CHAPTER 15 - Reflections
Toni lives a quiet, solitary life now. She remains in the last home she shared with Rod, surrounded by the things they gathered when they were together - where their final memories were made.
Her eyes are dimmed by cataracts, her hearing perhaps not as acute as in years gone by. Her brown hair has turned white - she no longer walks straight and strong, but she lives independently, in her own home. Once a week she is visited by a homemaker who performs those household tasks Toni cannot do, and helps her to go downtown to shop, pay bills, attend appointments, do other business.
Visits from friends are welcome, but not as frequent as desired. Many of her friends have passed on, others are too ill to travel, still others live too far afield for visiting. Letters and telephone calls bring news of her family and friends, but that's not the same as sitting down over a cup of tea, to have a chat about current happenings, or better still, the golden days when one was young and life stretched before you.
Toni reads a great deal. Novels she read years ago - re-reading stories so familiar as to be old friends. Her cherished volumes of poetry are close at hand, verses which have brought her pleasure throughout her life.
She works at handcrafts. Knitting or crocheting afghans, crocheting doilies. Patterns for doilies abound in her home, this is a craft she has practised for eighty years. She still has a box containing the last of her petit point jewellery making materials. The closets of her home yield projects long completed; left over materials; plans for projects considered and rejected, or set aside for 'another day'. Toni has a chart for a large counted cross-stitch picture she plans to start soon, wondering aloud as she scans it if she will be with us long enough to complete it.
One corner of her living room is filled with houseplants. Some oranges ripen slowly on the little orange tree she tends so lovingly. Red leaved poinsettias brighten the room in all seasons - to judge by them, Christmas lasts all year.
Through her living room window, Toni watches the days and the seasons pass. Rhododendron blossoms mark spring, along with the hectic activities of the tree swallows who nest in the bird house Rod put up. Their comings and goings are live entertainment - the same rituals and duties she observed them perform when Rod was there to enjoy it with her. A neighbour's dahlias herald summer. He cultivates them diligently - flowers of all colours and sizes, many of which find their way into Toni's home in bouquets. Her sumac bush announces autumn with a glorious blaze of red, backdropped by the greens and golds of the growth along the water course flowing through the mobile home park. During winter, indeed in all seasons, she watches and admires the flotilla of mallards and wood ducks who alternately fly over head and paddle on the water courses' small pond (Picture 15 - 1 "Toni's ducks.") just next to her home. They are like old friends - for she has watched them for many months. She knows their habits, who they are fed by and when; that if they are outgoing and gregarious, all is well on the pond; if they are silent, stretching their necks this way and that - someone or something has invaded their territory. She noted their concern when a raccoon visited the pond, and their alarm when a beaver swam into their waters. The ducks are a daily reminder of the years she shared with Rod, living in areas where they saw more wild creatures than humans; when their livelihood rested on those wild creatures who meant food, and cash for the other necessities of life. The occasional snowfalls on Vancouver Island bring back memories of Manitoba winters filled with snowfalls and cold weather, but warmed by mutual love and laughter.
Picture 15-1 Toni's ducks
The seasonal warble of the red-winged blackbird is the finest music to her ears. They nest in great numbers along the water course, raising their young, filling the summer days with their delighted, and delightful, trills; chasing predator birds out of their area, as they and their ancestors have done for hundreds of summers that are now history. Their aerial acrobatics entertain and captivate her, for, of all birds, this is the one she loves the most.
She rests in her easy chair, reflecting on her experiences. On the intricate paths that led them together: he was born in Brazil, she in Germany. They met in the United States, were married in Canada, and lived out their lives, separately and together, in four of Canada's provinces. There must be a Divine pattern to human lives: how else could two people, so well suited for one another, travel on three continents before they found one another? Part of her being clings to the thought that she WILL see Rod again, somewhere beyond the veil. Rod considered the same question while he lived; from beyond he will be waiting for her.
Rod. Dear, dear Rod. In her mind's eye he is forever young. She sees him as a young man, striding lithely and vigorously through her memories, going about the tasks he performed in life. His twinkling eyes, quiet smile, gentle hands. What a contrast between his physical strength and the gentleness he showed in his devotion to her and their children! Once again she flies with him in the Gypsy Moth, soaring over the snow blanketed landscape, off for another winter of trapping. Visions of travels with the 'Ivory of Poplar River' crowd into her reverie - visions of storms on Lake Winnipeg, herself dealing with motion sickness, or bailing water out of the boat. Or a tranquil water surface, silently skimming along under the sail of their pleasure boat, exploring the many facets of Lake of the Woods. Yes, their early years together were hard, but despite all the problems, she would gladly do it all again - provided she and Rod were together.
It was not only the years of their union - it was also the changing times they witnessed. They were born in the era of the horse and buggy. Heavy farm work was done by horses or oxen. Most people never travelled more than two hundred miles from their place of birth, but for the adventurers there were wide open spaces to explore, new territories to settle where the willing and capable could set their own pace. The world did not crowd in on one - people had time to relish the beauty of nature, to enjoy one another, to take one day at a time.
It was a quieter world then - no sirens, auto horns, radios, television sets, telephones. No rock music, no public address systems. One could hear the song of the birds, the wind sighing in the tree tops, the music of rippling water.
