‘A Time to Mend’, Chapter 3

Link back to Chapter 2

When I finished ‘Meadowvale’ it turned out that there were some inconsistencies with ‘A Time to Mend’ (which I wrote first, over ten years ago, even though chronologically it comes after ‘Meadowvale’). So – I’m having another go at ‘A Time to Mend’ to bring it back in sync with ‘Meadowvale’. Here’s the third chapter.

I landed at Heathrow Airport on Easter Sunday in the early afternoon. Becca was waiting for me in the arrivals lounge, standing on the edge of the crowd and waving furiously in my direction; twelve years my junior and slightly shorter than me, she was dressed casually in jeans and a light spring jacket, her dark hair hanging loose to her shoulders. I walked over to her, and she greeted me with a warm hug and a kiss; “Hello, you!” she said.

“Happy Easter, Becs”.

“Same to you. You look tired; here, give me your bag. How’s Emma?”

“She’s fine; she drove me to the airport yesterday”.

“Oh right – I keep forgetting she’s got a driving license now!”

“I know; doesn’t seem that long since she was a baby, does it?”

“No”. She looked up at me with a sympathetic grin; “You really do look wiped out there, Tommy! Do you want to pick up a coffee for the road?”

“That would be great”.

“Come on, then – there’s a coffee shop in the corner over there”.

We lined up for a few minutes to get our coffees, and then made our way out of the terminal building into the spring sunshine and across to the multi-story car park. We took an elevator to the top level, where we found Becca’s little Renault squeezed between two bigger cars; she opened the doors, threw my bag in the back and said, “In you get, then”.

I slipped into the car beside her, and she leaned over and gave me another kiss on the cheek. “Oh”, she said, “before I forget – Owen told me to remind you to ring him some time this evening; they’re not leaving until first thing in the morning”.

“Right – he mentioned that”. My old friend Owen Foster, who had been a doctor in Headington for many years, was a senior partner at the medical practice where Becca worked. I had hoped to get a chance to see him while I was in England, but it had turned out that he and his family were going to France for a few days during the Easter holidays.

Becca started the car, backed out of her parking spot, and drove down toward the exit ramp. I took a sip of my coffee; “Any news about dad?”

She shrugged; “He’s lost a lot of weight and he gets tired quickly, but none of that’s especially new”.

“When’s his next chemo treatment?”

“Tuesday; this will be his third”.

“How’s it going?”

“I think he’s finding it harder than he expected – especially the nausea”.

“I expect he just takes himself off to his room when he’s feeling sick, doesn’t he?”

“Yeah; he lets Mum help him, but I’m not allowed anywhere near him when he’s like that, and I’m sure no one else is either”.

“No trouble with infections so far?”

“No, but they’re going to have to be very careful about that; it’s harder on older people. And there’s another problem too – he’s in denial”. She pulled the car up to the ticket machine, paid for her parking and then pulled out onto Cromer Road. “He’s still trying to downplay it all”, she continued; “I’ve heard him say several times that he’s just got to get through the chemo and then he’ll be fine”. She shrugged; “I don’t know if he really believes that, but it’s the line he takes when he’s talking to anyone”.

“Including Mum?”

“Yes”.

“That’s got to be hard for her”.

“I would think so”. Out of the corner of my eye I saw her frown thoughtfully. “Did you and Kelly talk honestly about her cancer, Tommy? Right from the start?”

“We did the second time. The first time she ignored the symptoms for a while”.

“Right – I remember that”.

“She was worried, but she didn’t want to tell me or anyone else for fear she’d have to leave Emma and go into hospital. But the second time around we’d learned our lesson; we were honest with each other from day one”.

“It just took you a bit longer to tell everyone else”.

I nodded; it had been a sore point between us at the time. “She didn’t want to tell a lot of other people until she was sure of the diagnosis”.

“I get it, Tommy, I really do. I didn’t at the time, but I do now”. She reached across suddenly and squeezed my hand. “I’m sorry; let’s change the subject, shall we?”

I glanced at her; “You okay?”

She nodded; “I am. It’s just that every now and again…”

“I know”.

For a moment neither of us spoke; I sipped at my coffee, and she steered the car down through the tunnel under the runway and out the other side, heading north toward the M4. I watched as the cars sped by in both directions, and then I said, “I guess Dad doesn’t go into the office anymore?”

“No, and Rick’s glad about that; ever since Dad retired Rick’s been wishing he would leave him alone”. My younger brother had followed the career path my father had wanted for me; he was now a senior partner at my father’s old law firm.

“Dad’s never found it easy to let other people run their own lives, has he?” I said.

“I’m afraid not; that’s one of the constants you can rely on! But on a happier subject – two interviews this week?”

“Yes – Headington and Cowley. I’ve already done phone interviews for Reading and High Wycombe”.

“That one in Headington – isn’t that where you did your first student placement?”

“Yes. It seems like a long time ago now”.

“You’re such an old man, Tommy!”

“I know; I get regular reminders of the fact from Emma!”.

“It must be a bit strange to think about going back there”.

“A little. It was a reasonably good experience, but of course a lot will have changed in twenty-two years”.

“I’ll be hoping for that one or Cowley; it would be nice if you were close by”. She reached over and put her hand on mine. “How are you feeling about this move? Are you sad?”

“I am. I don’t think I really believed it until I started getting involved in the interview process, but now it’s starting to sink in. I know nothing’s certain yet, and I know if I’m successful there’ll be lots of good things about living in the U.K. again, but to be honest, at the moment I’m strongly tempted to intentionally mess up the interviews”.

“I know”, she said quietly, “and I understand”.

“It’s not that I wouldn’t be glad to be closer to you and Mum, of course”.

“I know. What about Emma; how’s she feeling?”

“She’s excited about being here for a longer period of time. She likes the idea of getting a closer look at her English roots, and she wants to be able to spend some time with Mum and Dad too. But there’s another part of her that’s dreading the thought of leaving Meadowvale”.

“Of course”.

“She’s relieved that we’re not planning to sell the house; it gives us a tangible link with home”.

“Right. And then there’s her nursing training”.

“She still wants to do that, whether it’s here or back home”.

“I was talking to her about that last week. She really likes volunteering at the special care home, doesn’t she?”.

“She does; I could easily see her making a career in geriatric nursing. But to be honest I think she could do any kind of nursing she wanted”.

“Well, there’ll always be a need for nurses in England. Even if the move here turned out to be permanent, she’d probably never be short of a job”.

“We haven’t talked about making a permanent move, Becs”.

“I understand; one day at a time”.

  • * * * * *

I thought of Northwood as my childhood home, but in fact we had moved there when I was eleven. My earlier years had been spent in the Oxford suburb of Summertown, but I had actually preserved few links with the place of my birth and early childhood. It was in Northwood that I had formed my friendship with Owen; it was Northwood and the surrounding countryside that he and I had explored as teenagers; it was in Northwood that we had learned to play guitar together and had shared some of the most formative conversations of my early life. It was true that the emotional dynamics of my home life there had been complicated, but I still had a deep sense of connection with the village itself and the countryside around it.

It was a community of about two thousand people, situated in the Thames Valley just north of the town of Wallingford. It was strangely elongated; the southern area was built beside the river, but the village narrowed around the main street as it ran north-east, and then widened out again into a northern part which was almost a second community. The northern part, where my parents lived, was actually the original village of Northwood; it had expanded toward the river in the eighteenth century when the bridge across the Thames was built, with the Kingfisher Inn beside it.

We crossed the bridge at around three-thirty, driving north on the high street and passing the old 15th century church on the west side of the village green. We turned east at the church, and I looked around at the street I had once known so well, noticing the absence of a few familiar buildings and the addition of some new ones. About half a mile further on, we turned right onto a long private driveway running down past a copse of ancient elm trees; at the end of the driveway loomed the familiar bulk of my parents’ home. Built in the late eighteenth century, it was a large two-storey grey stone house with an old courtyard and stable complex off to one side, most of it now converted into garage space. Behind the house there was an apple orchard, a wood, and a small lake.

Becca pulled the car up by the front door and turned off the engine. “Well, here we are”, she said, “and here’s Mum; she must have been watching at the window”.

I looked up and saw my mother emerging from the front door; she had put on a wool cardigan before coming outside to greet us, and I noticed immediately how tired she looked, and how white her hair had turned since I had last seen her at Kelly’s funeral. I opened the car door and got out to meet her; “Hello, Mum”, I said.

“Hello, Tom; welcome home”.

I put my arms around her to give her a hug; “Happy Easter”.

“Happy Easter to you, too”.

Becca was already lifting my bag out of the trunk of the car; she kissed my mother on the cheek and asked, “How’s Dad today?”

“Alright this afternoon; he had a good nap earlier on. Shall we go inside?”

We followed her up the steps and through the doorway into the hall. The well-remembered spiral staircase swept up on our left; I took in at a glance the polished wood floor, the antique telephone table, the ornate wallpaper. My mother was already leading the way into the large living room; it was built on the southwest corner of the house, with bay windows on the two outside walls providing plenty of light. As we entered, my father rose slowly out of one of the armchairs by the fireplace, and as I crossed the room toward him he held out his hand. “So you finally came home again”, he said; “It took you long enough”.

His voice was not as strong as I remembered. He had always been tall and wiry, but now he seemed gaunt and skeletal, his back a little bent, his face narrow and pale, his few remaining wisps of grey hair combed straight back from his high forehead. The ravages of the deadly disease he was fighting were plain.

“How are you, Dad?” I asked.

“Not dead yet, at any rate”. He greeted Becca, smiling at her as she kissed him on the cheek, and then moved over to the sideboard, asking “What will you have to drink, Tom?”

“Oh, I don’t know – Scotch, I guess”.

He looked at me over his shoulder with a quizzical expression on his face. “Well? Do you want it or not?”

“Sure – yes please”.

“Becca? Dry sherry?”

“Yes please, Dad”.

He poured drinks for everyone and passed them around; “Sit down”, he said. We found our seats, he and my mother on each side of the hearth, Becca and I side by side on the chesterfield. “So”, my mother asked, “How’s Emma? Did you bring us some new pictures?”

“I did”. I reached into the inside pocket of my jacket, brought out my photographs and passed them to my mother.

“Her hair’s getting long again”, my mother observed as she looked over the pictures one by one and passed them to my father.

“Well, it’s been over two years now”. Emma had shaved her head along with her mother when Kelly’s hair had started to fall out from chemotherapy. Kelly had protested, but Emma had insisted and I had sided with her, knowing how badly she needed to feel she was doing something to show solidarity with her mum.

“Are these recent?” my mother asked.

“Just a month ago”.

“She looks more like Kelly all the time”.

“That’s what I always think”, Becca replied softly.

“Good heavens!” my mother exclaimed, pointing at one of the photographs; “Is that Jenna?”

“Yes it is”.

“She’s certainly shot up in the last couple of years, hasn’t she? Look at this, Frank”.

My father glanced at the photographs as she handed them to him. “She takes after her mother too, doesn’t she?” he said.

“She does”, I agreed, “and Jake’s more like his dad”.

“A month ago, you say? Plenty of snow still, at that time”.

“You never can tell how long it’ll stay”.

He looked at me with a bemused expression on his face; “You’ve certainly picked up the accent over the years”.

“It comes and goes; in Meadowvale they still think I sound English”.

He handed the pictures back to my mother; “Two interviews this week, then?” he asked.

“Yes, one at Gypsy Lane School in Headington, and one in Cowley; I’ve already done two by phone”.

“Headington or Cowley would be nice”, said my mother.

“You could live here”, my father suggested.

“I could, or I could start out here and then look for a place of my own once I get my feet on the ground”.

“Don’t be ridiculous – prices are far too high around here; on your salary you’d never be able to afford it. With what you could get from selling a house in Saskatchewan you’d be in no position to buy; living here would be the only reasonable thing to do”.

“I’m not thinking of selling or buying; I’d be making enough on a teacher’s salary to be able to afford to rent a small house, and I can supplement that with the money I make on renting out our place back home”.

He shook his head. “Renting is never a good idea; you’re paying out money and getting nothing in return. If you’re not going to buy, you’d be far better to stay here”.

“If I get a job nearby, I’ll certainly think about it”.

There was an awkward silence for a moment, and then Becca spoke. “Are Rick and his family still coming for supper?”

My mother nodded; “I hope you don’t mind, Tom? I thought it would be nice for us to have a family gathering, with it being a holiday today”.

“Of course not. I wouldn’t mind catching a nap before they come, though; it was a long trip, and as you know I’m not especially good at sleeping on planes”.

“That would be fine; I’ve got your old room made up for you”.

“Maybe after I’m done this drink I’ll go up and get settled in”.

  • * * * * *

A few minutes later I excused myself, picked up my bag in the hall and climbed wearily up the spiral staircase. As I pushed open the door to my old room I was confronted with a world of memory, not so much from my childhood years as from the times that Kelly and I had stayed in this room together; we had come to Northwood three times over the years as a married couple, twice in summer and once for a shorter period at Christmas. I put my bag down on the bed and walked over to the window, looking out over the lawn with the brick wall of the orchard off to the left; she and I had stood side by side at this same window many times during our last visit in the summer of 1997, and for a brief moment the sense of her presence was so strong that I almost felt I could reach out and put my arm around her.

I heard a quiet knock on the door, and as I turned Becca slipped into the room. She came over and put her hand on my arm; “I just came up to make sure you were okay”.

“Thank you; I’m fine”.

She kissed me gently on the cheek, smiled at me, and said, “Are you sure?”

“Yes. But you’re a good woman, Becca Masefield”.

She shook her head; “I don’t know about that”.

I went over to the bed and began to unpack my bag; “Are you working tomorrow?”

“No, I don’t start again until Tuesday, and I’m not on call either; I did my bit Good Friday and yesterday”.

“Are you staying out here, then?”

“Just tonight; I’m going home tomorrow after supper”.

“Maybe some time tomorrow we could wander down to the Kingfisher for a pint?”

“I’d like that”. She smiled at me; “Okay, I’m going to leave you to rest now”.

“I just need half an hour with my head down on my pillow; after that I’ll come down and help you and Mum with supper, or do whatever you like”.

“Alright, then, sleepyhead”, she said with a mischievous grin; “See you in a bit”.

  • * * * * *

My brother and his family arrived just before six; we were sitting in the living room again when we heard the sound of the car pulling up to the front of the house. My mother went out to greet them, and a moment later we all stood up as they entered the room. Rick had let his hair grow a little since the last time I had seen him; it was beginning to turn grey, and his face seemed pale and thin, but he gave me a warm smile as he shook my hand; “Welcome home”, he said.

“Thanks; it’s good to see you”.

I turned to greet his family. His wife Alyson was petite, with dark hair and a pleasant Scottish accent, dressed quietly in jeans and a sweater; she worked as a researcher for a wildlife conservation unit in Oxford. They had brought their three children with them; Eric was sixteen, Sarah fourteen, and Anna eleven. None of the children knew me well; they had never visited us in Canada, and even on our last trip to England we had not seen very much of them. Eric was tall and thin like his father, while the girls tended to take after Alyson.

My mother and Becca moved some extra chairs into the semi-circle around the hearth, and my father handed drinks around. When we were all sitting down my mother glanced at me with a smile; “Tom’s got some lovely photographs of Emma”, she said.

So my pictures made the rounds again. Anna, glancing at one that had been taken at the old Reimer farm a couple of weeks ago, said, “I didn’t know she rode horses”.

“She’s been riding since she was a little girl”, I replied.

“Was this taken at a riding school?”

“No, it’s the old farm where Emma’s grandpa grew up. We still have relatives out there”.

