I’ve gone through the ‘Meadowvale’ story over the past few weeks and done a rewrite. I will be posting the revised chapters here over the next few months, 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! I hope you enjoy them.
Funnily enough, by early October I had still not met Will and Sally’s son Joe, even though he lived and worked in Meadowvale. I knew all about him, of course; I knew that he had taken his veterinary training at the University of Saskatchewan, after which he had moved back to Meadowvale to work with Ivor Greenslade and Shauna Reed at Meadowvale Veterinary Clinic. I knew that he was engaged to be married to Ellie Finlay, a dental assistant from Humboldt who he had met in Saskatoon while they were both in university. I knew that Ellie was a bluegrass fiddle player, and that although she was still living and working in the city she planned to move up to Meadowvale in the new year, when she was hoping to get a job with the local dental clinic. And I knew that Joe and Ellie were planning on getting married in the spring. I knew all these things, because Will and Sally had told me about Joe and Ellie, but I didn’t actually meet them until Thanksgiving.
On the Friday of Thanksgiving weekend I stayed in my classroom a little later than usual so that I could finish up some marking. It was a ground floor room, with large windows the full length of the outside wall, individual desks in rows facing the front, a large green chalkboard behind my desk, and bookshelves off to one side. I was gradually working my way through a pile of student assignments on my desk, a cup of lukewarm coffee at my elbow; I had lost track of time, and when Will slipped into the room I looked up from my work and was surprised to discover from the clock on the wall that it was after five-thirty. He perched on a student desk in front of me and said, “You’re working late tonight”.
“I didn’t realized what time it was; I’m nearly finished”.
“I’m just about to leave, so you’re the last one here; do you want to lock up when you go?”
He put his hands in his pockets and said, “Listen, are you doing anything special this weekend?”
I shook my head; “No”.
“You’re not going out for Thanksgiving supper with friends or anything?”
I grinned apologetically; “This whole Thanksgiving thing is new to me”, I said. “I didn’t even know what it was about until I started hearing people talking about turkey and pumpkin pie”.
“You don’t have Thanksgiving in the old country?”
“Harvest festivals, but no big family gatherings or turkey dinners”.
“Would you like to come over to our place for Thanksgiving supper on Sunday night?”
“Please, Will; you and Sally have been really kind to me, but don’t feel you have to invite me yet again”.
“No, no, it’s not like that at all; Sally told me this morning to ask you over. Of course”, he continued with a smile, “it might be a little overwhelming for you”.
“How do you mean?”
“Well, it’ll be a pretty big gathering”.
He frowned thoughtfully, obviously going over the guest list in his head. “Well, let’s see: Sally and me, and Joe and Ellie, and Kelly came home for the weekend from Jasper today, and Krista will be coming from Edmonton tomorrow. Then I think Sally’s brother David and his wife Anna, who don’t have any kids of their own to cook for, and Sally’s parents, and my mother…”He smiled and nodded at me; “I think that’s everyone”, he said. “How many is that? Eleven? Twelve? And then there’s you, if you say yes!”
I laughed; “I hope you’ve got a stretchable dining table!”
“We’ll be fine; would you like to come?”
“I don’t want to intrude on your family gathering, Will.”
“Don’t be silly; we’d love to have you over. And you’d finally get to meet Joe, too!”
“Well, that would be good; it seems a little weird that I still haven’t run into him”.
“He’s been going down to the city a lot to spend time with Ellie, and of course he has to be on call some weekends too”.
“Right; that makes sense”.
“So we’ll expect you, then? We’ll eat at six, but come a little earlier, say about four-thirty or so?”
“All right –thank you very much. Is there anything I can bring?”
“No – just bring yourself”. He glanced at his watch; “Well, I should be heading for home”, he said; “You’ll be sure to lock everything up when you leave?”
“Sunday at four-thirty, then?”
“Right; thanks, Will”.
