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.
Kelly spent the first week of October moving back to Meadowvale. In the end she decided not to stay at Will and Sally’s house, but to rent a place of her own for a year. As it happened, the house she found was only three blocks from mine, which led to more than one comment from friends and family about how that particular piece of sidewalk was going to get well worn over the next few months.
Once again, Will and Sally hosted a family gathering on Thanksgiving Sunday, which fell this year on October 9th. The significance of the occasion was not lost on Kelly and me; we sat beside each other at the table, our shoulders touching, and I knew that, like me, she was remembering last year’s gathering, when we had first met in this house. As usual, there was a fiercely contested Scrabble game later in the evening, and Krista surprised everyone by winning it handily. Kelly’s little sister was wearing an engagement ring now; she and Steve had made the announcement a couple of weeks previously, but they had not yet set a date.
“It might not be for a year or two”, Steve had said; “We’ve both got our degrees to finish, and we’re not quite sure what comes after that yet”.
“I’d like to go on and get my doctorate”, Krista said, her hand in his.
“I’ll be looking for a job”, Steve added, “but of course, we have no way of knowing where that might be”.
On Thanksgiving Monday Kelly and I spent the day together; I wandered over to her new place for coffee in the middle of the morning, after which we went out to Myers Lake and spent a couple of hours walking the trails and talking quietly together. There was a cool wind that day, and we were both wearing sweaters and jackets; we sat for a few minutes on the bench by the lake, but soon decided to walk back to the parking lot and head for home.
Later on, we worked together to make a light supper at my place; I put a candle on the table and opened a bottle of red wine, and as we ate we talked for a long time about all that had happened in the past year. After we had finished we cleared up, washed the dishes, and then went into the living room to sit together on the couch for a while, taking the half-empty bottle of wine and a couple of glasses with us. I put my arm around her, and she laid her head back against my shoulder and said, “Krista’s so happy; it’s hard to believe she’s known Steve for most of her life”.
“Where did Steve grow up?”
“Not far from Uncle Hugo, actually; the Janzen farm’s about four miles north of the old Reimer homestead. Have you met Steve and John’s dad?”
She laughed; “That’s what we all call him, but his name is actually Adolphus Heinrich”.
“That’s quite a mouthful!”
“I think that’s why he goes by Henry”.
“Steve and John have a sister, don’t they?”
“Bonnie; she was actually Krista’s best friend when they were teenagers”. She frowned; “When we were kids Kris and I were inseparable, but she was kind of hurt when I stopped going to church. It’s funny; she’s got this amazing scientific brain, but she’s never been troubled with doubts about faith the way I was. Bren had struggles like me, although she never left the church, so that’s when she and I became closer”.
“And Krista and Bonnie…?”
“Yeah, Kris actually got to be good friends with the whole Janzen clan, but especially Bonnie”.
“So she’s known Steve forever, but they had to go away to fall in love with each other”.
“Exactly. You and I, on the other hand…”
“Yes”. I kissed her softly and said, “It’s hard to believe it’s only been a year since we met, isn’t it? Sometimes I feel like I’ve known you my whole life long”.
“I know what you mean; we’re kind of like living proof that your friend Wendy was wrong”.
I leaned forward and poured a little wine into the glasses. Handing her a glass, I said, “A toast”.
“A toast?” she replied.
“A toast”. I raised my glass; “To friendship and love”, I said.
“Friendship and love”, she replied with a grin.
We sipped our wine for a moment, and then as we put our glasses back down on the coffee table I said, “There’s something I want to ask you”.
“Is there something we’re still waiting for?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, we’ve been having these conversations on and off since August – conversations about what marriage might look like, if we were to go down that path – and we’ve talked about a lot of different things. I guess I’m wondering if there’s still more that we need to talk about”.
She looked up at me, and I saw the sudden surge of happiness on her face. “What do you think?” she asked.
I shook my head; “I’m sure there’s still a lot to learn, and I know we’ll spend our whole lives discovering more about each other. But I don’t think I need to wait any longer to make a decision; I already know that I want to spend the rest of my life with you”.
“Me too”, she said softly.
I lifted her hand to my lips and kissed it, my eyes on hers. “So, my lovely Kelly”, I said, “will you marry me?”
For a moment she didn’t reply, and then she leaned forward and kissed me on the lips. “I will”, she said; “very, very gladly”.
As she drew back I saw to my surprise that there were tears in her eyes. “Are you okay?” I asked.
She nodded her head; “I’m just happy; just unbelievably happy, Tom”.
I held out my arm to her, and she moved closer again, cuddling up to me and laying her head back down on my shoulder. For a few minutes neither of us spoke; I had the sense that if I said anything else, the moment would be over, and I wasn’t quite ready to move on yet. But eventually she moved her body slightly so that her face was against my neck, kissed me, and whispered, “That was perfect; I’ll remember it for the rest of my life. I love you so much”.
“I love you too”.
“The timing’s going to be a little difficult, though, isn’t it?”
“Well, I think the first question is, before or after next August?”
“Really? I thought the first question was going to be, before or after next week?”
We laughed, and I kissed her on the forehead and said, “Or tomorrow, maybe?”
“Tomorrow would be good!”
“But maybe our families would be a little miffed”.
“Maybe”. She gave a sigh, snuggled closer to me, and said, “Okay, I’m done with fooling, I’m ready to talk sensibly now”.
“Alright. Well, much as I’d like to do it sooner rather than later, I think we might have to wait until after Owen and Rick”.
“Because of your family members coming over, you mean?”
“Well, I’ve got no idea whether or not any of my family will come over, although I’d like to think my mum will. But I’d like to ask Owen to be my best man, and he’s going to be significantly out of pocket this year”.
“Right, so we need to give him time to try to raise the money”.
“Yeah; and then there’s a possible conflict with Krista and Steve, too”.
“But they haven’t set a date yet. I figure that if they drag their feet like that, they can’t complain if we jump in first!”
