk from our old place, and even now we’ve moved, I’m guessing it’s about seven or eight minutes. And you know, Kelly likes to keep tabs on the old folks of Meadowvale”.

“Right, you married Kelly Reimer, didn’t you?” He frowned; “How’s she doing?” he asked hesitantly. “We heard…”

“She’s doing a lot better, thanks. As of February 12th, she’s cancer-free”.

“Well!” he said with a grin, “That’s good news! You must be very happy!”

I’m certainly very happy!” old Joanna said from her bed; “Kelly has been very good to me, you know!”

“She told me to ask you about coming over for a meal at our place when you’re feeling better”, I said. “You know we always enjoyed visiting with you, but of course, we’ve got Emma now, and she can be a bit noisy sometimes, so if you’d rather not…”

The old lady shook her head vigorously. “Nonsense!” she said; “Do you know how many great-grandchildren I’ve got, Mr. Masefield?”

“I did know once”, I replied, winking at Sam and Shirley, “but I might have lost track. Eight, was it?”

“Ten!” she replied triumphantly, with a broad smile on her wrinkled face; “Fourteen grandchildren and ten great-grandchildren! And I love it when my great-grandchildren come to visit me. The nice thing about being hard of hearing”, she added with a twinkle in her eye, “is that I can’t usually tell when they’re being really noisy!”

“Especially when you’ve got the television turned up loud”, I replied mischievously.

She laughed and wagged her finger at me reproachfully; “You shouldn’t make fun of an old lady, you know!” she said.

“Oh, I’m sure if the tables were turned, you’d make fun of me!”

She laughed again, and then she began to cough. After a moment Shirley went to her, lifted her shoulders on the bed a little, and helped her raise a glass of water to her lips. Joanna took a few sips, and gradually her coughing subsided. Eventually she nodded, and her daughter gently lowered her onto the pillow again.

“It might be a while before she’s well enough to come over for a meal”, Shirley said to me. 

“Whenever you feel up to it”, I said to Joanna.

She smiled at me again; “I will very much look forward to that”, she said. “And you tell Kelly that if she has time, would she please bring her little girl up and visit with me? I’d very much enjoy it. Not a long visit, you understand?” she added apologetically; “I’m afraid I’ve been getting tired very easily since I came into hospital, Mr. Masefield”.

“That just shows that your body’s working hard to fight the infection”, I replied. “But I’ll certainly pass your message on to Kelly, and I know she’ll want to come up and see you”.

Kelly took Emma up to visit Joanna twice over the next two weeks, and I took to slipping up to the hospital a couple of times a week in the evenings, toward the end of visiting hours when she was usually alone. I had discovered that the old lady liked it when I read to her; she was quite fond of poetry, especially First World War poets like Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen, and she also enjoyed the well-known English poets like Wordsworth, Tennyson, and Coleridge.

“What about John Clare?” I asked her one night; “Have you come across him?”

“I think so”, she replied, lying with her head on the pillow and her face turned toward me, “but I don’t remember anything about him, or his poetry”.

  “He was born not too far from you, back in 1793, in a village called Helpston, just north of Peterborough”.

“Oh, well, that is close to me, then”, she replied with a smile. “Helpston’s only about six or seven miles from Bramthorpe!”

“Yes, I thought you’d know of it. John Clare was actually the son of a farm labourer, but he was lucky enough to go to the church school until he was twelve, so he did learn to read. He worked as a farm labourer too, but he started reading poetry as a young man and eventually began to write poems of his own”.

“What are they like?” she asked.

“A lot of them are about the rural landscape; he had a keen eye and he was good at description, although you can hear some of his old fashioned country idiom coming through. I don’t mind that, actually; it adds to the appeal, for me. But then, I love traditional folk songs, too”.

“Do you? My husband used to sing old songs sometimes; I wonder if you would know any of the songs he knew?”

“Maybe, although there are probably hundreds that I don’t know! When you get better and you come over to our place, I’ll sing you a few and see if you recognize any of them”.

“Would you? I would really like that. Do you play the piano, or sing them unaccompanied, or what?”

“I play the guitar, actually; since the 1950s a lot of people have been playing old folk songs like that, back in the old country”.

“Really?” She smiled again; “Well, the world has changed a lot since I was a girl, Mr. Masefield”.

I closed the volume of Coleridge I had been reading to her, and said, “You know, Mrs. Robinson, I understand all about formality, and of course I approve of it, but the only people in Meadowvale who call me ‘Mr. Masefield’ are my students at the school. It’s up to you, but I think you and I have become good friends, and if you want to call me ‘Tom’, I’d be alright with that”.

For a moment she didn’t reply, and then she spoke quietly. “I know a lot of people think I’m too old-fashioned…”, she said.

I shook my head vigorously. “I don’t mind old-fashioned”, I replied; “In fact, I approve of it. But you’re in your eighties, and I’ve just turned twenty-nine, so it feels right for me to call you ‘Mrs. Robinson’, but it feels strange for you to call me ‘Mr. Masefield’. But that’s just me, and if you want to keep on doing it, I’m fine with that, too”.

“You’d like it if I called you ‘Tom’, though, wouldn’t you?”

“I would. And you always call Kelly by her first name”.

“Well, yes; I’ve known her since she was a little girl, you know!”

“I understand that”.

She reached out slowly and put her hand on my arm. “You and Kelly have been very good to me over the past couple of years”, she said; “It’s not as if we were close relatives or anything, but I know you’ve been keeping an eye on me”.

“Well, Kelly and Ruth are good friends, you know”.

“I know that”. She nodded slowly; “Very well – ‘Tom’ it will be, and I’ll try not to forget and slip back into my old formal ways!”

“Good”, I replied. “Well, I should be going; shall I bring my book of John Clare with me next time?”

“Please do; I’d like to hear what he has to say”.

“What about a prayer before I go?”

“Yes, please. It’s sad, Mr. Masefield – I’m sorry, I mean ‘Tom’! – but you and Kelly are the only people who pray with me, apart from my Anglican minister when he comes to visit”.

“Well, then, I’ll try not to forget to do it”.

On a sunny Saturday morning in the middle of June, Kelly and I were playing on the living room floor with Emma when the phone rang. I got up and picked it up; “Tom and Kelly’s”, I said, sitting down on the couch.

“Tommy? It’s Becca”.

“Becs!” I exclaimed, and Kelly immediately looked up from where she was playing with Emma. “Are you okay?”

“Yes”, she said, and then, “No”, and then I heard her stifling a sob, and I said, “Becs, what’s wrong?”

“I need to come and stay with you, as soon as school’s finished. Kelly said I could come. Would that still be okay with you?”

“Of course!” I exclaimed; “We’d love to have you”.

“Things aren’t good, Tommy; I really need to get right away from here. Are you sure I won’t be too much trouble for Kelly? Is she strong enough for company?”

“Of course; she’ll be glad to see you”.

“Thank you; it’ll be so good to get far away”, she said, and again I could hear that she was close to tears. “Do you mind if I come for a long time? I know it’s a lot to ask…”

“Do you want to come for the whole summer holiday?”

“Are you sure Kelly won’t mind?”

“Do you want to talk to her? She’s right here”.

“Can I?”

“Of course”. I held out the phone to Kelly, and she got up and took it from my hand. “Becca”, she said, “Are you coming over?”

I heard the muffled sound of my sister’s voice, and then Kelly said, “No, of course not; I’m fine, I really am. Come for as long as you like; when do you get off school?… Oh yeah, I forgot, your summer holiday’s shorter than ours, isn’t it. Well, no matter, come as soon as you can. Do you need some help with the air fare?… Okay, that’s good then. Do you mind doing some travelling while you’re here? Tom and I were just talking about doing some camping, maybe going to the mountains… Excellent”.

She was quiet for a long time, listening to Becca, and then she said in a softer voice, “Becca, I’m so sorry; you must have been devastated… did they…? Right, that’s unbelievable…” She looked up, smiled at me apologetically, and whispered, “Can you take Emma and got out for a few minutes?”

“Sure; we’ll be out in the yard”. I held out my hand to Emma and said, “Let’s go out the back, Em”.

We had a sandbox and a few yard toys in our back yard, and Emma played contentedly with me for a few minutes until Kelly came out to join us in the bright sunshine. She sat down in a lawn chair by the sandbox, looked at me, and said, “She told me I could tell you that she broke up with Peter”.

“Well, that’s not a surprise – you suspected that”.