Journeys took time. Train travel was a luxury, air travel rare. Water craft took them most places they needed to go, and walking was the most common mode of travel -- but no one even dreamed of men walking on the moon!
When they lived in the bush, with no running water or electricity, they worked hard - but they had time for each other. Small wonder today's marriages are too often fleeting - employment responsibilities, educating one's children, volunteer community work and many more obligations crowd the days and evenings of husbands and wives, leaving little or no time to develop and nurture strong human relationships. Yes, there are advantages to life in the 1990's, but Toni knows she and Rod shared the best of times, and a love that grief and absence have no power to alter.
She reviews the many lessons she learned from Rod. To be independent - do it for yourself, don't rely on someone else to do it for you. Explore your own depths and learn what you can do for yourself, and never doubt your own capacity to learn. He taught her how to survive and live off the land. He showed her how to use a gun, how to handle a boat, how to feed herself and the children in the bush if that became necessary. From Rod she learned what it was to trust someone absolutely - even with her life, and she came to understand that he would not fail her or their children. Perhaps the most lasting lesson she gained from her lifetime with him was how to deal with adversity. Together they faced losing Frankie and the other babies - the aftermath of the forest fire, the disappointment of losing the airplane; illnesses and deprivation. Together they surmounted these stumbling blocks, and out of them made building blocks that held them together through nearly sixty-three years of marriage.
Her thoughts move on to faces of old friends, mental pictures of old places. Albert and Clara Caldwell come to mind - true friends! They shared grief and joy, heartache and happiness. If one couple had something the other couple or family needed, it was given to them - no questions asked, no provisos added - but it was always understood the next time the roles could be reversed. Dan and Mary Patterson - companions whose presence was deeply appreciated. The faces of native Canadians, officers of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, pilots, mechanics, acquaintances at Pine Falls. She sees herself supervising the children at their lessons, Rod making snowshoes, or quietly contemplating a piece of wood before beginning to draw what he will carve from it. Her mother's face, filled with both joy and sadness, at seeing Toni again after twenty-five years of separation. Augusta Hoffman was delighted to see her daughter again, but saddened that Julius had not lived to share that happiness. These and many others materialize in her memory - not with the cares and infirmities of age, but with the zest and enthusiasm of youth.
Scenes from the past crowd in - moonlight on Longbow Lake, complemented by the peaceful and contented tenor of their years there. The fragrant and bountiful orchards of Washington State and her father preparing apple cider. Silent snowfalls at the cabin at Whiskey Jack Lake, clothing the trees in ermine dresses. The majesty of the mountains of British Columbia - seen from Flores Island and other vantage points. Fall in Ontario - the landscape brilliant with autumn colours, vivid reds, golds and greens so glorious they sear themselves indelibly into the human mind.
Apart from all this, she is "The Keeper of the Flame." As long as she greets each day, Rod lives on - for they were, indeed, one. She has surrounded herself with his things: his carvings - the sewing boxes and statues, trinket holders and her treasured rose lapel pin which he carved from the horn of a jumping deer. The drawings he made - the beginnings of so many of his carvings. The books - his books. Old diaries he kept - some written on pieces of brown wrapping paper used in stores so many years ago, and which he had sewn together to make small writing pads. Old letters from him - some dating back over a half a century - letters capable of bringing him back to her everytime she reads them. In the porch she hangs his tump line - the long, leather thong that held his portage loads together, the only souvenir of his freighting days. The sash Dan Patterson gave him - a token of friendship that has survived the friends. Rod's face beams, now youthful, now mature, from the pages of numerous photo albums -- taming the weasel, repairing heavy tractors, relaxing in camping settings. Yes, she lives alone; but no, she is not alone.
Mixed in with her memorabilia of Rod are keepsakes of more recent origins. Pictures of their children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren.
Her emotions run the gamut as she turns the album pages: tears spring to her eyes at a photo of little Frankie, lost to them so many years ago.
A smile returns, seeing pictures of happy events as their three children grew up. Snapshots of picnics, camping trips, sporting events, graduations, weddings.
Photos of their homes, gardens; the birdhouses and feeders Rod built - snapshots of memories from trips they took together - the dates and locations long forgotten, but lingering remembrances of those happy hours and days all bring joy to her.
A picture of a daughter and son-in-law who love to fly - did she inherit this passion from her father?
Their ten grandchildren:
One who displays Rod's quiet manner and mechanical skills; two others who show artistic talents, although not in carving. Perhaps they will yet turn to carving?
This one's smile, another's affinity with birds and animals, a third who shows great dedication to employment.
The great-grandchildren: too young to yet be sure what reflections of Rod or herself may be seen in them, but the promise of youth will bear the fruits of maturity, maybe showing inherited traits, perhaps being unique individuals who are truly 'their own person'.
So, while Toni lives, while any generation of his offspring live, part of Rod lives on. In this story, too, taken from Toni's remembrances, Rod's character, aptitudes and spirit take form once more for another generation, and many others who did not know him, to recognize and come to appreciate.
They truly "shared each other's gladness, and wept each other's tears", and, in doing so, have left their descendants a rich and generous legacy of love, devotion and independence that cannot be measured in gold or currency, and will neither erode nor disappear through time or distance.