I laughed; “Well, she’s your sister and you’ve got to live with her, so I’ll leave it to you whether you want to risk annoying her!”
“I think we should come up with a tentative date ourselves, and then raise it as a suggestion and see what people think”.
“I’ve got an idea”.
“What is it?”
“How about a year from now, on Thanksgiving weekend 1984?”
She looked up at me, and I saw that her eyes were shining; “You know, you are an incurable romantic!” she said.
“Thank you; I’ll take that as a compliment!”
“It was meant to be a compliment. And yes, I think that would be a really wonderful idea. And we’d be able to give people a good reason why we wanted that date, too”.
She snuggled up close to me again. “It’s a plan”, she said. “Now we can start talking to people about it”.
“Well, first of all, can I interest you in an engagement ring, Miss Reimer?”
“You sure can! Have you got one close by?”
“As it happens, I have”. I got to my feet, kissed her on the forehead, smiled at her and then slipped out to my room. A moment later I returned, holding out the simple diamond ring I had bought in Saskatoon the previous weekend. “How’s this?” I asked.
She caught her breath; “Tom, it’s beautiful”, she said.
“You may”. She held up her left hand, and I slipped the ring onto her finger. “There”, I said; “Now it’s official”.
And so the conversations started. No one was at all surprised, of course, when we announced that we were engaged, and when we said that we wanted to get married on Thanksgiving weekend next year everyone immediately picked up on the significance of the date. But it was Sally Reimer who looked at us as we sat across from her at the kitchen table and said, “You’re going to have an expensive year, what with making a trip to England and all”.
“I guess so”, Kelly replied.
“We hadn’t really talked about that yet”, I added.
“Where are you going to live?” Sally asked.
“We haven’t talked about that yet either”, Kelly replied. “He only asked me yesterday, Mom!”
“Although, to be fair, we’ve been dancing around the subject for a few weeks now”, I said.
Will was sitting at the end of the table, nursing a mug of coffee in his hand. “It’s none of my business”, he said quietly, “but if you’re interested in some fatherly advice, I could give it to you”.
“Please do”, I replied.
“Well, it seems to me that you’ve got at least three major expenses coming up”. He listed them one by one, holding up his fingers to count them off. “First, the trip to England in August for the two weddings over there – which is the most expensive time of the year to fly. Second, your wedding, which may or may not be really expensive, depending on what sort of event you want to have. Third, buying a house, which would be a challenge right now because the interest rates are still sitting at around 11%, which is lower than a year ago, but still makes for a pretty expensive mortgage payment”.
“True enough”, Kelly replied.
“Well, it seems to me that expense number three is the one you can do without right now. You’re going to make that trip to the U.K., because you have to be at your brother’s wedding, Tom, and your best friend has asked you to be his best man, so that’s a given. Whether or not Kelly goes with you…”
“I’m going”, Kelly replied stubbornly; “I’m not going to miss out on my chance to meet Tom’s family before our wedding, and to see the place where he grew up”.
“Okay, so that will be expensive. As for your own wedding, well, as I said, it all depends on how much of a splash you want to have, but for sure it won’t be cheap. But when we come to a house – well, Kelly, you’ve just rented a pretty good place for a year, and it’s bigger than that little cabin that Tom lives in – why not just make that your place for a while, until you get ahead a little financially, and maybe the interest rates come down?”
I nodded. “I’m not a financial expert, but that sounds like good advice to me”.
“You know we’ll help you as much as we can”, Sally added.
“We’re not asking for handouts right now”, Kelly replied; “We’ve both got good jobs, and we’re doing okay, even though we’re not rich”.
Will nodded, and then he held out his hand to me. “I hope you know how happy this news makes Sally and me”, he said.
I took his hand and shook it firmly; “Thanks”, I replied.
“I have to say, though, that I sure wasn’t expecting this the day I picked you up at the airport in Saskatoon!”
I laughed; “Life is full of surprises!”
“Isn’t that the truth?”
Kelly asked if she could be with me when I made my phone calls to England, and so she was sitting beside me in my living room on the following Saturday when I called Owen. I told him I was putting him on speakerphone so Kelly could hear the conversation, and then I shared our news with him. When I asked if he would be my best man, he didn’t hesitate for a moment. “Of course I will”, he said, “and if we can possibly manage it, Lorraine will be with me”.
“Are you sure?” I asked; “I know Lorraine’s not making much money as an artist…”
He laughed. “She’s not making any money as an artist!” he said; “It’s the waitressing she’s not making much money at!”
“Well, okay, and you’ll just be finishing up your house officer training, and I’m sure the bills pile up”.
“Don’t even think about it, okay? If I have to go busking all winter to raise the money, or go begging to all my friends and relatives, I will. I’ll be there”.
“Thanks, mate; I owe you”.
“Well, that’s true, but then again, you’re paying to come to my wedding too, so I’d say we’re about even”. He paused, then asked, “Have you told your parents yet?”
“That’s my next call”.
“Are you going to stay with them when you come over here in August?”
“I’m assuming so”.
He hesitated, then said, “Might be wise to have a Plan B, in case Plan A gets unexpectedly stressful”.
“Well, you said you didn’t want us staying at your place, so that might be difficult”.
“I don’t mind you staying at my house before the wedding, although I’ve only got one spare room, and it sounds to me like you’re not sharing a bed yet. But you know what – after we talked about this last time, I suddenly realized that Lorraine and I will probably be going away for at least a week afterwards, so the place would be free, if you needed it. I don’t know what your dates will be, though”.
“We haven’t booked them yet, but Rick’s wedding’s on the 4th and yours is on the 18th, so off the top of my head I’d say we’d come for three weeks, from about the 1st to the 21st”.
“Right, so most of that falls in the time when you could stay at my place with me, if you didn’t mind the cramped condition. Also, Dad told me to tell you that if things get difficult at home and if my house isn’t available, you and Kelly would be more than welcome to move over and spend a day or two with him and Mum”.
“That’s really nice of him; thank him for me and tell him we’ll keep it in mind”.
