Stan Rogers: ‘You Can’t Stay Here’

Not a theme you run across very often, but I have to say this is one of my favourite Stan Rogers songs. And, of course, it’s relevant to the theme I was discussing yesterday!

You can’t stay here.
Your company’s good, I know
But I must wake up alone.
And the party is over.

You can’t stay here.
I’m moments away from sleep.
And what you want to say can keep
Til I’m awake and I’m sober.

You can’t stay here
When everyone else has gone.
I’ve nothing for you,
No song to sing for you only.

You can’t stay here
Maybe you can’t see why
But I’m an old-fashioned guy
And I’d rather be lonely.

Maybe you think I’m unkind when I tell you to go away
I know what you offer, and I could be softer
And tell you to stay.

But to me, you’re a stranger, to touch you is danger, I know it’s true.
‘Cause what I’ve got at home is too dear, to risk for an hour with you.
You can’t stay here.

I’ll be all right alone.
And when I’m safe in her arms at home…
I’ll thank you for leaving.

You can’t stay here.

You can’t stay here.

You can’t stay here.

From the album ‘Northwest Passage

Posted in Folk music, Marriage, Music | Leave a comment

There aren’t enough songs about just ‘being’ in love

A few years ago at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival, I heard David Francey say that there are lots of songs about falling in love, and there are lots of songs about falling out of love, but there aren’t many songs about just being in love – the joys and the heartaches, the ups and the downs of it. I think he’s right; I can’t think of many love songs that celebrate long-term marriages (Stan Rogers’ ‘Lies‘ is one that comes to mind, and it’s one of my favourites). And I think this is a shame.

Musicians aren’t the only ones who neglect this theme. TV writers also seem to believe that stable long-term relationships make for boring TV. At the end of Downton Abbey season three, when Matthew Crawley was killed off due to actor Dan Stevens wanting to leave the show, I read that creator Julian Fellowes had expressed an opinion that a happy marriage didn’t make for particularly exciting television. It seemed that, having brought Matthew and Mary through a long and tortuous route to finally getting married, he was happy to kill Matthew off so that once again Mary could be ‘on the market’, making for enjoyable tension and uncertainty on the show.

Sunday was the season seven finale of ‘Heartland‘, and we have the same scenario, with long-time couple Ty and Amy (whose relationship has been the central story line of Heartland from the end of the first season, and who have been engaged for a season and a half) once again running into speed bumps, and not getting married as perhaps the majority of fans would have liked to have seen. I’ve even heard the view expressed that Ty and Amy’s marriage would have meant the end of Heartland, because ‘where would the show go after that’? What? Would Ty and Amy really stop growing and learning after their wedding day?

I honestly can’t understand why TV writers take this view. Do they really think there are no enjoyable story lines to be found in the joys and vicissitudes of a lasting marriage? Well, if that’s really how they feel, I have five words for them: For Better and for Worse. This much loved comic strip by Lynn Johnston ran for 29 years and took its readers through the story of the lives of John and Ellie Patterson and their kids. In the earliest story lines, John and Ellie were a young married couple; later they had their children, and we followed the ups and downs of their lives together, told with humour and honesty in a way that kept people coming back for more. And I haven’t heard that the strip’s popularity suffered at all for it being about a stable long-term marriage!

Seriously, do writers and musicians and TV producers really believe that there are no interesting story lines in long-term relationships? Do they really believe that there’s no drama in showing couples and families facing the challenges that make long-term relationships so difficult, and coming through them successfully (or, sometimes, less successfully)? Where does this come from? Is it, perhaps, the notorious instability of show-business relationships?

Years ago, author Larry Christensen said that marriage is like pioneering, in that true pioneers experience two things: hope and difficulty. Marriage as pioneering? Now there’s an interesting thought! Perhaps it’s time for writers and musicians and TV producers to take on a new challenge; how about exploring the possibilities of portraying long-term love – what David Francey referred to as ‘just being in love’ – with all its hope and difficulty? How about it, creative artists? Are you up for it?

Posted in authors, Life, Marriage, Movies, rants, writing | 2 Comments

Forgiveness isn’t something that you feel, it’s something that you do.

Giles Fraser hits a home run with this one, in my view.

I’m perfectly aware that someone like me probably can’t talk legitimately about forgiveness when I find it so hard to forgive people myself – even for things that are pathetically small.

But I am going to risk it only because I suspect there is so much sentimentalising of forgiveness that it blocks out much of our understanding of the real thing. And by sentimentalising, I mean the idea that forgiveness involves person A coming to have warm and kindly feelings towards person B when person B has done them some enormous harm.

One of the things I have always liked about the stories of the Bible is that they are mostly uninterested in a person’s inner life. They don’t say much about how Jesus feels. But they say a great deal about what he does. Likewise with forgiveness: it is not fundamentally something that you feel, but something that you do.

Read the rest here. The only addition I would make to Giles’ thoughts is that forgiveness isn’t just a negative thing – refusing to take revenge – but also a positive thing – going the second mile and acting in compassion and love toward the offender, even though it’s probably the last thing we feel like. That’s what Paul meant when he told us that if our enemy is hungry, we should feed them, and if they’re thirsty, give them a drink.

But when it comes to his basic point – that forgiveness is something you do, not something you feel – I’m with Giles 110%.

Posted in Ethical Issues, Following Jesus, Life | Leave a comment

Anne Briggs: ‘Willie O’ Winsbury’

Anne Briggs had one of the most amazing voices of the 1960s folk revival in Britain. Listen to her here singing the old folk song ‘Willie o’ Winsbury’, and then follow the YouTube links to more of her songs.

If you want to find out more about Anne, the Wikipedia entry is very helpful.

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

Meadowvale (a prequel to ‘A Time to Mend’), Chapter 7

Link back to chapter 6

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

One of the great things about being Will Reimer’s friend, for an introvert like me, was that he was always taking me out to meet new people. Left to myself, I would probably have sat at home and been content with the small circle of friends I had met through school and through invitations to supper with the Reimers and their relatives. But Will, like Kelly, found people intensely interesting, and he had a boundless appetite for what I would once have labelled, in my arrogance, ‘meaningless conversation’. At first I found Will’s constant invitations to ‘come over and meet so-and-so’ a little wearing, but gradually, as my first year in Meadowvale progressed, I began to realize that through him I was meeting some of the real town characters, and to my surprise I was enjoying those meetings.



My guitar was an old Martin 000-18 that I had picked up second hand in Oxford; I had saved up for two years to buy a really good solid-wood guitar, and I had been fortunate to run into someone at a folk club who wanted to downsize and get rid of some of his instruments. The Martin was a little battered, but I loved it just the same, and I always tried to take care of it by keeping it in its case and humidifying it properly to protect it from the dry Saskatchewan climate.

My guitar case, however, was in bad shape. It was a standard plywood case that my mother had bought me years ago when I got my very first guitar; it was a cut above the gig bags that most people started out with, but I’d had it for over twelve years now and it was beginning to show signs of wear. In particular, a couple of the hinges were in very bad shape, and the latch was broken, so that the only way I could carry my guitar securely was to buckle a belt around the case to keep it closed.

Will and I were in the staff room having a coffee after school one day in mid-January and I happened to mention my guitar case to him. “I suppose I’m going to have to break down and buy a new one”, I said, “but the truth is I’ve got a sentimental attachment to this old one. It’s the first and only guitar case I’ve ever had; my mum got it for me when I first started playing”.

“Maybe we should take it to Charlie Blackie”, Will suggested; “He’s pretty good at fixing things, you know”.

“I don’t think I know Charlie Blackie”.

“Haven’t you met him yet? He’s an old-timer; he’s related to the Blackies who own the old general store. Not that he runs with that crowd; they’re a hard living, hard drinking sort of bunch. Charlie used to be like that in his younger days, but about thirty years ago he got saved”.

“Saved?”

“Yeah – he had a run in with a fire-breathing Pentecostal preacher and had an old fashioned darkness to light conversion experience. Now he’s got a little of the fire-breather in him, too, so you’d better be ready when you go to see him. Sooner or later, he’s going to ask you if you’ve been washed in the blood of the Lamb”.

“What do I say?”

Will laughed; “I’d never dare to tell Charlie anything other than the truth; he and the Lord are in cahoots, you know!”