There was a light rain falling late Sunday afternoon as I parked my car on the side of the road in front of Will and Sally’s house; there were already three vehicles in the driveway, two of them half-ton trucks. The living room curtains were open, and I could see Will standing behind the window; he saw me walking up the driveway and greeted me with a cheery wave. I followed the cracked stone pathway around the side of the house into the back yard. The back door opened as I approached, but to my surprise it was not Will standing there, but a young man of about my own age, with longish blond hair and a crooked nose, dressed comfortably in jeans and a faded green University of Saskatchewan sweatshirt; I recognized him immediately from the family photographs on Will and Sally’s living room wall.
“You must be Tom”, he said in a quiet voice, holding out his hand. “I’m Joe Reimer”.
“I’ve heard a lot about you”, I replied, shaking his hand. “It’s good to finally meet you”.
“You too; come on in”.
I followed him into the house, kicking off my shoes in the stairwell and climbing the three steps into the kitchen. I could smell the turkey cooking in the oven, and as I entered the room Sally turned from the sink, wiped her hand on a towel and said, “Come on in, Tom; you’ve already met my son Joe?”
“He just introduced himself”.
She poured coffee from the carafe into a glass mug and handed it to me; “There you go”, she said.
Will came wandering into the kitchen area, greeted me with a smile, and said. “Come on through, Tom; I’ll introduce you to the others. Not everyone’s here yet”.
I followed him into the dining area, where he introduced me to his mother and Sally’s parents, who were sitting at the table drinking coffee together. Will’s mother, Erika Reimer, was lean and wiry, and her eyes twinkled as she smiled and shook hands with me; he had told me that she was eighty-two, but she looked at least ten years younger, and in her jeans and check shirt she was as far removed as possible from my image of the traditional Mennonite grandmother.
“How long have you been in Canada?”she asked me in a heavily accented voice.
“About ten weeks, actually”.
“I’ve got a few years on you, then; I’ve been here since 1924!”
We both laughed, and she said, “Is your principal looking after you well enough?”
“He’s been very helpful, thank you”.
“That’s the way it should be. Are you a good cook?”
I grinned and shrugged my shoulders; “In a basic sort of way”, I replied.
“Well, if you ever feel like a good home-cooked dinner, you come over to my place, okay?”
“She means it”, Will added, “and she is a superb cook. Tom, come on down and meet the youngsters”.
I followed him down a couple of steps into the sunken living room; it had a big picture window on one side, and was furnished with a couple of large chesterfields, some easy chairs, and a coffee table in the centre. There was a large TV on a stand in one corner, and on the inside wall there were framed photographs of Will and Sally and various other family members. Two young women were sitting in one corner of the room, talking to each other; Will introduced them to me as “My daughter Krista, and my future daughter-in-law Ellie”. Krista, who had long blonde hair and a mischievous grin, shook my hand and said, “So you’re the famous Tom Masefield!”
“Yes, I am”.
Joe had followed us into the living room. “My other sister Kelly’s just having a shower”, he explained; “She was out walking this afternoon and she wanted to get cleaned up before supper”.
“How long is she here for?”I asked.
“A few days, actually”, Will said. “She arrived on Friday and she’s not going back until Wednesday”.
“That’s a nice break”.
“Yeah, she set it up somehow by combining stat holidays and days off. Have a seat, Tom”.
“Thanks”, I replied, sitting down on one of the chesterfields beside Ellie. She had dark hair pulled back into a thick braid, and she was dressed comfortably in jeans and a red tee-shirt. “I hear you’re a musician”, she said with a smile.
“Yes; I’m a guitar player”.
“Ellie plays the fiddle”, Joe said, glancing at her affectionately.
“So I hear”.
Krista gave me a grin; “That’s quite the accent!”she observed; “We’re not used to hearing Englishmen around here”.
“I’ve noticed there aren’t too many others in town”.
“There was another teacher from England a few years ago”, Joe said quietly; “He taught us social studies when we were in high school”.
“Oh yeah”, Krista replied, “I’d forgotten about him! What was his name?”
“Crawley”, Joe said; “We used to call him ‘Creepy Crawley’. What happened to him, Dad? He was still here when I left for university”.
“He moved to Edmonton a couple of years after you graduated”, Will replied.