“So this is one of their horses she’s riding?”

“Yes”.

Sarah spoke in a quiet voice; “How old is she now?”

“She turned seventeen in December”.

“Is she doing A-levels or something?”

“She’ll be finishing Grade Twelve in June, which is like getting A-levels where we live”.

“Will she be going to uni?”

“Yes”.

“What does she want to do?”

“She wants to be a nurse”.

“What else does she like to do?” Anna asked.

“She likes outdoor things – hiking and canoeing and cross-country skiing. She reads a lot too, and she plays guitar”.

My brother gave me a wry grin; “Chip off the old block”.

Alyson glanced at her son; “Eric started to play guitar a couple of years ago”.

“I’m not very good yet”, Eric replied with a shrug of his shoulders.

“Uncle Tom’s been playing since he was a teenager”, said Rick; “I expect he’s got a guitar hiding around here somewhere”.

“Actually, no”, I replied; “I’m only here for a week, so I left it behind”.

“You surprise me, bro – I thought you were inseparable from that thing!”

“I must admit I don’t often part with it, but it seemed easier not to bring it this time”.

“Do you and Emma play the same kind of music?” asked Sarah.

“Some, but she’s got likes and dislikes of her own too”.

“I should email her; it’s weird that she’s my cousin and I hardly know her”.

“She’d like that; I’ll give you her email address”.

My mother got to her feet; “Well, the food’s almost ready, so Becca and I will go and put it on the table”.

  • * * * * *

After supper my brother surprised me by suggesting that we take a walk in the garden together. The evening sun was close to the horizon; the sky had cleared and the temperature was dropping. We skirted the flowerbeds in silence; at the bottom of the garden Rick glanced at me and said, “So you’re really thinking of moving back, then?”

“I am”.

“Not thinking of going into the Law at long last, though?” I saw the mischievous grin on his face.

“No, I’ll leave that to you. How’s it going, by the way?”

“Very well. We’ve got about twenty-five people now, partners and solicitors and so on, and we’ve started to build a rather good name for ourselves nationally”.

“You must be squeezed tight in that office”.

“We actually bought the place next door a couple of years ago so that we could expand, but we really need to move out of the city centre. We could lease a much more functional property down at the Oxford business park, but of course the old man won’t hear of it”.

“I thought Dad was retired?”

“Yes, but until a few months ago he was still coming in two or three times a week; he was constantly interfering with the day-to-day running of the place, not to mention long-term decision-making. We’ve had several opportunities to merge with national firms – which would have been really good for our business – but in his mind Masefield and Marlowe is still an old Oxford chamber and he wants to keep it that way”.

“Does he actually have a say in the matter, though? Surely, if he’s retired…?”

“There are ten partners; all he needs to be able to do is influence six, and of course the majority of them go back to his time. If he wants to make an issue of something it’s not hard for him to get his own way”.

“That must be frustrating”.

“You could say that”.

“I suppose Jack Marlowe’s retired now too?”

“He is, and he’s a lot better at it than the old man; I honestly believe there are days when Dad thinks I haven’t got a clue”.

“He has an enduring habit of trying to control our lives”.

My brother gave a short laugh; “Well put! We’ve got that much in common, haven’t we?”

“I’m afraid so”.

We ambled along in silence for a moment in the fading light, our hands in our pockets, and then he said, “If you move back here we’ll have to invite you over to the house for a meal some time”.

“That would be nice. How long is it now that you’ve been in the new place?”

“A couple of years”.

“I vaguely remember hearing about it after the fact, but of course I was a little preoccupied at the time”.

“I know”.

“I remember last time we were here you were having renovations done on your old place so you could sell it and make some money on it”.

“God, yes! That was a bit of a nightmare, but eventually we got it done. We’ve got a nice property now out at Cumnor Hill: newish house, six bedrooms and a couple of reception rooms, big garden, lots of trees. Good neighbourhood, too”.

“Pretty swanky out there, as I recall”.

He shrugged; “I suppose so. You’ve got to have money to live there but it’s comfortable and the children like it, and I’m not worried about crime or gangs or drugs or student parties or anything like that”.

“I’ll look forward to seeing it”.

He was quiet for a moment as we skirted a line of rose bushes, and then he said, “So what’s made you think of coming back after all these years? I always got the impression you saw the move to Meadowvale as permanent?”

“I did”.

“What’s changed?”

“I’d like have another try at making things right with Dad while I still can”.

He looked at me incredulously; “You want to make up with him? The old man’s not the reconciling sort, you know”.

“I know. But the more I think about it, the more I realize that if there’s even the slightest chance I want to give it a try”.

“You’re serious about this?”

“I am”.

He shook his head in disbelief; “Well, that’s put me in my place. I was sure you were thinking about the will”.

I was astonished; “The will?”

“Yes; Dad’s got a considerable sum of money stashed away, you know”.

“I assumed he’d leave everything to Mum”.

“I’m sure most of it will go to her, but I won’t be surprised if there’s a smaller amount for each of us, too”.

“I can honestly say I hadn’t even thought of that; until you mentioned it, it never even occurred to me”.

“No, I believe you”, he said apologetically, “and now that we’re talking about it I can’t for the life of me imagine how I could have thought such a thing”. He glanced at me with a sheepish grin; “Sorry, bro – I spend far too much time with millionaires and lawyers. Everyone I know thinks money’s what makes the world go around – the more of it the better”.

“Well, I’ve always known that’s the way Dad thinks, so I can’t really hold it against you”.

“But I should have remembered that you don’t think like that; you’re the least worldly person I know”. He laughed softly again. “I think you’re a romantic dreamer, of course; you always have been, but greedy you’re not”.

“Well, I was lucky that my romantic dreams came true – at least for a while”.

He gave me a sideways glance, his face suddenly serious; “I’m really sorry about Kelly”. He shook his head again; “I know I should have written or called or something, but to tell you the honest truth I never know what to say in that sort of situation. What on earth does one say?”

“There’s really nothing to say”.

We strolled along in silence for a couple of minutes, listening to the sound of the birds in the treetops as the sun got close to the horizon. Eventually he spoke again; “So is there a plan?”

“A plan?”

“For fixing things with Dad”.

“Not really. Hopefully I can move back here, get a job, visit Mum and Dad and try to be as helpful as I can”.

“Is Emma looking forward to it?”

“I think so; she likes England and she wants to help Mum and Dad if she can. Of course, she’s going to miss Meadowvale”.

“Totally understandable. She’s a good kid, Becca tells me”.

“Yes she is. And your three? They were quiet at the table tonight”.

“They like Mum, but Dad can be a bit intimidating”.

“Of course”.

“They’re doing well though, for the most part”.

“Sarah’s growing up fast”.

“Yes she is; turning a few heads already, so I’m told, although of course she’s still only fourteen”.

“She’s got a birthday coming up soon, right?”

“She has”. He grinned at me; “I’m impressed – I’m not much for remembering those kinds of things myself, as you know”.

“Well, I was married to a girl who thought family was really important”.

“Emma must have her admirers too?”

“She had a boyfriend for a while but he broke up with her just after Christmas. She’s known him since she was eleven and they were dating for over a year, so she was pretty sad about it”.

“What happened?”

“He was a year ahead of her, and he went away to university”.

“Someone else caught his eye?”

“That’s what I hear. It’s too bad actually; his mum’s a teaching colleague of mine, Mary Stonechild, so it’s been a little awkward”.

“Small town”.

“Yeah”.

We lapsed into silence again for a few minutes, walking slowly along the path. Eventually I said, “Dad doesn’t look well, does he?”

“No. I didn’t notice it right away of course; it came on gradually”. He frowned; “The truth is, I don’t really understand all of it. I don’t understand how he could have had the disease for two or three years without it being noticed”.

“You’ve heard them talk about the difference between indolent and aggressive lymphoma?”

“Yes”.

“Indolent lymphoma isn’t especially dangerous because it doesn’t show many symptoms, but that means that it tends not to be detected until it’s well established. And of course it can turn into aggressive lymphoma, which is what’s happened to Dad”.

He frowned at me; “That’s not what Kelly had, though?”

“No, she had breast cancer. Eventually it moved into her lymph nodes and from there to the bones and the liver, but it wasn’t true lymphoma”.

“Right”.

We ambled along in silence for a couple of minutes, each of us occupied with our own thoughts. Eventually he said, “Well, shall we walk back up to the house? I think I’m ready for another drink”.

“Okay”.

  • * * * * *

I spent a quiet few days at my parents’ home, visiting with my mother and father, going for walks in the village and the old familiar countryside around, and making occasional trips into Oxford with Becca. The atmosphere when my father was awake was as tense as ever, but he usually slept each day for at least an hour in the early afternoon, and then my mother and I had some long, quiet conversations. In the middle of the week Becca drove me to Cowley for a morning interview, and afterwards we went out for lunch at a nearby pub.

My father went into the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford on Tuesday for his third chemo injection. As I expected he was fine on Wednesday, but the next day he began to feel seriously nauseous and by the middle of the day he was keeping to his room. My mother spent a lot of time with him, but when I asked her if there was anything I could do, she shook her head and said, “He doesn’t like to be seen like this, Tom”.

“I understand”.

  • * * * * *

On the Friday afternoon I had my interview at Gypsy Lane School in Headington. The head teacher, Siobhan Macnamara, was a dark-haired Irishwoman, a little older than me; she was brisk and businesslike, and in her questions she wasted no time in getting to the point. I saw the head of English, Kathy MacFarlane, smiling furtively at a couple of her head teacher’s comments; she herself took the lead when it came to specific questions about my teaching skills and experience, and I could tell she had read my resumé carefully and been impressed with it. The third person in the room was one of the school governors, but he took very little part in the interview and seemed to be there mainly to listen. I left at the end of the afternoon with a sense that things had gone well and that there was a good possibility I might be successful.

  • * * * * *

My mother had invited the whole family to dinner again on Saturday night; I had spent the afternoon in Oxford with Becca, and it was already about five-thirty by the time we arrived at my parents’ place. Rick and Alyson and their children got there about half an hour later; it had been a working Saturday for my brother, and he was still wearing a dark suit and maroon tie when they came into the living room.

My father was getting over his nausea by now but he was still looking tired and pale. Nevertheless, he insisted on getting up and pouring drinks for everyone; Alyson accepted a glass of sherry from him and then took her seat beside me on the chesterfield. “How did your interviews go?” she asked.

“Alright, I think”.

“I hear you were back on familiar ground yesterday?”

“Yeah; there’ve been a few changes since the last time I was there”.

“How soon will you hear anything?”

“A couple of weeks”.

“Any sense of which way things might go?”

“I thought both interviews went quite well, but of course I’m unfamiliar with the protocol here so I can’t know for sure”.

“Did it feel different, being back in English schools?”

“Well, it’s the Easter holidays so I didn’t actually get to see either school in action. They’re definitely bigger than I’m used to; our school in Meadowvale has about six hundred students, and the one in Headington has fifteen hundred. I know the school culture’s going to be very different, and so is the curriculum; I have to admit that I find that a little daunting”.

“You can’t let them know that, though”, my father said. “They’ll read it as a sign of weakness. You can’t appear to be weak or they’ll take advantage of it”.

“Who are ‘they’, Dad?”

“Your pupils, of course”.

I shrugged. “I’ve never viewed teaching as a battleground”.

“You might find things a bit different here”.

“Of course; I’m sure the learning curve will be steep”. I glanced at my brother, who was sitting across from us in a wing chair, nursing a glass of scotch. “You were obviously working today”.

“Yes – I’ve got a client with a very important trial coming up in the next couple of weeks. We’re burning the midnight oil getting ready for it”.

“A criminal trial?”

He shook his head. “Commercial”, he replied; “There’s rather a lot of money involved”.

“Are you working on this alone?”

“God, no!” he exclaimed; “There are about five of us on the team. The files already fill dozens of boxes”.

“Do you have to read them all?”

“If I’m going to do a good job for my client”.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Eric shaking his head a couple of times, his eyes on the ground. He had refused my mother’s offer of a cup of tea, and was sitting in the corner of the room, obviously rather bored with the proceedings. Sarah was sitting beside him on a hard-backed chair, and I could tell by the expression on her face that she was waiting to catch my eye. I smiled at her; “How are you doing?”

“I’m alright. I emailed Emma”.

“That’s what I hear”.

“She’s read Harry Potter”.

“She has; she’s a big fan. You are too, are you?”

“I’ve read all of them; they’re fantastic!”

“I think there’s another one coming out soon, isn’t there?”

“In July; I can’t wait!”

“Are these those boy wizard books?” my brother asked with a smile.

“‘Boy wizard books!’” Becca quoted with a bemused grin; “Is it possible my brother hasn’t quite registered the biggest phenomenon in recent publishing history?”

“Are they really that big? I don’t know anything about them other than the name and that there are wizards and witches in them”.

“They’re well on their way to becoming the best-selling fiction series of all time”, I replied. “Kids have been lining up in bookstores for hours when new titles are released”.

“And there are films”, Becca added; “Highly successful films, grossing hundreds of millions of dollars”.

“Money, Dad”, Eric said sarcastically; “Surely you’ve noticed that?”

Rick glanced at him darkly; “Watch your tongue, Eric Masefield”.

Eric tossed his head dismissively and looked away again. Sarah glanced at him for a moment with a little frown, and then turned back to me. “Anyway”, she said, “I’ve emailed back and forth a couple of times with Emma; she seems really nice”.

“I knew she’d be glad to hear from you”.

“We mainly talked about books”.

“Do you like Ursula Le Guin too?”

“I love A Wizard of Earthsea; it’s my favourite book!”

“Oh yeah? It was one of my favourites when I was a teenager, too. I read it when it first came out; I think I was ten or eleven at the time”.

“Have you read her other books?”

“I think I’ve got almost every book she’s written; I think she’s brilliant. Emma really likes her, too”.

“That’s what she told me. But she said she’s reading George Eliot right now; I don’t really know anything about him”.

“‘Her’, actually; ‘George Eliot’ was her pen name, but her real name was Mary Ann Evans. Her stuff is really different from Ursula Le Guin’s”.

“Emma says her books are fantastic”.

Alyson smiled at her daughter; “You’ve found a kindred spirit”.

“I’m looking forward to meeting her; she’s really interesting to talk to”.

  • * * * * *

The following morning, as Becca and I were finishing our coffee at a crowded café outside the departure lounge at Terminal Three, I said, “Rick seems to have inherited Dad’s work ethic in a big way”.

“Well, I can’t really talk there, can I? I’m just as much of a workaholic as either of them”.

“Can I ask you a personal question?”

“You know you can”.

“Do you ever see Mike?”

Immediately she looked away. Mike Carey was a paramedic; he had been her boyfriend for about eighteen months and they had lived together for almost a year, but he had ended their relationship just after Christmas. The previous summer, while they were still together, they had come to Meadowvale to visit Emma and me; while they were with us we had taken them camping for a week in Jasper National Park.

“I know where he’s staying”, she said, “and we know each other’s phone numbers, but we haven’t really talked since we broke up”.

“Sorry; it’s not really my business”.

“Don’t be silly; you and I don’t keep things from each other. To be honest I’m still finding it hard; the hardest part is knowing it was my fault”.

“You can’t be sure of that”.

“Tommy, spare me the sympathy; you and I have talked about this enough times to know I’m the one who’s got to learn to get my compulsive work habits under control. He was tired of being short-changed when it came to time together, and who can blame him? I certainly can’t”. She shook her head slowly; “It’s just that I don’t seem to be able to do anything about it”.

“You’re good at what you do, and you enjoy it”.

