Morning. I flick open the kitchen window slats to see a rogue snowstorm.
Leaning my body into the window frame, just in case it’s a mirage, I take a good look at what’s going on out there. And yes, in the parking lot, the winds are whooping whirls and twirls of whiteness so that bare bits of red are barely visible through the meringue drifts accumulating on my car.
Seemed the night before someone had pressed pause on spring in exchange for the scourge of winter. And I have a plane to catch.
The fickleness of Halifax weather notwithstanding, it is still a shock. The night before had been a lovely spring evening. So balmy was it, in fact, that on my way out the door, confident of clear skies ahead, I’d slipped on shoes, rather than rain or snow boots, and a light spring jacket. When I got outside, I took the sound of a few dried leaves skipping along the sidewalk beside me as evidence of my weather assessment.
But I know now this is a lie. Spring is back in hibernation, beneath mountains of fresh snow.
Admittedly, I could sort of recall a whispered warning of winter’s return the night before, during dinner at Edna, my favourite restaurant up the street from the Cave. I’d been invited for dinner, along with friend Susan’s personal posse, a group of funny, smart, interesting and intelligent women, manna from heaven for a From Away interloper, like me.
It was an unintentionally raucous dinner. Like any group of friends who’ve known each other forever, one conversation triggered the next, a never-ending story. Talk looped in and out of family, career, retirement, politics, books, and the occasional splash of you-won’t-believe-what-happened-yesterday. Every now and again, we got really loud with an eruption where we all talked or laughed at the same time, garnering us a few looks from other diners, but none of the unfavourable sort.
So it’s no wonder when someone interjected “Snow is coming,” that I buried, ignored or plain forgot the cautionary statement.
And even again, later, when my little cave was filled up to the brim, the couch crowded with these women who’d agreed to come to my place for a nightcap, one of them may have reissued the warning, “Snow is coming.” But I disregarded it a second time.
After all, why would I ever care about snow when I had friends over?
My plane spends a good long length of time being de-iced before queuing us up to depart.
It is a rough take off, but a smooth, clear flight. The Halifax storm quickly falls into a place of memory.
Less than two hours later, I look out the window to see Toronto down below and soon feel the rumble of asphalt beneath the plane’s wheels, welcoming me home.
My brother, Brent, and sister-in-law, Agnes, pick me up at the airport, and then drive me to Baden, where I say a quick hello to Sara’s parents, Heidi and Dan, and then drive off in Sara’s little blue car, my ride while in Waterloo.
We’re all adjusting quite well to the routine of my bi-provincial life.
“What are you doing home this time?” Megan asks.
“…checking on my rental, taking care of some legal stuff, hanging out with girlfriends and spending some time with my sons,” I explain.
I am at my friend Sabine’s for dinner. She’s asked a couple other friends over to join us, Megan and Heather, in a gather-up-all-friends-for-one-dinner kind of way, perfect for my short visit.
This is my fourth trip to Waterloo in the nine months I’ve been gone. To some, returning so often might appear excessive, but with two sons, a brother, sister-in-law, nephew, cousin and life-long friends in the province, it’s hard to stay away for too long. As much as I can stay in touch through the wonders of technology, I miss the hugs and lounging on a couch together far too much.
Sabine and I have been friends forever. Two nerdy geeks, entering puberty three years after everyone else on the planet, each with divorced parents and trying to unobtrusively dog-paddle high school amongst a sea of cool kids with two-parent families, we’d found each other in the first few weeks of grade 9. Friendship was inevitable.
We’ve ebbed and flowed the years since, more through happenstance than for any particular reason. And when our bond floats us back together, it’s one of those friendships that picks up, just where it left off.
No harm. No foul.
Over a dinner of salmon and salad, we catch up on life, filling in the blanks of what is too complex or difficult to write in emails. Aren’t there always that mix of happy, sad and worrisome, and all the other thoughts we carry within us as woman, sisters, mothers, and for some, lovers, that we cannot share with anyone but each other?
Such things tumble out on comfy couches, with or without glasses of wine, and they lead to the strangest, most intimate of places.
“So tell us the story of when you and your mom and brother came over from Germany,” I say to Sabine.
“I was three when we left,” she says. “My step-father applied to be a brick-layer and was accepted. They packed us all up, and we took a ship over, which took three weeks in those days.”
“Do you remember the journey?” asks Megan.
“I do. I have a strong memory of being on the ship and needing to use the bathroom. I was plunked on the potty and I looked up and saw a porthole. It didn’t make sense because it was half under water. I remember being confused and frightened, and then I couldn’t go.”
So many things Sabine and I have talked about, but it seems there are many more we haven’t got to yet, like the story of her voyage to Canada. I can see that three-year old Sabine on the potty, little girl scared. And I know bits of that are still inside her today.
Funny thing this is that happens when I come home these days. In lieu of the luxury of close by living, conversations flow differently. The space for forgetfulness, the one that let’s you say in the midst of talking when you realize you must to rush home to make dinner, “Oh, gotta go and I forgot to tell you about… get you next time,” well, it’s not there.
When I leave, it’s not to make dinner, but to travel back to another city in another province. Time together is heightened. Conversations compressed. No time to waste.
So, we dispense of verbal chafe or the semantic undertones that brace or coddle or soften or embellish the every day of life. I’ve learned that this is stuff that clogs the friendship arteries, anyway, the make believe that there’s all the time in the world to clear things up again, one day. But we don’t tend to do that or think about it much. Being From Away though, when I visit, one day seems to always be today.