“Good, I’ll pass that on to him. Right, now, Kelly’s there and listening in, is she?”
Kelly laughed; “I’m right here, Owen!” she said. “I’m glad to finally meet you, even if we can’t see each other!”
“Hello, Kelly!” he said; “I’m Owen, Tom’s partner in crime from when we were little brats. You do know what you’re getting into, I take it?”
“Are you asking me whether I’ve discovered his less charming personality traits yet?”
“Yes. For instance, he’s an introvert, you know, and I’m told that you’re an extrovert, like me, so you need to be warned: he can be a real stick in the mud sometimes! Just when you want him to go out to one more party with you, he gets that pained expression on his face, as if you’ve offered to pull his teeth without anaesthetic!”
We laughed, and Kelly squeezed my hand and said, “I’ve noticed he isn’t quite as outgoing as I am”.
“Kelly, trust me, you don’t know the half of it! Well, you probably do, and you love him anyway, which demonstrates admirable patience on your part!”
“You see the crap I have to put up with from my oldest friend?” I said to her with a grin.
“Well, anyway”, Owen said, “I’m really happy for the two of you, and Kelly, I don’t really know you, but I already know that you’re a good thing, so thank you”.
“Thanks, Owen; I’ll look forward to meeting you face to face next year”.
My mother was a little more restrained when she heard the news, but I could tell that she was pleased when she found out that Kelly was there. “I’m so glad to have the chance to talk to you, my dear”, she said; “Tom’s told me all about you, of course, and I’m really looking forward to meeting you”.
“Me too”, Kelly replied; “Tom’s always told me how much he loves you and respects you”.
“What do your parents think of this news? I hope they’re happy”.
“I think they’re thrilled, actually; they’ve both had a real soft spot for Tom, almost since the day they met him. In fact, I think the whole family’s pretty happy about this”.
“Well, I’m glad. You must give me your parents’ address; I’d like to send them a card or something”.
“It’s exactly the same as Tom’s address, only a different box number – Box 431”.
“Is Dad there, Mum?” I asked.
“I’m afraid not – he had a meeting at the office this afternoon. He’ll be sorry to have missed you both”.
I shook my head at Kelly; “He won’t”, I mouthed silently, and then I said, “How about Becca?”
My mother was quiet for a moment, and then said, “Yes, she’s here. I’ll ask her if you really want me to, Tom, but I think you’d be wise not to push it. I know it’s hard, but we’ve had a very happy phone call, and I wouldn’t want to spoil it for you. I’m ninety-five percent sure that she won’t come to the phone”.
Kelly put her hand on mine and shook her head; “Let it go”, she mouthed at me.
“Alright, Mum, I’ll leave it at that, then. I’ll write to you with more details about the wedding as soon as we know about them”.
“Good, I’ll look forward to that. And please send me some photographs. Kelly, please make sure he does that, will you? I only have one photograph of you, and none of the two of you together. I’d be very glad to have one of you both, if that’s possible”.
“Leave it to me, Mrs. Masefield”, Kelly replied with a grin; “I’ll make it happen”.
“Thank you. My love to you both”.
“‘Bye, Mum”, I said.
“Goodbye”, Kelly added.
I turned off the speakerphone, replaced the receiver and looked at Kelly. “You’ve got a way of winning people over”, I said.
“She’s your mom, and you’ve never had a bad word to say about her; what’s not to like?”
I nodded; “Yeah, she’s in a class of her own”. I got to my feet and walked slowly over to the kitchen. “Do you want some tea?” I asked.
I filled the kettle, plugged it in and then turned to see her standing there. “Come here”, she said, holding out her arms.
I put my arms around her, and for a moment we held each other in silence. Then she said, “I’m sorry about Becca; I know you were really hoping she’d talk to you”.
“Yes. It’s been fifteen months and she still can’t let it go”.
She kissed me on the cheek, then released me and said, “We just have to be patient; eventually she’ll come round”.
“But what if she doesn’t? What if I’ve lost her forever?”
Kelly looked up at me and shook her head. “You can’t let yourself think like that. We just have to go on and on reaching out to her, making sure she knows the door’s always open”.
“For how long, though?”
“For as long as it takes”.
I looked down at her and shook my head slowly. “You are extraordinary”, I said.
“So are you”, she replied softly; “I don’t fall in love with ordinary, you know”.
And so I quickly settled into the routine of having Kelly living only three blocks away from my house, instead of eleven hours away in Jasper. One thing she especially enjoyed about her new job was that it didn’t involve any shift work; she worked five days a week from eight in the morning until five in the afternoon, and she had all her evenings and weekends free.
Of course, I was busy too. I was now on my second time through the yearly round of activities at Meadowvale High School, and I had long since gotten over my initial apprehension at confronting a class of people who were not that much younger than me. For many of them, English was not a particularly interesting subject, but I had gradually discovered that if I could speak to them out of my passion for the stories and not just out of a desire to fulfil the requirements of the curriculum, I had a better chance of keeping their attention. So I reached into my memory for all the tricks I’d seen George Foster use over the years, and I gradually developed a few of my own as well. None of that meant, of course, that I still didn’t have plenty of frustrating days, but I was slowly learning to relax and roll with whatever surprises each day brought, and the more I could do that, the more I enjoyed myself.
Like all teachers, I had a lot of preparation to do at home in the evenings, as well as marking students’ work. Nevertheless, I loved having Kelly so close; it meant we could spend time together every day if we wanted, even if it was only half an hour to hold hands and drink tea together. And being the sort of person I was, I naturally preferred that as much of that time as possible be shared with no one but the two of us. Now, Kelly liked that as well, but not all the time. And here we ran into the reality that Owen had warned her about, in his light-hearted way.