“Owen’s good at what he does, and he enjoys it, but he’s not driven like I am”.

“You’re still in touch with some of your high school friends, right?”

“I swim once a week with Stevie Fredericks, and we always have coffee afterwards”.

“You don’t do gymnastics any more, though?”

She laughed; “Not for a long time!”

“You two did pretty well in gymnastics competitions in high school”.

“We did”. She smiled at me; “Those were good days”.

“Kelly and I had our struggles with being over-busy, you know”.

“She told me that. I found it hard to believe; you always seemed so relaxed when I was with you”.

“That was because you almost always came in the summer time. During the school year it was a lot harder”.

“I know teachers are busy”.

“Yeah, and there were other things too. Kelly was working full time, and we were running the Sunday night group a couple of times a month, and attending a midweek study group at the church, and Ellie and Darren and I were driving down to Saskatoon regularly to play gigs. For a couple of years there we were running so fast that we barely connected with each other from morning to night”.

“But you worked it out?”

“Eventually – I gave up gigging with Ellie and Darren, and Kelly went down to half-time at the special care home. It wasn’t easy though; she loved her work and I loved my music. We had to decide what came first, but it wasn’t black and white; that’s what makes it hard, sometimes”.

She frowned thoughtfully, opened her mouth to speak, and then closed it again.

“What is it?” I asked.

“Are you telling me that you and Kelly were really in trouble for a while?”

“I’m telling you that we were an ordinary married couple and we had our struggles. Fortunately for us we were able to work through them; if we hadn’t, then yes, we could have been in trouble”.

She drank the rest of her coffee in silence, put the cup down on the saucer and said, “I suppose I always knew you were an ordinary married couple, but…”

“You enjoyed putting us on a pedestal”.

“I suppose I did. Life was pretty chaotic for me here, and coming to Meadowvale was always such a wonderfully restful thing. And of course, Kelly was always so good to me”.

“I have to say, our struggles were more my fault than hers”.

“Why are you telling me this, Tommy?”

“Because I don’t believe in all those neat personality classifications between Type A and Type B people. I think people are people; we all struggle with getting our priorities right and we all fail sometimes”.

She smiled sheepishly at me. “That’s your gentle brotherly way of telling me to quit blaming my Masefield genes and work harder at getting my life under control?”

“No, that’s my gentle brotherly way of saying we’re in this together”. I glanced at my watch. “And speaking of time…”.

“It’s that time, is it?”

“I’m afraid so”.

We got to our feet reluctantly; “Give my love to Owen and Lorraine”, I said.

“I will – and you give Emma love and hugs from me. Tell her I’ll see her in a couple of months”.

“I will. You don’t have to stand and watch me go through security, you know?”

She grinned at me mischievously; “But if I leave and then they turn you away at the gate, who’s going to drive you back to Northwood?”

“Well, I guess you have a point there, Doctor Masefield; they might even arrest me and throw me in jail”.

“Exactly! So you’ll let me stand and watch while you go through the line, then?”

“Oh well – if you insist”.

“I do”, she said defiantly, “So let’s go down to the gate, shall we?”

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‘A Time to Mend’, Chapter Two

Link back to Chapter One

When I finished ‘Meadowvale’ it turned out that there were some inconsistencies with ‘A Time to Mend’ (which I wrote first, over ten years ago, even though chronologically it comes after ‘Meadowvale’). So – I’m having another go at ‘A Time to Mend’ to bring it back in sync with ‘Meadowvale’. Here’s the second chapter.

 

Will Reimer had been my first principal at Meadowvale High School; he and his wife Sally had welcomed me to the community, found a place for me to stay and helped me furnish it, driven me around until I bought a car, and invited me over to their house for countless suppers and backyard barbecues. It was at one of those suppers, on my first Thanksgiving weekend in Canada, that I had met their three children. The oldest, Joe, had recently returned to Meadowvale to practice as a vet; Kelly was working as a nurse in Jasper, and Krista was studying for her Master’s degree in Edmonton in hopes of becoming a wildlife biologist.

Two years later on Thanksgiving weekend Kelly and I were married; by then Joe and his wife Ellie were good friends of mine, and over the years I had also become close to Krista, who eventually married Steve Janzen. Between us we had five children who Steve collectively dubbed ‘The Pack’. Jake and Jenna, Joe and Ellie’s kids, had literally grown up around the corner from Emma, and they were in and out of each other’s houses all the time. Mike and Rachel, the children of Steve and Krista, lived a little further away in Saskatoon but we still saw a lot of them, and during the summers the five of them were often together.

I had been playing traditional English folk music since my teens; Ellie Reimer was a bluegrass fiddler and we gradually realized that the two genres were very compatible. Over the years we had learned many songs from each other, and for a while we had been playing regular gigs together down in the city, along with a younger teacher from my school, Darren Peterson, who was an excellent banjo and mandolin player. We had slowed down eventually, both Ellie and I being busy with many other things in our lives, but we still played together from time to time. Ellie’s older sister Karla was married to one of my other close friends in Meadowvale, Glenn Pickering; he was born in our little town and had been practicing Law there since about 1978.

Not long before Kelly died, her cousin Brenda Nikkel had opened the Meadowvale Beanery on the main street. It was a small café that served home-made soups and sandwiches and fair trade coffee, and it had become quite popular with some of the younger people in town, although most of the old-timers were still loyal to the Travellers’ or the Co-op Deli. The Beanery had wooden tables and chairs, shelves with bags of flavoured coffee and tea for sale, and paintings of old grain elevators on the walls.

I met Joe and Ellie there for coffee at about four o’clock on Sunday afternoon, the day after I talked to my mother; I had told them briefly about my father’s cancer after church that morning. Brenda was working by herself that afternoon but when she saw us come into the café she came out from behind the counter and gave me a warm hug. She and Kelly had been very close, and although she had been through a few troubles of her own in the past ten years, including the breakup of her marriage, I knew she had taken it on herself to keep a special eye on Emma and me. Emma worked the occasional shift at the Beanery, as well as volunteering at the Meadowvale Special Care Home where Kelly had worked as a geriatric nurse.

In the gene pool of the Reimer family all three of Will and Sally’s children had inherited their mother’s blond hair, but Joe was the only one who was as tall as she was. He had often joked with Kelly and me that having stairs in the house must have been very useful for us when it came to kissing; I stand six feet four inches tall, and Kelly was a full foot shorter than me. Joe was a little under six feet himself, which was taller than both his parents; he was almost two years my senior, and over the past few years he had been losing his hair at a prodigious rate. Ellie was a little shorter than her husband, with thick black hair streaked here and there with grey.

We picked up our coffee and went over to an empty table by a window in the corner, stopping a couple of times on the way to say hello to people we knew. Joe and Ellie took their seats across from me; Joe cupped his hands around his mug and looked at me expectantly, while Ellie added a little sugar to her coffee, stirred it with a spoon and said, “Did you talk to Becca again?”

“Yeah, I called her after church”.

“Was she at your mom and dad’s?”

“No, she was home. She’d been out briefly in the morning but she said it was obvious that dad didn’t really want company, so she came home after about an hour”.

“Is he having a hard time accepting the situation?”

“That’s what she says”.

Joe sat back in his chair, stretching his long legs out under the table. “You were talking about ‘indolent’ and ‘aggressive’ lymphoma”, he said, making air quotes with his fingers; “I’m not really familiar with those terms”.

“Neither was I until Becca explained them to me. She says indolent lymphoma tends to go unnoticed for a long time, because it doesn’t usually present obvious symptoms. But that means it can spread quietly without attracting attention to itself. That seems to be what’s happened to Dad”.

“And now it’s turned into the aggressive kind?”

“Yeah, and it’s had plenty of time to get established”.

“So it’s widespread?”

“Yes, and it’s already moved into the bone marrow”.

“That doesn’t sound good”.

“No”.

“How are you doing, Tom?” Ellie asked softly.

I shrugged; “I feel sorry for him, but it’s complicated, as you know”.

“No kidding”.

“It’s strange; I guess I tend to go through my daily routines without thinking about him very much. I know he’s out there; he’s just not really a part of my life”.

“You’ve never really had a lot in common with him”, said Joe.

“No, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we couldn’t ever have been close. When I first came here I’d never have thought of being friends with people like old Charlie Blackie and Wilf and Mabel Collins, or even Mike Robinson or John Janzen. I would have just assumed I wouldn’t have enough in common with them, but if people are willing to step out of their comfort zones and take an interest in the lives of others you’ve got something to work with, haven’t you? But Dad’s never been willing to do that”.

“Have you? The law isn’t exactly your favourite subject”.

I grinned at him; “I’ll have you know, Joe Reimer, that Glenn Pickering and I have had some very interesting conversations about the law over the years!”

He laughed; “I guess so. Glenn’s more of a meat and potatoes lawyer, though”.

“True, and Dad’s been doing corporate law for as long as I can remember. But if he’d just meet me half way…” I shook my head; “It wouldn’t even have to be half way. I sometimes feel as if I’ve gone ninety percent of the way toward him, but that last ten percent isn’t in my power; he needs to make a move. And when he didn’t even come over for Kelly’s funeral…”

Ellie reached across and put her hand on mine; “I remember”, she said gently.

I looked down at my coffee. “Mum gave us a card; she’d signed it ‘Mum and Dad’. I’m sure he never even looked at it”.

“You were angry”, said Joe.

I shrugged my shoulders. “I guess I was at the time, but eventually I realized I’d allowed myself to be lured into thinking that just once he might surprise me. That was my mistake. Whatever this strange relationship is that we have, it always seems to work better if I expect nothing from him, and most of the time that’s where I’m at. That’s why I said I tend to go through my life without thinking of him very much”.

“That might be about to change”.

“I know”.

“What about your mom; how’s she doing?”

“I’m concerned about her. I want her to take advantage of any help she can get, even with practical things like cleaning and meals and all that. You know what it’s like; as the disease progresses it’s going to take more and more time and energy on her part, and she doesn’t have a network like I had here with Kelly. But Dad really likes his privacy; I don’t think he’d take kindly to having strangers in the house to help out”.

“What about his extended family?”

I shook my head; “They’ve never been close. Most of them are in London except for my cousin Ann; she’s living in Oxford now. And the only family member Mum’s got close is Auntie Brenda, and she’s older than Mum”.

“And a widow herself”, Joe added.

“Yes”.

“I don’t remember your mom having many friends”.

“There’ve been a couple of Northwood teachers she’s been close to over the years but her closest friend is the one who lives furthest away – Pat Schuster in Vienna. They talk on the phone all the time”.

“I expect your mom will lean on you a lot, even though you’re so far away”.

“Yes”.

“Are you okay with that?”

“Yes”.

“Kind of hard to be reminded of it all though”.

“Yeah, but it’s not as if I ever forget, Joe”.

“No”, he said, and I saw the understanding in his eyes.

“Are you going to go for a visit?” Ellie asked.

“Yes, during spring break, and then we’ll probably go in the summer for a substantial period of time, although I’ll need to be helping Emma get moved to Saskatoon, too”.

“Don’t worry about that”, said Joe; “If she’s got stuff to move down, we can help her with it”.

I nodded; “Thanks”.

He gave me a little frown; “Distance is going to make this hard for you”.

“Yeah – I’m not sure how much Dad would be willing to let me be a part of everything, but it would be a lot easier to be helpful to Mum if I was closer”. I shrugged; “I made my choices, I guess, and for the most part they’ve turned out pretty well”.

Ellie nodded; “That’s for sure”.

Joe looked at me in silence for a moment and then said, “If I was in your shoes, I think I’d be wishing there was some way I could move closer for a while”.

I shook my head; “Even if Dad and I got along better I don’t think that would be possible. Em’s starting university in the Fall, and we’ve got so many ties over here. This is our home and I can’t see that changing”.

“What do you think are your chances of bringing some healing into your relationship with your dad before he dies?”

“Em was asking me the same thing yesterday morning; I told her I don’t know, but I suppose I should be trying”. I took another sip of my coffee, cupped my hands around the mug and said, “I know Kelly would have said I should keep trying and not give up; it really bothered her over the years that there was still this rift between Dad and me”.

“I know”.

I stared out through the window in the dying light of the winter afternoon, watching the cars and trucks drive by on the icy street. After a moment I shook my head and said, “All I can do is go over there, I guess, and make myself available for conversation if he wants to have it. But I’m not hopeful”.

 

Becca and I emailed back and forth all through the following week, and I talked with my mother on the phone a couple of times. There was no change in my father’s situation; he was still waiting to go in for more tests, and meanwhile my mother was encouraging him to get as much rest as he could. “Not that he needs much persuading”, she said to me; “He’s tired all the time. He’s never been one for taking naps, but now he can’t keep awake after lunch, and once he’s asleep he’s out for a couple of hours”.

I knew that Emma had been talking to my mother too, and to Becca; she and Becca had been close for many years. She didn’t say much to me about my father’s illness, and I knew why; this time two years ago it had been Kelly who was fighting for her life with cancer, and the wound was still as raw for Emma as it was for me. The two of us talked openly about most things but we both knew instinctively when to back off and respect each other’s privacy, and I knew that this was one of those times. She was always good at making me cups of tea and doing little acts of kindness for me, but I noticed now that she was giving me more frequent hugs, and every now and again I saw her looking at me with an expression of concern on her face.

“I’m okay, Em”, I said to her one evening as we were sitting by the open fireplace in the living room drinking our late-night hot chocolate; “You don’t have to worry about me”.

“I do worry about you though”, she replied softly.

“Why?”

She shrugged; “You know why”.

“Maybe I do and maybe I don’t”.

“Well, I know it’s complicated, but he’s your dad”.

“Yes he is”.

She looked down for a moment, stirring her hot chocolate in the mug. “And then there’s Mom”, she whispered.

“Yes”.

She stared into the fire; “I still miss her so much…”

“I know”.

“And then I think about you and her, and how much you loved each other, and I know it’s got to be hard for you watching your dad go through cancer”.

“Joe and I had this conversation a few days ago. It’s not like I ever forget, Em”.

“I understand”.

“Thanks for looking out for me, though”.

She looked at me for a moment without saying anything, and then she nodded slowly; “Thanks for looking out for me, too”, she said.

 

On the Friday night Emma went out to spend some time with a couple of friends. At around eight o’clock Joe called to see if I wanted company, and since I never did schoolwork on Friday nights I was happy to make a pot of tea and sit down at the kitchen table with him for an hour of quiet conversation.

“Have you talked to your dad yet?” he said.

“Not at any length. We’ve said hello to each other and asked after each other’s health, but that’s about it”.

He laughed softly; “You asked after each other’s health?”

“I said, ‘How are you doing?’ and he said, ‘As well as can be expected’”.

“You’re a communicative pair, aren’t you?”

“I know; that’s always been part of the problem. We’ve basically got two ways of communicating: we argue, or we just don’t talk”.

“That’s not entirely true; I’ve heard you speak civilly to each other”.

“When we’re talking about nothing, yes”.

“Maybe talking about nothing is a start”.

I shrugged; “Maybe”.

“So do you think you can get past that?”

“I’m not optimistic. He won’t even stay on the phone with me when I call; what chance do I have of getting a real conversation going?”

“It’ll take time, that’s for sure. Probably longer than a week”.

I glanced across the table at him; “Where are you going with that?”

“Like I said Sunday afternoon, if I was in your shoes I’d be thinking seriously about going back for a longer period of time”.

I shook my head slowly; “I’ve thought about it a bit, but there are just too many complications”.

“Tell me about them”.

“Well, let’s start with work; I’d have to leave my job here and try to get a teaching position in England”.

