November 01, 2006

Reality

Do you see the agricultural machinery on your right? Keep going straight and turn when you see the church. The church with the new sign, you’ll know it when you see it.

Wooden stacking chairs, typical for a church basement, carefully brought up the steps to the sanctuary for latecomers. Competing for the brightest red: curtains and carpet. Reminds me of a Sunday morning. Stacks of open faced sandwiches on round trays sealed with Saran wrap. Brownies probably purchased by some kind-hearted, buxom church-going woman. This could be any Sunday luncheon. On the wooden pews, grey heads are nodding and occasionally a hearty “Amen!” can be heard from seven rows ahead. Farmers in their cowboy boots and waxed moustaches sit alongside ladies in green pants and purple sweat-tops. A large man at the front speaks of hope and a place where sore knees will be no more. What looks like a Sunday morning is really the end of an earthly life, at least for the wife of this small-town mechanic.

During my four hours in this small town in Alberta the city seems far away. Here in a church basement stands a brand-new widower, a narrow man with little life today. His face is lined and creased like a used napkin. Last month he had a 30th wedding anniversary. This month he pulled out his suit for an occasion of a different sort. The son is a younger version of his mechanic father, minus the wrinkled face. His new cowboy boots and string tie catch my eye below and above the expanse of grey suit. The suit he was wearing in the family picture next to mom’s ashes. The daughters, 21 and 22, seem so calm considering that they will now be stretching into womanhood and marriage without a mother. Jokes fly about how the younger never knew that her mom used to ride a motorcycle. Flower arrangements are carried to the cars. No one wants to deliberate much in the parking lot because the October wind feels like January. Hugs. Dashes to cars. How quick we could be to forget the solemnity of this surreal event as we step back to our realities.

I need some wiper fluid, so we’ll stop at the gas station. Wow, gas is so cheap here.

How am I going to remind myself that for this family, the mother's death has marked the beginning of a new reality? When the lasagnas stop coming to the door and the seasons walk by, who will remember the lady whose photos sat on the table below the pulpit? The quiet man with the crinkled face? The three children?

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