I had of course become very fond of Kelly’s mum and dad and of Joe, and was in the habit of having coffee with them regularly. But Kelly’s circle of family and friends was a lot wider than that. She was close to her grandparents, especially her Grandma Reimer, Will’s mother, and she liked to visit them regularly. She was good friends with her cousin Don Robinson and his wife Lynda as well, and she loved their two little girls Amy and Beth. I saw a lot of Don at work, as he taught science at our high school, and Lynda was the grade four teacher at the elementary school next door. Don was six years older than Kelly, but for some reason they had hit it off when she was a child, and she enjoyed going over and having coffee with him and Lynda, and playing with the girls. She also got on well with Don’s younger sister Ruth, who was married to Steve’s older brother John Janzen, and with her Uncle Hugo and Aunt Millie, and she particularly enjoyed going out to Hugo and Millie’s farm to visit with them and to ride her horse. This, by the way, was something that I came to enjoy as well; through that winter of 1983-84, if the weather was mild on a Saturday or a Sunday afternoon, I was always happy to go out to Spruce Creek with her and spend a couple of hours riding.
And this was not the limit of Kelly’s wide circle of friends and family; in fact, it was only the beginning. Brenda and Gary were only an hour and fifteen minutes away in Saskatoon, and in the middle of October they had their first child, a nine pound baby boy who they called Ryan James. Kelly of course went down to visit them as soon as she could, and those visits continued. She had most Saturdays free, and she would often call around and ask if I would like to run into the city for the day with her. And even if we didn’t go to Saskatoon, there was an endless supply of relatives and friends in Meadowvale who she had gone to school with, or known all her life, and she enjoyed visiting with pretty well all of them.
They were good people for the most part, and I had nothing against them. Taken together, though, they were a much wider group than I had been used to including in my regular social life, and I sometimes found myself going to bed exhausted at night, looking back over the day and wondering if I had been able to call a single minute my own from dawn to dark.
One snowy evening in December, she came over to my place after supper and suggested that we walk over to visit with Don and Lynda for a while. I hesitated, and then said, “Would you mind if we didn’t?”
“What would you like to do?”
“Hello again, ground control to Major Tom, Kelly Reimer here, your fiancée!” We both laughed; “Yes, of course honestly”, she said.
“What I’d really like to do is just lock the doors, make a pot of tea, curl up on the couch with you, listen to some music, and talk”.
She looked at me for a moment with a bemused expression on her face. “This is the Tom Masefield that Owen was warning me about, isn’t it?”
“Sorry – are you really disappointed?”
“Just mildly, but I’ll get over it”. She crossed to the kitchen sink, filled up the kettle and plugged it in, and then turned to face me again. “Okay, do we need to talk about this?” she asked.
“About the fact that you’re getting exhausted by my constant desire to be out sharing you with all my friends and family, and I’m getting claustrophobic because of your constant desire to shut out all the people I love and keep me all to yourself”.
“Claustrophobic? That’s a pretty strong word”.
“I’m not there yet, but I’m beginning to recognize the potential”.
“I’m sorry, Kelly, I just find it exhausting after a while…”
“I know”. She grinned; “You have your little group of friends, and you like moving in that tiny circle and having lots of time to yourself”.
“And you don’t”.
“No, of course not – that’s why we’re having this conversation. I come from a big family and I’m used to spending time with them”.
“But Joe’s from the same family as you, and he…”
“I know; he’s a stick in the mud, just like you”.
“What I’m saying is that you can’t just say, ‘I’m like this because I come from a big family’, because Joe’s from the same family”.
“I’m not blaming it on my family, Tom – I know it’s my temperament, and I know it’s not the same as your temperament, and if we’re going to get married and find a way to live together without murdering each other, we’re going to have to talk this one through”.
“Okay, how do we do that?”
“Well, let’s start by making a pot of tea, like you said”.
She made the tea, brought the pot and two mugs to the kitchen table, got some milk from the fridge and put it in a jug, and sat down across from me. She poured tea for us both, then sat back and smiled at me. “No need to look so glum”, she said.
She put her hand on mine; “What’s eating you?”
I shook my head; “I’m probably being stupid”.
“Don’t talk like that about the man I love, okay? What’s the matter?”
“I just don’t like hearing you say, ‘if we’re going to get married’”.
She held up her left hand, showing me the engagement ring. “Look; it’s still on my finger. I never take it off. I wake up in the night and feel it there, and I feel all happy and warm because I remember that I’m going to get married to you. What I said was not, ‘if we’re going to get married’; it was ‘if we’re going to get married and find a way to live together without murdering each other’. The ‘if’ wasn’t about the marriage; it was about coming out of the marriage alive!”
We both laughed then, and she leaned forward and kissed me. “That’s better. Now come on, let’s talk about this. Tell me what you really feel, and I’ll tell you what I really feel, and then we’ll see if we can meet half way”.
I sat there in silence for a minute, cradling my mug in my hands. I opened my mouth to speak, then closed it again. I laughed and said, “This is so stupid; I don’t know why I just can’t tell you how I feel”. I put my hand on hers and said, “Yes, I do. I love you so much, Kelly, and the last thing I want to do is to hurt you. So I feel like I want to go over every word in my head first and make sure it’s okay before I say it”.
“That’ll never work. Speak your heart; I’ll listen with mine”.
“You make it sound so easy”.
“I’m sure it’s not easy for you”. She sat back and looked at me with a smile. “You like Jane Austen, don’t you?”
“I do, very much”.
“Do you think her observations are generally pretty accurate?”
“I do, although it depends on whether she’s making them herself, or speaking them through a character, and which character it is”.
“Lizzie Bennet’s usually pretty well spot on, though, right?”
I laughed softly; “Why do I get the feeling I’m being set up?”
“Because you are; I’m about to skewer you with a Lizzie-ism. I’m actually re-reading Pride and Prejudice right now, because I know you like it, and I just read the chapter last night where Lizzie and the Collins’ are visiting at Rosings, and Lizzie and Darcy and Fitzwilliam are having the conversation around the piano about Darcy’s behaviour in Hertfordshire. Darcy makes some excuse about not having the talent for making friends and making easy conversation”.