“Temporarily – for a year or two”.

“But I don’t think I could just take a two-year leave of absence; I’d have to resign, and there’d be no guarantee that I would ever get back here afterwards”.

“But you know the school board pretty well, and you and Don are good friends; I’m sure you could persuade them to offer your job on a two-year contract to someone”.

“That would be a very unusual thing for them to do”.

“Perhaps, but you’ve given them twenty years of loyal service; don’t you think they might be willing to go the extra mile for you?”

“I don’t know and I’d hate to ask, because I know how hard it would be for them to get a temporary replacement up here for me. And then of course there’s Em; she’s already got her application in to Saskatoon for the Fall”.

“There are universities in England, or so I’ve heard”.

“Yes, but the deadline’s already passed for overseas applications for the Fall term; all the paperwork has to be in by November”.

“You’ve looked into this?”

“I have”.

“So you have been thinking about it?”

“Of course I’ve been thinking about it; do you think I want my dad to die with this rift still between us?”

He shook his head; “I know you don’t”.

“But how would Em feel about it? Can I even assume she’d want to come with me? She’s been looking forward to going down to Saskatoon and sharing an apartment with Jake. And most of her family and friends are here”.

“She loves England, though”.

“That’s true; the last time we were there she really enjoyed it. But that was six years ago, and since then she’s lost her mum. A lot of things have changed for her; I think if I decided to go, she might just choose to stay here and go to Saskatoon. And I think it would be hard for her to have me move so far away”.

“And for you, too”.

I nodded; “Yes”.

He took a sip of his tea, put the mug down on the kitchen table again and sat back in his chair. “Look, don’t get me wrong; the last thing I want is for you to be thousands of miles away. You’re my brother-in-law and my closest friend, not to mention the godfather of my kids”.

I shook my head. “I don’t want to leave, Joe; this is our home”.

“I know it would be hard – for you and us”.

“Excruciatingly hard”.

“But there would be benefits too”.

“Strangely enough, I can’t quite manage to persuade myself that being closer to my dad would be a benefit!”

He laughed softly. “Well, that’s part of it, but I wasn’t only thinking of that. What about you and Becca? You’ve been close since she was a baby and you really love each other”.

“We do”.

“And Owen’s your closest friend; you’d enjoy being able to spend more time with him”.

“I don’t know about ‘closest friend’; I think the person sitting across this table from me right now might have a claim on that title too”.

He smiled; “Alright then – one of your closest friends! I know you’d love to be able to play music with him and spend more time together”.

“Yes, I would, but…”

“I know – it’s complicated; I think we’ve established that. But what’s the bottom line, Tom? You know reconciliation is important; you’ve already said that”.

“I’m not denying it”.

“So I guess you have to ask yourself just how important it is for you”.

I smiled at him. “You’re being unusually direct tonight, Joe Reimer”.

“I guess I am; sorry if I’m going too far”.

I shook my head. “No”, I said softly, “actually, at the moment you’re reminding me very strongly of your sister”.

“A good memory, then?”

“A good memory. And she was usually right”.

“Yes, she was”, he agreed.

 

After supper on Saturday I went out for a rare evening walk. When I got back to the house at about nine o’clock Emma was curled up in her chair beside the fireplace reading a book; the curtains were closed against the darkness of the night, and a standing lamp in the corner threw a soft light into the living room. She looked up and smiled at me. “How was your walk?” she asked.

“Pretty good”. I took my seat across from her; “What are you reading tonight?”

“Middlemarch; I really like it so far”.

“I like it too”.

“I saw a few others by George Eliot on your shelf; are they all this good?”

“Some of them; I really like Daniel Deronda and Felix Holt the Radical”.

“I’ll have to read them. I think this one’s going to keep me going for a while, though”.

“They’re not short”.

“That’s for sure”.

I hesitated, looked across at her and said, “Listen, there’s something I need to talk to you about”.

“What is it?”

“If I was to move to England for a couple of years, what would you do? Would you stay here and go to university in Saskatoon, or would you come over to England with me?”

“Are you serious?”

“Yes”.

“Is this about trying to make things better with Grandpa?”

“Yes”.

“What’s got you thinking about this?”

“Joe brought it up a few days ago. It’s been on my mind on and off ever since, and I’ve tried to pray about it too”.

She got up, went out to the kitchen, poured herself a glass of water, and then came back into the living room and sat down again. “That would be pretty drastic; you’d resign from your job here, would you?”

“Or talk to Don and the school board about a leave of absence”.

“Would they do that for you?”

“I have no idea; they’ve never done it for anyone else except for maternity leaves, and it’s often a real pain to try to get people in here for short-term positions”.

“Right”.

“Off the top of your head, what do you think?”

She grinned; “Free board and lodging in England for two years while you slave away as a teacher and I get to be a tourist? I’d be okay with that!”

“Seriously, now”.

She nodded; “Okay – but I was being at least partly serious, Dad”.

“So you’re not completely opposed to the idea?”

“Of course not; I totally understand where you’re coming from, and if you wanted to go over there and you were willing to take me with you, there would definitely be things I’d enjoy about it. I like England and I’d love the chance to live there for an extended period of time. And now’s probably as good a time as any to think about it; I’m finishing Grade Twelve but I haven’t started university yet”.

“There are universities in England, too”.

She raised an eyebrow; “Are we talking longer than two years now?”

I shrugged; “I wouldn’t think so, but when it comes to cancer diagnoses it’s hard to predict just how long things will take”.

“I understand. And there’s that part of it too; I’d like to spend some time with Grandma and Grandpa. They’re going to need some help; maybe I can be part of that”.

“I’m sure they’d appreciate that”.

“And then there’s Russell”.

“Russell?”

She nodded; “I wouldn’t mind getting away for a while, Dad”.

“You might not feel that so strongly six months from now”.

“Maybe not, but at the moment…”

“I understand. So – what do you think?”

She frowned thoughtfully. “I’d have to think some more about it. I’d love to say yes right away, but there are other things I need to consider”.

“I know you’ve got plans for Saskatoon”.

“Yeah”.

“You and Jake and Jenna have been talking about this for a long time”.

“Yes we have”. She smiled at me. “So how would this work? Would you try to get a job in Oxford?”

“Or somewhere close. It wouldn’t be easy to move there; it’s one of the more expensive parts of England”.

“Would you sell our house?”

“That wouldn’t be my first choice; I’d prefer to rent it out and use the money to help with renting a place in the U.K.”.

For a few minutes she said nothing; she stared off again into the fireplace and I could see that she was thinking hard. Eventually she said, “I need some time, Dad”.

“Okay”.

“I think I’m going to go to bed now if that’s okay?”

I looked at my watch; “A little early for you, isn’t it?”

She got to her feet, gave me a quick smile, and slipped off down the hall; after a moment I heard the click of her bedroom door closing behind her.

I understood immediately what was going on; some people deal with surprises by running for company, but Emma had always preferred to run for solitude. I knew I had to give her some space to work things out for herself. I sat quietly for a few minutes, then got up, picked up my guitar from the corner and began to play some quiet instrumental tunes. I knew that she would be sitting on her bed, thinking and praying, and I probably wouldn’t see her now until the next morning.

 

The next day we went to church together, stayed for a while for the coffee hour, and then excused ourselves to go home and make lunch. While we were eating she said, “Do you want to go up to the recreation area and go snowshoeing?”

“Sure; it looks like a nice afternoon out there. Shall I make a thermos of coffee to pack with us?”

“Sounds good”.

 

The sun was shining a dazzling light on the fresh snow as we drove out to Myers Lake Recreation Area, about seven miles from Meadowvale. Over the years our family had spent a lot of time there; the lake itself was a great place for waterfowl in the summer time, and there were miles of walking trails along its shores and off into the bush. Emma enjoyed cross-country skiing, and in her early teens she had really taken to snowshoeing – something I enjoyed as well.

There were no other vehicles in the tiny parking lot when we arrived. We got out of the car, and I pulled on a backpack holding a small thermos flask, a couple of mugs and some snacks to keep us going on the trail. By now it was about one-thirty in the afternoon; the sky was a clear and brilliant blue and I guessed that the temperature was probably sitting at about minus twenty. We lifted our snowshoes from the trunk of the car and bent to strap them on, and I grinned at her and said, “You lead the way”.

We stepped off the beaten trail as soon as we could, moving into the deeper snow close to the spruce and poplar trees where the snowshoes could do their work. We didn’t say much to each other; I knew that she would be focussed outward, taking in every detail of the landscape as well as keeping her eye out for birds and other wildlife. The afternoon was cold but there was no wind, and it didn’t take long for us to warm up in our down jackets and ski pants.

After about an hour we stopped at a place where a frozen creek snaked out from a stand of spruce trees into the lake. There was a picnic table partially hidden in the snow under the trees and I saw Emma make her way over to it, clearing the snow from the top with her gloved hands. She smiled at me, her face red and glowing; “Coffee time?”

“Sounds good”.

We took off our snowshoes and sat side by side on the top of the picnic table with our feet on the snow-covered bench. I took out our thermos and poured hot sweet coffee into the two plastic mugs; I handed one to her along with a granola bar, and took another bar for myself. We grinned contentedly at each other and sat in silence for a few minutes, sipping our coffee and chewing on our granola bars, our breath hanging in the cold air. I felt her lean towards me slightly until our shoulders touched.

“I think I’m ready to talk a little more now”, she said.

“Okay”

“So – assuming you decided moving to England was a good idea, you’d need to apply for jobs and then interview for them?”

“I’d have to have some sort of interview but I don’t know if it would be by phone or in person; when I came here the school board did the interview by phone. But I’m going to be over there during spring break so it might be possible to do some interviews then”.

“What do you think of your chances of getting a job?”

“I’m really not sure; I’ve got a lot of research to do”.

We were quiet for a few minutes, watching a raven soar over the trees on the other side of the creek, each of us occupied with our memories. Eventually she gave a little sigh, glanced at me again and said, “So it’s expensive in the Oxford area?”

“Yes”.

“That would be hard for us if we had to buy a car and furniture and that sort of stuff”.

“Yes, and shipping furniture would be expensive, too. I’d hate to leave all our stuff behind though; I’d like to have a few familiar things around us”.

“Me too. Could we afford this, Dad?”

“It would be tight but I think we could manage it”.

“You’d be happy to be close to Owen and Lorraine and Becca again”.

“I would”.

“I did a bit of research online about nursing training in the U.K.”.

“Ah, so that’s what you were doing in your room last night”.

“Oxford Brookes University has a pretty good three-year program”.

“Oh yeah?”

“Looks like the National Health Service pays the fees for British and E.U. citizens. I tried to find out on the website if I’d qualify, but I couldn’t find anything about that”.

“I’m guessing you’d probably need to be a resident”.

“I think so”. She gave me another sideways glance; “There’s a lot to think about”.

“There is”.

“And how about this reconciliation thing? Do you think it would work?”

“I really don’t know”.

“What did Joe say?”

“He told me he was pretty sure what Kelly would have wanted me to do”.

She nodded; “He’s right about that”.

“I know”.

“So I guess you have to decide whether you think two years is long enough for that”.

“And you have to decide whether it would be important enough to uproot yourself from your friends and family over here to come with me”.

“I’d probably be too late now to apply to a British university in time for the Fall term, wouldn’t I?”

“I think so”.

She thought for a moment and then said, “Yesterday you asked me whether I’d go with you, or stay here and go to Saskatoon”.

“Yes”.

“What do you think about the ‘staying here and going to Saskatoon’ option?”

“I suppose I’d have to be honest and say that I’d hate for that to happen”. I put my arm around her shoulders, hugged her a little closer and said, “I’d really miss you. Still – you’d have to decide what’s best for you. I think it would be more difficult for me to help you out if I was over in England; it’s that whole cost of living thing again. But I know how long you and Jake and Jenna have been planning your time in Saskatoon together; the last thing I want to do is get in the way of that, if you still feel really strongly about it”.

“I’d need to talk to them”.

“I know”.

She stared out thoughtfully over the frozen lake. “Maybe if I moved to England with you I’d be able to travel around a little in the Fall and then start university in January”.

“That’s possible”.

She turned to look at me. “How soon do you need to know?”

“Well, let me ask you something else first: would you be okay with me going, whether or not you decide to come with me?”

She nodded slowly; “I’d really miss you”, she said softly, “but I know it would be the right thing for you to do”.

I put my arm around her and drew her close, kissing the top of her head. “I’d miss you too, honey – more than I can say”.

“I love you, Dad”, she whispered.

“I love you too”.

We were quiet for a moment, and then she straightened up, cupping her hands around her coffee mug. “Can you give me a week?” she asked; “I need to think this through”.

“I can give you a week”.

“Is it okay if I talk to Jake and Jenna about it?”

“Of course – I assumed you’d want to do that. I’ll probably talk to a couple of other people about it as well”.

“Grandpa and Grandma Reimer?”

“Yes, and probably Don and Lynda too”.

She smiled; “Probably wouldn’t hurt, since he’s your principal”.

“That’s what I thought”.

She looked at me for a moment, and then spoke in a quiet voice; “Thanks”, she said.

“For what?”

“For being patient with me”. She put her hand on mine; “This isn’t easy for you”.

“No, it sure isn’t”.

She slid off the table, stretched and straightened up. “I’m getting a little cold; I think we should move on”.

“Sounds good”.

* * * * *

Link to Chapter 3

 

‘A Time to Mend’ Chapter One

When I finished ‘Meadowvale’ it turned out that there were some inconsistencies with ‘A Time to Mend’ (which I wrote first, over ten years ago, even though chronologically it comes after ‘Meadowvale’). So – I’m having another go at ‘A Time to Mend’ to bring it back in sync with ‘Meadowvale’. Here’s the first chapter.

If you take the gravel road that runs straight north of Meadowvale and stay on it for about twelve miles, you will find yourself dipping down into a shallow valley and crossing a narrow creek. Spruce Creek; that’s the name it was given by English-speaking settlers in the Meadowvale area, and the name stuck, even though the first people to homestead in the area spoke German, not English. They were Mennonites lately arrived from Russia, and they cleared the land and established their farms north of that shallow valley. At one time there was a corner store, a log church, and a one-room schoolhouse, but they are long since gone. The farms are still there, though, and some of them are still being worked by descendants of those early Mennonite settlers.

If you take the first right turn after the creek and go east three miles, you will come to the old Reimer homestead, first settled in 1924 by Dieter and Erika Reimer. Nowadays their great-grandson Dan Rempel lives there with his wife Cara; they run the old Reimer farm and also the Rempel operation four miles north, the home of Dan’s parents, John and Erika Rempel. Erika, who is a Reimer by birth, drives into town each day to her job at the Meadowvale library; John tries to help his son, but a heart attack several years ago has severely limited the amount of work he can do without a rest.

If you go back to the main road, head north another two miles and turn left, you will come to Spruce Creek cemetery; the old church used to stand there too, but it was pulled down in the late 1970s, having been disused for a number of years. The cemetery is a peaceful sort of place, the crosses and gravestones in orderly rows, and a stand of poplar trees bending around to the north and east. If you park your car in the little gravel parking lot, go in through the iron gate and walk north on the main path about fifty yards, you will come to the area of the cemetery where most of the Reimers are buried. Dieter and Erika’s graves are side by side in the centre, and next to theirs you will find a newer grave with a simple granite headstone. On the stone you will find the following inscription:

Kelly Ruth Masefield (née Reimer)
September 16th 1958 – May 26th 2001
‘Behold, I make all things new’

And so my own very English name, ‘Masefield’, has found a home among all those Mennonite names in the Spruce Creek cemetery.

