IT'S A LONG STORY WITH SOME TRUTH TO IT: AND A HORSE PIC!
I wrote 'Lost and Found' several years ago for a CBC competition. I didn't win, but I thought you might enjoy reading it, although it's longer than any other story I've posted.
It's loosely based on my understanding of what happened in my family. I reveal those parts at the end.
And it's followed by a pic of Admissible taken at the track when we visited on Sunday.
AND the launch of my 5th book in the Meg Sheppard Mystery Series, Dying for Money, is fast approaching!! I do hope to see you at Blue Heron Books on Saturday, June 17, between 1 pm and 3 pm. There will be nibbles and giveaways - and readings of course! It will be fun!
Lost and Found
The old man was entrenched in his recliner next to the window of the sparsely furnished room. He made no attempt to stand as Catherine entered, although he was expecting her. His thick, strong-looking fingers clutched a cane in his right hand. Catherine noticed there were two small photos on the night table in tarnished silver frames. One was of a young mother and baby taken about 1950, and the other was of a married couple from the 1920s or early 1930s.
Catherine was on a mission to find out more about this man. She'd told him she was writing a book about men who'd emigrated from England to Canada.
He'd agreed to answer her questions.
She sat on the hard visitor's chair, not quite facing him. She reached down to her oversized purse and took out a notebook. But before she could ask the first questions on her list, the old man started to talk as he gazed out of the window, hardly moving. Catherine had expected questions about who she was, what the plans were for the book, when it would be published, and others that were usually asked by people she interviewed. But it seemed natural to let him tell his story in his own way.
Catherine was surprised that he spoke with no trace of a Canadian accent. In a clear, soft voice he told her he'd come to Canada seven times in the 1930s because he had a daughter to raise. He turned his face towards Catherine with sadness in his dark eyes.
"My daughter was born in England," he said in a soft voice. "I came to Canada because there was work here—if you didn't mind hard labour. It was the depression then, you see."
His broad shoulders and stocky build suggested he had once been a strong man and unafraid of hard work.
"I worked as long as it took to get enough money to visit my daughter in England—on top of the money I sent home regularly." His eyes shifted downwards. "Then I'd come back here to get more work."
While Catherine was busily writing, a man came dashing into the room and stopped suddenly in his tracks.
"Hi, Pops. Whoops. I forgot you have a visitor today."
"Hello, I'm Catherine Brewster. I'm a freelance writer." Catherine's voice wobbled. She didn't offer her hand. Her shakiness could have betrayed how shocked she was to find out the old man had a grandson. How could he betray her mother and have children and grandchildren without telling her? She was his granddaughter. It was she and her mother he should have been caring about all these years, instead of abandoning them for another country and another family.
"Wow, are you going to be famous at last, Pops? I'm David by the way." David smiled warmly. "What are you writing about?"
"British men who came to Canada in the depression."
She wanted desperately to leave.
"I could tell you a bit about that myself. Perhaps another time," David said.
"I'm not feeling well. Must be jet lag." Margaret was relieved that her voice was steadier. "Would you mind if I came back tomorrow at the same time?" she asked the old man. He lifted his cane and nodded. She abruptly scurried out, mumbling her goodbyes.
Catherine returned to her austere hotel room that offered only a television for distraction. She went to bed early, but despite the jet lag her thoughts kept her awake. She couldn't despise the old man as she supposed she should. Her understanding of her grandfather came mostly from what hadn't been said by her mother. Even when she thought about David, his grandson—now that she was over the shock of the discovery—she still couldn't hate the old man. Her heart told her she should hear the rest of his story. She resolved to return at the same time the next day.
Feeling more settled, she finally got some sleep. But it seemed an eternity before the afternoon finally arrived.
"I asked David to come," the old man said as Catherine entered the room. "He usually comes in the afternoon."
Catherine would have preferred David not to be there.
"Are you talking about me behind my back?" David sprinted into the room. He gave the old man a quick kiss on the forehead and then sat on the edge of the bed, in between Catherine's and the old man's chairs. The small gesture of affection surprised Catherine. She believed men were incapable of caring, let alone having loving relationships. Nothing in her life had shown her otherwise. She didn't know who her father was. He hadn't stuck around. Her grandfather hadn't stuck around either.