“Chris Pollard has been her friend for a while, right?”

“Yeah, I think they’re on the swim team together”.

“Well, they’re not friends any more; apparently Peter had been going behind Becca’s back with Chris for a month or more before Becca found out about it”.

“No wonder she’s upset. So she’s coming, is she?”

“Yeah – for her whole summer holiday, apparently!”

I grinned; “Do you mind?”

“No, I’m fine with it, Tom; she’s your baby sister, and you miss her, and I think right now she needs you”.

“I think she needs you too; there are obviously some things she’s more comfortable talking about with you”.

“Is that okay with you?”

“Yeah, it really is”.

“Well, she finishes school at the end of the third week in July, and I’ve told her to come right away and stay as long as she can. She says your mom already told her she’d pay for her ticket”.

“Good”. I reached over and took her hand; “Are you ready for this?”

“I’ll be fine, Tom; I really love Becca and I’ll be glad to see her”.

“Thank you”, I said softly.

“You’re very welcome”.

Posted in Fiction, Meadowvale, Meadowvale (Revised) | Leave a comment

Meadowvale (revised): Chapter Nineteen

I’ve gone through the ‘Meadowvale’ story and done a rewrite; I’m posting the revised chapters here at the rate of about two a week. The originals are still on this site (go to ‘Meadowvale’ in the sidebar) in case you want to compare! Enjoy!

We had thought that the time leading up to Kelly’s surgery was hard enough, but the next five months were harder still.

She came home from hospital four days after surgery, and for the next four weeks she rested at home. Sally came and stayed with her every day while I was at school, looking after Emma and doing all the work around the house. For the first few days she prepared an evening meal for us as well, but I managed to persuade her that she didn’t need to do that; I was a pretty good cook and could usually make sure I would be home by five o’clock to get our supper ready. At first Kelly was happy to leave this to me, but eventually she started looking after it herself. “I might as well do it”, she said to Sally and me when I got home one afternoon; “I’m not much good for anything else around here”.

She was not angry or irritable, but she seemed to slide very quickly into a deep sadness that coloured everything in our home. She was trying to ease Emma off breast milk and get her used to drinking from a bottle, and Emma was not liking it at all. I knew that this was very upsetting to Kelly; she had treasured the tender intimacy of nursing, and she hated the fact that she was not going to be able to do it any more. At night time after Emma had gone to sleep she would often sit by herself, staring blankly into space, and often I would see the tears in her eyes and I would go to her and hold her, knowing that she was grieving for the children she would never be able to bear.

What made it even harder that spring and early summer was that so many other people in our family circle seemed to be pregnant. My brother had made one of his rare phone calls to us back in March to tell us that Alyson was expecting their first child, due in mid-September. The following month Ellie had announced that she was expecting again, with a due date toward the end of November, and not long afterwards Krista had told us that she and Steve were expecting their first child a week or so after Ellie.

Kelly was bitterly disappointed that she did not feel well enough to be able to go back down to Saskatoon to watch Krista receive her Ph.D. at the convocation ceremonies on June 4th, and her surgery and upcoming chemotherapy had of course put an end to any plans we might have had for visiting England that summer. Becca had asked about coming to visit us, but Kelly had shaken her head sadly and said, “I can’t handle it, Tom – I just can’t”. Initially Becca had been disappointed, but not long afterwards my mother told me that she had started going out with a boy from the school swim team. “His name’s Peter Davies”, she told me, “and he seems to be a nice enough lad. He’s a year older than her, and he lives in Wallingford”.

“This is her first boyfriend, right?” I said.

“Well, as far as I know!” my mother replied with a chuckle.

“This is going to be a bit of a distraction for her going into the Sixth Form this Fall”, I said.

“We’ll see; she hasn’t got her ‘O’-level results yet”.

There were other events going on back in England as well. In April, the month before Kelly’s surgery, my grandfather Robert Masefield died in Oxford at the age of eighty-one. His wife Penny survived him by only six months, dying peacefully in her sleep in the middle of October. The Masefields had never been a close family and I had not seen my grandparents very often, but I found myself strangely saddened by their deaths; I would have liked to have gone over for their funerals, but of course with everything that was going on in our lives it would have been impossible, even if I could have afforded it. After my grandfather’s death I called my father to offer my condolences, but he was as short and distant as ever on the phone, and after a few attempts at conversation I offered him my sympathies again and ended the call.

In July Owen’s brother Steve got married; he had been teaching in Reading for three years and his wife Diana was on staff with him. Owen was at the wedding, of course, and he sent me a couple of photographs of his parents with the whole family gathered around them. Kelly gave me a rare smile when I showed them to her; “Dear Owen”, she said softly, and I knew she was thinking of her surgery and Owen’s intervention, which she firmly believed had saved her life.

Once when we were sitting together in the evening, with Emma playing contentedly on a blanket on the floor between us, she asked, “Are Owen and Lorraine not trying to have children?”

“I don’t know”, I replied; “Maybe they are, and it’s just not working out for them. But then again, lots of people don’t have kids right away, Kelly”.

“Yeah, I know; I was just wondering, that’s all. How long have Owen and Lorraine been married now?”

I counted on my fingers. “They got married August 20th 1984”, I said; “I make that a year and ten months”.

“Has he said anything to you about it?”

I shook my head; “I’ve always known he wanted children”, I said, “but we’ve never had that sort of a conversation since their wedding”.

“Hmm”, she replied, looking down at her tea mug in her lap.

I grinned; “What does that mean?”

She smiled and said, “Men are strange sometimes, that’s all”.

“We are, are we?”

“Yes – the things you talk about, and the things you don’t talk about”.

“True enough – although Owen and I have talked about almost everything, at one time or another”.

Rob Neufeld visited us a couple of days after Kelly got home from her surgery. She was still feeling quite sore and very tired, so he didn’t stay long; he sat with us for half an hour, asking a few leading questions and letting us talk, and before he left he prayed for us, talking to God in a very relaxed and natural way, asking him to be with us in the difficult time we were going through. He didn’t attempt to theologize, or pass on any great spiritual insights, but somehow I found his presence a great comfort.

Over the next few weeks he made a point of dropping by every few days; if Kelly was feeling up to it, he would stay a little longer, and we would share a pot of tea and talk quietly together. Sometimes he read a psalm with us, or another appropriate passage from the Bible, and always there was that quiet moment of prayer at the end. Kelly told me that Mandy had been stopping by during the day from time to time as well, leaving her own children with a babysitter so that she could be free to help out around the house, or just sit quietly and talk. “I like Mandy”, she said; “She doesn’t try to fix me or give me easy answers. She just helps my mom do a bit of cleaning, or makes tea, or changes Emma if she needs it, and if I want to talk, she’s happy to listen”.

“They’re both pretty special, aren’t they?”

“Yeah. I’m really glad neither of them has tried to explain to me why God is letting this happen”.

“The easy answers just don’t fit, do they?”

“They sure don’t”, she agreed.

Dr. Smith saw us in the middle of June and told us that he wanted Kelly to have eight rounds of chemotherapy, with a three-week gap between each dose. “That’ll give you time to get your strength back up”, he said,

“I can tell I’m going to love this”, Kelly replied bitterly.

“Yes, it will be tough”, he said, “but you’re strong, Kelly, and I know you can get through it”.

“Why does everyone keep saying that?” she exclaimed angrily. “It’s like everyone thinks I’m some kind of Olympic athlete! Why can’t I just be allowed to be a girl, like everyone else?”

I took her hand in mine. “He didn’t mean it like that”, I said softly.

She looked down at the floor, and for a moment she didn’t reply. Eventually she looked up again and said, “I’m sorry; I know you’re all trying to help me, and I appreciate it, I really do, but it’s hard…”

“Of course it is”, Dr. Smith said; “It’s one of the toughest things anyone can ever go through; it’s natural that you should feel overwhelmed by it all. Please don’t apologize for anything, Kelly; I’m sorry if I made you feel you couldn’t live up to my expectations. Ask for help when you need it, and whatever we can do to make this easier for you, we will”.

That night I woke up at about two a.m. to the sound of someone crying, and I quickly realized that it wasn’t Emma. I reached for Kelly, but she wasn’t in the bed with me; I got to my feet and slipped out into the darkened hallway, and then down to the living room. She was sitting on the couch in her pyjamas with her face in her hands and her elbows on her knees, her whole body rocking slowly backwards and forwards, shaking with sobs.