At first Meadowvale was just a name on a map to me, a dot in the wide open spaces of the prairies, where towns were separated from each other by distances I had never imagined in my early life in England. I remember the time I first glimpsed its four grain elevators on the horizon as I drove up from Saskatoon with Will Reimer, my new principal. He gave me my first tour of the town, showing me the stores and businesses and the quiet residential streets, so different from Oxford where I had spent the previous five years, and different again from the village of Northwood where I had lived as a teenager. Gradually, in my first year in Meadowvale, I found my way around the community and the surrounding area, learning where people lived and where they gathered, and where I could go when I wanted to get away from people and make contact with the older world of fields and trees, narrow creeks and shallow lakes, coyote and beaver and white-tailed deer, ravens and chickadees and red-winged blackbirds.

Over time I came to love the vastness of the prairie sky and the open landscape beneath it; I loved the patchwork quilt of different-coloured crops in the late summer, the thunderstorms you could see twenty miles away, the red-tailed hawks circling on a hot summer’s day, and the clear winter afternoons with the mercury hovering around minus thirty and the sun shining down on the dazzling white snow. I loved the smell of the fields in the summertime after a heavy rain, the feel of the wind on my face on a hot day, and the bite of cold on my cheeks when I was out cross-country skiing in winter. I loved the old grain elevators standing tall against the horizon, and I was sad to see them gradually being torn down and replaced by the huge concrete grain terminals.

But gradually, over the years, I learned that there was much more to Meadowvale than geography. In the early 1980s, when I first arrived, there were people still living who had homesteaded there in the 1920s; from them I learned the history of the community and the people who built it, their stories stretching through the decades as their family trees reached out and connected with each other. I got a sense of the community as a living organism stretching out through time and space; people who had lived here all their lives were part of it, but so were the many people who had moved away, whether they cared to admit it or not. The Cree and Metis were part of it, whose families had travelled in this area for centuries, and new arrivals like me were part of it too, as we made connections and found ourselves gradually absorbed into the various circles and networks that made up the Meadowvale extended family. ‘The Meadowvale web’, my sister Becca called it, and I liked to remind her that she was part of it too, because she was related to me, and by then I was related to some of the biggest families in the community.

I came in 1982, having just finished my teacher training at Oxford University. I had no thoughts of staying permanently; I had things I wanted to get away from, and Saskatchewan seemed as good a refuge as any. But then I met Kelly, and in 1984 we were married, and suddenly I was related to the Reimer and Wiens clans, with connections to at least half a dozen other Mennonite families in the area. And so to my surprise I found myself settling down here, and over the years I gradually came out of my introverted shell and learned to find my place as a member of this farming community. I found a new faith and a new family, and a contentment and a sense of belonging that was entirely new to me. Kelly and I had a daughter, Emma, who we raised in our faith community and in the wider Meadowvale family, and although like me she grew up to be something of an introvert, nonetheless she always knew herself as part of that connecting web.

Over the years I got to know Meadowvale too well to be romantic about it. I was a teacher after all, and through my students I was connected to most of the families in the area. I knew about the alcohol and drug problems, the broken families and the ones I wished would break up so that their pain could end; I knew people who were well off and people who struggled to make ends meet. I knew when people were talking to each other and when they weren’t; I knew people who cared faithfully for loved ones with chronic illnesses and people who struggled with demons they could not get the better of. I knew people of faith and people of no faith, people who talked incessantly and people who barely spoke two sentences in a half-hour visit over a cup of coffee. English and French, Chinese and Ukrainian, Mennonite and Lebanese, Metis and Cree – I knew them all, the tales they told and the lives they lived.

Over the years I shared the sorrows as they came along, too. We said goodbye to old people in their eighties and nineties, and young people who died before their time through accident or deadly disease. And eventually the community came to share my own particular sadness, as I lost Kelly to cancer at the young age of forty-two, and I was left with the daughter she had given me and the relatives who had adopted me as one of their own.

I had no thought of leaving after Kelly’s death; I had kept up my connections with family and friends in England, but Meadowvale had become my home, its people were my extended family, and I knew deep down inside that to leave them would have been a kind of bereavement too. And so I can honestly say that the thought of returning to the country of my birth had never entered my head until that last week of January in 2003, just over a year and a half after Kelly’s death, when I heard that my father – who was the main reason I had left England twenty years ago – had been diagnosed with terminal cancer.

********

When I got home from work on that cold and blustery Friday Emma was in the kitchen working on supper. She gave me a warm smile when I came through the doorway; “Ready for a cup of tea?” she asked.

“Absolutely!” I replied, kissing her on the cheek.

“I boiled the kettle a minute ago; I’ll just get this pie in the oven and then I’ll turn it on again”.

“Right; I’ll run down and drop my briefcase in the den”.

I went down the stairs to the basement and through to the back room, which I had used as a home office for over fifteen years. I kept a few shelves’ worth of books down there, with a filing cabinet for my school work, an old-fashioned desk, and a work station for my laptop computer and printer. On the wall above the desk was a crowded bulletin board, with notes and reminders and a few photographs of family and friends. Beside it on the wall was a framed family photograph taken about four years ago, while Kelly was still alive; my eyes lingered on her picture, dwelling on the soft curve of her cheek, the sparkle in her blue eyes as she smiled at the camera, the way her long blonde hair fell on her shoulders. Thirteen-year old Emma, standing between us in the picture, was like a younger version of her mother, a resemblance that had only increased in the intervening years.

I stood there for a moment with my briefcase in my hand, looking at the picture, and then my thoughts were interrupted by the ringing of the phone on my desk. I heard the creak of Emma’s footsteps above my head, crossing the kitchen floor to answer the call; I put the briefcase down on the old armchair, and was just turning to go back up when I heard her calling down the stairs: “Dad, it’s for you; it’s Auntie Becca”.

I glanced at my watch: it was five thirty-five, which meant eleven thirty-five at night in Oxford. I turned back to the desk, picked up the phone, and said, “Hi Becs”.

“Hello, Tommy”.

“This is a little late for you”.

“Yes; have you got a minute?”

“Of course”. I pulled out the swivel chair and sat down, my elbows on the desk. “What’s up?”

“I just got back from Mum and Dad’s; they asked me to ring you before I went to bed”.

“Something wrong?”

“Dad’s been diagnosed with lymphoma; I’m afraid the prognosis isn’t good”.

I glanced up instinctively at the bulletin board, at the photo my mother had sent with her Christmas card a few weeks ago. My father had been retired from his legal practice for a couple of years now, but he was still wearing a charcoal grey suit and a dark maroon tie; I noticed for the first time that his face looked thinner than I remembered, and his thick wavy hair was almost completely white. My mother, standing beside him, was dressed in a comfortable skirt and sweater, her reading glasses hanging from a thick cord around her neck; she was smiling cheerfully at the camera, her hand on my father’s arm.

“Are you there, Tommy?”

“I’m here. So he’s just found out about this?”

“Yes. Mum says he’s been having symptoms for some time, but of course he’s been ignoring them and hoping they’d go away. Then about two months ago he started having night sweats and that really worried Mum, so she insisted he go to his doctor. He was referred for tests, and they just got word of the results”.

“Did you know before today?”

“No, I found out when Mum called me at the clinic this afternoon”.

“And you went out this evening?”

“I went and cooked a meal for them, and stayed for a couple of hours afterwards”.

“How are they doing?”

“They’re in shock”.

“I guess. Do they know what stage he’s in?”

“Stage Four; it’s in the lymph nodes on both sides of the diaphragm, and in his bone marrow too”.

“How has it been able to spread so fast?”

“It probably hasn’t; I suspect he’s had it for two or three years. Indolent lymphoma doesn’t present obvious symptoms, so it can sneak in under the radar screen. I think that’s what happened to him, but at some point in the past few months it’s transformed into aggressive lymphoma, and now it’s started to present more serious symptoms”.

“Are they saying how long he’s got?”

“You know they’re reluctant to do that…”

“Yeah, I know”.

“Mum insisted, though, and the oncologist said she thought he might have as long as two years. But she stressed there are always unpredictable factors”.

“Still too early for a treatment plan?”

“I think so”.

“How did he look?”

“Exhausted, and he didn’t have much to say, either. To be honest, I don’t think he really wanted me there”.

“Mum probably appreciated your company”.

“That’s why I went”.

“Was she the one who asked you to call me?”

“Yes. I rang Rick earlier on, while I was still with them”.

“How did he take it?”

“He was shocked, of course; he asked if he could talk to Dad, but neither of them really wanted to talk to anyone, so I had to say no”.

“Should I call them tomorrow?”

“Yes, please. Mum told me she wasn’t ready tonight, but she thought that by morning she’d want to hear your voice”.

“I’ll call her”.

“Thank you”.

“Should I tell anyone else?”

“I think they’d be alright with you telling Emma, but maybe no further than that until after you’ve talked to them”.

“Right”.

“Well, I should go, Tommy; it’s been a long day”.

“Do you want to talk to Emma again?”

“Do you mind if I don’t? I love her to bits, but I’d rather not go through the same story a second time”.

I hesitated briefly, and then said, “What about you, Small One; are you okay?”

I heard her give a little sigh; “Not really, but there’s nothing to be done about it”.

“It’s complicated, isn’t it?”

“Yes it is”.

We were both quiet for a moment, and then she sighed again and said, “I really should go”.

“Okay. Will you be home tomorrow?”

“Probably”.

“I’ll call you again after I’ve talked to Mum”.

“Alright. I love you, Tommy”.

“Love you too, Becs”.

“Good night”.

********

Emma was just pouring the tea when I came back into the kitchen; she smiled at me and said, “Everything okay?”

“Apparently not”.

She put the tea pot down on the counter. “What’s wrong?”

“Grandpa was diagnosed with lymphoma today”.

I saw the sudden stillness on her face; “How far along is it?”

“There’s already cancer in the bone marrow”.

She handed me a mug of tea; “So it’s metastasized, then”.

“Yes”.

I took my seat at the small round kitchen table; she picked up her own mug, came and sat down across from me, and put her hand on mine. “Are you okay?”

I shrugged; “Yes and no”.

“Tell me what Auntie Becca said”.

I repeated what my sister had told me as briefly and factually as I could. When I was finished we both sat silently for a moment, our thoughts far away, and then she said, “I guess you’ll want to go over”.

“Probably”.

“No word yet about treatment?”

“No, but I assume it’ll include chemo, and maybe radiation. I’m not sure how they’ll treat it in the bone marrow”.

“I wonder how Grandma’s doing?”

“Becca said they were both in shock today. I remember those hours after the first diagnosis; you feel numb, and then you start playing head games with yourself”.

“Head games?”

“Denial, bargaining, that sort of thing”.

She looked at me in silence for a moment, and then she got to her feet, leaned forward and kissed me on the forehead. “I love you, Dad”, she whispered.

“I love you too”.

“Are you okay?”

“You already asked me that”.

“I know”. She shrugged; “I guess I’d better finish working on supper”.

“Do you need any help?”

“No, but I wouldn’t mind if you’d stay and keep me company”.

“I could do that”.

********

We ate our supper in the kitchen as usual; Emma lit a candle and I said grace, and then as she served the shepherd’s pie and we began to eat, she said, “When do you think you’ll go for a visit?”

“Probably during spring break”.

“When is that this year?”

“Middle of April”.

“Still three months away”.

“Yes; it’ll go fast, though”.

“I know; I’ve got a lot of studying to do before then”. She frowned; “Do you think I should come with you?”

“Do you want to?”

“Sort of. But I don’t know if it’s a good idea, with my finals coming up. I’d like to see Grandma though, and Auntie Becca”.

“I’m sure they’d be glad to see you too, but they know it’s your Grade Twelve year”.

“Yeah”.

I grinned at her; “Of course, I need to be careful about spending lots of money on airline tickets, since I’ve got this expensive grad coming up”.

“It doesn’t have to be expensive; I’d be happy to go in a denim skirt”.

“Somehow I don’t think your mum would have approved”.

“No; she liked getting dressed up for the grad banquets, didn’t she?”

“She did”.

“I liked watching you guys dancing together”.

“Thanks. I’m quite looking forward to dancing with you at your grad, if your date will let me share you for a few minutes”.

She smiled ruefully; “When I know who that’s going to be, I’ll let you know”.

We ate our food in silence for a moment, each of us occupied with our own thoughts. I could see that she was avoiding my gaze, and eventually I put my hand on hers. “Do you want to talk about it?”

She shook her head. “There’s not much more to say. Russell and I are done; I’m sad about it, but that’s the way it is. He’s made it pretty clear that he’s moving on and I’m going to have to figure out how to do that too”.

I squeezed her hand. “Are you okay?”

She nodded; “I am, Dad. I’m sad, but I’ll get over it. And now do you mind if we talk about something else?”

“Sure; that would be fine”.

********

The next day was a Saturday, and I got up at around eight, showered and dressed and went for a two-mile walk. The storm had eased off, the eastern sky was just beginning to get light, and the temperature was hovering at around minus twenty.

Meadowvale was situated on a main road about seventy-five miles northeast of Saskatoon. The highway ran just east of the town, with the railway line running parallel to it; that was where the two concrete grain terminals and the Esso station and the ‘Travellers’ restaurant were located. Emma and I lived on the northwest end of town; a couple of blocks west of our house, a narrow creek bordered the town from north to south, before bending around to the east, flowing under bridges for the railway line and the highway, and emptying into Roberts Lake southeast of the community. I followed the snow-packed trail along the creek until it reached the highway, and then I came back into town on one of the main north-south avenues. Trucks were already beginning to move on the streets as people made their way to the cafés and restaurants for their Saturday morning coffee. I knew all the drivers, of course, and most of them exchanged cheery waves with me as they passed me on the road, bundled up in my parka.

When I got back to the house I made a pot of tea and dropped a couple of slices of bread into the toaster. I was just spreading peanut butter on the toast when I heard Emma coming into the kitchen behind me. I put the knife down, turned and smiled at her; she was wearing her old bathrobe over her pyjamas, and she had obviously made an attempt to run a comb through her hair. I put my arms around her; we held each other tight for a moment, and I kissed her gently on the top of her head. “Good morning”, I said.

“Morning”.

“Want some toast?”

“Sure”.

“Tea?”

“Okay”.

I poured tea into a mug and handed it to her. I pushed the plate of toast and peanut butter over to her, popped a couple more slices of bread into the toaster for myself, and sat down with her at the kitchen table. “You okay?”

“Oh yeah”.

“Still kind of sleepy?”

“Yeah”.

“Have you got plans for today?”

“Jake’s coming up for the weekend; I think I’m supposed to be getting together with them at some point. How about you?”

“The usual Saturday stuff – clean the house, do the laundry, shop for a few more groceries and all that”.

“I’ll do the cleaning if you want to do the laundry”.

“It’s a deal.”

********

After she finished her breakfast Emma had a second cup of tea, and then she excused herself and went off to take her shower. I went down to my den in the basement, sat down in the armchair beside my desk, picked up the phone and punched in my mother’s number. When she answered the phone I said, “Mum, it’s me”.

“Hello, Tom – I was wondering if you’d call today”.

“Are you okay?”

I heard her give a heavy sigh; “Well, you know how it is…”

“I know. How’s Dad doing?”

“He’s having a nap at the moment. He did well earlier on, but he ran out of steam about an hour ago”.

“Is he in pain?”

“Not really; it’s more the tiredness that’s dragging him down”.

“How long has he had the symptoms?”

“He’s been ignoring them for quite a while. I’ve noticed over the past few months that he’s been losing weight, and he’s been getting persistent fevers on and off. But it was the night sweats that made me insist he see a doctor”.

