Telling Our Stories

On a Marengo Saskatchewan morning in 1925 my great-grandmother made a grisly discovery. She woke her 22-year-old son with the words, “Come see what your father has done.”

My grandfather threw on his clothes, pulled on his boots and grabbing his coat from the peg by the farmhouse door, stumbled into the still dark morning of December 22nd. He followed the fast-moving small figure of his mother down the icy path to the barn. It was only two more nights until Christmas. Maybe his father had made something special for his thirteen year old brother or twelve-year-old sister.

Nothing prepared him for what he saw when his mother stepped inside the barn and held the lantern aloft.

It was true that his father had been depressed. Grain prices were down and the family was struggling. In the early years they had always made enough money from the farm to not only live, but to improve upon it and even make yearly trips down to visit family in Minnesota or to go south in the winter to escape the brutal prairie winters. They weren’t rich but they were comfortable. All that had gone the way of falling grain prices and temperamental prairie storms. Even so, no one expected my great-grandfather to shoot himself. But sometime in the night that is exactly what he had done.

His name was Frank and he was fifty-three years old. The same age I am on this same December day when he took his life. My great-grandmother Margaret was forty-seven; widowed on a prairie December morning just two days before Christmas. At twenty-two, ready to step out into a world of possibilities, my Grandpa Don instead found himself shouldered with the family farm.

Suicide doesn’t end the pain. It just passes it on to someone else.

Nearby, on their own farm, my great-great grandparents, Emma and Frank, had yet to learn the news that their only son was gone.

A couple of years later Frank passed away and the family decided to sell the family farms and move to Drumheller, Alberta. In 1928 Grandpa Don married my Grandma Isabelle and soon after my Aunt Doreen was born followed by my father in 1930. In 1929 Emma passed away and my grandfather and his younger brother decided to take up homesteads in the Peace Country.  In 1931 their wagon rolled onto the quarter northwest of Dawson Creek that would forever more be known to our family as “The Old Place.”

Great Grandma Margaret (affectionately known as Little Grandma due to her diminutive size) came along for the adventure and my father, all of one year old at the time, loved to proclaim that moving to the Peace Country was the smartest decision he ever made.

Christmas is a time of memories. The only relatives from this story I knew personally were my Uncle, my Grandma Isabelle, Aunt Doreen and, of course, my father. Grandpa Don died ten years before I was born when he was only 52, from a stroke.

I grew up playing in the buildings at The Old Place that my grandfather built, but I never knew a time when they weren’t abandoned. They were rich fuel for a young child’s imagination. It was among the log cabins, barns and sheds that the dream of one day having my own log cabin in the woods took seed. In fact, I wanted to be a homesteader, go back in time, grow all our own food and live my albeit romantic version of a simple, peaceful life.

And it happened. Sort of. For 16 years I lived with my own family in a log house only six miles from The Old Place. I grew much of our own food and it was a simple and peaceful life. Most of the time. I am grateful to have lived my dream.

Today I am sitting at my computer in our fourth floor apartment, looking out over rooftops at a Chinook-riddled Peace Country sky, thinking of all the Christmases come and gone. Soon our oldest son will be flying in across the same skies I am looking at now. Our youngest son and daughter in law can’t make it in person this year, but we’ll Skype.

On our way down to my sister’s house for Christmas supper we will pick up my Mom from her apartment in Assisted Living. She will be excited and happy to see us, and a little confused. We will cross the parking lot to the long-term care facility to visit my father.

If he isn’t sleeping, he will smile when he sees us and try to talk. We won’t understand what he is trying to say, but we will smile and nod back. The strong, farmer legs that the grandchildren used to scramble up like a tree while he held their hands, encouraging them to walk their way up to his shoulders and somersault shrieking back to the floor, no longer work. It’s been ten Christmases since he started the long goodbye, the slow fade. Every year less of him remains, and yet all of him is still here. This is his fourth Christmas in long-term care. It’s the third Christmas since my mother first started showing symptoms of what we would later learn was a mix of vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s. It’s her first Christmas in assisted living.

People always say they wished they had asked their parents more questions while they still could. We are lucky in that the slow decline of our parents have allowed us to ask and ask and ask, until the information wicket falls shut.

Now I wonder what to do with all the answers and stories swirling in my head. Watching first one parent, then the other, lose their memories makes me want to scramble to get everything down before my own brain tangles and it all vanishes like fairy dust. I want evidence that it all really happened. That we were all really here. That there were lots of good moments too.

So many Christmases, so many memories made under these same Peace Country skies. It’s like one big bowl of emotional sweet and sour soup.

