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My grandson’s graceful face concentrated on the road ahead with an air of pride knowing he had chosen the perfect birthday gift for an old woman past her prime.
With a sudden head bobbing sneeze I felt like cobwebs were being swept clean out of a dusty old attic as I breathed in the sweet rushing air from the car window. The sweet smell of long golden grasses, old orchards and wild flowers melded into a symphony of past memories as fresh and beautiful as the day.
“Are you alright Grams?” Joe said his voice a little huskier than usual.
“Don’t worry yourself son I’m fine.”
“We’re almost there Grams.”
I didn’t answer Joe I was too busy drinking in the scenery and letting old memories flood my mind. It had been a very long time since I’d been back to the home where I had last felt at peace with the world. A time in my life filled with ups and downs but where I felt rooted a feeling of belonging, and I was most happy.
The car left the pavement and we followed a dirt road with some lengthy potholes so Joe slowed our pace.
“It looks like they had some good spring rains again Gram,” Joe stated.
“Yes. At one time all the roads around here were like this Joe lots of hard earth and holes.”
As we approached an open area the sun beamed over the hill dancing streams of light through the birches, grasses and willows along the now dilapidated cross beams of fence line leading up the hill to the old homestead. At the top of the hill Joe parked in the yard then literally bound out of his seat and was at my door to open it for me with all the courtesy of a true young gentleman.
As I stood up Joe flourished his arms towards the house with a bright smile saying, “So what do you think Gram?”
I stood for a moment taking it in. I didn’t see the weathered, aged logs of a small cabin, the rain beaten shake roof with splits and cracks in abundance, the brick chimney corroding and leaning to one side, windows fogged from cool air or the veranda and stairs barely holding together from long years of standing. In front of me stood my past a cozy little house that felt solid and safe it was my home, a part of my soul.
“My god Gram, did you feel that? It can’t be it was so nice out a few minutes ago!” exclaimed Joe.
I laughed, “Around these parts it can and does sun one minute rain the next I’m afraid. Best we get inside before it really comes down and it will.”
“Dad... give me one second,” as he stepped quickly to the back of the car and lifted the trunk producing a box, “Dad sent this box up for you as a gift so no point in getting it wet, let’s go.”
Joe took my arm propelling us forward. We just managed to get under the veranda before a dark cloud floated over head and opened up a shower of rain with the sound of an added thunder clap for effect. I took out my key and the tumblers in the lock turned like a silk glove giving me a warm feeling.
As we entered I shivered a bit at the dampness in the house so Joe immediately set about making a fire in fireplace to keep us warm. Most of my things had been moved out when I went to live with my son Alex, Joe’s father, but an old couch, a table, a couple of chairs and my old rocker were left behind. The bed was still in the bedroom with some linen and a few kitchen items should a family member ever want to come stay a night or two on the old place.
“Did you hear that one Gram it looks like we’re in for a bit of a wait the way it’s storming out there?”
“Not to worry I’ve been through it many a time in my day son. It might pass before you know it.”
Joe winked at me as I took a comfortable seat in my old rocker, “Have you figured out what dad might have given you for your birthday yet?”
“Oh, I think I have a pretty good idea dear.” I replied wryly.
For many years after Alex had gone off to University and majored in agriculture and began his own life he sent me a box of the very best seeds for my vegetable garden each year for my birthday. With all the tips Alex gave me and some tricks I had up my own sleeves the garden was my pride and joy, and vegetables grew wonderfully in the soil every year.
“Here Gram this will keep you cozy till the fire gets going,” Joe said softly, as he placed a quilt gently over me, “I’m going to nip out to the shed and cut up some wood. The box is getting a bit low so you have a little rest.”
“No need to baby me son I don’t need rest but I think I will just sit here and enjoy the fire.”
“Okay Gram, no argument from me.”
After Joe slipped out the back door I concentrated on the torrential beat of water on the roof and before long I was back in time remembering another very stormy rain fall through the month of March in 1948.
The roads were so poor Thomas Diamond rode over on his faithful Charlotte. The golden mare’s hair was dampened to a mud colour as she patiently hung her head under the birch by the front post. Thomas had brought me a brown box now water stained around the edges from the Post Office, it had come from Alex. Thomas stopped only a short while saying some parts were flooding and neighbours were worrying over their livestock. He didn’t stay for tea that day.
It seems the rain will have no end. Jupiter’s been crying over some kind of sadness for twenty dreary days. Even Tanya is disheartened as she curls herself on the mat by the fireplace. She was too discouraged to attempt to hunt for birds or mice hidden in natural shelters.