We both laughed. “So if I say no, is he going to try to convert me?”

“Probably. I’ve been a good God-fearing Mennonite all my life, but Charlie’s not even sure I’m saved, so I don’t know what he’s going to think about a pagan like you!”

“Thank you very much, I don’t think!”

“You’re welcome; so shall I take you down to meet him?”

“Is it worth the grief of him trying to convert me?”

“Absolutely – Charlie’s one of the real Meadowvale characters and everyone should have the chance to meet him. I love going down there and passing the time of day with him!”

“Well, okay, but if he goes after me…”

“Oh, he will – there’s no doubt about that!”



Charlie Blackie’s fix-it shop was situated on a side street one block from the main drag. It was a one-room shop with a flat roof, a window that was barely opaque, and a handwritten sign on the door that said “Come on in – if I’m not here, I’ll be back soon!”

Inside, the shop was an Aladdin’s cave. There were shelves upon shelves piled high with old bits of machinery, motor parts, various kinds of tools, boxes of nails and screws, and a hundred other categories of junk. In the middle of the floor were a couple of wooden work benches with various pieces of equipment fastened to them, and off in one corner was an ancient coffee pot, a few mugs that looked like they dated back to the turn of the century, and assorted cans of coffee, sugar, and Carnation milk. Every available piece of wall space – space, that is, that was not taken up by the shelving – was covered with framed Bible texts of the hellfire and brimstone variety.

Old Charlie was sitting at one of the benches when we arrived, working on some leatherwork with a needle and thread. He was small and wiry, with a bristly grey crewcut and old round grannie glasses, dressed in denim coveralls and a flannel shirt: I thought he must be about seventy years old. He looked up when the door opened, and when he saw Will his face broke into a grin. “Will Reimer!” he said; “How are you, and what brings you down here today?”

“I’m fine, Charlie”, Will replied, crossing the floor and shaking the old man’s outstretched hand. “I want you to meet one of my new teachers; he’s from the old country, and his name’s Tom Masefield”.

Charlie looked up at me with a frown on his face; “Are you one of them hippies?” he asked fiercely.

“I don’t think so”, I replied with a grin; “I’ve got a full time job and I work hard for a living, so I don’t think I qualify!”

He guffawed and said, “A good answer, young feller! I like that! What’ve you got in yer hand, now?”

“An old guitar case that needs some tender loving care”, I replied.

“Oh, I see, this is a work call, is it?” Charlie frowned up at Will; “Would you fellers like some coffee?”

“Never say no to a cup of coffee, Charlie”, Will replied.

“Well, I sorta knew that was your policy, but I wasn’t sure about this young long-hair here”.

“I’d love a cup of coffee, thank you”, I said.

“Good; I’ve just brewed a fresh pot, so she’s good and ready for you”.

He got up from his work bench, took off a pair of leather gloves he had been wearing, and went over to the side of the room to pour us three cups of coffee. Handing the mugs around, he said, “Now, young feller, you just lift that guitar case up on my bench here and let me have a look at her. What seems to be the problem?”

I set the guitar case down on his bench, and I showed him the worn hinges and the broken latch. He nodded slowly, moving around the bench to look at the case from all sides. “Looks like you’ve got a couple of places where she’s run into the corner of a table or something, too”, he said. “The wood’s a little cracked and splintered. I think it’s ordinary plywood under this covering, right?”

“I think so, yes”.

He bent and examined the cracked areas a little more closely; then he nodded and straightened up. “I could replace them hinges and put a new latch on, no problem, and if you like, I could fix up them cracks as well”.

“That would be great; thank you”.

“How soon would you be wantin’ ‘er back?”

“Well, I haven’t really got a deadline in mind…”

“Could you let me have ‘er for a week? I’ve got a couple of other jobs ahead of this one that I’ve promised to people”.

“Of course – a week would be fine”.

“All right then”. He pulled a little spiral-bound notebook out of his pocket, took a stub pencil from behind his ear, and said, “What was your name again?”

“Tom Masefield”.

He wrote my name down on the pad, along with my phone number which I gave him, then tore off the sheet and put it inside the guitar case. Then, replacing the pad in his pocket, he said “Sit yourselves down; I know the stools look a little shaky, but so far they haven’t broken under anyone’s weight!”

We sat down and sipped at our coffee. “So, you’re from the old country?” he asked me.

“Yes, from Oxford”.

“Oxford, eh? You come a long way to little old Meadowvale”.

“What about you?” I asked; “How long have you been here?”

“Fifty-five years”, he replied. “My mom and dad started homesteading here in 1927. A few years later my dad opened the first General Store; my nephew Bob runs it now”.

“Where did your parents come here from?” I asked.

“Sorry, young feller, I’m a little hard of hearing, you’ll have to say that again”.

“I said, where did your parents come here from?” I repeated in a louder voice.

“From Ontario; they were farming in the Kingston area, but they’d run into some hard times and lost everything, so they came out west to start again”.

“Do you remember Ontario?” I asked.

“Course I remember it!” he replied fiercely; “I was all of fifteen when we come out here, wasn’t I? I remember days when my dad came home drunk from the bar, carried on drinking at home and didn’t stop all week, while the cows needed feeding and milking and all. I hope you’re not a drinkin’ man, young feller?”

I shook my head; “Coffee and tea, and the occasional glass of wine or beer, but I never go over my limit”.

“Seems to me zero’s a pretty good limit!” he said forcefully; “The devil uses that stuff to rot a man’s soul! I know – he had a pretty good go at me when I was a young feller like you, but praise be to God I got saved when I was about forty years old, and I haven’t had a drop since”.

“Sounds like that was a good thing for you”, I replied.

He looked at me suspiciously; “Not just for me – for anyone! It could be a good thing for you too, Tom Masefield! I suppose you know you’ve got a soul, do you?”

I glanced at Will, but he was sipping his coffee with a sphinx-like expression on his face. “Well, actually, it’s true that I’m not a Christian”, I admitted, “at least, not yet, but I am thinking about it”.

“Thinking about it! Don’t think forever – none of us knows the day the Lord might call us home, you know!”

“Yes, I’m aware of that”.

“You should back off now, Charlie”, Will interjected; “You set too much store by scaring people into the kingdom, you know”.

“Well, here we go again!” the old man replied with a grin; “Are you going to start criticizing my efforts to get people saved again, Will Reimer?”

“How are they going for you? Had many converts yet?”

“Scatterin’ seeds, you know – just like the Master!”

“Ah, but he never broke a bruised reed or quenched a smoking flax, you know”.

The old man nodded; “A good answer. So you think this young feller is a smoking flax, do you?”

Will winked at me. “He might be”, he replied with a grin; “He might just be”.



I went back a week later by myself to pick up the guitar case. It was a Thursday afternoon and I had left school a little earlier than usual, to give myself time to get to Charlie’s before five o’clock. “Not that times mean anything to Charlie”, Will had said to me; “He goes to work when he feels like it and stays as long as he likes. It’s not that he’s lazy – far from it, he’s a hard worker – it’s just that his working hours aren’t related to the clock in any consistent manner”.

Fortunately for me, Charlie was hard at work that afternoon, but he smiled when he saw me coming into the shop, got up to shake my hand, and lifted my guitar case up onto his bench again. “Take a look and tell me if you’re satisfied with the job”, he said; “I never let a job go before the customer tells me he’s satisfied”.

“I’m sure it’s fine, Charlie”.

“No, you take a look at it”.

So I inspected the case; Charlie had put on all new hinges and latches, and there was a new key taped to the outside of the case just beside the locking latch. The two places where the case had been cracked had disappeared, and when I examined them inside and out, I could discover no trace of the old cracks.

“Why, this is amazing, Charlie!” I exclaimed; “How did you do that?”

“Oh, that would be tellin’”, he replied with a mischievous grin; “Wouldn’t want to give away all my secrets and do myself out of a job, now!”

We both laughed, and I straightened up and said, “How much do I owe you?”

He frowned; “Well, I had to get a bit of plywood to fix them cracks, you know…”

“New hinges and latches, too, I see”.

