Where I Came From

Once when I was young we drove to the farm to show my grandpa our new camper. He jumped from the combine, waving when we turned onto the long driveway. As we came closer my sister, brother, and I noticed something was wrong. He wasn’t waving anymore. He was stooped over, groaning.

Dad’s truck skidded to a stop on the gravel, sending up a swirl of dust. He told us to wait in the camper and ran across the field. Pain sounded in Grandpa’s voice through the screened windows. The men staggered to the truck and Grandpa sat across the table, rocking, clutching a paper towel to soak up the blood. He’d cut a chunk from his hand when climbing down from the tractor.

It was the only time I recall seeing him hurt. And for some reason, it was all I could think of the moment I hung up the phone with my dad, taking the time to allow the word “tumor” solidify in my mind.

My flight out of Charlottetown was quiet. The snow had melted from the hills below to reveal red patches of field checker-boarding across Prince Edward Island. I toyed with my seatbelt, hoping my husband would enjoy a week alone with the kids.  I landed in Toronto only to take off an hour later. Winnipeg greeted me in darkness.

“You’re at your mom’s?” His voice was deep as ever, the Frisian accent thick and endearing. “Well, shoot. That’s great. I didn’t know you were coming home.”

“I just . . . thought I should.” For months I’d ignored the urge to plan a trip back home. But, two of my cousins had scheduled their weddings within a week of each other. One of my best friends was about to have her second baby. My grandpa has a tumor. I wrapped the phone cord around my finger. “Can I come over?”

In twenty minutes I was out of the city and on the highway. I loathed the desolate landscape when I left Manitoba fifteen years before. But now, the drive to the farm was beautiful.  The prairies were my home. The place where I came from. I stared out at the open sky and turned up Wheat Kings the moment it hit the radio. My hands tightened on the steering wheel as I passed the penitentiary on the hill. Grandpa had retired from thirty-two years as a correctional officer long before– without taking a single sick day. At the end of his last shift, each and every inmate inside had lined up to shake his hand.

My sister’s van was parked in front of his barn, the Alberta license plate still dirty from the drive. Grandpa stood waiting for me in front of the shed. His shoulders were hunched, his shock of white hair thinner than I remembered. But, he was as handsome as ever. I rose to my tiptoes, hugging him tighter than I should.

“Well, look at you!” He laughed, stepping back to examine me, lines crinkling around sharp blue eyes. “You look good.” He winked. “Even if you are a little thin.”

We sat in the sunroom while my sister’s kids examined the toys we’d played with almost three decades before. I was next to Grandpa, resting my head on his shoulder as the sun danced between looming branches outside.

“I’m thinking of having the operation,” Grandpa said. His arm was around my neck, his hand engulfing my shoulder. He’d immigrated to Canada sixty-five years before. A Dutch giant, scooping up a piece of prairie farmland after the war. He was just eighteen then, a year younger than I was, when I left home.

“It sounds like you should,” said my sister.

I agreed without thinking of the implications–without entertaining the possibility he might never recover.

“It’s funny,” Grandpa said. “I never thought about dying before.”

My chest tightened. “No?”

“Oh you know, not really. I feel the same as I did before. It seems soon.”

The days were a blur of family visits, driving back and forth along the impossibly flat landscape. My friend’s house rose like a fortress in the woods on the outskirts of bear country. She was beautiful, pregnant and perfect. The first wedding began without me: the tendency to be late a family trait. Grandpa arrived a half-hour later.

The second wedding rounded off the very end of my trip, held at my old church: the sanctuary untouched by time. When the guests stood for a hymn Grandpa’s voice boomed over all of the others, fervent and on key: just like every Sunday of my childhood. I fell silent, listening, unable to sing anymore.

Grandpa chatted with each and every guest at the reception. I stole quick glances from across the room, fighting a lump in my throat. It was late by the time he arrived at our table. We talked for a long time, joking and exchanging stories while my sister and I dabbed Kleenex at our red-rimmed eyes.