“Kelly”, I said softly, crossing the room and sitting down beside her.

“I’m sorry”, she said in a choking voice; “I didn’t want to wake you”.

“No, don’t even think about it”, I said, putting my arm around her; “What’s wrong?”

“I don’t know!” she cried; “Nothing – everything – I just feel like everything I’ve dreamed about is slipping away from me. I’m just sad, and I don’t seem to be able to change that”.

“I’m really sorry, Kelly”, I said.

“It’s not your fault”, she replied, looking at me through her tears; “It’s not right that you should have to go through all of this just because of me”.

I shook my head; “Neither of us asked for this”, I replied, “so it’s not really anyone’s fault, least of all yours. And as for me going through it, well, I thought that’s what ‘for better or for worse’ meant”.

“We didn’t know this was going to happen when we made those promises”, she said; “It’s not right for me to expect you to live up to that now”.

“What are you saying?” I asked; “That you want me to leave you? I’m sorry, but that’s never going to happen; you’re going to have to physically pick me up and throw me out the door, and I don’t think you can do that right now”.

She smiled at me then, a sad little smile, but it made me glad nonetheless. “No, I don’t think I can”, she said, putting her hand on my knee. “You’re so patient with me. I feel so useless right now, and I just can’t seem to cheer up and get through this”.

“I know”.

“It’s like this big, black cloud has come down over me”, she continued; “I can hardly see a foot in any direction. Nothing like this has ever happened to me before; I guess it must be a depression, but I don’t know how to get through it”. She shook her head slowly; “I’m not the kind of girl that has depressions; I just don’t know what to do”.

I tightened my arm around her shoulders and kissed her gently. “You don’t have to do anything about it”, I said; “It’s just a part of this whole process, and we’ve got to get through it together. You’ve done your fair share of carrying me emotionally in the past; now it’s my turn, and I’m fine with that”.

She looked at me for a moment; “You’re so good to me”, she said, “and I’m such a useless wreck right now”.

I put both my arms around her. “You’re cold”, I said; “How long have you been sitting out here?”

“I don’t know – half an hour, maybe?”

“Why don’t you come back to bed with me, and let me hold you under the blankets for a while and get you warm”.

I got up, took her hand, and led her back down the corridor to our bedroom. Emma was sleeping peacefully in the crib; we looked at her for a moment in the darkened room, and then we went to our own bed and climbed in. I pulled the blankets up over us and wrapped my arms around Kelly. “Now, let’s get you warm”, I said.

For a few minutes neither of us said anything; I could feel her tears on my neck and I knew that she was still crying quietly, and I kissed her forehead and held her close.

“I love you, Kelly”, I said after a few minutes; “I’m not going anywhere, and I’m not going to let this thing destroy us. I know you don’t feel strong enough to beat it, but that’s okay. Whatever you need doing, I’ll get it done. Whatever it takes”.

I felt her tighten her arm around me. “Thank you”, she replied softly; “Thank you for loving me”.

“I could no more stop loving you than stop breathing”.

“I love you too. I know it must feel like I’m ignoring you sometimes, but I’m not trying to, Tom – please believe me”.

“I know”, I replied; “I know you love me”.

I continued to hold her close, feeling the warmth of her body against mine and the slow and steady beating of her heart against my chest. Through the open window of our bedroom I could hear the leaves rustling softly in the night breeze, and occasionally I heard the sound of a car driving by on the street outside. I lay as still as I could, my arms around Kelly and my lips against her forehead, while in my mind I found I was praying silently, asking God to help her and to give me the strength to be there for her. Now and again she moved a little in my arms and I knew she was trying to find a more comfortable position, but eventually, after a long time, her restless movements stopped, and I could tell by the sound of her breathing that she had fallen asleep.

She had her first dose of chemotherapy on the last day of June, and by the time it was finished eighteen weeks later, on November 17th, she was totally exhausted. She had all the usual symptoms of chemo; her beautiful hair fell out, and by the middle of August she was completely bald and hairless. She chose not to get a wig, preferring just to wear a hat and leave it at that. Usually on the third day after each dose she began to get sick to her stomach, and for about forty-eight hours she would spend her time lying in bed or throwing up into the toilet bowl. Her mouth got sore and she developed ulcers, and she lost all enjoyment of food and drink, even tea; “It just tastes awful”, she said to me. She had to force herself to eat, and I watched as she got even thinner than she had been before her surgery.

“Are you sure this is helping her?” I asked one of the doctors at University Hospital one day; “It looks to me like it’s making things worse”.

“It’s a hell of a thing”, he replied, “but in the end it’ll be for the best. It’s not an ideal solution, that’s for sure, but it’s the best we can do right now”.

For the most part, we spent our summer quietly at home; I was glad of the timing, because I was on holiday and I could spend the first two months of Kelly’s chemo with her, giving my full attention to looking after her and Emma, doing the housework and cooking the meals. Gradually I got used to the cycle; on the third day after each dose she would be hit hard by the nausea and the tiredness, and then after a few days she would start to feel better again, and I would coax her out for slow walks around town with Emma, or the occasional drive to Myers Lake. It was a hot summer, and she found that she was feeling the heat more than usual, so when she was feeling well enough for it we spent a lot of time at the community swimming pool, enjoying the cool of the water. We made our trips down to Saskatoon for the chemo, usually staying at Krista and Steve’s house the night before, and I managed to persuade her to take one trip to Jasper with me and Emma; she enjoyed the cool mountain air and she loved the familiar scenery, but she had no energy for walking the trails at all.

At home, she usually stayed in bed until halfway through the morning, and I knew that she was not sleeping well at night, so I would leave her, get up by myself, and get started on the day, feeding Emma, changing her, playing with her, and getting some jobs done around the house if I could. If Kelly had not appeared by about ten-thirty I would take her a cup of tea, and she would pull herself up in bed, apologize for sleeping so long and leaving me to look after things, sip halfheartedly at the tea for a minute, and then get dressed and come out and join us. She was always happy to spend time with Emma, and I was glad to watch them together, because that was almost the only time I ever saw a smile on Kelly’s face.

All through the summer, the members of our little support group continued to help us. Will and Sally came over every couple of days, and once a week Sally quietly cleaned the house from top to bottom. When I protested that I could do that, she shook her head and said, “I know, but you’ve got enough on your hands, Tom. And God knows, I need to do something practical to help out around here”. Brenda drove up from Saskatoon at least once a week to spend a couple of hours; sometimes she brought Ryan with her, but usually she dropped him off at his grandparents’ place and came over by herself. Joe and Ellie came over frequently as well, and Rob and Mandy continued their quiet visits, listening to us, sometimes giving us a few words of encouragement, and always ending with a brief time of prayer.

Krista, who was now half way through her pregnancy, was spending the summer working with her Ph.D. supervisor, David Gustafson, on a policy recommendation he was preparing for the Saskatchewan government, as well as teaching a summer course at the university. Nevertheless, she drove up to visit Kelly at least once a week, talking with her, helping her with Emma, and doing what she could around the house. Sometimes, if she came on a weekend, Steve would come with her; his grandmother was now in the special care home and looking very frail, and he would usually slip over to spend an hour with her while Krista was with Kelly.

What I knew, but never mentioned to Kelly, was that these visits were very hard for Krista. When she was with Kelly she was always in control of herself, but sometimes if I walked with her to her car, which I sometimes did if Kelly wasn’t feeling strong enough, I would see her composure slip. “I’m sorry”, she said to me once with tears in her eyes as we stood beside her car; “I know this isn’t helping”.

I put my arms around her and held her close for a moment. “Don’t be silly”, I said; “She’s your sister; of course you’re going to be upset”.

“She’s your wife”, she replied, kissing me on the cheek, “and you don’t need a distraught sister-in-law to add to your burdens”.

“Distraught or not, we’re always glad to see you, Kris”, I said.

She looked at me quietly, and then she said, “It’s tough for her that I’m pregnant, isn’t it?”

“I’m afraid so”.

“Is there anything I can do about that?”

“Not a thing”, I replied, “and please don’t stay away from her because of it. It’s hard for her, but it would be even harder for her not to see you at all”.

She took a kleenex from her pocket, wiped her eyes, and gave me a smile. “You’re amazing, you know?” she said; “I don’t know how you do what you do”.

I shook my head; “Just putting one foot in front of the other”, I replied.