“Well, I wouldn’t want to be lyin’ to you about that; they ain’t exactly new. I had an old guitar case around here that was all busted, so I just took the hinges and latches off it, polished ‘em up and oiled ‘em and put ‘em on yours. They were good anyway, which was why I was keepin’ em around.  I hope you don’t mind?”

“No, not at all – they look really good”.

“I think you’ll get at least another five years out of them”, he said. “Tell you what – if they don’t last you five years, bring it back, and I’ll fix it for you for free”.

“I’m sure they’ll be fine, Charlie. How much do I owe you, then?”

He frowned again. “Well – I think I might have to charge you ten dollars”.

“Ten dollars!” I exclaimed; “You’re kidding me, right?”

“You think it’s too steep?”

“Good grief, no, I think it’s too low! You should charge me at least double for a job like that”.

He shook his head; “Couldn’t do that; wouldn’t want to stand before my Maker and have to answer for extorting money from an honest man and a hard worker like yerself”.

I took out my wallet and handed him a ten dollar bill. “Well, if you’re sure”, I said.

“I’m sure. But thank you, young feller – you’ve got a generous heart, I can see that. I reckon you might be that smouldering flax young Will Reimer was talking about, after all”.

I laughed; “You think so?”

“I do. Now, will you have a cup of coffee with an old geezer?”

“I sure will!”

“Excellent!” he replied with a grin; “Let me make a fresh pot!”



One afternoon in late January I stopped by the post office to get my mail on the way home. It was another cold day, and since I was in the habit of walking too and from school I was well-bundled up in parka, wind pants and warm boots. There were a few people in the lobby of the post office when I arrived, but as I unlocked my mailbox and took out my mail the door opened again, and a good-looking man in his mid-thirties came in; he was without a parka or coat of any kind, and to my surprise he was wearing a smart dark-blue two-piece suit, white shirt and a maroon tie. His mailbox was close to mine, and as he was opening it he said, “You must be the new English teacher. I’m Glenn Pickering”.

“Tom Masefield”, I replied. “Forgive me for saying so, but I don’t often see…”

“A guy in a two-piece suit in Meadowvale?” He laughed; “Probably not. I’m one of the two lawyers in town, and I’ve found that people prefer it if I look the part”.

“You don’t wear a parka?”

“No, I have a very warm truck!”

We both laughed, and he said, “So you’re from England, I hear?”

“Yes”.

“What brings you to the back of beyond?”

“Let’s just call it my sense of adventure, shall we?”

He laughed; “Fair enough!”

“How about you – what brings you here?”

“Oh, I was born here. My grandfather was one of the early homesteaders in this area, back in the 1920s, so I’m a third-generation native Meadowvaler”.

“Wow – and you didn’t move away to the city?”

“Tried it for a while, but I couldn’t get used to it. I like the small town; I know everyone and everyone knows me. The other lawyer’s a good guy, too, but folks don’t take to newcomers right away”.

“So I’ve heard, but they seem to be taking to me alright”.

“Well, I hear Will’s got you under his wing. That gives you an ‘in’ – everyone knows Will, and everyone likes him”.

“Yeah, so I’ve seen”.

He glanced at his watch; “Would you like a late-afternoon coffee?” he asked.

I hesitated, and he said, “Co-op, if you prefer”.

I laughed; “I do, actually!”

“I understand. The Travellers is where all the old farts go, though; you should go there sometimes, just to meet some of the real characters in town”.

“This town seems to have a few of them”.

“Isn’t that the truth! Come on – my truck’s nice and warm!”

The little deli at the back of the Co-op was busy at five o’clock in the afternoon, and Glenn and I were lucky to get a table in the corner. I took a seat right away to claim our spot, while Glenn went to buy coffee for us; “It’ll be faster than waiting for service!” he joked. I saw a few people I recognized, and one or two of them nodded their greetings to me while I was waiting for him to come back.

“So, where are you from in England?” he asked as he slid into his seat with our mugs of coffee.

“Oxford”.

“Classy! Did you go to university there?”

“I did”.

“That’s got to be a first for Meadowvale – an English teacher who went to Oxford University”.

“It was good and I liked it, but you don’t want to believe all the hype about it. How about you?”

“I went to Saskatoon to do pre-law and law. Worked there for a couple of years, then came back here and hung up my shingle in the old home town. Like I said, I know everyone and everyone knows me, and that’s definitely an advantage. I’ve been practicing here for four years now, and the old town’s been good to me”.

“Family?”

“I’m not married or otherwise attached, if that’s what you mean, but I’m one of six siblings, and my dad was one of five, so yes, I have all kinds of family – sisters and brothers, sisters-in-law and brothers-in-law, nieces and nephews and cousins and so on”.

“Were you born on a farm?”

“I was. My dad is Lawrence Pickering; he’s just retired from farming the old quarter-section, and he and my mom moved into town last summer. My oldest brother Henry owns the Ford dealership on the highway”.

“Oh yes, I’ve met Henry!”

“Yeah, pretty well everyone in town has. Also I think my nephew Ryan Smith and my niece Jessica Pickering are in your English classes”.

“Right, I know them, but I didn’t know Ryan was related to the Pickerings”.

“My older sister Helen married Ronnie Smith; Ryan is their oldest son”.

I laughed; “One of these days I need to get someone to draw me a genealogical chart with all the families of Meadowvale”.

“You’d need a factory wall to mount it, I think. I’ve got most of it in my head, but even I slip up sometimes”.

“So what sort of law do you do?”

“Well I’m not in court very often, if that’s what you’re asking – not like the lawyers on American TV. I do property stuff, wills and estates, helping people set up businesses, and of course what lawyers call ‘family law’, which sadly is mainly about breaking up families”.

“Right”.

“It’s funny, actually, the sort of stuff I do; I often think it must be kind of like being a pastor or a priest. I sit in my office all day long and people come and talk to me about some of the most important events in their lives – deaths, wills and bequests, marriages and divorces, and so on. It’s an extraordinary thing, given the fact that I went to high school with some of them, got drunk with some of them when we were teenagers, and got into all the same troubles they did”.

“A prophet in his own country?”

“Yeah, except that for some reason this prophet is honoured in his own town”. He took a sip of his coffee, then smiled and said, “So do you like it so far?”

“I do, actually. When I first arrived I wasn’t sure I would, because it was so different from anything I grew up with”.

“How so?”

“Well, the distances in rural Saskatchewan are out of this world compared to Oxfordshire. We have little villages three or four miles apart; I could go for an afternoon walk on public footpaths to the next village, stop for a drink in the pub, and then walk home again. I often did, actually, on weekends. And rural culture is much more closely tied with city culture in the UK; most villages are within easy driving distance of a city, so you get commuters and people with ties to city families and so on. Here I think there’s a much wider divide between city and rural”.

“That’s probably true. So what do you like about it?”

“I like the informality, and the way you’re accepted for what you are, rather than being judged and looked down on for being from a different social class. Not that I had that problem as a kid; my dad’s a very successful lawyer – a courtroom lawyer, actually – and I had a pretty privileged childhood in many ways”.

“Not privileged enough to keep you there, though”.

“No. Kind of stifling, in fact”.

“So you came to Canada to find freedom”.

“I suppose I did, in a way”.

“Well, we have our own forms of social class, too – the difference is that they’re almost all to do with money, and how much of it you were born with”.

“I suppose; the world isn’t perfect anywhere, is it?”

“I guess not”.



And so, gradually, my circle of friends increased. Glenn and I bumped into each other regularly, as you do in a small town like Meadowvale, and more often than not one of us would make a “Let’s-have-coffee” gesture, the other would nod, and we would head on down to the Co-op for half an hour of easy conversation. I could see why people in town liked Glenn; he was intensely interested in everything to do with people, and he loved nothing better than to ask a few questions to get people talking about themselves, and then sit back and listen. He kept his own cards pretty close to his chest, and very rarely did a visit with him yield any new information about his own thoughts and convictions. But he was different – the lawyer who always wore a suit and never wore a coat, because he never walked anywhere – and since I was also different – the hippy teacher from England – I found I enjoyed his company.

I asked Joe Reimer about him one day. “He’s one of the few men in town his age who aren’t married, or at least, living common-law with someone”, I said.

