She watched him walk slowly across the yard as she dried the dishes. His steps were cautious and deliberate, navigating the uneven ground with the aid of his cane. A trip out to the garden compost box with a pail of table scraps was now his daily chore.
The emphysema had stolen the air from his lungs and the strength from his legs, but he was not one to give up. She remembered those powerful legs propelling them across lakes and ponds on ice skates, their arms around each other’s’ waists and feet in perfect unison. It seemed as if they could glide forever.
She remembered watching from this same window as those legs guided the tiller across the rough ground, turning clumps of clay into huge vegetable gardens and patches of fragrant flowers.
As she watched him pause, she recalled the endless walks they use to take in the evenings, two young people taking the opportunity to get away alone. One particular walk was to the old wooden bridge out past the farms and the elevators.
Walking quietly, hand in hand, they had stopped on the bridge. He pulled his knife from his pocket and carefully carved their initials, JAM and MSC on the railing then encased the letters in a big heart. The fresh carving stuck out like a neon sign among all the other faded secrets and promises carved there many years before.
She dried the small tin heart-shaped cookie cutter and placed back in the drawer. She could only guess at how many Valentine cookies she had baked for kids, grandkids and great grandkids and now another batch was coming out of the oven.
As she added the red food coloring to make the pink icing, she checked to see that he was on his way back. She put two cookies aside and before the icing set, she took a toothpick and carefully carved JAM and MSC onto the pink surface of both of them.
He came in and struggled out of his coat and boots and made his way into the living room where he collapsed into his recliner, catching his breath. He shook his head thinking about how he felt as if he had just done a full day’s work and he had barely walked across his yard.
She set the TV tray in front of his chair and brought in a cup of coffee and a plate with the two Valentine cookies. He mumbled “thanks,” and took a long sip of the coffee. He picked a cookie from the plate and paused when he saw the initials she had scratched into the icing.
Suddenly he was 19 years old, healthy and strong, standing with his girl on a wooden Saskatchewan bridge. “That was a long time ago,” he said to her. “I know,” she replied, “But to me it seems like yesterday.”
Don’t forget to make a memory for your Valentine next week. At least that’s what McGregor says.