Author's preamble: I have a collection of short stories that I dip into from time to time, to consider my own evolving points of view, my progress and my craft. This little gem of a story is based on a period of time I spent with Winifred Marsh, (wife of Donald Marsh, an Anglican missionary assigned to Eskimo Point during the 1930s, who later became 'Bishop of the Arctic'.) I was helping her collate his early photographs of northern peoples and their region .
During those long pleasant days, I discovered Winifred to be a kind, thoughtful, charming, sturdy, insightful and inspiring little woman. For my contributing efforts, she gave me several of Donald's images, (sample shown.) I cherish them to this day. Her 'story' - re-written into this quasi-fictionalized account - has greater resonance as I grow older. Elders - from any culture - are one of our most precious natural resources ... RESPECT.
|Northern Friend. - Photo by Donald Marsh.|
had said dinner at 5 pm.
82 years of age, she could call dinner at any time she liked, so I had said,
arrived a little early, as usual, around 4:30, with the mandatory strawberry
and rhubarb pie carefully tucked into my bulging carry bag. I had also picked
up a half-pint of Haagan Das vanilla ice cream. I rang the doorbell and waited.
She took a long time to answer.
Her voice squeaked from the other side, “Just a
Five minutes passed before I heard the latch turn, and she said, “OK! Give the door a push.”
Winifred. To see you thus. Bent over double, world weary and worn, but ever
always, beaming from eye to eye with your impish generous grin. We greet warmly
and I see that your eyes are clear and bright today. Winifred. Winnie. Win. I
evoke your name to remind myself that these crystal moments are the best gifts.
are weak. I can see that every movement is a struggle for you. You are using
both your canes today. Our eyes acknowledge the gnawing of age but we both put
on a brave face. We joke. We tease each other. You are too weak to make the dinner,
but this too is understood and also unspoken. I order you to sit down while I
rummage in the kitchen for this and that. I move briskly, efficiently, and make
periodic dramatic gestures to entertain you. To please your good eyes. You,
lover of Life, remark on my new hairdo and shimmering silk blouse. I push
buttons on the microwave and remark how one must tackle high-tech fearlessly.
You smile. And we both remember stories from your youth: those years in the
North, without stove, sink or refrigerator.
the counter I see that you have managed to prepare a small salad of sliced
avocados, tomatoes, cucumbers, green peppers, carrots with an assorted mixture
of salad greens. I know that it may have taken you over an hour to prepare. You
would have had to remove the vegetables from the fridge, wash them, cut them,
pull down the serving dish, and then arrange the items artistically.
this for me.
we sat down to dine at the table by the window, I leaned over and put a cushion
behind your back for comfort. You rubbed your legs and said the arthritis was
worse than ever. We chatted amicably about nothing. And when I rose to get the
pie and ice-cream for dessert, you are childishly happy and whisper
conspiratorially as you pick up your fork, “I’m not supposed to have pie…” Our
old secret. Later, you insist I have a small tumbler of brandy. You don’t
drink, never have. I retrieve the bottle from under the cupboard and pour myself
a stiff one, then lean back, and listen, as you tell me yet another tale of our
are telling me a new story about Eskimo Point up on Hudson
Bay. How my father, and your only son, Donald, had found the old bull
seal while out trapping with my grandfather, and your husband, Archie. You
remembered the day like it was yesterday. And in the telling your hands drift
to the tabletop to fidget with the white tablecloth.
sky had been uncommonly bright and clear that day, the blue so remarkably blue
that you had spontaneously dubbed it a colour from your paint box ‘Robin
Archie had been out walking and
checking the trap-line on the bluff with his son Donald tagging along. The North Sea was quiet with a gentle north-eastern breeze
lapping the shore. The beach pebbles glistened like forgotten pearls fallen
from Sedna’s throat. The lime-green sea grass flickered rhythmically imitating
flapping bed linen.
was bent over a trap, busy, while Donald was idling about, twisting a braid of
sea grass, when they first heard it. The breezy blissful scene was pierced by a
startled screeching scream. Donald scanned the shoreline. Half a mile away,
down on the rocks, a large bull seal was struggling inside the captive
restraints of a mangled net. Plastic red and white buoys clattered against its
rolling sleek body. Another ungodly belly wail sent the ever-present seagulls and terns skyward.
and Donald ran down and tried to grab hold of the bulky mess. But that old bull
barked and struggled furiously against their intrusive and awkward hands. Archie
told Donald to stay put, he was going to get his tranquilizing gun at the camp
and he ran off.
