Cathie at UofA Press called my cell number early on Wed. morning. “Where are you?” she asked. I was in a friend’s cabin on the shore of Kootenay Lake, just east of Nelson.
I have some bad news,” she said, so I was looking out the window at this view…
when I heard the words, “It’s about Robert Kroetsch. He died in a car accident yesterday.”
The previous day had been my birthday, and we’d been on the highway ourselves, travelling from Naramata Bench to our friends’ house in the West Kootenays. I knew Robert had been in Canmore, and I had enjoyed reading Laurie Anne Fuhr’s posts on Facebook about working and playing with the man during the previous week. I had written an email to him myself just a couple of days before asking about making a date, once he returned home, when my photographer-friend and I could drive up to Leduc for a photography session. We had it in mind to start creating promotional videos for authors, and Robert had very kindly agreed to be our first subject when I’d presented the idea to him just a couple of weeks before. Had I not broken my wrist the next morning after stopping at Leduc on the way back to Calgary from a library conference, we might have already taken those photos and created that video…
I’d stopped in Leduc with Darcie Friesen Hossack so that she, too, would have an opportunity to meet this wonderful man. When he wrote to give me directions, he said he would be watching down the road for us – and he was! As we pulled into the parking lot he stood up from the bench where he had been waiting and greeted us both as long, well-loved friends. Darcie was immediately smitten by Robert’s charm, as had I the previous summer.
In July 2010 I was asked to pick up Robert from the Cranbrook Airport and drive him to the Fernie Writers’ Conference where he was to be Keynote Speaker. I was nervous! I had met Robert briefly at an Edmonton writing conference in Feb., but would be spending an hour and a quarter with this man – someone I knew was very special to Aritha van Herk, and a literary giant. What would we talk about? No worries there. The first words out of his mouth were, “Aritha told me I would be in good hands.” Conversation never lagged as we reminisced about the “old days” of Alberta bookselling and writing. Then he asked me about my own writing (!) and encouraged me to keep at it – EVEN THOUGH HE HAD NEVER READ A WORD OF ANYTHING I HAD WRITTEN. And never did, as it turned out. What he knew I had though was passion to write, and that was what he told me never to lose sight of, no matter how hard the writing might prove to be.
The last time I saw Robert was on Sunday afternoon of the WGA conference in Calgary a couple of weeks ago. His last words to me, after a goodbye hug, were, “See you in Fernie!” He was looking forward to returning to the Fernie Writers’ Conference in July where he told me he would be “freeloading off Aritha.” He had a delightful twinkle in his eyes when he said that.
We’ll be leaving the West Kootenays in a couple of hours, and by the afternoon will be driving that same route from Cranbrook to Fernie that I travelled with Robert last summer. I have a feeling he’ll be in the car with me, laughing, listening, enjoying life – because Robert does and will always live on, through his writing and the many memories we all have of him.
I am so glad that I broke my wrist. Really! The clean white cast gave me the idea to have it signed by authors at the WGA Conference. So I have Robert Kroetsch’s signature, which he intersected with Aritha van Herk’s – I’m sure he did that on purpose. And he signed Bob. There is no doubt now I’ll be keeping this cast once it’s removed from my wrist in a few weeks.
And I’ll be referring to this great man as Bob from now on.
Thank you, dear friend, not only for the stories you wrote, but for those you inspired that are yet to be written.