My gran is ninety-five years old. Mind you, she tells everyone she is ninety-six. Her birthday is at the end of May and, around January, she takes liberties and tacks on the extra year. Most of us try to avoid thinking about our next birthday and the year it adds to our life, but my gran wears that year like a badge of honour. At her age, fair enough.
She’s a savvy lady: she lives on her own; she cooks for herself (she loves cooking, everyone in our family loves cooking come to think of it); takes the bus all about the North Shore to run various errands, and occasionally forays downtown to see her optometrist; puts all her accounts into order for her accountant around tax time; and travels on her own down to Pittsburgh or San Francisco to visit my cousins periodically.
Back in 2010, she treated me to a Panama Canal cruise as her companion and we had a rollicking good time sightseeing together. As she speaks Spanish (and Polish and German and English, all fluently), we had an easy time of puttering about Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Panama, and Colombia. Colombia was a particular treat for her, as the city into which the ship pulled in was Cartagena. My gran had been there about sixty years ago, with my grandfather, my mother, and my uncle, and remembered the town well, although back then the family was provided with a police officer to escort them about the place. Thankfully, Cartagena is a bit less dangerous now (still not a place to wander the streets alone outside of the tourist areas, mind you). We hired a cab for the afternoon, and my gran spent a delightful four hours conversing with the driver in Spanish. I think just having that conversation made the trip for her.
Today she called me up to share the minutiae of her day. She does this every couple of days, bless her heart. Ever so often, she’ll share some of the random acts of kindness that strangers do for her, which always tickles her pink because she doesn’t see herself as woman in her nineties. I suspect she thinks she’s still sixty.
She often goes down to Lonsdale Quay to do a wee bit of shopping. She has a couple of shops that she frequents there regularly, and has formed some solid friendships with the storekeepers. She knows a couple of them by name, most just by face, and they seem to look out for her. Today, she went to buy a ready-made meal, butter chicken, from the butcher’s shop at the Quay. She raves about these meals, as for nine dollars, she gets three meals out of the one. The dishes are excellent; she’s shared them with me sometimes, and those dinners certainly have the flair of the homemade about them. When she went to pay, today, the fellow at the counter waved her off. “It’s free today,” he said. She asked why. “Just because.”
When she told this to me, she emphasized that the dinner cost nine dollars, but he just gave it to her. She was absolutely delighted by this simple act of generosity.
I am always delighted when she shares these stories with me, because the stories really do affirm my faith in mankind. For all the evils in the world that we hear about on daily basis, about which I write on occasion, most people are good people. Most people want to go about their lives, living the daily minutiae, content with the quiet life, satisfied to worry about things such as lawn care or the mysteries of gas price fluctuations. People want to help each other, given half a chance. Sometimes, when my gran is on her way home, people will help carry her grocery bags on and off the bus.
When my gran was coming out of the local bookstore one day, lugging an enormous cooking tome (my grandmother’s secret addiction is to collecting cook books: she cannot pass by a bookstore or cook wares store without popping in to browse the cooking section and inevitably always purchases a cook book…she does read each and every one, cover to cover), a woman pulled over to the side of Marine Drive, a very busy thoroughfare through the North Shore, to see if my grandmother needed a hand. I’m sure my gran was a sight: a wizened old woman, red in the face for the exertion, dragging the bag with the book with one arm, using her cane in the other, tottering towards the bus stop, stopping every couple of steps to rest. My gran, of course, does not see this of herself. She thought it was the funniest thing in the world that this woman pulled over to help a sixty year old. I’m glad that people care.
She insists on taking out her garbage to the curb every week as well. I offered to come help her, but she’s waved me off and insists that she can do it. A fellow once pulled over to help her, and he checks in on her periodically to see if she needs any assistance. He’s a local realtor, so my gran laughs and said that he’s doing it purely in the hope of scoring a house sale. I don’t think so, I do think that he once saw the old woman lugging what to her are very heavy bins, to the curb, from her garage, and it stirred his heart to help her.
Her postman always brings the bins back in, every week. He’s a good man, too.
One time, my gran forgot her cellphone (yes, you read right, a cellphone…she also has a laptop on which she emails and browses the BBC in all four languages), and was in a panic to get back to Lonsdale Quay, where she thought she must have left it. She realized the phone was missing when she was on a bus about twenty blocks away from the Quay, so got off at the next stop to cross the street and to catch the next bus back down. Again, she must have looked a sight.
A young man, whom my gran described as someone she would usually go out of her way to avoid, which means he must have a looked rather rough, came up to my gran and asked her what was wrong. She told him about the cell, and the fellow said to her, “Don’t worry, your phone is where you left it.” He said these words to her with such confidence, that she immediately calmed down. “Can I help you across the street,” he asked her, and offered her his arm. She took it, and remarked to me later that he was so civil about the whole thing because he didn’t try to presume that she needed help nor took her arm to make her feel unsafe.
When she got the Quay, and rushed to the bench where she left the phone, an elderly Asian man stood up, and started walking towards her; she was about twenty metres away. “I believe this is yours,” he said to her, and handed her the phone.
“How did he know it was mine?” she said to me afterwards.