After our divorce, my first wife, whom I’m calling “Val” in this blog, married the minister who got me into the ministry back in the late ’70s. He and I had been extremely close since my late teens. A mentor, for sure. He was also popular with my friends, and Ian and I would hitch hike from Malton to Wainfleet to visit him in the summer. I made the journey on my own even more often, spending hours in his library studying pastoral psychology, books of theology and even making my way through the Greek New Testament with literal translations.
In the early years of our marriage, Val was a fun-filled child who took delight in almost everything. There was another side to her that I didn’t know about that she only showed to friends and family who often tried to clue me in. But regardless of how true that side may have been when I wasn’t around, the enthusiastic and playful woman I knew was at least as real.
Things turned bad not long after I got into the ministry. There was something about “power” that affected her very badly — at least as far as I was concerned. When she later married the Rev, I was honestly very happy. It seemed foreordained in some way.
Well, the Rev has been in poor health lately. Stomach cancer. I just got word last night that he died. When I got up this morning I got further word that Val had died shortly after. For the Rev there was a distinct cause. For Val — who knows? Four of our five children were on hand, and they say that she had been acting very incoherently. At one point somewhere around six in the morning she laid down and died.
To be honest, I don’t know what to say. It’s just plain bizarre.
So I think I’d just like to recount a few vignettes as a kind of eulogy.
We had a shaky start to our marriage, but shortly after getting married we went to see Don’t Look Now. That night I had a nightmare in which Val was killed and I was heartbroken because “I never even had a chance to buy her any toys.” Something changed from that time on and we were devoted to each other.
When we first got married she used to have a song she’d sing after we’d been out shopping and were getting close to home:
“My feet are sore, my feet are sore,
My feet are sore, my feet are sore,
Just one more block to go and then
Up the steps to the elevator.”
In Welland she took a plastic bucket, cut away a large section from the side, put in a divider between the top and bottom and proceeded to make a Mouse House, which she furnished with home-made furniture and little mice dolls. This later turned into a full-blown hobby of making and furnishing doll houses.
For a while when we lived in Welland her younger sister came to live with us. I came home from work one night to find them both in tears because they’d just watched the Robert Wise film, I Want to Live, in which a woman is condemned to death.
Going to the CNE. I don’t think anyone loved the Canadian National Exhibition as much as she did — aside from myself. Every summer we would go as often as possible. We discovered that if we arrived before six in the morning the gates weren’t manned and you could just walk in. So we’d pack the kids in their strollers, walk across the city to the fair grounds, and then wait in a restaurant on the grounds until the fair opened officially. Going to the Ex wasn’t a matter of “doing,” but of “being.” We went on no rides, but we’d go to all the exhibits we could. But often we’d also just bring reading material, camp out under some bushes near the little pond behind the Better Living Building and read for hours while the kids played in the grass. One time, when we were home and she was watching the children play around the house, she said, “To kids, every day is like a day at the Ex.” There was something profound about that. I think.
There were so many enthusiasms. At one point we got into macramé. Our entire living room was turned into a kind of macramé factory. Then there were her plants, and the living room became a greenhouse. We went meatless for a time, learning from the Seventh Day Adventists how to make a vegetable substance that tasted just like meat (it didn’t). Vitamins, health food, naturopathy. We went through them all, and always with great enjoyment and optimism. Back then, everything was done with great enjoyment and optimism. I remember coming out of the doctor’s office after a checkup one time, shortly after I’d started writing for the newspaper, and Val, who had been waiting for me in the waiting room, said, “I just told that woman over there that my husband is a writer!”
Which, I suppose segues rather naturally into one of the very happiest moments of my life. We were living in Welland and only had one baby. I had recently started writing for the paper there. We were sitting in a restaurant on Main Street looking out the window and it was snowing huge flakes. We were simply at peace and optimistic, my career as a writer well on its way and a life-time of happiness ahead of us.
The loss of that woman I mourned many years ago when she changed so drastically. But I can still see her, and somewhat to my surprise, I can mourn her loss anew.