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 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 I was gradually getting used to the idea of 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, sipping at the cup of coffee I had poured for her; she was wearing jeans and a plain white sweater, and her 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 down on the coffee table in front of her. “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!”
“Oh yeah? 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. “I hear you’ve been spending Christmas in dignified solitude”, she said with a mischievous grin.
“Have you got some sort of spy network?”
“What else have they told you?”
“I hear you went to church Christmas Eve”.
She sat back in her chair with her plate on her lap. “I was a little surprised to hear that”.
“I was a bit surprised myself, actually”.
She took a bite of the muffin, smiled, and said, “Mmm – this is delicious!”
“I’m glad you like it”.
She chewed slowly and thoughtfully for a moment, and then said, “Tom Masefield, you are a talented man”.
“So – church on Christmas Eve?”
I took a sip of 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?”
“Well, what do you know about the Church of England?”
“Only what I’ve read in English novels”.
“It’s a lot more formal. They use a service book with printed prayers, and the people recite them together, or follow along while the priest recites them. And the priest wears robes, and there’s a lot more ceremony. So church here was a bit different”.
“Did you like it?”
“I didn’t dislike it. You know that I’m not at the point of believing in it yet, or at least not all of it. But I knew most of the Christmas carols 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 ministers I’ve heard”.
“Rob Neufeld, right?”
“I like him a lot”.
“I didn’t realize you knew him”.
“He’s been here about three and a half years, so I’ve seen him a few times when I’ve been home. If I stay over Christmas or Easter, I usually go to church with Mom and Dad”.
“What did he preach about?”
I grinned; “Is this a test?”
“Of course not; I’m just interested”.
“I think the point he was trying to make was the unlikeliness of a plan to change the world that started with a baby born to a working class couple in an occupied country on the edge of the Roman Empire”.
“The point being that Jesus wasn’t born into the circles of power?”
“Sounds like Rob’s kind of thing”.
“Like I said, the whole idea of God becoming a human being is something I’m still not convinced about. Rob got me thinking, though; I liked the idea of God working from the ground up, through ordinary people, rather than through the movers and shakers”.
She took a sip of her coffee, smiled at me again, and said, “So, you’ve been hibernating since Christmas Eve”.
“I have; I don’t mind my own company”.
She took another bite of her muffin and chewed 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 tiniest 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 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 minute, and then said “Christmas around our house has been complicated for some time now”.
“Tell me, if you want to”.
For a moment I didn’t answer her, and she finished her muffin and sat back in her chair, cradling her coffee mug in her hands. I knew she was looking at me, but I was avoiding her gaze. “Where to start”, I mused.
“Start with Becca”.
“What would you like to know about her?”
“You would have been about twelve when she was born?”
“Were you always close to her?”
“Yes. I know it’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 out of the ordinary about it. I’d always wanted a sister, and right from the start I 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 got away with calling me that”.
“What kinds of things did you do together ?”
I grinned. “We played in water a lot; she’s liked that for as long as I can remember. She liked splashing in the bath when she was a baby and a toddler, and as soon as she got old enough, she liked going to the seaside and paddling, or swimming in a pool or a river. And she’s always liked boats and canoes, too”.
“If I’d been her mom, I might have been just a little nervous”.
“I think there were days when my mum was very nervous, but she hid it well. And I think she could see from the start that Becca liked doing things with me”.
“Did you teach her to swim?”
“Yes, and she’s a much stronger swimmer than me now, even though she’s only twelve”.
“I’m sure you read to her”.
“Yes, and we used to make up stories together, too”. I smiled; “Some of them ended up in very strange places!”
“Did you like the same kind of books?”
“Well, I’m twelve years older than her, so she isn’t really into Jane Austen and Thomas Hardy yet!”
She laughed softly; “I guess not. What are some of your good memories of times with her?”
I smiled. “I remember when I was home for Christmas the first year I was in university – I would have been nineteen at the time, and she would have been seven. On Christmas Eve she woke up in the middle of the night and she couldn’t get back to sleep, so she came into my room. 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 she finally fell asleep again, and I carried her back upstairs and put her to bed”.
“Aw – that’s so sweet!”
“I never thought anything of it. Even when Dad and I were fighting, I still tried to get home regularly so I could see her – 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”.
“You miss her”.
“Of course I miss her, but the thing is, even if I’d gone back to Northwood for Christmas, it wouldn’t have been the same this year”.
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 a long time”, 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 with 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, 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”.
“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, then?”
