I thought I'd share this.
The "anniversary" of Mark's homegoing is coming up, and I tend to think about him more and more as the day draws near. It's not on purpose. I don't particularly dwell on that date. It just sort of happens. It's an emotional few months leading up to "the day." Same with his birthday. Mark loved his birthday more than anyone else in the family, so December 1st sticks out more than any other birthday in the family and I miss celebrating it with him. He started counting down the days as soon as Dad's birthday was over on August 21st.
I've always felt that God laid this project on my heart, and when I lack inspiration, He is always faithful in giving it to me. I have quite a few chapters written, but the first chapter never felt right, so I prayed about how to open the story. My friend suggested a "flash-forward" and it was something I had actually been considering, but wasn't sure how to do so. Well, God gave me an idea. We were driving at the time, so I found a pen and a scrap of paper (I really should put a notebook in the van, for moments such as these) and started scribbling away. Within a few minutes, I had this: (in its rustiest, first-draft form, so pardon the errors, repetitive words, etc.)
As we drove down the dusty road, tears sprung to my eyes. I could see it. A little island of trees in the middle of the wide open prairies. We got closer and I could distinguish the lines of the house, nestled in the middle of the poplars. The garage. The old chicken coop. The beautiful Sweetgrass Hills in the distant horizon, smoky blue against the golden prairie grass. The sky was bright, cheerful white clouds spotting here and there, warm sun, strong breeze. I felt like I was being transported back in time.
John rounded the corner and steered the rental car slowly down the long driveway. He avoided the deep tire tracks, evidence that this abandoned home had once been lived in. It must have rained recently. The tracks were filled with murky brown water. I craned my neck for signs of life. There were none. Even the grasshoppers were gone. Everything was still, aside from the wind that rippled the long prairie grass like waves in the sea.
I stepped out of the car and heard the familiar crunch of the dry weeds under my feet. I shuffled through the knee-high grass and it was clear that the place had been empty for a long time. I reached the front steps and lifted the flat, smooth stone by the front door. The key was gone. I tried the doorknob. It was locked. A vague sense of relief swept through my mind. I wanted to go inside, but the memories were so powerful, so much emotion tied up in that vacant prairie house, that it scared me to release it. I didn’t want to cry. If I started, I might not stop.
I walked to the nearest window and stood tall on my tiptoes, peering through the dusty window pane. I couldn’t see much from my vantage point. There were several dead birds on the basement stairs. I wondered how they got in the house. I pressed my face harder against the window and strained to see the foyer. It was the same as I remembered, but empty. No coats hanging across the rack, no shoes littering the plywood floors. Just dust and another dead bird. I had seen enough.
Turning towards the garden, I motioned to John that I would only be another minute. Joshua was sleeping in the back seat, exhausted from our long trip. The garden was empty, nothing able to survive the scorching sun of the previous summer. Somebody had burned the big hedge down. The garden had been built around that hedge, and it looked out of place now. I reached down and ran a hand over some of the rocks my parents had used to build around the garden. I hesitated, trying to find Mom’s favorite. I wasn’t sure, so I grabbed the most distinct rock, brushing away the dirt as I carried it back to the car. She would be happy to have it.
As I neared the vehicle, I saw that John had left his seat and was walking around the house. He came around the corner. “See anything?” I asked. He shook his head. The wind had blown his hair to stand on end and I remembered how much I had disliked the prairie winds. Today it seemed like an old friend. “Everything looks the same,” he said.
I stared at the house for a long time, etching it my mind. I knew this was good-bye, possibly forever. The memories continued to tumble through my mind as I climbed back in the front seat of the car and looked back at my sleeping baby. I wished he would wake up so I could show him my old home- the place I had spent five of the most meaningful years of my life. One day, I would share them with Joshua. I would tell him all the memories that were wrapped up in that yellow stucco house on the southern Alberta prairies. The story of my family. A story that started with my earliest childhood memory. Mark.