Where I Came From

Once when I was young we drove to the farm to show my grandpa our new camper. He jumped from the combine, waving when we turned onto the long driveway. As we came closer my sister, brother, and I noticed something was wrong. He wasn’t waving anymore. He was stooped over, groaning.

Dad’s truck skidded to a stop on the gravel, sending up a swirl of dust. He told us to wait in the camper and ran across the field. Pain sounded in Grandpa’s voice through the screened windows. The men staggered to the truck and Grandpa sat across the table, rocking, clutching a paper towel to soak up the blood. He’d cut a chunk from his hand when climbing down from the tractor.

It was the only time I recall seeing him hurt. And for some reason, it was all I could think of the moment I hung up the phone with my dad, taking the time to allow the word “tumor” solidify in my mind.

My flight out of Charlottetown was quiet. The snow had melted from the hills below to reveal red patches of field checker-boarding across Prince Edward Island. I toyed with my seatbelt, hoping my husband would enjoy a week alone with the kids.  I landed in Toronto only to take off an hour later. Winnipeg greeted me in darkness.

“You’re at your mom’s?” His voice was deep as ever, the Frisian accent thick and endearing. “Well, shoot. That’s great. I didn’t know you were coming home.”

“I just . . . thought I should.” For months I’d ignored the urge to plan a trip back home. But, two of my cousins had scheduled their weddings within a week of each other. One of my best friends was about to have her second baby. My grandpa has a tumor. I wrapped the phone cord around my finger. “Can I come over?”

In twenty minutes I was out of the city and on the highway. I loathed the desolate landscape when I left Manitoba fifteen years before. But now, the drive to the farm was beautiful.  The prairies were my home. The place where I came from. I stared out at the open sky and turned up Wheat Kings the moment it hit the radio. My hands tightened on the steering wheel as I passed the penitentiary on the hill. Grandpa had retired from thirty-two years as a correctional officer long before– without taking a single sick day. At the end of his last shift, each and every inmate inside had lined up to shake his hand.

My sister’s van was parked in front of his barn, the Alberta license plate still dirty from the drive. Grandpa stood waiting for me in front of the shed. His shoulders were hunched, his shock of white hair thinner than I remembered. But, he was as handsome as ever. I rose to my tiptoes, hugging him tighter than I should.

“Well, look at you!” He laughed, stepping back to examine me, lines crinkling around sharp blue eyes. “You look good.” He winked. “Even if you are a little thin.”

We sat in the sunroom while my sister’s kids examined the toys we’d played with almost three decades before. I was next to Grandpa, resting my head on his shoulder as the sun danced between looming branches outside.

“I’m thinking of having the operation,” Grandpa said. His arm was around my neck, his hand engulfing my shoulder. He’d immigrated to Canada sixty-five years before. A Dutch giant, scooping up a piece of prairie farmland after the war. He was just eighteen then, a year younger than I was, when I left home.

“It sounds like you should,” said my sister.

I agreed without thinking of the implications–without entertaining the possibility he might never recover.

“It’s funny,” Grandpa said. “I never thought about dying before.”

My chest tightened. “No?”

“Oh you know, not really. I feel the same as I did before. It seems soon.”

The days were a blur of family visits, driving back and forth along the impossibly flat landscape. My friend’s house rose like a fortress in the woods on the outskirts of bear country. She was beautiful, pregnant and perfect. The first wedding began without me: the tendency to be late a family trait. Grandpa arrived a half-hour later.

The second wedding rounded off the very end of my trip, held at my old church: the sanctuary untouched by time. When the guests stood for a hymn Grandpa’s voice boomed over all of the others, fervent and on key: just like every Sunday of my childhood. I fell silent, listening, unable to sing anymore.

Grandpa chatted with each and every guest at the reception. I stole quick glances from across the room, fighting a lump in my throat. It was late by the time he arrived at our table. We talked for a long time, joking and exchanging stories while my sister and I dabbed Kleenex at our red-rimmed eyes.

Midnight descended on the reception too soon, a member of staff announcing it was time to leave. I had to fight the overwhelming urge to beg her to let us stay, noting the tired lines under Grandpa’s eyes. We’d kept him far too long already. I stood on my tiptoes,  hugging him tighter than I should, staining the lapel of his new suit with a few rogue tears.

And then I let him go one last time, the man where I came from.
On the third anniversary of the day he moved on, May 4, 2015.

