For­get­ting who went be­fore

The Compass - - NEWS -

The lit­tle car ap­peared at the crest of the hill and de­scended the slope to­ward the dead end of the road. Its jet black colour made a stark con­trast with the pure white of the overnight snow. The car moved very slowly over the icy road, where the blade of the snow­plow had passed. The road had been well-plowed here, ex­pos­ing grainy gray patches of asphalt, lin­ear scratches in ev­ery shade be­tween the black of the car and the white snow.

Sur­pris­ingly, as it neared the end of the road and ap­proached knee-deep drifts, the car ac­cel­er­ated. Here, the plow had stopped short and turned around with­out reach­ing all the way to the last house at the end of the road.

The car did not stop un­til it had buried its nose deep into the snow as though it was try­ing to make it all the way home.

For long min­utes there was no sign that the im­mo­bile car was in­hab­ited. Then, slowly, the driver’s door swung open. Another pause. A black trouser leg end­ing in a black boot emerged and pushed down into the drift. Then came a black cane, held by a hand at the end of an arm at­tached to a pair of hunched shoul­ders. The old man pushed the cane down firmly into the snow and, shift­ing his weight, swung his other leg out of the car.

He stood up. The two legs and cane formed a tri­pod of sta­bil­ity.

The man took a back­wards step and swung the car door shut. Lay­ing his fore­arm on the roof of the car, he leaned over and caught his breath.

The old man had been driv­ing a car less than half his life. In the first half he had got about in boat or on foot. He grew up on an is­land in Bon­av­ista Bay, peo­pled by fewer than two dozen souls. As a young man he left home and moved to a vil­lage of 300 on the main­land of the is­land. The weather will­ing, he had been able to row there in punt in fewer than two hours to visit the young woman who be­came his wife.

Like his childhood home, there was no road to his new home ei­ther. There was no elec­tric­ity, no tele­phone, only a trail through the woods to the rail­way sta­tion, a day’s walk away. As a young man he had walked there ev­ery spring to take the train to Gambo, then walk to Wes­leyville for a berth on a seal­ing ves­sel for the Front.

Things were dif­fer­ent then, he thought, as he placed each foot and the cane care­fully in the snow and gen­tly moved to­ward the house, stop­ping to rest ev­ery cou­ple of steps. At the cor­ner of the house he took hold of the rail­ing he had at­tached there. He had built it to make it eas­ier for both his wife and now him­self to get from the car to the door.

It had been im­por­tant to her that he built the rail­ing. She had trou­ble walk­ing. She was in pain a long time be­fore she fi­nally left him last spring to join the an­gels.

Now he was glad of the rail­ing’s sup­port for him­self. We were al­ways able to make the things we needed. Ever since I was a boy. We cut our wood for heat and our fish paid for kerosene to light our homes.

He took a cou­ple more steps

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