My husband H., diagnosed with his current cancer nearly three years ago, is now in hospice. On the day of admission, my daughter and I were sitting at his bedside and he mentioned–again–a wish he’s expressed at various times recently. There’s not much he still wants to do but he wished he could be sitting with others around a fire.
Sitting at a fire has been a favourite activity over the years, whether while camping or in the back yard of homes in which we’ve lived. He’s a good fire maker. One memorable fire was a New Year’s Eve on a very cold night in Manitoba. He was generally just as happy to be in bed on that night as up toasting the new year, but he’d had this idea to make a fire at Birds Hill Park and he surprised and pleased me with it, so off we went, dressed thickly for the weather, with a small load of wood and hot chocolate and snacks. We had a certain fire pit in mind and as we pulled near, we saw, with some astonishment, the golden red glow of burning coals. Someone had obviously just left the site. I knew that logical explanation, but it felt almost miraculous, as if lit just for us.
When he spoke wistfully of a fire from his hospice bed, I murmured sympathetically, but our daughter said, sure, she could bring him a fire, and next thing I knew, there was a beautiful fire burning on her laptop, complete with wood crackle and pop. We sat companionably around this YouTube miracle, enjoying the sight and sound of it, his wish fulfilled.
I’ve just finished The Man Who Ran Washington, a biography of James A. Baker III, who served four presidents (Ford, Reagan, the two Bushes) in a variety of capacities, most notably as Chief of Staff and later Secretary of State. Authored by Peter Baker (no relation) and Susan Glasser, it’s a thorough and eminently readable book. I admired Baker as I read, though I can’t say I entirely liked him. But never mind that; what I especially enjoyed here was how a biography like this takes me back into events that are “history” already but happened in my lifetime and, thus, can be remembered, into consequential events that affected me too (and I recorded in my journal), if only because of the collective mood or tension they created. (Sort of like now, the day before the U.S. election. Sort of like now, months into a global pandemic.)
Take, for example, January 1991, which slid in on the back of Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. Our children were 15, 12, and eight, and the 12-year-old had written WAR in the square of the fifteenth day of the new calendar. The oldest child, when we discussed his new term schedule, said, “Well, if we’re here then,” and I could tell he wasn’t joking. Continue reading
Sarah Klassen is a Winnipeg writer, author of eight books of poetry as well as two short story collections and a novel. Her work has won numerous awards, including the Gerald Lampert Award for poetry. She’s also a long-time friend.
The launch of her new book had to be virtual on account of the coronavirus, which also meant I could attend, in spite of now living several provinces apart. And I’m honoured to be a stop on her subsequent “blog tour” with the following conversation we had via Messenger. Continue reading