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I wish that Robert Kroetsch had been a friend of mine. He was a virtual mentor, a writer whose talent I adored from afar. I was lucky enough to visit with him numerous times over the years, at readings or launches or those lovely, boozy post-poetry parties that are iconic of the writing world, it seems.
His passing gutted me – it felt so wrong, so unfair. Perhaps more so because we’d reconnected at the Literary Awards Gala, and he’d gone from virtual to tangible. So very much alive, larger than life, his generous spirit a magnet in that packed room. How could he be gone, when he still had so many stories to tell?
Our conversation inspired me to have faith, that my struggle to make time to write in the cracks was a worthy one. He was funny, and charming. I held his cane as he flirted with another writer and signed her book. She was also clearly in awe. His warm attention a benediction for each new admirer.
For years I’d wanted to tell him the story of how he saved my mother’s life, but each time I had the opportunity I was too shy. That night I did.
“I have a story for you,” I said, “My mother says you saved her life.”
He looked a little wary, but I took a deep breath and plunged on. “When I was a teenager she was very ill, in intensive care, all hooked up to machines. We didn’t think she was going to make it. And every afternoon I drove two hours to see her, and I’d read to her from your book. She lived for the next chapter! And it made us howl with laughter. We laughed so hard the nurses would come see what was going on, and then they’d laugh too, they couldn’t help it. We were giddy. So, thank you!”
Robert smiled. “That’s a good story. Usually when people tell me I changed their lives, the stories aren’t so good,” he said gently. “Which book was it?”
“Ah, Alibi! I like that one. One of my favourites.”
The magic of story. I knew I could trust his novels because in Alibi he wrote about where I lived, and his words were vivid and true.
I didn’t grow up on the prairie, but fell in love with it through his words, long before I ever saw it, and when I married my Alberta boy and followed him home to northern Alberta, the place seemed familiar and right.
May we cherish that magic. May his words continue to teach us our landscapes, and our foibles. May we aspire to pass the magic of story on, to weave spells of our own passionate words, and to believe that our stories matter.