Just A Mailbox Away
Dedicated to my Alberta buddy, Braden, and his family, and to Steve and Linda Moore, direct descendants of Maple Ridge pioneer Samuel Robertson
Braden was quite a guy. He was a seven-year-old boy with short, sandy blonde hair and big, sparkling eyes. Braden was Braden. There was no one in the world quite like him.
Braden was born into the most spectacular family and his mom, the neatest mom, and his dad, the kindest dad, could not have been happier.
Braden was the first of three boys and the oldest at the ripe old age of seven. After Braden came two other amazing boys with big, dancing smiles. Their names were Garret and Colton.
Garret and Colton loved to play and run and swing and dance and do all kinds of fun-loving things. They liked to do these things alone, with each other, and, of course, with big brother Braden.
Garret and Colton were getting big and pretty old but no matter how hard they wished, they just could not keep up with Braden. Each birthday when they blew out flaming wax candles on their birthday cakes, it was the same old story. Braden, who also celebrated his birthday, was still older. Braden, like all big brothers, stayed those few years ahead and smiled that same smug big brother smile.
Braden, together with his brothers and his mom and dad, lived in a warm, comfortable home in a somewhat sleepy town of Maple Ridge. Braden’s dad traveled to work each day to his job working for a big Canadian gas company and returned home each night to his family.
Their sleepy town was a small but growing community in the Canadian province of British Columbia. It had most everything that Braden and his family needed. Most anything else was just a short car, bus, or train ride away.
three different malls, grocery stores, banks, video stores, card shops, book stores, restaurants and many other places for shopping. . .
the Leisure Centre (with giant red, green, and yellow “Smarties” hanging from the roof) which was perfect for swimming and diving and a waterfall to cannon-ball through. . .
the ACT theatre for singing, dancing, and acting like a Hollywood star. . .
the Twin Rinks arena for skating, hockey and lacrosse. . .
the splash park for spraying, squirting and splashing. . .
green-grassed parks for picnicking. . .
sandy, sun-dried wooden adventure playgrounds with swings for swinging, teeter-totters for teeter-tottering, and merry-go-rounds for merry-go-rounding . . .
deep, bluey-green lakes like Alouette for wading, swimming, boating, skiing, and fishing ...
lush, leaf-canopied trails with waltzing patterns of light as the sun filtered through gently shifting tree branches (making them just right for walking and wild berry picking) . . .
soft, moist bark mulch paths for horseback-riding . . .
small, meandering gullies and creeks that just perfect for tadpole catching before they picked up size and speed, hurling their way towards the rivers and mighty Pacific Ocean ...
dusty old side-roads for dirt biking. . .
dikes for strolling in the mid-morning sun or sauntering, arm-in-arm, as the sun went down on summer nights. . .
and last, but not least, the tall tree-covered mountains for the thrill of hiking, climbing, and looking way out across British Columbia like an eagle in an eagle’s nest or a child playing, “I’m the king of the castle!”
Braden liked to do many of these fun things with his family, but he did not always have time. Braden, you see, had a job. . . and while he had fun doing it, it was a serious job indeed.
Braden, along with well over five hundred kids who went to his school, was a student in the second grade.
Mr. M. was Braden’s classroom teacher. He taught Braden and the rest of Division 15 each day—except, of course, when the librarian and the other teachers had their turn. Mr. M., also known as “Mean Old Mr. M.,” was pretty mean and pretty old. Not only did he expect kids to come to school to learn new things but he was more than TWENTY years older than everyone in the class. If Braden was “the ripe old age of seven,” Mr. M was the VERY ripe and VERY old age of TWENTY-EIGHT!
Braden and Mr. M. got along fine, just fine. Braden listened and learned as much as he possibly could and got along with all the other kids in his class. He sat in a group of four students at one of six brown tables facing the blackboard. Braden liked school and always tried hard.
Braden’s brother, Garrett, was not too far behind. Garrett had just started kindergarten in the classroom right beside his own and Braden would often wonder how his brother was doing as he listened to the kindergarten class singing happy songs through those all-too-thin classroom walls.