“And then there’s Mrs. Robinson”, Krista said; “Have you met her yet, Tom?”
“No; who is she?”
“She’s an old lady; I think she came here in the 1930s, but she sounds like she just got here yesterday”.
“Sally’s sister Rachel married one of her sons”, Will added.
I heard a door opening in the hallway, and a moment later a young woman who was obviously Krista’s older sister appeared in the entrance to the living room. As I got to my feet she said, “No, don’t bother to get up; I’m Kelly Reimer”.
We shook hands formally; “Tom Masefield”, I replied.
“Masefield?”she said thoughtfully; “Isn’t there a poet…?”
“Yes, John Masefield”.
“Is he the guy that wrote ‘I must go down to the sea again…’?”
“‘…to the lonely sea and the sky’- yes, that’s him”.
“Are you related?”
“Not that I know of”, I replied with a smile, “but it’s a long time since anyone’s asked me that!”
“Well, I like his stuff”.
She was seriously lovely, with blue-grey eyes and long blond hair still wet from the shower, dressed in faded jeans and a simple white sweater. She had the sort of face and figure that no man ignores easily, and I found it hard to take my eyes off her as she sat down on the floor opposite me with her back against the other chesterfield. Her brother was sitting beside her; she looked up at him with a grin and said, “Get me some coffee, will you, Joe?”
“Right away!”he replied with a grin, getting to his feet; “Can I bring you anything else? Some cookies, or maybe some caviar?”
We all laughed, and then as Joe disappeared around the corner into the kitchen Kelly looked across at me and said, “Dad’s been telling us all about you. Oxford University; that’s kind of classy for a place like Meadowvale”.
I shrugged; “I was born there, so I didn’t think about it very much”.
“It must be a fabulous place”, Kelly said; “all those old buildings and history! Was it a tough university to get into?”
“I suppose. I’d always hoped to be able to study there when the time came; I was very lucky”.
“I’m sure luck had nothing to do with it”, she replied as her brother came back into the living room, carrying a cup of coffee for her; “You must have been a good student”.
I shrugged my shoulders again, feeling a little embarrassed; “I suppose so”.
“Does your family still live there?”she asked, taking the mug from Joe’s outstretched hand with a smile and moving over a little to make room for him to sit down on the chesterfield behind her.
“My parents live in a village about ten miles south of Oxford”.
“And do you have brothers and sisters?”
“One brother who’s currently a university student, and a little sister who still lives at home with my parents; she’s twelve”.
“So you’re the oldest?”
“What made you decide to move to Canada?”
I looked away, taking a sip of my coffee; “I met someone from Canada in my college”, I replied; “He told me about it, and it sounded interesting”.
“I just find it hard to understand why someone would move from an incredible place like that to come to Meadowvale, Saskatchewan”. She smiled and glanced around at her family; “Well, we like it here, but it isn’t normally considered one of the most popular destinations for immigrants from Oxford!”
“Kelly, give the man a break!”Joe exclaimed; “He’s only just met you, and you’re already questioning him like it was some sort of inquisition in here!”
She smiled apologetically at me; “You’ll have to forgive me”, she said; “I tend to be a little direct”.
“Just a little”, Joe observed with a mocking grin.
Everyone laughed, and Kelly turned and took a playful swipe at her brother. He dodged her blow and caught her wrist with his hand. “Now don’t try this again”, he said; “You know you’ve never won”.
“Children, children”, Will said reproachfully; “Not in front of the company, please!”
“And not with a cup of coffee in your hand, either”, Joe added, wagging his finger at Kelly; “You’ll spill it on the rug, you know!”
Kelly glanced at me; “Is your brother as annoying as mine?”
“Well, as I said, I’m the oldest, so he probably thinks I’m the annoying one”.
“Is he studying at Oxford too?”
“I’m afraid so; he’s at Balliol College though. I went to Lincoln; I don’t know if you know anything about the Oxford colleges?”
“Not really; they all sound kind of magical to me”.
