The second of two installments
We near Calgary and turn off the highway onto the Stoney Trail bypass that crosses a high bridge over the river valley, and ends at the TransCanada Highway. Valley Ridge Lodge, the seniors’ residence where Sheldon and I lived for five years, is a stone’s throw away.
Arriving at the Lodge is a homecoming indeed, just the thing to ease the yearning in my heart.
“Marjorie! Are you moving back?”
“We miss you. Did you miss us?”
The trip from the front door to my second-floor guest suite takes almost an hour. I sink on the bed, exhausted. Ralph leaves for his nearby Bed and Breakfast.
“I’ll see you after supper, Mom. We should talk about tomorrow’s coffee party.”
My time in Calgary is precious: so many to see, so much to do. My Ottawa daughter has constructed a schedule that fits everyone in and includes rest time for me. It is hard to accept that I must rest, but I cannot ignore the reality.
This morning’s coffee party is off to a great start. My guests are from the Esso group: the oil patch company for which all the men had worked. Many have been friends for 65 years or more. We laugh, hug one another and start talking, revisiting shared memories.
“Remember the driller and his wife – the one who lived in a small trailer?”
“Do you mean the couple who had two children?”
“Yes, and they found out another was on the way.”
“I remember when one of their kids came running and shouting ‘Our baby is here and it’s TWO’.”
So it goes. Finally, and sadly, we say our difficult goodbyes. Who knows if we will meet again? This is not pessimism, just realism: we are all old. As they leave, the rain is beginning to fall. I am about to encounter the biggest bump of all.
In the next days, Calgary suffers a storm beyond any on record. A vicious, endless downpour pounds the city and surrounding countryside and towns. Rivers swell and flood one low area after another. The roads into the city are cut off, and traffic across Calgary is almost impossible. The effect on the city is, and will be, immense. The area is hurting: financially, emotionally, politically. What will recovery take? How long will it take? Decades?
Suddenly my personal, detailed visiting plan is not so important. On the other hand, sitting and watching the news on TV is something I can do in Vancouver. No one knows how long this storm will last, or how far it will reach. Following the original schedule is impossible, so we shift things around, doing what we can, when we can. Road closures and the storm inform our daily decisions.
The trip to the farm, to the area where I was born and raised, weighs heavily on my mind. The weather reports are not giving us much help. This freak storm is long, narrow, vicious and stuck over our region. My son and I decide to see if we can get to the farm.
Putting on what rain gear we have, we start off. Over the Stoney Trail bridge we go, back along the bypass. The rain pelts down in sheets; water pools on the road. Every time a car passes, the spray flies up heavily, swamping the windshield wipers. Creeping along, we eventually hit the TransCanada highway on the east side of the city. So far there is no break in the strength of the storm.
As we make our way east, though, the skies lighten, the rainfall lessens. Traffic speed picks up. We come to Strathmore and drive through. The streets are wet, but the rain has ceased. A few miles east of the town, and the clouds are gone. We are now only about twenty-five miles from the farm of my former farming partner.
As we drive into the farm yard, the sun is shining. That terrible storm has not reached this area at all. As our car stops, Barry and Jutta come running out.
“Marj, Ralph – you made it. We’ve been watching the weather station, and wondering how much trouble you’d have.”
“Close to Calgary it was dicey,” Ralph answers. “I crawled along sometimes, but it gradually improved.”
I add to his report. “By the time we got to Strathmore he was up to normal speed, and soon after that we were into sunshine. Hard to believe. This looks as if we are in a different country, not thirty-odd miles from the edge of a monsoon.”
I look up into the sunny sky and laugh. “What a wonderful day to be here.”
Lunch awaits us: the German/Danish food so familiar to me. We eat, talk, laugh and get caught up on our families, the neighbourhood and everything else. This couple and their children, and a brother and sister-in-law and their children, are the latest in the family line connected to mine for four generations, a treasure beyond measure.
Regretfully we say goodbye and reverse our path west to where the storm still rages. We re-enter it where we had left it, and struggle slowly across the city. As we cross the Stoney Trail bridge, I look at the valley below. There are no river banks to be seen. The water on one side disappears into trees and yards. On the other side it covers a large public park and the low-lying housing areas beyond. There is no river as such, just a lake with a central current. We drive the last few blocks to the Lodge in silence. The days here are almost gone, including this one. It is early to bed for me tonight.
A new day brings changing weather. The rain has stopped and the sun is shining through the clouds. With the news that most city streets are now open, we decide to try to reach Queen’s Park Cemetery to visit Sheldon’s grave. The sloping hillside where the grave is located has allowed the rain to drain off. In full sunshine we walk across grass that is damp, but not soggy, and make our farewells.
Returning to the Lodge, Ralph picks up his suitcase and departs. I sit outside in a lawn chair and watch his car pull away. Goodbyes continue to be difficult, but are the flip side of heartwarming arrivals. What an unusual trip this Alberta vacation has been. Despite the obstacles, surprises, and bumps, look at what I have received.
I have seen everyone and done everything on my want list. I have reached people who could not easily come to me. Getting to my church enabled me to meet dear friends again. My Nigerian family managed to pick me up and take me to a special reunion. This gathering included the original couple (long since ‘my kids’), their sons (my ‘grandsons and their wives’), and now for the first time a new ‘great-grandson’ – the joy of us all.
In addition there are the friends who one way or another reached me, sharing a meal at the local eatery or bringing a special dessert. As Ralph’s car pulls out of sight, I have beside me another of my extra ‘kids’, who has made her way across the city to be with me when he leaves.
One more day passes and I board the plane and settle into my seat, my mind racing. Soon I will be back at the coast, but I will revisit the memories from this trip for the rest of my life. A creature of habit, I will probably continue to plan both my days and my tomorrows, but I hope I have learned not to be as frustrated when my plans are thwarted. The bumps often seem to prove as valuable as my original goals, or even more so.
The plane is getting lower. I look out and see the ocean, the city, and the runway, and feel the bump as we land. Vancouver: the sun is shining and I am home.