I am walking through a city park, amid melting snow and the first hints of green, when the memory hits me.
Twelve years ago, give or take a few days, I am standing in a cemetery. Melting snow and mud, the first warm day after a long and brutal winter, and my father is being buried. Fragments from the funeral: a whole pew full of Lutheran pastors in their robes, come to pay tribute to one of their own; how my stepsister cried but I could not; standing at the front of the airy, wood-beamed church and saying a few words with my siblings, words I do not remember now.
He never hated winter. Much as he loved growing vegetables and going on long bike rides in the summer, he still took winter in stride. After my parents divorced, he would take me and my siblings cross-country skiing on the small-town golf course right behind his house – long flat stretches, gentle slopes, stands of leafless prairie trees, crisp white snow and blue shadows and the sky that deep, deep blue that I still think of as Alberta blue.
That winter, he was ill for only a few months before he died. We visited him in hospital, driving back and forth in the bitter cold. Winter has never been the same for me in all the years since. I hunker down, hibernate (as much as anyone with a full-time job outside the house can), and wait for spring. He would not have shared the sentiment, but he would have understood.
(I thought of him when Terry Pratchett passed away recently. My father never read Pratchett, but I think he would have appreciated the humour – incisive but warm, with an essential core of humanism. (He was, after all, a big Robin Williams fan…and boy, was it hard when Robin Williams lost his battle.) I just reread Small Gods, particularly appropriate because my father was a pastor. What is belief? What is the relationship between the structure of the church and its god? He would have loved these questions that Pratchett explores so thoughtfully, cloaked in the guise of humour.)
When he died, I was an adult and working, but still living at home with my mother, just a few years into the relationship with the person I would later marry. I think of him sometimes now that I live in a different city and province, married, homeowner, small press editor, dancer. So many things have happened in my life since he was buried, it’s strange to contemplate.
But there are similarities. I have a vegetable garden now; the taste of real carrots takes me back to childhood. My father and his second wife, my stepmother, had a weekend ritual of going to the coffee shop at the edge of their neighbourhood. My husband and I do the same. Then we walk through a cemetery, just as I used to do with my father as a toddler.
It’s not the same cemetery, nor the one where he is buried. But I’m not sure that matters.
Spring will come to all of them.