I nodded; “And Lizzie says, ‘My fingers don’t move over this instrument in the same masterly manner that other women’s do, but I’ve always supposed that to be my own fault, because I don’t take the trouble of practising’. So you’re about to tell me that I should consider that, if I take the trouble to practice, I can learn to be more open”.
I shook my head with a smile; “My God, you’re going to be a formidable conversationalist if you’re going to start using Jane Austen against me. She can be pretty merciless sometimes”.
“Come on, Tom; tell me what you’re feeling”.
“Okay”. I sat up, took a sip of my tea, and said, “Don’t get me wrong, I like this town and I enjoy the people in it. But I spend all day every day in front of classes of teenagers, and working with other teachers and staff, most of whom are nice enough people, but I’m not really close to many of them. Then I come home late in the afternoon and I’ve usually got a couple of hours’ work to do. I don’t get too many hours a week that I can call my own, really, and I just need to recharge my batteries, you know, so I can go out the next day and do it all over again”.
“And this is how you recharge – by sitting here alone?”
“Sometimes, but not always. If I can sit here some nights and have a quiet read, or play some music, or go for a walk, that works well. Or if I can spend some time with someone I’m really close to, like you or Joe, that’ll work too”.
“But going out to be with people you’re not really close to…?”
“That’s more of a drain than a recharge”.
She frowned. “Okay, help me understand this, because I want to understand it. When you first came here, you didn’t know anyone. But now you enjoy spending time with Joe, and my mom and mad, and you like having coffee with Glenn, and you enjoy dropping in on Charlie Blackie from time to time, and Wilf and Mabel, and Uncle Hugo and Auntie Millie, and you enjoy your conversations with Rob. Surely, these are all people who, a year ago, you weren’t very close to?”
“You’re right. So maybe I am practising and learning to be more outgoing than I was. But I still can’t sustain too many relationships at any one time”.
“You, on the other hand, don’t find people a drain at all”.
“No, I don’t. I find people endlessly fascinating. I love talking about every little detail of their lives with them, and I don’t care if it’s just small talk, because I’ve noticed that if you’re not willing to put in the small talk with people, you don’t usually get to the big talk. It’s not that I don’t enjoy being by myself sometimes: I do, especially if I’ve got a good book or if I’m out for a walk in the country. But most of the time, I prefer to have company, and I hardly ever find people boring”.
“That’s why the whole of Meadowvale loves you”.
“Well, I think that might be a slight exaggeration”.
“Glenn told me that, and you know, he’s not much for exaggeration”.
“Okay, so what are we going to do about this? I want to take you out and share you with all my friends and family, and I don’t want to seem rude to them, which is what will happen if I never go over for coffee and if I just seem to be cutting them out of my life now that I’ve got you”.
“That’s probably what they’ll think of me, too – right?”
“Some of them will. Others, fortunately for you, share your hermit temperament, so they’ll be secretly relieved!”
We laughed, and I said, “What are we going to do? Set up some sort of expectation of how many nights a week we go out, or something?”
She shook her head; “I don’t think that’ll work. I think there are two things we could try”.
“What are they?”
“Well, the first is, we could agree that we’ll both try to move out of our comfort zone a little; I’ll try to restrain my desire to be a social gadfly, and you’ll try to push yourself out the door with me a little more than you’re perhaps comfortable with right now”.
“Okay, that sounds like a plan”.
“The other thing is, we can accept the fact that, given our different temperaments, we aren’t always going to be doing things together in our marriage”.
“How do you mean?”
“You’ll want to stay at home more; I’ll want to go out more. Sometimes, the simple answer to that will be that you’ll stay at home and I’ll go out, and we’ll learn to be happy with that. We’ll see it as a gift we can give to each other, giving each other the space to be who we are”.
“I’ll have to think a bit more about that one”.
“Of course you will; I’m just sharing ideas, not carving them in stone. Now, tonight being a night when you’re needing some quiet time at home, do you want me around, or would you prefer it if I finished my tea and then left you to yourself for the evening?”
I shook my head; “I don’t want you to leave, Kelly”.
“Okay, good, because I don’t want to leave. I want to talk to you about Pride and Prejudice, and then I want you to get your guitar out and sing me some songs”.
“Any particular songs?”
“Well, I like that you’ve been learning some Bruce Cockburn songs, but if you want to play me old folk songs, I’d be okay with that, too”.
She reached out and took my hand in hers. “There’s something else I want to say before we finish this conversation”.
“What is it?”
“We have to keep talking, Tom”.
“Aren’t we always talking?”
“We have to keep talking about how we feel, and about things that are bothering us. We have to trust each other, and trust our love for each other. You’ve been keeping this bottled up inside for a while, now, haven’t you?”
“I suppose so”.
“Well, partly because I didn’t want to hurt you, and partly because I didn’t want to sound whiney and selfish – and every time I went over what I might say in my mind, it sounded whiney and selfish”.
She raised my hand to her lips, kissed it, and said, “You won’t hurt me by telling me the truth, but you will always hurt me by shutting me out. Please, let’s not be afraid to tell each other what we think and how we feel. If there’s a gap between us, it can only be bridged if we talk honestly with each other”.
I shook my head slowly. “There’s one thing I’m sure of”, I said; “I’m a lucky man”.
The following Saturday morning at about ten o’clock we went down to the Co-op to have a coffee in the deli and do our grocery shopping together. It had been snowing on and off all week, and the temperature was hovering at around minus twenty celsius. The deli was only about half full when we arrived, and I immediately recognized Don Robinson’s sister Ruth Janzen at a corner table by the window. Sitting across from her was an elderly lady who looked as if she had stepped off the boat from old England the day before; she was wearing an old-fashioned dress and a wool cardigan, with a headscarf partially covering her white hair.
“Ruth must be helping her grandma do her shopping”, Kelly said to me.
“Is that Ruth’s grandma? I’ve seen her around town a couple of times, but I don’t think I’ve ever actually been introduced to her. She’s the old English lady Krista was talking about the day you and I first met, isn’t she?”
