fun fun fun

And she’ll have fun fun fun

I was aching to crank up the tunes in the car … the T-Bird that my Daddy had been threatening to take away since 1964 when Brian Wilson surfed the radio waves and FUN FUN FUN lit the highways of North American youth.

The world cried out for a smile after JFK’s gruesome blood-spattered demise the previous year.

We always need a smile cloud when a grey gloom hovers and smothers.

But it’s not 1964 anymore, and my vintage T-Bird has become a Chrysler 300S rental with more buttons and dashboard lights than Meatloaf ever envisioned rounding third base, coming in hot for home, throbbing stick shift in hand.

It’s 2017 and the prairie highway is as pancake flat as my abs might be if they weren’t layered over with an ounce (or pound) or two of early-senior adipose.

I could be Chris Columbus sailing in my ship towards the unknown sunny amber horizon, dreaming of untold riches in the mirage at the far reaches.

Saskatchewan is a place I love to visit – I don’t really think I’d want to be a permanent denizen because of the harsh climate – there’s a warm mantle that settles over me like sitting on the front porch on a rocking chair, cheery crickets chirping, on a balmy summer’s eve.

Saskatchewan pours relaxation into my pores like thick Saskatoon Berry syrup.

It’s a lot of things: the people, the prairie culture, the landscape, the animal life, the wide-open skies, the tiny towns and modest cities.

The drive south and west on Highway 7 towards the cousins’ farm in Dewar Lake draws my eyes to the towering cloud patterns stretching layer-upon-layer into the far reaches like lake ripples at sunrise.

I have to remind myself to pay attention to the road; there’s a mesmerizing resonance in the patch-quilt cloud ornamentation held aloft by warm updrafts and the many V’s of Canada and Snow Geese traversing the landscape.

Golden stubble of just harvested wheat and durum lines the sides of the roadway, leading my eyes away to the windrows of caragana and a lonely farmhouse silhouetted against the pale blue background holding the landscape to the earth.

Sask clouds.jpg

A couple of days later, driving along the flat expanse, my mind returns to the main purpose of this prairie journey, a visit with my older brother.

My brother whose grey matter is losing it’s fine-honed edge.

And though much has been lost already, he’s still in the here and now, still my brother.

He sits next to me, a willing, cheery passenger, as we ply the smooth highway leading northward on Highway 11 to Prince Albert.

Our destination, just slightly north of PA, is the cemetery where, one day, he’ll share a small plot of lumpy prairie soil next to his recently lost wife of almost 50 years.

Today our quest is the Spruce Home Lutheran Cemetery.

My brother’s daily journey of bewilderment brings me visions of the books I’ve read, the movies I’ve watched over the last few years:¬†Still Alice… Away From Her… Scar Tissue.

There’s a bittersweet treasure of books and movies I can¬†remember that tell the story of a family member who bit-by-bit… can’t remember.

The eye-appeal of the rural landscape on this day’s drive is shaded somewhat by the dwindling capacities of a loved one whose chief sense of pride, whose main claim to fame in life has been his mental acuity.

I don’t think I’ve been up this way before“, he innocently repeats 4 or 5 times along the route that he’s likely travelled dozens of times over many years.

It’s a melancholy feeling of irony when I think of how the map of the land of grain fields crisscrossing our path is laid out in such straight well-laid sections, while the map of the world inside my brother’s head is convoluted, filled with a confusion of crooked roadblocks and dead-end roads.

But the sun is shining and his sense of where we need to go, need to be, is intact today. His focus, his humanity, is unimpaired.

clouded mind.jpg

As a group, we use our combined skills of inner navigation combined with gps systems, adding in multiple stops at gas stations, diners, and private farm houses.

Still, we’re having minimal success at locating the cemetery.

I’m driving north-south-east-west down dusty roads and asphalt flat highways and nothing … no cemetery.

The occasional deer and pronghorn antelope we come upon look at us with some confusion too as if they’re saying, “we haven’t seen a human out this way in quite some time“… the animals speak with a slow prairie drawl which somehow seems appropriate out here.

We’re concluding that the confusion we’ve encountered in tracking a small plot of gravestones is not attributable to any loss of mental functioning.

This cemetery has been purposefully hidden in the occult back-section of a plane of plains. Even the locals have no real idea where their neighbours’ remains rest.

It’s some small solace.

The sun is settling closer into a hug of the western horizon when a farmer’s hint to us from the cab of his truck gives us hope. It’s a hint of the possible existence of a cemetery just beyond the slough up a neighbouring side-road.

That hope turns to elation when we turn into a well-hidden grassy lane leading through a grove of birch trees. The shading birch trees bring us to an opening and a circle of trees that surrounds a charming patch of land. An iron gate in front of us reads, “Spruce Home Lutheran Cemetery”.

That’s it!“, my brother cried out with relief and excitement.

It’s difficult to describe the feeling of happiness that envelopes us while wanting to locate a bunch of dead folks. It’s a contradiction that somehow feels just right in the moment, like an oxymoron that perfectly describes an indescribable thought.

The stark beauty of the prairie landscape too is like an oxymoron compared with the deterioration simultaneously going down inside the head of my brother.

We wandered the dry earth, reading the names and dates on the headstones, quietly absorbing the memories and peace of the moment. A small tear coursed my brother’s cheek.

Pulling away from the prairie cemetery as wheat-toned golden sunlight dwindled into twilight seemed symbolically appropriate when set against the slowly dimming existence of a bright mind that has enjoyed brilliant summer days and wide open skies.

His smile, his appreciation, his love, are a part of the artistic landscape of the relationship we’ve shared for many years.

The dwindling map-work of my brother’s mind is a sip of sadness… but for a few brief hours under the Saskatchewan skies, our day’s drive along the prairie blacktop filled with smile clouds was FUN FUN FUN!

wide open sky