I’m packing lunches at 7 am when Susanna picks up her violin and starts playing Air Tune. She’s practising for an upcoming recital, but even if there were no recital, this is the song she’d be playing. She’s been playing it for the last 5 months–ever since she started in the back of our van, fiddling her way through Manitoba, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois, on the way to Indiana for Christmas.
“Wait, wait, let me try the harmony,” I call from the kitchen while I butter bread for her sandwich. I grab my violin, sit on the piano stool and tune to Susanna’s instrument. Something’s not quite right, but I’m not sure what.
“You’re G is off,” says Susanna.
“Can you play yours again?” I say, plucking, tuning and plucking some more.
She doesn’t say anything, just leans over–fiddle under chin–turns my fine-tuner between her forefinger and thumb, then steps back. I pluck it again. It’s perfect. For nearly seven years I’ve been tuning her fiddle (even though she has better pitch than me) because that’s what moms do. Now she’s tuning mine.
We start playing the piece and I scramble to keep up. She stops mid-way through and looks at me. “I don’t think you should slide into that F,” she comments.
“But you do,” I say. “I love it when you slide into that note!”
“Yeah, well, you go too far,” she says grinning. “You have to stop right here before it gets too sharp.” She grabs my finger and places it on the finger board. Like a teacher with her beginner student.
We come home just before six, pull the barbeque chicken out of the grocery bag, and sit down at the table.
“When I’m in university I’m going to invite Belén over for bought chicken every Friday night,” announces Susanna.
“What if we don’t go to the same University? What if we’re not living in the same city?” Belén responds. A heated conversation ensues about who’s going where. “What if I want to go to Montreal? To study law at McGill?”
“Mmm,” I say, chewing my chicken, “that sounds nice.” I think of the concert we took the girls to on campus a few years ago and climbing Mont Royal…
“I just looked it up last week,” says Belén.
“You what?” I say, putting down my fork.
“I looked it up online,” she says, as if looking up universities is something we do in this house. As if university is a pressing concern or even something we talk about regularly.
Suddenly, I am no longer Tricia who toured through Europe, worked in the NWT or hitch-hiked in South America. I am my father.
“Montreal! It’s so far away. What’s wrong with Parkland College? You could live at home, save some money and get just about any degree you want!”
“Ah, mom, that wouldn’t be any fun,” says Belén.
“But you’ll marry some crazy French guy and never come home,” I say.
All I can think about is the Bible college on Hwy 83 on the outskirts of Swan River, where I grew up. The one with the green, corrugated metal siding, the one that seemed only to attract eastern Europeans who wore funny clothes, had funny hair and spoke a funny language when they walked around town together. My dad thought it was a perfect fit for me. You should go to Living Word, then settle here and marry a nice farmer he always suggested.
Now I know exactly what he meant.
Every time we go to the fishing spot something is different. Sometimes the water is high, other times we have a wide beach to build a bonfire. Sometimes we get 30 ticks each and sometimes there are none at all. Sometimes we catch only a handful of fish and sometimes we get enough to feed a hungry crowd.
I’m hooking a minnow through it’s eye and back, when I look up and scan the shore for Vivi. I see her holding a walking stick and hear her faint melody. She’s humming Jingle Bells and wandering alone. “You know, this is the first year I’ve been able to relax, and fish, in a long time,” I tell Stan and Shelly. It takes me about three years, after having a baby, until life gets back to normal–or a new normal. Which explains why this time feels different.
But it’s not the only change I notice. Of course, Jason’s not here, not fishing beside us. But we talk about him; we drive his truck and park it in the same place he always did; we fillet fish and reminisce about the time we caught 70 walleye and perch; we rig our lines with nuts the same way he used to. We remember.
And the fire. The fire is always the same, but the conversation is different. This time the kids are more chatty than the adults. They outnumber us tonight. We listen to them talk and laugh, and join in occasionally. The flame illuminates faces then flickers. Bright one moment; throwing shadows the next.