A few months ago my life took one of those radical turns life often takes. I won't go into the details, but what it meant was that my life would change forever. Suddenly I was going to be doing things like finding a job (which I did, and a damn good one at that), and buying my own house. This last bit was the hard part, because I have had dozens of jobs - but I have never owned a house by myself, been the only one with the name on the mortgage. The prospect was daunting, to say the least. To be honest, it was terrifying.
I contacted someone who has become a close a friend, and who also happens to be a realtor. I told her the story, and told her that I needed to find a new house. My friend, who is not only an amazing realtor but an equally amazing friend, promised me that we would not find a house - we would find a home. And so the search began, us looking at over a dozen houses. We looked at some that were great but not right for one writer, one kid, one dog, three ferrets, and one cat soon to be adopted from the SPCA. And then finally we found it - the perfect little house. As soon as I walked in I felt at peace. It felt right. It felt like home, and it had clearly been lovingly cared for. We quickly put in an offer, and it was accepted - I would have a new home. End of story, right? Wrong.
When the time came for the home inspection the owners, due to a mix-up in communication, were at home. While my home inspector did his work this gave me a chance to speak to them, to get to know the people who owned the house that would soon be my home. I learned that they were retiring after decades in this community, and after sixteen years in this house. We talked about children, and dogs, and I shared a few things with them, too. After the home inspection was completed we said our farewells, the sale moving ahead. Again, end of story, right? Wrong.
A couple of weeks later I was driving by what would be my new home as I often do, checking out the area at different times of day to sense the rhythm of this new environment. There, on the lawn of my soon-to-be new house, was a sign advertising the dining room table for sale. I called immediately, as this was one item I would need, and I had loved the set when I saw it. I arranged to drop by later that week to pay for the dining room table, and so one evening there I was, cash in hand.
The lovely lady of the house and I spoke for a bit. She told me how her husband, being very concerned that I shouldn't have to deal with it when I first moved in, had been working tirelessly to care for the lawn (her husband had not said a word during the earlier home inspection, but I now realized he had been carefully listening to every word I said). She showed me a few items they would leave behind, and then, just as I was about to leave, she said she had a surprise for me.
We stepped out back, onto the back deck overlooking the yard, and she pointed to a small black plot of earth I had noticed on an earlier visit. And that is when she looked at me with a small smile and said, "We planted a garden for you."
There are few times in my life when I have been truly speechless. As soon as she said the words and I looked down to see little rows carefully marked with tiny stakes indicating the kinds of plants the soil would soon yield I felt the prick of tears in my eyes. You see gardens have always had a special place in my heart. My mother, gone for four years now, always had a garden, lush and green and brimming with the fruits of her labour. It was one of the true signs of home for me, a garden lovingly tended and cared for, carrot and lettuce seeds planted with optimism and hope and belief. I looked at this woman, a stranger, and I think I did not need to speak because she saw my face. This simple act of kindness - planting a garden that she and her husband would never see, just for my enjoyment - was beyond thanks. It was, to me, some kind of miracle.
I did thank her, of course, and she came out to the car to meet the Intrepid Junior Blogger. She told me that she and her husband were off on their own adventure, not sure where they would end up, and I told her about the new adventure I was embarking on, captaining a ship of one teenager, one dog, three ferrets, and a soon-to-be adopted cat. I asked her to stay in touch, to send a postcard so I could send her photos of the house and yard...and then she told me that she hoped I would be as happy in the house as she had been. But she didn't say house. She said home.
And so it will be, very soon. Her home, soon to be mine. Her kindnesses, the freshly tended lawn and lovingly planted garden, making me know in my heart that my decision to stay in Fort McMurray - and yes, I did face that decision this year - was the right one. At a point in time when I needed the universe to step in and tell me that I was on the right path, that I had made the right choice, and that it was all going to be okay in the end, the universe failed me - and instead what stepped in was a couple that are retiring after decades in this community, moving on but carrying with them their hopes and dreams and memories. They confirmed to me that my decision was right, that I was on the right path, and that everything truly will be okay - and so it has been.
That couple, the couple who owned my home before it was mine, are what this community is about. They, and people like my dear friend the realtor, and all the other people who have become so important in my world, are what Fort McMurray really is. These are the people who have made this place become home for me, more "home" than anywhere else I have ever lived. And so, very soon, I will move into my new home, with a little garden I did not plant but that was left behind by someone who is passing their home on to me. This is, in the end, a moving story. It's all about moving - moving home.