I bathe pink roses and budding white carnations with cool splashes of the seawater pooling in pockets of pebbles at the edge of the approaching tide. The motion almost mirrors a sacrament of the faith that fortified the final act of your life, the years I’ve known you. I speak of you to the waves, to God, to you, if you’re listening. You walked these beaches when you were young; as young as I am, and no older. Perhaps you loved Aberdeen, or you simply found love in it. More than a half-century later, I followed that love to its root, and here I remember you.

Above the sand and across the esplanade, I leave the first rose on a window ledge of the Beach Ballroom, the dulled crown of the boulevard. In those young days, you would swing, twist, and fall in love in its halls before boarding a tram home to Holburn Street. Sandy, who has stayed by your side these sixty-four years, would bid you adieu and round the corner to Holburn Road, eagerly awaiting your next outing.

West of the Boar Craig that divides Cullen Beach from Portknockie, where we will scatter your ashes after they have journeyed here from the Pacific coast, I write your names. All four of them: the Vera and Elsie that you forbade my father from passing to me, the Mair that you saw reflected in my Miriam, and the Findlay that you found dancing in Aberdeen.

I pick a pebble from the rocky shore below Bow Fiddle Rock. You swam here as a girl, you and your brothers braving the icy North Sea. The pebble is soft pink, like you, and so light that I barely feel it drop into my pocket. Most bits of rock and sea glass in the tin on my mantle are from Aberdeen, but I will know this one for your home. I will know it for you. 

Since your girlhood, you would walk along the Heid o’ the Brae to look across the harbor and beyond to the sea. I walk it, too, and lay a rose where you stood with Papa six years ago, admiring the view for what you knew would be the last time.

I venture to the pierhead and observe the open water from the harbor whence your father and his father and every father before set forth. I cast a rose upon the gentle waves and watch it float towards the shore, returning home along the path of your father and his fishing boat.

Up the hill, on Church Street, I behold the cream-colored cottage where your life began. You lived here until the excitement of the city called you east to Aberdeen. Then you ventured west, almost as far west as you could go, to follow your brother Norrie and his bride, your dear friend Edith, to Vancouver. Whoever lives here now will find your rose below the garden wall.

West of town, I lay carnations atop the graves of your brothers Max and Leslie. Deep among the older headstones is one of the cemetery’s tallest monuments, first placed to honor your uncle William, his young life claimed by the sea during the Great War. His parents share the memorial along with your uncle James and your father and mother. For Vincent and Peggy, your two siblings buried here who died so young that you never knew them, I offer carnations with the fifth rose, placed so that your memory might mingle into this earth, an homage to the generations you have joined.

I give the final rose to your beloved sister, the child who arrived by surprise and grew up under your wing. Sheila alone remains of that family on Church Street. You’ve missed two Saturday calls with her now. You left so quickly, she says. She did not get to tell you goodbye; this we share.

These are your stories, not mine. For me to claim them, even to tell them, is unearned, I know. I have been presumptive, as you often were; you were firm in your convictions, and you shared them freely, eagerly. You have now shared yet more, provided me with these precious pieces of your life while you have found peace away from it. You were not taken but released, a rose borne joyously upon the waves.

 

Image: Jade Esson

7 Comments

  1. Susan B

    What an absolutely lovely reflection on this memory-walk as you remembered and honored her life in the place you now live.

    Reply
  2. Nicola Murray (née Mair)

    Absolutely beautiful

    My dad Ian and Vera were cousins, both brought up in Portknockie as I was. I have lived in the village all my life.

    Reply
  3. Marnoch Johnston

    So beautifully worded – such a pleasure to read.
    Thank you.

    Reply
  4. Catherine Sutherland (nee Mair)

    Vera lived across from us in Church Street where there was plenty of children growing up there. A very lovely writing and fitting appraisal of Vera.

    Reply
    • Hugh &Norma Steven

      Beautiful, evocative prose that took us to the heart and center of your love for your grand-
      mother. We’re delighted you are vicariously enjoying the memories. Blessings! (Former Canadians, missionaries to Mexico, now retired in California. Friends of your parents we met the two years we were on staff at Granville Chapel part time while looking after my father.)

      Reply
  5. Kyric Koning

    There is a beauty in following where memories take us. Even more of a beauty exists in discovering where people take us. This was a most lovely journey, even if it was difficult.

    Hold a rose for yourself, as well.

    Reply
  6. Lisa Barber

    what a delight to read Gwyneth. The creative writer you have become to be is beautifully made evident in this wonderful tale of love and family and home. Thank-you for sharing it.

    Reply

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