Donald stood off, bewildered by the moaning creature. He tried
to think what to do. The seal heaved its heavy body again in its never-ending
struggle to set itself free and as it did so a shard of entangled grappling
iron jammed further into its already bloodied side.
The tortured yelp was
ran forward to the seal with his outstretched hands to pull out the rod. As he
approached the bull turned on him and roared in anger. Donald fell down
backwards onto the beach pebbles and burst into frustrated tears. He slowly
began to crawl over the stones towards the bull seal extending his bruised
hands. “Please, please, let me help you.” His own murmurs of pain punctuated the
moaning groans of that majestic beast.
Tentatively, gently, Donald placed
his small hand through the netting onto the side of the heaving animal. This
unusual child-caress momentarily stilled the wounded creature and Donald was
able to move his hand carefully to the rod. He paused for a moment, speaking
softly, then, with a strength he didn’t know he had, he pulled the rod clear
and clean from the belly of the bull.
gushed out at the boy. The giant sea slug convulsed in a painful spasm and
Donald yelled in terror as the mammoth dead-weight crushed down upon him. He
lost sight of the sky.
the time Archie returned with the gun he could not see Donald anywhere. He
glanced back over the ridge to the trap line. He briefly thought how timid his
little son was.
turned and shot skillfully into the still moaning bull seal. He then slowly
approached the now inert mangled mess. When the seal lay perfectly still,
hardly breathing, he bent over the creature to roll off the entanglement of
buoys and netting.
was then that he first saw Donald’s blood covered hand holding the metal shard
extruding from under the bull’s belly. Frantically, and with a ferocious strength,
he heaved off the half-ton carcass. The buoys clattered forward onto the rocks.
gingerly lifted up the limp body of his only son. “God, dear God, not my boy!”
He carried Donald over to the embankment, and laid him down softly on the sea
grass. As he wiped the warm blood off Donald’s ashen face he saw that he was
still breathing. Archie placed his big hands onto the boy’s small chest and
administered a clumsy CPR all the while praying.
“God, dear God, no.”
paused and glanced out the window to the early night sky. She watched the
clouds move for a moment, then turned and looked at me, “You know, Archie, your
grandfather, wasn’t, and never was, much of a religious man.” I nodded slowly.
I knew that.
she said, brushing the tablecloth …
Donald finally sputtered to
life, choking and frightened.
He gazed up into the eyes of his ever-loving
father and said, “Did we save him, Dad?”
gave a gentle cough. Her sad sweet smile met my all-seeing gaze. Quietly, she said, “Your father was a strong little boy, Ruth. Much stronger than his
own father ever believed.” She rubbed the top of her legs. I nodded slowly
again and watched her age before my eyes. “I’m
sorry dear heart,” she continued, ”I’m
getting a little tired now. That has to be enough for today.”
helped her from her chair and asked if she wanted me to stay until she was
re-settled in her room. No, no, she said, just come back next week, maybe we
can take a little walk outdoors. I promised her we would walk the tree lane
behind the parking lot if she felt up to it. The yellow crocuses were just
starting to push up, new spring shoots were bursting forth. I could come a bit
earlier on Saturday, I said.
goodie! ” she exclaimed, as she struggled forward on her canes, “I’ll bring my
And I said, “Yes Granny, that’s
a good idea. Bring your paints.”
Granny Paints: Short Story - Copyright - Margaret Lindsay Holton.
Contact the artist for reproduction. / Photograph by Donald Marsh in Collection of M.L.Holton