The first time I ever lost my grip on things I was maybe six or seven years old, and the garden behind our house in the northeast end had been shredded by summer hail. I stood in the back porch down the three stairs from the kitchen and looked through the glass and metal and mesh of the storm door at the frame of devastation.
The hail had knocked everything flat. Carrot fantails were bent over and smeared into the soil. The potato plants were pulverized. The food that took shape above the ground—the peas, the cukes, the green beans, the precious tomatoes tied for support by sections of my mother's old nylons to slender wooden sticks—were destroyed. I stood still in the porch and watched my parents in the garden here and there reaching down to collect handfuls of shredded lettuce, letting them drop dead.
The sight of the fractured corn hurt the most.
My parents had put so much work into that garden, and I could tell they were sad. Now, as I stood still in the back porch, keeping a respectful distance from them as they moved mournfully up and down the rows, I was forced to make room in my small universe for a truth, unassailable, unarguable, a truth as obvious as the hailstones that sat shamelessly on the soil like spent shotgun shells, that work could be obliterated, that the money and love my parents put into their garden toil could be erased by forces above. Not could be. Was. This was an education in fact.
And in printing. Because that scene from the back of the house on 67 Street was written in my memory. I read it all again yesterday when the hail returned. Shelagh announced it. Actually, the hail announced itself, smashing onto the house roof, audible inside where we were drinking Red Needles, a cocktail invented by Leonard Cohen in 1975: tequila, lemon, cranberry juice, ice.
I ran out through the front door and scooped up hailstones from the lawn and front street. They were bigger than I had ever seen. And stranger, too. Cold to the touch, cloudy to the eye, one was big and smooth enough to be the cube in an Old Fashioned, and others were armed with icy spikes that resembled, I thought fancifully, medieval hand grenades.
We have no garden or flowers this year so there was nothing the hail could damage in our little world.
It did remind me, though, of the years between the 55-year-old man running in his socks across the front lawn and out onto 148 St bending down to pick up yesterday's hail, and the six- or seven-year-old boy still standing in a back porch in northeast Edmonton, unable to move.