Since she left her birthplace — a land of the seasons — her existence had been untethered: floating freestyle instead of settling to the comfortable rhythm nature guaranteed.
The loss was not one she discussed with her family. They would have been troubled that she was not content in their new home. Her father argued proudly they were lucky to have settled in the place. Before they left their former home, he had been unemployed for two years with no prospects of a job. Her mother, a teacher, would have lost her position when the school in their diminishing town closed. After some difficulties they had found jobs — not as good as they had hoped for but jobs. Even though their wages were low, they were able to buy a small house, but the mortgage was arduous.
Allie’s daydreaming was shattered by a snap at the dining room window, she spun around hoping that it might be snow…but no, just abrasive rain. She looked back at her plate; the meat was almost congealed. How long had she been dreaming?
Since her mother’s death, there was just the two of them — her father and her — and reading material was allowed at the table. “We could watch the TV at supper,” her father had suggested but she had refused. It had seemed the last straw to give up even a semblance of a family meal to watch news of death and disaster over her fried chicken.
Allie knew her gloom was partly related to the month. It was the worst time of year: dark and wet, with a threatening sky that had dropped down to the horizon. Maybe it was advancing years or a lingering cold but she felt depressed recently, seduced by thoughts of times past.
Even after all these years, there were things she missed. What she yearned for most were the seasons. Four distinct seasons set up a rhythm to the year that made life predictable and hopeful. Nothing in the new place was certain and, to make matters worse, they lived apart from nature (unless you called those city trees or sports parks nature). The years oozed out, limping from cooler to warmer, wetter to drier, long days to shorter days. And the occasional fleeting snowfalls soon disappeared.
“What season do you miss most?” her friend Rita has asked years before in one of their early letters. She had lazed in her room, earmuffs on to cut out the sound of her parents’ discussions about money or her father’s sports shows, pondering the question. She and Rita were close friends; they only talked about serious things and were honest with one another. She didn’t want to blurt out the first thing that came into her mind.
Of course, she loved winter, building up as it did, with flirtations of snow, and then a serious commitment to blanketing mother earth — as her mother had blanketed her. The snow slowly, incessantly, covering the ground. “Is it sticking, her brother would shout from his room” Until finally, the white blanket covered the tree branches ’til they bent down under the weight and she and her brother were sent out to knock the snow off of the bushes before the boughs broke. That was one job they enjoyed, bursting to get out as they struggled into their snowsuits, “Frank, look at this,” her mother would say, “Time to go to the Thrift shop for new winter gear.”
And out they went. But soon thoughts of knocking the snow off the tree were replaced with the job of making a snowman… “Mine’s a woman or a snow angel.”
“Boys don’t make angels, they make superman,” said her brother. Best of all was when the snow piled so high they could make an igloo.
Her father soon was sent outside, tasked with shovelling his way to the road. “Your mother is sure to get her boots filled if I don’t clean this off,” he’d say, his breath puffing white.
“That’s another one of the great things about our new place,” her dad announced. “No snow, no shovelling, no trying to get the car to start when you forgot to plug it in.”
Her father had good things to say about every season. “At least it isn’t hot and muggy in the summer with zero degrees air conditioning chilling your bones in stores. Don’t you agree Maggie?” But, although her father never noticed, her mother never answered.
Winter was great but perhaps her favourite was the summer. “Those damn bugs would eat the top off your head if they could,” her father told their new neighbours. “You wouldn’t believe it if you weren’t there.” And she was no fan of bugs: mosquitoes, black flies, horse flies well the list just went on and on. But then to make up for that there were the hot days, sweating and daring, you raced to be first to jump in the chilly lake and then dried off stretched out in the hot summer sun.
But then spring might be the best because finally after trudging along in big boots, “You’ll grow into them,” and slapping her arms around her body to keep warm, the sun spits out heat. Finally, she was freed from her heavy coat, her boots off, and her feet so light she flew along the field. Racing around the corner only to hear her mother shouting from the upstairs window, “Allie, are you out without your boots, you’ll catch your death.’
But she didn’t catch her death. It was her mother who did and not from the cold but from a slow lingering disease that she suffered in the new place.
“Maggie was always glad we came out here,” her dad had said at the funeral. “Of course she missed some of her old friends but she never said a bad word about this place.”
The remark made Allie wonder how people could live together, eat three meals, sleep in the same bed, laugh at the same TV shows, gasp together at bad world news and not know one another. Of course, her mother never said a bad word about the move. Her mother never said a bad word about anything. Well almost never.
The time her mother found her poems about nature, she had said.
“They’re wonderful, they really remind me of home.”
“This is your home, Becky,” her father often reminded her. “No I mean, our first home, our real home,” She’d say.”
“Your poems are evocative,” her mother had said.
“What does that mean?” Allie asked.
“Makes you feel the experience.”
“Do you ever miss the old place, mama?”
Her mother has hugged her and said, “Don’t tell your father, he always wants to think we did the best but I do. Do you miss Rita and your other friends, you can still write to them, maybe someday they could even come here.”
“No, I miss the seasons,” she’d said and her mother had laughed and messed her hair as she did when she felt affectionate. “Well, everybody has the special thing they yearn for I guess. I miss going to grandma’s grave every spring, just around her birthday, cleaning it up and planting bulbs for the year. Cousin Fred said he would do it but I was never sure he would. Seeing the grave was sad but it made me feel close to my mother. She and I used to go to the grave to see her mother’s gravestone. It said, ‘Do not weep for me. I am in a better place.’ ”
“I bet she didn’t mean she was here,” Allie laughed.
“Of course not, it meant heaven.”
“I don’t think that place even exists.”
“Maybe not but it was restful just to be where there were so many memories. And in the spring the green buds were just coming up in the graveyard.”
“Where will you go when you and dad die?”
“We’ll be cremated, and our ashes put in a little box in a park outside the city.”
“I want to go home, to go back to the hills behind grandpa’s place, to the lake. I asked Rita if she would scatter my ashes there.”
“Good grief that will be a long time off. Maybe the lake will have dried up,” her mother had said. And maybe it had but if so, she would have been there to watch it.
As the years passed the letters to Rita got fewer and finally, like the grandfather clock in the song, stopped short, never to go again when the old man died. And now Rita was gone and maybe the lake was gone but she had read somewhere that just at the moment you died your soul would fly out of your mouth — if you kept it open — so if it did, her soul could fly across the miles, zip-up north and land by the lake. Whenever she felt sad, she remembered that it might not be for years but the thought was a comforting haven.