Sitting in the studio figuring out the schedule for a new package design project, I notice the date and holler downstairs to Agnes. June 20th. Is it someone’s birthday? It’s our anniversary, she shouts back. We laugh. Not a day I usually forget, but we both do sometimes. We never pay much attention, though this evening we think it might be nice if we did.
• • •
This is what I remember. It was the long weekend in July. I had just gotten back from the Teepee Creek Rodeo where the neighbour and I had decided that next year we would enter the Wild Horse Race. That spring and summer I became a cowboy. My horse’s name was Moon and I lived with a couple of Irish Setters. Cowboy and Eli. J & B were in the Yukon looking for gold and I stayed behind shovelling cement in Grande Prairie. We had moved into a larger cabin. Actually more shack than cabin. A long-abandoned, two room, depression era farmhouse at the end of a grass lane in the shadow of a monolithic grey barn. I used to climb and perch on the peak of the barn. Weathervane in a jean jacket surrounded by yellow canola fields and the astonishing Alberta sky.
Shortly after I arrived, G showed up at the sad excuse for a screen door. After a flight from Germany and combination of hitchhiking and Greyhound bus rides she and her best friend had made it! I don’t remember whether or not we expected them. Clearly not at that point or J wouldn’t have been in Dawson City. When we met the year before G had spoken often of her friend. For some reason I had always pictured her with thick blonde braids, one of those lace-up leather vests and maybe a tray of tall, overflowing beer steins.
We had moved since G lived with us the previous summer. She knew we were regulars at the hotel bar and found someone there to take her out to the homestead. We were joyfully reunited, jumped in the truck and headed back into town. The friend had remained behind with their backpacks. And the cowboys. And her little yellow Deutsch-Englisch dictionary.
The Sexsmith Hotel had a big barroom. There was a dance floor for two-stepping Saturday nights and a pool table that inspired fist fights. It was mostly locals and by then we were counted among them. We had made friends, partied and drank together. The crazy hippies who wintered in Badger’s cabin then moved to Baduik’s in the spring. No power, water or amenities. Nothing really. Except perhaps a strange, foreign kind of freedom.
The German women were both Massage, Hydro-Electro Therapists. They worked in hospitals, took long vacations and had just finished a gruelling, specialized course on lymphatic massage. Their reward for enduring the program was a three month vacation and each had a different idea. The friend pulled the short straw and they came to Canada instead of touring Europe on motorcycles.
I was a long haired labourer with a chipped front tooth, calloused hands and a cowboy hat that was at least one size too big.
• • •
The barroom was dark. You were sitting at a corner table with a couple of fellows I knew. You wore a black top, the kind a ballerina might wear and a long black skirt with a pattern of tiny white dots or flowers. It was like the two guys had never seen a woman with short hair before. There was a lot of noise around that for some reason. You spoke hardly any English, had a mole on your forehead and your eyes were blue grey. I wonder if for a millisecond I felt engulfed in silence, adrift somewhere in deep space. Slow swirl, drawn into the gentle whirlpool of fate.
The next day everyone went to the rodeo. We were already in love whether we knew it or not. Our orbits merged with a primal certainty and knowledge of place. The language barrier was irrelevant. We found ways beyond words. That said, I told you a million things you didn’t understand. My life as an artist. You showed me your famous one arm stretch trick and others. Later in the evening you tucked in tight when violence threatened and my unpredictable neighbour wrapped a leather belt around his fist. You would never like him. Day two in the wild west.
• • •
You know those mini-documentary moments where beautiful things happen really fast? A seed falls onto the black earth, roots like white veins push and part the soil, the seed cracks and a sprout emerges. Tiny leaves unfold into larger ones as a stem uncurls skyward. Flower petals unfurl like flags that take your breath away.
Tender was our first summer together. You would often say, “it’s a pity” when referring to our language limitations. There was so much to learn and say, but we found our ways.
About eight weeks after you arrived we set out on a road trip. Christopher Cross singing “Sailing” on the radio. It was night and we were lying in the back of my pickup truck somewhere in Manitoba, on our way to Thunder Bay. I struggled to tell you what I was thinking.
Our realities were worlds apart. A life together seemed unimaginable. Your life was in Germany, you were happy and had no thought or desire for change. I was from wherever I happened to be in Canada. A free spirit with nothing, whose plans changed as quickly as I could think of the next one. That was how I began. It’s crazy I know, but I am madly in love with you. Where can this possibly go?
Happy 31st Anniversary my Love