“There it is dad,” I said pointing to the rough-cut cedar sign marking the entrance. “GREENGLADE. Turn right.” Every year for as long as I could remember our family trekked from Saskatchewan to Vancouver Island to celebrate my birthday. This year was my twelfth.

Dad eased the car down the drive to the mink ranch my uncle and grandfather had built the year I was born. The tires crunched over a thick layer of peeling bark shed from a canopy of arbutus trees. The smell of fish feed rose from the mink sheds. From the car, I noticed the shingles on Gramps’ carpenter shop had sprouted a fresh coating of moss.

“You’re up early, Pumpkin,” Gramps said turning at the squeak of the carpenter shop door.

“Couldn’t sleep, Gramps. All that chatter outside.”

“Four babies. Just hatched,” Gramps said drawing the chequered curtain aside and pointing to the big apple tree beyond the window. The birds, however, were not to blame for my early wakeup. I couldn’t wait to spend golden time with my grandfather.

Leaving the window, I padded across the concrete floor to the workbench — dark with the grease and gouges from saw cuts, hammer dings, and iron filings – the centre of Gramps’ world. Rows of cubbies behind the bench overflowed in a jumbled tangle of future and past projects, a reminder of one of his favourite mantras, Waste not, want not. Along the wall, a rack of hand weathered tools, screwdrivers, rasps, belts, and hammers, hung in regimental order.

“What are you making, Gramps? Smells spicy, like cinnamon toast.”

“That’s the cedar, Jill.” Gramps said nodding to his bench where several pieces of softly greying cedar lay askew, the sweet aromatic scent filling the room.

“Come on then, birthday girl and number one helper. You hold the far end,” Gramps said. The blush filling my face, I strengthened my grip.

Gramps set the plane atop the wood. He circled his right hand around the knob, the green paint worn smooth from decades of use.  He leaned into the task, the tool an extension of his arm. With each stroke of the plane, like magic, the warm waves of the cedar’s yellow and red grain emerged. In that moment, there was no world beyond me, my Gramps, and the sussing of the plane passing over the wood. Curls of wood feathered to the floor, discarded in the act of creation.

The parcel for my thirteenth birthday arrived the same day the call from Greenglade had shattered my heart with news of my Gramps death. The small, hinged cedar box with a robin carved delicately on the lid, sits out of place on my dressing table beside the brightly coloured jars and bottles of makeup. Whenever I open it, he fills the room. In the distance, I imagine that long ago morning and the early chatter of robins in the apple tree.

Jill C. Martin

Jill Martin is the author of Return to Sable (2015). Sable Island in Black and White, a pictorial book of life on Sable Island at the turn of the 20th century (Nimbus 2016), was the winner of the 2017 Atlantic Book Democracy award for non-fiction. For many years, an educator on Nova Scotia's South Shore, she served as the last principal of Lunenburg Academy. Murder in the Fourth: A Case of Mindslaughter, her first co-authored fiction book, was released in 2018. From Thistles to Cowpies, (Crossfield 2021), traces the journey of early twentieth century homesteaders to Saskatchewan.