We were climbing the Edith Cavell Meadows Trail in Jasper National Park. Emma was ahead of me, dressed in shorts, a hiking shirt and a ball cap, a backpack on her back and her trekking pole in her hand. We were above the boreal forest now; away to our left the vast green slope of the valley wall was rising toward a grey ridge. To our right the ground sloped down sharply toward the glacial valley far below, and on the far side the looming bulk of Mount Edith Cavell dominated the horizon. It was a clear sunlit day, not too hot, perfect for this sort of climbing, and we could see other people on the trail, both above and below us. Emma and I had done this particular climb many times; she was in her element, striding confidently ahead, using her trekking pole to help on the steep parts, stopping from time to time to catch her breath, enjoy the scenery and allow the rest of us to catch up. Wendy was following me, and Colin and Lisa were bringing up the rear.
Emma had flown to Saskatchewan the first week of July, and the rest of us had followed right after my school term finished. We had spent two weeks in Meadowvale, with Wendy and her children staying at Joe and Ellie’s house, and Emma and I staying with Kelly’s parents. We had introduced Wendy and the children to our family and friends, taken them on day trips to nearby lakes and spent a couple of days in Prince Albert National Park with Krista and Steve and their children. Emma had obviously relished the company of her Reimer cousins; they had gone for long walks and sat up late at night talking, and she and Jake had played music together on their guitars for hours at a time. Occasionally they had invited me to join them, and a couple of times I had persuaded Wendy to sing with us as well.
I had rented a minivan for our long trip; we had driven to Saskatoon to see two Shakespeare plays, and had then made the journey west into Alberta to Edmonton, where we had spent the weekend on Gallagher Hill listening to the likes of Earl Scruggs, Martin Simpson, Ani DiFranco and Jerry Douglas at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival. Wendy had lapped it all up, wandering from one small stage to another, sampling the many different musical styles on offer; even Lisa, who was not a real folkie, had admitted by the end of the weekend that she had had a great time.
The next day we had driven west to Jasper. I had borrowed a couple of tents and some camping gear from various friends and relatives in Meadowvale, and we had set up camp at the Whistler’s campground not far from town, booking our site for a week to give us plenty of time for exploring. Knowing that Lisa was not an outdoor person, Emma and I had deliberately planned to make the first couple of days’ hikes relatively easy, with a slightly more ambitious trek around the Valley of the Five Lakes on the third day. Now, on the fourth day, we had decided to attempt the Edith Cavell Meadows trail, a 750 metre climb starting in the boreal forest, trekking past glacial moraine, and then up into the alpine meadows and the bare rocks above them. It had been one of Kelly’s favourite climbs in Jasper, and we had done it almost every year when we visited the park.
I saw Emma stop and lean on her trekking pole, looking back at me with a grin. “What a fantastic day!” she said as I caught up with her.
“We couldn’t have asked for better weather”, I replied.
After a moment I felt Wendy’s hand on my arm, and I turned to her with a smile. Like Emma she was wearing shorts and a hiking shirt, with a Tilley hat to protect her face from the sun, and I could see the sweat running down her tanned cheeks. We had all been out of doors a lot over the past couple of weeks, and we were as brown as berries.
“Are you all right?” I asked.
“I’m fine”, she replied, leaning on me a little for support; “It’s quite a steep climb, though, isn’t it?”
“It is. We don’t have to go all the way to the top if you don’t want to”.
“No, I do want to. I’m not sure if Lisa will make it all the way up, though”. We turned and watched as Colin and Lisa climbed slowly up the trail toward us. Colin was in pretty good shape, but he was obviously taking his time to help his sister out. Lisa was visibly tired, leaning on her trekking pole for support, and stopping frequently to get her breath.
“There’s a viewpoint not too far ahead”, I said. “We can stop there for a rest and a bite to eat, and if Lisa doesn’t want to go any further, I’ll stop and wait with her. I know Emma’s not going to be satisfied until she gets to the top; the view from up there’s pretty spectacular”.
“But you want to go all the way up too, don’t you?”
“I’d like to, but I don’t mind; I’ve seen it lots of times”.
Wendy took off her hat, wiped the sweat from her eyes with a handkerchief, and smiled at Emma. “You’re a real mountain goat, Em!” she said; “Don’t you ever get tired?”
“I’ll be tired at the end of the day, but it’ll be a good kind of tired”.
“Aren’t your legs sore?”
Wendy grinned at me again; “I didn’t realize how much of a mountaineer you are”.
