We only learned about our father’s girlfriend after he became deathly ill and lay in a coma 120 miles from our home.
Overhearing the nurse tell Linda–since I was nine I had called my mom by her first name–about the girlfriend who came in almost every day to visit him when we weren’t there confirmed that the last moment of normal had passed us by without our realizing it. Up to then our family had unhappily coexisted with Dad flying jumbo jets to Asia while we lived in Montana. We finally came together to see Dad through his illness, but he was once again absent from a major family event–unable to join us from his comatose state. This is the moment when our normal existence tilted.
Dad recovered, but the marriage ailed, as did Linda, with cancer. Our family began to move down an entirely different path with silver linings we wouldn’t see for many years.
In this candid and compassionate memoir which recently won a Gold Award in The Wishing Shelf Book Award, Nicole Harkin describes with an Impressionist’s fine eye the evolution of a family that is quirky, independent, uniquely supportive, peculiarly loving and, most of all, marvelously human.
For fifteen years, Linda sat on Erica’s mantel.
“What’s in that pretty vase on your mantle?” visitors asked. The purple container was pleasing to look at.
Erica took a little glee from shocking people with this fact. The urn was indeed attractive.
Linda was on Erica’s mantel because of a family impasse.
“Guys, we need to sprinkle Linda’s ashes,” Erica said on the phone with the four of us.
“I know. But I don’t want John to fly her over Glacier National Park. I’m worried he will be too upset and crash.”
I also imagined the ashes flying back into our faces and us inhaling Linda.
“I’m a professional, Nicole. I won’t crash. I do this for a living,” John said.
“But still. I don’t think it’s a good idea.”
Montana just chuckled at our ongoing conversation.
Again we tabled sprinkling her.
But now Erica was finally moving out of Montana. She was the last one of us living there, and she was done with pharmacy school. We needed to honor this last request by Linda.
We planned a weekend of camping in Glacier Park to do it. We brought tents and sleeping bags, we cooked over a fire, and then we rented two boats on a clear chilly summer morning.
To document the event I brought my Polaroid camera. John drove one boat with his wife and Walt. Erica, Tanner, Montana’s wife, and I were in the other boat piloted by Montana. We rode out twenty minutes to the middle of Lake McDonald. We hadn’t been boating together since we were little.
When we found the right spot, we tethered the boats together. There was a bit of wind. The glacial water was freezing, as it always was. We each said a few words but uttered no prayers.
Erica opened the urn and started sprinkling. And sprinkling. And sprinkling.
“There was more of Linda than I realized,” she said.
We laughed. And it was true.
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About Nicole Harkin
Nicole Harkin currently resides in Washington, DC with her husband and two small children. She works as a writer and family photographer. As a Fulbright Scholar during law school, Nicole lived in Berlin, Germany where she studied German environmentalism. Her work can be found in Thought Collection and you are here: The Journal of Creative Geography. She is currently working on mystery set in Berlin. Her photography can be seen at http://www.nicoleharkin.com.