holidays with family

Of all the things I don’t especially care for when we venture Stateside, one of the top five is cemeteries.

We haven’t been to Will’s grave since July of ’08. It wasn’t the highlight of that depressingly horrendous trip, but it will do as a touchstone.

Dad, from where I was standing, was clearly dying that summer. Death hangs about people, telegraphs its intentions and smothers soul and reason. The air was so thick with it that I should have known better, watched my words and actions with more care. Hindsight must be an invention of the Catholic church because it’s such an effective guilt inducing tool.

Burying Will is a regret. I knew that I wasn’t staying in Des Moines. Knew it from the moment I was told he was dying that the reason that brought me to Central Iowa in the first place would soon be gone.

There have been many moments in my life where something outside me has guided me on my path. In the spring of 1987, Jerry Wadden, the English Supervisor for the Des Moines Public Schools, interviewed me for a job that he knew didn’t exist – yet. He told me plainly that he had no job for me, but he thought he would by August. Could I wait that long? Not commit to another district before I talked with him again?

’87 was an abysmal year for new teachers. The only jobs were down south and only for those who were graduating in the upper reaches of their class. I turned down two offers waiting on Des Moines. Houston, where I most certainly would have met people my age and probably have been far less lonely than I was during the first ten years I was in Des Moines, and a border straddling town in Arizona.

I waited, not because Jerry was so persuasive or that I was moved by his conviction that I was the teacher he wanted to hire that summer – he actually ended up forcing the district to hire me without having a job for me. I waited because something was telling me I needed to be in Des Moines. There were tasks awaiting me. And this impulse? would not leave me alone.

I don’t pretend to be spiritual. I am uncertain anymore about what directs the universe, but I do know enough to listen – mostly. So I waited and ended up staying in Des Moines – teaching, marrying eventually, having a child, burying a husband – before unseen forces guided me to where I am now.

Burying Will was something I did because he wanted me to do it. There was so little I could do for him, I felt guilty not giving him this one final thing. Even though it cost money I barely had established an anchor to a place I felt in the deepest part of my gut I wasn’t meant to be much longer.

On our last trip down, there wasn’t time enough to make the trek to the little country cemetery where his urn rests. Do urns rest? Really?

This time, Dee needs to be made aware that we will be coming within about 45 minutes of it and given the option to visit. I really want to break her of the notion that Will’s grave is a symbol of him. It’s a big rock in front of a shallow hole that contains a metal box with ash and bone in it. He, according to her, is the guardian angel of a baby born last summer. Before that, again according to her, he dropped in on us often. Now he can only come in when he has time off. It’s an interesting concept for a seven-year old to have come up with on her own, but since we haven’t schooled her much in the afterlife, I shouldn’t be surprised. After all, she thinks everyone goes to heaven.

She and I watched a movie called Oliver and Company. Cheesy bad animations from forever ago that twists the Dickens tale into a bizarre cautionary quasi-friendship themed fare for wee ones. The bad guys die.

“That was a good movie,” she told Rob. “And the bad guys died and went to heaven.”

Of course they died. We haven’t mentioned hell to her. She has no idea it “exists” in the whole death mythology. Everyone goes to heaven. Punishment is death itself and then there is heaven.

I dread the cemetery. My earliest memories of cemeteries are pleasant. Strolling with Dad’s mother as she introduced me to relatives and told wonderful tales that I was too young to know I should have been memorizing.

When cemeteries became somber, I had forty years of wonderful memories to overcome and have found that difficult. Hence the other part of my conflict. I want Dee to think of cemeteries as place where history and family are and not as sad obligations.

I have already told her that she doesn’t have to visit her grandfather’s grave. She knew him so much better than she did Will that her sadness is often more profound over Dad’s death than it is for Will.

It’s not helping me gear up for the journey knowing that life is in flux in the States right now either. No one seems quite as grounded or sane as I remember. Crossing the border, never pleasant, menaces. I fear something awful is about to happen and I would rather be here, in Canada, when it does.

And I am allergic. Oh, I am always allergic, but this week has seen a resurgence of vicious, sudden attacks. Eyes swelling to almost shut. Sinuses burn as if I have inhaled acid. It’s something in industrial strength cleaning solvents that causes it. That’s what happened to me when we took our trip to Victoria last fall and I encountered something at Dee’s dance school the other night which has set me off for most of this week. It tires me and is a little bit scary.

