I didn’t ask. But the conversation I had with her just keeps echoing in my mind, though there wasn’t anything earthshattering about it.
Cameron was nestled on my lap, tear- and snot-damp face buried in my neck and arms tight around me, drifting off to sleep nearly the moment we sat down on the bus. I was coping, just barely, with some bigtime Mommy Guilt. An older woman sat down next to me, carefully manoevering herself with her cane, and joking when I moved to give her extra space that she’s large, but not that overweight. We had a lovely chat. Sometimes strangers who are interested in chatting on the bus can be a chore. They’re usually the people who are a little socially inept, don’t read signals too well, and more than a little lonely. But this lady was different. Her story came out slowly, a little offered here, a question answered there.
She has three daughters, born here, and there are grandchildren old enough to give her great-grandchildren, but, “They’re not Russian.” I tried to say hello and good afternoon to her in Russian, and from her expression she understood what I said though I know I mangled it badly. Originally she is from the Ukraine. She came here on her own to work as a ‘domestic’, sponsored for one year by a family. But then she went her own way, they only paid forty dollars (she didn’t say, per week? Month?), and as she said, “I was young.” She couldn’t recall if it was 1940 or 1942 that she came here, via Germany. She had her choice – America, Great Britain, Australia, or Canada. I asked if it was hard for her, to leave her family, and she shrugged. “I never had a real family, you know. My mother died when I was young. Then my father when I was fifteen, sixteen.” She again noted, “And I was young. It was fun, an adventure, to see far away places.” She described the family she worked for here as wonderful, generous people. Saviours. “When I arrived, they had no room. I shared with their daughter, same room, same bed. Can you imagine welcoming a stranger into your house, having them share a bed with your child? The trust!” I agreed. Times were different, there’s no way I would do that now.
I am intrigued by how much the world has changed in such little time.
She was one of three strangers who made a difference in the trip home from shopping today. One was a young boy, maybe eight or nine years old, who distracted Cameron while we waited in line. The other was a woman who appeared slightly eccentric – just slightly, in her choice of clothing and jewelry – woman who offered help with a smile at the skytrain.
Thank you, to all three of them.