It was a brilliant Saskatchewan summer day and I was eating cherries in our living room, around the corner from my mother who was on the phone. She didn't know I was there.
I quickly figured out she was talking to my grandmother -- her mother. I head my mom say, "I was almost a widow today." I will never forget those words.
My father, then the corporal in charge of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police detachment covering our small central Saskatchewan town and the massive surrounding area, was still not home. I remember he had been gone for a couple of days. "Out on patrol" was all my little brother and I were told.
I listened to the rest of my mom's conversation, then scooted up to the safety of my room and cried. When my mom came in, I asked her the question for which there is no answer.
"Why do they want to kill my dad?"
It turned out my father was at a standoff at a farm. The suspect had offered to negotiate, but only with my father. Unknown to the many RCMP officers surrounding the house, the man did not put down his rifle when he said he had. He had it trained on my father the whole time.
And just as my father shifted his position slightly, the man emptied his gun into the spot where my father had been a split second before.
Hours before the standoff, the man had shot up the town. One of the bullets went through our front window.
I remember waking up another morning to see a big hole in our front door. Someone wearing brass knuckles had put his fist through it. Not too smart, that guy, because he left behind the knuckles. They were fingerprinted and he was quickly picked up.
One day, on my elementary school playground, a kid got up in my face and asked me why my dad put his dad "in the P.A. (Prince Albert) pen?" I knew the answer but didn't tell him. It was because that kid's father probably would have killed his mother in his drunken rage otherwise.
All I said was, "Your dad did that to himself."
I remember whenever there was someone in the detachment's jail cell overnight, mom would take some of the supper she had made for us and prepare a plate for the prisoner. Dad would take it in. Most times, they were happy to have a nice, hot supper during what was a very dark time for them, alone in a jail cell.
But one time, the prisoner grabbed the dish from dad's hands and threw it on the floor. Later, I saw mom making up another plate, and dad took that one in, too. This time the prisoner ate it. I guess the bad guy got hungry enough that even a cop's food would do.
I remember dad being gone so many times, days and nights, "on patrol" when I was little, and we never knew where he was or when he was coming home. Mom never showed a worried face to us. But when he finally did come home, she always did the same thing. Dad would barely be in the door and she would bury her face in his neck and hug him so tight, for a long time. We used to try to worm our way between them when they would hug like that. It would turn into a family hug and we would put our bare feet all over dad's spotless black uniform shoes and he would have to shine them again.
By nothing short of the grace of God, my dad always made it home.
Thank God he did. Thank God my dad had the opportunity to retire after 20 years of service, with grace and dignity, and is enjoying his retirement, even though he's continuously frustrated with his golf game.
But today, in Alberta, there are four families who cannot say this -- and will never be able to say this -- about their son, their brother, their father, their friend.
Someone must have had so much hate for these brave men, simply because they were RCMP officers.
I do not understand this any better today at age 40 than I did when I was nine.
How can every person not thank any police officer they see, for putting their lives on the line every time they put on their uniforms, for being ready to make the ultimate sacrifice for people they don't even know?
But these officers, the brave men and women who become police officers, choose to do this because they believe in what is good in the world and they want that for all of us. They believe that every single man, woman, child and creature deserves to live in peace and safety. Try, just for one moment, to imagine the strength of character and commitment that takes.
Look around, all of you, in every community, everywhere, and ask yourself -- who saves us every day from those who would terrorize us, hurt or kill those we love, burn what little we own, take what little we have?
These are men and women who should get our undying respect. They have mine.
Ashley Prest is a Free Press sports reporter.