The old man interrupted David's chatter about the weather and jet lag and other trivia.
"My wife, my dear Eleanor." With his lip quivering, he explained that Eleanor had died mysteriously. Their newborn daughter, Elizabeth, was only five days old when her mother was found dead in a snowdrift on a hill about a mile away from the farm. "Eleanor was wearing her nightdress and slippers. I don't know what came over her to go out in that blizzard." The old man shifted in his chair. Catherine could sense his pain, still raw after all these years. It occurred to her that this tragedy could have been the result of severe post-partum depression which probably wasn't recognized in those days.
"Back then, the only place I could find work with enough pay to raise a daughter was here in Canada," the old man said. "I worked in logging camps mostly, but also racetracks. No place for a baby, especially without her mother." He turned his watery eyes towards Catherine and then quickly turned away to look out of the window again.
Her writing had degenerated into a scrawl. It would be illegible soon.
"I worked with horses." Catherine had noticed the horseracing photo. It was the only thing decorating the walls of the room. The horse and jockey were crossing the finishing line. "They would say, 'Fred knows horses, that's for sure'". He turned and smiled at David, who smiled back. "And about the only thing I had to work with was Epsom Salts." He waited for Catherine to catch up with her notes.
"I knew a good woman in the village." He explained that Elizabeth was looked after by a kind woman who lived near his farm. She raised his daughter as if she was one of her own. "I could visit whenever I wanted. She charged fair rates." But he admitted that he'd lost both his wife and his daughter in the snowdrift. Elizabeth became a stranger to him because he had to go away so much in search of work. The old man hung his head and Catherine was afraid that he might start sobbing. She felt a tension headache coming on.
"Let's have a break," David interjected. "I've got some photos to show you, Pops. Catherine, you might be interested in them too." He pulled a packet of photos out of his expensive-looking sports jacket.
Catherine couldn't help but be impressed with David's sensitivity to the old man's emotions.
And why was the old man willing to tell her all this when it was so hard for him?
David's long, slender fingers quickly revealed photos from the racetrack. They showed him with various thoroughbred racehorses, in several different situations. Catherine couldn't help being fascinated by the horses and the stories their successful and confident trainer told about them.
"I'm too tall to be a jockey. Not like Pops, here," David said, briefly putting a hand on the old man's shoulder. "But that's another story, for another day." He chuckled.
"The photos are wonderful," Catherine said.
But the old man suddenly interrupted. "I had to sell the farm. It had too many memories, and I was hardly ever there." He said he got little for it—times were bad. And it got too depressing to return home when Elizabeth acted as if he was a stranger. So, he just stopped going. "There was always work in Canada. It was hard work," he admitted, "but I needed the money for Elizabeth."
He said he wrote to his daughter, but he wasn't much of a writer. He did his best. Catherine believed him. Despite her preconceptions, her intuition was telling her that this old man was a good man. She suddenly had an urge to touch him. She had never touched a man. Catherine looked at David wondering if he could sense her feelings. His sparkling green eyes met her dark ones for an instant, and her face flushed with a warm glow.
"Of course, Elizabeth eventually got a place of her own," the old man said. "Then she'd only write at Christmas." He remembered one Christmas in particular. Elizabeth was only twenty and wrote to say she'd had a daughter.
"I was worried sick. There was no mention of a husband." The old man shifted slightly. "But then I got some photos in the mail. Elizabeth and her new daughter looked so happy together. I wanted to see them so much." He dropped his head. At the mention of Elizabeth's daughter, Catherine's eyes watered and she forgot about taking notes.
"Pops, don't upset yourself," David said, obviously concerned. He leant towards him from his perch on the edge of the bed and almost brushed against Catherine. He held the old man's hand briefly.
Despite wanting desperately to hear the rest of the story, Catherine offered to come back the next day.
"No, I'm okay," her grandfather said, quickly turning his head to face her. "I didn't go to see them. I couldn't, you see. I was recovering from the accident." This time David hung his head, the sun catching his shiny fair hair. The old man explained that one of his legs was crushed by a load of logs that came loose off a sleigh—it had gone out of control down a slope. His leg had to be amputated. "But I was the lucky one, wasn't I David? My best buddy, Alf, was killed in the same accident." He turned to David who was clenching his fists. "Lots of men got killed in the lumber camps back then."
