A short morning flight from Vancouver takes us back to Saskatchewan. YVR to YQR in two hours.
The enormity of the sky only becomes apparent once we land. Nothing can compete with its size. Puffy, white candy-floss clouds scud along a sea of blue. Once we are out of Regina it’s all flat green fields beneath the straight line of the horizon. Old barns, a few trees, and oil pumpjacks called “nodding donkeys” break the never-ending monotony of a scene that is so familiar and evocative for us. It’s the place we still think of as home.
The rental car radio is tuned to country music. We listen to lyrics about beer and whiskey. As in: thoughts of you drown out the whiskey and you’re as smooth as Tennessee whiskey and my bucket list includes beer and an opener and there’s a tear in my beer.
As we are not expected at Brent and Heather’s until dinner, we take the long way to Esterhazy, heading south to Weyburn where we stop for lunch. Besides wheat and oil, the town celebrates of one of Canada’s most beloved politicians: T. C. Douglas. Originally a Baptist preacher, his first ministry was in Weyburn. He was elected to the House of Commons in 1935 as a member of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) party. He left federal politics to become leader of the Saskatchewan CCF and then the seventh Premier of Saskatchewan from 1944 to 1961. His government was the first democratic socialist government in North America, and it introduced the continent’s first single-payer, universal health care program. Bravo, Tommy!
We are in Esterhazy for our niece Kirsten’s high school graduation. It’s been almost five decades (how is that even possible?) since Craig and I walked across the stage of a high-school auditorium. So much has changed. Today’s grads don’t drink and drive. They have parent-supervised “safe grad” parties. Some towns even have “dry grads”. Where’s the fun in that, we wonder?
The girls’ grad style makes me feel old and prudish. No cleavage in 1971. No spaghetti straps. No tattoos. No nose rings. No flat-ironed hair. My graduation picture features lots of long-sleeved, high necked, floor-length, pastel-hued frothy confection gowns and ringleted hair-dos.
At the graduation ceremony Craig gives a short, but eloquent and emotional, speech as he presents a scholarship to the worthy recipient, talking about overcoming barriers to opportunity, giving back, and investing in the future. I swear he should have been a speech writer and can think of a few politicians who could use his help.
Our niece Kirsten takes home close to half of the awards and scholarships, with her 96% average. There are 10 others with above 90 averages, 9 of them girls, only one boy. Over the next week we will have many conversations about this. How the girls are achieving, while the boys lag behind.
A rainy night at the Neville cottage on Crooked Lake, eating a take-out pizza and drinking red wine, is a chance to sit quietly and reflect on the journey. As in the big life journey we’ve taken from small town Saskatchewan to the ever-growing metropolis of Vancouver. While we never doubt the choices we’ve made, we do wonder what life would have been like had we stayed.
On the way to Melville, where I went to high school, we stop in Grayson, home of Ottenbreit Meats, where we stock up on steak, burgers and sausage, all made from the grass-fed beef we see happily grazing by the road. No wonder it tastes so good! No feed lots, hormones or filthy slaughterhouses for these guys.
Our two days in Melville has us eating barbecue, connecting with Blake, our three year old grand-nephew, and debating politics with my very opinionated family. Blake entertains us with his antics. His parents groan as Craig teaches him a version of the spider man song called diaper man. I have a melt-down when I realize those pesky little bugs crawling on me are ticks, one of which is boring into the back of my leg. Judy gets out the tweezers and matches while I dance around yelping and flinging my clothes off.
Next stop is Saskatoon. Craig & I both went to university here. So very long ago! The young people we see in the pubs remind us of our younger selves. Are they as naive as we were, we wonder? As full of hope?
The Remai Art Gallery is one of the reasons we’ve come to Saskatoon. The building itself is spectacular. The art …. let’s just say I’m not a fan of a lot of modern art and what is displayed at the Remai does nothing to change my mind.
We spend the better part of a day at Wanuskewin, an aboriginal heritage park north of the city by the Saskatchewan River. Notwithstanding the wind, it is a peaceful, almost haunted-feeling, place on the site of a Plains Indian encampment. Arrow, bones, buffalo skulls and other artifacts suggest it is thousands of years old.
Later at dinner with friends we talk about the current state of aboriginal life in Saskatchewan and the deeply entrenched biases against them. It’s reassuring that the natives we see on the streets and in the restaurants appear to be living middle-class lives, no different than any one else.
From Saskatoon we take backroads and country lanes, stopping to photograph elevators, churches and abandoned farms. The vast land feels empty of people. For city-dwellers like us it is kind of eerie. We see more wildlife than human life. Elk, fox, deer, gopher, and all manner of bird life.