Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Day Forty-Three: Geraniums and Coffee

My Grandma Muirhead, Laura, had geraniums in her windows in her small kitchen on 4th Street in Estevan. There was a hip-tall, ceramic crock and when you lifted the lid, the smell of bun yeast was thick enough you could taste it. Grandma had clover growing in the window above the sink and she always used Sunlight dish soap. This fall I brought my red geraniums in and put them in my kitchen window. I take a picture this morning and I can see family photos reflected in the dark windowed sky.

My Grandma Bailey, Lavine, had a saying, "First we'll have coffee." When there was a big decision to make or some crisis, Mom tells me that Grandma would say, "First, we'll have coffee." It was the Monday morning of our Ontario Bailey family reunion in 2003. We'd convinced Grandpa Cecil that it was okay for him to travel with us, leaving Grandma behind in Saskatchewan in the care of their new home, with friends and family taking turns sitting with her. We were sleeping in the house Grandpa had grown up in. At four a.m. we got a phone call. Grandma was gone. We started phoning people. I remember Grandpa shaving, white foam on his face, and his eyes wild and lost. Then Mom said, "First, we'll have coffee." Grandpa climbed into the car with me, and he and I went for milk and cream. He pointed out landmarks on the ten minute drive. He lead the way into the convenience store. "I've just lost my wife of sixty-eight years," he'd said to the woman behind the counter.

My day begins with geraniums and coffee. It's dim on the road, but not pitch black, more pale than dark. I wonder what the day holds. I wonder what I'll wear once I get to school. I have a packed suitcase with four remaining outfits. I phone the girls at 7:40 and Arwen answers. Yes, she is awake, and Daddy is still home. Moira is asleep, but she'll wake up soon.

At 8:40 I'm wearing a grey skirt, black tank top, long black sleeveless sweater, red heels, and red Hong Kong scarf. My cell phone rings. Arwen is crying. "Mom, I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry."

"You've missed the bus. Okay, honey. Okay. You don't have to cry. Can you be ready in five minutes?"

"I'll try." More crying.

"Is Moira awake?"

"Yes, she's awake now."

I'm driving a little too fast on the gravel as I go into the treed roadway, branches whip against the Envoy as I hug my side; a car is approaching a little way off. I'm thinking all the things I shouldn't say to Moira. I'm embarrassed having to leave the school to pick you up. This is a waste of gas money. This is not making me feel good about my decision to walk in the mornings. When I was your age, I only missed the school bus once. If I made you stay home as a punishment for sleeping in, you'd just do it on purpose. I don't trust you.

I honk once, then again, then good and long as I pull into our driveway. The kids aren't outside. I get out and march into the house. Arwen is packing her lunch, pulling her coat on. Moira has her red overcoat on.

I don't talk to the kids except to say, "Daddy is going to deal with this. I'm too angry." At the train tracks, I say, "I'm not going to talk about this because I don't want to tell you..." and then I proceed to say everything I'd planned not to say.

In second period, Jade asks me to run down to the office and get Cathy. Jade has invited our principal to observe a lesson in which she'll present a power-point she made last summer while volunteering with a project which built a school in the Dominican Republic. I have heard Jade present this power-point to her period five students, and I'm struggling with my heart shutting down, not wanting to hear about people so far away, suffering, for whom I can do nothing. I turn log off my computer and swivel my chair towards Jade who is mid-introduction.

She tells of clearing forest by hand; digging out roots with a pick axe; hauling dirt with a bucket; carrying boulders, three to a rock; building cinder blocks and a school the size of our classroom is built. She tells about the children, names them by name, two die in the short month she's there. She speaks of suicide, starvation, corruption, and hope. A little Hatian boy says, "Today is a good day, but tomorrow will be better." He is killed. Hatians are not welcome in the Dominican.

It's so easy to point at a far off country and see the injustice, the pain of the oppressed, I think. Or is it? Is it easy to sit here and listen, to "listen with my heart" as Jade shares the word "escuchema" again. No. It's not easy, and I'm thankful that we do not see this kind of oppresion in Canada.

In period three I go to Michael's classroom and ask if he wants to go out for lunch. Moira is working on her Social Studies; she looks happy. I stand at her back. "I just saw pictures of kids who are hurting, and it makes me sad that I was so hard on you. And I heard some stories of kids throwing eggs last night, and you're such a good girl."

Moira raises her eyebrows. "Huh? What are you talking about?"

I walk to the door. "I'm just saying I love you."

"Oh, okay then." She focuses on her assignment.

This afternoon Victoria pops her head into the staffroom, Tyler and Ciara follow behind. They're in town for Ciara's driver's test. We visit for a bit. I'm proud of my daughter, supporting her friend.

The sun is bright, warm on my face, as I walk home. There are dark clouds in part of the sky, and there is a wind, but the blue, blue of the uncloudy parts is breath-taking. I should take a picture, but I don't want to stop.

After the tipi, a neighbour pulls up alongside me. "Do you want a ride?" she says. Her tone is pleading.

We visit. I tell her my plan to walk all winter and that I need the time to think. She gives some advice about dressing warm and wearing reflector material for the dark days. "I'm watching for you when I drive, but not everybody knows you're out here."

My grandmothers and my daughters are on my heart; so are the children from Jade's presentation. And as I walk I'm  thinking about treaties, those promises between the British and First Nations in the presence of the Creator. I wonder how my life would be different, how my daughter's lives would be different, if treaty had been broken against my grandmothers, my aunties, my mother. If they had been taken away to residential schools, away from their parents. If they'd been abused and starving.

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