She nodded, opening her car door. “Okay, I’d better go”, she said.

“Drive safely, and give our love to Steve”.

I bumped into Glenn one Saturday morning when I was doing the shopping at the Co-op; he was dressed casually in jeans and a loose summer shirt, and he was pushing a shopping cart in between the aisles. He asked after Kelly, and then he said, “I haven’t been trying to avoid you guys, you know, but I just didn’t know if she would want me around”.

I shook my head; “Don’t take it personally, Glenn, but she’s sort of retreated into herself right now. There aren’t many people outside of immediate family who she wants to see. Going to church on Sundays is about as much socializing as she can handle”.

He looked at me for a moment, and then to my surprise he put his hand on my shoulder. “This must be so hard for you”, he said quietly.

For a moment I could barely trust myself to reply; I nodded silently, blinking back the tears, while he stood there patiently without saying a word. Eventually I said, “Thank you”.

“Tell her I’m thinking about her”, he said, “and when she feels up to having company, I’ll come over and see her, but I’ll leave the timing up to her. Just let me know”.

“I will, Glenn; thank you”.

My mother called at least once a week, and every couple of weeks or so a card would arrive from her with a little note inside. Kelly tried talking to her from time to time, but as her depression progressed it got harder for her to keep her composure on the phone, and eventually, when I told her that it was my mother calling, more often than not she would shake her head and say, “I’m sorry, Tom; I just can’t”. Owen and Lorraine called us most weekends, and now and again I heard from my Auntie Brenda and Uncle Roy as well. Very occasionally we got a phone call or a short note from Becca, but my mother told me she was totally preoccupied with her boyfriend, Peter Davies. “She’s with him almost every day”, she said to me on the phone one morning; “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone quite so head over heels in love. I worry about that sometimes; I wonder if it’s an unhealthy infatuation; after all, she’s only just turned sixteen. Do you think I’m being over-anxious, Tom?”

“I have no idea, Mum; you’re the one who’s there with her. What’s he like; do you trust him?”

“He seems like a very pleasant young man, and he always treats her well when he’s here with her”. I heard her give a little sigh; “I suppose mothers are always going to worry about this sort of thing”, she said, “especially with a daughter. For some reason I was never really concerned with you and Rick in quite the same way”.

“Well, speaking for myself, I didn’t exactly have an active love life; at least, not until I met Kelly”.

“No, I suppose you didn’t. I wondered about you and Wendy Howard sometimes”.

“She was always pretty strongly committed to Mickey Kingsley, Mum”.

“I remember you saying that”. She was quiet for a moment, and then she said, “Is there anything more I can do? I feel so helpless at this distance”.

I shook my head. “Everything that could humanly be done for us is being done. We’ve got an incredible medical team, and between Will and Sally, Joe and Ellie, Krista and Brenda, and Rob and Mandy, I hardly have to lift a finger around this place except to do a little cooking, and of course the daily looking after Emma and spending time with her”.

“How are you going to manage when school starts again?”

“Sally says she’ll be here every day. Honestly, Mum, there’s nothing you could do that isn’t already being done”. I hesitated, and then I said, “I have no idea whether or not you pray, but if you do…”

“I do, my son”, she said quietly; “I pray for the three of you every day, sometimes several times a day. I honestly don’t know what else to do”.

I suddenly found myself blinking back the tears. “Thank you, Mum”, I said quietly; “If you’ll just keep on doing that, I’d really appreciate it”.

One night in late August I was awakened at about four o’clock by the sound of Emma’s crying. I knew that Kelly had been up with her earlier in the night, so I said, “My turn; you go back to sleep”.

“Thank you”, she said softly.

I slipped out of bed, picked Emma up from the crib, and took her out to the living room. Her diaper was wet through, so I changed her and cleaned her up, and then I sat with her in the rocking chair in the living room, holding her in the crook of my arm while she sucked contentedly on the bottle I had warmed up for her. At first she didn’t seem to be very sleepy; she was watching me closely, and I smiled at her in the dim light of the standing lamp and said, “You’ve got your mummy’s eyes, Emma Dawn; you’re definitely Mummy’s girl, aren’t you?” But eventually her eyelids started to droop, and she stopped sucking on the bottle, and I put her up on my shoulder and rubbed her back until she burped, and then cradled her in my arms, watching her as she slept peacefully. A number of people had remarked to us how much she looked like her mother, and I smiled as I sat there, looking down at this little life that Kelly and I had made together, thankful for the opportunity to hold her and be with her, even though I could feel the edge of tiredness as well.

And then suddenly it all hit me, everything that had happened since that wonderful moment eight months ago when Emma had entered our lives and we had been so happy, and how quickly things had changed as Kelly had gotten ill, had gone for surgery and been diagnosed with cancer. I felt Kelly’s sense of sadness and despair, and before I knew it the tears were in my eyes again and I was crying, crying for her and for the three of us. I was afraid that I would wake Emma, and I covered my mouth to try to stifle the sobs, but I couldn’t, so I got to my feet, tiptoed quietly down to our room, laid her in her crib and pulled her blanket over her to keep her warm, and then went back to the living room. It was getting light outside now, and I went through to the dining area, opened the sliding door and went out onto the back deck. It had been a warm night, and I was comfortable out there in the dim light of early morning, so I sat down on one of the deck chairs in my pyjama pants and tee shirt, looking out on our back yard with its three tall poplar trees against the fence while the tears continued to run down my face and I felt the waves of sadness washing over me.

Eventually I found myself praying. “How are we going to get through this, God?” I whispered. “You know I try not to blame you for it – I honestly do – but it’s hard, it’s really hard”. I shook my head; “We were so happy together”, I said, “and we were really looking forward to Emma coming to be with us, and when she was born it seemed like all our dreams were coming true, Kelly’s especially, but mine too. But then she got sick, and we found out she had cancer. Why did that have to happen? Kelly wanted a big family so badly; why did she have to lose that dream? Dysgerminomas are so rare in young women her age; why did she have to be one of the few exceptions? What’s it all about, God? Why can’t I seem to get an answer to that?”

I shook my head. “I know it’s a mystery, that’s what Rob says, and I respect him. But I think you’ll understand if I get a little confused sometimes. All I can do is pray, and I know that helps – at least, it helps me. Thanks for that; usually after I’ve had it out with you I feel better. I don’t know that the prayers are doing much for Kelly, though – at least, not that I can tell”.

I wiped my eyes with the back of my hand; “I don’t know how to help her, God”, I said softly; “I just don’t seem to be able to reach her. You know what she’s going through; she’s miserable all the time, and she’s not really interested in anything. She feels like she’s lost her future; she can’t really see the point of carrying on. She says she still loves me, but sometimes I don’t know…”

I got to my feet again and walked over to the edge of the deck, leaning against the wooden handrail. Off to my right I could hear the squeak of a screen door being opened, and I knew that my next-door-but-one neighbour was letting his dog out into his back yard. I glanced at my watch; five thirty-five. People in this town tended to be early risers in the summer time; before too long, I knew, the streets would start to come alive, and trucks would begin to make their way down to the Travellers Restaurant, still the favourite place in Meadowvale for early morning coffee.

“Well, there’s not much point in me feeling sorry for myself, is there?” I whispered to God. “I know I’ve just got to do what it takes. I can fix me, but I can’t fix Kelly; that one’s too big for me. Please don’t abandon us now, God – not after all we’ve been through. Please help her find a way through this darkness and out the other side. Please keep her free of cancer. And look after Emma and me, too; help me to be the dad she needs right now”. I suddenly found myself stifling a yawn. “Speaking of which”, I continued, “I’d better go and lie down and see if I can get another hour’s sleep, or I’m not going to be much use to her when she wakes up again”.

For a moment I stood in silence at the edge of the deck, feeling the early morning stillness all around me, and somehow, deep inside, the quiet hint of peacefulness that came so often after I prayed. I found the words of the Lord’s Prayer coming to me then, and I prayed them softly, pausing after each line to let the words soak in, and spending a little longer on the line ‘Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil’, thinking particularly of the evil that Kelly was trying so hard to fight and that sometimes threatened to overwhelm her. When I was finished I stood there in silence again for a moment, and then I turned and went back into the house.