The radio man’s voice mingled with the beating drops on the porch steps, ‘There hasn’t been a March rainfall like this on record. The Caullen road is now completely flooded and impassable.’
A body can’t even go to town. Not that town is worth going to not unless there’s word from Alex. Though infrequent, Alex’s letters were like a breath of spring roses. My dear Angus, Alex’s father, was never partial to the cities. The city excites Alex though he once described his university like a castle in a dream. He said they had a library that stored fourty thousand books. Students climb ladders to reach books stacked so high they reach the ceilings. How that boy has always yearned to go beyond this place and see the world. I admire his youth as chasing dreams are important to a younger spirit.
Alex’s father would have been very proud his son. There was a time when the creator answered my darkest days with the light of love, our son. Angus Anders, my beloved husband and friend left this life in the dawn of our days. An accident, he drowned near the Vallico Falls. Both of us had only been spiritually and matrimonially united for four hundred days. The days became night in my heart and the shadow cast over my loss nearly took my spirit away. Then the stirrings started the fluttering of life in my belly. Alexander was born after his daddy was gone. My love for Alex filled me with a joy that brought the sunshine back and cast the shadows away. I also took comfort knowing Angus was buried under the elm tree on the little hill over seeing my vegetable patch where I felt he watch over us from time to time.
‘Another storm front expected to reach the west coast later this evening,’ the radio voice declared.
Humph! It was hardly a surprising observation after twenty straight days of rain. A body as it ages is like a human barometer. The joints swell and the bones ache miserably like a natural weather station from within. Seems my barometer is forecasting a need for some liniment.
Tanya meowed slightly and opened one eye to observe the progress of my old body bending to stoke the fire before adding another alder log. There’s hardly a sound as inviting in this world as the crackling and sparking of fire as it grasps at a new log on a pile of cinders. Once I settled again into the soft cushioned rocking chair, Tanya closed her eye lazily.
If it dries up by May it’ll be time to plant the summer garden. I imagine I should open Alex’s box soon as it is likely my planting seeds. Those valley seeds are partial to my plot, seems the cukes are bigger every year. All these years I’ve been planting potatoes, carrots, cabbages and the like, but it don’t feel right this year somehow. I’m yearning to plant flowers. It’s a foolish notion I guess? No point to eating flowers through the winter. Yet I can see my patch in the sun filled with beautiful petals. Fragrant stems of colourful perfume flourishing in my plot of manure. Old ladies do get funny ideas sometimes.
It would be a fine parting at my end to see my final garden filled with flowers. I guess if it doesn’t stop raining soon I might just take my dream seriously. Pooh! They should be playing ‘Melancholy Baby’ instead of these weather forecasts.
‘Depleting stocks of salmon are threatening the coastal fishing resources,’ the radio voice announced.
There was a time I used to go on my uncle Jack’s fishing boat in the spring season. I was hardly bigger than some of the fish he’d catch.
I asked my uncle, “How many salmon are there in the ocean?”
He’d give me a big toothless smile and say, “Why Jenny darling, there’s enough salmon out here to feed the whole wide world.”
I couldn’t imagine the whole wide world, but I knew there were so many salmon out there that our family would never go hungry. I got some comfort in that thought.
It’s different now a day’s though. I hear that there are lots of families with hunger in their bellies. Alex says that in some countries even children are starving. The worlds changed I guess when an old lady can eat from her patch in the earth while young ones are going without. It’s hard to make sense of.
Tanya opened her eyes and meowed though she didn’t stir her body. I think that cat must be touched with the intuition. She seemed to know when I am about to make a move.
“You are right Tanya,” I responded to her gaze, “On a day as dark as this it is time to set a light to the lanterns.”
Some years back Alex gave me a Bic lighter for a gift to light the kerosene, but I just felt afraid of it for some reason and kept it in the drawer. I guess I just like the sound a wooden match makes when I strike it on the mantel. The sulphur burns my nose sometimes, but smells familiar.
“Shall we have a cup of tea,” I said out loud to myself without answering.
Sometimes I wonder about getting proper taps for my porcelain sink, but I think I’d miss the feel of the hand pump. It’s like digging in my garden when I pump water up from the well. I’m mighty proud of that porcelain sink it’s a fine deep sink too. It came by special order all the way from a place called Chicago. Chicago is printed right on the side in real small letters.
When my tea was made I poured a bowl of milk with a touch of hot water for Tanya. She purred a thank you as I set it before her.
The radio voice alerted, ‘Small craft warning winds increasing to gale force this evening. The Callum Bridge is washed out; anyone travelling south should detour around by the Lake Road.’
