Home for Hughie’s funeral

Fred Trimmer, my brother-in-law and some of my sisters met me at the airport in north Edmonton. We crossed the north Saskatchewan river and Saddle Lake Indian Reserve and I recalled the time when Felix and I worked Batoche’s farm and made hay on Duck Lake. And now I was returning for his funeral service!

Nothing seemed to have changed much except for the oiled road that led across the reserve to St Bride’s and on to the Cold Lake. The reserve seemed as empty as ever I remembered it. The trip paralleled the route that George McGrath and I had walked on our first hobo adventure many, many years before.

I wondered what I would find when I returned home and, knowing my mother’s emotional vulnerability and her enormous attachment to her youngest son, now deceased, I had reason to dread the encounter.

Eighteen years had elapsed since I left St Brides and things seemed to have changed. Everything had shrunk in size: the house, the barn, the log buildings, Pagan Creek, the hill that had once been so steep, and the surrounding fields.

There were other changes as well. A pump replaced the windlass over the well. A floodlight was attached to the top of a tall pole in the middle of the yard: four young poplars grew along the north side of the lane and there were many cars parked in the yard. In the field a parked tractor stood silhouetted against the skyline.

As I got out of the car I saw my mother waiting for me outside the porch door. We embraced. She greeted me apathetically and wordlessly. Her eyes were red and weary from weeping. What was there to say? Words could not heal the wound she had suffered. Wrong words could add to the burden but no words could lighten it. I was amazed at how much she seemed to have shrunk.

I knew instinctively that it was not the time to talk.

not like his beloved Ireland …

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