My kindly old Chinese doctor didn’t help when I saw him either. I needed refills on allergy meds, and he cheerfully recounted how two of his patients died trying to inject themselves with their epi pens. Sigh. Socialized medicine does not improve bedside manner.

Must pack and begin girding my loins.

Leaving Edmonton


A tip for all traveling with tykes around the holidays, dress your wee one in something seasonally fitting and adorable. For example, bunny ears and a tail. My daughter made the ears at child-minding and the tail in her kindergarten class Holy Thursday and proceeded to wear them non-stop through the rest of that day and into Good Friday when we were flying out of Edmonton to Minneapolis for holiday. She would even hop for people with all the verve of Peter Cottontail himself. Now we have flown with Katy before and she is very cute even without a costume, but no one in Customs or with the TSA has ever seemed to notice. But, as a bunny she drew smiles and cooing noises from nearly every one she encountered, proving that even these folks are human. I was beginning to wonder. It was the most pleasant near anal probing I have ever been on the receiving end of as far as airport security goes. None of the usual “mach schnell” and stealing furtive glances around myself wondering if someone was going to snatch us from line and whisk us off to some little room somewhere. (Perhaps if I wrote about them in a more upbeat and ingratiating manner I would be less nervous?)


Despite sailing through customs and security, we ended up boarding late, as there was snow in Minneapolis that delayed the inbound flight we were taking. I can’t even imagine what it must be like to fly back and forth between two destinations all day long. It makes teaching look like fun in comparison. Though the weather portrait being painted for us by the Edmonton Northwest employees looked dreary, the reality was not as bleak. Not really any colder when we finally arrived but minus the sunshine we are becoming accustomed to seeing for at least part, if not all, of our days.


We barely made the connecting flight, only to be stuck on the runway for almost as long as the actual flight took. De-icing and then waiting for our turn to take-off pushed this flight back as well. I don’t take things like this in stride as my husband does. He reminded me when I was particularly crabby that if he ends up taking the Houston job we will eventually have to fly overseas and those are much longer flights. He is a “see, it could be much worse” person and I am an “it kinda sucks now” person. I think I would have been better had I not had a child next to me kicking my legs and pelting me with a hundred questions or the Father Knows Best family sitting in the seats ahead of us loud talking with another passenger.


People who can strike up meaningless banter with their seatmates on a plane always impress me. Chuck Palahniuk refers to them as “single serving friends” in his novel Fight Club. Directly in front of me was a young college student and a thirtyish woman who looked as if she could have been that girl you knew in high school who was a cheerleader and in homecoming court and dated only the cute athletic guys from well off families. You know her, right? Well, they get plump and cut their hair into short fashionable SAHM do’s when they hit thirty and flirt with single guys nine or so years younger on planes when they are coming home from shopping jaunts to Mall of America where they met their college sorority sisters for a mad weekend of credit card maxing and mai tai’s at the Ruby Tuesday’s. They probably don’t also get hit on by the kid’s dad in the seats across the aisle whose wife is sitting right beside him looking like a fiftyish version of her though. Am I being catty? Okay, I am. I like running across these women now that I am older. I enjoy seeing what time has done to them. I wonder if they realize what has happened, or if they are just as clueless as they were back in high school. If they are, it is willful. How could you stand being the same vacuous person as an adult that you were as a teen?


Stuck as we were and as loud a competition as this father and son were in for the fashionably done up Sex in the Small Town woman, I ended up having to listen to the dad tell the same bad joke over and over, the mom recite the doings of their entire clan for that last two years – this included a complete medical history of her father and a bragging session about their well-married older daughter and finding out the kid’s name was “Bud”. Who does that to their own child?


We managed to arrive in Iowa nearly on time and with all of our luggage this trip and scored a nice vehicle from the rental people. My best friend and her family drove over from Des Moines to meet us at our hotel and we ended up swimming that night and spending time at the nearly deserted mall the next day.  And despite the dire predictions, the weather was seasonable and most of the snow had melted. I have found out a few things about my family that I am wondering the impact of on me this coming year but that is stuff for another day.


I still hate flying and would much prefer driving however.