“Yeah; she moved here from England in the late twenties, I think, when Ruth and Don’s dad was about a year old. I’m not sure if she’s the oldest British immigrant in Meadowvale, but she must be one of the ones who’s been here the longest; there aren’t too many of those 1920s homesteaders left”.
“What’s her name again?”
“Joanna Robinson, but she’s very formal, so we always call her ‘Mrs. Robinson’”.
I chuckled, thinking of the movie The Graduate; “She doesn’t look at all like Anne Bancroft”, I said.
“No, I guess she doesn’t! Do you want to meet her?”
Kelly put her hand on my arm and looked up at me. “Tom, are you sure? I’m quite happy if you’d rather just wave hello to them and then find our own table”.
I shook my head; “No, let’s go over”.
So we went over to the corner table where they were sitting. Ruth was about Joe Reimer’s age; she had long dark hair twisted back into a single braid, and like Kelly she was dressed in jeans and a thick sweater. Her grandmother looked up and smiled at us; “Hello, Kelly!” she said.
Kelly leaned over and gave her a kiss on the cheek. “Doing your shopping, Mrs. Robinson?” she asked.
“That’s right”, she replied; “Ruth’s helping me out a bit”.
“Would you guys like to join us for a few minutes?” Ruth asked; “There’s plenty of room”.
“Grandma, have you met Kelly’s fiancée, Tom Masefield?” Ruth asked; “He’s from the old country too, you know”.
The old lady shook her head, and then as I watched she got to her feet slowly and carefully, holding out her hand to me. “I’m very pleased to meet you, Mr. Masefield”, she said; “I’m Joanna Robinson”.
I took her hand; “And where are you from originally, Mrs. Robinson?” I asked.
“I was born in a village called Bramthorpe in Lincolnshire; do you know it?”
“I don’t think I do”.
“It’s just north of Stamford, a few miles from Peterborough”.
“And where are you from?” she asked.
“Oh, lovely! I went there when I was a girl, but of course I expect it’s completely different nowadays”.
I was trying to place her accent; it had a very slight Midlands flavour to it, but it was obvious to me that she’d been raised in at least an upper-middle-class setting, like my father and mother. She sat down slowly, and Kelly and I took our seats on either side of the table. Ruth took a sip of her coffee and smiled at me; “So is Oxford close to Grandma’s home town?” she asked.
“About ninety miles”, I said, “but of course that’s a long way in England”.
“It was even longer when I was a girl”, the old lady said; “Cars were still quite rare, so when we travelled we tended to go by train”.
“When did you come over?” I asked her.
“1929; we came in the spring, and we started a farm eight miles east of here”.
“Do you still live there?”
She shook her head. “No; my husband died seven years ago, and not long after that I moved into town. Ruth’s father Michael is my oldest son, but of course he’s got his own carpentry business, so my son Sam farms our land now”.
“Have you ever been back to England?” I asked.
I saw a sudden sadness in her eyes as she shook her head and said, “No; unfortunately, we never had the opportunity”.
“Surely it’s not too late?” Kelly said. “It’s pretty simple nowadays, with air travel. I’ll be going there myself in the summer; Tom’s taking me to his brother’s wedding”.
“Is your brother getting married in Oxford?” the old lady asked me.
“No; his fiancée’s from Edinburgh, so that’s where the wedding will be”.
At that moment the waitress came over to our table with a pot of coffee in her hand. “Hello there, Tom and Kelly”, she said with a smile; “Coffee?”
“Sure”, I replied.
She filled our cups, topped up Ruth’s, and then said, “More hot water for your tea, Mrs. Robinson?”
“No thank you, my dear”.
“Thanks, Denise”, Kelly said.
“You’re welcome”, she replied over her shoulder as she moved on to the next table.
“How long have you lived in Meadowvale, Mr. Masefield?” Mrs. Robinson asked me.
“Only a year and a half; I moved here in August 1982”.
“And I expect you met Kelly through Mr. Reimer at the school, did you?”
“Yeah, that’s right”.
“Did you go to university in Oxford?”
“That’s not something you hear very often, is it – a teacher trained at Oxford University, coming to Meadowvale?”
I grinned and winked at Kelly; “It’s worked out pretty well for me”, I said. “How about you – what brought you here, all those years ago?”
“My husband had worked on farms back in England”, she replied, “but he was having difficulty finding permanent employment. So we decided to emigrate; it seemed to be the only way for us to be able to make ends meet, as it were, so we scrimped and saved and eventually raised the money to make the journey and get started on the land. We didn’t know anyone here, of course, but that didn’t matter in those days; there were lots of others in the same sort of situation we were in, and everyone banded together and helped each other”.
“My grandparents sometimes talk about those days”, Kelly said; “I can’t even begin to imagine how hard it must have been”.
“Yes, your grandparents would already have been here when we arrived, although of course they lived out in Spruce Creek, and in those days the Mennonites tended to keep themselves to themselves. Mind you, your Reimer grandparents were less stand-offish than most, especially your grandfather; my husband thought very highly of old Mr. Reimer”.
“What was it like, moving here from England in 1929?” I asked.
She shook her head slowly; “To be honest, I thought it would kill us”, she said. “My husband had to clear the trees from the land and pull out the stumps, dig out all the rocks, build farm buildings, plant a crop. Of course, we had to borrow heavily from the bank to get started, and we arrived just before the dirty thirties, so it was ten years before we made much of a profit on the land. And we’d never seen anything like a prairie winter before”.
“And you had a little boy”, Kelly added.
“I did, and it wasn’t long before we had more children, of course”. She smiled at me; “By the end of the 1930s we had a family of five”.
“Are they all still around here?” I asked.
“Yes, they are. Of course, you know our oldest, Michael – he married Sally Reimer’s sister Rachel, Ruth’s mother. As I said, our second oldest, Sam, lives on our old farm now; he’s married to Martha Craig and they’ve got three grown children. Next comes Thomas; he farms six miles north of us. He married Lucy Robillard, and they’ve got four grown children. Then our daughter Mary married Arthur Pickering – you know the Pickerings, of course?”
