Deb and Barb Have A Three-Way With Kathy
We met her as My Kateness, our very first follower. We were delighted to discover her own wonderful blog, Stubblejumpin’ Gal (formerly Life on Golden Grain Farm), even as we got to know her better through her funny, insightful, and endearing comments over here. Welcome, Kathy, to our latest 3-way!
Kathy: I knew only one thing: it was a sign.
The house was closely surrounded by trees, and although the wind swayed their highest leaves, in our tiny yard the air was calm. So it was a shock when, as I stood washing dishes in front of the kitchen window, the top half of a young poplar tree snapped off and leapt toward me.
Could the forest be irked? The day before, I’d brutally pruned back the wild raspberry bushes along the narrow path between house and garden. It was the only explanation I could come up with.
My mother was 63 years old and, aside from the all-day “morning” sickness that lasted right up until she went into labour on the day of my birth, had hardly been sick a day in her life. Lately she’d found her bra too tight and, when undoing the clasps provided no relief, had gone to see her family doctor. He’d found a growth on her kidney; surgery and follow-up treatment would resolve the issue and the prognosis was good, he said. I’d received that news, gone out for my usual walk around the farm and found myself weeping. Why? I wondered. Mom would be okay. She had an MRI scheduled, but didn’t seem worried. When the tree snapped in half, I didn’t connect it to her.
The following afternoon here in Saskatchewan it was mild and sunny. I had been over to our neighbour’s country greenhouse, loading up trays full of leafy green nurslings for my flowerbeds, visualizing the beautiful blooms that would grace our yard over the summer months. I’d been smiling all day. When the phone rang, it was my dad with Mom’s test results.
“It’s terminal cancer,” he said immediately, bluntly. “There’s nothing they can do for her. She could last three months; she could live for a year.”
“Fuck off!” I said; then hopefully, though it would have been the most despicable humour ever, “You’re not joking, are you.”
“No. Can you handle it?”
“I’ll have to. I’ll call back later.”
I hung up the phone and dropped to my knees on the carpet, arms across my belly. Not wanting to scare my young son in the next room, I made my way outside where, again, my legs went out from under me. On the grass, I rocked back and forth, groaned; but nothing could alleviate the intensity of this unbearable news. I stood and, tears running down my face, headed for the trees as if some comfort might be found there. Now I knew what they had been trying to prepare me for.
My sister’s omens of death came via birds. After Mom’s diagnosis, a robin persistently pecked at her kitchen window for several days as if trying to get into the house. When our uncle went into the hospital several days before his death, a white dove—something she’d never seen around here before— flew past her windshield when she was on her way to visit him.
Has Nature ever spoken to you?
Deb: Kate, I felt your devastation in my gut as I read this. It’s those moments in life that we are sure will kill us, but don’t. What they do however is weave their way into the fabric of our soul and protect us and remind us to prepare for the next gut-wrenching moment life will dole out. For those of us who have lived long enough, we know this to be all too true. But we survive, don’t we?
Nature has spoken to me in this fashion only once, but it has stayed with me like a comforting friend all my life.
My Auntie Isabel was only 52 when she died of breast cancer. Her doctor misdiagnosed her, telling her that because the lump in her breast was painful, it was not cancer.
Her four grown children struggle with this still, knowing she might have lived otherwise. I loved my aunt very much. She was my Mom’s only sister in a family of six kids and we grew up very close to her family, geographically and emotionally. We lived down the street from one another, went to the same schools, spent all holidays together. Basically her four children grew up to feel like siblings rather than cousins and we are lovingly close to this day.
My Auntie Isabel was one of the great lovers of life. Nothing was too small to miss her loving attention. One of her great passions was birds, and in particular cardinals with their fiery red coats and curious demeanor. She always had her binoculars on the back window ledge and lived for sightings. I was never much of a birdwatcher at all. Took them for granted. My Auntie Isabel died when I was 21. That winter, I noticed my first cardinal. Mainly because it seemed to take up residence outside my window. Even if I moved toward the window, it remained unflappable. The bird would sit, staring at me and me at it, then fly off after it had enjoyed my company to its satisfaction. There was nothing subtle about this cardinal stalking and I knew in my heart right away that it was Auntie Isabel visiting me. At that point, so soon after her death, I needed it to be true. And it was painful. Every time I saw the cardinal it would break my heart a little.
Since then, wherever I have lived, I have become a cardinal magnet. I am lousy with cardinals. I could have a cardinal habitat and charge admission. We had two young lovers nesting in our cedars this past spring and it was glorious. I cannot begin to tell you the joy these little birds bring me. Over the years my pain has turned to joy when I see them. I don’t need a sighting to prompt my memories of her, but their visits sure give me hope that I will see her again some day.
Barbara: Wow, these stories are killer. Kate, you brought me to tears. Deb, you brought me to beautiful memories of my own. Like being surrounded by birds after Phil’s father died suddenly and unexpectedly.
My father-in-law was a retired architect for whom any surface was ripe for sketching. A little black bird was one of his signatures. Seeing birds after he died gave all of us comfort, however brief.
One of the most memorable stories like this that I’ve ever heard––although it didn’t happen to me––was told to me by an acquaintance at a funeral while we both mourned the death of one of our best friends. Our friend had just died of cervical cancer … she was only 39. We were all devastated, as you can imagine. She had been beyond beautiful. And brave and gentle and wise. It didn’t seem possible that she was gone.
As we exchanged stories of our friend’s life, the woman I was speaking with suddenly became quiet and introspective. When she spoke again, it was to describe an incredible experience––an experience she could barely understand––that she’d just had. Before she found out that our friend had died, she’d been walking with her husband through the remote woods where they live. They got caught in a bit of a snow squall and were trying to make their way back home. They rounded a bend where the woods opened up to a clearing. Just then the sun broke through the clouds. Up ahead in the clearing on a small swell of a hill were some letters carved into the snow surrounded by hearts. As the couple drew nearer, they saw that the letters spelled out the name of our friend. At first they smiled, remembering their own friend with this same name––and then it hit them: who would have spent time in a snow squall carving a name into a hill when one’s only thought would normally be to get home as soon as possible? And how recently could the name have been carved if it wasn’t yet obscured with snow from the storm? And who was the mysterious name-carver if they hadn’t seen a soul in the woods? And then it struck them how odd it was that this snow-graffiti would be the exact same (moderately unusual) name as their dear sick friend. They raced home through the woods … and found out our beloved friend had died.
I didn’t get a nature call-out from this dear friend, but I did receive what I consider another little sign. My friend’s ex-husband gave me a piece of her jewelry as a keepsake inside a small cloth bag on which he’d penned my initials. The letters BR soon melted into … a heart.
On another day, I’ll tell you the story of another of the mysterious gifts my father-in-law left us after he died…
Kathy Johnson lives in the Saskatchewan countryside, freelances from her home office as an editor in the subjects of architecture, dance, film and theatre, and has replaced her life-long letter-writing habit with a personal blog, Stubblejumpin' Gal, at http://goldengrainfarm.blogspot.com.