We used to work together, many years ago and we live in the same town bur we hardly ever met socially. By sheer chance we both stood side by side watching the annual Sea Cavalcade parade: the make shift floats full of kids throwing candy, the golden girls in vintage cabriolets followed by a pipe band and then, as every year, the service vehicles: Ambulance, Fire trucks, Police cruiser. We both waited for our wives who were busy. With the parade over we decided to have a pint together at Grandma’s Pub, right on the water, overlooking the government harbour. A mix of working boats and pleasure craft lined the busy docks and we could hear the mast lines dinging in the breeze. Beyond the harbour sat the long green shape of Keats Island with it’s holiday houses, framed against the coastal mountains and the bright blue sky above. After our beers arrived we reminisced about the good old days in the movie business.
“1998 was a great year, I made lots of money. Come to think of it I make about the same now as I did then?” Carl said and took a swallow of his pint.
“Same here,” I said and added “Some things never change. I work more for less it seems.”
We laughed and clinked glasses. And then we both sat quiet, lost in our thoughts, absorbed by the pristine view.
“You want to hear a strange little story,” Carl asked, stroking his stubbly chin and without waiting for my response continued. “A couple of weeks ago Wendy, my wife, and I were browsing in a a second hand shop, I think it was a Sally Ann, in West Van, killing some time before a doctors appointment. Since I didn’t see anything useful for myself I went outside to wait, knowing full well that she was going to find something.
“Look what I found,” she gushed when she emerged from the store, and proudly held out her hand which cradled a pink heart shaped, shiny soap-dish-like object with the word ‘Mom’embossed in silver letters across the top.
“What is this, a paperweight?” I asked. It looked and felt like it was made of some kind of polished stone or porcelain. “Let me see that.” There was a silver lid inlaid on the back side of the delicate box with the small stamped words In Memoriamon it.. I shook it and heard nothing, than I pried the lid open with my penknife with Wendy looking on intrigued. The small vessel was full of white ashes and something that I took to be a tiny bone fragment.
“These are human remains,” I said to Wendy who took a step back. I immediately snapped the lid back in place. We both felt like we had disturbed some kind of order in the universe and I felt a discordant twang in my gut, like I’ve seen a ghost or something. We carefully put the mini porcelain urn – because that’s what it was – back in Wendy’s bag and now we were late for the appointment. We didn’t broach the subject again until we were sitting back on the ferry going home.
“Oh my God, what are we going to do?”
I knew right away what Wendy was referring to. I didn’t know but some kind of action was required.
“What did you do?” I asked, keen to hear the rest of the story.
“We took out an ad in the ‘West Ender’, hoping somebody would come forward. A son, a daughter, maybe grandkids. Momwas obviously somebody’s mother.
We waited a couple of weeks and when no response came our way, I called Martin, the local Anglican minister, for advice. We knew each other from the Legion. “Do whatever you deem dignified, according to your religion or believe and dispose of it with respect. That’s all you can do,” was his sage advice.
Wendy and I discussed this matter as seriously as if we were somehow related to Momand I felt that indeed we kind of were bound together now. We were of the same global tribe after all and owed each other some basic things like respect, dignity and closure. We decided to take Momfor a trip up the coast in our sailboat. In fact it was the catalyst for our annual summer sail. Mombecame our quest.’
We both concentrated on our beers for a moment and then Carl continuesd.
‘We settled on Princess Louisa Inlet for a fitting resting place for Mom. The sail up the west coast took us past some of the most spectacularly dramatic landscape anywhere, rugged, rocky shores with the odd house poking out of the mantle of green trees which draped over the steep, wild and rocky country, inhospitable, but scenically beautiful. We had all the creature comforts of modern life on board as well as charts and a VHF, cell phones and cameras and we always marvelled about the explorers of old who sailed these waters without comfort and no idea where their wretched journey would lead to or end. Names like Deserted Bayand Desolation Sound, which today is one of the most coveted destinations for boaters were not dispensed with hope but with a keen sense of desperation.
We sailed past Nelson Island and tucked into Jervis inlet, motored up the Royal Reaches until we found the hidden entrance halfway up Queens Reach. We entered Princess Louisa Inlet through the Malibu rapids at high tide and emerged into a body of water about 1 km wide and 5 km long, flanked by mile high perpendicular cliffs with cascading waterfalls tumbling into the dark green water from both sides. At the end of the inlet is chatterbox falls which is a grand curtain of water in one of natures most spectacular theatres backlit by the sun which was about to fall behind the snow capped mountain tops.
We stopped short of the dock at the end of the inlet and in a moment of silence and calm we dropped the pink, heart shaped porcelain urn into the luminous water and followed it with our eyes as it descended into the deep, fading and disappearing to it’s final resting place. I felt a strange elation and peace come over me and I took Wendy’s hand and even though we are not religious, and have no illusions about god or an after life we touched an inner place that came from the center and it made us feel good and at one with the world.”
Carl fell silent and we both sat there, looking out at the harbour and sun dappled blue water. “Nobody has quests anymore,” Carl said, draining his beer, “and it felt good to have a quest and see it through. For those few days we lived with a purpose and it gave our lives a focus that was beyond money and goals.”
It was time to finish our beers and go back to meet our respective people. I felt like giving Carl a hug but that would have been too awkward for both of us. Instead I shook his hand. I felt like he had given me a gift and I thanked him.