“I’m not really a mountaineer; I like to follow a trail”.
“But it’s a pretty challenging trail”.
At that moment Colin and Lisa reached us; Lisa was breathing hard, and without a word she sat down on a rock, took off her hat and wiped the sweat off her forehead with the back of her hand. Emma shrugged her backpack off her shoulders, took out an extra bottle of water, unscrewed the cap and handed it to her sister. “Have some water”, she said; “It’ll help”.
Lisa took the bottle, lifted it to her lips, and tilted her head back to drink deeply. After a moment she handed the bottle back to Emma; “Thanks”, she said. Reaching for her mother’s arm, she pulled herself to her feet, grinned doggedly at Emma, and said, “God, you’re in good shape! I feel like a pathetic wimp up here; you can tell I’m not an outdoors sort of girl, can’t you?”
“You’re doing pretty good, actually”, Emma replied; “Considering that you haven’t been used to this sort of thing, you’ve done well to get this high”.
“There’s a viewpoint about ten minutes further ahead”, I said; “We can eat our sandwiches and rest there for a while”.
“Don’t want to rest too long, though”, Emma added, “or our legs will just get stiff”.
“But if you want to wait there”, I said to Lisa, “I’ll wait with you while the others go to the top”.
“How much further is the top?” Lisa asked.
“Oh, I’d say a good forty-five minutes to an hour, at the pace we’re going”. I turned and gestured to the grey ridge off to our left, pointing to the peaks rising from it against the blue sky. “We don’t go all the way to the highest peak”, I said.
“Well, we could”, Emma interrupted mischievously.
I took a playful swipe at her head; “You’re not helping, Miss Mountain Goat!”
“Have you really been all the way to the top of the highest one?” Colin asked.
“We’ve made it up there a couple of times”, I replied. “When Kelly was alive she never stopped until she got to the very top, but the official trail doesn’t go that far – it goes to that one over there”, I added, pointing toward a closer peak.
“But just remember”, Emma added – “when we finish the climb and get back down to the campsite, we can go to Annette Lake and swim”.
“Right!” Lisa retorted with a wry grin; “You’re trying to comfort me with the thought of a lake that feels like it’s fed by a glacier!”
“It’s not actually fed by a glacier”, Emma replied playfully; “Now there are lakes here that are fed by glaciers, if you want…”
It was Lisa’s turn to take a swipe at Emma’s head. “I didn’t realize before just how annoying you can be!” she exclaimed; “Shouldn’t I be able to shut you up or something? Shouldn’t being the older sister count for something?”
We all laughed; I took off my hat, ran the back of my hand across my sweaty forehead, and said, “We should get going”.
After we ate our sandwiches at the viewpoint, Lisa and I stayed behind while the other three went to the top of the trail. She was obviously very tired, but I warned her against simply sitting down and waiting for an hour and a half; her muscles would get very stiff and she would be limping all the way back down to the valley below. So we walked around the bare open space, enjoying the views of the surrounding peaks, and the Angel Glacier spread out ghost-like on the face of Mount Edith Cavell across from us. There were other people coming and going as well, gazing around at the view, taking photographs, eating food and drinking from bottles of water.
“It really is spectacular”, Lisa said quietly, looking up at the Angel Glacier. “I don’t think I’ve ever been this close to a glacier before. And I don’t think the photographs are going to do it justice”.
“No, they never do; they never give you the sense of how massive everything is”.
She smiled at me; “It’s quite a contrast with the wide open spaces back in Saskatchewan”.
“Those wide open spaces have a charm of their own, though”.
She sat down on a grey rock, and I sat down on the ground beside her, trying to avoid the mosses and lichens. “You had such a different life from us”, she said quietly.
“I guess so”.
“I grew up in a huge city”, she said, “So I grew a city girl’s instincts. If I’d grown up close to this sort of thing…” She looked down at me; “When did you learn to be an outdoor person? Were you always like that?”
“My Mum liked walking, but it was really Owen that got me into it; he loved being outdoors. When we were teenagers we often spent Saturdays rambling in the country around Northwood, or even further”.
“But that’s pretty tame compared to this”, she said, looking up at the vastness of Mount Edith Cavell. “Not that this was all that close to you when you lived in Meadowvale, either; when you talked about it before, I don’t think I realized how far away it was”.
“Well, you can do it in a day if you start out early enough, but then you won’t be setting up camp until late evening. When we came from Meadowvale, we pretty well always stayed overnight in Edmonton, and then finished the drive the next day”.