“I honestly 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 characters and understand the language, so that we not only knew what we were talking about – we felt it too. I found it totally exhilarating. 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. “It doesn’t sound lame; it sounds amazing. I never had a teacher like that, even though I had some good ones. You were lucky”.
“I know. We’re still in touch, actually; we write to each other about once a month”.
“Yes, but of course that’s not how my dad would see it; he thinks George has been a bad influence on me. Dad and I started fighting about my future career when I was about fifteen”.
“The ‘Great War’?”
“Yes. Our first fight was at the family supper table one night. He 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 told me I’d be condemning myself to a life of poverty – and that’s when we had our first argument about it, with Mum and Rick and Becca sitting right there”.
“How long did this ‘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 said, ‘Frank, I think you should let him do what he wants’”. I shook my head; “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.
“Do you want some more coffee?”
“Yes, but let me…”
She shook her head; “I’ll get it”.
I went back to my chair and sat down again, while she took our coffee mugs out to the kitchen. A moment later she returned, setting the refilled mugs down on the coffee table between us. “So what happened next?” she asked as she sat down again.
“Well, I did my three-year English degree and then the PGCE”.
“Postgraduate certificate in education”.
“Right – you told me about that”.
“Yes. Normally it takes a year, but I stretched it out over two years so I could take some extra courses and do a third placement as a student teacher”.
I shrugged; “I wasn’t very confident in myself, I suppose; I felt like I needed more practice”.
“Anyway, fortunately for my dad, my brother was quite willing to step into my shoes, and he’s now well on his way to becoming a lawyer. But that didn’t mean that Dad gave up on me; 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. Or later on, after he seemed to accept that I wasn’t going to switch, he started pestering me about where I was going to teach and how important it was to get into the better kinds of schools – he wasn’t happy about my last student placement because it was in a school in a low-income area with a lot of problems. In my last few months of teacher training he started clipping out advertisements from the newspaper for me, and a couple of times he even contacted schools on my behalf without asking me”.
“Yes. And I gradually came to the realization 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 talked about things with Owen and Wendy from time to time, and it was actually Wendy who first asked me if I’d ever thought of teaching overseas. At first I dismissed the idea – there were lots of things I liked about living in England, and of course I knew I’d miss Becca and Mum, not to mention Owen and Wendy and the whole folk music community in Oxford. But then I got talking with Scott Carter one day – he was in my PGCE courses, and he was from Toronto. He was the one who told me there was a need for teachers in rural schools on the prairies, and I thought, why not? It might be an adventure, and it would certainly be a relief to get away from Dad’s constant need to control my life. So I made some inquiries, and then 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 bring myself to tell Becca what was going on. I told them all that I was following a job opportunity in Reading, which isn’t that far from Oxford. But eventually, of course, the truth came out”.
“That must have been pretty ugly”.
“You could say that”.
“How did it happen?”
“Two weeks before I flew over here, we were all together one afternoon in Mum and Dad’s 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 two weeks. 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 started to hit me across the back with it”.
Her hand flew to her mouth. “Oh my God!”
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 parents’ house, and that’s where I stayed until I left. I went back home a couple of times while Dad was at work, so I could pick up all the remaining stuff I had at the house, but I never went back there again while Dad was home. Mum came over to Owen’s the day before I left to say goodbye”.
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’d had no idea I was even considering a move like this, and I know she was devastated. Since then, she hasn’t spoken or written to me; she’s so angry and hurt that I deceived her. 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. “No-one’s to blame but me”.
“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”.
“That’s exactly what I was afraid of”.
“So you felt trapped”.
“I really did”.
She looked up at me, and I saw the concern on her face. “Would it be okay if I gave you a hug?” she asked.
I nodded wordlessly, and she put her arms around me and drew me close. “You’ve been keeping this locked up inside, haven’t you?”.
“It’s okay, Tom”.
She stepped back and looked up at me again. “I think it’s great that you care so much about your sister”.
I found myself blinking back the tears. “Thank you”, I whispered, wiping my eyes with the back of my hand.
“You’re welcome. Do you need a minute?”
I shook my head. “I’m alright, thanks. A bit frayed around the edges, but I’ll be okay”.
“Are you sure?”
“Yes. Shall we sit down again?”
I sat down on the couch, and she took her seat beside me. I was quiet for a moment, my eyes down. Eventually I took a deep breath and said, “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 about my move. I was just afraid that if she knew, whenever I told her, she’d 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”.
“But I was wrong; I know I was. Owen told me I should have been open with them all from the beginning, and he was right. No matter what it cost me, I really shouldn’t have lied to Becca; 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”.
“I know, but it’s not – it’s only five months”.