Too Excited to Sleep


I think I might have spent my whole life running away. I was raised as a wild child. There were very few rules in our house until one day my dad remarried, and certain incredibly unrealistic expectations descended like a pox upon our household. Expectations like: notifying my parental units about where I was at night, coming home at a reasonable hour, cleaning up after myself, and not having giant parties while said parental units spent the weekend out of town.

So, I moved out at sixteen.

I didn’t get very far at first. We lived in a small town in Manitoba. I packed a bag between classes and stashed it outside my best friend’s bedroom window up the street, in a house where I ended up staying until graduation.

Then, I moved to an itty-bitty apartment on the second floor of another house, roughly seven blocks away.

A year later I moved to Australia.

When I left Manitoba, I never thought I’d miss it. The first time I came home, I cried in the airport bathroom. I’d commandeered a very dapper Australian boyfriend while away, and would have stayed substantially longer if not for silly things like paperwork and visas. The drive home from the airport was bleak. The prairie sky was heavy and gray, the landscape dead and brown: a stark contrast to the eternal green of the tropics I’d basked in all year.

But, when I obtained a fresh visa and went back to Oz, it simply wasn’t the same. They say you can never go back, and in this case, maybe it was true.

So, I moved to my sister’s house in Calgary, Alberta. I worked in a pub, where I met my husband. We didn’t get together for a while, as I was still hooked on the dapper Australian and my hubby was still sewing a few wild oats. It wasn’t until his niece came to visit from Prince Edward Island that we got together. Being the gracious hosts of Calgary we were, we, okay I, decided to take her to the strippers.

I guess strippers have a way of bringing people together. It wasn’t long after that we summoned three hellions into the world and got married.

And then we moved here, to Charlottetown.

I was very lucky in Calgary. I lived a few blocks from my sister when we had our babies. Our first-born children are five months apart, and the second set of kids are four months apart. We were pregnant together. We raised our babies together. We talked on the phone eleventy-billion times a day. And when I came to PEI, it was like a rip or a tear in the fabric of that life. Talking on the phone with her became too painful overnight.

When my grandfather passed away a couple years ago, I realized just how far from home I was. I missed the giant prairie sky, the wind that sweeps through Portage and Main, and midnight slurpee runs. I missed the possibility of going to the store and running into people I went to school with.

And I missed the family I’d spent all my life running from.

Prince Edward Island is beautiful. It’s safe, and family oriented. It’s the perfect place to raise kids, and it’s close to my to my stepdaughters. But, I think that everyone who’s moved from home understands how heartbreaking it can be to be away when people get sick.  To be unable to drop by your parents’ houses to help shovel snow. To have to FaceTime at Christmas.

And, while I wasn’t exceptionally close with my mom in my childhood, I am now. I’ve been feeling the distance between us a lot.

I was two hours late getting home from work tonight. I had to deal with a woman on the phone who was very, very bad at her job. In the end, the situation we danced around wasn’t even resolved, but I was too tired and frustrated to stay any longer. I came home to cuddle the hellions before bedtime and a pour a giant glass of wine.

My husband was watching for me in the window, which was odd.

There was a scuffle of movement as I came through the door.

I went up to see the boys–and complain about my day to the man who puts up with all my complaints–and my mom was standing in the living room.

She’s been in cahoots with my husband the last few weeks.

Plotting to give me a heart attack.

Well the joke’s on them, because I’m still alive. I have my mom here a full week. My eyes are puffy from crying, and I’m grateful and happy–even though I’m way too excited to sleep.

Fighting Winter Blues


It would be fair to say that occasionally, I suffer from depression. It seems to be a common thread among some writers. I don’t talk about it often, simply because it isn’t the looming monster a few of my friends and family members face. But around this time of year—every year—it sneaks up on me: a weight on my chest that’s hard to shake. img_20161130_101550I find it difficult to blog, to write, and even to return emails. And while sometimes I think it comes because my family lives too far to visit as often as I’d like, or my book is taking so long to write, or because I will never be the Stepford wife with the time and ambition to make a Pinterest perfect home,  in truth: my depression is seasonal, caused by the lack of summer warmth; the eternal shades of grey outside my window.

This January I allowed myself to slink a little deeper into my winter blues after being turned down for a grant for Old Souls. I had used a large block of precious writing time to map out my application, consisting of a budget, resume, project plan, and expected finishing date. The five-thousand-dollar grant would have permitted me to ease back a few hours at work to focus on my book. It could have contributed to financing a round of professional editing and a little advertising, if one day, I choose to self-publish. It could have acted like a pat on a back saying, “You’re good enough.” And when I didn’t get it, I allowed the rejection to become a kick in the ass that said, “You aren’t.”