“I’m curious that you really like the flat country back in Saskatchewan, but you like the mountains too”.
“You find that curious, do you?” I replied with a grin.
“I do. The scenery’s so different”.
“But it’s all about vastness, isn’t it? Here it’s the vastness of the mountains, and there it’s the vastness of the sky. I remember times in Meadowvale when I could see three or four separate thunderstorms in different parts of the sky”.
She inclined her head a little and smiled; “I wouldn’t have thought of that”, she said. “So it’s all about remembering how big the world is and how small we are?”
“That’s a good way of putting it”.
“Do you like being reminded of your own insignificance?”
“You didn’t say ‘insignificant’; you said ‘small’; there’s a difference”.
“Okay, but why is that difference important?”
“I guess it’s because to me, as a Christian, it’s not so much the vastness of the world that I want to be reminded of; it’s the vastness of God. I like praying out of doors because it reminds me that God isn’t a being who spends all his time in small confined spaces, and it also reminds me that my limited view of the world likely isn’t the last word on the subject. But that doesn’t mean I’m insignificant”.
“But if the universe is so vast, how can one tiny human being be significant to God?”
“We may be tiny, but we’re incredibly designed. Not only that, but God has gone to the trouble of giving us a conscience, which would seem to indicate that he finds our behaviour significant”.
“But hasn’t conscience just evolved out of behaviour patterns that helped groups of humans survive better?”
I grinned; “That’s a long and complicated philosophical argument, and I’m not a long and complicated philosophical arguer”.
She laughed; “Are you asking me just to take it on faith?”
“No, I’m not – at least not in this instance. What I’m saying is that there’ve been plenty of books written on this issue; I’ve read a few of them, and I don’t think either side has argued its case conclusively. If they had, the whole world would be flocking to one side or the other”.
“So what does that mean?”
“I think it means that in the end the intellectual case for Christianity is good, but not conclusive – just like the intellectual case for atheism is good, but not conclusive. Argument will only take you so far. And for people like you and me, I don’t think it’ll take us very far at all”.
“Because we’re not abstract intellectual thinkers, Lisa – at least, I’m not, and I don’t think you are, either”.
She shook her head; “No, I suppose not”. She gave me a thoughtful look; “So why did you decide to become a Christian, if it wasn’t because of a conclusive argument?”
“Well, the short answer to that is, the Reimers; they were a pretty good argument for the truth of Christianity for me”.
She nodded; “I can understand that; they’re pretty amazing people. I can’t get over how kind Joe and Ellie were to Mum and Colin and me, even though we were complete strangers to them – how they just opened up their home and welcomed us into it”.
“That’s how Will and Sally were to me when I moved to Meadowvale, although I didn’t actually live with them. They invited me to their place for Thanksgiving dinner in October, which is where I met Joe and Kelly and Krista for the first time. Krista was still in university, and Kelly was nursing here in Jasper; she was home for the long weekend. Joe had just moved back to Meadowvale and opened up his vet practice; he and Ellie had just gotten engaged. Will’s mom and dad were there too, and a few aunts and cousins. And then there was me, a young expatriate Brit with a guitar and an attitude, surrounded by all these Mennonites”.
She laughed again; “Did they try to convert you?”
“No – at least, not right away. But they were very welcoming, and Sally told me that I was to come over and join them whenever I didn’t feel like cooking. I didn’t take her literally, of course, but I was over there a lot. And Joe and I soon became friends; he was the one I had my first serious talks about Christianity with”.
“Not philosophical arguments, though?”
“No – Mennonites tend not to do that. We talked about Jesus a lot, and his life, and the things he taught. Mennonites really emphasize following the teaching and example of Jesus in daily life”.
“That’s where your ‘loving your enemies’ thing comes from?”
She was quiet for a moment, and I saw the faraway look in her eyes. I got to my feet slowly; “I need to walk around a bit”, I said.
“Are your legs getting stiff?”
“They will if I sit much longer. What about you?”
She pushed herself up from the rock, took a step, and said, “Ouch! Perhaps I should walk around a bit as well!”
It was about an hour later that we caught sight of the others coming back down the trail toward us; after a few minutes they arrived at the viewpoint with smiles on their faces. “That was pretty amazing!” Colin exclaimed.
I smiled at Wendy as she stood there leaning on her trekking pole; “You made out all right, then?” I asked.
