Dale figured he was off the hook when he told Donna to go ahead and hire a cleaning lady.
She’d been defensive. “Norma’s got someone coming out to her place,” she’d explained. “So we can split the travel costs if I hire her too.”
Dale had never been against the idea, but Donna worked hard to convince him it was a good decision. “We hire out lots of things,” Donna reminded him. “Accounting. Trucking. This isn’t any different.”
Sure, it was an extravagance, but the cost for an entire year would be less than half of one combine payment. If Dale could ride around in a tractor with heated and cooling seats, surely Donna could have someone scrub the bathrooms twice a month.
And she didn’t have to tell him, Dale knew Donna’s joints were bothering her. He saw her rub her knuckles when she thought he wasn’t looking. Wearing flat shoes. Stashing painkillers in the kitchen. Donna’s mother had arthritis, and Dale had always assumed it was only a matter of time for his wife.
Dale didn’t want to force Donna to talk about that, so he was quick to agree with the cleaning lady idea, and made a special effort not to blurt out the first thing that came to his mind: “My mother would have crawled on broken glass to clean the bathrooms before she let a stranger see inside our closets.”
He did ask Donna why she hadn’t hired someone years ago, when the kids were small and she was doing all the farm bookkeeping. “Nobody would come!” she said. “Don’t you remember? That woman from Estevan cleaned the house from top to bottom, but then she said she wouldn’t come back — it was too many miles of gravel road. I cried. I actually sat down and cried.”
So after the cleaning lady’s visit on Monday, Dale came in from the shop at suppertime, hoping he’d find Donna pleased with her gleaming bathrooms and happy with the world.
Dale knew Donna was restless. Last year, she’d passed all the responsibility for the farm bookkeeping on to her daughter-in-law. “If Elaine’s going to be part of the farm, she might as well learn what it’s all about,” Donna said. Then Donna had given up her long-term place on the area library board. “It’s about time some younger people had a chance to get involved,” she told Dale.
Donna enjoyed spending time with her young grandchildren, and she could have helped her daughter-in-law with her family and farm responsibilities. But, she’d told Dale, “I don’t want to be a meddling mother-in-law.”
Donna enjoyed spending time with her female friends. They’d gone to Peru. Spent a weekend in New York. Gone camping. Donna liked travelling, but Dale couldn’t see how that could fill her whole calendar.
“I suppose she’s trying to find herself,” was what Dale’s father, Ed, said when Donna bought herself a kayak. “Nobody buys a kayak unless they’re trying to find themselves.”
“Maybe,” Dale said. “Is that what you’re doing all winter in Arizona?”
“I don’t need to drive all the way to the damn desert to know who I am,” Ed said. “Women, though,” he shook his head. “Women are different. Watch out. When your mother was about the age Donna is now, she got a lot of goofy ideas about moving to town. Watch your step, or Donna will have you living in a condo.”
Sure enough, Ed had been on to something.
“Gerri and Rick have been looking at houses in that new subdivision in Regina,” Donna told Dale while they ate pork chops with homemade applesauce.
“Oh?” Dale said.
“Gerri says she really likes the high ceilings in the new places. Like the Jensons’ have in their new place in Weyburn. Or the show homes in that new condo development down in Estevan. Too bad we hadn’t built this place just a couple of feet higher.”
“We may have low ceilings, but we sure have shiny bathrooms,” Dale said, wondering if changing the subject might be a way to put this conversation off. “Everything went all right today?”
“Sure,” Donna said. “She was very thorough. It’s nice to have all the cobwebs out of the corners. Now I have to figure out how to use all my extra time.”
“You don’t have to use it,” Dale said. “We’re at the age where we’re supposed to wind things down. Retire. Not look for new things to do.”
He quickly realized this was the wrong thing to say.
“Retire? Are you kidding? I’m a few years younger than Hilary Clinton! She’s certainly not retiring!”
“You know Canadians can’t be president, right?” Dale asked.
Donna fell silent, chewing her lip.
Dale knew a normal retirement wasn’t in the cards for Donna. She hadn’t had the kind of career you could retire from. She’d made a life working on the farm, looking after their kids, taking care of family members and volunteering in town.
“I’m not sure,” Donna admitted. “I need to do something, but I’m not quite sure what it is.” She paused again; Dale could see she was thinking her answer through carefully. “It’s easier for you. You can just keep on working on the farm until the bitter end. But I need to find a new place for myself.”
Dale wasn’t liking the direction this was taking.
“Donna,” Dale asked. “Do you want to move to town?”
She sighed. “We’ve always been here,” she said. “It’s our life. It’s hard to imagine us somewhere else.”
“Especially in a condo,” Dale said. “But we don’t have to stay here. If it’s important to you, we could try someplace else. Maybe for the winter? Jeff and Elaine could probably keep things under control here without me. For a little while, anyway.”
“Yes. But…” Donna paused, and Dale could see she wasn’t sure what she wanted to say. “We’ve been here all our lives… If we aren’t tied to this farm, maybe we’ll feel… unmoored. I have this vision of the two of us, floating off into the distance like a couple of untied balloons.”
Dale had absolutely no idea how to even begin to answer this.
After a pause, Donna started again. “The city might be nice. There’s lots to do,” Donna said. “We could learn to golf. Go to concerts. Gerri and Rick are joining a bridge club.”
“We’ve never golfed at the course 20 miles from the farm,” Dale said. “You don’t like concerts. And isn’t bridge for old ladies?”
“Maybe I am an old lady,” Donna said. “Dale, I had to hire someone to clean our house. Your mother would have a fit if she was here!”
“I wasn’t going to say that,” Dale said, grinning.
Donna kept talking. “We’re getting old. If there’s anything we want to do, we have to do it now. Before it’s too late.”
“We’ve got lots of time. Look at my dad.”
“You’ve got a point,” Donna laughed, thinking of her stubborn father-in-law, refusing to stop running the combine. “Dale, I don’t know what I want to do. Just promise me we don’t have to move into a condo?”
“Not yet, anyway.”