I love writing. I make a little money with articles and short stories from time to time, but writing certainly isn’t how I support my family. For now, I am a hobby writer. For now, I live in a distinctly in-between world where I don’t really talk about my “real job” to my writerly friends, or my writerly ambitions to my work friends.

1hlmwvI earn my living in hospitality. I’ve worked in a collection of restaurants, sport bars, pubs, and clubs across Canada, and even a handful of places in Australia. Now, I work in a high-end restaurant in downtown Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. Since I started a year and a half ago, I’ve been promoted twice. For a few months over the summer, (peak-season on our tourist driven little island) I ran the bloody place myself. But, when the work began to sabotage my writing time I was forced to prioritize, and ultimately took a step back. Now I punch the clock, tend the bar, and enjoy three quiet writing days a week while the hellions attend school.

Working in hospitality is perfect for someone like me. People who know me know I love to talk. I talk to anyone who’ll put up it with it, really. I talk to cab drivers, grocery store clerks, and the unfortunate souls who stand beside me in line. I like to talk so much that when I’m home alone and there’s no one else to talk to, I make people up and have them talk.images1KTY36UF

Some of the most interesting people in the world have saddled up to my bar over the years. It’s true, many come in looking for a man to talk to about sports. Being that I am not a man and have no interest (at all) in sports, the conversations are forced into other directions. And once my guests have finished a few drinks, some of them get . . . kind of deep.

The restaurant where I work is located just off the lobby of a boutique hotel. A number of travelers drift in our doors throughout the winter: generally, singles on work trips. They come for dinner, and to drink wine, scotch, or dry Tanqueray martinis (oh, with two olives, please), and to socialize a little before retiring to their rooms.

On Monday, a man fitting exactly that description came in on his own. “Mathew” is a couple years older than me, with what sounds like a great job and the perfect family: 2.5 kids and a stay-at-home wife. As the night progressed and my other guests filtered out through the doors, Mathew sipped his Malbec thoughtfully and began to talk about life. stocksnap_jxnkzrbv86These are the conversations I live for. The ones where I don’t contribute much. The ones when people tell me the things they wouldn’t say to anyone else, because I don’t know the same crowd they do. Because they are from “away” and will likely never see me again.

He told me about his kids. How he had his first at twenty-one. Now, his oldest was applying for college while many of his friends were delving into the joys of parenting for the first time: changing diapers and staying up all night with colicky babies. He was almost home free. All the same, the subject of his conversation kept wandering back to whether or not he would have done things differently if he was given the chance. Would he have waited to have kids when he was older? Picked a different career, or a different partner?

Looking back on our lives and wondering “what if” is one of the ties that seems to bind humanity together. One might argue it’s an evolutionary safeguard, inspiring us to learn and grow from past decisions and experiences, almost like rats in a maze.recite-lslqv0.png

But, in talking to this stranger—whose children are only a couple years older than mine—I realized something.

Wallowing in my little bout of depression and wondering “what if” about the loss of my grant is . . . stupid.

My winter blues are taking me away from the moment I’m in.

Mathew is teetering near the brink of a change in life. That can be scary. But, it can be fun, too. He already chose his wife and had his kids. He raised them. And now, while many of his friends venture into the territory of having a family—a territory he already navigated—he’ll soon be released into the childless wild, at the tender age of forty. The rest of his life is up to him. Just like the rest of my mine is up to me.

1441996275528.jpgEvery day we’re faced with decisions. It’s how we deal with the wrenches in our journey and the decisions we made in our past that will often define our future.

While it was easy for me to see that Mathew is facing an opportunity in his future, he seemed determined to look back.

Sometimes talking to other people can force you to see everything you’re sleeping through.

Every day holds the possibility to grant us a change in life. It isn’t limited to graduations, our children venturing away from home, or our retirements. Every day we can change our future.

While I’ve been allowing myself to wallow in my “wrench,”–my recurring winter blues, and the loss of a silly little grant–I don’t have to. I can make a conscious effort to fight it. I can wake up. I can take a walk when the sun shines, enjoy my children, and will myself to write; to finish the book that has haunted me ever since my very own “old soul,” Hellion #1, was born.

Thanks to Mathew, that’s exactly what I’m going to do.