“Is he related to Glenn?”
“He’s Glenn’s uncle – he’s Lawrence Pickering’s younger brother”.
“Oh, right, I’ve heard Glenn talk about him – he runs the Wheat Pool elevator, doesn’t he?”
“That’s right. And then there’s our youngest daughter Shirley; she married Evan Roberts, and they farm on the old Roberts land, just north of the lake. They’ve got two children”.
“So you’re the matriarch of a real tribe”, I said.
She smiled; “Not as large as some of the other families around here, of course”, she replied, “but I do have fourteen grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren”.
“I know a couple of your great-grandchildren”, I said; “We see quite a lot of Beth and Amy, and of course we see Ruth’s two in church pretty well every week”.
“Ah, so you go to the Mennonite church, do you? Of course you do”, she said, smiling at Kelly; “Silly of me to think otherwise!”
Kelly grinned and shook her head; “Not necessarily”, she replied. “I was away from church for a few years, Mrs. Robinson, but I’m back now”.
“Well, I’m very glad to hear it, my dear. My husband and I always went to the Anglican church, of course, Mr. Masefield”, she said to me, “but I’m afraid we weren’t very successful in raising churchgoing children, so I’m very pleased that my granddaughter here married a churchgoing Mennonite boy!”
“And we see another one of your great-granddaughters at church, too”, I said. “I’ve only been going there since last summer, but in the last few months Beth’s been coming along to church with her grandma Rachel”.
“Has she now? I didn’t know that; well, that’s excellent”.
Ruth glanced at her watch; “Well, Grandma”, she said, “I need to get going. John’s got a job to go to, so I need to get home and relieve him of his child-minding duties”.
The old lady nodded; “So we’d better get our shopping done and be on our way”. She smiled at me; “It was very nice to meet you, Mr. Masefield”, she said. “Do you like your tea made in the old-fashioned English way?”
“I do”, I said with a grin; “Warming up the pot, good strong tea with a little drop of milk”.
“Milk in the cup first?”
“Well, you come over and visit me some time, and I’ll make you a pot of tea that you’ll really enjoy”.
“I’ll be sure to do that!”
They got to their feet and said their goodbyes, and we watched as the old lady took Ruth’s arm and went out into the grocery store. “It’s nice to see Ruth looking after her grandma like that”, I said.
“She looks after her pretty well”, Kelly replied. “Uncle Mike keeps a pretty close eye on her as well”.
I took a sip of my coffee; “What’s the story with her?” I asked.
“How do you mean?”
“Well, she’s not really got a farmer’s wife’s accent, has she?”
“No; she sounds more upper-middle-class, like my mum and dad”.
Kelly punched me lightly in the arm; “You Brits and your class system!”
“Hey, you’re talking to the boy who broke with the class system, remember? But seriously – that’s not a Midlands working class accent”.
“You don’t think maybe she’s changed her way of speaking a little, having lived here for over fifty years?”
“Not a bit – she sounds like she got off the boat yesterday. Did you know her husband?”
“Of course, and he didn’t have much of an English accent left by the time he died. He dressed just like a local farmer, too, but I’ve always thought Mrs. Robinson looked exactly like the photos you see of the Queen when she’s tramping around one of her country estates”.
She grinned at me; “Are you smelling a mystery?”
“I am, but it’s probably none of my business”.
“Well, she’s invited you for tea, so you might be able to make it your business”.
I shook my head; “No, I somehow doubt it. I get the sense that it might take a while, with someone like her”.
Kelly and I kept up our reading of the gospels together; when she came over to my place for a cup of tea in the evening, or I went to visit her, we often read the words of Jesus and talked about them, and we had even begun to be brave enough to pray together. I had learned this from her; quite out of the blue one evening, after we’d read and talked, she had suggested that we pray, and she had bowed her head and talked to God in a simple, direct, conversational style. I had never heard anything like it before, and was immediately taken with it. Before long, I was taking my turn and praying out loud with her, although in my prayers, I did not yet address Jesus; I had yet to resolve the issue of whether or not he was the Son of God. I knew that Kelly had resolved it, and we talked about it from time to time. I had a hunch that she was ready to be baptized, but I also knew that she would wait for me, and I knew her better than to think she would be fooled if I pretended to be further along than I actually was.
And if the truth be told, I was slowly moving in that direction. Rob’s patient conversations with me, and his thoughtful preaching week by week, were having their effect. Also, I was seeing the teaching of Jesus lived out day by day in the lives of ordinary church members. Not that they were perfect – far from it – but they were making an honest attempt. I had first noticed this, of course, when I had seen Hugo and Millie reaching out to the Collins family in the aftermath of the deaths of Corey and Billy. In the months following, I continued to see examples of Christian people trying to put their faith into practice.
And I was identifying with them; I was already thinking of Meadowvale Mennonite Church as ‘my’ church. I went there almost every Sunday, played guitar in their music ministry, and joined with them in their prayers and songs. Kelly and I helped out with kitchen duties after church, and when the Saskatoon Salvation Army made an appeal for clothing for street people, we took part in it, and drove the bundles down to the city the following Saturday in Kelly’s truck. And of course, we were planning to get married there, and Rob had already had conversations with us about what that would look like.
Kelly went down with a cold during the Christmas holidays, and by January 1st (which was a Sunday) she was in bed with the flu. I went to church on Sunday, then called her and asked her if I could come over. “No”, she replied firmly, “I’m no good to anyone right now. I’m just sitting up in bed coughing and spluttering and blowing my nose and shivering, but it’s just the flu. I don’t want you picking it up. Go out and enjoy the few hours of daylight you’ve got left, and call me again tonight, okay?”
“Okay; are you sure?”
“Alright; I love you”.
“I love you too”.
It was another cold day, but there was no wind and the sky was a clear blue. I took my snowshoes in my car and went out to Myers’ Lake; there had been a foot of new snow earlier in the week, and I was looking forward to breaking fresh trails. I packed a small thermos of coffee, and I took my binoculars with me too.
