February 12, 2015 - Viviane (1st person I approached)
A great conversation needn’t be a tell-all scandal, politically motivated, or even a sign-of-the-times-statement. It doesn’t have to move one to tears to be enriching. If there’s no soapbox to climb on afterwards, we can still walk away better for the time spent chatting.
I intended to catch Viviane’s attention by walking past her and turning to approach her from the front, so she could see me. However, she looked down just as I said ‘hello’ and my darn outside voice clearly made her jump. Way to go, Colin. I startled her, another of my fears, especially as it can make a person defensive enough that they’ll say no to an invitation to chat. I apologized, and Viviane had regained her composure and told me it wasn’t a problem, with all the warmth of a loving grandmother.
I told Viviane about my project and asked if she might be willing to chat with me for a little while
“I don’t see why not,” she said gently. We walked about fifteen feet from where we were and sat down. Viviane organized her cloth grocery bag on a chair next to her, placed her purse on the floor at her feet, and put her umbrella on the table, so as to not forget it. She folded her hands on the table in front of her, looked at me, and smiled.
“I was born in Toronto,” she said. Her voice was soothing, and soft enough to have me actively listening. I was craning my neck ever so slightly to ensure I didn’t miss anything.
“My father was from France, and that’s where he met my mother. I don’t recall why she was there,” said Viviane.
“I believe my father inherited some money, I don’t quite remember what he did for a living,” she told me.
“I have one brother, who was six years younger than I am. We weren’t particularly close, no. That’s likely because of the age gap between us. When I was a teenager he was still a youngster," she said, shaking her head. Viviane told me she didn't have any extra responsibilities with being the older of the two children.
“In fact, I don't recall having any responsibilities at all,” she said with a little chuckle.
Viviane went to a private school, the name of which, while sounding Catholic, was not.
“I have no idea why I was sent to a private school. I don't recall much of my school years at all, to tell you the truth. It was so many years ago, really. Such a long time.” She went to university for about a year, studying general arts.
“And then our family moved to what I always called Pucket Sound, down in the United States. Though I was informed it was actually called Puget Sound,” she said with a hearty laugh.
“That place off the west coast,” she said, waving her hand dismissively.
“I did not care for it at all. No.”
“I was married for many years, but if you ask me when, I’m afraid I don’t think I could tell you. It must have been for something like for forty years or so,” she said.
“My husband died very suddenly. There was no warning and he died at a time when he certainly had no right to die, but he did. That was about twenty years ago now,” she told me.
“We were living in Richmond at the time.” Viviane sat quietly, thinking while holding her chin in her hand. I could see she was thinking about a memory, her eyes narrowed and then she lit up.
“I was a consultant for the Richmond School Board, I seem to recall,” she said.
I mentioned that I had gone to Garden City Elementary (in Richmond) for a short time when I was a kid.
“Oh I remember that school, it was one of the few elementary schools I visited in my work. I spent most of my time travelling to high-schools. But I do remember going to Garden City. Yes,” contemplating the memories some more.
“I haven’t thought about any of this for so many years! I remember that I liked the work, and it was a good job. I just don’t remember exactly what I did,” she said laughing.
I told Viviane I hoped she felt comfortable enough to be honest, that if she felt uncomfortable answering my questions, she could tell me. Viviane responded immediately.
“Oh if I didn’t want to answer a question, then I would absolutely tell you.” I didn't doubt her.
Her husband and she had two daughters, and she now has grandchildren. “One of my daughters lives... what’s the name of that complex?” she said looking at me.
“Oh, anyway, it’s seven blocks from my house. My other daughter is an actor, so of course she goes where the work takes her,” she said.
“Depending on where she’s performing I go and see her. I believe she'll be doing a play in Calgary soon, and I'll probably go visit her there.”
She has lived where she is now for the last twenty years, since her husband died.
“When he passed away, I thought about returning to Toronto. My son-in-law drove me in to the city here. I didn’t know my way around Vancouver back then,” she said. He showed her a place in Vancouver and that’s where she has been ever since.
“I’m not in assisted living, goodness me, no. I’m quite capable of taking care of myself,” she told me. Again, I didn't doubt her.
I asked Viviane if there was anything that stood out that she didn’t like how it had evolved, or anything that she was happy to have lived to see.
“That’s very interesting you know. I don’t think I’ve ever thought about that. There have been so many changes in my lifetime. You just kind of, go with them all.”
I told her I wanted to take her photo and she somewhat hesitantly said
“Okay. I suppose, if you must.” I casually mentioned that we had talked about it when we first started chatting.
“Did we? I’m not so sure about that, I don't recall saying that you could take a photograph.” I looked at her and she was smiling. She was playing with me!
I took her photo, she wasn't happy with the outcome.
“Dreadful. That’s just dreadful.” I told her I found her to be beautiful, inside and out.
“Dreadful,” she repeated.
“There just are so many things I don’t remember, I’m sorry.” I said there was no need to be sorry, and not to worry about it.
“But it does worry me, if I can’t remember these things," she said, scolding herself ever so slightly. I asked if she knew where she lived, and we both laughed,
"Oh yes, don't you worry, I know exactly where I live!" I told Viviane that our chat had been enchanting and that I was so glad to have met her.
“It really has been many years since I’ve thought about some of those things. I don’t think you realize just how long. I’m in my nineties,” she said. That surprised me, she’s so extremely spry and energetic.
“I’m 92. Or, I might be 91. Something like that.” #notastranger