“Are you sure you don’t want to stay over?” asks Sabine as I stand at her front door, readying to leave. “I cleaned the bathroom.”
“No,” I say. “Brent and Agnes have a nice little spot set up for me. I’m all good, and it’s practically around the corner.”
We lean in to hug each other good-bye, and then we each say, I think at the same time or maybe a hair’s breadth after one another, “I love you.”
We’re forty years into this friendship, girlfriend. Course we do.
Busy? Oh ya.
I’ve been crisscrossing this *uckingly huge, sprawling and mostly under construction city trying to figure out how or where I can get across King Street, while its dug up for the next *ucking decade for the *ucking LRT construction—three or four times daily—to meet my *ucking, self-inflicted friend schedule, as I try to connect with as many people as possible while here. Apologies for *xpletives but I hang out with Cape Bretoners on a regular basis and that *uck is part of the lexicon, and it’s starting to work for me.
Anyway, I don’t give a care about the traffic snarls.
My pants are also uber tight because extra eating and drinking seems to be a part of each friend meetup, and as a rule, I turn down neither drink nor dessert, even if it means doubling or tripling up.
Truly, I don’t give a care about the extra poundage. My goal is to pack in as many visits as time and people will allow.
So, by 8am, I am at the Heuther Hotel, ensconced in the corner table with Heather. A more recent friend of mine, she’s a writer too and one of the wonderful residual effects of my teaching career at Conestoga College.
While we’re chomping on our breakfast, an unfamiliar woman appears at our table. She stands, looks down at the two of us, and directs her gaze on my face.
My fork is halfway to my mouth with egg, mushroom and toast concoction on it.
“Are you David Clerk’s niece?” she asks me.
“Yes, I am. How did you know I’m his niece?”
She does not answer, and instead, she tells me she is Jamaican, perhaps as explanation for what is to come. The information is unnecessary, however. I recognize the lilt in her voice and the confidence of her posture and stance.
Immediately and with little introduction, she questions me about my uncle, who lives half in Canada and half in the states. She seems to know a lot about him and his family from years ago. But she does not know my parents or me or any of my Jamaican friends in the city. So when our conversation pauses, I ask again.
“How did you know I was his niece?”
“I saw you. Put two and two together.”
“But how? How could you possibly know it was me?”
“My husband said something,” she finally tells me.
Ah. The pieces fall into place, and now I know who she is, though it took until the end of the conversation and my persistence to get the answer.
Jamaican. This is Jamaican. To tease and withhold, to tangle and unwind, to probe and to retreat. At 55, I recognize my vulnerability to some of the Jamaican ways will never leave.
This reminds me of the story I must write, that I am writing—of my Jamaican mother, my Jamaican father and my Jamaican life. I must not tarry with it.
My brother and I arrive at band practice. Brad greets me with a Propeller bottle in his hand and shakes it, so I know its empty.
“Did you bring some home for me?” he asks.
“What? On the plane? Next time I drive, I’ll bring some in the car.”
Brad lets me give him a hug, though he’s awkward and doesn’t much like it. He’s probably a bit miffed about no beer, especially since I work for Propeller. The man does love his beer, but then again, band practice isn’t a hug sort of thing either.
We’ve been this band for thirteen years, and our routine is stamp-stamp, double-stamped into our psyches. We spend practice nights telling bad jokes, not talking about feelings, and when someone is bummed, we give the person in the dumps an extra grunt and make a special bad joke at their expense. It’s worked well so far, especially considering what I’ve put the band through with my crazy life.
Quite a while ago, actually we started to call band practice for what it was, therapy with music on the side. We do make music, write songs, sing, and sometimes, we even play the odd gig, though often it’s in the same place we practice, Brad’s basement.
For me to not get kicked out of the band for absenteeism, I must show my face at the mike at least once every few months, another reason for my frequent visits. I don’t think they will replace me, but then again, I’m not sure.
Downstairs, Brad’s got the usual side table set up, with libations, and my brother and I help our selves to a scotch. Brad has my special glass sitting waiting for me, the one that fits into the drink holder he’s rigged to my mike stand.
“Hey Brent, you got your capo in the right spot?” Brad asks my brother.
“That’s what she said,” Brent replies, without looking up from his guitar tuning. We laugh.
And we’re off.
A couple hours later, Brent and I walk out into a beautiful evening. I look up to see the sky is ink, except for where the fork tines have poked through, to let in the stars.
Brad follows us out the door and stands outside in his sock feet, hands tucked in his front pockets like a little boy. His daughter is coming home from university at the end of the month, another is staying in Kingston for the summer, and tonight his wife Sue is out at her gardening course.
“It’s gorgeous outside,” I say, “except why is there still a snow pile in your yard?”
“I was saving it for you,” says Brad.
Brent and I slip into the car, and I glance back at Brad, who takes one hand out of his pocket to give us a solo wave good-bye.
PS My visit roster, in case you’re nosy like me:
- So far—Brent & Agnes, Heidi & Dan, Jazzie, Ruth, Claudia, Susan, Cari + kids, Kelli & Dave + kids, new owners of Pommel Gate—Kim and Mattias, Anna, Cary & Myra, Sabine, Megan, Heather, Jen and Lindsay, and tonight Brad at band practice.
- Yet to come—Helga, Michael, Ruth & Claudia (again), Spencer and Sandy
- Off to Toronto Friday for Tracy, Dex, and most importantly, son Cary + girlfriend Myra and son Graham + girlfriend Andi.