“How long ago was that?”

“He had his first appointment about two months ago. He insisted I not tell anyone until there was a definite diagnosis”.

“He probably didn’t want to be deluged with people asking him how he was doing”.

“No”.

“So this is Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma?”

“Yes”.

“Becca said he’s in Stage Four”.

“That’s right”.

“But they haven’t given you a treatment plan yet?”

“No; there are still a few more tests to be done – I can’t remember what they’re about. But she did say a cure is unlikely”.

“Becca said he has about two years”.

“Yes, although the doctor told us that wasn’t a hard and fast prediction”.

“It must have been a shock, Mum”.

“It was, but I’m relieved to know what’s going on. I was frightened by the symptoms, especially the sweats; he’s sometimes woken up in the night with the sheets totally drenched”. She paused for a moment, and then said, “Have you told Emma?”

“Yes. She’s actually in the shower right now, but I’m sure she’ll want to talk to you later. She wasn’t sure whether you’d feel like talking to her yet”.

“I’ll be glad to hear her voice. Give her my love”.

“I will. Listen, Mum, do you mind if I tell a few other people? I’m sure Will and Sally would want to know, and Joe and Ellie”.

“Of course. Please tell them not to send cards, though; if they want to send notes addressed to me, that would be fine”.

“I understand. And I think maybe I’ll book myself a flight to come over during spring break”.

“Is that after Easter?”

“Yes”.

“It would be really good to see you; do you think Emma will come too?”

“She’s thinking about it, but she’s got her finals coming up, so life’s going to be very busy for her”.

“I understand. I had thought of coming over with Becca for her grad, but now with this news…”

“That’s fine Mum; you need to stay with Dad. But don’t forget to look after yourself; make sure you get plenty of rest, and take advantage of all the support the medical system can give you. I was lucky; I had a huge family circle full of willing helpers. You’ve got a much smaller group there”.

“The problem is that your dad isn’t going to like having strangers coming in”.

“I know. Just try to be wise about it, okay?”

“I will; thank you”. She was quiet again for a moment, and then she said, “Well, I’d better go; there are things I need to get done around here while he’s sleeping”.

“I understand. I love you”.

“I love you too”.

“Give Dad my love”.

“I will, and thank you for that”.

“No need. I’ll talk to you soon”.

“‘Bye for now, Tom”.

********

A few minutes later I went back upstairs. Emma was sitting in the living room playing her guitar; her hair was up in a towel, and her head was bent over the fretboard as she moved her fingers over the strings. The guitar was an old Martin 000-18; I had bought it second-hand in 1977 and had played it myself for many years, but I had given it to her not long after her mother died. Over the last couple of years she had been practicing a lot, and she had begun to create instrumental versions of some of the traditional folk songs I liked to play. I stood there quietly for a moment, watching and listening as she picked out a melody.

“That’s excellent”, I said when she was finished; “‘Plains of Waterloo’, right?”

“That’s right”, she said with a smile; “I’ve been working on it for a few days”.

“Open C tuning?”

“More or less”.

“You’re getting to be such a good player”.

She smiled shyly; “Thanks. Did you talk to Grandma?”

“Yeah”. I sat down across from her and told her what my mother had told me. “She’s going to have to be careful not to tire herself out”, I concluded; “She’s got that enormous house to look after, and the home help only comes in once a week, and now this”.

“Is she seventy-one now?”

“She’ll be seventy-one in April, and Dad’ll be seventy-two in August”.

“Like Grandpa and Grandma Reimer”.

“Yes”.

“But Grandpa Masefield’s been slowing down for a while, hasn’t he?”.

“Yes; Becca says his arthritis has been progressing”.

“Are you definitely going over?”

“I told her I’d come in spring break. I’ve got a feeling I’m going to be spending a lot of money on airline tickets over the next couple of years”.

“Whether Grandpa wants to see you or not”.

“There is that”.

She frowned; “This thing with you and Grandpa, Dad – you’ve never really told me much about it”.

“It’s a long and complicated story”.

She looked at me in silence for a moment, and then she nodded. “Okay, I get that you don’t want to talk about it. But it goes back a long time, right?”

“It does”.

“Do you think it can be fixed?”

“I honestly don’t know, but I suppose I should keep trying”.

“Seems to me you’ve tried a few times over the years”.

“Yes, I have”.

“Maybe with this news, he might be a little more receptive”.

“Maybe”. I sat back in the chair and stretched my legs out; “With Dad, I tend not to get my hopes up”.

“I know”. She got to her feet slowly; “Well, I’d better go dry my hair”.

“Oh, I almost forgot – Grandma told me she’d be glad to hear your voice”.

“I’ll call her as soon as my hair’s dry”.

Link to Chapter Two

‘Meadowvale’ on Kindle

I’m pleased to announce that my novel ‘Meadowvale’, which has been featured in various versions on this blog over the past few years, is now available to purchase on Kindle.

I have been working on and off on this book for several years, so this is of course a dream come true for me.

The link to the book in the Canadian Amazon store is here.

Here it is at Amazon.com.

Here it is at Amazon.co.uk.

Please note that you can still read the first six chapters of Meadowvale for free on this blog. If you want to read more, you know what to do!

timchesterton_meadowvale

Meadowvale (2016 revision) Chapter 6

Link back to Chapter 5

 

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?”

“Of course!”

“What else have they told you?”

“I hear you went to church Christmas Eve”.

“I did”.

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”.

“Thank you”.

“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?”

“Different”.

“How so?”

“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?”

“Yes”.

“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”.

“Right”.

“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?”

“That’s it”.

“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?”

“Yes”.

“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”.

“No”.

“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”.

“Why?”

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”.

“That’s hard”.

“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, 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”.

“That’s great”.

“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.

“Okay”.

“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”.

“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”.

“Why?”

I shrugged; “I wasn’t very confident in myself, I suppose; I felt like I needed more practice”.

“Okay”.

“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”.

“Wow”.

“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”.

“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’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?”.

“Probably”.

“It’s okay, Tom”.

“Is it?”

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?”

“Okay”.

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”.

“Of course”.

“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”.

“No”.

“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”.

“Wow”.

“Yes. It was the first letter I’ve had from him since I came here; I hope it’s the last”.

“No kidding”.

“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”.

“Yeah?”

“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”.

“Right”.

“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”.

“Thank you”.

“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”.

“Good”.

“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”.

“Okay”.

“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?”

“Yes”.

“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?”

“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!”

 

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”.

“England?”

“Yeah”.

“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.

“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?”

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.

“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”.

“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”.

“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 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?”

“I do”.

“Why?”

“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”.

“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?”

“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?”

“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 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”.

“Right”.

“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”.

Link to Chapter 7

Meadowvale (2016 revision): Chapter 5

Link back to Chapter 4

Box 981
Meadowvale, Sask.
Oct. 15th 1982

Dear Owen:

Thanks for your letter of October 6th that I received yesterday. Sounds like you and Lorraine are getting on quite well.

I met an interesting girl this past week. She’s Will Reimer’s daughter, her name is Kelly, and she’s a nurse in Jasper, in the Rocky Mountains.

Will invited me to join his family on Sunday for Thanksgiving supper, which is a big thing over here. People cook turkey with all the trimmings, and pumpkin pie, and have big family gatherings. There were about twelve of us at the Reimers’, including all three of Will and Sally’s children. Their oldest, Joe, had his fiancée Ellie Finlay there too. Joe is a vet and lives here in Meadowvale, but this was the first time I had met him.

Kelly is my age and very pretty, with long blond hair and a really outgoing personality. We had a good talk on Sunday night, and Monday she drove me out to Myers Lake Recreation Area, a few miles north of town. I can’t believe no one’s told me about Myers Lake until now! It’s a beautiful place with miles of walking trails by the lakeshore and through woodlands with aspen, spruce, and poplar trees. Most of the leaves have fallen from the aspens and poplars, but spruce are evergreen, as you know, so the effect was really striking. Kelly’s an outdoor sort of person and really likes walking, so as you can imagine we hit it off quite nicely.

You’ll also be interested to hear that she seems to be on a spiritual journey. She walked away from her Mennonite church background for a few years, but now she seems to be trying to find her way back in. She and I had an interesting talk about Christianity and Jesus – very much like the kind of talks you and I have been having over the last few years. I also discovered that Mennonites don’t baptize babies; you have to be an adult so that you know what you’re doing. I suppose I knew that there were Christians who believed that, but I’ve never spoken to one of them before (not that Kelly is a Christian at the moment, or at least, not yet).

When we got back to my place after our walk she asked me to play her some music, so I got the guitar out and sang her some of our traditional songs – ‘The Snow it Melts the Soonest’, ‘Lord Franklin’, ‘John Barleycorn’and a couple of others. She likes music, but like most people here she doesn’t know much about traditional folk music. She seemed to enjoy it though. I ended up giving her some lunch, and later on she took me over to visit her grandmother, Will’s mother; her name is Erika Reimer and she was born in Russia. Apparently there was some sort of major persecution of Mennonites in Russia under Lenin in the early 1920s and a lot of them fled the country if they could. Will’s parents came here in 1924, broke the land, and built a homestead. She was telling me about some of their experiences in those early days; all I can say is, those people must have been tough.

I think Kelly went back to Jasper on Wednesday. Last night I was doing some marking after supper when there was a knock on the door and her brother Joe was there. Apparently he had enjoyed meeting me on Sunday night and wanted to get to know me a little better, so I made him a pot of coffee and we chatted for an hour or so. He’s quite different from Kelly; she’s very up front, whereas he’s quieter and more reserved (more like me, in fact!). He told me some things about the history of the town and their family, and he asked me about England and Oxford. He said that Kelly had told him about our conversation. Joe, it seems, is a pretty convinced Christian, but not pushy about it. He and Ellie are getting married in the spring, and apparently she’s a bluegrass fiddler. She was born in Humboldt (a town south of here), but at the moment she’s living in Saskatoon.

I still haven’t heard anything else from Wendy, and I’m beginning to think that her omission of an exact return address on her last letter was intentional, and that she really doesn’t want to have any contact with me. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised; as you know, things were totally messed up between us when I left. I wrote back to her, care of her old address, and I’m assuming her landlady would have forwarded it again, since she obviously has her London address (or how would Wendy have received my last letter?). But I think I’ve reached the point of giving up on that; if she doesn’t want to have any contact with me, there’s nothing I can do about it. I can’t help feeling a little sad about it, though.

The other thing that’s really hurtful is that Becca doesn’t seem to want to know me either. I’ve continued to write to her, but Mum says that she doesn’t read my letters, she just throws them away. I don’t know what to do about that. Again, I can’t really blame her; she thought I was being totally honest with her, but all the time I was planning this move I didn’t tell her anything. I feel like I’ve really let her down and betrayed her. I wish I could talk to her and apologize and just have some sense that we could rebuild things.

My father of course has been totally silent, but then, after what he did to me, it’s up to him to make the first move. As far as I’m concerned, he’s burnt that bridge, and he can rebuild it.

How’s the hospital going? Are you going to be there for a while? I’m a little unclear about this stage of your medical training.

Well, it’s late Friday night and I’m tired after a day’s work and an evening of marking, so I’ll stop here. Write soon and give me all your news.

Cheers,

Tom

*****************

Flat No. 3, 76 Albert Street,
Headington, Oxford
Oct. 23rd 1982

Dear Tom:

Thanks for your letter about Kelly and Joe that I received yesterday. I was up at the hospital for a twelve hour shift today so I know you’ll forgive me if I just make this a short one tonight and maybe add a bit more tomorrow. By the way, yes, I’ll be at the hospital until Christmas, and then probably in a general practice or some other medical setting for a few months after that. This two years of house officer training is supposed to give me exposure to several different sorts of medical practice before I choose a specialty, which I will then train in for a few more years. In my case, I’m already sure that I want to be a GP, but quite a few of my colleagues here haven’t made their minds up yet.

Kelly sounds delightful and it’s obvious that you enjoyed her company. And yes, I think you’re right to turn the page when it comes to Wendy. It’s hard, because the three of us have been good friends for the past two years, and you two had become much closer in the last few months. I still find it hard to believe that she went back to Mickey after all he put her through, but then, human beings are complicated and sometimes we do very strange things.

Before I forget, Dad asked to be remembered to you and he says he’ll answer your last letter when he’s had a bit more time to think about it. He seems pleased to hear from you. He and Mum are doing well.

What else have I been up to? Well, Steve and I (my brother Steve, that is, not Steve Francis) have started playing badminton together on Saturday mornings; you might remember that we used to do that when we were teenagers. Ian Redding and I went out for a drink one night; he’s at the same hospital as me but we’re not usually on the same shifts. But the biggest thing is that I’ve been getting a band together to play at church. We had our first practice this week. It’s people from the church, so you probably don’t know any of them, but just for information, this is the list so far: Dave Bradshaw on guitar and vocals, Dan Pargeter on bass, Garth Hacking on percussion, and me on guitar and vocals.

Right, bed; talk to you tomorrow.

                                    Oct. 25th 1982

Hello again. As you can see I didn’t get right back to the letter, since yesterday I did another twelve hours at the hospital and then Lorraine and I went out for a drink last night. Afterwards we went back to her digs (you’ll remember that she lives with her sister) and she showed me some of the water colours she’s been working on. All very good, I hope she can make some money at it soon.

As for the big question: no, we’re not at the point where we’re calling each other ‘boyfriend’and ‘girlfriend’. She wants to take it slow; I get the idea she had a bad experience with someone when she was at art school, but it’s one of the many things I don’t know about her yet. You introverts can be maddeningly difficult to get to know sometimes!

I’ll be very interested to hear of any continuing conversations between you and Kelly about Christianity – or you and Joe, for that matter – although I suppose with Kelly in Jasper (which I just looked up on a map, and realized once again what an enormous country you live in!), it’s not likely the conversations will be thick and fast, is it?

Okay, that’s it for me tonight. I’ll post this tomorrow and try to do better next time. Maybe I should write to you on days off after I’ve had a good night’s sleep!

Cheers to you too,

Owen

*****************

P.O. Box 373
Jasper, Alberta
Oct. 28th 1982

Dear Tom:

Are you surprised to hear from me? Well, never mind; I wanted to write to tell you that I ordered that Nic Jones album you told me about, ‘Penguin Eggs’, and it came yesterday. Since then I’ve played it three times, and I absolutely love it. Nic Jones has the quintessential English folk singer’s voice, doesn’t he? Not that your voice is all that shabby, either, Tom Masefield, but this guy is amazing! And I’m obviously not qualified to comment on his guitar playing, but it sounds really good to me. What a fantastic discovery! Thank you! Does he have any more albums that I should collect?

Anyway, I’m writing to you on a day off; it’s about ten in the morning and I’m sitting in the living room of my apartment, drinking tea and looking out on a beautiful Jasper skyline. You don’t know the town, of course, but if I were to tell you that I can see Whistler’s Mountain and Mount Edith Cavell from my living room windows, that might give you an idea of what I’m looking at. I should send you a photograph; maybe I’ll do that next time. There’s been snowfall high in the mountains for the last few days, and we’ve had some in town too, although it looks like a warm day today so it might melt. But I’m starting to get excited about Marmot Basin opening up – that’s our local ski resort, a few miles south of the town site, and it usually opens in late November. Imagine skiing down steep mountainsides with trees flashing past on either side? It scared me when I first tried it, but now I love it.