I shrugged; “They have their magic, I suppose. When we lived there, we sort of took them for granted”. I looked over at Krista and said, “So your dad tells me you’re studying wildlife biology”.
“She’s studying caribou”, Kelly replied.
“I’m doing a masters’ thesis”, Krista explained; “There are four small herds of woodland caribou in Jasper National Park, and Parks Canada and the Canadian Wildlife Service have been warning for a couple of years now that the populations are in danger. I’m doing a study to investigate whether or not that’s true”.
“Do you think it’s true?”
She smiled sheepishly; “Are you asking Krista the scientist or Krista the lover of wild animals?”
“Does it make a difference?”
Joe laughed; “Krista the scientist will tell you that she hasn’t got enough evidence yet to decide one way or the other. Krista the lover of wild animals will tell you that introducing human beings onto the earth was one of God’s more questionable decisions, and that whenever humans and wild animals come into contact, wild animals suffer for it”.
“Which is usually true”, Krista replied defiantly.
“Do you know why the populations are at risk?” I asked her.
She shook her head; “I’ve got hunches, but at the moment that’s all they are”.
“So you’re not just writing a thesis for its own sake, then?”
“What would be the point?”
“Some would say, to get a master’s degree”.
“Can’t I make a difference in the world as well?”
Kelly looked across at her sister, and I saw the affection in her eyes; “I sure hope you can”, she replied.
Sally called us to the supper table around six; by then her brother David and his wife Anna had arrived, and as I had not met them before I had to answer the same questions about how long I had been in Canada and where I had lived in England. I found myself sitting between Joe and Kelly, and when we had all taken our places Will, who had an enormous turkey on a platter in front of him, asked us to join hands. “Shall we sing something, since we’re all here?”he asked.
“How about ‘We thank thee Lord, for this our food?’”Sally suggested.
“Wonderful”. He glanced at me and said, “We’ll sing it through a couple of times, Tom, and you’ll soon catch on”.
They started to sing, and I suddenly realized that this was not your average family singalong, with half the members barely able to hold a tune; these people sang a cappella, in four-part harmony, and they were obviously well-practiced in it:
“We thank thee, Lord, for this our food;
God is love, God is love.
But most of all for Jesus’ light;
God is love, God is love.
These mercies bless, and grant that we
may live in peace and reign with thee.
May live in peace and reign with thee;
God is love, God is love”.
The tune was a simple one, and the second time around I was already humming along to it, following Joe as he sang the tenor part. When the song ended Will smiled; “Amen”, he said, picking up a carving knife. “Who wants some turkey?”
“That was beautiful”, I said as he began to slice into the bird. “Is that a sort of family tradition?”
“It’s a Mennonite grace”, Sally explained.
Kelly grinned playfully at me; “You know of course that we’re a hot-bed of religious fanatics who wear black clothes and drive horses and buggies?”
“So I’ve been told”, I replied with a smile, “although I haven’t seen the horses and buggies yet”.
They laughed, and Will’s mother said, “Hey, it’s not so very long ago that we used to get around all winter with horse and cutter”.
“I remember those days, all right”, Will said, “and going out to milk the cows at forty below in the winter, and cutting wood”. He winked at me; “It was a tough life”, he said with a grin.
“Oh yeah”, Kelly said, “walking for miles every day to a one-room schoolhouse”.
“Uphill, both ways”, Joe added with a grin.
“I didn’t walk”, Will retorted. “As you all know, I rode a horse”.
“That was up in Spruce Creek, right?”I said.
“Have you been up there?”Will’s mother asked me.
“I was up there a few weeks ago, when we went to help Hugo with the harvesting”.
“That was where we settled when we first came from Russia”, she said; “That was our homestead”.
“I remember Hugo telling me that”. I looked around the table and said, “Well, since I have a table full of Mennonites here tonight, there’s a question I’ve been meaning to ask ever since you told me about the history of this town, Will”.
“What’s that?”he asked.
“What brought the Mennonites here in the first place? I mean, I know they came from Russia, but why did they come here?”
Will turned to his mother; “You want to tell Tom the story?”he asked.
