Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Village of Many Hats: Third Excerpt

Children and adults notice different things and organize what they know into different categories of logic or usefulness, I think. Children listen to stories about how someone was found, dead or alive, human or animal, after a heroic or futile struggle for survival. These stories or the actual sights (a dead heifer  with her first calf protruding because nobody competent found her in time to pull the calf out and save both lives, a pet dog accused of nipping a visiting child and shot, an outhouse where an old bachelor was found, keeled over with his overalls in an undignified heap around his ankles) lodged themselves into this child's imagination and there they were nourished, or there they festered in a malignant fashion until brought out into the light of a better day.
In a village like New Denver or a farming community like the one I grew up in, people notice things. We see that an elderly neighbour's chimney has a plume of woodsmoke rising on a -28 C. day and we drive on. We stop and make sure that neighbour has not been injured or has not woken up at all if there is no sign of smoke. Nowadays, we can wear a personal alarm system to notify a nearby person of serious trouble.
If someone has a child battling a critical illness in a small community, the family, friends, schoolchildren and teachers, or just people whose vehicles may be familiar but who have never met the family in crisis, band together and fund-raise to help with the costs of one or both parents taking time off work, getting to a hospital hundreds of kilometres away or purchasing specialized medical equipment like wheelchairs, or making ramps for the home, and so on. Similarly, rural hospice volunteers are, in my opinion, absolutely magnificent human beings as they help an entire family or an isolated individual ease their way to passing with dignity and their worldly affairs in order. 
"If there is anything I can do, just call..." Well, no, that rote remark, well-meant but kind of useless, really, is just not specific enough! 
Think food, shelter, clothing, medicine, and companionship. Offer to walk the pet dogs and look after the cats and the goldfish. Take the garbage to the dump and deal with the recycling. Shovel the snow off the roof. Change the winter tires. Shovel or snow-plow the driveway. Feed the cattle and horses and do other farm chores, organized amongst a group of responsible neighbours if need be. Take care of the kids for the weekend if possible. 
Give away all of your home-canned peaches because it's the only food the person can bear to swallow and it reminds him of the ones his mother made sixty years ago.
Look after each other. We all live in some form of village, after all.

Chapter 5
          I kicked my running shoes off in the porch and flicked on the lights as I ran into the hallway. I looked into the living room on the left and the kitchen to the right.
The note on the fridge was a full sheet of paper with writing so big and red that I couldn’t fail to notice it.
Dear Gina,
Dad and Sara and I are driving to the airport. He’ll be back home by suppertime. Sara and I are hoping to get on the last flight to Vancouver. Dad will tell you all about it. Ms. Harlock is bringing dinner over for you. Please feed Mister Tibbs and the fish. I’ll call tonight. Love you, be good, Mom xoxoxoxo
          Someone knocked at the front door and a voice called out, “You-hoo! Gina? You-hoo!”
          But I read the note written in thick, red felt pen on the fridge for the second time and tried to understand how everything could have happened so fast. Just this morning, Mom was trying to phone our doctor in Silverado and now, boom, they’re all gone.
          “In the kitchen, Ms. Harlock, come in!”
I read the note a third time, trying to find a P.S. or some missing words. The sea rushed into my ears and my heart thumped like running shoes in the dryer.
          Ms. Harlock bustled into the kitchen, holding a tray covered with a blue and white cloth. She set it down on the table and pulled off her bright red oven mitts. Her mouth kept moving and she must have been saying something to me. I shook my head really hard to shake out the ocean surf plugging up my ears. Ms. Harlock’s mouth stopped moving. She was looking at me with her eyebrows raised up high. I took a big, deep breath.
“Sorry, Ms. Harlock, I’m just trying to figure out….”
          “Of course you are, dear! But don’t you worry no-never-mind about any of it. She’s in the very best hands and we are all saying prayers for your family. There now!” she said, puffing and blowing the way she does. “Gina, dear, here’s a little something for you and your father tonight.”
          She whisked away the tea-towel to reveal two plates covered with metal warmers. My mouth watered.
          “I hope you’ll like this lasagna, Gina,” she said. “Go wash up now. Do you prefer tea or milk?”
          “Milk please,” I said, though I was pleased to be asked about tea. Mom makes us both a pot of mint tea sometimes but I only drink mine when it’s warm, not hot, with lots of honey in it.
           Ms. Harlock runs the Welcome Wagon and Silverado Community Newsletter. She's the perfect person for it, being such a good cook and loving to bustle around and help out wherever she can. If she was a bird, she'd be a mother robin, plump and busy. Her bright green eyes are always on the look-out for tired and hungry people driving moving trucks into Silverado. But most of the trucks are moving out, not moving in, these days.

**Wendy Harlock won the bid in a lively auctioneering session to become The Hero in this novel. The only category which earned more funds for the New Denver Reading Centre when the five roles were being auctioned off was that of The Villain, brave Francie Oldham! All roles: Hero, Villain, Professional Dog Walker (Heather Fox), Antique & Junque Store Owner (Judi Gardiner), Bird Columnist (Dr. Jamie Barber) and their personalities, actions, physiques, fashion sense and bird-like similarities are entirely fictitious of course!
& as always, material in this blog and any other blog at this address is copyright. Please ask permission to excerpt any material for use in reviews. Post a link to this blog site if you like it, which is a lovely thing to do! Thank you. Caroline Woodward

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