About me and this blog
I was born on a native reserve in Ontario, grew up on the west coast of Vancouver Island (as far west as you can go without running out of Canada), came of age in Mexico City. Between times, I lived in the Fraser Valley, Texas, Seattle, Oklahoma, Bella Coola, on the BC north coast, and the Fraser River Delta, just south of Vancouver. For now, I'm "settled" in Campbell River, on Vancouver Island.
I have a boatload of stories to tell. These are some of them.
Wednesday, July 4, 2012
It was quiet up on the hill; the Douglas firs whispered into their cloudy pillows, dams of cushiony moss held back the downhill surge of the streams, muffled their chatter.
In the house, Susie held the silence with gentle hands. Raindrops slithered down her windowpane; condensation inside, rain outside. She caught a wandering droplet with a fingertip, tasted it.
A crunch of footsteps on the gravel, a bustle in the mud room, meant Daddy was home. The rain came in with him, hissing on the stove. In the kitchen, the baby crowed, Mom announced, "Supper's ready. Oooh, you're wet!" Miscellaneous thuds and creaks, pots scraping on the stove top, bubbling, clanking, splashing. Daddy stood at the living room door in a cloud of potato-scented steam.
"And where's my little girl tonight?" he shouted. He pretended to search, behind the sofa, under the desk, down the hallway, finally coming back to Susie's chair, feigning surprise. "Well, here she is! Hiding on me, were you?" He tweaked a brown braid playfully, then lifted her, blanket and all, and carried her into the kitchen to install her in her seat at the end of the table. Mom was putting out bowls of vegetables, carrots and creamed corn. The baby banged on his highchair with a spoon. Daddy sang "When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again," getting all the words wrong.
Later, with supper over, and Susie safely ensconced in her chair again, Daddy helped Mom with the dishes. She could hear them rattling plates, the water running. The baby snored on the rug, sprawled over his toy trucks.
"Cliff asked if we could come down for coffee tonight," Daddy said.
"Nice of him. You go." answered Mom.
"Mary would like to see you. And you haven't been out since Susie...."
"But the doctor said....her heart...." Mom had lowered her voice, but Susie could still make out the words. Her parents didn't imagine how well voices traveled, how thin the walls were. She had heard the doctor, too, even though he had pulled the kitchen door shut behind him.
"...keep her quiet.... hope for the best....possibly...." Afterwards, Mom had gone into the bedroom and Daddy made supper.
"No excitement," said Daddy. "I know. We'll just have coffee, talk, boring grown-up talk. She'll be fine. We'll come home early."
"But the rain......"
"We'll wrap her up. I'll carry her; she's light as a bird."
In the end, they went. Mom bundled Susie up until only her eyes were showing, and Daddy made a chair of his hands for her. She sat with one arm around his neck, and Mom put Daddy's overcoat over them both, buttoned it around them with the empty sleeves dangling down.
"You look like a two-headed sasquatch," Mom said.
From the back porch, the world was grey. The downpour hid the trees, the hill behind, even the corner of the house. Daddy pulled his collar up around Susie's head. His footsteps and Mom's gritted on the stones; all else was silent save for the whispered rustle of raindrops on leaves and branches. Under the overcoat, Susie held tight to Daddy's lapel, heard the thud of his heart, the wheezing intake of his breath.
At the bottom of the hill, the rain drummed on pavement, then on a roof. Daddy's shoes called up hollow echoes from wooden steps. Cliff's voice boomed out, "Here they are, Mary! Come in, come in out of the wet!"
Mom and Daddy sat drinking coffee in Mary's kitchen. The baby woke, and Cliff dandled him on his knee. Susie sat in the living room, watching the flames leap in the fireplace. She held a book Mary had given her, but kept it closed, for later. The burning wood smelled like a summer beach, with the waves crashing and the seagulls crying. Her blanket steamed gently on her knees.
When the coffeepot was empty, Cliff stood by the window with his back to the rain, and played his trombone. With the slide out, it was longer than Susie. He played "Shall We Gather at the River", "When the Saints Go Marching In", "Amazing Grace." He put dozens of extra notes into "Amazing Grace", the trombone slide going in and out, in and out, but he always got back to the tune in time for the next word. The shiny brass made little dancing lights on the window behind him.
"More, please," said Susie.
"I'm all out of breath," said Cliff. "Ok, one more." He played "Onward, Christian Soldiers" twice, once the way they sang it in church, once so fast and fancy that the slide vibrated like the guy wires on the bridge in a storm. His face was red and damp when he finished. "Whew!" he said.
"We better get on home," said Daddy.
At the door, open to the black wet night, Mary touched the baby's cheek, pulled his blanket firmly over his head, back over Mom's shoulder. "G'night all, thanks for coming down," she said. She bent suddenly and kissed Susie's forehead. "G'night." She turned quickly and ran back into the house.
Susie pulled down the collar of Daddy's overcoat so she could peer out at the dark. Rain ran down her neck. The flashlight made a bouncing pool of light, now glancing off rivulets eating away the path, now off dripping rocks, now to the side to find the stream, the cut above it, the ferns and bleeding hearts nodding in the drizzle. Daddy smelled of wet wool.
Stories of Childhood
© Susannah Anderson, 1998