When I was born I didn’t have a sister, yet. She arrived later, when I was 15, but that’s a different story. What I had was a cousin who is like a sister. She’s been with me since the start, since I was a baby in a crib in a yellow-checkered nursery on Wiggins Avenue.
Heather’s father Glen was my mom’s brother. They had grown up in Conquest; we grew up in Saskatoon. (Until I was eight, when I moved to Victoria with my mom and brother and we started writing letters.) Heather was a year and a half older, and had longer eyelashes. She was there through the barbie years, when we dressed the plastic dolls in little handmade skirts her grandma sewed, sat them down on little handmade chairs.
My mom used to drive the green station wagon from our duplex on Arlington to Heather’s house on Kilburn, where she lived with my Auntie Laura. “Put the coffee on,” my mom would say. “We’re on our way.” Our moms sat at the kitchen table talking, hands flying. I think I thought that’s what women did when they grew up: moved their hands when they spoke, laughed loudly, swore a little. Heather would show me her new school clothes, how she could put three different outfits together with one sweater. Neither of our moms had much money, but we were only just starting to figure that out. The barbies and the cabbage patch kids were at the forefront of our minds.
I smoked my first cigarette with Heather, on the beach at Waskesiu Lake when I was 12. I coughed and coughed and after said how gross it was, how tired it made me feel. “Me too,” she said. “Do you want another one?” In Europe we drank red wine from Paris to Portugal, ran around topless on a mountain in Switzerland with an Australian guy called Kevin, stood astonished at the curved lines of the architecture in Barcelona’s Park Guell. When we said goodbye at the Venice port (she was flying back to Canada, I was boarding a boat to Greece) we cried like you’d expect — at 18 and 20 that kind of separation feels like the most drastic thing in the world.
We’ve had distant moments, too. I remember voices raised over a broken can opener when we were roommates in Victoria. Silence on buses. Tears over a boy. (Just one, thankfully, who neither of us ended up with.) And I was upset when she didn’t come with me to Vietnam from Laos for the last leg of our Southeast Asia trip, telling me the night before that she was leaving for Thailand instead, with Par, the Swedish guy she’d met on Koh Penghan. (I went anyway, on a midnight bus to Hue.) By the time we met back up and flew to Melbourne a few weeks later, it didn’t matter. It was Christmas. We were in Australia. We were cousins.
We’ve been roommates in hostels and hotels, in a condo in Victoria, in a flat in Melbourne, in an apartment in Southeast Edmonton. In the jungle in Malaysia she sang along to the songs I played on my red guitar — Fairy’s Body,” written by our friend Ethan, Radiohead’s “Karma Police,” “A Better Man” by Pearl Jam. When her father died, we talked on the phone every day.
Now we’re both in Saskatoon again. She lives across the street from Walter Murray High School with her fiance Jay and their children: Liam, almost three, and Hadley, seven months. Their eyelashes are long. Liam calls me Auntie Coco, shows me his globe, his favourite train called Henry. Heather shows me a new photo of Hadley. She is wearing a white dress, sitting among tulips.
I’m here in transition. It’s the last time, most likely, we’ll live in the same city. The snow in her front yard is starting to melt where the sun hits; the back is still piled in white. Heather invites me to sleep over, says she wants me to try her homemade granola in the morning. I’ll take photos, I think. Share the recipe on my blog.
That’s how these stories start. You want to share your cousin’s granola recipe, but realize you need to explain who your cousin is, why it matters that you’re sleeping in her basement in Saskatoon as she drops butter in the pan, adds the rolled oats and cinnamon. How the night before you sat at the kitchen table and talked, stayed up too late. Swore a little. How your whole history sits at that table with you, embedded in a moment.
Heather’s Granola (in her words)
1 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup raw pumpkin seeds
1/2 cup raw sunflower seeds
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup raisins
I start with small amount of butter in a pan, then add 1 cup of rolled oats, a couple of generous shakes of cinnamon, a handful of wheat germ, 2 tbs of flax, 1/2 cup of both raw pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds, and a good squeeze of honey. I stir all that together until the oats are browned and the seeds are getting toasted. Towards the end I add about a tsp of vanilla and a 1/2 cup of raisins.
Serve hot, top with yogurt and fresh strawberries, side of java. Enjoy with a good book or good conversation. This is my nut allergy-friendly version!