A couple of days later Joe and Ellie and Jake came over for supper and a visit. By now, at eight months, Emma was crawling all over the place, and Jake of course at twenty months of age was a human dynamo, running all over the house, bumping into things, falling over and crying, and generally causing chaos wherever he went. I had been a little worried that he would be too much for Kelly, but I had forgotten how much she loved her little nephew, and to my surprise that night I saw her smiling and laughing with him, getting down on her hands and knees to play with him, and sitting and talking quietly with Ellie while they both held their children on their laps, and little Jake put his face to Ellie’s swollen belly and felt for baby movements.

I barbecued hamburgers on the deck, and later on, while the girls were talking inside, Joe and I sat out in the cool of the evening, drinking iced tea, swatting mosquitos and talking quietly.

“She’s doing better tonight”, he said.

“Yeah, she’s surprising me, actually. I wasn’t sure if she’d have the energy for it, but she really loves Jake”.

“She’s kind of turned into a recluse”, he said.

“Yes, she has”.

“That must be hard for you”.

“It is what it is”, I replied; “We’ll get through it somehow”.

“How are you doing?” he asked; “Really, I mean?”

“I pray a lot”, I said.

“Does it help?”

“Sometimes. Sometimes, as you said to me a long time ago, you just find that when grace is needed, grace is given. I don’t very often have any dramatic sense of God’s presence – nothing like I had that time at Myers Lake – but I seem to be able to do what needs to be done, and at the end of the day, everyone’s okay and the house isn’t falling down around our ears or anything”.

“You’re a hero, Tom”, he said softly; “I can’t tell you how much I admire you for what you’re doing for Kelly and Emma”.

I shook my head; “Don’t put me on a pedestal”, I replied; “I’m getting a lot of help from Will and Sally, and from you guys”.

“Do you hear from your family back home?”

“Mum and Becca write and call – Mum more than Becca. Becca’s kind of preoccupied; she’s got her first real boyfriend”.

“She just turned sixteen, right?”

“Yes, my baby sister is growing up”.

“We’re getting older, aren’t we?”

“You’re getting older than me, Joe Reimer”.

He laughed; “I guess that’s true”. He frowned thoughtfully; “Can I ask you a really personal question?” he said.

“Of course you can”.

“How are you and Kelly getting along – in your marriage, I mean?”

I gave him a wry grin; “That is definitely a really personal question”, I said.

“Don’t answer if you think it’s none of my business”.

I shook my head; “No, actually, I appreciate you asking it”.


I thought for a moment, sipping at my iced tea and swatting at a mosquito that was buzzing around my ears. “It’s up and down”, I said. “I’m trying really hard to put myself inside her skin all the time, but I just know there are things I’ll never understand”.

“Like her not being able to have any more children, you mean?”

“Yeah, and that’s really, really hard for her; I always knew she wanted to have a big family, but I don’t think I realized quite how important that was to her until it was taken away. And it’s just made some things really complicated”.

“I think I can imagine”, he said softly.

“Yeah, you probably can”, I replied. “And I can’t quite join up the dots the way she does, but I’ve got to take it seriously and realize that it’s the way she sees things right now. I understand that she feels crappy a lot of the time, but it’s not just that; in her mind, making love is all connected with having children, and at the moment she just can’t see the point. Her brain is all messed up with cancer and surgery, and losing bits of her body, and now the chemo. She’s in a real tail spin, Joe – I suppose it’s a depression, if that’s a helpful way of describing anything”.

“Do you guys still pray together?”

“Not very much. We used to do it last thing at night, but now she’s usually in bed long before me, and sometimes when I mention praying, she just shakes her head and tells me she hasn’t got the energy for it”.

“At least she still comes to church most of the time”.

“Yeah – it’s not that she doesn’t believe in God any more, and I think that if you pushed her, she’d even say that she knows God is helping her to get through this. But the problem, as you know, is that courage doesn’t usually feel like courage”.

“No, it doesn’t”, he said; “It feels like fear ignored”.

“Or not even just ignored – fear stared in the face, and felt to the full, and then set aside as you do what you have to do”.

“Is that how you’re getting through this?” he asked.

“I suppose so; like I said, I pray a lot. And to come back to your original question about me and Kelly, I know she loves me, and I love her, and she does her best to show me that she loves me. But at the moment she’s got to focus inward, on getting through this, and if she’s got any energy left for any sort of outward focus, it’s got to go to Emma – that’s just the way things are”.

“Not the sort of marriage you thought you were in for, though”.

I shook my head; “No, but then, who ever factors cancer into their expectations for their marriage? I have to admit that I miss her; I miss her a lot. But it’s a hell of a thing she’s going through, and I can’t find it in my heart to blame her for it”.

He shook his head and leaned forward in his chair, resting his elbows on his legs. “She’s kind of shut me out, you know”, he said quietly.

“I thought perhaps she had”.

“It’s not that she’s being unkind or avoiding me or anything; she’s just not talking to me about stuff any more. This is new ground for me; ever since I can remember, she’s been my best friend”.

“That must be hard for you”.

“Yeah, you would understand, I know – you went through that time when you and Becca weren’t talking”.

“It was one of the hardest things that ever happened to me – before this, of course”.

“I’m pondering the question of whether or not I should talk to her about it”.

I raised my eyebrows and thought for a moment. “I don’t see why not”, I said; “You’re not the sort of guy to barge in like a bull in a china shop”.

He laughed; “Like a what?” he asked.

“A bull in a china shop, you know – china dishes and cups? It’s an old saying – surely you must have heard it?”

“Nope, that’s a new one for me!”

“Well, you know what I mean”.

“Yeah, I do, and you’re right, I wouldn’t break the door down if it was clear she didn’t want to open it”.

We were quiet for a moment, both of us sipping our tea and listening to the wind moving in the branches of the poplars. And then we heard a slight movement just inside the screen door, and Kelly coughed as she slid the door open, stepped outside, and closed it again behind her.

“Have you been there for a while?” I asked.

“Yes, I have”, she replied softly. She stood there as still as a statue in her jeans and tee-shirt, her bald head covered as usual by a ball cap. She looked at Joe for a moment, and he returned her gaze; “I guess you heard”, he said quietly.

She nodded, not saying anything, and he got slowly to his feet. After a moment she stepped forward, put her hand on his arm, and said, “I’m sorry, Joey”.

He shook his head; “You’re going through a tough time, and I understand”.

“No”, she said, “I’ve been a little too prone to make excuses for myself over the past few months; I know that’s not helping anyone”.

He looked at her for a moment, and then slowly he put his arms around her and drew her close. I saw her lay her head on his shoulder; “I’m so sorry”, she said again.

“I’m sorry too”, he replied; “I should have talked to you about this, rather than letting things slide”.

“I guess you’re not used to having to do that with me”.

I saw him smile; “No, I’m not”, he said.

She stepped back a little, and then looked around at me; “Tom”, she said in a small voice.

I got to my feet, and she moved into my arms. “I’m so sorry”, she said; “I’ve been so absorbed in myself…”

“I know, and I don’t blame you – I honestly don’t”.

After a moment she looked around at her brother again; “Joey, would you mind giving me a few minutes alone with my husband?”

“Of course; is everything okay inside?”

“Emma’s asleep, and Ellie’s reading to Jake”.

“Right; I’ll go find some dishes to wash”. He turned and slipped into the house, pulling the sliding door closed behind him. Kelly took my hand; “Walk with me in the yard for a minute”, she said.


We went down the steps from the deck and walked on the grass; I could feel the chill in the evening air, and I knew that the summer was coming to an end. I put my arm around Kelly, knowing that she would feel the cold more than me; “I love you”, I said softly.

“I love you too. Thank you for being so patient with me”.

“Like I keep saying, it’s no one’s fault”.

“I know, but I also know that things have to change, and the only person who can change them is me”.

“Don’t be too hard on yourself, Kelly; I’m doing okay, I really am”.

She stopped and turned to face me. “Tom, I was listening at the door for quite a while”, she said; “I know you’re not doing okay. I already knew, of course, but I heard the things you said to Joe”.

“I’m sorry; I shouldn’t have talked to him about some of that stuff”.

She shook her head; “Who else have you got to talk to? I haven’t been there for you, and I’m sorry”.

“We don’t have to do this, Kelly – we really don’t”.

She looked up at me, and to my surprise I saw some of the old determination in her eyes. “Maybe not”, she said softly, “but I have to start doing a few things differently, Tom, and I’m ready now. I’m ready to come back and join our marriage again”.

I looked at her for a moment without speaking, and then I put my arms around her and held her close.