So I guess I have my New Year resolution. To write the book of us. A family like every other, a family like no other. My family. Our family. The story of us. It won’t be the greatest story every told, but it will be ours. Or my version of it anyway.

I wish everyone a joyous season filled with good moments and great stories.

 

Poinsettias Galore

If you’re looking for a poinsettia Dunvegan Gardens in Fort St John has you covered! Though you might want to wait for  a warmer day to take one home. It’s -28 out there right now! Brrrr. On the other hand, it’s a great day to be in a greenhouse.

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And no, in case you’re wondering, I don’t get anything from Dunvegan for writing this. The same can’t be said in reverse. Dunvegan gets a lot from me in the way of business, but often I just go out to browse and smell the roses so to speak. So I guess I do get something from them. On days when I am in a funk, a drive out to their gorgeous greenhouse always puts me in a better mood.

I was there a few weeks ago when they were decorating their Christmas trees (if you have never gone out there for Christmas you really are missing out) and I heard one of the workers tell a customer, “We have two seasons here, summer and Christmas.”

Of course, they’re open year round and there is always something beautiful to admire but for sure, summer and Christmas are when the place revs up into full, glorious gear.

Here’s a peek at just a few of their trees…

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It’s on my bucket list to see a cardinal…this doesn’t exactly cross it off my list but now I can say I saw a few this winter. One day I am going to see a live one. And fireflies. Though probably not at the same time.

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This tree is sort of decorated like the woodsy one we had for years.

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And here’s one that goes with my new modern theme.

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They even had a tree decorated like summer complete with a pansy inspired garland…their two seasons collide!

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And whaaat? A shelf shaped like a giraffe. Very cute, but I think my bird shaped shelf is enough for one apartment.

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And if poinsettias aren’t your thing they have quite a few Winterberry plants too. Though not as many.

Okay…enough eye candy and lollygagging about on the computer.

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We’ve Turned Up Old

Years ago my father in law was aghast at having run into an old acquaintance who he felt hadn’t aged well.

“He turned up old!” he exclaimed.

Well, today it’s official. My husband and I have turned up old.

I blame the apartment.

For most of our lives the arrival of visitors has been heralded by barking dogs, the sound of a vehicle, footsteps on the deck and knocking on the door. Oh how I miss those days.

The arrival of apartment visitors lead to an entirely different sequence of events.

Our apartment has an intercom featuring an abundance of buttons for various purposes, along with a miniature TV screen allowing us to see the visitor without them seeing us back. It has been almost two years and the sound of the intercom ringing still kicks off the same sad series of events; give or take a few ingredients.

Take last night for instance.

Cue the intercom.

“What’s that noise?”

“I don’t know. Is it your phone?”

“No, is it yours?”

“No.”

“Wait. I think it might be the intercom.”

“Who could it be?”

“I don’t know.”

Cautiously we approach the dining room wall with the intercom on it and peer at the screen. An unfamiliar man is holding a large package and looking impatient.

“Do you know who it is?”

“No, do you?”

“Press the talk button.”

“Which one is the talk button again?”

“That one. The one with the picture of a person talking.”

“Hello? Hello? It looks like he’s talking but I can’t hear him.”

“You have to take your finger off the talk button so he can talk.”

“Is that how it works?”

“Pizza delivery.”

“Pizza! We didn’t order pizza.”

“Tell him.”

“I am!”

“He doesn’t look like he hears you.”

“We didn’t order pizza.”

“You have to press the button when you talk.”

“We didn’t order pizza.”

“Let go! Take your finger off so he can answer.”

“I don’t think you need to.”

“Hello?”

“What?”

“Can you hear me?”

“Food! Did you order any food?”

The unidentified man is now looking beyond impatient and we are practically wringing our hands.

“Tell him no!”

“I’m trying.”

“Press that button.”

“Well, what does this one do?”

“I don’t know, but don’t press the one with the key on it or you’ll accidentally let him in!”

“Calm down. It’s a pizza delivery guy, not a rabid dog. It might be simpler if we just buzzed him in and explained when he got up here.”

In the mini TV screen we watch the man flail one arm about his head in frustration, the other holding what is presumably a box of pizza. He turns towards the main door, violently pushes it open and leaves.

“Well, at least he’s gone. You can stop pressing the button now.”

And then it hits me.

“Oh my god. Would you look at us? Do you know what this means?”

“Yeah. Someone in the other apartment with the same number as ours probably ordered pizza.”

“No. We’ve been here two years and it just took both of us to run the intercom and we still couldn’t do it. We’ve turned up old.”

“You know what’s even worse?”

“What?”

“Now I feel like pizza.”

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