Call Me Bernie

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My name’s Bernard, but I like people to call me Bernie. Otherwise, with my large-boned frame and shaggy brown hair, I’m reminded that I look a bit like a Saint Bernard. When Vicky and I began seeing each other, she used to tease me about that. We met through mutual friends, and I was completely smitten with her. Guess you could call it love at first sight—on my part anyway. I was over the moon when she agreed to marry me after a brief courtship. She had everything—brains and beauty. Dark curls and hazel eyes. True hazel, which is rare. An elementary schoolteacher, her students thought the world of her. If we ran into one of them while we were out and about, she was certain to get a royal welcome. I didn’t feel I had much to offer, being only a low-paid city clerk. For the ceremony in May, I bought her a lovely gold wedding ring embedded with a small diamond, but to save money, I decided all I needed was a fancy green band tattooed on the ring finger of my left hand. I chose a maple leaf design because shortly after meeting Vicky, I had decided to leave Port Huron and become a Canadian citizen. I’ve never regretted that decision.

When we exchanged promises at the City Hall, Vicky traced my “ring” with her index finger, smiling at the permanence of it. Afterwards, celebrating with family and friends at the Holiday Inn, I joked, “I’ll never lose this wedding ring.”

“He’s mine for good,” Vicky asserted.

And it was good. All forty-three years of it. Though we’d wanted two or three children, we were blessed with only one—a daughter. We named her Valerie Rose. My wife, knowing I’d secretly hoped for a son, quoted these words, “A son is a son till he takes him a wife, but a daughter’s a daughter all of her life.”

I know that sounds unfair, but in my experience it often seems to happen that way. In my case the last part of that adage was certainly true. Valerie has literally saved my life. When I lost Vicky, I wanted to die too. For dark days on end, I would sit on a bench by the fast-moving St. Clair River, wanting to end it all. I blamed myself for the accident. I’d been working on our tax returns a year ago last April when I ran out of cigarettes. She’d insisted on walking to the corner variety store to get me a pack so I wouldn’t have to interrupt what I was doing. I should never have let her go. She was killed by a hit- and – run driver. I knew she’d been getting a trifle absent minded. They said she’d been walking against the light. One witness said he thought he’d seen an American licence on the car. They never caught the driver. He probably high-tailed it back to the States, I decided. After it happened, I felt so guilty I couldn’t smoke, couldn’t even stand the smell of cigarette smoke anywhere near me.

It took a bit of persuasion, but Valerie Rose talked me into moving in with her and her husband. She said my son-in-law was all for it. As a long-distance truck driver, Frank was away from home much of the time. “Frankie Junior would be happy to have his grandpa with us, Dad. You know he would. Besides, it’s not good—your being on you own like this.”

I knew she was right, but I felt totally incapable of action. After almost two years, I was still numb with grief. I couldn’t seem to pull myself together. But Val’s a strong woman. She has brown hair like mine, but she’s small-boned like her mother—and she has Vicky’s beautiful hazel eyes—compelling eyes. She wouldn’t take no for an answer.

In no time at all, Valerie Rose took over. She arranged to move my favourite green armchair, mahogany chest-of-drawers, TV, and bed into their empty guest room. After selling the rest of my furniture, she called a realtor for the sale of the house. Being near a large park, it went quickly. All I had to do was sign some papers. Thank heavens for daughters, I thought.

A couple of months ago, Frank took a picture of us—Valerie, Frankie Jr. and me, sitting together on the brown leather sofa in the family room, touching hands. I felt the healing power of love. My grandson is almost three, and he’s a never-ending delight. Val had the picture enlarged, and now it sits on the mantel above the fireplace. Whenever I look at it, I sense the spirit of Vicky hovering near, and I am comforted.

 

Two hands with pinkies locked, woman with wedding ring, man with ring tattoo with maple leafs.

author
Norma West Linder is the author of 7 novels, 16 collections of poetry, a biography, a memoir of Manitoulin Island, 2 children’s books, and a one-act play. Her latest poetry collection, Cabbages and Kings, was published by Aeolus House in 2020. She lives in Sarnia, and is the mother of two daughters and a son. Her life partner is James Deahl.
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