A developer put the Lake road in about five years back I heard. Used to be when the bridge washed out people just stayed put. Those city folk are always in a hurry though. They are in a hurry to get to their cabins and in just as much a hurry to get back to the city. Its likely Joe has caught the rush around bug too. I suppose once he graduates with his lawyer’s degree he won’t have much time to come back for a visit.
I went as far as Claysville once with my friend Maude. It was certainly a shock to my system. I must a saw a hundred vehicles that day just a going this way and that. There were so many people going into fancy stores and buildings it was the busiest place I ever did see. A sign going into Claysville said the population was thirty five hundred people.
People were friendly and all. Maude and I went into a building called a restaurant. They gave us a piece of paper called a menu and the menu had a name, ‘Fat Boys Burgers and Suds.’ This nice lady called a waitress explained that there wasn’t any soap on the burgers but you could have a beer, but we didn’t think that was right. The burgers were kind of dry, but it was sure interesting watching all the people coming in and out of there. One man came in dressed fancy like and tried to sell us bibles. He sure could talk fast but we politely told him, twice, we already had one.
The bible man reminded me of a fella who lived her in Callum for sixty years. Daniel Starfeather always wore a bow tie and could talk so fast most people couldn’t quite catch all he had to say. Daniel ran the general store and liked to pass on the local gossip, but he went to live with his son in Northbend last spring and no one has seen him since. The village has quietened down since Daniel left. George Thorn’s daughter, Tess, runs the store now and she’s never been much of a talker.
Poor Maude she was a good friend but she eventually got the gangrene in her leg. The doctors cut it off and she died the next day. I don’t blame her I think I would too.
The next time I wondered if life was really worth living was when Alex came for me. I thought I’d live out my days in this home then I had my misfortune. I didn’t get the gangrene like Maude but I slipped one day and fractured my hip. After that Alex wouldn’t hear of my living alone he insisted on my coming to live with him and the family. Although I learned to adjust and I did love the family I missed my home terribly.
There comes a time when you fully accept the readiness to move on and you just wait for a sign from the creator to call you to another resting place. There’s never really been a question I’ve asked in this life that hasn’t been answered in some way or another by the creator with a sign of one kind or another.
I felt my body begin shake and wondered if the earth was getting the tremors. Then through the fog in my mind at a distance at first I heard Joe’s voice calling to me.
“Grams wake up, wake up Grams,” Joe was saying as he bent over gently shaking my arm.
As I slowly awoke I realized I must have dozed off but I remembered everything from the past I was dreaming about and smiled.
“It must have been a good dream you were having Gram”
“Oh it was the best Joe. Good gracious how long was I sleeping the sun is shining?”
Joe smiled, “You’ve had a good snooze, the wood box is full and I’ve set the table with our picnic lunch and some tea, and I hope you are ready to open your box from dad?”
“You are a dear Joe, thank you. Yes I think I could eat a horse,” I said with feeling.
We ate our egg salad sandwiches with pickles a favourite of mine, and washed our tea down with donuts a favourite of Joes while Joe asked me questions about his father as a boy. Joe doubled over in laughter when I told him a story about his father when he was only about four years old and an old dog we had called Klink. Alex would talk to Klink quite seriously at the chicken coop and tell the dog to go in the opposite direction while explaining he would run the other way and they would meet. However, every time Alex began running faithful Klink would follow him in the same direction. Alex would run half way around the chicken coop before he’d realize Klink had followed him then he would begin again with a serious scolding to the dog that this was not how the game was played. Of course Klink never listened to Alex and after a number of chases and lectures Alex would become quite frustrated and give up, but he’d try again a few days later.
“Okay, no more stalling open the box Grams,” Joe said as he pushed it towards me.
I laughed and began undoing all the wrapping. Upon opening the box I was spiritually uplifted and partially surprised. Dozens upon dozens of packets lay before my eyes. Each packet was filled with seedlings for every kind of flower imaginable. At the bottom of the box Alex had inserted a brief not explaining that he had a feeling that these flower seeds would lighten my heart with true happiness. He further said that he hoped I wasn’t disappointed they weren’t the usual vegetable seeds but he had an unexplainable urge to send the flower seeds.
It was then that although unexplainable to Alex, I knew the creator had sent me a truly beautiful parting gift. My final and best year of all would be my eighty ninth year.
“Joe let’s find a shovel in the shed we have some planting to do,” I said with a smile and sense of truly being at home, the place I’d soon join my dear Angus over looking my garden.