The first of two installments
The sudden howling of the wind, and the torrential downpour of rain spiced with hail seizes our attention. Visiting interrupted, the five of us push back our chairs and rush to the window to watch in amazement.
“Was this forecast?” I demand. Having just arrived in Edmonton, I feel it’s a fair question. My friends deny any previous knowledge of this wild weather. Our host hurries into the next room and turns on the radio, TV and computer. All sources blare forth the same message.
“Tornado Warning!” Seek shelter immediately. Do not leave your present location until an ‘All Clear’ is issued.”
My tablemates and I stand at the window, watching the swirling gusts of wind pick up anything loose and fling it aloft. A child’s jacket, a large cardboard box, and a garden tool all fly by. We watch with sympathy as a crow, battered by the wild wind, struggles to escape the storm’s grasp. My mind protests, “This is my vacation.”
A year and a half ago I had moved to Vancouver. The uprooting was necessary. Sheldon, my husband of 65 years, had died. With no family in Calgary and heading into my 90s, I knew that the move was sensible. Vancouver offered a warm, loving and supportive family, a beautiful setting and a milder climate. I resisted common sense for a full year. However, once I moved and settled in, it seemed right. I felt no regrets. Vancouver was now my home.
With the advent of early summer in 2013, though, I became restless. A year older and slightly less able, a yearning began to grow. I needed to see and enjoy some of my scattered family, to laugh, eat, meet new babies and hug older ones – to be part of an Alberta family reunion again. My plans took shape. First Edmonton, then Red Deer, and finally Calgary was the route I would take. A trip to visit my childhood home, a farm out on the rolling prairies, was included. For me it was important to connect once again with the land, the huge blue sky, white clouds — and the people dear to me from my childhood. My children set out to help me make this homecoming happen, to go home once again. I launched from Vancouver satisfied with the planning, and ready for my vacation.
The first real bump in the road was the sudden development of a seriously sore, aching mouth. My Edmonton daughter quickly contacted her dentist, an extremely skilled individual. He identified a tooth in trouble, and a painful abscess in the gum below. There was need for immediate action. Over two days and a total of five hours in his clinic, my problems were under control.
This second bump is following hard on the heels of the first. Standing with my dear friends at the window, watching the downpour and the antics of the tornado storm winds, my sore mouth reminds me that I had intended to go to bed early. The weather had a different plan, it seemed.
“How easy it is to make plans,” I think. “Carrying them out is another thing”.
Hours later I tumble into bed. The tornado had touched down south of the city. No one was injured, and things are now calm. I fall asleep wondering what the next day would bring.
The plans I have for Edmonton were draw up with joy and anticipation. Despite the disruptions, things are unfolding well. I just finished a very satisfactory (although somewhat longer) evening with the dear friends I have known since I was twenty. A family reunion arrives, hosted by my daughter and son-in-law. Looking around the room I see my children, grandchildren and one great-grandson. A wave of gratitude sweeps over me. I have lived long enough to see, gathered around the table, the marvel of all these dear souls together. There is fun, laughter, food and much conversation. Then I am handed, for the first time, a new red-headed great-granddaughter. As I rock her, the tears roll down my cheeks. Such a gathering as this is the soil which grows memories that last a lifetime.
Given no more unforeseen diversions, this has been a challenging but rich visit. While the path wobbled a bit, my plans are being well realized.
At the centre of many a storm is a calm spot, a peaceful oasis from the raging elements. In this saga, this spot is Red Deer. My aim is to be with my only sibling, a sister only 14 months my senior. Four generations of her descendants live close to the thriving city which is her home.
My sister and I were always quite different – in our interests, professions, and many other areas. The amusing thing is that the older we get, the more the differences fade away. Old age is like distilling fruit juice, boiling it away until only the thickened syrup remains. It seems that the years peel away the trivial or nonessential, and leave us holding dear only that which makes life important. The two of us share memories of long interesting lives, a joy of living, and a belief in the ultimate importance of family and friends.
My son arrives from Ohio and joins me in Red Deer. There is another great family reunion. Laughter, fun and good food again form the setting for recounting the family stories. The laughter and raucous protests mark the setting, as one sibling challenges another about the version of an old story that is being retold. Under it all the unspoken attitude of love and acceptance peeks through. Another new generation is on its way. Twins are expected later in the summer — and so the wheel rolls on.
As my son and I head for Calgary the next day, contentment rides with us. The skies are a little dark as we approach the city, but far from threatening. Little do we know the bumps which lie in wait to surprise us at this last stop on the path.
To be continued…