A Brief Spark

December 20, 2016

On October first, 1980, our son Steven was born. He was our third child, but the first boy, so his birth was a joyous occasion for my husband Ted and me. When Steven was just nineteen days old, I began attending classes at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT) to complete the fourth and final phase of my apprenticeship as a machinist. I had been the first woman to enroll in the Machinist Apprenticeship Program at NAIT. Another woman, Elsie, had started a year after me and was registered in that class. I did not want to lose the distinction of being the first woman to complete the program, so it seemed important to attend that term. I found a babysitter living near us who was willing to look after Steven while I attended classes for eight weeks. Our daughters, Tammy and Terri, in grades six and five, ate lunch at school and could handle being alone for an hour every day. I planned to take some time off to be with my new son after I achieved journeyman standing.

On the morning of Friday, December fifth, six weeks into the course and exhausted, I struggled with the idea of skipping my classes that day and staying home to play with Steven. But in the end I decided that since the weekend was near, I should not miss classes for a frivolous reason, or on a whim. Although Steven had had a cold for a week, he woke up that morning feeling better and in high spirits. Regretfully, I packed up his diaper bag and took him to the sitter. My car would not start, so Ted drove me to NAIT. I planned to take the bus either home or to Ted’s office, depending on which bus came first. One of our instructors was absent for a funeral so some students convinced the other instructors to rearrange the day’s schedule so that we could leave at noon. After Elsie and I spent the afternoon shopping, I took the bus home.

When I walked in the back door, I was surprised to see my mother in the kitchen, doing dishes with my girls. “Well, well, well. What’s Grandma doing here?” I asked as I shut the door and kicked my boots off. Taken aback when she responded by asking me how I got home, I answered that I had taken the bus. Then she said, “Something terrible has happened… Steven is dead.” My packages and books fell from limp arms, slid down the basement stairs and landed in a jumble at the bottom. “No!” I cried, “Not my beautiful baby!” Then catching sight of my daughters’ tear-stained faces, I hastened to add that I also considered them beautiful but because he was so small and dependent, he was special. They nodded that they understood, and then Terri, with tears streaming down her cheeks, dashed to the bathroom to gather handfuls of tissue for all of us.