Updated: Jun 9, 2020
"She was a witty war bride with a sharp tongue, who always spoke her mind and had earned the right to do so. When her laughter erupted, it rattled the china and shook loose her dentures. She was equal parts green thumb, and master bread-maker. A nimble knitter who knew her way around a dartboard, and a crossword puzzle."
I clutch a used grocery bag filled with freshly picked wild crocuses — tiny, delicate, pale purple buds as soft as day old chicks. The spring thaw and fair weather have brought us all together to do what could not be done in the dead of winter. I follow the others out into the dry stubble field.
“What’s in the bag?” my aunt asks as I pluck out a single stem. The suffocating plastic has made it wilt slightly; its droopy bell-shape bends to suit the sullen mood. She nods and smiles slightly. “They were her favourite.”
I scatter the contents of the bag like a dutiful flower girl as I follow the procession. One by one the others take their turn — first my uncles and my father, then my aunt. I add the only hint of colour to the muted palette as I let the buds fall onto the black dirt and straw bristles.
“I don’t want to,” my mother protests as she veers off course. Perhaps she thinks people belong in a box or at least in a nice shiny vase, not let loose into the merciless Pincher Creek wind. But my grandmother was never tamed in life, so surely she would not want to be confined in death.
She was a witty war bride with a sharp tongue, who always spoke her mind and had earned the right to do so. When her laughter erupted, it rattled the china and shook loose her dentures. She was equal parts green thumb, and master bread-maker. A nimble knitter who knew her way around a dartboard, and a crossword puzzle. She would like being free.
It’s my turn, so I sift out a handful. The ash feels rough against my skin. Some is coarse like pickling salt; some is smooth like flour. I can sense her. I pause. I hold the essence of her in one bare hand as I had once done with my grandfather. I let her slip through my fingers. Some falls to the ground and some drifts east in the breeze. Some clings to my clothes, reluctant to let go. I don’t like it there. I feel panic rise in a hot flush up my neck and into my face. I try to brush it away with my free hand. Slowly, my cupped palm empties until only a chalky residue remains.
My uncle takes what’s left and releases it into the wind.
A plume of ash snakes skyward like a genie escaping from a bottle. I imagine her laughing as it wistfully twists in the air and lingers, as if to take one last look before she left us all behind. Only a purple path of wilted wild crocuses remains. I take comfort she will find peace in the open prairie, on the land she loved. There, she will be with my grandfather, as perfectly intertwined in death as they were in life.