“Oh my God, I thought my lungs were going to burst!” she exclaimed with a grin. “I felt like an old woman up there, trying to keep up with these two!”
“What did you think of the view?”
She put her arms around me, kissed me on the lips, drew back with a smile and said, “It was one of the most spectacular things I’ve ever seen in my life!”
“Isn’t it amazing? I never get tired of it”.
“Did you get photographs?” Lisa asked.
“I got loads”, Colin replied, “but the sun’s a bit too bright here; I’ll show them to you later”
“So”, said Emma, “are we going to swim again when we get back down?”
“We’ve got to get down first!” Lisa replied with a grin.
“Well, then”, Wendy said; “Let’s get going!”
I sleep soundly when I’m camping, but I usually wake up early, and when I do, I can’t get back to sleep. I usually go for a walk to get my body moving, but when I woke up the morning after our climb, I could tell by the stiffness in my legs and back that my muscles weren’t ready for another walk yet. I crawled quietly out of my sleeping bag, doing my best not to wake Colin up as I slipped into my clothes; he and I were sharing a tent, and Wendy, Lisa and Emma were in the other one. I unzipped the door and stepped out into the early morning light; the sky was clear, promising another warm and sunny day ahead, but the mountain air was still cold, and I was glad I had pulled on a fleece top over my tee shirt.
After returning from the bathrooms, I warmed up some water over the Coleman stove, made some coffee and sat quietly in a folding chair by the picnic table to drink it, enjoying the peace and stillness of the early morning. Our campsite was surrounded by tall trees, with other sites on either side of us; above the tree line I could see the bulk of Whistler’s Mountain, and I remembered that I had promised everyone we would ride the cable car up there before we left Jasper. I took a sip of my coffee, thinking of all that had happened in the past few months, and breathing a few quiet prayers of thankfulness.
After a while I heard the sound of the other tent door being unzipped, and Wendy emerged, wearing jeans and a warm sweater, her hair still messy from sleep. She came over to where I was sitting, bent and kissed me on the forehead; “Did you sleep well?” she asked.
“Very well. How about you?”
“Like a log; I must have been exhausted. I can feel that climb in my leg muscles this morning”.
“I know; me too. Would you like some coffee?”
“Give me a minute to use the facilities”.
When she returned from the bathrooms I poured her a cup of coffee; she took it from my hand with a smile and sat down in another folding chair beside me. “I didn’t put my watch on”, she said; “What time is it?”
“So – what are we going to do today?”
“Well, I’m guessing that we’re all a little tired after yesterday’s exertions; perhaps we should drive down to the Athabasca Glacier today”.
“That’s the one where you can walk on the glacier?’
“That’s right. But then, on the other hand, we might want to just take a ride up there in the cable car”. I pointed toward Whistler’s Mountain; “There’s a rather nice restaurant at the top of the tramway, and from there it’s a short hike to Whistler’s summit. The views are spectacular”.
“More spectacular views?”
I smiled at her; “There are rather a lot of them around here, aren’t there?”
“It’s a wonderful place, Tom; thank you so much for bringing us”.
“It’s my pleasure”.
She was quiet for a few minutes, sipping at her coffee, cradling the cup in her hands for warmth. I could see that she had tried to tie her hair back, but a long wisp of it was falling over her forehead. I reached over and took her hand; she smiled at me, opened her mouth to speak, and then hesitated and closed it again.
“What?” I asked.
“You must really miss Kelly here”, she said.
“Yes”, I replied quietly, “I must admit that I think of her a lot when I’m up here”.
“The night your dad died, you said that something unusual had happened on the day of her death; you were going to tell me about it”.
“But perhaps you’d rather not talk about it right now?”
“No, I can talk about it”. I sat forward in my chair, resting my elbows on my legs. “She died in hospital”, I said. “She’d been in a coma for a few days, and the whole family was there – Will and Sally, Krista and Steve and their kids, Joe and Ellie and Jake and Jenna, and a few others. And Emma and me, of course”.
“Emma would have been about fourteen?”
“Yes. We’d been awake all through the night, much as we were the night my Dad died, except that Kelly lasted into the late morning. We were all sitting or standing around her hospital bed; her breathing was getting more and more shallow, and we all knew that it wouldn’t be long. I was sitting on her right side, and Emma on her left; Emma was holding her hand and talking to her, but Kelly had her eyes closed, and we had no way of knowing if she could hear or not. Eventually Emma just sort of leaned forward and put her head on her mom’s shoulder. And then we all saw Kelly’s left hand come up and around Emma’s back, as if she was remembering how she used to hold her when she was a little girl.