I’ve thought a lot about our conversations since I got back to Jasper. Sorry if I treated you like a curiosity, but, if you’ll forgive me for saying so, I grew up with a very predictable type of guy, and you’re different, which was refreshing! I like to think that I’m not uptight, but a lot of the high school culture I grew up in was all about drinking and partying and coupling, and I was never really into that, even after I stopped going to church. Anyway, it was really nice to have some intelligent conversations of the sort that I don’t get with too many other guys except my brother, God love him!

But I need to ask you to forgive me for being too pushy; I don’t have the right to go charging into your private business, especially when it concerns your family. I guess I’ve been very, very lucky with my family; my mom and dad have always been warm and loving and completely supportive of everything I wanted to do. Even when I stopped going to church, which I know was hard for them, I never felt they were mad at me or saw me as a problem that they needed to fix. Why am I saying this? Well, I get the idea that there’s a lot of pain in your relationship with your family. I may be way off base here, in which case, I apologize, but I don’t think I am. And if I’m right, I’m sorry, Tom. If the time comes when you want to talk about it, I’ll be happy to listen, and I want to assure you that even though Joe says I never have an unspoken thought, one thing I never speak is the stories people tell me about themselves. That’s part of being a nurse, I guess. Okay, now I’ll back off, and it won’t be mentioned again between us unless you mention it.

As for Christianity – I think you’re right, I think I’m on my way back into it. I just don’t want to rush in and declare myself before I get answers to some of my questions. Not that I expect to get answers to all of them – Joe says I need to accept that life is full of mysteries, and I guess he’s probably right.

Are you interested? You sounded as if you were.

By the way, thanks for coming with me to visit Grandma Reimer. I’ve always gotten along well with all my grandparents, but for some reason I was closer to Dad’s parents than Mom’s – although Opa (that’s the German word for ‘Grandpa’ – we used to call them ‘Opa’ and ‘Oma’ when we were little) was a little more reserved and harder to get closer to. When we were little kids and living in Rosthern, we used to stay at their place when we went home to Meadowvale. They were still living out at the farm in those days. Rosthern’s not far, so we often just did day visits, but Joe and I sometimes went over for a week at a time in the summer, and we used to help Opa with farm chores – well, we called it ‘helping’, I’m not sure what he thought of it! We moved back to Meadowvale in 1965, and Opa and Oma left the farm and moved into town a year or two after that, I think.

I think Grandma Reimer liked you, anyway! And make sure you take her up on that offer of home-cooked meals; she’s a really good cook, and there’s nothing she likes more than spoiling her grandchildren and their friends (I think you already count as a friend, especially since you hang around with Mom and Dad so much).

Anyway, I’ll finish here and give you time to get over the surprise at hearing from me at all.

Your friend,

Kelly

*****************

Box 981
Meadowvale, Saskatchewan
Nov. 3rd 1982

Dear Kelly:

You’re right, I was surprised. Pleased, though. I’m glad you liked Penguin Eggs. Yes, it’s actually Nic’s fifth and most recent solo album. There are four others, called (in order of release), Ballads and Songs, Nic Jones, The Noah’s Ark Trap, and From the Devil to a Stranger. If you’re interested, I’ll see if I can get Owen to pick you up some copies in the UK. There seems to be some problem with getting these earlier albums now; I don’t really understand what it is. Sadly, Nic was involved in a car accident back in February this year; I understand he was very badly injured and it will be a miracle if he ever plays again. I’ve seen him live several times in Oxford; he was amazing.

As for what you said about my family – well, thank you. Yes, there are issues, and no, I’m not ready to talk about them yet. As you’ve already noticed, I’m not quite as up front as you are. Sorry! I’m sure you really don’t need me to tell you how lucky you are in your family. I did really enjoy spending time with your grandma, and will definitely take her up on her offer of a home-cooked meal before too long.

Jasper sounds great and I’d love to see it. Maybe I’ll get up there one of these days. I’m not sure I’ll be brave enough to try downhill skiing, though!

Christianity. Hmm.

Well, I’ve sat and looked at the page for ten minutes now. I should just stop thinking and start writing.

Yes, I am interested. I can say with some confidence that I’ve attended church maybe twenty times in my life – once to be christened (which I don’t remember), once when my brother Rick was christened (which I don’t remember), once when Becca was christened (which I remember quite well) and then every year on Christmas Eve until I was about eighteen. I have to say that although I’m quite interested in history, the Church of England generally leaves me totally cold. But then, I know enough to wonder if it’s exactly what Jesus had in mind.

Like you, I tend to think that the balance of probability is on the side of the existence of a God of some kind. And like you, I find Jesus quite admirable. But I’ve got lots of questions. Whose picture of God is the right one? Plato’s? Muhammad’s? Moses’? Jesus’? The Pope’s? Yes, they have a lot in common, but there are differences, too. And as you said, it seems a bit arrogant to assume that the religion we happen to have been born into (well, I wasn’t really born into it, but I was born in a country with a Christian history) just happens to have got everything right about God.

But I can’t claim to have had experiences of God, as some people have. I wish I had. Maybe it would help me deal with the questions.

I do know that I’m totally done with the idea that wealth and success have anything to do with real life. I’ve seen that close up, and it just leaves me cold. As far as I can see it poisons people’s souls, wrecks their families and sets them in competition with each other when they should be helping each other out. Not that I want to live my life in poverty; far from it! I want to have a comfortable place to live and a meaningful job so that I can provide for my family (if I’m lucky enough to have one, one of these days). But I’ve seen what greed and avarice can do to people’s lives and I want none of it. If I’m interested in finding a spiritual dimension to life, it’s probably because I’ve seen how bankrupt a totally materialistic life can be.

Now I’ve surprised myself, because I’ve opened the door for you a bit wider than I thought I would. Shall I tear it up and start again? No, probably not.

We had a light dusting of snow here today too. Your dad tells me it will be here to stay in a few weeks.

Thanks for writing; I enjoyed your letter very much.

Cheers,

Tom

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Box 981
Meadowvale, Saskatchewan
Nov. 6th 1982

Dear Owen:

I’m writing this in the delicatessen in the back of the Co-op on Saturday morning. I’ve taken to coming down here on Saturdays, having a coffee, and then doing my weekly shopping. A number of others have the same idea, so I see some familiar faces. Did I tell you that there are two coffee shops in this town? The other one is the ‘Travellers’ restaurant on the highway beside the Esso station; Will calls it the ‘greasy spoon’because it specializes in the sort of food that causes strokes and heart attacks. I’ve been up there a few times – Joe and I went up there one night for coffee and a chat. It’s full of farmers and truckers in work shirts and baseball caps, and they’ve all known each other all their lives, and when they see me coming in they look at me long and hard and wonder “Who can he possibly be related to in this town?!”Oh, and the coffee’s pretty bad up there, too! So I’ve made the Co-op deli my coffee shop. The drawback is that it’s only open when the Co-op’s open – grocery store hours – while the Travellers is open early in the morning and into the evening too.

Well, it’s snowing today. We had a slight dusting a couple of days ago – the sort of snowfall that melts when it hits the ground – but today it’s colder and it seems to be laying. Maybe this is the beginning of winter. It seems strange to think that back home people were burning bonfires and setting off fireworks last night. They don’t have Guy Fawkes’night in Canada. Not that I miss it; there are things I definitely miss about England, but I was never a big fan of Guy Fawkes’.

A church band? Only a few weeks ago I told Will I’d never heard of anyone playing hymns on guitar. Now you’ve made a liar out of me! Seriously, I hope you enjoy playing with them.

Surprisingly, I had a letter from Kelly. I introduced her to Nic Jones, and she got a copy of Penguin Eggs, which she really likes. Can you find out for me if it’s possible to track down the first four albums? She might be interested.

She certainly seems to be interested in exploring her Christian roots again, and she’s asked me to join her in that – or at least, she’s asked if I’m interested. She’s pretty forward, though, and you know what that does to me; my natural inclination is to back off and clam up. You and I both know that if I ever was to be attracted toward becoming a Christian, part of it would be out of anger toward my dad and the sort of life he lives. I just don’t know if I’m ready to talk with her about that, given that I hardly know her. And what would be the point of starting a spiritual journey with someone if you couldn’t be honest with them? And once I started talking about Dad, one thing would lead to another, and I’d end up saying a lot more than I wanted to.

Anyway, it’s not really fair to Jesus to adopt him so that I can spite my dad, is it?!!!

On another subject, I should mention that last Saturday I rode a horse for the first time in my life. Joe was the instigator. His Uncle Hugo – Will’s brother – has a farm up in Spruce Creek, about fifteen miles north of Meadowvale – you remember me telling you about going up there to help with the harvest a few weeks back? Well, there are some horses up there and apparently one of them is really Kelly’s horse. Joe was going up there to do some regular vet stuff with the horses and he asked me if I’d like to go up with him, it being a Saturday morning. So I went up with him, and he ended up giving me an impromptu riding lesson. I actually quite enjoyed it, although I found it rather terrifying as well. Unlike driving a car, you’ve got absolutely no power over this animal other than the power of persuasion!

Well, I’d better finish my coffee and do my weekly shopping. Thanks again for your letter, and please give my regards to your dad and mum.

Cheers,

Tom

P.S. How do you pray? What I mean is, how do you pray? I don’t know why I’ve never asked you this. I’m assuming that prayer is important to Christians. It seems to me like it would be a good sort of ‘field research’ if you were investigating Christianity, right?

T.

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Flat No. 3, 76 Albert Street,
Headington, Oxford
Nov. 14th 1982

Dear Tom:

I’m writing this early on a Sunday morning; I’m not working at the hospital today, so I’m off to church, and our band is playing for the first time. We’ve done a lot of practicing and I think we’re sounding pretty good, but I suppose we’ll find out this morning.

I woke up pretty early, and I’m sitting writing to you with my first cup of tea of the day. After that I’ll pray, which brings me to your question: How do I pray?

I pray in two ways. I try to pray first thing in the morning, in a semi-disciplined sort of way, every day unless I accidentally sleep in. At least, that’s the ideal; I have to confess that I miss some days. And then I pray in a disorganized, ad hoc sort of way through the day when I feel the need of it.

In the morning I usually sit in my chair and have a couple of minutes of silence to start off with, just to orient myself into God’s presence. Then I like to read a passage from the Bible. I read in sequence so I don’t waste time choosing what to read on any given day, I just follow right on where I left off the day before. Quite often the passage will give me something to meditate on. Not always – sometimes it just confuses me, but if that happens I don’t let that bother me. Sometimes I’ll talk to God about what I’ve read.

After I’ve finished reading, I spend a few minutes praying in an informal sort of way. The three sorts of prayer I try to fit in are, first, thanksgiving – thanking God for all his blessings to me – second, confession – saying sorry for my sins, which I try to be specific about – and third, petition – that is, asking for things, for myself and for other people. I like to finish up with the Lord’s Prayer, in case I’ve forgotten anything important.

I should say that I recently read some things in a book by C.S. Lewis about a couple of good rules to follow when we pray. One is never to try to manufacture a religious emotion. It’s tough, because sometimes you read about mystics and others having amazing experiences of the nearness of God, and it can be tempting to try to make that happen. The problem is, the mystics never made it happen. Usually it took them by surprise. So I’m trying to remember to just say my prayers and leave the emotions in God’s hands. That’s a relief, actually; I do often get a sense of peace out of praying, but I don’t tend to have amazing mystical experiences.

The other rule Lewis followed was not to leave his prayers until bed time, which is of course the classic time to pray. That makes a lot of sense to me, because I’m a morning person too. You know how incoherent my letters to you can be when I write them last thing at night! Morning is my best time, so I try to give God my best time.

Like I said, I also pray in a disorganized, ad hoc sort of way during the day. This is entirely according to my sense of need. If I find myself thinking of a friend who needs help during the day, I pray for them. If I’m facing a difficult situation at work, I ask God for help.

I should say that, for variation on the first method, I sometimes go for a walk and pray. I can’t do the Bible reading part when I’m walking, but I like the sense of closeness to nature, especially if I can walk in Shotover Country Park.

Speaking of being outdoors – horseback riding! Next time I see you you’ll probably be a cowboy.

By the way, Lorraine and I have agreed that we’re now ‘going out’, as they say. The more I get to know her, the more I like her. One thing I’ve discovered about her that surprised me is that she’s quite interested in politics (not normally something you associate with water colour artists, is it?!). She’s rather scathing about Maggie, I must say. Still, so are you, as I recall!

Now, back to you and Kelly for a bit.

If you’re really interested in doing any sort of spiritual search, doing it together with someone else is always a good idea. Of course, you and I can always talk about this stuff, but it’s not the same as having a fellow-traveller who’s more or less at the same place you are. You and Kelly can help each other along the way, share your questions and the answers you find (or don’t find), and just generally support each other. And if you’re really going to do that, you’re going to have to take the risk of being honest with her about stuff, Tom. I know that’s a terrifying thought to you, but it sounds to me like she’s the sort of girl you can trust. So why not try opening up a little bit to her and see what happens?

Besides which, a girl who writes you an unexpected letter and likes Nic Jones has got to be good news, don’t you think?

Have you got plans for Christmas? I’m not naive enough to think you’d come back to England, but I wondered if you were going away anywhere?

Right, time to pray and then go get the band set up at church.

Cheers,

Owen

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P.O. Box 373
Jasper, Alberta
November 23rd 1982

Hi Tom:

I’m on two days off. Yesterday Krista and I went downhill skiing for the first time this year (she was up here for a few days doing some field research for her caribou study, and of course she stayed with me). It was a beautiful clear cold day and the sun was shining on the snow, which always makes me feel happy. I had an amazing day. Now today Krista has just left, and I’m sitting having a mid-morning cup of tea in the living room, and thinking of you.

You said that you weren’t ready to talk about your family, and I told you that I would leave that door closed until you were ready to open it. But later on in your letter you did open it a little; you talked about being burned out on materialism, and knowing that it was a bankrupt way of life. You knew that you’d maybe opened the door a little wider than you’d meant to, but you decided not to tear up the letter – you sent it anyway. I’m going to take that as a sign that you’re ready to take a risk.

So I’m reading between the lines and guessing that your parents are the materialistic people you’re talking about – the people whose lives you see as being soul-less and barren. I’m guessing that one or both of them is very rich and successful, but that this has done tragic things to their family life – your family life, growing up – and that you don’t want anything like that to happen to you.

If I’m right, then I’d say that finding a spiritual dimension to your life is even more important for you. I don’t think you should try to avoid it out of fear that you might be over-reacting; you’re not. I’ve seen that sort of life too (thankfully, not in my own parents), and I think you’re right – it is barren.

One of the reasons that I’m searching for a closer relationship with God again is that I find the purely materialistic view of life completely unsatisfying. I’m told that I’m here totally by accident, that all my deepest emotions and aspirations are entirely explainable as a result of chemical reactions in my body, and instincts bred into me as a highly developed animal. I’m told that I arrived at a certain point in time, and that I’m programmed to survive and mate and produce children and all that, not because of love but because of the survival of the species, and that one day it will all come to its natural conclusion and they’ll bury what’s left of me in the ground and that’ll be the end of my story.

Well, my response to that is to ask, “What the hell’s the point?”If all love and all morality and all art and beauty are purely chemical phenomena – in other words, if they aren’t really morality and love and art and beauty at all, but just highly developed survival mechanisms – then all the deepest things we humans believe about life are a lie. How do you think that would have sounded to some of your literary heroes – Jane Austen, or J.R.R. Tolkien? Surely we can’t let reductionistic science have the last word here? There’s got to be more to life than that!

