November 22, 2017  •  4 Comments

Yesterday was the day I chose to make my annual journey to donate to the Salvation Army kettle in my Dad’s name. I’ve told the story before, since I’ve blogged about it nearly every single one of the intervening years since his death, so there really isn’t a lot more to tell.


Other than the fact that it’s one of the very few remaining ways I have left to connect with him.


And other than the fact that it still brings forth a wave of emotion and sadness. Like all of the other memories, the sadness has faded over the years; the acute stage has passed and now it’s just a sort of dull, chronic ache, at least most of the time. But the Salvation Army kettle never fails to reopen the wound a bit and, truth be told, it’s cathartic to feel that acute pain again, if only briefly, because it is like a conduit back to another moment, one that time is unerringly erasing.


The drive down is long, and driving is a good opportunity to be meditative, especially in the first half of the journey to the city, where traffic is nonexistent. My usual work is forsaken, forfeited for a day, because that’s how long it takes to do the 600 kilometre round trip. So there’s a different headspace for the day, and I use it to reflect.


Two very good friends, both about my age, each suddenly lost a parent in the last 12 months. It’s frightening how fragile life is. Loss can come at any time, cruelly and indiscriminately. None of us are immune. The stretch of highway that I drove in the first hour or so of my journey, bare and dry asphalt, had been completely snow-covered, with near-zero visibility, just 24 hours prior, when my own husband had travelled down there, on his way back to the city. It can be a ruthless stretch of road. Yesterday’s journey also took me through a small construction zone where, on Halloween night, several trucks and several cars had collided. Two of the trucks carried oil, and they exploded. Three people lost their lives there that night, and yesterday the crews worked still to erase the traces that remained of burnt pavement and leached fuel oil. If you didn’t know that an accident had happened there, you wouldn’t give it a second thought; just more roadwork.


Naturally, not all of my thoughts were so grim, but the day’s mission certainly did lead me to contemplate the value of life, and of love. I took the dogs along with me; Soleil commandeered the dog bed in the back seat and stretched out to sleep, while Arwen curled herself into a little ball on the front passenger seat, resting her head on the console, just inches from my elbow. I glanced down at her from time to time, and felt a powerful surge of emotion, seeing this contented, trusting little creature sleeping at my side, happy to simply be along for the ride. Animals can teach us a lot about living an uncomplicated life, and finding priorities.


I also reminisced at how much things have changed since my Dad left us. It’s only been twelve years, but life is so very different now than it was then. I no longer live anywhere near my home town; the northern chapter in our lives wasn’t even in the plan back in 2005. I’m no longer a professor; instead, I work from my home and many a day I don’t have any human face-to-face interaction. I feel busier now than I ever have been, and more stressed. The pace of life seems to have sped up, and I find myself wondering how I ever had time to do this or that, back then. But this is a lens through which I have been looking for most of my adult life. The tempo just seems to be in a constant upward crescendo. But perhaps the reality is that, as life passes by, you become more and more acutely aware of the value of time, precisely because it is running out. And in our life today, happiness has become more of an ephemeral goal to work toward and less an appreciation of being in the moment.   


The Salvation Army kettle is located in a mall in my hometown. I don’t go to this city very often anymore, and each time I do, I am surprised by how much busier, frenetic and populated it seems. Gone are the days when you could easily get across town in a car. Now there are traffic lights everywhere, and new subdivisions burgeoning northwards, since that’s the only way left to grow, with the lake to the south. As well, living in the quiet setting of a tiny northern village has insulated me from the hustle and bustle of suburban life, so there is a sense of shell shock and an uncomfortable feeling of not belonging – in this very place where I spent the first half of my life. It’s unsettling.


I used to be an inveterate mall rat, and this mall where the kettle is was one of my stomping grounds. These days, I only go into a mall once a year. It’s become completely alien to me as an experience. Yesterday, I felt like a stranger, an interloper. To bolster my courage, I did what I often do, and imagined myself inside an invisible bubble, creating a buffer zone from other people, floating along in a hermetic space, not making eye contact, but rather observing from a safe distance. I traversed the food court where I had sat with my dad 12 years ago, when he tried to choke down a horrible fast food meal, and I wondered what other similar dramas might be playing out at the tables where people sat eating. We all carry baggage, invisible to others, but very real nevertheless.


I now have to make this journey on an opportune day, when weather will not be a factor, so this year’s pilgrimage was the earliest ever. Just last weekend, I’d seen an article that the Salvation Army kettles were out for the season, but they were having a hard time finding volunteers to staff them. I fretted that there would be no kettle in the mall yet. But I refused to even contemplate a plan B. Not yet.


I rounded the corner and realized that the kettle was usually set up beside a toy donation box, but the latter wouldn’t be installed until this weekend, when ‘Santa’ arrived. My heart fell. And then amid the cacophony of human noise, I heard the bell jingling. The kettle was right there, where it should be, half-full of twenties and fives. Standing beside it, a tired-looking woman sporting a red velveteen hat with white trim. I pulled the money from my wallet and had it folded in my hand, ready to deposit and run. She made eye contact. She saw what I had in my hand, and her eyes widened a bit.

-Are you sure?

-Yes, I whispered. Yes. It’s for my dad.

Like that explained everything.

-You should get a receipt for that, she said.

-No, that’s all right. Eyes filling. Voice wobbling.

-Thank you, she said, in a teary voice.

-Thank you, I replied, already backing way, slashing a tear from my eye, fleeing not just the kettle but the sadness that rose up like a tide.

We did it, Dad.



You are so lovely, and so, so talented.
I'm teary eyed right now... Although in the short time I have known you, I knew this tradition would be done again this year.. at some point... I am reading this on America's Thanksgiving Day, my first Thanksgiving where my dad isn't at the head of the table... and although he is having a traditional meal at the home he is staying at... I miss him already... I am finally understanding the beginning of losing a parent and how hard it is.. As I read this your writing of previous years came back to me, how you have changed, how much more meaningful this is to you.. A part of you honoring everything your dad has done for you... It will never be easy.. nor should it be...
This is such a beautiful, poignant piece of writing and my heart goes out to you....your Dad would be so proud if you continuing this kind to yourself you have a gentle but beautiful soul.....
Your father would be so proud of you. <3
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