April 02, 2015 - Jean (2nd person I approached)
I had some errands to run this morning, and along the way, had to make a facilities-based stop. I was near Vancouver General Hospital, so thought I’d give the waiting area in the main lobby a walk through. After using the facilities, I spotted Jean sitting in the lobby, surrounded by luggage and various bags of personal belongings. She was sitting on a couch directly under a huge skylight and the sun shone brightly down upon her. If it wasn’t for the fact that we were in a hospital, it could easily have been a scene from an airport.
I approached her cautiously; the last thing I wanted to do was startle her. I started by saying ‘May I ask you a question?’ A good approach I figured that wouldn’t imply I wanted to steal her baggage. I was a little surprised by the clear and strong voice as Jean replied
“You most certainly may!” She explained she was waiting for a ride to take her home, and that we could chat while she waited. I explained I would also want to take her photograph and without hesitation, she replied
“That’s not a problem.”
“I was born in London, England on December 31, 1927,” she said proudly. Jean, was the middle child of three children, with a brother and sister.
“We all got along very well, indeed. We were a very close family.” Her father had served in both World Wars.
“He was badly injured in the first war, and then during the second war, he was retired from service. England was desperate then, and so he joined the Royal Navy and went to cook for twenty-six men. He had never cooked before. But you know, with England so desperate, you did what needed to be done,” she said with her strong, and elegantly sophisticated English accent.
“We children were evacuated of course, just before the start of the war. We were living in Hampstead Heath and all got sent off to southern Wales. Well, it was marvellous. They’ve got mountains, you know. It was very lovely there,” she told me.
“Mother managed to come and visit frequently, and we stayed there throughout the duration of the war.”
When the war ended, the children returned home to Hampstead Heath, and their parents. Jean completed secondary school, and then went to university.
“I attended London University, but it was a special program that I was in. I was training to become a teacher and you know, it used to be all about sitting in a chair and looking at a board all day. Well, they taught us in the Froebel method of education. That’s the education standard that is across Canada now. It was very new at that time. I was learning to teach from kindergarten to grade seven,” she said.
“I spent three years in university studying. In Canada at that time it was only a year of schooling to become a teacher.”
“I went to Montreux, in Switzerland to do my teacher training. We didn’t have much money then. So my friend and I would hitchhike everywhere,” she told me, putting her left thumb out in front of her.
“It was safe then. And if you didn’t like the look of someone who stopped, you simply said ‘no thank you’ and waited for the next car that stopped. We went all the way, from Montreux, close to Lake Geneva on the french side, a-l-l (said as a long, exaggerated sound) the way to Spain!” she said, with an air of ‘can-you-believe-it?
"We didn’t have much money, but that wasn’t going to stop us from having adventures. That has been my main focus all my life. Adventure. I’ve always looked at it all as an adventure, and that makes it all the more enjoyable,” she said, excitedly.
“On another adventure we,” she said, waving her thumb in front of herself again, “hitched a-l-l the way back and right around to the very tip of the boot of Italy. I used to write all about these adventures in binder notebooks. I love to sit and read through them, recalling all the many trips, adventures and fun I’ve had.” Jean had the loveliest smile on her face, recalling some unspoken memory.
“I worked in schools in some of the roughest parts of town (in London). The children, oh my. The children could be incredibly unruly. Classes often times with as many as fifty students. My goodness.”
At the age of thirty, Jean was traveling around England, visiting grammar schools.
“I was working with camps, you know. Holiday camps for the children. One of my friends that I worked with told me ‘If you go to Vancouver, in Canada, just off the coast there is an island called Thetis Island. They have a holiday camp there that is very similar. You should go there. It would suit you.’ And I said to her ‘Okay,’ and I came to Canada,” Jean said, as a matter-of-fact.
“I spent a month on Thetis Island working at this camp. More unruly children. I had figured I’d spend one year working in a government school, and one year working in a private school. And that would be my adventure time for Canada,” she said. The mountains in Vancouver reminded Jean of the mountains she saw in her childhood, while evacuated during the war, in south Wales.
“I loved the mountains.”
“Well then, I was fortunate to be offered a role as a Principal of a junior school. It was because of my Froebel training,” she said.
“I became Principal of the junior school at Crofton House (a private school for girls, in the Kerrisdale neighbourhood of Vancouver). I was there for eighteen years. I retired at age fifty because, well, I won’t say it was years of yelling, but my voice was completely gone,” she said, smiling.
Those two years that Jean intended to stay in Vancouver are now at fifty-seven years and counting.
“I've gone back to England to visit. When my mother was sick, and my sister was looking after her, I’d go to give her a break and help look after mother. I’ve been back forty times. And mother made it over here twelve times herself. She used to love it here,” said Jean. Otherwise, Vancouver has been home.
“No, I never married. I was engaged,” she said, pausing.
“A couple of times. But not for very long. I never really met anyone that I liked enough to marry. There was one chap, he was a lawyer. We were engaged for three months. But he passed away ten years ago, so I would have been a widow anyway. So there you go,” she said.
“His mother never liked me. It’s just as well.” She looked at me, her face expressionless, but I could see the smile in her eyes. Adventure.
“There was a reunion last year for Crofton House that I attended. Thirty-five of my students were there. They were all smiles and and happy. They told me I hadn’t changed at all. I was still just as vivacious and as funny as I ever was, they said,” she told me, with an affectionate smile.
Last year, Jean began treatment for colon cancer.
“It was last July. They had to cut in and remove a part of my intestine. That’s when the trouble began. I was knocked over with a very deep depression after that. They gave me medications to help. Oh how I perspired. Buckets of perspiration,” she said, feigning the discomfort. I was able to fully align with Jean at this point. Vividly. One of the medications I take causes me to constantly overheat and perspire heavily when I’m out walking.
“It’s miserable isn’t it?” she replied.
“I received electro-shock treatment for the depression. Now we’re talking serious stuff here,” she said.
“Ten sessions. I was at home and I reached over to get something, and fell and broke my shoulder,” she said, putting her hand on her right shoulder and rubbing it gently.
“I’ve had such a time with it. That's the thing that really has caused the most difficulty. I’ve been in this hospital for such a long time. I am so very delighted to be going home today. I like my independence.”
Jean had been in hospital for the past two months.
“There's two of my students I had from that time back on Thetis Island that I’m still in contact with. They came to visit me here in hospital,” Jean said with gratitude, in a soft gentle voice.
“Of course, they’re in their seventies now.”
“They had me so heavily medicated. I told them ‘I’m over-medicated. I don’t want to be taking all these pills. I want to stop everything to see how much mobility I have left. I wanted to see how I could move my hand and my arm. I stopped all the pain medication. I’ve got more mobility than I would have thought, although I can’t carry my bag in this arm,” she said, moving her wrist back and forth.
“It’s still painful of course and some times are worse then others. I’ll take medication if I feel a need to, but I don’t want all those pills. I wanted out of this hospital and to be going home!”
Jean’s friend Margaret arrived to collect her. I reminded Jean I wanted to take her photograph.
“Oh I look at my worst right now. My hair isn’t even done. But alright, go ahead.” I took a photo and showed it to Jean.
“Oh, I say. Yes, I don’t look so bad after all. Let Margaret see that. Look at this photo, Margaret,” said Jean.
She was clearly excited to be that close to getting in a vehicle and heading home. Margaret asked to take a photo of Jean and I. After a couple of photos, I said thank you, and we shook hands. Hers was soft, gentle, warm and comforting. I clasped her hand with both of mine. I was enchanted, to say the least.
“Thank you so very much. It’s been delightful chatting with you, Colin. Do take care.” #notastranger