I am grateful for Annie Lahti.
I heard this morning, as I write this on October 29, that one of the most precious people in my life has gone. I can scarcely imagine the sun will continue to shine without her, that spring will ever come again and that I will find my way home. I write this for her.
I would have sat at your bedside these last weeks had I been able, had I been allowed to abandon my post in the Yukon. I would have held your hand, whispered my favourite stories, stories of you. I know you were surrounded by your family, surrounded by love, with Mandy as the vigil in the end. You didn’t need me there, my love quietly and securely tucked inside your heart, but I needed to be there for my own comfort, for my own needs. This is my letter of gratitude to you, repeating the stories and memories I have told you over and over for all these years and though we were separated by too many miles you were never far from my heart, never forgotten, always missed.
I would have thanked you for filling my heart with love, when I was little. Remember the day you came to gather me up to take me to your house. I was four, afraid and sad to leave my dad, my mother gone back to teaching, my dad needing to farm without the perils of me tagging along behind him. Remember how we laughed years later about my struggling and screaming as you and Aarne drove me in your station wagon, up my lane and next door to yours. You opened the glove box of your car, while holding me securely on your knee and showed me the cut-outs you had there, the surprise to stop my wrestling to get free. It worked and within a matter of hours your home became mine, your table the only one I ate at without complaint, without excuses, without resistance. And before long my dad would turn me lose at our barnyard gate and I would race across the field to you, take your hand so we could walk the rest of the way down your lane together.
All the memories flow in together, forming a collage as I sit here, not bothering to stop the tears. I am transformed into the princess with flour sack cape, weaving her way through the sheets hanging in the basement on rainy Mondays or outdoors in the sunshine, my kingdom, the wringer washer gurgling and sloshing the laundry in its soapy tub, your skilled hands guiding the soggy clothes through the wringer to magically press out the water, your hand warning me to be careful. I am gathering eggs with you, basket in my hand, squatting down under the sloping ceiling of the chicken coop, my hand tentatively sneaking beneath the warm feathery belly of the resting hen and stealing her eggs, her clucking in annoyance. Remember when I fell, tripping over stones and broke all the eggs but one, and you never scolded, never frowned or looked annoyed, but wiped my knees and my hands while saying we would try again tomorrow. Remember hunting in the mow of the barn and the attic of the shed looking for kittens, calling out muddy-ka, mother cat you explained.
I lied in the straw in your cozy red barn while you and Aarne milked cows and I cuddled calves tied with a bit of sisal twine and then we lugged the milk to the milk house down by the creek, a cool and dark and sacred place, separating the milk from the cream and filling the cream cans. Or while you made donuts, snapping and sizzling in the oil, I built castles and barns with Ralph’s Sta-Lox building bricks until I was allowed to shake the donuts in a paper bag to cover them with sugar, taking a few home to share.
I can’t choose a single memory, can’t refine it down to one image other than crawling on to your lap, and placing my head against your chest and knowing I was safe and loved, a feeling that resides in my heart and always will.
Thank you, Annie. I would have begged you not to leave me had I been there. But I wave with love, sending you off with my grateful heart. Until we meet again.