Midnight descended on the reception too soon, a member of staff announcing it was time to leave. I had to fight the overwhelming urge to beg her to let us stay, noting the tired lines under Grandpa’s eyes. We’d kept him far too long already. I stood on my tiptoes,  hugging him tighter than I should, staining the lapel of his new suit with a few rogue tears.

And then I let him go one last time, the man where I came from.
On the third anniversary of the day he moved on, May 4, 2015.


66 thoughts on “Where I Came From

  1. Your gift with words has found me in tears as I read this. Parts of living are so hard on our hearts and thoughts when our family lives so many provinces apart. This last visit you spent with Grandpa was difficult, but it too was a gift, even tho you and those you love had red rimmed eyes. It is great to reopen your gift even tho it is painful, and experience the love you have for your Grandfather. It is indeed where you are from, and you can never squeeze tighter than you should.

    Sent from my iPad


    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is amazing writing with such a deep, emotional impact. I was hooked from the beginning — it just flows so beautifully. Just, wow!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Moving. Touching. So real. Thank you for sharing such an emotional part of your life. My wife’s Dad passed on in February. Looking back, about a week before he left us, he made some phone calls and talk to people close to him. He normally wasn’t one to talk on the phone and all of his conversation at that time were 45 minutes or longer. Hold tight to those memories of where you came from. You can take a girl out of the prairiees but you can’t take the prairies out of the girl…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! My grandfather lived a good life. Although his passing seemed fast, everyone had the time they needed to bid him a proper goodbye. My cousins’ weddings were the perfect excuse to get back home to see him. It is a wonderful thing, to be able to say goodbye. I’m sure your wife is grateful she was given that opportunity.

  4. Nicely done, I love the description of the landscape and the farm setting for this piece, the family members come through nicely too. If I understand this correctly, this is a something you wrote several years ago and are re-posting on the anniversary date of your grandfather’s passing. If so, this is a nice tribute to him. Thank you for sharing! That said, it reads like you have a much larger story to tell. The last four paragraphs, in particular, feel like a synopsis of more to come. Is that your intent? Certainly, you have an interesting family and the grist of a good story. Fingers crossed there is more to come.

    Liked by 1 person

    • No more to come for now, at least not of my grandfather.
      I just didn’t want to let the anniversary of his passing to go by unmarked.
      Thank you for your kind words. Your comment is much appreciated.


  5. You’re just such a damn excellent writer. As I’ve told you before, there is just something endearing about your writing–a sensitivity, I think, a good-heartedness , a kindness. Like all really fine writers you’re great describing details and have a good memory and a clear vision of what you’re getting at. A tender and moving story. Thank you.

    Liked by 4 people

  6. Your grandfather is very proud of you and watching over you, always with you. As it should be 🙂 Excellent tribute to a worthy man from his very worthy granddaughter.


  7. J.A,. He must have been one heck of a wonderful man to produce a grand daughter like you. Your love and adoration for him flow, even as you share an intimate moment of your life and feelings. I hope to write half as well as you do someday.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Such a great piece!!! I love the way You write!! You take us right there beside You! Love your descriptive phrases! So visual and creative! Loved – “My friend’s house rose like a fortress” and “the sanctuary untouched by time” – reminds me of personal experience!!!

    Thanks for visiting me! Come again!!


  9. This is just gorgeous. I’ve been scouring your site since you liked one of of my posts (I was very pleased ) reading everything you’ve written and I have to say: I’ve been reading blogs here for about 2 months or so and some are great , some are just awful but even when I’m reading the great ones, something in my brain mechanism doesn’t quite click, as though the gears are turning but there’s a little catch or grind preventing them from slotting into place ; it’s jarring and quite a physiological reaction. Then I read this and my brain felt like it had been dipped in warm honey, or someone had oiled those gears and everything was in sweet motion again. Such satisfaction.
    I know figurative language in replies is a bit cringey, but that is the best way I could express it.
    Thank you for writing. I’m officially a fan.

    Liked by 1 person

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