“Glenn was married once, quite briefly”, he replied. “He married a girl he met in university, but it ended after a couple of years. I think that’s one of the reasons he left the city and moved back to Meadowvale. He’s a pretty private guy; I think we’re pretty good friends, but he’s never talked to me about it. I’m guessing that it was a particularly painful experience for him, and he’s just gun-shy now. But of course, the Meadowvale rumour-mill’s full of wild speculation about the whole story”.

“ ‘What do we live for but to make sport for our neighbours, and to laugh at them in our turn?’ ” I quoted.

“That sounds like a line from one of your Victorian novels”, he said.

Pride and Prejudice”, I replied, “so pre-Victorian, actually”.



Charlie Blackie also became a friend. I took him a couple more items that needed fixing over the next two or three months, and once he had agreed to take on a job, we always sealed the deal by having a cup of coffee together. It was another unlikely friendship – the fiery fundamentalist who had left school at the age of thirteen, and the university-trained English teacher with long hair and a beard who was, by now, reading the gospels regularly and thinking through issues of doubt and faith. But I found I liked the old man with his bottomless coffee pot, his staunch honesty and his strong work ethic, and I even grew to enjoy his ten-Bible-verses-a-minute style of conversation. He was of course very pleased when he discovered that I was reading the gospels but quite disappointed to find that I was not reading them from the King James Version. “These new-fangled translations are no good, young feller”, he warned me; “Them scholars that made them weren’t real believers, you know; they changed things and watered stuff down. You need to read the King James; that’s the pure Word of God, and no mistake!”



I made another friend in mid-February when Will and I went down to the Co-op for a Saturday afternoon coffee. The place was quite full and there were no empty tables, but this never bothered Will. “Look”, he said, “There’s Wilf Collins having his coffee. Let’s go and join him”.

He led me over to a table by the window where a big man in his early sixties was sitting reading a newspaper with a half-empty coffee cup in front of him. He looked up as we approached, and when he recognized Will his face broke into a grin. “Well, Will Reimer – out spending my tax dollars on coffee again, are you?” he said in a quiet voice that seemed somehow incongruent with his big frame.

“You got that right, Wilf!” Will replied.

“And this must be the young teacher from England”, Wilf said, standing up and holding out his hand to me. “I know about you, young fella – my grandson and my granddaughter are in your classes. They tell me you’re not bad at all, in case you’re interested! I’m Wilf Collins”.

“Tom Masefield”, I replied, taking his hand.

“Sit down, both of you”, he said.

We sat down together, and I asked “So who are your grandson and your granddaughter – the ones in my classes?”

“Leanne Collins is in Grade 10, she’s my son Billy’s girl, although she lives with me and my wife Mabel. Then Danny Robillard, he’s in Grade 9; his mom is my daughter Brenda, she married Dennis Robillard and they’ve got four children altogether, Danny being the oldest”.

“How many children do you have?” I asked.

I saw the shadow pass over his face; “Well, we had five, but we lost one a couple of years ago, so now there are four”.

“I’m sorry”, I said, and I was opening my mouth to ask another question when Will caught my eye and gave a barely perceptible shake of the head. At that moment a young waitress appeared at our side with a coffee pot and asked if we would like coffee. “We sure would, Denise!” Will replied; “How are you this afternoon?”

“Not too bad, Mr. Reimer!”

“Who’s got that baby of yours this afternoon?”

“Josh’s mom’s watching him for me”, she replied as she poured our coffee. “Want me to fill yours up, Wilf?”

“Sure!”

“How old is your boy now?” Will asked; “Is he two yet?”

“He turns two next week”. She grinned at me and said, “You must be the new teacher from England”.

“What gave you your first clue – my long hair or my accent?”

We all laughed, and she said to Will, “I don’t know how you keep all this stuff in your head; have you got a filing cabinet at home for news updates about your former students?”

He shook his head with a grin; “So far, it’s all in my head, but of course, I’m getting older, Denise; might not be too long before I’ll have to try that filing cabinet idea!”

“Well, enjoy your coffee”, she replied with another smile as she moved on to the next table.

We sipped at our coffee for a moment, and then Will said, “So, how are your cows holding up through the winter, Wilf?”

“Not too bad. Going to be calving next month, so I reckon I’ll see something of that son of yours”.

“Got anyone to help you?”

“Well, Billy’s quit his job on the rigs, so he’s home with us now, at least in theory. But he’s pretty much a waste of space when it comes to farm chores, as you know, and to tell you the truth we don’t see much of him”.

“Out with the boys?”

“Yeah, I think him and the Chabot twins have got a permanent lease on a couple of stools down at the bar”. The old man shook his head; “You’re damn lucky in your kids, you know, Will”.

“I know”.

“How’s that Kelly doing – is she still in Jasper?”

“Yes, she is, and she loves it”.

“You think she’ll stay out there?”

“No, I don’t think so, Wilf. She wants to work with old people, you know, which is good news for you!”

We all laughed; “She comin’ back here when they build the new seniors’ home, then?” Wilf asked.

“She’s hoping. Of course, there’ll likely be some competition”.

“I guess so. Well, I hope she gets it, Will; I always enjoy seeing her around town. She talks to everyone – just like her dad, of course!” He took a long sip of his coffee and said, “Well, I’m sorry to leave you boys, but I’m supposed to pick up a few things and then go back home in time to pick Mabel up and take her to watch the grandkids play hockey”.

“Nice to see you, Wilf”, Will said as the older man stood up and pulled on his coat.

“You too, Will. If you’re going out to Hugo’s, stop by for a coffee, and bring this young fella with you; he looks like he’s good for a few conversations! My dad was one of the first homesteaders around here, you know”, he said to me. “He and my mom came from the old country in 1908. I’m their youngest son; you might have noticed there are a few Collins’ around here”.

“I’ve got a few in my classes. Where did your parents come from in England?”

“Some place up in Yorkshire, I forget the name. Well, I’ve got to be going”.

He turned and slipped out of the deli; Will and I sipped our coffee for a moment, and then I said, “So what’s the story with him losing a child? You seemed to think I shouldn’t pursue it”.

“Their oldest son Jack committed suicide a couple of years ago. Took a shotgun and blew the back of his head off. He was a drinker, and he’d lost a marriage because of it, but he was trying hard to get his life back together; he’d quit drinking and was helping Wilf with the farm, so it was a real shock when he killed himself”.

“I guess so”.

“Wilf’s had a bad time with his kids. His daughter Brenda now, Danny Robillard’s mom, she’s the best of the lot, and she’s married to a hard-working guy who treats her like royalty. But that Billy – he’s the second oldest after Jack – his wife left him a few years ago. She was just as bad a drinker as him, and when she left, Wilf and Mabel took Leanne in – she’s Billy and Joanne’s only child. Billy’s been working on the rigs for years, but he’s had some issues because of his drinking, I hear. I’ll be surprised if he did quit his job; I think it’s more likely that he had one warning too many and got himself fired”.

“They take a dim view of drinking out there, do they?”

“Well, lots of rig pigs do drink after work, that’s for sure, but the bosses take a dim view of people who drink while they’re on the job”. He sat back in his chair; “I worry about Wilf, actually. None of his kids are interested in the farm, and I’m sure he wonders what it’s all been for. Jack was his last hope, when he quit drinking and started to take an interest, but I guess his demons were too strong for him. Wilf’s got demons of his own, too; he struggles with depression, understandably”.

“He’s right, you know – you are lucky in your kids”.

“I know it, all right”. He drank some of his coffee and grinned at me; “I hear you and Kelly have quite a correspondence going on!”

“You hear, do you?”

“I hear everything!”

“I think you’re a little confused about your own divinity, Will Reimer!”

We both laughed, and he said, “Yeah, I’m really, really lucky in my kids. Of course, their mom is pretty level-headed. She misses the girls, but we always knew we’d be lucky to keep them all in Meadowvale. It was a nice surprise when Joe decided to move back here”. He grinned at me; “I hear you and Joe have been having some pretty heavy theological conversations!”

“I like Joe a lot. I want to find out more about Christianity, and he doesn’t mind all my thorny questions”.

“No, he’s a pretty deep thinker himself; he’s gone a lot further than I have when it comes to reading and study. Have you seen some of his books?”

“Yes, I’ve been raiding his bookshelves”.

“Have you now? C.S. Lewis? Joe’s a big fan of his”.

