For Jeff

Grade 13. Leamington District Secondary School. Cafeteria table.

I am blathering about Gillette's new Mach 3 razor. No one, I explain, needs three blades to shave their face. The commercials are ridiculous. Only an idiot would truly believe they need this new beard-removal tool.

My friend Jeff has been listening patiently. His bright blue eyes twinkle.

Jeff: I think it's a great idea. I can't wait to shave with it.

Me: Don't be a dupe! They're tricking you into buying a much more expensive razor that does the exact same thing as your old one!

Jeff shrugs.

Jeff: My old razor doesn't do a great job. I have to go over my face twice, sometimes three times to get a close shave. I'm going to buy it.

He is so nice. I just want to hug him. He is not offended in the least that I just effectively called him an idiot and a dupe. He just wants a closer shave.

I lost contact with Jeff after high school. Still, for the next 14 years, every time the men's shaving industry came out with the Next Great Razor, I thought to myself: Jeff would love that.

Jeff tracked me down by email this summer and we corresponded regularly for a few weeks. He said he was sorry we'd lost contact. I was sorry, too. We agreed it wasn't anyone's fault. Just one of those things.

Jeff died this weekend. It was very sudden.

Jeff and I had a lot in common. We both married young. We both started our families young. We both lived far from our families. We didn't see eye to eye on everything, but we agreed on the important things.

I don't have any profound thoughts about life and death. I will certainly miss that man. He was one of the good guys.

I remain a skeptic about the Mach 3, but for the rest of my life, I will greet each new leap forward in razor technology with great enthusiasm. For Jeff. He'd love that.

we were here

It is early evening. Henry and I have just taken the last bolt out of the swing set. We pull it apart into manageable pieces and carry them to the side of the house. We'll load them on the truck Saturday morning with everything else.

Erin: It's such a beautiful night, guys. Let's go for a walk.

The kids balk. They're tired. They want to practice handstands.  

Me: We're going to be really busy in the next couple of days. This could be our last chance to go for a walk together.

Jane: OK. But I'm bringing Gerry.

Jane's hands are cupped around something. Blades of grass stick out between her fingers.

Me: Who is Gerry?

Jane: My pet cricket.

Me: OK.

We walk north along the treeline through the long grass of our neighbour's field. Erin is quiet. This is hard.

Henry: I've got something in my shoe!

Me: Take it off.

Henry: It's wet!

Erin helps him remove the grass from his shoe. We keep walking.

We turn a corner and look into the valley that defines Springvale, PEI. The sun, low in the sky, bathes the green and yellow fields in the golden light of early fall.

Me: So beautiful.

Erin: We are punishing ourselves.

We walk into the valley. Alice is amazed by how long her shadow is.

Alice: I am so big!

Jane talks about how much she loves Gerry. She shows me his little head sticking out of her hands. It is green.

Me: Gerry's not a cricket. He's a grasshopper!

She pauses.

Jane: A grasshopper?

Me: Yup. Careful. They spit brown juice.

She flings Gerry to the ground. A minute later, she is crying.

Jane: Why did you have to tell me that? I'll never see him again.

Me: I'm sorry. If I could take it back, I would.

We come to another line of trees. It's as good a place as any to turn around. Erin grabs my hand.

Erin: This was a good place for us. It was exactly what we needed exactly when we needed it. But it's time to go.

I nod. She is smiling. Her eyes are not smiling.

We climb out of the valley. Jane searches for Gerry. More wet grass sneaks into Henry's shoe.

In our yard, where the swing set was, there are two bare patches where the grass doesn't grow. The earth here has been trampled down by bare feet dangling, spinning, flying high, swinging low. Up and down. Up and down. These are the marks that say we were here.

Alice, in denial

Alice sits on the front step. I am tying her shoes.

Alice: I'm a little girl?

Me: Do you think you're a little girl?

Alice: (nodding) I think.

Me: Not a big girl?

Alice: No.

Me: You used to be a baby.

Alice: I remember.

Me: Pretty soon you'll be a big girl. After that, you'll be a teenager. Then you'll be an adult, like me.

Alice: Not like you. Like Mummy.

Me: Right. And maybe you'll be a mummy, too. And then maybe you'll be a grandma. And then... you'll be an old lady.

Alice: An old lady.

Alice considers this. I finished tying her shoe a few moments ago.

Alice: Wheeeeeeeeeeee!

She runs away with her arms trailing behind like some sort of superhero cape.

A well-earned carrot

Jane has gripped the green feathery top of a carrot and begun to tug. She rocks it back and forth, trying to coax the root from the ground. The earth finally yields, and Jane stands holding a perfect carrot.

Jane: Wow.

Dave: It's a beaut.

Jane: Yeah.

Dave: Think about how that carrot came to be in your hand. Remember this spring when this garden was still just part of the lawn?

Jane: Yes.

Dave: Do you remember cutting and ripping the sod with me? Turning over the dirt with our spades? Then mixing in manure compost?

Jane: Yes.

Dave: Do you remember helping Mummy make ridges with the hoe to plant the seeds?

Jane: Yes.

Dave: Do you remember putting the tiny seeds in the ground, covering them with dirt, and watering them?

Jane: Yes.

Dave: And do you remember how you wanted to pick them as soon as you saw a tiny bit of green come up? But you waited, and weeded, and waited some more?

Jane: Yes.

Dave: All that work made a carrot.

Her eyes have not left the carrot this whole time. She is ready to take a bite. She just has one more thing to say.

Jane: I deserve this carrot.

Old Grandma D

Erin and I sit sipping coffee at the breakfast table. The girls play in the next room.

Jane: Let's play Old Grandma D!

Alice: OK!

I shoot Erin a confused look.

Me: Grandma D has become a game?

Erin: Didn't I tell you? Listen.

We hear the girls adjusting the couch cushions.

Jane: Ready?

Alice: Ready.

Jane/Alice: Ollllld Graaaandma.... DEE!

There is a soft booming sound, then giggling.

Alice: Again!

Jane/Alice: Olllld Graaaaandma.... DEE!

Erin and I creep to the door. The girls have pulled the couch cushions about six inches forward so that a lip of unsupported cushion hangs over the edge of the seat. They sit near the edge, shifting their weight forward little by little until there is nothing left holding up their bodies. They slide to the ground with a bump and a "Dee!"

Jane/Alice: Ollllld Grandma.... DEE!

Peels of laughter.

Erin: (softly) I think Grandma D would like this game.