“I remember that I leaned forward a bit, and then Kelly’s other hand came up; it was as if she knew exactly where my face was. Her eyes were still closed, but she traced both of my eyebrows with her finger, really slowly, and then her hand went down to the sheet again. A few minutes later she died”.
Wendy stared at me and shook her head slowly; “That’s amazing”, she whispered.
“Yes, it was almost unearthly, in the most literal sense of the word”.
We were silent for a few minutes, each of us alone with our thoughts. On the edge of our campsite a squirrel ran down a tree trunk, stood up straight for a moment to scrutinize us, and then darted off into the undergrowth.
Wendy spoke in a small voice; “I’m so different from Kelly, Tom”.
“You are”, I agreed.
“I told you once that I didn’t feel intimidated by her memory, but I’m not sure that’s entirely true any more. Having spent the past few weeks in her haunts, it’s not hard to feel as if she’s still somehow present”.
I didn’t say anything for a few minutes; I got to my feet, poured myself another cup of coffee and took a sip of it, stretching my back and looking up at Whistler’s Mountain. Eventually I turned to her and said, “I had a rather vivid dream a few nights ago; I dreamt about that night in Oxford when you came to my room”.
“You mean the night Lisa was conceived”, she said softly.
“Yes”. I took my seat beside her again, took her hand, and said, “Do you remember me telling you a few months ago that a part of my psyche had sort of gone to sleep after Kelly died?”
“I do; you said you thought it might be waking up again”.
I nodded; then, choosing my words carefully, I said, “When I thought about that dream, I realized that I’m actually quite looking forward to making love with you again, and that I hope it won’t be too long. But all the things I’ve told you about my feelings that first time we made love – all those things still apply”.
She tightened her grip on my hand, her eyes searching mine; “You’re telling me that it’s not just sex that you’re looking forward to”, she whispered.
“No – it’s being together with you for the rest of my life”.
I watched as a slow smile spread across her face. “Tom Masefield, are you proposing to me?” she asked.
“Wendy Howard, I think I am”, I replied.
“You think?” she said playfully; “I’d been hoping for something a bit more definite than that!”
I lifted her hand to my lips, kissed it, and covered it with my other hand. “Will you marry me, Wendy?” I asked; “The sooner, the better!”
She laughed quietly, her eyes shining. “Well, since you ask so nicely…”
“Is that a ‘yes’?”
“I think it is”.
“You think?” I replied; “I’d been hoping for something a bit more definite than that!”
We both laughed this time, and then she smiled at me and said, “Yes, Tom, I will marry you. And I’ll count myself a lucky woman”.
“No, no”, I replied, shaking my head; “I’m the lucky one”.
“Excuse me, sir, but after I rejected you and turned you away all those years ago, I’ve never had any right to expect this from you – so, I repeat, I’m the lucky one”.
I grinned; “Is this our first argument?”
“Possibly”, she replied, her eyes sparkling merrily at me.
“When shall we do it?” I asked.
“I suppose that all depends on what sort of wedding we want”.
“Do you want something big and formal?”
“No, not really. Would you mind being married in the Church of England?”
“Of course not; were you thinking of Merton Chapel?”
“I was, actually; is that all right?”
“Perfect”. I frowned suddenly and said, “But is Stephen allowed to do it, with you being divorced?”
“I think there are some extra hoops to jump through. That might slow the process down a bit”.
“All the more reason for us to start it soon, then. Shall we go and see Stephen when we get home?”
“I’d like that”.
“What sort of time frame are we talking about, though?”
“How do you mean?”
“I mean, if Stephen looks at us and says, ‘So, when would you like to get married?’ – what shall we say?”
“What do you think?”
I grinned at her; “Decisive this morning, aren’t we?”
She laughed softly; “Give me some time, all right? This is only my first cup of coffee of the day!” She took a sip of her coffee, thought for a moment, and then said, “I honestly don’t want to wait until next summer”.
“Neither do I”.
“Actually, I’d like to do it before Christmas, if possible”.
“Then let’s start with that, and see how close we can get to it”.
She grinned at me; “When shall we tell the kids?” she asked.
“Shall we feed them first?”
“Of course, that means we might have to wait for a while; they’re in no danger of waking up any time soon”.