“Of course”, she replied. “Yes, we came from Russia; as Will’s probably told you, we were trying to get away from the Bolsheviks. They didn’t like Mennonites, or any Christian people for that matter. Thousands of people disappeared. Anyone who could get out, got out. My husband and I were lucky; we had relatives in Canada, so we came over here in 1924. But we didn’t go to Waterloo where most of our relatives lived, because the government was giving land away for free out here, so we came to Saskatchewan and homesteaded. All you had to do was settle on the land, clear a few acres and plant a crop, and within a couple of years they gave you the title to it”.
“Was there anyone living here back then?”I asked.
“My cousin Hermann Paetkau was here two years before us; he was the one that sent us word about this place. He was already homesteading when we got here. And the English and the French were already here, of course; they came about ten years before us. But they settled around Meadowvale, and we stayed in Spruce Creek. We didn’t speak any English at first, but my husband and I made sure to learn”.
“What language did you speak – Russian?”
“No – we spoke Low German for every day, and High German in church on Sundays”.
“Right – Will told me the Mennonites had originally come from Germany and the Netherlands. That’s quite something, though, to keep a language alive in a foreign country like that”.
“Well, we wanted to keep our faith”she explained. “We lived simple and peaceful lives, far away from the world, speaking our own language and following our own customs. In those days everyone believed that was the only way for us to be true to our Christian faith”.
“What about you, Tom?”, Joe asked quietly; “Were you raised in any sort of religious faith?”
I shook my head; “Not really; my dad’s a strong atheist, and we were never encouraged to go to church. My best friend’s a Christian, though; he and I have talked about it from time to time, especially in the last couple of years. But I really don’t know much about Mennonites at all, except the whole horse and buggy and black clothes image Kelly was talking about, and since I’ve met your mum and dad, I’ve realized that may not be an accurate stereotype”.
“Different groups of Mennonites have taken different approaches”, Sally observed; “The group we belong to doesn’t put such a strong emphasis on outward signs like clothing and language”.
“You people are definitely going to scare Tom off”, Kelly protested; “All this stuff about Mennonite culture and history!”
“Hey, I’m the one that asked the question!”I replied, smiling gratefully at Will as he passed me a plate of turkey. “It’s true that my dad’s an atheist, but I don’t necessarily share his views on that particular subject”. I smiled ruefully; “My dad and I disagree about a lot of things”.
“Fathers and sons”, Joe observed with a mischievous grin, looking across at his father.
“You send them to university”, Will replied, “and they grow up to stick their hands up the rear ends of cows”.
“Hey”, Sally’s father retorted from the other end of the table, “I seem to remember you doing your fair share of that when you were little!”
“Yes, but Joe does it by choice!”Kelly observed, smiling playfully at her brother.
“Some people like math, some people like cows”, Joe replied.
“This is a fine conversation to be having with the turkey!”Sally exclaimed.
“Sorry, Mom”, Joe replied, “although Dad was the one who started it!”
“I haven’t seen a lot of cows around here”, I observed; “Are there many?”
“There are quite a few actually”, Joe replied. “We do a lot of work with cows and horses at the clinic, but we have a lot of small animal work, too”.
“Are you busy?”I asked.
“Oh yeah; I could easily work seven days a week if I wanted to. There’s a lot of travelling involved, of course, because, funnily enough, most people would rather not load their cows and horses onto trailers and bring them in to the vet’s office – at least, not if they can help it!”
I laughed; “I never thought about that!”I said.
Supper was huge; the main course was big enough, and everyone had second helpings, but then after a break of about half an hour Sally brought out pies: pumpkin, apple, and Saskatoon berry. “Anyone ready for some dessert?”she asked.
“Oh, I couldn’t possibly!”her brother David replied with a grin, holding his stomach.
“But you will!”his wife Anna said, smiling at him affectionately.
“Who made all these pies?”I asked.
“Mom and I made most of them”, Sally replied, “and then Kelly brought a couple with her from Jasper”.
“I thought I should make something to add to the feast”, Kelly said.