"Alf was my granddad," David explained. "It was a terrible tragedy. I never got to meet him."
"You thought David's my grandson, didn't you?" Catherine felt a wave of shame redden her face again. She didn't know what to say, so she didn't say anything. Fortunately, her grandfather continued the story without dwelling on this revelation. "I have an artificial leg. I think this is my third. It's been a pain—in all senses of the word. But at least I get around with my cane. Yes, I get phantom pain, as they call it, now and then, but I can't grumble. I'm here, aren't I?"
David smiled when the old man looked up at him. Her grandfather then turned his eyes to glance at Catherine. She wanted to cry and hug both of these kind and loving people. She'd been prepared to hate her grandfather—to find out what a truly callous and uncaring piece of non-humanity he was. Guilt and shame were mixed with wanting to be forgiven for thoughts and feelings that had been wrong for so many years. She wanted to hear the rest of the story very badly and to get to know both men much better.
"I don't want to break this up," David said, "but perhaps you've had enough for today, Pops. What do you think?" The old man lifted his cane, which presumably indicated his agreement. David kissed his adopted grandfather on the forehead and beckoned Catherine to go ahead of him through the door. She turned and nervously blew her grandfather a kiss but wasn't sure if either of the men noticed.
All the turmoil in her heart and mind caused Catherine to forget to confirm she would come the next afternoon at the 'usual' time. Despite this, Catherine had a better night and was awakened by the phone at about eight o'clock the next morning. David had left a message at the front desk simply stating that her meeting was canceled. Catherine wasn't sure what to think. Was her grandfather ill? He'd seemed fine the day before. Was the emotion of telling his story too stressful? David must have assumed she would be back that afternoon. But why hadn't he called her himself? Was her grandfather too sick to continue his story? There were so many questions, and she had no way of getting any answers.
The cheap hotel offered continental breakfast. It was unappetizing at the best of times. Eating half of a rather hard bagel with cream cheese, Catherine knew she couldn't face the day without finding out what was going on. Her sudden determination gave her new energy as well as hope.
Within the hour she'd found out where the racetrack was and had her rental car pointed in its direction. But she had to force herself to concentrate on the road. Not only was she still having some trouble getting accustomed to driving in Canada, but her mind kept drifting to thoughts about her grandfather and David.
Finally, she arrived. She assumed David would be in the backstretch. She drove around the circular road until she found an entrance that appeared to lead to the barns. Unfortunately, there was a security check.
"I need to see your badge," the security officer said after he slid back the glass window.
"I don't have one. I've come to see David," Catherine said. "Oh no, I don't know his surname. He's expecting me." She stretched the truth. "He's a trainer."
"Well, you're in luck. There's only one trainer called David," the security officer said. "But you'll have to go to that office over there and he'll have to come and sign you in."
Catherine thanked him and parked next to the office. She wondered if David would respond to the page and, if he did, how annoyed he would be at having his work interrupted. He showed up after about ten minutes. He didn't greet her. He walked past her and signed the necessary documents. She thanked him.
"It's best if you come in my truck." He held the office door open for her. Where was that wonderful smile of his? Catherine became alarmed. Her grandfather must be very sick. But, if so, why wasn't David with him?
"I hope I didn't interrupt your work," Catherine said.
"No worry on that score. We exercise the horses very early in the morning. We're still cooling a couple off, but most of the busy stuff is done." David parked the truck by a long, green and white barn, and they both got out.
"Is he okay?" Catherine asked. She still couldn't bring herself to use her grandfather's name, nor to reveal she was his granddaughter.
"I wondered when you were going to ask."
"Is he sick?"
"I'm surprised you haven't figured it out." Catherine looked at him with a deep frown. She didn't know what to make of his response.
She hadn't noticed that they'd entered the shedrow and that several horses were watching her as she followed David.
"Well, I don't know, and I'm very worried." Catherine was becoming exasperated. David's behaviour was cool—he wasn't acting the same way as he had when he was with her grandfather. "David, what's going on?"
"I should ask you that."
"Please don't beat around the bush. Just tell me what's wrong."
"You've got a nerve to ask me to get to the point. You won't even admit to us who you really are. I told Pops that you'd be bound to tell him the truth once he started opening his heart to you. But you kept up your charade of writing some kind of book."
