Steffi woke up on Earth Day in 1980 ready to celebrate caring for the planet with her friends at school. Her class was doing a bottle drive to celebrate the planet! She loved to recycle the beer bottles and batteries used by her dad. She thrived in the forests full of evergreen trees, rich cool rivers and the Pacific Ocean that cooled her feet each summer. At fifteen and a half years of age she was excited to be a part of healing her planet earth.
The first thing Steffi did every morning after getting her teeth brushed, her face washed, putting on her off label blue jeans and chequered flannel shirt was to make a fire in the big black airtight wood stove. She would roll up newspapers into little logs putting about 8 to 10 newspaper logs into the wood stove. Then she piled on some kindling, a bit of bark, two or three smallish logs and next she put a match to the newspaper logs, which ignited quickly. She would blow repeatedly on the small flames, which helped the blaze combust. As the fire started to crackle, sparkle and snap she went to make herself a steamy rich hot chocolate in the kitchen. Hot chocolate made with Nestle Cocoa, a touch of cinnamon and a bit of honey brightened up her morning chores.
As she picked up the cup of hot chocolate, she was surprised to see out the front living room window, her father’s burgundy and silver Ford Ranchero parked up the country road that led to her home. Which was odd, as her dad’s car ought to be in the third stall of the carport. Her father did enjoy drinking a few beers on the way home. Steffi hoped her father was safe.
Her first instinct was to go and see what was happening out at the Ranchero, as Steffi was a “can do” kind of a teenager. Her five foot nine inch frame was hardy from her years of farm work. She ran easily up the gravel driveway, to the paved one lane country road that led to her home, unaware of what she would find when she reached her dad’s Ranchero.
As she hurried to her dad’s car she distracted herself with thoughts of when her family first moved to the farm when she was nine. Her first life long dream came true when her parents purchased and moved her family to the 20-acre farm. As Steffi always believed she was Laura Ingalls Wilder reincarnated. Getting to have her own horse was her second dream that had come true. It pleased her to care for her own Morgan/Quarter horse that was rich chocolate brown named Tinkerbell who was 15.5 hands tall. Whenever she rode Tinkerbell she felt tingly, excited, confident and capable. Her parents bought her Tinkerbell a few months after they moved to the farm. She also fed and watered the other 4 to 6 horses boarded at their farm by people from near and far to help pay the bills for her horse. On the farm there were other animals that she loved and cared for like her German Shepard dog Lucky. Lucky was a big beautiful black and tan Shepard. She and Lucky did everything together. When she went horse back riding Lucky was right there running by her side. Every morning as she fed the animals in the barn Lucky kept her company. There was also the time her dad bought seven three-day-old calves from the dairy farm near their home to raise for eating. It was one of Steffi’s many chores to bottle feed the baby calves three times a day. Lucky would lap up the milk that dripped on the floor of the rustic barn as the calves drank from the bottle. Steffi loved how the calves’ tongues felt like sand paper when they licked her fingers and hands.
As she got closer to the car, reality was hitting Steffi. She got to the car and saw her dad was laying out side of the vehicle on the ground unconscious, face up, eyes closed. He was wearing his Levi Jeans, his Pendleton wool shirt and black leather cowboy boots. He was breathing short shallow breaths but he was breathing, that was a good sign she felt. She looked around the car trying to discover the reason that her dad was laying on the ground in front of her instead of sleeping next to her mom in bed?
The front of the car was resting against the stump of a dead tree, but not damaged by the impact so her dad Jim could not have been going very fast. The car was not really wreaked, bent or dented. What was wrong? Why was her dad laying there still, immobile? What had caused the car to run into the stump? Why would her dad not wake up she wondered as she gently shook his lifeless body?
All of a sudden a stranger who turned out to be a kind neighbour named Robert came upon the scene and said “he had seen her dad there a few minutes earlier, unsuccessfully tried to wake him then rushed home and called an ambulance”. So Steffi ran home as fast as her feet would carry her to let her mom know that her dad had had a car accident and that their neighbour Robert had called an ambulance already.
