Lynn and I, in the conservatory at the Mendel Gallery, Saskatoon. May 2017
I remember the last time I visited Lynn Hainsworth in Saskatoon. It was a chilly day, the first day of May this year. But on the prairies, what started out as an overcast day, ended up in brilliant sunshine and the temperature reached 22C. Unheardof in the Maritimes for April, May or June…
A friend drove me to Lynn’s house. She’d had stomach cancer for nearly two years. A year earlier, we’d met at an outdoor café near the edge of the river valley. Lynn, who had always been a bit chunky, was skin and bones. She said she couldn’t focus on anything because she had chemo brain – a side effect from chemotherapy. But I had to believe she would live.
That day in May, I got out of my friend’s car worried about what I’d see –when Lynn opened the door. She was thin, but fashionable as always. I brought her a vintage black patterned silk kimono because it was the most unnecessary yet necessary gift—the kind she always liked. We talked about books, films and politics in the living room that was painted a vibrant turquoise with an Indian rug. Her furniture was also turquoise and I sat in my place on the chesterfield as I had for the 12 years when we shared the same city. She sat in the matching armchair, at an angle to me, the same place she always had.
I noticed a painting as if for the first time – the Grant Lehr oil painting of the smiling girl with her red dress catching the wind. There was new art too. I thought I saw her cat– but of course it had been 17 years ago since I last saw her pet—couldn’t be the same one.
We had lunch at her favourite place, the Mendel Gallery. But the Mendel was no longer the Mendel. Most of it was roped off, full of old packing boxes and broken chairs, because the gallery was moving to a new location in a purpose built glass box further up the river. The new home for the Mendel has all the charm of a shredded wheat box. At the old Mendel, the café was open still – barely. We ordered shrimp tacos and coffee.
At the next table were three white men, engineers or project managers. One kept a hard hat on the spare chair. They talked so loudly – as if anyone would have been interested in their chat about cars, cabins and coffee. Lynn and I moved tables and she made a caustic comment about the culture of men – manspreading their personalities thru their booming voices in the small restaurant.
We walked into the conservatory. It looked less well tended than it used to look but here was the banana tree; I was happy to see the old familiar scruffy trunk with its insect chewed leaves. We walked around the conservatory once and Lynn pointed out new trees and flowers, as insects buzzed around us. A school girl took a photo of us, at my request, and a tourist took a photo of us outside while we waited for a taxi to take Lynn home.
The afternoon heated up and the sun beat down as I crossed the bridge to the university side and walked down Broadway. I cried on and off because I knew it had been my last time with Lynn. We had talked of Alexa, my sons, my husband, politics, always politics, Trudeau the younger, Trump, books and illness. She then reached into her purse to show me a business card. It said in case of emergency, call Saskatoon Funeral Home. I laughed. Deadly serious she told me, “They only give you this card when you’re near the end.”