I stood up again, stretched my back, and said, “When I first got up I thought my legs were too stiff to go for a walk, but now I’m thinking a quiet stroll would be nice. What do you think?”
“Can I come?”
“You don’t seriously think I’d leave you behind, do you?” I replied, holding out my hand to her.
She took my hand with a smile, got to her feet and slipped her arm into mine. “Lead the way”, she said, “but don’t go too fast, if you don’t mind; I wasn’t joking about my legs being stiff”.
We strolled out of our campsite and down the lane, passing other tents and a few bleary-eyed campers who were already moving at this early hour. The trees around us were tall, casting long shadows on the road ahead. A family of grey jays was flitting in and out of the branches, stopping here and there to look for food; a little further away I heard the chirruping of a squirrel.
“So when did you decide you wanted to do this?” Wendy asked.
“I think I’ve known for a long time, actually”.
“Has something been holding you back?”
“Fear, I think”.
“Fear of what?”
“Fear of not being able to get it right. Fear that I might still be too sad about Kelly to be able to give you the sort of love you deserve. Fear that you might say ‘no’”.
She stopped abruptly and looked at me in amazement. “Fear that I might say no?” she exclaimed; “Where on earth did that one come from?”
“Well, I do come with rather a lot of emotional baggage, Wendy; I was afraid you might not be willing to take it all on”.
She shook her head as we began to walk again. “I’ve got some emotional baggage of my own, too. I’m afraid you might still find yourself woken up at night sometimes by my nightmares, and…” she hesitated, biting her lower lip and looking away, “to be absolutely frank, I’m not altogether sure that sex is going to be easy for me for a while, even with you”.
“And I understand too, Tom”, she said.
I put my arm around her, pulled her close and kissed her on the forehead. “I love you”, I said.
“I love you, too – more than you can imagine”.
“I don’t know – I can imagine a lot!”
We both laughed, and she took my arm again as we walked on together. We were quiet for a few minutes; I could smell wood smoke in the air from early morning campfires, and a little further down the road a truck drove noisily past us, pulling a large fifth-wheel trailer.
“Should we talk about some practical things before we mention this to the kids?” Wendy asked.
“How do you mean?”
“Well, there’s the issue of where we’re going to live, for a start. The obvious thing is for you and Emma to come and live with us, since I own a house and you’re a renter. But on the other hand, our house will be a little tight for five people, since we only have three bedrooms upstairs. I know Lisa sleeps at Christ Church a lot of the time, but I’m still not sure she’d welcome the idea of sharing her room at home with Emma, much as they like each other”.
“So we might have to buy a bigger place”.
“Fair enough; if you’re okay with that, I’m okay with it too”.
“I’m okay with it; it’ll probably be quite expensive, though”.
“Well, Dad did leave me quite a bit of money, and I think I’ve persuaded Emma that we don’t have to give away every penny of it”.
“How did you manage to do that?”
“It started with Air Canada tickets” I replied; “She’s got a vested interest in being able to come over here on a regular basis!”
We both laughed. “She’s right, though, Tom”, Wendy said; “There’s no reason why you shouldn’t give some of it away; that would be a Christian thing to do, wouldn’t it? It wouldn’t hurt us to have a mortgage”.
I was quiet for a moment, and then said, “It’s a load off my mind to hear you say that, Wendy”.
“Well, I do want to give some of it away – a substantial amount, in fact. I was worried that you’d be upset about that”.
She shook her head; “Let’s go into this marriage with the idea of following Jesus together, shall we? Even if we don’t always know exactly what that means. And that leads me to the next thing we need to talk about”.
“Church. I’m assuming you think it would be a good idea for us to go to church together”.
“I do, and if it means we can do that, I’m quite willing to start going to Merton Chapel with you. I don’t think I’ll ever feel like a real Anglican, but I can certainly worship in an Anglican congregation”.
“No, listen, Tom, I’ve been giving this a lot of thought”. She smiled at me and said, “I’ve suspected for some time now that sooner or later you might ask me to marry you…”
‘You have, have you?” I teased her, leaning over and kissing her.
“I have!” she replied, her eyes sparkling at me. “And as I said, I’ve given this church issue a lot of thought. I know I’ve made no secret of the fact that I like Merton Chapel, but the thing is that it is Merton Chapel – it’s a congregation of people involved in Merton. At the moment you’re not involved in Merton, and no matter how hard you tried, I don’t think you’d find it easy to penetrate that barrier. I think you’d always feel like an outsider”.