“Yes, 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”, she said, squeezing my hand; “It might be a long time, but you will”.
“I hope so”.
She looked at me in silence for a moment, and then she nodded and said, “So you came here to get away from the mess at home”.
“Yes. I’d like to say that it was the attractions of Meadowvale that brought me, but it wasn’t. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you the truth back at Thanksgiving when you asked me why I came here”.
“I totally understand”, she said softly. “You were sitting in a room full of strangers; you weren’t about to spill the whole story in front of all of us”.
“You must miss England a lot”.
I thought for a moment, and then gave a little nod. “There are people I miss, of course – especially Becca and Mum, and Owen and Wendy, and Auntie Brenda and Uncle Roy. And I love the English countryside – it’s much greener than here, probably because of all the rain, and I like the winding roads and the really old villages and all that. And there’s nothing really like English folk music over here, so I feel a bit like a fish out of water that way too”.
“Are you going to go back?”
“I don’t know. Nothing’s changed at home. I had a letter from Dad at the end of November; he tore a strip off me for being so foolish as to choose teaching over Law, and for being so ungrateful to him for all the money he put into my education, and for lying to him and Mum – and, of course, for being so stupid as to leave Oxford to come to a place like Meadowvale”.
“Yes. It was the first letter I’ve had from him since I came here; I hope it’s the last”.
“So all the reasons why I left home are still valid; everything’s still the same”. I grinned at her. “And to tell you the truth, I can feel Meadowvale growing on me”.
“Yes. Your mum and dad and your whole family have been so kind to me – I’ve never experienced anything like it in my life. I like most of the people I’ve met here, 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 some of them even tried to grow beards”.
“Have they all moved away?”
She laughed; “I guess a lot of them have. Some of them are still here, though”. She drank some of her coffee, set it down on the table, and looked at me seriously again. “So you like my mom and dad, but you didn’t accept their invitation to join them for Christmas dinner?”
I shook my head. “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”.
“I hope they weren’t offended?”
“No, of course not”. She gave me a little frown; “So what have you been doing all by yourself since the Christmas Eve service?”
I shrugged; “I’ve been for a couple of long walks at Myers Lake”.
“Sounds like a good tonic for the soul”.
“Yes; it’s been cold, of course, 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?”
“Sounds pretty maudlin, doesn’t it?”
“No; it sounds perfectly natural”.
“And now you want me to change the subject, don’t you?”
I gave her a sheepish grin. “I really do; would you mind?”
“Of course not!” She smiled at me again; “So, I’m here for a week”.
“What are you going to do with yourself?”
“Visit with my family, and go out to the farm and spoil my horse, and play Scrabble with my brother and sister, and help my future sister-in-law plan her wedding, and have tea with my grandparents and some of my cousins, and hopefully spend some quality time with my favourite Englishman”.
“Am I 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’re interested, 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”.
“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!”
“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! I can’t tell you how much I’ve been looking forward to hearing these!”
“Well, that’s good then!”
“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. But now that I know what’s going on, if you’d rather just stay home, then say so; I’ll make excuses”.
I shook my head; “No, I think I’ll be all right now, thanks to you”.
“Who’s going to be there?”
“Well, Krista’s home of course, and she has 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”.
“Good. And when you get there, I’ll give you your present”.
“I’ll look forward to that. And I’ve just realized I forgot to ask Joe on Christmas Eve whether Ellie got the job she interviewed for”.
“She did; she starts January 15th”.
“So she’ll be moving to Meadowvale, then?”
“But she’s not moving in with Joe yet”.
“No, that’s not their style”.
“That’s what I thought. So they won’t live together until after the wedding?”
“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?”
We spent most of the 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 a pot of tea. I played a few songs for her, 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 Don and Lynda Robinson. They had two little girls, Amy who was seven and Beth who was four, and that was when I discovered that Kelly loved kids. She played with Amy and Beth and read to them, while Don and Lynda poured us coffee and told me stories about Coppermine, the Arctic community where they had lived for five years. “The Arctic was great”, Don observed, “and we had a good 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 around here, then? I know you are, Don, because your mum’s Sally’s sister, right?”
“Yeah, they’re both from the Wiens family. 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 – he 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 was born a Miller”, she said; “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”.
“It seems like everyone here is from somewhere else originally”.
“I guess that’s true”, Don replied, “unless you’re Cree. 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; they’ve never been a very close family, at least not that I remember. My mum only has one sister, and she’s stayed in Oxford; they’re pretty close, but Auntie Brenda and Uncle Roy haven’t got any children, so I grew up without much contact with cousins”.