Anyway – getting back to your family and your experiences with them – if you have a sense that a spiritual sort of life would involve living simply, not piling up lots of possessions, and concentrating on stuff like love and compassion and justice, and actually doing things to make other people’s lives better, rather than just piling up more stuff for yourself – well, then I’d say, go for it. And by the way, I think Jesus’way is for you, because as I read the gospels, I find myself more and more convinced that he believed those things, too.

On another subject, I’m still listening to ‘Penguin Eggs’and loving it. Tell me some time how you came to get interested in this traditional folk music, will you? And tell me who some of the other artists are that I should be listening to. And I’ll tell you a few, too. Do you know Bruce Cockburn’s music? He’s a Canadian songwriter and an amazing guitar player (and I know you enjoy good guitarists). His last couple of albums have gone more in an electric direction, but his earlier ones were heavily based on acoustic guitar – fingerstyle, is that what you call it when a person plays tunes on the strings instead of just strumming? When I come home for Christmas I’ll try to remember to bring a few albums with me so you can listen to them, if you’re not already familiar with him.

Speaking of Christmas, I’m working Christmas Day (which is a Saturday) and then I’ll be driving home on Boxing Day and staying in Meadowvale for a week. Are you going to be around? I hope so!

Take care, Tom, and I’ll see you soon.

Kelly

*****************

Box 981
Meadowvale, Saskatchewan
Nov. 27th 1982

Dear Kelly:

Thanks for your letter which arrived yesterday. I’m sitting in the Co-op deli on a Saturday morning; I’ve taken to getting up, going for an early morning walk, and then coming down here to have a coffee, write a letter or two, and then do my weekly shopping. Usually I’m writing a letter to Owen, and sometimes my mum, but today it’s you.

That was an outstanding letter, by the way. Thank you.

I found the bit about needing to discover a spiritual dimension to life to counteract the materialistic, soul-less view especially compelling. You’re right; whether or not Christianity turns out to be the right religion for me, I know I need to find out if there is a way to live in contact with my Creator. And yes, I do find the purely materialistic account of life totally unconvincing; it makes a nonsense of all the most important things human beings – or most human beings, I should say – believe in.

Your instinct is partially right, and I’m going to take the risk and open the door up a bit. This is not easy for me to do, because I tend to be a private person, as you’ve already discovered.

It was my dad, not my mum, who soured me on the life of wealth and success. My dad’s a lawyer and he’s devoted his life to his profession. I didn’t realize that I was experiencing an unusual sort of life until I met Owen Foster and got to know his family; Owen’s mum and dad are very warm, family-oriented people, and Mr. Foster is always doing things with his kids (Owen’s the oldest of four – his siblings are Steve, Anna, and Fiona). My dad, not so much. He works long hours, every day except Sunday, and he spends Sunday in his garden. When he did get involved in our lives as kids it was to push us toward the sort of life he had planned for us. He was determined that I would be a lawyer, and when I was young he refused to contemplate any other sort of life for me. We fought about that for several years when I was a teenager; Owen called it ‘The Great War’. It ended up in a long shouting match in October in my last year of high school. My mum eventually intervened and told Dad he should let me become a teacher, since that was my dream. He was really, really angry – at her and at me – but he gave in and let me study English. Still, he tried a few times during my university years to point me in the direction of law, and then after he started to realize I wasn’t going to budge, he switched to trying to steer me toward teaching jobs in the ‘right’ sort of schools – you know, ones in upper middle class areas, full of the children of doctors and lawyers and bankers and stockbrokers and Conservative Party politicians! So I gradually came to realize that if I stayed in England it would be very difficult for me to live the sort of life I wanted to live – he’d always be trying to control me and remake me in his image. That’s why I decided to leave Oxford and England and emigrate. Like I told you at your mum and dad’s, I had a friend at college from Canada, and he told me that little towns like Meadowvale were always looking for teachers. That’s how I came to apply for the job here.

Kelly, please do not breathe a word of this to your mum and dad. I’ll tell them one of these days, but I’m just not ready for it to be public knowledge, okay? The wound is still very raw. I haven’t told you everything; I’ll tell you more at Christmas time. I’ll probably tell Joe, too; he’s been coming over for coffee and we’ve had a few good chats. He took me horseback riding the other week – another new and scary experience for me, but I ended up quite enjoying it!

Getting back to Dad, I mentioned this to Owen the other week in a letter and I said I didn’t think it was fair on Jesus to turn to him to spite my dad! But your letter helped me there; you helped me see that I’d be moving toward the Christian way out of hunger for something I hadn’t found in my dad’s way of life, not necessarily because I wanted to spite him. Thank you for that.

My mum, I should say, is an outstanding person. Like I told you, she’s a classically trained pianist and she taught me to play the piano when I was young. She was the one who taught me to enjoy the outdoors as well. She’s always encouraged me, and I like to think that we’re close. My sister Becca – well, we used to be close, but things have taken a bad turn. I’ll tell you more face to face, perhaps. My brother Rick and I were close as little boys, but we’ve been distant for years.

I envy you that your best friends are extended family members. I know it upset my mum, but I think I turned away from that in my teens. Owen became my closest friend, and in a sense, I guess his dad became a sort of father-figure for me. Rick and Becca and I are close to our Auntie Brenda and Uncle Roy – Auntie Brenda is Mum’s only sister, and they have no children – but apart from that, we haven’t had much to do with our extended family.

Speaking of Owen, he’s going to look up those other Nic Jones albums for you. When you’re here at Christmas you should come over to my place and I’ll play you some other traditional folk albums and introduce you to artists you might enjoy. And yes, I’ll be happy to listen to Bruce Cockburn; I’ve never heard of him, but you’re right, I always enjoy good guitarists (especially acoustic guitarists).

I’ve got no plans to go away at Christmas. I’ll look forward to seeing you. Somehow I expect that a few family dinners at your mum and dad’s will figure quite prominently in my Christmas holidays!

See you soon, Kelly, and thanks for another really enjoyable letter.

Cheers,

Tom

*************

P.O. Box 373
Jasper, Alberta
December 4th 1982

Dear Tom:

I worked a twelve-hour shift today, so I’m feeling a little owlish tonight. But I picked up your letter on my way home from work yesterday, and I’ve been thinking about it all day. Thank you, by the way, for taking the risk to open the door a little more for me; I don’t take that trust lightly.

As I read your letter I realized yet again how lucky I am to have the sort of parents I do. It was good for me to remember this, because sometimes I can get nitpicky about little things, but then I think about friends whose parents have broken up and gone through painful divorces, or people who’ve had distant or overbearing parents, like yourself with your dad. I don’t know what to say, Tom, except that I’m sorry.

I don’t know how much Joe might have told you about our home. As I said, Joe and Krista and I were born in Rosthern. Dad graduated from university in 1954, and that summer he and Mom got married and moved to Rosthern, which is where he started out as a teacher. He worked there for eleven years, and of course during that time Joe was born in ’56, me in ’58, and Krista in ’60. We’re all Fall kids, by the way; Joe’s birthday is September 8th, mine is September 16th, and Krista’s December 5th (tomorrow, in fact). Mom didn’t work outside the home when we were kids; she didn’t start studying to be a bookkeeper until Krista started school, and even then, she never worked more than half time. So we didn’t have a lot of luxuries when we were growing up, but then, neither did anyone else we knew.

Like I told you before, in those days Opa and Oma Reimer were still farming the land where Uncle Hugo and Auntie Millie live now, and we often went to visit them on weekends, with longer visits in the summer – all of us together, or just us kids (well, Joe and me, anyway – Krista was a little too young). Uncle Hugo was working alongside Opa in those days; he and Auntie Millie had built the place they live in now in about 1955, I think. Opa and Oma lived on the other side of the yard – not in the old homestead, which had been knocked down a long time ago, but in another place Opa built back in the 1940s; it’s gone now, of course. Joe and I usually stayed at Opa and Oma’s even though there was more room at Hugo and Millie’s. I guess those trips were when we got really close to Hugo and Millie’s kids, which is probably why, to this day, Corey is Joe’s best friend and Brenda is one of mine. And after we moved back to Meadowvale in 1965, of course, we saw even more of them.

The other thing we used to do in the summer was go camping, usually up here in Jasper, which is how I first fell in love with this place. We were tent campers, and we usually came up here for at least a week every summer, sometimes longer. Dad and Mom took us out hiking at a very young age and of course we’d all learned to ride at the farm, so we did trail rides as well. Dad would always bring his guitar along and in the evening he’d get us singing around the camp fire, although by the time we were teenagers we were kind of embarrassed about that. You know Dad, he’s got a sort of George Jones kind of voice, and a knack for making every song into a country song. Nowadays I find it kind of comfortable and homey, but when I was a teenager it was – well, you can guess, I think!

I’ve heard of kids who were brought up in Christian homes who had strict rules they had to follow, with parents who tried to scare them with hellfire and damnation. My mom and dad were never like that. They were pretty clear that being a Christian was all about love, and they really modelled that for us. It wasn’t that we were never disciplined – we were – but we were never put down or yelled at; in fact, I very rarely saw either of my parents lose their temper, although occasionally they did. They used to do a little Bible reading and prayer time after supper each night – just something short, so that we didn’t get bored – and of course they took us to church on Sundays every week, which I usually enjoyed, although it was a little boring sometimes. But when I look back on it now I realize that I really had very little to rebel against. As I’ve told you, my doubts about Christianity started because of intellectual questions – scientific issues, doctrines that didn’t make sense to me, and things in the Bible that bothered me – not because I found anything wanting in Mom and Dad’s way of life.

I’m not really sure why I’m telling you this, Tom, except that you wrote a little about your home life and it got me thinking about mine – and, as Joe says, I rarely have an unspoken thought! But maybe it’s also because I’d like to think we’re already friends, and I think friends ought to know a little about each other’s families and past history and all that.

Okay, I’m really tired now, so I’m going to bring this to a close. I expect we won’t write to each other again before I’m home for Christmas. My plans are still to drive home on Boxing Day, weather permitting, and to stay for a week. Take care, Tom, and I’ll see you soon.

Your friend,

Kelly

*****************

Box 981
Meadowvale, Saskatchewan
Dec. 4th 1982

Dear Owen:

No, no plans for Christmas; I expect I’ll just stay around here, or maybe go into Saskatoon for a day. I went down there last weekend to do a bit of Christmas shopping for folks back home – including you, of course!

It’s really snowy today. I think I told you last time I wrote that we’d had a snowfall; well, for the past week it’s been coming down every day, and it’s about a foot high around my house now. It’s cold too; the temperature this morning is sitting at about minus 18ºC, and it’s supposed to get colder in the next few days. Will tells me that we’ll have a few weeks of minus 30-35ºC before the winter is out. Most people are wearing down jackets, although the kids from town don’t tend to wear them as much. The kids who bus in from the country do – I suppose their parents don’t want to risk the bus going off the road and the kids not having proper warm clothing. I’ve mentioned, haven’t I, that our school draws kids from farms for miles around? Our local population is about two thousand in town, and another three or four thousand living out on farms in the ‘R.M.’ (‘regional municipality’) of Meadowvale.

Things are getting busy at school now. The term (‘semester’) system is a little different here; there are two semesters, not three, with the first one running from early September to the end of January. Also, they don’t have ‘O’ and ‘A’ levels like we did, with exams on two years’ worth of studies; they have exams at the end of every semester and if they pass, that earns them ‘credits’ toward their high school graduation. So we’re about two thirds of the way through the first semester now, but of course Christmas is coming and there are a number of activities planned. Will is trying to twist my arm to help out with a Christmas concert, although I keep telling him that I’ve never sung in a choir, let alone helped lead one! But somehow I don’t think I’m going to win this one; Will can be very persuasive. And as you know, part of my job is teaching drama, and we’re doing a play as well, so that’s taking up some time.

Speaking of the Reimers, I’m still having quite a bit of contact with Joe and Kelly. Joe and I have fallen into the habit of having coffee together a couple of times a week, and sometimes his cousin Corey joins us; Corey is the son of Hugo and Millie Reimer, who I think I mentioned to you before; they have the old Reimer family farm out at Spruce Creek. Corey’s an accountant; he has a little place of his own in town, but he seems to spend a lot of time out at Hugo and Millie’s. He and Joe are not just cousins but also very good friends. I really like them both.

As for Kelly, well, I took your advice and opened up a bit in the last letter I wrote to her, telling her some things about Dad and my differences with him. She’d made an interesting point in her last letter to me. Remember I told you that it would hardly be fair to adopt Jesus as a way of spiting my dad? Well, she pointed out that it’s not so much ‘spiting’ as the fact that I was hungry for something that I hadn’t found in his way of life. She said that it was obviously even more important that I find some sort of spiritual dimension to my life, and that I shouldn’t be put off by the fear of overreacting. She also said that she thought the values I was looking for corresponded pretty well with the values of Jesus, which surprised me a bit. I’ve never really read enough about Jesus to know for certain what his values might be; I only know what I’ve heard in my occasional visits to church, or school assemblies, or in my conversations with you.

By the way, thanks for what you told me about praying; I like the idea of praying while you’re walking. I’m in the habit of going for an early morning walk each day (yes, there have been some pretty frosty mornings lately!), and I’ve been trying to pray for a few minutes each time I go out, remembering your three divisions of thanksgiving, confession, and petition. I can’t say that I’ve really felt any sense of closeness to God yet, but I’m also trying to remember what you said about not trying to manufacture a religious emotion. I can see that it would be easy to do this, so that religious experience became some sort of wish-fulfilment. I wouldn’t want to delude myself about this. I can’t help hoping, though, that at some point God does – well – that he lets me know that he’s there, you know!

Actually, come to think of it, I did have something happen while I was praying a few days ago. But I need to back up and tell you that I had a letter from my dad last week; apparently Mum had been trying to get him to write to me. I wish he hadn’t bothered; his letter was just a rehash of all the arguments we’ve ever had – how he thinks I made a big mistake by not going into the Law, but even if I was going to be a teacher, I should have stayed in England and tried for a job at a public school rather than working in the state system, etc. etc. And of course, he’s still furious that I didn’t tell them I was leaving for Canada until two weeks before I made the move, and that I lied to them about having a job in Reading (you were right, by the way – I should have been open with them right from the start, even though I know he would have tried to stop me. If I’d followed your advice I wouldn’t have messed things up with Becca the way I have). He finished off by telling me that I was ‘a foolish romantic’, that I had showed no gratitude at all to him for all the money he put into my education, and that he was very disappointed in me, particularly because I had deceived him.

Well, by the time I was finished reading the letter I was just as angry and upset as I was the day I last saw him. I was going to send him a nasty reply, but then I thought, no, I’ll just ignore him, at least for now. If he thinks that’s what ‘building bridges’ looks like, there isn’t much hope for us, but then, there never has been, has there? And since then I’ve – well, I’ve mentioned the letter a couple of times when I’ve been out walking and praying – maybe even ranted about it a bit – and even though God hasn’t talked to me or anything, I felt a bit better afterwards, or at least, not so bad. Sort of like what you said when you mentioned that sometimes you felt a sense of peace after you prayed. I don’t think I quite got as far as peace, but I caught a whiff of it, anyway, and it smelled pretty good, I have to say.

As for the Bible – well, I don’t really feel confident enough to read it right now. Maybe when Kelly comes home for Christmas I’ll ask her about it, or maybe I’ll talk to Joe at some point.

Have you seen my mum lately? She writes to me once a week, and I always try to give her a page or two back. I write to Becca too, but of course I hear nothing from her, or from Rick.

Well, I’d better finish, as the deli is getting busy and I’ve got a letter from Mum to answer as well. Hope you’re doing well and that things are ‘proceeding satisfactorily’ with Lorraine.

Cheers,

Tom

Link to Chapter 6