“No, actually, I read Lewis but he didn’t do much for me. I liked his fiction, and I liked The Screwtape Letters, but Mere Christianity still left me with too many questions, which was a bit disappointing since it was supposed to be a rational argument for Christianity for people like me”.

“You weren’t convinced?”

I shook my head. “I’ve always been a doubter, Will – not just where Christianity’s concerned, but with everything – even down to my dad’s assumption that being rich and successful is what life’s all about. I can follow rational argument, but it doesn’t really do very much for me, I’m afraid. People who aren’t hypocritical and who live out what they believe – that’s what gets my attention. That’s what impresses me about Joe: he’s patient and honest, and he’s always got time for people, and he’s not planning to spend his life getting rich. He tells me he believes in a simple life, and when I look at his house, I can see he really does – he’s not accumulating piles and piles of stuff, and I know he’s really generous. So yes – Christians like him who make an honest attempt to live by the things that Jesus said – that gets my attention”.

He nodded slowly; “Makes sense. You’d make a good Mennonite, actually”.

“That’s what Joe tells me. But I don’t know if I can be a Mennonite – my name’s not Thiessen or Neufeld or Toews, or Reimer or Wiens or Janzen”.

We both laughed. “Well”, he replied, “Ellie’s become a Mennonite since she started dating Joe, and her name’s Finlay!”

“True enough! I suppose there’s hope for me yet, then”.

“Of course! One of these days…”

I drained my coffee cup. “We’ll see, Will”, I replied.

Posted in Fiction, Meadowvale | 3 Comments

Separating Jesus from his ideas

The crusades are perhaps the most egregious example of how distorted Christianity can become when we separate Christ from his ideas.

Yet we continue to do this — we worship Jesus as savior while dismissing his ideas about peace. For seventeen centuries Christianity has offered a gospel that largely ignores Jesus’ ideas about peace, violence, and human society. We have embraced a privatized, postmortem gospel that stresses Jesus as “personal savior,” while at the same time discounting his political ideas. This leaves us free to run the world the way it has always been run: by the power of the sword.

Under pressure from the ideology of empire, concepts like freedom and truth gain radically different meanings than those intended by Christ; freedom becomes a euphemism for vanquishing (instead of loving) enemies; truth finds its ultimate form in the will to power (expressed in the willingness to kill). This is a long way from the ideas of peace, love, and forgiveness set forth by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount.

Read the rest here. Brian Zahnd is always worth reading.

Posted in Following Jesus, War | Leave a comment

Meadowvale (a prequel to ‘A Time to Mend’): Chapter 6

Link back to Chapter 5

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

Kelly came over to my house for coffee in the middle of the morning on the day after Boxing Day; she had arrived in Meadowvale about seven o’clock the night before, and had called me a little later in the evening to arrange to come over for a visit.The weather had turned even colder the week before Christmas; the mercury had dropped to around minus twenty-five, and by Christmas Day there was about two feet of snow accumulated on the ground. I had bought my first down parka and winter boots, and I was gradually getting used to putting on wind pants when I went out for my early morning walk.

The sky was clear and the sun was shining on the snow outside as Kelly sat by the window in my living room and sipped at the cup of coffee I had poured for her. She was wearing jeans and a thick wool sweater, and her blond hair was hanging loose down her back; I thought she looked absolutely beautiful, and it was all I could do to stop staring at her as I put a plate of muffins on the coffee table. “Would you like something to eat?” I asked.

“Well – who’s been making muffins for you?”

“I’ll have you know, Kelly Reimer, that I am quite capable of making muffins for myself!” I replied in mock indignation.

“No way! You’ll make some woman a good house-husband one of these days!”

“I’m counting on it. Help yourself”.

I took my seat across from her, and she leaned forward to pick out a muffin and butter it. “I hear you’ve been spending Christmas in dignified solitude”, she said with a mischievous grin.

“You hear, do you? Have you got a spy network?”

“Of course!”

“What else have they told you about my activities in the last few days?”

“I’m told that you went to church Christmas Eve”.

“I did”.

“I’m a little surprised to hear that”, she said, sitting back in her chair with her plate on her lap.

“I was a little surprised to find myself there”.

She took a bite of the muffin, smiled, and said, “Mmm! This is delicious!”

“Glad you like it”.

She chewed slowly and thoughtfully for a moment, and then said, “You are a talented man, Tom Masefield”.

“Thank you”.

“So – church on Christmas Eve?”

“Yes”. I sipped at my coffee; “I haven’t been to church for about five years, but Joe invited me, and I thought about it for a few days and then decided to go”.

“How was it?”

“Different”.

“How so?”

I leaned forward in my chair, picked up a knife and cut a muffin in half. “Well, what do you know about the Church of England?”

“Only what I’ve read in English novels”.

I began to butter the muffin. “They’re a lot more formal than you Mennonites. They use a service book with printed prayers, and people read them together, or follow along while the priest reads them. And the priest wears robes, and there’s a lot more ceremony, so, yes, I found  church here different”.

“In a good way?”

“I didn’t dislike it. You know that I’m not at the point of believing in it yet – at least, not all of it. But I knew the Christmas carols, or most of them, and I enjoyed singing with the people, and I thought the minister did a good job of preaching. I understood him, anyway, which is more than I can say for some of the ministers I’ve heard at midnight communion services in Northwood”.

“That’s still Rob Neufeld, right?”

“Yes”.

“I like him a lot. And so, you’ve been hibernating since Christmas Eve?”

I nodded; “I have. I don’t mind my own company, Kelly”.

She took another bite of her muffin and chewed it slowly, looking at me.

“What?” I said.

She shrugged her shoulders and continued to scrutinize me, until I grinned awkwardly and said, “Why are you looking at me like that?”

“Weren’t you just the teeniest bit sad?”

“Why would I be sad?”

“Tom, I know you and your dad don’t get along, but I’m pretty sure you must have missed your mom, and your little sister”.

I looked away from her for a moment, trying to collect my thoughts, while she sat there quietly, waiting for me to speak. I picked up my coffee, sipped it in silence for a few minutes and then spoke quietly: “Christmas around our house has been complicated for some time now, Kelly”.

“Tell me, if you want to”.

For a moment I didn’t answer, and she finished her muffin and sat back in her chair, cradling her coffee mug in her hands.

“Where to start”, I mused.

“Start with Becca”, she suggested softly.

“What would you like to know about her?”

“You were what, about twelve when she was born?”

“I was”.

“Were you always close to her?”

“Yes, and I realize that’s a bit unusual, for a boy of twelve to be so taken with a new baby sister, but it never even occurred to me that there was anything unusual about it. I’d always wanted a sister, and right from the start I really enjoyed holding her and playing with her; my mum says I’m the one who taught her to walk and talk. I used to call her ‘Little Becs’, and she would call me ‘Tommy’ – she’s the only person who’s ever called me that and got away with it”.

She smiled; “I’ll keep that in mind”.

“I remember when I came home for Christmas the first year I was in university. Christmas Eve night she woke up in the middle of the night and she couldn’t get back to sleep, so she came into my room; she would have been seven at the time. I wasn’t very pleased to be woken up, but she sat on my bed and we whispered to each other for a while, and eventually we snuck downstairs and I made hot chocolate for us both. Then we went into the living room and sat by the Christmas tree for an hour or so; I plugged in the lights, and we sat and talked until finally she fell asleep again, and I carried her back upstairs and put her to bed”.

“Tom, that’s so sweet!”

“I never thought anything of it, Kelly. Even after Dad and I started having our differences, I still tried to get home regularly so I could see Becca – and Mum of course – and sometimes Mum brought her into Oxford to spend a day with me. And ever since that Christmas Eve we’ve had a tradition over the Christmas holidays that before she goes to bed she and I have a cup of hot chocolate together by the tree. We’ve been doing it for the past six years, every night of the holidays”.

“But not this year”.

“Not this year”.

“You miss her, don’t you?”

“Of course I miss her!” I replied forcefully. “But the thing is, even if I’d gone back to Northwood for Christmas, I don’t think it would have been the same”.

“How so?”

I was quiet for a long time, and she waited patiently while I sipped steadily at my coffee until I finished it. Then I got up, stretched, and walked over to the other window.