Lynda grinned; “That’s hard to imagine! I’ve long since lost count of how many cousins I have”.
“Me too”, Don agreed, “especially on the Wiens side of the family”.
After about an hour of visiting with Don and Lynda, Kelly and I 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. “Steve’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; he’s the oldest of Aunt 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”.
“So he’s related to you by marriage”, I said to Kelly.
“But not by marriage to anyone in your immediate family?”
“What do you think we are”, Joe asked with a grin, “the British monarchy?”
During the meal I asked Krista how her caribou were doing; she smiled and said, “I’m spending a lot of time tracking them and watching them right now, as well as researching statistical information from park records over the past twenty years. But I won’t be ready to draw any conclusions for a while yet. Ideally, this study would take ten years, but of course, I’d like to get my thesis done a lot sooner than that!”
“I’m glad to be seeing a lot of her”, Kelly added; “She’s up in Jasper at least half the time now, and, of course, she’s mooching at my place!”
“Are you doing a thesis too, Steve?” I asked.
“Yeah – I’m looking for whooping cranes”.
“Are they hard to find?”
“Well, in the 1940s there were only about fifteen of them left”.
I stared at him; “Fifteen?”
“Yeah, they don’t cohabit very well with humans. But they’ve been protected for a while, and we think there might be a hundred or a hundred and fifty now. I’m trying to get a handle on how many there are, and how effective the conservation measures have been”.
“So you’re outdoors a lot too?”
“Well, not at the moment, since the cranes are in Texas for the winter, but in April they’ll migrate to northern Alberta, so that’s where I’ll be spending my summer”.
Krista grinned; “He’s going down to Texas next month to try to find them”.
“Are you taking your girlfriend along?” I asked him.
“I just might”, he replied with a slow smile.
Toward the end of the meal Sally went out to the kitchen, came back with a camera, and snapped a photograph of Joe and Ellie, Krista and Steve, and Kelly and me. “I need a picture of my three kids with their dates”, she said with a smile.
“Good idea!” Will agreed.
Kelly glanced quickly at me; “Tom and I aren’t dating”.
Sally shrugged and gave us a mischievous grin; “Whatever you want to call it, honey”.
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”.
“Be sure to lock the door behind him when he leaves”.
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, poured us each a glass of wine and then sat down in one of the easy chairs, putting her feet up on the coffee table. “Cheers”, she said, raising her glass toward me.
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”.
“Neither am I; I talk to anyone I like and I don’t take any notice of what people think of it”.
“Funny – I could have sworn that you were a bit embarrassed when your mum said she was taking a picture of her three kids ‘and their dates’ ”.
“I didn’t know what you would think, that’s all”.
“I was fine with it”.
“Good to know”. She looked at me seriously and said, “So, has there ever been anyone significant?”
I shrugged; “I’ve dated girls. How about you?”
“We’re not done with you yet!”
“Nothing 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, 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 it yet?”
I shook my head; “No”.
“Okay. I’ve had a couple of boyfriends myself”.
“No – guys I met in university in Saskatoon”.
“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 competitive sports”.
“Right – I should have noticed that”.
“Actually, we met because we were both working 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; what happened?”
“He met someone else, and he liked her better”.
I shook my head; “That’s frankly unbelievable to me”.
She grinned; “It’s nice of you to say so, but 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 both laughed, and then I took a sip of my wine and said, “Are you over him?”
“Oh yeah; it’s been three years now”.
“So are you planning on staying in Jasper for a long time?”
She shook her head. “It’s not that I don’t love the place; 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?”
“I want to be a geriatric nurse”.
“You want to work with old people?”
“Because I really like old people”.
“Now that isn’t something you hear very often”.
“I guess not, but it’s true. I love it when my grandparents tell 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 our society pushes old people off to one side and makes 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 what it’s eventually called, 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?”
“Yes; they’ll be advertising for the position in the spring, and I’ll be putting my name in”.
“When will the place 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”.
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?”
“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”.
We spent a lot of time together that week. Most days, she came over to my house for a cup of coffee or tea 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”.
“You have holidays at Easter, right?”
“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 sweater, and her hair was tied back in a thick braid. “I’d stay at your apartment, then?”
“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”.
“So – what do you think?”
“I’ll let you know, but at the moment it sounds pretty good”.
“Great! I don’t think I’ll be back here again until Joe and Ellie’s wedding”.
“That’s in May, right?”
“Victoria Day weekend, toward the end of May”.
“Are you a bridesmaid?”
“I am, actually”. She frowned; “When is Easter this year?”
“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”.