I walked the trails through the trees for a couple of hours, my binoculars at the ready, and I saw chickadees and nuthatches, and at one point the hint of a downy woodpecker. I saw tracks, too: the deep marks left by deer, and softer, dog-like tracks that I guessed were probably left by a coyote.
For some reason, while I was breaking trail, I found myself thinking about Becca. I still wrote to her approximately once a month, hoping against hope that this might be the one letter she would read, although my mother had told me that she never opened any of them. I thought about the many times I had read stories to her when she was little; of the times I had played with her in the orchard behind my parents’ house, when I had taught her the names of birds and flowers. I remembered the first time I had taken her out in a canoe on the Thames, which flows right past Northwood, and taught her how to paddle.
As the short winter day began to fade and the sun sank behind the trees, I found a picnic table half-covered in snow beside the frozen lake. I took off my snowshoes, cleared some snow off the tabletop, sat down there, and poured myself some coffee from the thermos. I sat there in silence, looking out over the frozen lake, the steam rising from my coffee in the cold air.
Without noticing that I had begun, I found myself praying. “God, what am I ever going to do about Becca?” I asked. “You know how much I miss her. I feel like such a shit for what I did to her. She trusted me, and I deceived her, and now she can’t get over it. Will she ever be able to forgive me? Have I lost her forever? And what about you? Can you forgive me for what I did?”
I prayed like that for a while, intermittently, sipping on my coffee, and eventually I lapsed into silence. And that was when everything changed.
Looking back on it now, nearly thirty years later, I’m still struck by how vividly I remember it, and how impossible it is for me to describe what happened. One moment I was looking out over the frozen lake, taking in the bare trunks of the poplars and willows on the other side, with the rays of the setting sun shining through them and dazzling my eyes with their brightness. The next moment, I was seeing right through all of that, as if it had suddenly become transparent, and behind it, for the first time, I sensed a presence. I’m sure that with the naked eye I saw nothing different, and yet, in a sense, I did see something, something huge and awesome. I sensed the majesty of God, who had created all this, and I realized how tiny I was in this vast universe. And yet, at the same time, I sensed a deep and powerful love, reaching out from all of this beauty around me and enveloping me. And I suddenly knew, without any doubt, that this love had a name, and the name was Christ. I sensed the love of Christ enveloping me, and at the same time, without any words being spoken, I knew that Becca and I would be reconciled.
I experienced all this in the space of a few seconds – certainly no longer than a minute. When it was over, I looked around and saw the world as it had been before – beautiful, but opaque. But the moment I felt my rational mind saying “You imagined it”, I felt something else rising up inside me, and it suddenly came to me that what I had just experienced was the most concrete thing that had ever happened to me in my life. And before I knew it, I was crying.
I cried for a long time. I sat on the picnic table, cradling my half empty cup of rapidly cooling coffee in my hand, and wept out all my sadness about Becca and my mother and the fact that never at any time in my life had I experienced any sense of love from my father. And at the same time, I was weeping out of a deep sense of wonder; I kept saying softly, “Christ, you’re really there. You’ve been there all the time, and I never knew”.
Eventually my weeping subsided, and I began to realize that I was very cold. I got to my feet, packed the thermos back in my backpack, put my snowshoes back on, and began to follow the trail in the fading light toward the parking lot. When I got there the light was almost gone; I threw my gear in the car, turned on the engine, waited for a few minutes for it to warm up, and then drove back to Meadowvale. And the first thing I did, when I got through the door of my house, was to pick up the phone and call Kelly.
A month later, on the first Sunday of February, Kelly and I were baptized together at Meadowvale Mennonite Church. Our church did not have an adult baptismal tank; “We usually baptize by pouring a bit of water on the candidates’ heads”, Rob told me, “or if people want to be baptized by immersion, we wait until the summer and do it at the lake”.
“I don’t want to wait”, I replied; “This baptism by pouring, is it a real baptism?”
“Oh yeah. You’ll make your baptismal promises, and then you’ll kneel and I’ll pour the water on you, and you’ll be a baptized Christian from that moment on”.
I looked at Kelly, and she looked at me; “I’m ready”, I said.
And so it happened as Rob had said. The church was full that day, with a large group of Kelly’s family making a special effort to be there. Krista and Steve had come from Edmonton, of course, and Brenda and Gary and their baby boy Ryan from Saskatoon. I had told old Charlie Blackie what was happening, and as I looked out over the congregation I saw him in the back row, watching everything with his eagle eye, with a big black King James Bible in his hand; to my surprise I also saw Glenn Pickering in the same row.
Kelly and I had been asked to give short testimonies of what had led us to this day, and we had decided to do it together rather than telling two separate stories. So we stood side by side at the podium; she talked about her upbringing in the church, about her family and their faith, and about her years of doubt and her gradual journey home to God. I then gave a brief outline of my own relatively churchless upbringing, of my friendship with Owen and the beginnings of spiritual questioning for me, of my move to Meadowvale and how God had used the Reimers to awaken my hunger for him and to start me in earnest on my spiritual journey. Kelly and I then talked together about our discussions and questions, our reading of the gospels and our attempt to practice what we learned. She talked about her epiphany, the time when she realized that she believed that Jesus was the Son of God because she knew instinctively that God had to be like Jesus. And then I attempted to describe the experience I’d had at Myers Lake, but to my embarrassment, less that half a minute into it I choked up and couldn’t continue. At that moment I sensed the love coming up to me from the congregation like a tangible force, and I simply nodded my thanks and stepped back from the podium.
And so Kelly and I made our baptismal promises, knelt in front of Rob, and I felt the splash of water on my head as he baptized us. When the moment was over we got to our feet and Rob embraced us both. “Welcome to the family!” he said to me with a broad grin on his face.
“Thanks!” I replied, feeling Kelly’s hand slipping into mine. Then we turned and stepped down into the congregation, where we took our places with Kelly’s family in the front row.