“Like I told you, I’ve had a complicated relationship with my dad for many years”, I said with my back to her. “He’s a lawyer and a very good one, and his whole life has been about success in his profession. He’s achieved it, and he’s made a lot of money”.

“Not so good on relationships, though?”

“Not so good”, I agreed, turning back to face her. “Long hours, six days a week, and not much in the way of fatherly attention to his children, except when he found something to get angry about. And also”, I added, “like I told you, he was determined from day one that I should follow him, and become a lawyer, which I’ve never wanted to do”.

“That’s awkward”.

“Yes”.

“How long have you known that you wanted to be a teacher?”

“From about my first year in high school, when Owen’s dad started teaching my English class”.

“He inspired you?”

“I couldn’t think of anything finer than doing what he did. He helped me fall in love with English literature, and he had a way of communicating that love to the class that was just infectious. He didn’t just read Shakespeare with us – he had us acting out scenes, and he helped us get inside the parts and understand the language, so that we not only knew what we were talking about – we felt it too. It wasn’t just staid and respectable and stuffy – he taught us how to feel Hamlet’s desire for revenge, or Richard III’s lust for power. I know it sounds lame, but I looked forward to his classes more than anything else I did at high school”.

She shook her head slowly. “It doesn’t sound lame”, she said softly; “It sounds amazing. I never had a teacher like that, even though I had some good ones. You were lucky”.

“I still am; we’re still in touch. Now he insists on me calling him ‘George’, and I write to him about how things are going and I ask his advice about things, and he always writes back and tells me what he thinks, as well as asking me what I’m reading”.

“That’s wonderful, Tom”.

“Yes, but that’s not how my dad saw it. He and I started fighting about my future career when I was about fifteen. Like I told you in my letter, Owen called it ‘the Great War’. Our first fight was at the family supper table one night. Dad had been going on and on about me going up to college and doing a pre-Law degree and then reading Law and joining the family firm, and eventually I got sick of it and I said I didn’t want to read Law, I wanted to teach English. He dismissed that idea completely – he ridiculed it, in fact – and that’s when we had our first argument about it, with Mum and Rick and Becca sitting right there”.

“How long did the Great War last?”

“About three years. We had our last shouting match about it when I was in the upper sixth, my last year of high school before university. It seemed like it lasted for hours. We were in the living room at home; Rick and Becca had gone to bed, but they heard every word, because Dad and I were shouting so loud. I remember Mum tried to quieten us down, but we both ignored her. Eventually, after we’d been yelling at each other for ages, he turned to her and asked her to talk some sense into me, and then an amazing thing happened: she stood up to him. She said, ‘Frank, I think you should let him do what he wants’. Honestly, Kelly, I thought he was going to have a stroke or a heart attack. His face turned purple and he started breathing heavily, and eventually he went out and slammed the door. And that’s when I knew I’d won and I was going to be able to do my English degree”.

She got up slowly, came over to where I was standing, and put her hand on my arm. “Why don’t you come and sit down?” she said softly.

“Okay”. I crossed the floor and sat down again by the coffee table; “Do you want some more coffee?” she asked.

“Yes, but let me…”

She shook her head; “You sit tight; I’ll get it”.

She took our mugs out to the kitchen, refilled them, brought them through to the living room and set them down on the coffee table between us. “So what happened next?” she asked as she sat down across from me again.

“Well, I did a three-year English degree and then a two-year PGCE”.

“PGCE?”

“Postgraduate certificate in education”.

“Ah”.

“Fortunately for Dad, Rick was quite willing to step into my shoes, and he’s now just about finished university and all set to join the family firm. But that didn’t mean that Dad gave up; he kept pressuring me while I was in university. It wasn’t too late, he said; I could still change to Law, and he’d be glad to pay my way. And gradually I realized that this was never going to end; if I stayed anywhere near him, he’d continue to try to control me – not just my choice of career, but my whole life”.

“So you decided to get away”.

“Yeah. I found out that there was a need for teachers over here, and I secretly began applying for jobs. I lied to my family – to all of them, not just Dad, but Mum and Becca too”. I shook my head; “I just couldn’t tell her what was going on, Kelly. I told them all that I was following a job opportunity in Reading, which isn’t that far from Oxford. But eventually, when I heard that I’d got this job, I had to tell them the truth”.

“That must have been pretty ugly”, she said quietly.

“You could say that”.

“When did you tell them?”

“A week before I flew over here – late July. We were all in the living room, and I told them I was very sorry, I hadn’t been honest with them, I’d applied for a job in Canada and I’d got it, and I’d be moving in a week. There was this long silence; Rick didn’t say a word, but Mum started to cry, and Becca started to cry, and then Dad started to yell. He called me a fool and an idiot and a sneaking liar, and then he picked up his walking cane and he started to hit me across the back with it”.

Her hand flew to her mouth; “Oh my God!” she exclaimed.

I nodded; “You can cause a lot of pain with a walking cane, and my dad’s a strong man. Mum was sobbing and begging him to stop; fortunately I was able to get away from him before he did any serious damage; I went over to Owen’s dad’s house, and that’s where I stayed until I left. I went back a couple of days later while Dad was at work, picked up all the remaining stuff I had at Northwood and got Mum to drive me back with it. That was the last time I went back to their house. Mum came over to Owen’s the day before I left to say goodbye”.

“And Becca?”

I suddenly found I couldn’t speak; I got up again and went back to the window, struggling to control my emotions. After a moment, with my back still turned to her, I said, “I’ll never forget the look on her face that night; she was absolutely stricken. She had absolutely no idea what I was going to do, and I know she was devastated. Since then, she hasn’t spoken to me; she’s so angry and hurt that I deceived her. She thinks I betrayed her; I know this, because she talks to my mum about it, and Mum’s passed some of it on to me. I write to her regularly, but she won’t read my letters; she just rips them up and throws them away”.

I heard her get up again, and I felt her hand on my shoulder. “I’m so sorry, Tom”, she said quietly.

I shook my head and turned toward her, feeling the constriction in my throat again. “No-one’s to blame but me”, I said.

“It was a difficult situation; you were probably afraid that if your dad knew what you were planning, he’d find a way to stop you”.

I nodded; “That’s exactly what I was afraid of”.

“So you felt trapped”.

“Completely. But…” I stopped, feeling the tears starting to run down my face, and wanting desperately not to break down in front of her.

“Come here”, she said, and before I knew what she was doing she was putting her arms around me. “You’ve been keeping this locked up for a long time, haven’t you?”

I nodded, unable to speak, and then it was as if a dam burst inside me, and I felt my body beginning to shake with sobs, and she pulled my head gently down against her shoulder, one hand rubbing my back as if I was a child she was soothing, and for a few minutes we just stood there together, with her holding me and me crying in her arms.

Eventually I disengaged myself, gave her an awkward smile, and then turned and slipped out to the bathroom. Closing the door behind me I bent over the sink, splashed cold water over my face, wiped it with a towel, and then straightened up and stood there for a moment, taking several deep breaths and avoiding my reflection in the mirror. I turned and put my hand on the door handle, then hesitated and took it away again. After a minute I shook my head, opened the door and went back to the living room; Kelly was still standing by the window, looking at me with concern in her eyes as I came back into the room. “Are you okay?” she asked.

“A bit frayed around the edges”, I replied, my voice a little shakier than I wanted it to be. I sat down in my chair again, and she took her seat on the couch across from me, leaning forward across the coffee table and putting her hand on mine. I nodded, wiping the back of my hand across my eyes again; “Thanks”, I said.

“No need”, she replied softly.

I was quiet for a moment, my eyes down. Eventually I spoke: “I gave up on achieving any sort of positive relationship with my dad a long time ago, but I wish I could have found a way to tell Becca. I was just afraid that if she knew, whenever I told her, she would be so upset that she wouldn’t be able to keep it to herself, and I knew I had to keep it secret from my dad until all the arrangements were in place”.

“Of course”.

“But I was wrong; I know I was. No matter what it cost, I shouldn’t have lied to her; she didn’t deserve that. I just wish I could talk to her, so I could tell her I’m sorry”.

“One day you will. She won’t be mad at you forever”.

“It seems like forever already, Kelly”.

“I know, but it’s not – it’s only five months”.

“I know”, I said, “but every week that goes by with no word from her makes it seem even less likely that I’ll ever hear from her again”.