"Are you saying he's not ill?" asked Catherine. David was bent over and checking the front legs of one of the thoroughbreds behind a wire mesh half-door. It might just as well have been a brick wall, she thought. He looked up. He could see the furrowed brow, the staring eyes, and the tensely closed mouth of someone genuinely concerned.
"Yes, and no". He left the stall and secured the mesh door at the same time as he patted the horse, somewhat absent-mindedly. "Let's get a coffee."
They didn't talk as they walked towards the rather run-down cafeteria located almost in the middle of the backstretch. Catherine was oblivious to her surroundings. She was busy trying to figure things out. From what David had said she concluded that her grandfather had known who she was right from the start and that it had been foolish to think she could get away with not telling him. From the different view of him she'd gained since coming to Canada, she realized he was probably hurt by her deception. She hadn't revealed anything to him, although he was revealing everything to her. This wasn't a fair bargain. She could see that now. He would have no insight into her cold, almost hostile feelings that had grown over the years. He might have guessed but had probably thought that telling her his story would change her feelings. Which had happened. He was right, but she hadn't reciprocated in any way.
"You even assumed that I was his grandson." David broke the silence as he put down the tray.
"You're right. I'm his granddaughter." Her voice was squeaky. David kept stirring his coffee and didn't look up. Catherine had a sudden desire to be liked by David. It had become important to her to be accepted by her grandfather and to be part of David's circle, too. Her hand was shaking too much to pour the tea from the small stainless-steel teapot.
"There's a technique for those things," David said, as he rescued her. This unexpected small show of kindness gave Catherine the confidence she needed to tell some of her story. She told him about how she'd been the principal caregiver for her mother during her battle with cancer. She knew little about her grandfather. Her mother, even in her dying days, didn't want to talk about him. Over the years, Catherine had made assumptions about her grandfather because of what she'd not been told. Elizabeth had been possessive of her daughter. Her mother, in many subtle ways, led her to believe men weren't to be trusted and weren't capable of caring. But Catherine didn't confess that she'd never had the opportunity to find out otherwise—that she'd not had a relationship with a man, not even a kiss.
"I suppose, deep down, I've always wanted to meet my grandfather. It wasn't just curiosity, although that was a big part of it. It was also a desire to understand my family's past and get a better sense of who I am. I came for selfish reasons and didn't consider my grandfather as a real person with feelings and emotions. I've been heartless." She stared into her tea. "The excuse I'd made to myself was that he'd not seen me for decades and wouldn't know who I was. But it's obvious he'd guess. An English woman calls out of the blue, soon after his daughter dies, and wants to interview him on his past. She travels all the way from England to do it. And, despite the passing of years, she looks like his daughter, Elizabeth, and doesn't even use a different surname. It's ridiculous. I shouldn't have come."
David suddenly lent back in his chair, lifting its two front legs off the floor, and scowled at her.
"I'm glad Pops didn't hear you say that. That would have hurt him. Don't you realize he's craving to get to know you? That he wants his family back? You're all he's got in the world. I'm a good friend and I love him dearly, but I'll never be family. Don't you have any sensitivity to other people's feelings?" He let his chair back down with a thump. "He was pleased you were coming. What's hurt him is you've continued the deceit. You haven't shared anything with him. You just take. You don't do that in relationships, especially with family."
Catherine's stomach churned and her heart thumped. She'd blown everything—perhaps she wasn't capable of any kind of relationship. Looking after her mother was all she could do. After all, she had no close friends. She had no meaningful relationships at all.
"I do want to get to know my grandfather," Catherine said, in a barely audible voice.
"Because he's the only family I've got. Because he's a special man and I've grown to care about him even in the short time I've been here. I'm proud that he's my grandfather." She hung her head as her eyes threatened tears. She was startled by David's warm, slender hand on hers. A tingle ran down her spine. It felt so good.
"Catherine, that's the right answer. Not that it was a test. Actually, I suppose it was. I love Pops and don't want him hurt. I care about him so much that I've become protective. The wounds run deep and haven't healed over time, although he'd like everyone to believe they have."
