Day 18 - Penny

Day 18 - Penny (1st person I approached)
January 18, 2015 - I didn’t want to go too far off the beaten track today. I wanted to get out, find today’s story, come home, write, and then have a low-key evening, just me, the couch and my television.


Fortunately, the universe conspired to make this possible. Penny was sitting alone near a coffee shop I often walk by, reading the newspaper. When I first introduced myself, before I had said much more than my name, I knew Penny was a delightfully warm and welcoming person. She greeted me with a grin and said hello with genuine kindness. She continued to smile when I told her what I’m doing with this project, and said “sure we can chat,” as she put down her newspaper. We chatted for at least half an hour, if not more.


Penny born in Montreal, Quebec.

“I have one older brother who was eight years older, he’s passed away. And I have a brother who is five years younger than me. So there was quite an age gap between us. As the middle child I always felt like I was trying to please the other two. Sometimes I was the peacekeeper. You could feel a tension between my brothers and they wouldn’t say anything, but I’d want to make sure they were okay. My parents treated us all equally. I think that with the age differences between us, they had time with each of us in a unique way. My mother had been married before, and her husband passed away. She was left alone with my older brother and two step children that she raised herself. Then she met my father and had me and then my younger brother,” said Penny.


“My father was Greek, but raised in Montreal. He grew up in restaurants, and was running the family business when they met. My mother worked at his family's restaurant. My Dad worked in the evenings, and my mother during the daytime. We had a nanny that looked after us,” she said. Penny’s father used to drink a fair bit during the course of the evening.

“My mother decided one day that she had enough, packed up all three kids, we boarded a train and moved to Vancouver. She had friends out here. I remember being so excited to be going on this adventure. I pictured women dancing with bags of beans on their heads. 'British Co-lum-bia!' I was eight years old. We had moved a few times while in Montreal so it wasn’t new to me to start at a new school. It was all an adventure,” she said.

“About a year later, my older brother went to Montreal to see my father. He brought him to Vancouver when he returned, just for a visit,” Penny said. Her parents reunited and her father never went back to Montreal.

“He used to say ‘Your mother saved my life.’ ”


Penny had worked part-time in a kitchen at a small local mill.

“I worked from 4pm-10pm in the evenings, cooking for the mill workers, and doing my homework,” she told me.

“I finished high school, right through Grade twelve but I never graduated. Right away, I got a summer job working part-time for the City of Vancouver. I spent the next 37 years working with the City,” she said.

“I retired at 55, ‘Freedom 55’ is real and I love it,” she said, waving her arms in the air.


“I was married for seven years,” Penny told me.

“My husband’s mother died. He was destroyed by her death. I was very close to her, my husband’s mother,” she said, taking a deep breath.

“And then six months later, my mother passed away with lung cancer. After my mother passed away, my husband came home one day, and said he didn’t love me anymore and we separated. I was numb for an entire  year. It broke me. I was going through the motions without feeling anything,” she said.



Penny continued working, putting a brave face on things and moving forward as best she could. She met her second husband at work, and even though the marriage didn’t last, they are still very good friends.

“He remarried and has three children,” she said, smiling. 


“My current partner and I met through work, though we weren’t coworkers. We’ve been together for thirteen years,” she said. He has children, and when Penny mentioned grandchildren, her face completely lit up. I definitely saw that grandparent sparkle in her eyes.

“We’re both retired now, and I love being able to spend all of our time together,” she said fondly. The first thing they did upon retiring was go live in NYC for three-and-a-half months.

“We had been there for five days, and I just wanted to go back and soak it all in. I wanted to live in that energy for a while. So we rented a place in Chelsea and we took in the sights and walked around everywhere, discovering all we could,” she said. 


Every year they take a motorbike trip, usually for three or four weeks.

“I’ve thought about getting my bike license, but I like being a passenger on the back of the bike,” said Penny. They usually go with an open itinerary, following the sun and see where the road takes them.

“It’s usually somewhere in the interior states of US (America). On one trip we met some other motor bikers, and we got to talking and they suggested we go to a place called Jackpot, in Nevada. Peter, my partner, and I decided we had no real plans, so why not.  We had an amazing time!” she said, smacking her hands on the table.

“We stayed in the lap of luxury. The hotel room was big enough, we could easily have had a party for forty people. And we stayed there for a really good price too!”


On another trip, they discovered a place called ‘Beartooth Pass.’ (*Fact Check - see link below.) It has been called ‘the most beautiful drive in America,’ and stretches between Montana and Wyoming (USA). Penny told me

“It meant we’d be going slightly off our intended course, but why not? We didn’t have to be anywhere at any time. It’s a steep climb up, and we pull over every now and again to put on more clothing. It gets cold in the mountains. But my goodness. The view is just incredible. We’ve been back there a few times.” 


“We love being retired. Before I left work, people would say ‘What are you going to do with all that time?’ Well, we’re enjoying it while we have our health and are able to do so,” she said, a huge smile on her face.

“I just drove Peter to meet with a friend of his at 6am this morning. It's a guys road trip, they're going golfing for five days in Oregon. He gets home next Friday. We’ll do a load of laundry for him, and then on Saturday we leave for six weeks in the desert. We don’t take the motor bike. We drive down in the car. A friend of ours has a place that we rent, and we enjoy the desert. We just had a hitch put on the car, so we’re taking bicycles down with us this year. It’s a great way to explore and get around. You see those sheep with the curly horns, and maybe a rattlesnake or two checking you out. It’s wonderful." 


Penny tells me that just last night, they booked a trip to Europe, leaving in May. She says they'll be taking in three or four countries including Portugal and, spending time with family in Greece for the last month.

“We’ll come home sometime in July.” #notastranger

*Fact Check -