of fires and other pending perils

Dear Uma: Never a dull moment; now there is a forest fire raging all around us. The first summer in years, I'm told, that looks as though it'll be like the ones fondly remembered -- so hot with sun that the mosquitoes are vanquished.

Dear Uma:

Never a dull moment; now there is a forest fire raging all around us.

The first summer in years, I’m told, that looks as though it’ll be like the ones fondly remembered—so hot with sun that the mosquitoes are vanquished.

But such summers often come with lots of fires.

Three spots on the Alaska Highway had to be evacuated. I say ‘spots’ because they are so thinly populated they could hardly be referred to as communities. They are highway maintenance camps and highway lodges.

At any rate, their entire populations were moved to Watson Lake where a willing group of volunteers stood ready to feed and succor them.

These well-meaning folk eventually went home; a health inspector decreed the traumatized evacuees’ needs must be fed only by qualified chefs, whose numbers are not exactly legion in Watson Lake. I suppose the succoring had to be done by qualified counsellors. It’s sad; people like helping each other in times of need and to be denied the simple human goodness of doing so due to bureaucratic idiocy seems a waste of the kind of energy that is the best we have—active loving kindness.

There has been, at various times, a pall of smoke hanging over the town, accompanied by a smell reminiscent of bonfires. No one seems unduly worried, so neither am I.

The garden has all been planted with seedlings; I lack the knowledge or the patience to start my vegetables from seed. It looks very organized and very promising. Nothing to do now but wait, scissors and salad spinner in hand.

The other big news is the discovery of Second World War-era bombs out near the airport. They are reported to be dummy bombs, used in target practice, but an expert is said to be coming who will be able to determine if indeed they are benign.

Around the same time, there was a Second World War aircraft dragged from its resting place on the bottom of Watson Lake by some divers from Alberta. Such relics are said to be worth a great deal of money, so you can imagine the chagrin of the divers when an RCMP showed up and took it away. One is not allowed to remove heritage objects from the territory, even if they have been underwater and entirely invisible for over 60 years.

Enough of my news; I am still reeling from your news about Gammie. Who blew the whistle on her? And how can they be certain she has not got Al’s Hammer, as she used to call it before she fell victim to it: are there tests?

She’s had us all convinced for years now that she is gaga, but happy in her surroundings. I would be happy in those surroundings; the place is incredibly posh, and it must have been heaven after years of raising kids, running a large and busy house, entertaining for her husband’s business and political interests and putting up with that husband.

He called me last week to complain of his household staff; the woman who prepares his meals is less than satisfactory and the housekeeper is lazy. I don’t know what he thought I was to do about it from way up here, so I told him to call you – did he?

Rereading what I just wrote, the penny dropped; I can understand why she chose to fake memory loss in order to escape her domestic and marital duties. In fact, it was an elegant solution to a life that had worn her out and showed no signs of changing.

She did a great job of it, you have to admit; that blank look of total lack of recognition we have all been greeted with on visits, the inane chatter, or the face-to-the-wall silence. It worked; everyone gradually quit going to see her other than once or twice a year, leaving her to her books and her piano in a peaceful, luxurious place where she has nothing to do other than read, play, and go for walks accompanied by her own private aide, who is also a good friend.

I think Germaine is in on it, now that I think back, which makes the whole situation even more ideal; she has a friend to be real with when no one else is around.

How are you feeling about this, as a once favourite granddaughter? Are you hurt, or are you happy for her to have these last years the way she wants them? I don’t imagine it was easy for her to give up her family, which is what she’s done. Maybe, though, it was a relief; she’d done her best with them and they were all healthy and busy with their productive, successful lives. OK, except for William….

I’m glad for her. I was planning on a dutiful visit this coming fall, but now I won’t go. I don’t want her to see that I’m onto her, making it awkward for both of us. My hope for her is that she stays there and continues to enjoy the life she chose; she has earned it. It’s up to you, Uma, as you are the only one who knows: don’t tell anyone else and let her carry on. That’s my advice and you did ask for it. I’m inclined to believe you’ve already come to the same conclusion.

The step-parenting books have started to trickle in and they are worrisome reading. There are all sorts of possible scenarios and few of them are cheerful.

I have also begun to pay more attention to teenagers in the community, watching and listening and asking questions. They don’t make me feel any better, frankly; the ones I’ve seen around look lethargic, bored and generally rather unattractive. Who is Theo to ‘hang’ with?

I had this vision of a young man who would instantly find a group of healthy, wholesome, busy peers and proceed to have whatever constitutes a fun summer with them.

If he wants to hang with the youngsters that I have seen around town, that’ll mean he is likely a dull boy, but what if he wants to spend the days with me? Pete will be home for the first two weeks after the boy’s arrival and he has plans of fishing and hiking and other bonding activities, but when he goes back to work, I will be the caregiver, the companion, or whatever title this new position carries with it, and I haven’t the vaguest notion of how to entertain him.

When I grill Pete about Theo, he really doesn’t know much about the kid. He and the boy’s mother were amicably divorced when Theo was barely a year old. Her new husband legally adopted both boys and while Pete was never discouraged from visiting them, it just didn’t happen often enough for them to form any sort of relationship with one another. He was working in various countries through most of their growing-up years.

His last time with both boys was for six hours and that was three years ago. They e-mail once in a while, and he calls them on their birthdays. The only thing he can say for sure is they are well-mannered, and tall.

Yanni has not expressed any interest in getting to know his biological father, but Theo has recently expressed some curiosity, which I suppose is understandable.

He is not coming to us because he is in trouble, or angst-ridden, or carrying emotional baggage from his broken home.

From the little I know, his stepfather has been a father in every sense of the word and they are a close family. They are certainly a wealthy one; the boys have had a privileged life of private schools and European skiing holidays and a ‘cottage’ in the Hamptons. They have lived in New York City most of their lives. What this kid is going to think of Watson Lake, I cannot even begin to imagine. He may decide to join his family in Italy after all.

Maybe the forest fires will solve everything, the town of Watson Lake evacuated just before Theo is due to arrive. Or the bombs will prove to be real and the town of Watson Lake will have to be evacuated just before Theo is to arrive.

I am such a coward.



Heather Bennett is a writer

who lives in Watson Lake.