Fresh coffee and tea were served, the pies were carved up and shared, and the conversation continued at the table until after nine o’clock. I was content to sit on the edge of the family circle and listen, enjoying the sense of warmth, and the knowledge that they were entirely happy to have me there.
Eventually Sally and her mother got up and cleared the table; the older folks moved into the living room, but the younger Reimers stayed at the dining table. “Do you like to play Scrabble?”Kelly asked me.
“I do, actually”.
“Excellent. Are you ready to be massacred, Joseph Reimer?”
“Comin’right up”, Joe replied. He bent over beside a cupboard, opened a drawer and took out a Scrabble set.
“Is this another family tradition?”I asked.
“This is serious business”, Krista replied with a grin.
“Too serious for me”, Ellie added apologetically; “I let them persuade me to play once, a couple of years ago, and they totally wiped the floor with me, so I’m really glad that you like Scrabble, Tom!”
“Clear the decks”, Joe said, taking the Scrabble board out of the box; “This is my year; I can feel it coming”.
Will was coming around the corner with an empty coffee cup in his hand; “Let not him that girds on his armour boast himself as he that puts it off”, he said.
“What the heck is that, Dad?”Kelly asked.
“A quote from the Bible, of course”, he replied with a grin. “Don’t let me interrupt the slaughter, though; I’m just on the way through to fill up my coffee cup”.
The three Reimer siblings were definitely serious Scrabble players, and they were good at it, too; they didn’t use any words that I didn’t know, but they certainly used words I’d never seen in a Scrabble game before. It quickly became obvious that the real competition was between Joe and Kelly; Krista and I held our own, but we were not up to their level. The score was close right to the end, but eventually, after about forty minutes of intense play, Joe won by using all the remaining letters in his hand to form the word ‘dyslexic’and go out.
“Unbelievable!”Kelly snorted; “How long have you had the ‘x’and the ‘y’?”
“About half the game”, he replied with a self-satisfied smirk; “I had a hunch they might come in useful”.
“That was a bit of a gamble”, I said.
“Hey, nothing ventured…”
“How about a rematch?”Kelly asked defiantly.
“Not competitive, now, are we?” Joe replied.
“Me? Surely not!”
Joe laughed and said, “Last time we played, we only had one game, and you totally annihilated me, so I think I’m just going to cut my losses and savour my brilliant victory tonight!”
Joe and Krista got up and went into the living room to join the others; I was just beginning to think that I should be on my way as well when Kelly gave me a smile and asked, “Are you enjoying yourself?”
“I really am. Your mum and dad have told me a lot about you all, so it’s really good to finally meet you”.
“Yeah, Dad’s mentioned a few things about you, too”.
“You keep in touch, then?”
“We do. You’ve probably noticed already that my dad’s kind of gregarious, and Mom and I are pretty close, too”.
“I can see that”. I shifted a little in my chair and said, “So tell me a bit more about Jasper; I know it’s in the Rocky Mountains, but I don’t really know anything about it beyond that”.
She smiled, and I saw a faraway look in her eyes. “It’s a wonderful place”, she said. “It’s in a pass through the mountains, where the Athabasca and Miette rivers meet. When I stand on the balcony of my apartment in town, I can see mountains wherever I look. There are beautiful green lakes, and deep gorges and waterfalls, and great hiking trails; it’s a wonderful place to see wildlife, too – caribou, moose, bears, elk, wolves…”.
“Are any of those animals dangerous?”
“Bears are dangerous, so when you’re hiking you have to keep a sharp lookout for them. And if you go far enough off the beaten track there’s a chance you might see a cougar, but I never have. Moose are usually okay as long as you keep your distance and don’t startle them. I’ve never run into a moose on a hiking trail, although I have seen them on the sides of a lake when I’ve been canoeing. It’s a great place for canoeing, and trail riding, and skiing as well. Do you ski?”
“No – I’ve had the opportunity a couple of times, but I’ve never been brave enough to try it”.
“I was a cross country skier before I moved to Jasper, but now I’ve started downhill skiing as well”.