“You will, Tom”, she said again, squeezing my hand; “It might be a long time, but you will”.

“I hope so”.

She sat back and looked at me for a moment, and I saw the concern on her face. “Thank you, Kelly”, I said.

She shook her head; “Well, I guess I’ve got the answer to the question I asked you back at Thanksgiving”, she replied.

“Which one?”

“Why an Oxford university grad would move to a place like Meadowvale”.

“Yeah – I can’t deny that when I first came here, it was more to do with getting away from the mess at home than any sort of attraction to Meadowvale. But I can already feel that changing. Your mum and dad and your whole family have been so kind to me, Kelly – I’ve never experienced anything like it in my life. I’m already starting to feel glad that I moved here; I like the people, and I like having my own place and being accepted for who I am, even though the old timers think I’m an English hippy with long hair and a beard”.

“Don’t worry about that; lots of the guys I went to school with had long hair and tried to grow beards”.

“‘Tried’ being the operative word?”

She grinned; “Some of them were successful, at least when they got to Grade Twelve!”

“Have they all moved away?”

We both laughed, and she said, “I guess a lot of them have”. She drank some of her coffee, set it down on the table, and looked at me seriously again. “So, the reason you didn’t accept Mom and Dad’s invitation to join them for Christmas was because you didn’t want to be reminded of your mom and Becca”.

“Something like that; I don’t know if I’ve even clearly articulated it to myself. Your family are so close and warm and loving, and honestly, Kelly, I’ve been such a wreck for the last couple of days that I didn’t know if I’d be able to keep it together and act cheerful in the middle of all that”.

“So what have you been doing all by yourself?”

“Oh, I’ve been for a couple of long walks at Myers Lake…”

“That sounds like a good tonic for the soul”.

“Yes, it’s been very cold, but sunny and bright, too. And I’ve read a lot, and listened to some music, and played old folk songs…”

“Reminding yourself of the friends you used to play music with, too”.

I grinned ruefully; “Sounds pretty maudlin, doesn’t it?”

“No, it doesn’t. I’m glad you like Meadowvale, Tom, but it’s going to take a long time before it feels like your home”.

“I suppose so”. I took a deep breath, smiled at her and said with all the brightness I could muster, “So, on a more cheerful subject, how long are you here for?”

“I go back on January 3rd”.

“Wow – eight days’ holiday! That’s luxurious!”

“Yes, mister teacher!” she replied in a mocking voice.

“I walked into that one, didn’t I?”

“You sure did!”

“So what are you going to do with yourself?”

“Oh, spend time with my family, and go out to the farm and spoil my horse, and play Scrabble with my big brother, and help my future sister-in-law plan her wedding, and hopefully spend some time with my favourite Englishman!”

“I’m your favourite Englishman?”

“Well, you’re the only one I know, so I admit the competition isn’t exactly fierce, but if I knew any others, you’d still be my favourite Englishman”.

“Ah, be still my beating heart!”

We laughed, and then she made a sweeping gesture toward my bookshelves and said, “And I might just look through some of your books, if that’s okay with you?”

“Of course it is”.

“And I’d like to join you in a couple of walks at Myers Lake, and listen to you sing me some of those old folk songs, and maybe, if you feel interested in it, we could talk some more about Christianity”.

“I’d like that. And oh yes, you’ve just reminded me of something”. I got to my feet, slipped into my bedroom, came back out again a moment later and handed her a flat parcel wrapped in Christmas paper. “Merry Christmas, Kelly”, I said.

“You got me a Christmas present?” She held the parcel for a minute, and then I saw the realization beginning to dawn on her face. “Oh, I know what this is!” she exclaimed.

“Well then, open it!”

I had never seen anyone, not even Becca when she was young, rip into a parcel that quickly. The paper was flying everywhere for a few seconds, and then she was holding the two Nic Jones LP records in her hands. “Thank you!” she said; “I can’t tell you how much I’ve been looking forward to hearing these!”

“Well, that’s good!”

“I’ve got a Christmas present for you, too, but it’s back at Mom and Dad’s. Which reminds me: Mom told me to ask you if you could please, please, come over to their place for supper tonight. She’s been a little worried about you, Tom. But now that I know what’s going on, if you’d rather just stay home, I’ll make excuses”.

I shook my head; “No, I think I’ll be all right now, thanks to you”.

“Good”.

“Who’s going to be there?”

“Well, Krista’s home, with a new boyfriend”.

“I heard about that. He’s from here, right?”

“Yeah, he is. Joe and Ellie will be there too, and Ellie’s bringing her fiddle, so Dad told me to ask you to bring your guitar if you came”.

“Okay”.

“Good. And when you get there, I’ll give you your present”.

“I’ll look forward to that”. I frowned; “I forgot to ask Joe on Christmas Eve whether or not Ellie got the job she interviewed for – the one with the local dentist?”

“Yes, she did. She starts on January 15th”.

“So she’ll be moving to Meadowvale, then?”

“Yes”.

“But she’s not moving in with Joe yet”.

“No, that’s not their style. They’re both pretty strong Christians”.

“Yes, I know. So they won’t live together until after the wedding?”

“No”.

“I bet the next five months are going to go very, very slowly for them!”

She grinned; “I’m guessing so!”

I got to my feet. “So, music, or Myers Lake?”

“Do I have to choose?”

I laughed. “Music, and Myers Lake, then! Shall we do Myers Lake first while the sun’s shining?”

“Absolutely!”

 

Kelly and I spent pretty well all day together; we walked the trails at Myers Lake for a couple of hours until we were frozen, and then went back to my place to thaw out over a bowl of soup and some more hot coffee. I played her a few songs on my guitar, and she was impressed enough to draw me into another long conversation about traditional folk music. In the middle of the afternoon she coaxed me into walking over with her to visit her cousin Don Robinson and his wife Lynda; I knew Don and Lynda, of course, as they were both teachers, but I had never spent much social time with them. They had two little girls, Amy who was seven and Beth who was four, and that was when I discovered that Kelly loved kids with a passion. She played with Amy and Beth and read to them, while Don and Lynda poured us coffee and told me stories about the Arctic. It seemed that right after they were married they had spent five years as teachers in Coppermine on the Arctic coast, and both their girls had been born in Yellowknife. “Great place, the Arctic”, Don observed, “and we had a great time there. But we were just having our adventure; we always planned to move back to Saskatchewan in the end”.

“Didn’t think it would be Meadowvale, though”, Lynda added; “That was a piece of luck”.

“You were glad to come home?” I asked.

“We were”, Don replied.

“So you’re both from here, then? Wait a minute – I know you are, Don, because your mum’s Sally’s sister, right?”

“Yeah, they’re both from the Wiens family originally; my mom’s the oldest girl, and Aunt Sally comes next. It’s a big family, as you might have heard”.

“But your dad isn’t a Mennonite?”

“No – Dad was born in England, but my grandparents brought him to Meadowvale when he was one. They were homesteaders; their farm’s about eight miles out of town”.

“Your dad didn’t take it over, though?”

“No – Dad always liked building things, so he taught himself the carpentry trade. He’s got his own business now – construction, home renovations, that sort of thing”.

“What about you, Lynda?” I asked.

“I was born a Miller; my mom and dad are George and Hazel Miller. They farm about six miles south of town. They were both born here, but their parents were immigrants from the old country”.

“England?”

“Yeah”.

“It seems like everyone here is from somewhere else originally”.

“I guess that’s true, unless you’re Cree”, Don observed. “How about you; is your family all pretty well from the place where you grew up?”

“Yes, we’re from Oxford on both sides of the family, but we weren’t especially close. My dad’s one of four siblings but the other three all moved to London, and we’ve never seen very much of them. My mum only has the one sister, and she’s stayed in Oxford; they’re pretty close, too, but Auntie Brenda and Uncle Roy don’t have any children, so I grew up without much contact with cousins”.

Eventually Kelly joined us at the kitchen table, and we continued talk companionably for an hour or so before saying our goodbyes. We wandered back over to my house to  pick up my guitar, and then made our way over to the Reimers’, where Kelly gave me my Christmas present, a thick wool tuque and a long knit scarf.

“Did you make the scarf?” I asked as I wound it around my neck.

