Every January 13, for the last four years, I set aside time to remember.
I buy flowers, one for each of my immediate family members, look for open water in or leading into Lake Huron, then I trek out to somewhere cold and snowy to toss the flowers into the water, just like my siblings and I did the day of our mother’s memorial service in January 2008.
On this date 4 years ago, my mom died after breast cancer had wreaked havoc on her body for about two years.
She was the strong tower of my life in many ways, and my life has never been the same since.
So, on this day every year, I write Mom a letter, telling her about what is happening with me and why I miss her. And I remember.
It’s a cold night in Goderich tonight. It’s been a very weird winter: yesterday I wore sneakers to school and today there is snow blowing everywhere. It was cold enough that I didn’t want to linger, or make Johnathan linger with me, out on the pier in the bitter wind, after we tossed your flowers into the rough water.
A freighter is being loaded with salt at the beach, even though it’s getting late into the evening. That’s one of the things that is the same about Goderich, though many things are different.
Perhaps you watched from above, but in case you missed it, shortly before your 58th birthday, on an otherwise beautiful Sunday afternoon, an F3 tornado hit our beautiful town. It came up from the beach, damaging parts of the salt mine and killing the man operating the equipment that carries the salt to the boats.
It then flew up over the hill, knocked down most of the trees in Harbour Park, then razed the houses on West and St. Andrew’s streets. It went through the Square, severely damaging many historic buildings and uprooting more trees, then sped along Park and St. Patrick streets.
John & I got to walk around town shortly after it happened, mouths agape, appalled at what had become of our beloved town: it looked like a bomb had gone off. Or a few. Hydro lines were down everywhere, roofs gone, cars crushed, trees were in the streets and branches were inside of houses. Windows were smashed.
There was a tree in the Timmy’s drive-through. People were walking all over town, because they could not drive. Emergency crews came from towns such as Walkerton and Hanover. Hundreds of people were hurt. Cops had blocked the Square off and were preventing people from going into town. The Knights of Columbus Center was set up as an emergency shelter for those who suddenly found themselves homeless and without food.
It took two to three weeks before all of the hydro was restored, trees and stumps cut up and removed, roofs covered with tarps, and people moved out of condemned buildings. Hundreds of people came from miles around, volunteering themselves to serve meals for workers and needy, help people pack their belongings, cut down trees, and so much more. Not everyone was honest and community-minded in this, but many were, and we were all encouraged and humbled. Everyone drew together to do what they could to help.
Five months later, Goderich does not look the same as you knew it. There are holes where there used to be houses. The skyline is strangely lacking trees, so that you can see the salt evaporating plant clear across town, and so that the grain elevators are fully visible from any point on top of the hill, where they used to be mostly hidden behind walls of tall trees. The Coffee Culture building is completely gone. The gazebo on the Square is gone. There were a handful of trees left in the square: none of them big ones. The Burger Bar was “killed” in the tornado and was subsequently torn down. Just yesterday, the buildings that housed Carman’s Cameras, Wing Hongs, and Bailey’s were demolished. It goes on and on.
But Goderich is re-building, and will rise again. Someday.
As for me, I just started my sixth semester of university, which means I’m almost 3/4 done! A year from now I will be starting my last term. I can hardly believe how quickly it has gone by. Still, a lot of sweat and tears have gone into getting me this far, and I’m not done yet. I have learned so much. I wish I could tell you all about how my perspective has changed and my worldview enlarged, and how much I’ve realized about myself and our culture.
I still live in the apartment that I got after you left us and I had to grow up in a hurry. It’s a fairly convenient spot when you consider that I drive to London, to Bayfield, and to Goderich a lot. Every year I think that I will move to London, but it hasn’t worked out yet, and I still have so many ties to Huron County that I haven’t gotten to the point where I am completely ready to leave yet. Remember all those years ago when you thought I’d never live in Canada again? Surprise! 5 and a half years later…!
These days, I’m not singing much: my band kinda broke up in the summer, just before I turned 30 (!!), and I haven’t really found my groove with anyone else since. Maybe when I move to London…
I am trying to write more, though I don’t make it over to this page often enough. I do, however, look for opportunities to write at school. I’m a regular contributor to my faculty’s student publication, the mitZine. I struggle between having ideas and feeling like I don’t really have the time to spare to write them. Yes, I need help in that department.
On the work front, I am no longer mostly a server. I have done some serving every year, most recently with what I think is the best restaurant around, the ArtSee Cafe and Bistro in Bayfield, but I’ve branched out into jobs that are more along the lines of my desired career path. I can add a couple of “firsts” to my life list. One is that I got fired for the first time in July! It really was a much-needed parting of the ways, but the brass tacks are that I was let go before I could anticipate it. It turns out that I have a fairly strong personality (!!) and cannot allow myself to pander to just anyone’s way of doing things. In this case, I had a really hard time seeing eye to eye with my boss, so I wasn’t able to do a good job. Not a good scenario for anyone involved.
Currently, I am employed short-term with the county as a data-entry clerk, helping to build a new culture and heritage database. I am also (I’m proud of this one) an On-Call Branch Office Administrator, or BOA, at the local Edward Jones branch, which moved to Bayfield from Goderich after the tornado. The best part about that is that my boss is a big-ideas lady who wants me to help her flesh out some pretty fantastic plans!
My love life remains pretty great. I often regret that you never got to meet Johnathan. You would be amazed at how good he is to me and all the ways he surprises me. For my 30th birthday, he gave me a ’52 Chevy pick-up! And then he proceeded to restore it, so that it went from a pile of rusty parts to on the road in about two months. It’s beautiful! You would love going for a ride in her. We call her Flo. 🙂 Again, I can hardly believe that Johnathan and I have been together for more than two years now. Wow.
I should stop rambling on and on, but just a few more things. I have just recently discovered a great way to encourage the curly in my hair, and so I am embracing it’s wildness and bigness! I thought that would make you smile.
Your grandbabies are amazing. Yes, I am biased, but they are four of my very favourite people. I can’t get enough of them. They are smart, funny, and adorable! I wish you could see them grow up.
Another anecdote: lately I hear your voice in mine more and more often. Not only in my saying something you might, but actually sounding as you might sound. It’s trippy. And I love it.
With much love and until the next time I think of you,
3 thoughts on “Four years later…”
That is a beautiful letter. I’m sure your mom loved it. I hope she doesn’t mid that I read it too!
had no idea when I encouraged you to blog that it wouldbe so close to that anniversary – forgive me – but thank you for such a heart warming post – I’m sure your Mom was very proud of you
Thank you so much for sharing Sarah.