Something happens when you live in a small town … you get invested.
And sometimes the things or people that you get invested in don’t make the most sense, but it happens.
It starts out simply enough.
For instance, one day you’re picking your kids up from school and you see a man out on the sidewalk. This man is wearing jeans, a tank top and a bandana on his head. His arms are tattooed and … he’s wearing what looks like a well used baby carrier on his back, complete with baby. He’s pushing a stroller, also equipped with a child – there’s a dog at the end of the leash in one hand – and a young child holds the other as they wait for yet another to meet them.
And you think to yourself … “that is awesome.”
Through your years working at the local grocery store you see that same man and his wife a lot. You see her belly grow round not once, but two more times.
“Seriously? Another one? You know what causes that, right?”
She laughs, he looks smug.
You joke about self sufficient soccer teams and full baseball fields with them. They are open and honest and real.
You change jobs and lo and behold now you recruit their wee minion army to deliver papers – sometimes to damn near half the town.
Suddenly six kids sounds like a great idea.
You take their family photos, year after year, seeing them grow and change. Marvelling, always, in how they interact. One large, chaotic, loving mess of family that just make you comfortable being around them.
Your own kids grow and you change jobs again. It’s not unusual to go months without seeing them or speaking to them.
But then you run into them and you hear of their epic Nerf Gun battles that began one Christmas – because your own son went on about your family’s own wars in the local toy section … because it’s a small town.
And you joke about Nerf Gun raids that never happen. But should have.
You watch her start her own small business and you support her, not just because she supported yours, but because she is good at it. Really good.
Even after all of these years, though, you have not been to her house for longer than a quick moment and she has not been to yours.
You are both busy people.
Then you find yourself sitting at her dining table, getting her to tell you her story of why she is participating in a local cancer fundraiser with her daughter. She cries as she speaks of her recently deceased father while at the same time she struggles to get Barbie decent in a little pink outfit for her youngest.
You take the kids out to Jasper Lake and fly kites for a day because you can.
You talk of taking them all on a hike of the frozen Maligne Canyon, because you can. But you don’t. But you should have.
And then, one evening, the stars align and you find yourself at their house for one of their many dinners and it feels like home. You are not company. There is a cacophony of sound that can only be made by six happy young children and their friends.
It should be noted that several grown males contributed the the noise with pretty dramatic couch wrestling moves and children may or may not have gotten air time on more than one occasion.
It takes a long while for the stars to align again and she makes it to your house for an equally loud and chaotic BBQ party that may or may not have included an impressive BBQ fire and a sword fight between Batman and a Knight.
You hope that these visits can happen more often.
Then one day life throws one of those epic, unpredictable twists into the mix and she passes away.
No one sees it coming.
It just is.
And while you are not one of the many, many close friends she left behind. You are invested.
May your children understand how awesome you were that so many will miss you so sharply.