“David Wiseman doesn’t feel like an outsider”.
“No, but he’s a don, even if he’s at another college. I don’t think you’d find it as easy as he does”.
“I won’t know until I give it a try, will I?”
“Tom, I’m really grateful to you for your willingness to do it, but I think I’ve known for a while now that if you and I ended up getting married, even if we attended an Anglican church together, it would be better for us to find a different one – an ordinary church, I mean – with a mix of people from all sorts of backgrounds, not just a university crowd. And, quite frankly, if I’m going to move churches anyway, I might just as well try yours for a while; that way we don’t both have to leave our home congregations. I like the people in your church, and I don’t dislike the form of service. I’m just not about to go through believer’s baptism; I hope you can understand that”.
“Of course I can, but you don’t have to do this, Wendy; there’s no reason why we couldn’t find a parish church to go to”.
“Then you’d have to leave your church too, and anyway, I’m quite sure that Emma’s not going to want to become an Anglican in the foreseeable future”.
“No”, I conceded; “You’ve got that right”.
“So, then, she’d probably want to stay at your church, and what’s the point of the two of you having to part company on Sundays like that? If there’s a way that we three can go to church together, I’d like us to do it”.
I looked at her for a moment as we walked slowly together, and I said, “You’ve really thought this one through, haven’t you?”
“I have. I’ve been having a few serious conversations with God about it”.
“Are you really sure you want to do this?”
“I’m really sure”.
“Okay”. I kissed her, and she smiled and laid her head against my shoulder for a moment, her arm still in mine, as we walked slowly along the side of the road.
When we got back to the campsite about half an hour later Emma was standing at the picnic table, wearing a fleece top and her green Saskatchewan Roughriders ball cap, warming up the coffee over the Coleman stove. “Hello there!” she said, looking at us curiously; “Where did you two wander off?”
“Oh, just went for a walk, that’s all”, I replied.
“Listen, Dad, I’ve just had a great idea; why don’t we wake the others up and go into the Bear’s Paw Bakery for breakfast?”
“I could go for that”, I replied, “but I’m not sure I want to be the one to wake Lisa and Colin”.
“What’s the Bear’s Paw Bakery?” Wendy asked.
“It’s a really cool place, Wendy”, Emma replied; “you really have to go there to be able to say you’ve experienced the Jasper ambience!”
“What’s so special about it?”
“On the surface, nothing”, I replied. “It’s thoroughly crowded at this time of day – you probably have to stand in line for twenty minutes to get to the counter – and the chances of getting a table are pretty remote; most people just get take-out. But the food is amazing, and like Emma says, it’s a classic part of the Jasper ambience”.
“Are you sure it’s a good idea to stand in line for twenty minutes for the privilege of not getting a table?”
“Once you’ve tasted their bakery stuff, you’ll never ask that question again”.
“Well, okay – but my two offspring aren’t very good in the morning, as you know!”
“Trust me – it’ll be worth it”.
We drove into town at about eight-thirty with two very sleepy young people in the back of the van. Lisa had protested loudly about being woken up so early; Colin fell asleep again, and it took us a few minutes to wake him up after I pulled into the parking lot across from the Bear’s Paw.
The bakery was situated on a side street just off the main road, and as I had predicted, the line-up was already out the front door. Lisa groaned as we crossed the street; “Whose bright idea was this, anyway?” she complained.
“Mine”, Emma replied cheerfully.
There were a couple of benches outside the bakery, and people were sitting on them drinking coffee and eating muffins and cinnamon buns and other assorted baked goods. A group of five people had arrived just ahead of us; they looked at the line-up, and one of them suggested trying somewhere else. The rest of them agreed, and they walked off down the street. I grinned at a young man sitting on the end of the nearest bench eating a cheese bun. “I love it when I hear people say they’re going somewhere else”, I said to him.
He nodded; “They’re making a big mistake!” he replied.
We stood quietly in the line for a few minutes; Lisa was listening carefully to the young couple ahead of us, and after a moment she whispered to me, “They’re speaking German”.
“Yes; tourists from all over the world come to Jasper”.
She listened for a few more minutes, and then to my surprise she said something to the couple in German. They looked at her in amazement; the young woman responded, Lisa spoke again, and the next minute they were talking away to each other. Eventually Lisa smiled at the rest of us, apologized, and introduced the couple to us; the young man shook my hand and said in perfect English, “Your daughter speaks very good German”.
“No I don’t!” Lisa protested; “I was struggling a bit back there”.
