Last Friday we returned home after a few days away and found two big beautiful tomato plants on the porch. The note attached to them read “Cherry tomato plants need a transplant to good home. :-).” It was signed by our neighbor across the street. She is 92.
I met her after we moved to Kamloops in September. I saw her puttering around the yard one day and went to introduce myself. It’s good to let people know you’re there.
I was charmed on the spot. She is witty, and knows a lot of stories of Kamloops and western Canada too, and she smiles a lot. The only thing that’s slightly wobbly is her vision, she said. She can’t see further than a couple of meters in front of her and even close range is not what it used to be.
Far from feeling crippled by it, she accepts it as a fact of life. Complaining would not bring her vision back, she says.
During our first chat she tells me stories of old Kamloops, how it changed since and she also tells me that I will love it here. A magpie hovers over her house and she’s quick to point out that a crow will show up soon to chase it away. As if on cue, the crow does its thing. It takes being somewhere long enough to know that.
I find out that the house I live in and others around here were built shortly after the WWII for the returning war veterans and their families. I get a glimpse of old Kamloops and I like it. It’s not every day that I get to hear something like this.
I didn’t keep track of time that day, but instantly freed some of my afternoon time to be there. Relishing my neighbor’s sparkling presence, I could not get over the fact that she is 92. The references we have can sometimes point us in the wrong direction but lucky me…
I always say that age is but a number, but my neighbor really makes it true. It’s been like that every time we chatted after that. She’s funny and her way of mixing old stories with new ones has been locking me into good conversations from that first sidewalk talk.
Last Saturday I went to thank her for the tomato plants. We sat in the shade of an old apricot tree and the afternoon sun made puddles of warmth all around us.
She then showed me her secret garden patch where she proudly pointed to a rainwater collecting system that brings every drop of rain from the roof into her back yard. Both the vegetable garden and the exquisite flower one benefit from it. If I were a butterfly or hummingbird I would call this my happy place.
Dark purple clumps of lilac hang heavy and fragrant in a corner. I told her about the surprise of discovering that Kamloops is a city of lilac. I grew up in a yard guarded by thick, old lilac trees and they made my world joyful. It was an unexpected surprise to see that I now live in a place lined with the very trees I’ve been searching for since I left home.
Exploding white and purple lilac bushes remind me every day of my growing up in a place where I could just walk across the street to visit my neighbors, old friends of my grandparents. I was four but that was no hindrance to sitting and listening to stories. It was easy to forget about time back then too…
On my way out my neighbor invites me to take a shortcut through her home. A keeper of memories, her home is nice and cool. She shows me the sun-drenched room where she grew the tomato plants. There are family photos all over.
In the hallway I notice a violin hanging on the wall, bow next to it. Quiet as they are, sounds and memories trickle out of them. I ask. Her late husband’s violin, she explains.
Some say that violins carry their owners’ playing styles in the wood. An imprint of some sort. It must be true. I see my neighbor’s hand reaching out to touch the violin as if to cradle in her palm once more the memory of the music that she once listened to and of the man who played it. Her eyes light up. Her soul sees further than her eyes can, and I am humbled to witness it.
I thank her for more than I came for to thank. For stories shared under the shade of the old apricot tree, for the inspiration and for those smiles that make me feel welcome here because somehow they bridge the new world I come from, with the one she has been privileged to witness over the years.
(Originally published as a column in the Saturday edition of the Kamloops Daily News on May 10, 2013)