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The Balderson Legacy

by Rebecca Bennett

Table of Contents
Table of Contents
parts: 1, 2, 3

part 1

Despite my mother’s protests that we would return to visit family and ensure my grandfather’s estate was fully settled, I knew that this was the last time I would set foot in Kitley. My grandparents, my mother, and my cousins had all been raised in the township: birthed, raised, and waiting to die in the same five-kilometre radius.

The town could trace its roots back to my grandfather’s line: the Baldersons. The town should have been renamed Balderson. The only local attractions were the Balderson Cemetery and my grandfather’s convenience store, where cigs sold at prices well under what was federally legislated.

Kitley is a spit of land that the modern age forgot; no new construction since the ’70s. It features the best of backcountry gravel roads, picturesque houses barely level on marshland, and of course, the scenic expanses of wide, empty fields that pocketed dirty, yellowed snow well into May.

No, I wasn’t coming back here.

As Balderson women, we were expected to provide the food for the auction. Grey-haired aunts scurried in and out of the kitchen carrying neon Tupperware containers piled with family favourites: devilled eggs; nuts and bolts; casseroles of every variety. If you could open a can, you could bake a casserole, that was my family motto. My mother was the youngest Balderson. I carried my father’s last name and was the youngest and only Crimshaw in the residence.

Like the man himself, my grandfather’s will was direct. With the exception of a few keepsakes for my mother, the rest of the property was to be auctioned or left in trust to the Loyal Orange Lodge, an organization that genuinely referred to my grandfather as “the Most Worshipful Lawrence Balderson.”

The Lodge was originally a society for Protestants to carry on the righteous cause of their Irish homeland in Canada. Though the average age of the Kitley population was 65, Lodge meetings held the same anticipation of a high-school dance — at least it did for men. Women weren’t allowed to attend the meetings. Instead, they supplied the food and company for the card games that were always held after.

“Such a noble man. He cared so much for our community,” my great-aunt Lori trilled, stepping between me and my mother. The aunts had spent the morning expounding on the nobility, the goodness of my grandfather. I could feel a twitch threatening in my right eye at every repeat. They focused their attention on my mother, making sure she knew how important my grandfather’s “donation” was.

“Now, Sarah” — Lori pulled off her apron — “we were thinking us girls would sneak in a game of euchre while the auction winds up.”

My mother looked pained at the suggestion. “I thought I’d check on the food and maybe—”

“Rachel and Cousin Betty already set up their crockpots.” Lori waved away my mother’s excuse. She grabbed my mother’s wrist, pulling her along with a yellowed smile. “Come join the girls, and we can relax a bit before starting the dishes. We’ll have two tables of four.”

The screen-door screeched closed, banging softly three times as it failed to seal. I forced myself to wait another few minutes — just to confirm that they weren’t sending another aunt after me — before following the smell of stale cigarettes and wintergreen that trailed from my grandfather’s living room to the Lodge across the street. Careful to avoid any well-meaning relatives, I grabbed my flannel jacket, keeping my head low as I crossed the street to the tables that were set up outside the Lodge.

* * *

My grandfather’s entire life was laid out on those tables. Christmas gifts my mother lovingly wrapped, still in their original packaging. A homemade crokinole board that my father taught me to play while my grandfather ignored us from two chairs away. My father’s large fingers expertly flicking the marble off the pegs and into the 20-point hole. My marbles always hit the sideboard or ricocheted across the room. “You’re too forceful, Mel,” he’d chide. “Just be gentle, go with the flow.”

Antique dealers swooped between red-eyed relatives, cataloguing and price-checking items on their smartphones. They were easy to pick out of the crowd; the women wore heels that sank into the melting spring ground, and the men wore raw denim splattered with mud up the back of their legs.

The auctioneer stood in the back of my grandfather’s old Ford pick-up. The body was rusted out, and the engine wouldn’t start, but the curves of the car were a relic of a more interesting manufacturing age. I wasn’t surprised to see SOLD written across the rear window.

Frederick Donnelly was the only auctioneer in the township and, so gossip went, the man who would be filling in my grandfather’s role at the Lodge. If a tomato ever grew to human proportions, it would share a strong family resemblance with Frederick Donnelly.

Face ruddy, button-up straining against a round belly, Mr. Donnelly slowly introduced every item — starting the price at $100 regardless if it was a worn newsboy cap or a hand-carved rocking chair. He held a white-painted Mason jar filled with my grandfather’s ashes. My grandfather asked that his ashes be given to the Lodge and, in honour of that, Mr. Donnelly carried the jar as gently and respectfully as he would a newborn.

I moved through the small, crowded walkways between the tables. Almost everything had a “Sold” sign on it; Mr. Donnelly was sure to be wrapping up soon. Short and slim, I could easily dodge the soft bellies and pudgy elbows of my older relatives. Escaping the crowd, I leaned up against the whitewashed building, the paint cracking behind me as I did so. The Lodge was once an old Protestant church hall that should have been condemned years ago.

My grandfather only favoured tools with a purpose, something he’d never seen in me. Although he found me easy to discard, I could never do the same. I used to hide in the attic as a child, trailing after my grandfather like the scent of tobacco. I’d always return to my mother itchy from the exposed insulation and reeking of mould.

There were two doors to the Lodge: one to the hall area, where the meeting room and bathroom were, the other to the kitchen, where food was being rearranged by some old aunt with errant chin hairs. My mother was likely in the hall, suffering through rounds of euchre that had to be played in absolute silence lest “table talk” spoil the game.

I slipped through the hall door, surprised that many of the tables were already filled with players. I made sure the door closed silently behind me. A few players looked up but quickly returned to their cards. The only sounds were the exasperated sighs as a partner chose the wrong suit to make trump or the harsh crunching of snacks. Knowing that people were watching my approach, I ducked into the bathroom before following the route that I intended to take.

* * *

Proceed to part 2...

Copyright © 2017 by Rebecca Bennett

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