She chose Van Morrison. And a memory of you pops like a tiny iridescent bubble. I see you, smiling, that Mennonite rebel farm boy who swept me off the dusty streets of our small prairie town and into the front seat of his souped-up ’67 Dart Swinger. Oh, I loved you. Loved your wild hair, your cupid-bow smile, your dusty, brown shoes with the platform heels.
You were trying so hard to break free, be different, but your plaid shirt and dirty jeans your sad eyes and the weekends spent at home on the farm: you knew. We both did.
At 15 I thought I was a woman, At 19 you thought you knew what it was to be mature. To be a man. Oh, I smile at that. But never laugh, no, never laugh.
I heard, years ago, that you made a life for yourself on the farm. Beautiful Mennonite bride beautiful Mennonite children to carry on the legacy you thought you could deny. As sad as that makes me, I’m happy for you.
But, today when I heard that familiar, raspy voice, the one that you introduced me to, I couldn’t help but wonder how you are and if your heart remembers.
I wrote this for my brothers and sisters last July when we gathered at my sister’s cottage in Ontario to spread our father’s ashes. He had died the previous October and this was to be our final, group farewell to the man we called Dad. Like him, it isn’t perfect, but I think it captured who he was pretty well.
he loved licorice all-sorts
and off-coloured jokes.
he loved a girl named Sheila.
and his eight brothers and sisters,
though he did once tie them to chairs.
he liked crossword puzzles, Tim Hortons coffee and McDonalds.
he said things
like “pass the salt and pecker” at the dinner table and
we’d snicker and giggle
while mom gave him ‘the look’.
he loved walking and riding his bike.
he was an explorer.
he took us through abandoned farm houses when we were kids;
loved getting us all in the car just to go for a ride.
to this day I love doing that, too — going
for a ride with no real destination in mind.
it’s the journey and the togetherness that matters;
that was his lesson.
oh, and it’s okay to share a bag of chips and a pop
with your brother or sister.
he told stories — some true, some half-true and
some just plain fantasy — but they were all enthralling.
he loved people, and though he pretended to hate
some of them some of the times,
his big heart always betrayed him.
he could be infuriating, embarrassing,
he never apologized
for who he was,
and that is a rare and noble thing.
not many in this world are strong enough
to be who they are.
he loved the eight of us — Kathy, Tracy,
Carey and Jennifer.
and though he could, at times,
be tough on us, he could also
be incredibly soft.
he never had much
in the way of material things,
I remember a pair of alligator skin cowboy boots,
and he loved the 12 string guitar his brother Stewart
made for him,
but, really, that was about it.
in the end, and yes, this is a cliche,
it’s not about how much stuff you have,
it’s about how much love you have
and how much love you’ve given.
we miss you.
I wish I had told you that more when you were with us,
but, there’s no sense in having regret,
something else you taught us.
I only hope you know how much you are loved
and that to us
you are everything.
The one that made you feel invincible,
The one where love made all things possible,
all things exquisite,
beautifully, terrifyingly painful.
The gasp that filled your lungs
with fear they’d burst you were so happy.
The one you felt would always mean
a feeling of forever.
The darkness that stole everything worth having:
The one that drained your life of
and of magic.
The void that made you hate your self:
your every breath,
your right to be.
The one that was
and judged so solely by you.
I heard some peculiar sounds outside near my balcony yesterday and went to investigate. It was a family of ravens on the neighbouring balcony. Mom and Dad were out with their teenagers — and the young ones, especially one of them was really unsure of him/herself. It was wobbling back and forth on the banister and making the most worried sounds. I stood and watched them for awhile. The young one would sidle up to one of its parents and seem to demand something from them — most likely food, but I thought it was maybe seeking reassurance. Mom and Dad stuck close, but ignored all the whining. Eventually, they coaxed their baby into flying off, but not before there was a lot more complaining and nuzzling and attention seeking.
Ravens, I think they’re fascinating creatures.
I wrote the following poem earlier this year and submitted it to a local magazine. It wasn’t selected for publication, and I’ve tweeked it a bit, but seeing that family yesterday prompted me to share it.