It wasn’t that everything suddenly became better after that night; in fact, Kelly had her most debilitating experiences with chemotherapy in September and October, and there were days when I began seriously to wonder whether the treatment wasn’t killing her more effectively than the disease would have done. But despite all this, I gradually realized that things felt different, and that perhaps the darkness we’d been living in since the end of May was beginning to seem a little less dark.

The first thing I noticed was that she made a determined effort to get back into the habit of praying with me every day. This was something that had been precious to the two of us, as we had been doing it long before we were married, and I had missed it sorely. But the night after Joe and Ellie’s visit, at about eight-thirty, after she had given Emma her bottle and rocked her to sleep, she said, “I’m going to lie down soon, Tom; shall we read the Bible and pray before I go to bed?”

I stared at her for a moment, and then said, “Absolutely; I’ll go get the Bible right now”.

“Would you like me to make us some hot chocolate to go with it?”

“If you’re feeling up to it”.

She smiled; “No, that’s the wrong question to ask me”, she said. “If I wait until I’m feeling up to it, I’ll wait for a long time”.

I nodded; “Thank you”, I said, “I’d love a cup of hot chocolate”.

The next morning at about eleven I put Emma in her stroller and walked down to the post office to pick up the mail. When we got back to the house about half an hour later, I heard the sound of classical music coming from the record player; when I stepped into the kitchen, I saw that Kelly was busy scrubbing the inside of the fridge. “This has been driving me crazy for a week”, she said.

“I recognize this music”, I replied, holding Emma with one arm and putting the mail down on the kitchen table beside the food from the fridge; “Mum used to play it when we were boys. It’s Bach, isn’t it? The Italian Concerto?”

“Yeah, that’s right”.

“I’ve never heard you play this record before; I don’t think I even knew you had it”.

“I’ve had it for a long time. Aunt Rachel gave it to me for Christmas one year; she loves classical music”.

“She plays the piano too, doesn’t she?”

“Yeah, although I don’t think she plays this sort of stuff”.

I looked at her curiously; “What’s got you in the mood for Bach?” I asked.

“He’s the best composer I know for getting you out of a pity party”.

“I never thought of it as a pity party”, I said softly.

“I know you didn’t”, she replied, reaching up and kissing me gently on the cheek, “and I love you for it. You’ve been so patient with me, Tom, but like I said the other night, it’s time for me to stop feeling sorry for myself, or I’m just going to drown in it”. She went to the sink, filled the kettle with water, and plugged it in. “Would you like a cup of tea?” she asked.

“I would; how about you?”

“It’ll probably taste like shit, but I’m damn well going to drink it!”

We both laughed, and I kissed Emma on the cheek and said, “Don’t listen to your mummy when she uses those bad words, okay?”

Kelly came over to us, kissed Emma in her turn, and said, “He’s right, Em; you just keep listening to your kind and patient and wise and loving daddy, and you’ll be fine”.

She had her chemo again on September 1st, and the next day I started school. Sally was ready to start coming over every day again, but to my surprise, Kelly shook her head and said, “No, there’s no need, Mom. Maybe for a couple of days when I’m feeling really sick I’ll get you to spend the day, but the rest of the time, I need to keep busy, and if I have Emma and the house to myself, I’ll do that”.

“Are you sure?” Sally asked.


Sally looked at me, and I nodded; “I think she’ll be fine”, I said.

A few days later, the birth announcements started. My mother called me on the second Saturday of September just as I was making our morning pot of tea; “Rick asked me to ring you and let you know about the happy event”, she said.

“Did Alyson have the baby then?”

“She did, a baby boy. His name’s Eric Alexander Masefield, and he was born yesterday at about nine o’clock at night. He was a big boy – nine pounds two ounces”.

I laughed; “That’s a gorilla, not a baby! Is Alyson okay?”

“Fine, but a little sore”.

“I guess! How about you, Mum – are you well?”

“I am. Becca wants to talk to you in a minute, but first – how are you all?”

“Well, Kelly’s still lying in bed with Emma, waiting for me to bring her a cup of tea, but I think she’d be glad to talk to you, if you like?”

“Oh no, there’s no need to disturb her, poor girl; she needs all the rest she can get. How is she?”

“I think I can safely say that she’s doing better”.


“Yes. Not that the chemo isn’t still making her feel like crap, but she’s in a much better frame of mind than she was”. I covered the phone with my hand and called out, “Kelly, do you want to talk to my mum?”

I heard the sound of movement down the hall in our bedroom, and a moment later Kelly appeared in the kitchen with Emma on her arm. “Is it about Alyson?” she asked.

“Baby boy, Eric Alexander, nine pounds two ounces”.

“Ouch!” she said with a grin.

“Exactly”. I handed her the phone, and she said, “Hi there, Grandma Masefield – how are you?”

I busied myself for a minute making the tea and warming up a bottle for Emma while Kelly and my mum talked to each other. Eventually I offered her a mug of tea; “Put it on the table and I’ll get it in a minute”, she said; “Becca’s coming on the phone, and I think she wants to talk to you”.

“Here, let me take Emma”.


Emma was fussing a little, and after a moment I took her bottle out of the saucepan of hot water, tested the temperature on my arm, and then sat down at the table with her and began to feed her. She settled down immediately and began to suck contentedly on the bottle, and after a moment when Kelly looked at me and gestured toward the phone, I shook my head and said, “Tell her I’ll call her back in a little while; I’m kind of occupied right now”.

She smiled and said, “Becca? He’s feeding Emma her bottle right now; can he call you back in a few minutes? Right, okay, I’ll sign off, then. Love you too – ‘bye”.

She put the phone down and stood there for a moment, smiling at me. “You two look pretty contented with life”, she said.

“We are”, I replied; “The only thing that would increase my contentment would be if someone would pass me my cup of tea from beside the tea pot”.

“Coming right up!” she replied.

Later on that day, while we were washing the dishes after lunch, Kelly said to me, “It’s my birthday next week”.

“I remember”, I said with a grin; “September 16th – Tuesday, if I’m not mistaken”.

“I want to have a party”.

“A party?” I exclaimed.

She laughed softly; “You didn’t think I had it in me, did you?”

“You’re right”, I replied; “I didn’t”.

She turned from the sink and put her arms around me. “I still feel like death warmed over”, she said, “and I’m having to fight the darkness all the time. But I’m learning that I can fight it, Tom, and the best way to do that is just to do things, whether I feel like it or not”.

She laid her head against my shoulder, and I put my arms around her and held her close, blinking back the tears. “I love you”, I whispered.

“I love you too. And I am thankful, Tom; I’m still really sad about not being able to have any more children, but I am very thankful to be alive, and to have you and Emma. And that’s why I want to have this party – because I am alive, and I’m grateful for that”.

“Well then”, I said; “Let’s make it a good one”.

Will and Sally came to the party, as did Joe and Ellie and Jake, and Krista and Steve came up from Saskatoon. Brenda and Gary made one of their rare trips together, bringing Ryan and leaving their coffee shop in the hands of their staff for the evening. Don and Lynda Robinson joined us and brought Amy and Beth along, John and Ruth Janzen came with Joel and Kathy and Rhonda, and Rob and Mandy Neufeld brought their children too. Glenn came, and he gave Kelly a big hug when he saw her. “I’m glad to see you looking better”, he said, and she smiled and said, “Thanks, Glenn – I think I’m starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel”.

She made a big pot of jambalaya for supper, and we ate in the living room, with our plates balanced on our knees, washing it down with some very good red and white wines that Krista and Steve had brought up from Saskatoon. Joe and Ellie had brought balloons and party decorations that they hung up around the walls, and the background music was from the livelier end of Kelly’s record collection – “Please”, she said to me with a grin, “no miserable folk songs tonight!” – and even though Kelly had asked for no gifts, most people ignored her and brought them anyway, and I knew that she was secretly pleased.

After we had finish eating and I was holding Emma on my knee, Joe stood up and asked everyone to put a little more wine in their glasses. “Today’s a day to celebrate life”, he said, and we all smiled, thinking not only of Kelly, but also of the many children in the room, and of Ellie and Krista, both of them very visibly pregnant and expecting their new babies soon.

“Kids and long speeches don’t go together”, Joe continued with a smile, “So all I really want to say is that most of us know that tonight is a small miracle. No”, he corrected himself, “there’s nothing small about it; tonight is a miracle, period. We know that miracles come from God, and I think we all know that God had two angels called Tom and Emma to help him with this particular miracle…”

I shook my head, but several people cheered, and Joe said, “Tom will deny it, of course, in his modest way, but we all know it’s true. But let’s also say that the last month has been amazing, and the reason it’s been amazing has been Kelly herself”.