Braden liked to read, write, draw, colour and do math. He also liked to sing, act, dance, use the computer and play at different centres in his classroom. Braden would make all kinds of things from playdough and build tall towers from construction materials. He especially loved recess and lunch when he got to play tag and other running games with his friends.
Braden liked to write. Sometimes he got stuck for ideas and would not know what to do. One day, during a conference with his mom, dad, and teacher, Braden’s dad suggested he keep a list of ideas at the back of his book to use whenever he got stuck. He did. . . and Braden never got stuck again—except for once. And it was the one time that Mr. M. picked up Braden’s pencil and did his writing for him, leaving Braden just his picture and colouring to do. Teamwork! Phew!
Throughout the year, Braden’s daily Journal and his Draft Book for stories became more and more interesting and more and more fun. They became so interesting and so fun that one day he will surely read them over to himself or his family with a big adult smile and a big adult laugh.
Braden will probably smile and laugh in the same way when he remembers the times he would read to the whole class without even knowing it. Braden would look up from his book quite puzzled, go a little red in the face, and smile his typical Braden smile when he realized that the whole class had stopped reading to listen as he read his story like a great actor on a stage with a big, booming voice and plenty of expression.
Braden’s mom worked in the classroom every second Tuesday. She had been a teacher and, like all good moms, still was. She would help Mr. M. mark books, put up bulletin board displays, photocopy papers, and listen to students read or count. Although Mr. M. is quite shy about having visitors in the classroom, they made quite a team and he appreciated her help. The other students called her “Mrs. M” but Braden, with a chuckle, called her “Mom.”
Braden and his family had to make a few trips to Edmonton over the school year. The first time was to go to a wedding. Braden missed school for a week but wrote a letter and brought back pictures of the wedding to share. (He did not, however, bring back any wedding cake—Mr. M.’s favourite! Ahem!) The other times were to visit his cousins and to check on his new house.
His new house? Yes, Braden and his family are building a new house. They will be moving this summer. His dad is going to work in Alberta—just over the Rocky Mountains from British Columbia.
Braden’s new house, just a dark brown “pile of dirt” on Braden’s first visit, is now being built. Braden explained all this with great excitement on the day he brought the plans that showed all the rooms of his house—especially his big bedroom on the second floor.
But Braden was not always so excited about the house or the move. There was a time, in the very beginning, when the idea of moving seemed scary and sad. Braden, like anyone who faces something new, was not sure he wanted to go.
Over time, Braden got used to the idea that he would be moving away from his house, his school, and his friends. He knew that his family would be going with him and he knew that he would make many new friends. Braden also gradually came to know that no matter where he lived, no matter where he might move, and no matter how old he might get, he would always, always—in his mind and his heart—take his family and friends with him wherever he went.
Although Braden will surely live a long, happy life, learning valuable lessons and collecting friends like treasures on a sandy beach, he will be missed. His teacher, Mr. M., was watching him as he played on the monkey bars in his dark blue “cool dude” sunglasses during Fun Day in June. He realized that he, like the students of Division 15, wanted to help Braden remember “Mean Old Mr. M.” and all his Grade 2 friends.
Talking this over together as a class, they were not quite sure what to do. Someone had a wild and crazy idea but, no, it was TOO wild and TOO crazy. Someone suggested that they could write a “Braden Book.” It would have to look really professional with a proper title page. It would also have to have page after page of colourful illustrations just like a published picture book.
Someone else suggested leaving the final pages blank like sheets of writing paper and maybe even enclosing some envelopes with postage stamps on them. Those pages, the final pages in Braden’s book, could carry Braden’s letters from Sherwood Park, Alberta back to them in Maple Ridge, British Columbia. “Excellent idea,” said Mr. M. with a grin. “Then Braden would be just a mailbox away.”
Someone else suggested that they might give him the book, reading it aloud for everyone to hear on his last day of school. That, I think, is what they did. If I am not mistaken, you have just finished reading it.
But just one moment before you go. The authors and illustrators sure hope you liked reading about Braden and his old home town but they would like to ask you a favour. If you happen to talk to Braden any time soon, would you please, please, please remind him to write?
Mean Old Mr. M (Kalen Marquis)
© 1993 Kalen Marquis