“I’d forgotten that you spoke German”, I said to Lisa; “I always think of you as being a Russian speaker”.
“I had to have two modern languages to get into the degree program”, she replied.
The three of them quickly switched back to German as the line-up moved slowly forward in the bakery. It was crowded in there, and the temperature was stiflingly warm. We were close enough now to be able to see the food on display on the various counters, and Emma and Colin were talking about what they wanted to eat. I put my arm around Wendy, and I felt her move closer to me, laying her head on my shoulder. “I feel like a teenager”, she whispered.
“You don’t look much older than a teenager”, I replied with a grin.
By the time we got to the counter Emma had spotted a free table in the corner, and she had left the lineup to claim it for the rest of us. We bought our coffee and food, and then made our way over to the corner; there was a gentle breeze blowing in through an open window, I took my seat gratefully beside it, and the others squeezed in around me.
After a few minutes of eating and quiet conversation, I glanced at Wendy and then said, “Wendy and I have something we want to tell you”.
They all looked up, and Colin said, “What is it?”
I looked at Wendy again; she took my hand and said, “Tom and I have decided to get married”.
“Big surprise!” Emma replied with a grin; “You two had that ‘star-crossed lovers’ look about you when you came back from that walk this morning!” She was sitting beside Wendy, and she leaned over and kissed her. “Congratulations!” she said; “Have you set a date?”
“Not yet”, Wendy replied, “but we’re hoping for sooner rather than later”.
Lisa was sitting beside me, a smile on her face too. “How soon is ‘sooner’?” she asked.
“Well”, I replied, “I don’t think you should count on having a year to order a dress”.
“Ah – a winter wedding?”
“We’ll have to wait and see how soon we can do it”, Wendy said; “We won’t have a definite idea about that until we get home and start making some inquiries”.
“So this means we’re all going to be living in the same house, does it?” Colin asked. “Our house would be a bit tight for all five of us”.
“We’ll probably have to get something bigger”, Wendy replied; “We’ll have to talk about that”. She put her hand on Emma’s arm; “Are you okay, Em?” she asked.
“Oh yeah; I’m really, really happy for you guys. Truly, Wendy – I am”.
“I would never presume to try to take your Mum’s place in your life, you know”.
Emma nodded; “I know that, but thanks for saying it, anyway”.
“So where are you going to get married?” Lisa asked with a smile.
“Well, we’ve only just made the decision this morning”, Wendy replied, “so we haven’t actually arranged everything, but we’re hoping for Merton Chapel”.
“Beautiful!” Lisa exclaimed; “A fairly small wedding, then?”
“That’s what we thought”.
I looked across the table at Colin; “What do you think of this?” I asked.
“I think that if we buy a new house, I’d like to build the kitchen cabinets!”
We laughed; “I don’t think you’ll get any argument on that one!” Wendy said.
“So do we get to be in the wedding party?” Emma asked.
“We’ll find a way to fit you all in”, Wendy replied.
“What about getting the Ferrymen to play for the reception?” Emma suggested.
“Absolutely not!” Wendy exclaimed; “I’m not going to give Owen Foster the slightest opportunity to pressure me into singing at my own wedding!”
We laughed, and Lisa said, “Perhaps you could get him to sign a written contract…”
Emma looked at me with a sudden frown; “Will you wait until Uncle Rick’s out of prison?” she asked.
Wendy and I looked at each other, and she said, “We have to do that, Tom”.
“I guess so; that had completely slipped my mind. It’s possible that he might be out before Christmas; my Dad’s old partner thought he might actually serve six months, which would put it some time in late October”.
“We’ll have to find out about that”, Wendy said; “It’ll be really important for you to have your brother there”.
“Yeah”. I took her hand again; “Speaking of brothers, are you going to ask if Rees can be a part of the occasion?”
“That sounds like a wonderful idea!”
“This small wedding is getting bigger!” Lisa observed.
I looked down at my empty coffee cup. “Looks like we’ll need another round of coffee to plan the occasion”, I said; “Anyone care to stand in line with me for another twenty minutes?”
“I will!” Wendy replied; “You and I can go and talk fiancée-talk and leave these youngsters to talk about – well, whatever children talk about on these sorts of occasions”.
“You three okay with that?” I asked as Wendy and I got to our feet and scooped up the coffee cups.
“Absolutely!” Emma replied; “You two go away; we’ve got some serious plotting to do at this table!”
Note: there is one more chapter to come!