Everyone cheered and clapped and stamped their feet, and then Joe said, “So, Kelly, we’re glad to be here with you tonight. I’m glad, because you’ve always been my best friend, ever since we were little kids, and I’m very grateful that you’ll still be my best friend for many years to come. So folks, a toast: happy birthday, Kelly – and many more to come!”

Everyone raised their glasses and drank to Kelly, and she smiled and thanked everyone, and then she said, “I do have something to say”.

“Speech!” said Glenn with a big smile on his face.

She shook her head; “No, not really a speech”, she said. “I just want to say that I’m so glad you’re all here tonight – and of course, I’m glad that for me, there is a tonight, and I can share it with Tom and Emma and all of you. There is, however, someone who isn’t here, who I really wish could be, and that’s Tom’s friend Owen Foster”. She paused for a moment, and then went on, “I don’t think many of you know that back in the spring, when I was sick and we didn’t know what it was, my doctor was inclining toward the idea that I had ovarian cysts. But Tom got up one morning while I was still asleep and called Owen, who’s nearly finished his training to be a doctor. Owen was the one who told him that it might be ovarian cancer, and we should make sure to have an oncologist on hand when the surgery happened. Tom and I mentioned this to my gynaecologist, and she agreed to it, and of course, Owen was right, and I’m personally quite sure that I’m alive today because of him”.

Heads were nodding around the room; I could see that there were people who were hearing the story for the first time, as Kelly and I hadn’t made too much noise about it.

“So let’s drink one more toast”, she said; “To Dr. Larson, and Dr. Smith, but most of all, to Owen Foster, who said the right thing at the right time, and ended up saving my life”.

Everyone raised their glasses and drank to Owen, and then Sally said, “Right – make room, folks, because we’re about to bring out the cake”.

Later on that night, when everyone else had gone home and the three of us were in bed together, I said, “That was a really nice thing you said about Owen tonight”.

“I wish he could have been here”, she replied.

“Me too”.

She thought for a moment, and then said, “Do you think you could slip home for a few minutes at lunch time tomorrow?”

“Sure – are you going to try calling him?”

“I think I am”.

So I took my car to work with me and drove quickly home after my last class of the morning, and when I got there, she called Owen’s number in England and put it on speakerphone. She was sitting in the rocking chair with Emma on her lap, and I sat down in my armchair beside her. We heard the sound of the phone being picked up, and then Lorraine’s voice: “Fosters”.

“Lorraine, it’s Kelly”, she said,

“Hello, Kelly – what a surprise! Are you alright?”

“I’m doing a lot better, thanks. I was just wondering – is Owen there?”

“He is – do you want to talk to him?”

“Yeah, if you don’t mind, although if you’ve got speakerphone, I’d be happy to talk to you both”.

“I’ll call him”. We heard Lorraine cover the phone with her hand and call Owen’s name, and a moment later we heard the click of the speakerphone being turned on. “Is that Kelly the rhymer?” Owen asked.

“It’s me, Owen”, she said with a smile, “but Tom’s here too; he’s on his lunch break”.

“Well, hello there, Tom Masefield”, he said.

“Hi, Owen”.

“So – to what do I owe the pleasure…?”

Kelly grinned at me. “Do you know what day it was yesterday?” she asked him.

“Well, it was Tuesday here”, he replied; “Was it a different day over there?”

We all laughed, and she said, “It was September 16th, and it was my birthday; I turned twenty-eight”.

“Well – no, I didn’t know that. Happy birthday, Kelly!”

“Happy birthday”, Lorraine added in the background.

“Thank you”, Kelly said, “but the reason I wanted to talk to you, Owen, was that it’s only because of you that I was alive to have a birthday yesterday at all, and I wanted to call you and thank you”. I saw the tears springing to her eyes, and I reached out and covered her hand with mine; she smiled at me, and then she said, “I am so, so grateful to you, Owen, for what you told Tom that day; if you hadn’t said those things to him, we would never have insisted on having an oncologist present when I had my surgery, and then who knows what would have happened? I probably wouldn’t have been alive to have my birthday party yesterday”.

For a moment there was no reply, and then Owen spoke quietly; “Kelly, you know how to make a grown man cry”, he said in a husky voice.

“There’s a few tears on this end, too, Owen”, I said.

“You two are a very special couple”, he said, “and I love you both”.

“We love you too, Owen”, Kelly replied, “and last night we raised a glass and drank your health. I wish you could have been here”.

“I wish we could be have been, too”, Lorraine said; “It would be so lovely to see you again”.

“Well, we’d better not stay on long”, Kelly said, “because Tom’s got to get back to work. I just wanted you to know how I was feeling, Owen; thank you again”.

“You’re most welcome”, he replied, “and thank you, too”.

“God bless you both”, Kelly said; “Bye for now”.

“Bye”, they said.

Kelly reached forward, turned the speakerphone off, and hung up. She smiled at me; “I think he was pleased”, she said.

“That was a really nice thing to do, Kelly; thank you”.

She shook her head slowly. “I meant every word of it; I’ll be grateful to him for the rest of my life”.

“I know; so will I”.

Posted in Fiction, Meadowvale, Meadowvale (Revised) | Leave a comment

Holiday time

We’re off on holidays for three weeks today, including a trip to our old home town of Arborfield, some time in the mountains, and soaking up the music at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival.

Normal service around here will be suspended until August 10th, although I will cue up the ‘Meadowvale’ posts on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and there might be the odd one in between as well.

Here’s where we’re headed today!


Posted in Blogging, holidays | Leave a comment

What Kind of House does God Live In? (a sermon on 2 Samuel 7:1-17)

Tent meetings have a long and honourable history in Christianity, especially in evangelical Christianity; a century ago, they were very common. A travelling preacher would come to town; he would find a public space, or perhaps a church would make some property available. The preacher would put up a big tent with room for perhaps two or three hundred seats, and he would post advertisements around town: “Tent meetings this week, Monday to Friday, at such and such a spot!” And people would come, night after night; hymns would be sung, and the preacher would preach the good news of Jesus and invite people to commit their lives to him. Some people would respond; maybe they would even come to the front of the tent to pray with someone and make a Christian commitment. After a week, the meetings would be over, the tent would be taken down, and the preacher would move on somewhere else.

Having the tent gave the preacher mobility. If he’d had a big auditorium, it would have been a lot harder for him to up stakes and move on to the next town. His tent was flexible; as long as he could find a patch of land, he could put it up anywhere. So a tent was ideal for the sort of ministry travelling evangelists were doing. However, most people would not see it as ideal for regular weekly worship, especially in North America. Imagine having tent services in Edmonton in the middle of winter! But even in warmer, Mediterranean countries, most congregations don’t want to worship week by week in a tent. A permanent church building seems to be something most people find appropriate.

So it comes as a surprise for us to remember that, for about four hundred years, from the time Moses led the people out of Egypt until the time of King Solomon, Israel had no permanent place of worship. When they were travelling in the wilderness for forty years, God told them to make him a tent. Of course, it was a bit more elaborate than an ordinary family tent from Campers’ Village! Most of it had no roof, because the priests were going to burn animal sacrifices in it, and it had to be big enough for them to be able to do their work. Right at the centre of this ‘tabernacle’, as they called it, was the place where they stored ‘the Ark of the Covenant’, the ornate box where Moses had placed the two stone tablets of the Ten Commandments, and there was also a ‘mercy seat’ where Moses and the priests went to offer prayers for the people, and an elaborate candelabra. All well and good – some of this stuff was made of gold, and pretty expensive, but still, at the end of the day, all this was stored in a tent! The people went to meet with God, and to offer sacrifices to God, in a flimsy, impermanent structure.

And God was entirely happy about this. In today’s reading, after King David proposes that he build something more appropriate for the God of all the earth, God reminds him that he’s never asked for anything more elaborate than a tent:

“I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle. Wherever I have moved about among all the people of Israel, did I ever speak a word with any of the tribal leaders of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, ‘Why have you not built me a house of cedar?’” (2 Samuel 7:6-7).

God, it seems, is quite content to live in sub-standard housing!