"Will he see me? Perhaps you could talk to him? Perhaps you could help me reach out to him? I'm not good at this," she admitted. She'd had all her mother's hurt, feelings of abandonment, and issues with men—some of which were probably the result of her father leaving her mother—loaded onto her shoulders as a burden to carry throughout her life. Catherine had a sudden urge, a strong need, to shake off all the baggage. It didn't belong to her.
"I'll talk to him. You might want to go and get some rest and think about what you'll say to him. I'm going to try to set something up for this afternoon. I think, for his sake, the sooner we can bring you two together the better." He smiled at her for the first time that morning. She couldn't find a smile within her, but she could sense her face soften and her eyes moisten again. As they left the cafeteria, and were about to part company, she drew on all her strength and courage, and—completely out of character—she gave David a brief embrace, which he gently reciprocated without a word. Catherine found the hug on the one hand nerve-wracking and, on the other hand, strangely exhilarating.
She was still pondering this embrace, wondering if David had reciprocated merely out of politeness, when the phone rang in her hotel room. Catherine was soon walking out to the car, trembling with apprehension. She had no idea how to manage this meeting with her grandfather. What should she say?
As she walked into the room the old man stood up slowly and stiffly. He lent his cane carefully against his chair and then held his arms open wide. Catherine hurried over to him, and they hugged. His strong hands pressed into her back. She couldn't stop the tears from rolling down her cheeks.
"Now, tell me something about you," her grandfather said. Catherine found it much easier than she'd thought to tell him about her simple life.
"I remember you visiting us. I think I was about eight years old."
"It was around my fiftieth birthday. It was the first and last time I went back to England after you were born. I felt like a stranger in your mother's house. You were beautiful, and still are of course!" He patted her arm. "You were showing off—dancing and singing. You both seemed happy enough, but Elizabeth didn't want me in your lives. So, I decided to come back to Canada for good. Canada had become my adopted home."
"Mum said I wasn't to touch you."
"Well, that might have come from anger towards me. Yes, I sent money, but I wasn't a father to her." He heard someone at the door. "Ah, David. Come in. We've had a nice chat."
"That's great, Pops," David said as he leant over to kiss him on the forehead.
"I'd like us all to have some tea in the sunroom," Catherine's grandfather said.
"I think we should do as we're told," David said, as he turned to Catherine and smiled. He beckoned her to go first through the door. Catherine felt comfortable in their company. When tea was over, she didn't want to leave them. She was beginning to have a sense of belonging. She wasn't just feeling this way towards her grandfather—she was surprised to realize she was attracted to David.
Back in her hotel room, despite the wonderful afternoon she'd had, her heart was heavy. She would have to leave the day after next—return to England, to the empty, dreary house with its memories. A now empty house, with no friends. Her only refuge was her writing. She was sick to the stomach at the very thought. She didn't want to go back to that life. It wasn't a life. It was an existence.
By the morning, after another restless night, she'd decided she was going to live in Canada, near her grandfather. After all, she could write anywhere. There was nothing to keep her in England.
She broke the news to her grandfather that afternoon. David seemed pleased, probably because it made her grandfather happy, she thought. He offered to help her with the immigration process in any way he could.
He laughed and said, "Even if it means I have to marry you!" Her grandfather and Catherine joined in the laughter, but Catherine's heart missed a beat or two as she gave each of them a farewell hug.
Vicky Earle Copyright 2023
The true parts...as far as I know, but I'm not sure of the timing:
My maternal grandfather came to Canada several times (about seven).
His first wife was found dead in a snowdrift wearing only night clothes, near their farm (the farm was either in Wales or England). Their daughter was a baby at the time.
In Canada, my grandfather worked in logging camps and as a jockey (I didn't find this out until after Marin and I became involved in horse racing).
He cared for the horses in the logging camps and Epsom Salts was a significant part of his arsenal.
The daughter (my mother's half-sister) was raised by a woman in the village.
The rest of it is the work of my imagination! (My grandfather returned to England and remarried).
She comes across as a weak character, but bear in mind she's been over-protected by her mother. I think she'll grow and blossom in Canada, don't you?
Admissible's trainer is giving her a chance to nibble on a few blades of grass.
The horses get a little grazing time after their daily exercise.
You will notice how slim and trim she is: like a true athlete.
If all goes well, she will race in within the next two weeks.
Keep your fingers crossed!
Thank you for reading my blog.