“I’m always five hundred miles…”

A perfect day. Sunlight, ocean, the voices of my grandchildren, the beauty of my children and their partners in the water. We all drove down the Coast to take Angie to the plane for her flight back across Georgia Strait to Victoria and we had time for a picnic at Trail Bay. Kelly noticed the blue mountains across the water and I told her that was the island where her other grandparents live, the ones she’ll see on the weekend. We’d gone to a small pebble beach, the tide low-ish, rocks warm in the sun. I knew my older son Forrest would swim; he keeps a life-list of water: rivers, lakes, ponds, and oceans. And I thought the children would wade. But then Cristen went in, buoyant in the tide. Then Brendan. John stripped off his shorts, took off his unders, and put the shorts on again. (We’d already had our morning swim in Ruby Lake so when we were getting ready to drive down to Sechelt, we both agreed we wouldn’t bother taking our bathing suits. Famous last words.) I was dying to swim but there I was, in a linen dress. What to do? Oh, Mum, said my daughter, swim in your underwear. So I did. Off came the dress and who was to know the sports bra and striped underpants weren’t a bathing suit? Well, I think it was obvious they weren’t. But I didn’t care.

eddy and grandad

It was so wondrous to swim in that mild green water. To let yourself be carried out a distance, then lifted back to shore. To look at the blue mountains beyond. I haven’t felt like this since I swam in Portugal, said Forrest. Not so alive in the water, so buoyant. And me? Maybe not since Crete. The children found rocks, a few shells, one fell and cried, three went into the water, and afterwards we walked along the shore for ice-cream. When we came home, I took out the compost and saw a weasel in one corner of the new compost box, looking back at me, its eyes bright and alert. It slipped out of the box but when I brought the children out to look for it, we saw it in between the two boxes, waiting for us to leave. I think it might have a den under the box; it might be feeding its young on the mice that come for the seeds and vegetable parings.

Last night my children and their partners went out for supper to Egmont while John and I cared for our grandchildren. They ate a simple supper, had their baths, and we read them stories before bed. We sang songs. In Arthur’s room, I tried to remember the words to “Five Hundred Miles”. My favourite version the one Roseanne Cash sings on The List, her album of songs from her father Johnny’s list of essential country songs.

All these years and all these roads
Never led me back to you
I’m always five hundred miles away from home
Away from home, away from home
Always out here on my own
I’m still five hundred miles away from home
I’m still five hundred miles away from home
Later I read in the kitchen while the outside lamp was softened by moths. When the kids returned from Egmont, I went to bed and listened to them laughing downstairs. John was already asleep. They live so far from this home but still they return. Today Angie turned to me as we sat on a log watching the others swim and said, I don’t want to leave. I knew what she meant. They’ll all be gone on Saturday and the house will be tidy again, but quiet. Away from home, away from home, always out here on my own. I am that woman swimming in her pink striped underpants in the deep generous ocean, looking at her family on the shore.

7 thoughts on ““I’m always five hundred miles…””

  1. Can we come swim with you and your family, Theresa? We want to be there! But your words bring it all to us – joy, love, sadness.

    1. They leave tomorrow. I’m drinking my coffee in my bed, listening to breakfast hubbub in the kitchen. (I made blueberry pancakes yesterday and today it’s each to his or her own…) So much joy and noise downstairs!

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