“I like walking a lot”, I said; “We had great footpaths back home, but here there doesn’t seem to be anything like that”.
“No – Saskatchewan’s pretty much a car culture – or, I should say, a truck culture. I like walking and hiking, but I’m in a minority. Are you a hiker, then?”
“I suppose so, though I’m not really sure where exactly walking turns to hiking! When we were teenagers, my best friend Owen and I would often spend the whole of Saturday walking out in the country, and we kept that up when we were in university. Sometimes we went further afield; Owen’s family used to go camping in the Lake District – that’s a mountainous area in northwest England – and I often went with them. The views there are pretty spectacular, although probably not by your standards”.
“Show me some pictures some time, alright?”
“Alright, but fair’s fair – I’d like to see some of yours, too”.
“Next time I come home I’ll bring some. But now it’s your turn; tell me all about Oxford”.
“What do you already know about it?”
“Well, I’ve read some of Colin Dexter’s Morse novels, and I’ve read a bit of C.S. Lewis, too. It’s quite old, isn’t it?”
“The college I went to was founded in 1427”.
She grinned; “Right – pretty old, then!”
“There are some colleges that go back to the 1300s”, I said. “Oxford is different from some university towns, in that the individual colleges are older than the university. Tutors and lecturers are attached to the colleges, but the university oversees the whole thing and sets exams and runs the science labs and all that stuff. Not that I know a lot about science labs; my degree’s in English Literature”.
“You didn’t do a teaching degree?”
“I did a BA in English and a postgraduate certificate in education”.
“Right. And you were also playing folk music in a band, Dad tells me”.
“Yeah; Owen and I had been playing guitar together since our early teens, and a couple of years ago we met a girl with a fantastic voice who joined us”.
“Are you famous?”she asked playfully.
“Hardly! We had lots of fun, though”.
“What’s the teaching like at Oxford; are the classes big?”
“The lectures are big, but the tutorials are small”.
“What are tutorials?”
“You meet once a week in groups of two or three students with your tutor; one of the students will have been assigned an essay, which they read, and then the tutor critiques the essay and encourages everyone else to chime in”.
“No kidding? I’ve never heard of anything like that before”.
“Well, it works alright with arts and humanities, but I don’t think they use it so much in the science courses”.
“I guess not”.
Joe wandered back into the dining area and sat down with us; “Is she still interrogating you?”he asked with a smile.
“I don’t mind”, I replied.
“How are you finding Meadowvale, Tom?”he asked quietly.
“It’s good; it’s different from what I’m used to, of course”.
“A little challenging to get into for an outsider?”
“A bit, but most people have been really welcoming. Sometimes people just forget that there are lots of things I don’t know about. I know they don’t mean to be unkind, though”.
“No”, he replied; “people are just used to each other, and it takes them a while to get comfortable with a newcomer”.
“Your dad and mum have been great”, I said; “I’ve had supper here at least once a week since I got here, and when I was setting my house up they couldn’t have been more helpful”.
“Where do you live?”Kelly asked.
“In a little rented place over toward the highway”.
“Ron Ratzlaff’s place?”
“That’s the one”.
Kelly nodded; “I know where you live, then. Maybe I’ll come over tomorrow and take you out for coffee”.
Joe grinned; “She’s really shy, my sister!”
“That would be fine”, I said; “I’d enjoy that”.
“Actually”, Kelly added, “have you discovered Myers Lake yet?”
“No – what’s that?”
She grinned; “It’s a lake!”
We laughed; “Sorry”, she said, “but I couldn’t resist that!”
“No need to apologize”, I replied; “I walked right into it!”
“It’s actually a regional park about seven miles north-east of here. The lake is a great place to see waterfowl in the summer, but what I like are the walking trails. There are several miles of them; they run along the shore and off into the bush. Of course, the poplars and willows are bare by now, but there are some spruce as well. And once the snow comes you can go cross-country skiing or snowshoeing up there”.
“I’d like to see that”, I said.
“Well, tomorrow’s a holiday; why don’t I take you up there?”
“I’d like that”.