There are a couple of points to notice in these verses. First, what’s God been doing for the past four hundred years? He’s been ‘moving about among all the people of Israel’ (v.7). Temples, in the ancient world, tended to remove gods from the ordinary people; the gods were walled in, separate from the proletariat. And David’s plan to build a house for God in Jerusalem would no doubt involve God and David becoming neighbours; undoubtedly the house would be next door to David’s palace, and a long way away from the low-income housing! But God didn’t want that; God was quite content to slum it with the peasants! God has always been completely happy ‘moving about among the people’!

Second, what’s this about ‘a house of cedar’? Well, two chapters earlier we read that after David captured Jerusalem from the Jebusites and made it his new capital city, Hiram king of Tyre sent him a gift:

‘King Hiram of Tyre sent messengers to David, along with cedar trees, and carpenters and masons who built David a house. David then perceived that the LORD had established him over Israel, and that he had exalted his kingdom for the sake of his people Israel’ (2 Samuel 5:11-12).

David, in other words, had arrived! The youngest of Jesse’s eight sons, the little guy who used to look after his dad’s sheep outside Bethlehem, was now the mighty king over all Israel! Talk about a rags to riches story! And now Hiram, his neighbour king of Tyre, sends workers and materials to build him a house appropriate to his new status as King of Israel. You can be pretty sure that this house would be quite a bit fancier than the houses of the ordinary people of Jerusalem. David was the King, after all; God had exalted him over all Israel, and he needed a house that would emphasize that fact.

You see what’s happening here? David, a man after God’s own heart, a man the Bible calls ‘the sweet singer of Israel’, has been called by God to be shepherd of his people. But he’s in danger of becoming a false, self-serving shepherd, one who uses religion to emphasize his own status and power among the people. He even consults his pastor about it! ‘Nathan, do you think it’s appropriate for me to be living in a house of cedar while God puts up with that ratty old tent?’ Nathan, of course, has visions of preaching in a beautiful new building, and he smiles and says, “Go, do all that you have in mind, for the Lord is with you” (v.3). Preachers, you know, have a weakness for this sort of thing!

But during the night, things change. Like many pastors and priests since then, Nathan had made the mistake of speaking in God’s name without first consulting God to find out what he thought. Nathan thought he already knew what God wanted, and so he had no problem issuing the building permit in God’s name. But during the night, God speaks to Nathan, and the next day the prophet has to go back to the King with his cap in his hand and say, “Sorry, I made a mistake; apparently God’s got other ideas!”

What’s God saying to David, and what does it have to say to us today?

First, quite clearly, God’s saying, “Don’t get big ideas about yourself, David; don’t forget where I found you!”

“I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep to be prince over my people Israel” (v.8).

It’s interesting, isn’t it, that when David says to Nathan, “See now, here I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent” (v.2), Nathan and David both apparently assume that it’s God’s housing situation that has to change, and not David’s! Nathan doesn’t say to David, “Okay, then – when are you moving out of the house of cedar?” David is in danger of becoming a king like any other king – one who thinks he’s entitled to live in a splendid palace, with a vast expense account, surrounded by yes-men who will perform his every wish!

Of course, this is so common today that we hardly notice it. We assume that people who have high political office have a right to six-figure salaries and a sumptuous standard of living. The President should live in the White House, the Queen should live in Buckingham Palace, bishops and archbishops should live in bishop’s palaces (as they do in many parts of the world). There’s a verse in the old hymn ‘All Things Bright and Beautiful’ which we rarely sing today; it says:

‘The rich man in his castle,
the poor man at his gate;
God made them, high and lowly,
and ordered their estate’.

Of course, the idea that the rich man has a right to live in a castle while the poor man begs at his gate may have been very comfortable for Victorian aristocrats, but you can’t find a shred of support for it the teaching of Jesus and his apostles. Jesus told his followers to sell their possessions and give to the poor; he forbade us to store up for ourselves treasures on earth, and he condemned the rich man whose approach to wealth was to tear down his storehouses and build bigger ones while he ignored the poor.

So God is warning David, as he’s warning us, not to get big ideas about ourselves. God is quite content to slum it with the poor, ‘moving about among all the people of Israel’ (v.7). And the Church of Jesus Christ ought to be like him in this. It’s interesting to me how much attention Pope Francis has been getting for this very thing: he’s moved out of the papal palaces and into a small apartment, and he’s doing his best to get rid of the trappings of wealth and power and emphasize simplicity and solidarity with the poor. King David was in danger of forgetting where he had come from, but Pope Francis hasn’t forgotten that. He hasn’t forgotten his call to live in such a way as to remind people of Jesus, who ‘humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death’ (Philippians 2:8).

The second thing God is saying to David is “Don’t get so caught up in what you’re going to do for me, as if I needed your help! I’m the one who’s going to do things for you!”

 In verses 8-17 God spells this out to David. He says, in effect, “I’m the one who’s done all this for you; you didn’t do it for yourself. I took you from your dad’s sheepfold, and made you prince over my people Israel. I’ve given you victory over your enemies and made you secure on your throne. I’ve given my people Israel a place to live, and I’m going to protect them there and give them security, so that their enemies will trouble them no more. You want to build me a house, David? I’ve got a better idea: I’m going to build you a house!” (in Hebrew, as in English, the phrase ‘the house of David’ can mean ‘the house David lives in’, or ‘the family of David, including all his descendents’).

So God says to David,

“When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me… Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure for ever before me; your throne shall be established forever” (vv.12-14a, 16).

 Christian interpreters of course have seen Jesus as the ultimate fulfillment of this prophecy. The royal line of David has disappeared today, but Jesus is a descendent of David, and God has anointed him, not just as king of Israel, but as Lord of all. David was messing about building houses of wood and stone, which one day would fall to dust, and all along God had this incredible plan in mind! “You think you’re going to build me a house, David? Wait until you see the house I’m going to build for you!”

Yes, of course we work hard for God, but it’s amazing how it’s often the things we don’t work hard at that come to fruition! One of the pastors I admire the most likes to say that the evangelism we don’t plan often seems to work better than the evangelism we do! We talk about working for the Kingdom of God, but if you read the gospels carefully you’ll see that the Kingdom is never talked about as something we build. We can seek it, we can pray for it, we can do our best to live by its values, but in the end the kingdom of God is something God gives. “Do not be afraid, little flock”, says Jesus, “for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom!” (Luke 12:32). And what does Paul say on the subject? ‘Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure’ (Philippians 2:12-13).

So God is telling David not to get big ideas about himself, and he’s telling him not to get so caught up in what he wants to do for God, so that he misses the amazing things God is going to do for him. Lastly – and this may be the most important thing of all – God is telling him that it’s not a house of wood and stone that God lives in – it’s a family and a people.

 What is the house of God? Is it the Temple that Solomon will build in Jerusalem? What a ridiculous idea! Solomon knew how ridiculous it was, even as he was building it! When he prayed the prayer of dedication for the Temple, he said,

“But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, much less this house that I have built!” (1 Kings 8:27)

The whole universe cannot contain God, so how can a house built by mere mortals ever do such a thing? House of God? What an astounding idea!

But there was a house that could do that. John’s gospel tells us that after Jesus drove the moneychangers out of the temple in Jerusalem, the religious authorities came to him and asked him for a sign from heaven to prove that he had the authority to do it.

‘Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up”. The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking of the temple of his body’ (John 2:19-21).

Jesus is the temple where God lives. Paul says in Colossians, ‘For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell’ (Colossians 1:19). And in Ephesians Paul goes even further than this. Amazing though it may seem, he says, there is still a temple of God on earth today, even though we no longer see Jesus in the flesh. In today’s reading from Ephesians he says that we, the Church of Jesus Christ, are the new temple of God.

‘In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for the Lord’ (Ephesians 2:21-22).

Much as we love this church building where we meet, it is not the house of God. You are the house of God. In the New Testament God has never promised to live in a building; he’s promised to live in people, and especially in the people who gather together in the name of Jesus. Church buildings are fine as long as we treat them simply as convenient places where we can meet together for worship. But if we fall into the trap of making them more important than the people who gather there, then we’re in danger of the same error David almost fell into – treating the work of our hands as more important than the work God is doing among us.

God is building a house far more wonderful than anything we can imagine. It stretches through time and space; it’s made up of people of every tribe, language and nation. You are part of that house, and so am I. And as the psalmist says, ‘This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes!’ (Psalm 118:23). Amen!

Posted in Bible, Sermons | Leave a comment