Vanderhoof is a small bush town of approximately 4000 people North West of Prince George which is in Central British Columbia, and the heart of the Nechako Valley. The local First Nations Band is Sai’kuz and make up at least half the population and who have named the moving waters, Omineca for the river which divides the town into two. The only way to cross was a single lane wooden bridge, where the weight of a vehicle triggered the signal lights.
My grandmother’s daughter was a teacher at the local high school. She was a ‘challenger teacher’ for youth who were in and out of the school system and who were generally thought of as underachievers and going nowhere. My grandmother’s daughter befriended a lot of her students. Childless, she seemed to take on other peoples children as her special interest and looking back, she may have possibly have been giving to these children , what she felt she lacked in her own life; a mother.
On several occasions, my grandmother’s daughter had given a couch to sleep on, to native and other youth, when there was no other place for them to go, and her reward was the belief that the youth would continue to attend her classes and possibly make something of them, and, somewhere along the way, my grandmother’s daughter would go on to receive the Governor General’s Award for Excellence in Teaching.
It was the first Saturday of December 1985 and the beginning of a long winter for the region. My grandmother and I had already spent several days, learning how to properly blow dry plastic sheets to the windows to help prevent drafts for the cold snaps we were expecting and my grandmother’s daughter spent numerous hours hauling cords of wood into the house to fit beside the wood stove and along the side of the house by the main door. The night delivered the promised chill and the temperature dipped well below -18oC, where flesh freezes.
Before retiring to each of our bedrooms for the night, my grandmother filled the wood stove to the brim and my sister turned on all the water taps in the house to run a slight amount of water to help prevent pipes freezing.
My bedroom was actually intended to be a den and I’m sure prior to invading her life, my grandmother’s daughter used it as a work area to prepare for classes. Opening the door, I looked directly into the dining room which was attached to both the kitchen to the right and the living room directly in front. When my grandmother’s husband died, her daughter inherited the dining room table, chairs and hutch and made themselves a fine home here.
The bed I slept in was really a folding cot-couch-hide-a-bed-daybed. It was orange and soft and smaller than a twin or single, but suited me fine. I had one dresser in the room, off to the corner and butted the wall leading to the small closet. There was just enough room in the bedroom for me to sleep, change, read and if I peered hard, I might be able to look out my plastic covered window, and make out the trees to the side of the house. The room was narrow and institutional.
My grandmother’s daughter’s bedroom was on the other side of the kitchen and my grandmother’s room was at the back of the house, which was really an afterthought appendage to the petite trifling house. A complicated little maze of stairs and hallways led to her room, and it was cold and indifferent.
At approximately two in the morning, I awoke to the screams, howls and yells of my grandmother’s daughter, from behind her bedroom door. At the point of consciousness, I could not make out what she was shouting. Lying on my stomach, I pushed up with one arm and turned to roll onto my back, and there, in the light of my green digital lit alarm clock, was the face of a long haired man. He was crouched to the floor and was about a foot from my face. I could smell winter in the air and alcohol. The room was still dim, but I could see he was wearing only a jean jacket. It was too cold for him to wear such a thing in this weather. He made not one facial expression that I could see and in my bewilderment all I could ask was “Who are you?” Instantly, I could clearly make out my grandmother’s daughter’s roars.
“BARBIE. WAKE UP! GET UP! GET IN HERE! BARBIE! BARBIE!”
I stared at him with devastated eyes but could not breathe and within that instant…
I remember sleeping the rest of the week in my grandmother’s daughter’s room. It was the only bedroom in the house with a lock on the door and it was here that I discovered that some aluminum softball bats were loaded with sand. I learned how to properly hold and swing the 38 weight within days. After three days of very little sleep, and startled at every little noise, I began to sleep with ear plugs, a habit my mother’s daughter was accustomed to, while working in the pulp factories in Northern BC, prior to taking on teaching.
My grandmother did not talk to me or ask me how I was doing. She did not console me or hug me. She did not outwardly, take the situation as some parents or grandparents would have and it was from this point on with which I never heard her again, tell me she loved me. I didn’t talk for weeks.
When the school year was out, my grandmother and I moved back to our original hometown.
I did not say goodbye
Gardens In Literature
12 years ago