“I did, but I didn’t make the tuque”.

“I didn’t know you were a knitter”.

“I don’t do it very often, but I enjoy it when I do”.

We had a long and relaxed meal with Will and Sally, Joe and Ellie, and Krista and her new boyfriend Steve Janzen. “He’s kind of related to us”, Kelly explained to me while we were all sitting around the supper table.

“Oh, how’s that?”

“Well, Don, who we were with this afternoon, is my first cousin”.

“I get that”.

“He’s the oldest of Auntie Rachel and Uncle Mike’s kids. The next one is Ruth, and she’s married to one of Uncle Mike’s carpenters, John Janzen”.

“And you’re related to him?” I asked Steve.

“I’m his youngest brother”, he explained.

“So he’s related to you by marriage?” I asked Kelly.

“Right”.

“But not by marriage to anyone in your immediate family?”

“What do you think we are”, Joe asked with a grin, “the British monarchy?”

After supper the three Reimer siblings and I had another game of Scrabble, which Kelly won handily. Then Will got his guitar out and asked if Ellie and I would like to jam with him for a while, so we went into the living room and played music for an hour or so. Ellie was a very good fiddler and she and Will were obviously used to playing together, but the tunes they played were not difficult to follow and I enjoyed filling in some lead guitar lines for them.

Later on, at about nine-thirty, Kelly went rummaging in the fridge, found a half-empty bottle of wine, and helped herself to a couple of glasses from the top cupboard. “Want to come down to the basement for a while?” she asked me.

“If you like, but I should get going before too long”.

“No hurry: you’re on holiday, right?”

I laughed; “I suppose I am!”

“Well, that’s good then”. She grinned at her dad; “Tom and I are going down to the den to keep company with a bottle of wine for a while”, she said.

“Lock the door behind him when he leaves”, Will replied.

There was a finished family room down in the basement, with an old couch and a couple of easy chairs, a coffee table, a TV, an old cabinet stereo system, and a whole wall of bookshelves. Kelly turned on a standing lamp, lit a candle on the coffee table, poured us each a glass of wine and then sat down in one of the easy chairs, putting her bare feet up on the coffee table. “Cheers”, she said, raising her glass toward me.

“Cheers”.

We both sipped at our wine for a moment, and then I said, “I’m flattered, but you don’t have to keep leaving the rest of your family behind to spend time with me”.

She grinned; “Are you afraid people are going to start talking, Tom Masefield?”

“No, of course not!” I replied awkwardly.

“Neither am I; I talk to anyone I like and I don’t take any notice of what people think of it”.

“I would never have guessed that about you!”

We laughed, and then she looked at me seriously and said, “So, has there ever been someone significant…?”

I shrugged; “I’ve dated girls. How about you?”

“We’re not done with you yet!” she teased.

“Not much more to tell, really”.

“You’re telling me your heart’s never been seriously threatened?”

I took a deep breath, looked at her, and said, “I wouldn’t say that”.

“Ah”, she replied triumphantly, “so there has been someone…!”

“Yes”, I replied firmly, “but despite the fact that you are a very open and honest person and I like you very much…”

“You’re not ready to talk about that yet?”

I shook my head; “No”.

“Fair enough. I’ve had a couple of boyfriends myself”.

“Local boys?”

“No – guys I met in university in Saskatoon”.

“Serious?”

“The second one was. His name was Mike and he was studying to become a phys.ed. teacher”.

“You must have been playing sports of some kind when you met”.

“Funnily enough, although I love being outdoors and active, I’m not a big fan of sports”.

“Right – I should have noticed that”.

“Actually, we met because we were both doing part-time jobs at the same coffee shop on campus. We were an item for about a year, and then he broke my heart”.

“I’m sorry, Kelly; what happened?”

“He met someone else, and he liked her better”.

I shook my head; “That’s frankly unbelievable to me”.

“Thank you!” she replied with a grin; “However, it surely isn’t hard for you to understand how a person might decide, after a year with me, that they’d like a quieter life with someone who didn’t talk so much!”

We laughed again. “So what are you going to do?” I asked; “Are you planning on staying in Jasper?”

She shook her head. “It’s not that I don’t love the place”, she replied; “It’s a dream come true for me to have the chance to live there. But I don’t want to be a ward nurse for the rest of my career”.

“What do you want to do?”

“Geriatric nursing”.

“You want to work with old people?”

“I do”.

“Why?”

“Because I really like old people”.

I drank some of my wine and then put the glass down on the coffee table. “Now that”, I said, “is not something you hear very often”.

“I guess not, but it’s true. I love it when my grandmother tells stories about what it was like when they came over here from Russia in the 1920s; I really admire that generation for all the hardships they went through. And I don’t like the way in our society we push old people off to one side and make decisions about their future based on our convenience, not theirs”.

“You feel really strongly about this, don’t you?”

“I do. I think old people deserve to keep their freedom and dignity for as long as possible, and I think we should be preserving their stories and passing them on, so that the next generation knows what life was like in harder times”.

“So what are you going to do?”

“Well, since you ask, as soon as the snow is off the ground in the spring, there’s a new seniors’ home being built here in Meadowvale”.

“A seniors’ home?”

“Yeah – that might not be the name it’s eventually given, but you get the idea. It’ll have space for sixty rooms, some of them self-catering, and there’ll be staff, including an R.N.”.

“That’s where you come in?”

“Hopefully. They’ll be advertising for the positions in the spring, and I’ll be putting my name in”.

“When will the centre be finished?”

“Hopefully by late Fall”.

“So you might be moving back to Meadowvale by Thanksgiving”.

“If all goes according to plan, yes”.

“Well”, I said, picking up my wine glass, “Let’s drink to that”.

“Alright!”

We both raised our glasses, smiled at each other, and sipped at our wine. “Now” she said, “are you ready to listen to some Bruce Cockburn music?”

“Sounds like a good idea”.

“Good!” she replied, getting to her feet and going over to the stereo. “I just happen to have some of my LPs down here”.

 

Kelly and I spent a lot of time together that week. Most days, she came over to my house for a cup of coffee in the mornings; sometimes she browsed my bookshelves and we talked about books for a while, and sometimes she listened to my records, or I played some songs for her. We went for a couple of walks at Myers Lake, and she gave me my first ever cross-country skiing lesson, which I quite enjoyed, once I got over my fear of losing control and falling. One day we drove out to Hugo and Millie’s farm so that she could visit with her horse; it turned out that Joe and Corey were there as well, and the four of us bundled up against the cold and went riding for a while. Afterwards Joe and Kelly rubbed the horses down and made a hot mash for them, and then we went into the house and had coffee with Hugo and Millie. And a couple of times at Will and Sally’s we went down to the basement again and talked far into the night about Christianity.

She had brought a photograph album with her, and I was captivated by her pictures of Jasper. On the last night before she went back, she and I were sitting on the couch in Will and Sally’s basement looking through the album again, and she said, “You should come and visit me, and I’ll take you out and show you some of the scenery”.

“I would really like that” I replied.

“Well, you have holidays at Easter, right?”

“I do”.

“Come then. It won’t be the best time, with the spring melt and everything, but it could still be really enjoyable”.

I looked at her as she sat beside me on the couch; she was dressed as usual in jeans and a sweater, and her hair was tied back in a thick braid. “I’d stay at your place, then?” I asked.

“Yeah – that is, if you don’t mind”. She paused for a moment, giving me an awkward glance, and then added, “I have a spare room”.

I nodded; “I’ll let you know, but right now it’s sounding pretty good”.

“I’ll look forward to that. I don’t think I’ll be back here until Joe and Ellie’s wedding”.

“That’s May, right?”

“Victoria Day weekend, toward the end of May”.

“Are you a bridesmaid?”

“I am, actually”. She frowned; “When is Easter this year? Do you know?”

“Early April, I think; I remember looking at it on the school calendar when I started”.

“Okay, so it’ll be springtime in Meadowvale, but you’ll need to remember that Jasper’s a lot higher, so there’ll still be a lot of snow on the mountains, and maybe even some in town too”.

“Right, so I’ll need to bring some warmer clothes with me”.

She grinned; “You’re going to come, then?”

“As I said, I’m not absolutely sure, but it sounds pretty good”.

Link to Chapter 7

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