Steffi was beside herself with worry. She was not going to go to school now. Where would she and her brother Tim go while her mother and father hurried to the hospital in the ambulance together? She was sure that her father would be all right and home again soon, however there was also some new sense of dread lurking in the pit of her heart.
She and her brother walked across the grassy field, then over the two-lane country road and down the gravel driveway to their neighbour Sam’s home. Sam gave Steffi and Tim some more hot chocolate but without the cinnamon and did her best to keep them calm and reassured that all would be well. However the dreadful feeling in Steffi’s heart just kept growing.
As she sat on the couch with Sam and Tim she saw her Grandfather’s Ford station wagon coming up the long gravel driveway just a few hours after the ambulance had left. A feeling of foreboding filled every cell of her being. Why were they here already? What was going on? Was her dad all right? Steffi watched through the living room window as her mom and grand parents got out of the car, walked slowly, sombrely up to Sam’s front door and knocked softly. Sam opened the front door, witnessing the long faces and sad expressions that could only mean bad news.
Vicki, Steffi’s mom walked over, sat down right between her and Tim putting one arm around each of them. Steffi was getting very uncomfortable. When was someone going to tell her what happened? The moments passed like lifetimes until her mother mustered the courage to say “your father Jim has passed on, because he had a tear in his esophagus”. He died in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. What! Passed On! What was an esophagus? He was healthy yesterday! How can that happen? One day a person is healthy, the next day they are dead! To say Steffi was upset did not touch the devastation she was feeling. Her mind was distraught. Her heart was pulverized.
Her father was her favourite person in the whole world. He took her trout fishing, camping with real stinky outhouses and taught her how to ride a dirt bike before she was even five years old. He bought her a horse! He made her dreams come true. It was impossible, her mother must be wrong! What was she to do? The next few days passed as a blur.
People brought food by the buckets full to her home to try and bring comfort to her broken family. She was not hungry. Steffi needed something to do with her hands because people kept coming up and hugging her and saying they were sorry. She just wanted all of the people to go away. So she found a latch hook rug and sat in her Dad’s favourite chair, next to the wood stove surrounded by the smell of beer and pulp mill, and latched hooked the rug hoping everyone would just leave her alone. Because everyone that came up to her to comfort her just increased her pain. She was inconsolable.
Some part of her could not believe her funny, hard working father was not going to come home smelling of pulp mill and Molson Beer. She kept thinking her dad was just pulling some kind of practical joke, like getting her to eat the hot mustard and sesame seeds on the barbeque pork at the Chinese restaurant. Doing his best all the time she was eating the pork, to convince her that it was the seeds that were hot not the mustard. Or the hundreds of times that he scared her in one-way or the other. Or when he wound her up in a hammock and just kept on spinning the hammock around and around like a ride at the county fair.
Steffi was not sure how long she cried the day she found her father but the tears came on many occasions and for decades to come. The grief of losing her father with out warning touched every day of her life from that day forward. The guilt she felt that if she had never been born, maybe her dad would have been able to leave her mom and have been happier followed her into her late forties.
The most important thing she learned from the passing of her father when he was only 39 years young was “to enjoy everything she did and be thankful for every day she lived”.
She remembered that her father was not really happy in his heart because he was an alcoholic and a womanizer. He would go to the bar after work and drink his fill, while he patted the waitresses on their behinds and he stared at their breasts. Then he drove home on the back roads to keep from being pulled over by the cops.
In one way she was glad her dad was not coming home any more. Because now her mom would not have to wait by the window wondering when her hardworking, lovable, drunk, womanizing husband would be home. It hurt Steffi’s heart as she watched her mom wait impatiently in the chair by the front window of the living room every day for her father to come home at all hours of the night.
Now since her dad had shed his mortal coil and transformed back to pure energy she knew he was never coming home again, the wait was finally over.