It was Annie’s birthday on July 15th. Annie Lahti. I don’t think she would mind me telling you that she is ninety today. That’s quite an accomplishment and worthy of honouring her for that alone, but I am honouring Annie for so much more.
Annie opened her arms and let me crawl on to her knee when I was four years old and I have loved her ever since and will continue to love her long after we are both gone. Annie represented to me safety, kindness, laughter, determination, you-can-do-it, and unconditional love. It is Annie to whom I give credit for me striving to be the best mother I could be. Mothering came naturally for Annie, as natural as breathing, and she led by example. Her patience was never exhausted, her attention genuine and focused.
Annie’s farm was next door to mine. She and her husband Arnie farmed there before my father bought “Bonnie Brae” on Wilson Road in Crozier, both our farms facing the determined current of the Rainy River. My father let me go at our barn gate in the morning and I ran across our field to Annie’s waiting arms where she stood at her gate and my days of adventure began. I was a princess adorned with flour sacks while Annie did laundry with her wringer washer in the basement. I helped gather eggs and played with calves while Annie milked. We hunted together in the barn’s hay mow for feral mother cats and her hidden kittens. We made donuts and pies and we drank fresh milk from her white ceramic pitcher. I never wanted to grow up and leave Annie. I wanted to stay four forever.
We often wander away from where we are planted, where we first bloomed. I think those of us who wander often have a perpetual longing, a sort of homesick-ness that is never assuaged, a sense of loss that never loosens its grip on our hearts. My sense of feeling homesick is missing Annie, wishing I could play with Ralph’s Sta-Lox Building Bricks at Annie’s feet while she does her work, watching her push her hair off her temples when she is hot and weary, listening to her laugh. There is a part of us that always remains a child, a child that yearns for those days when someone made everything right, when bruises and scrapes could be healed with a kiss and a hug, when a glass of milk and a cookie was all the nourishment we really needed.
I can’t be with Annie on her birthday, but like almost every day I feel Annie very close and I will today too. Her photos are on my office walls from the many visits over the years. I have her recipe for blueberry muffins and chocolate chip cookies on the front of my recipe book. And I have my heart filled with happy memories of she and I sharing my childhood together. Geography and time separate us, but nothing takes her from my heart, nothing fades the sense of being loved by her and me loving Annie. And I am grateful every single day that my farm was next to hers, grateful for the wonderful person she is. Happy Birthday, Annie. See you soon.