Day 209 - Wendy

Day 209 - Wendy (3rd person I approached)
July 28, 2014 - The first person I approached today thought my project was a lovely idea. She wanted to talk, but didn’t want to use her real name (not the first time, and that’s not a deal breaker). She also didn’t want her picture taken (deal breaker).

“My ex-husband is a nut job, and I don’t want him knowing anything about me,” she said. We still had a nice little conversation, regardless. 


The second person left quite an impression with me. I didn’t startle her, she saw me approaching her, but she was clearly alarmed by a stranger talking to her. I saw her turn her body away from me, and slide as close as she could away from me on the bench that she was sitting on. She was working on a crossword puzzle. I thought it better to sit down at the other end of the bench and let her know why I was approaching her. I figured if she was frightened and I just walked away, that’s what she’d be left with. I made sure to speak gently and she listened to what I had to say. I saw her shift again, this time to a more relaxed and non-threatened posture. I knew she wouldn’t want to chat. I made sure to smile and thanked her for her time, wishing her good luck with her crossword. It struck me though as I walked away how sad it is that someone might be frightened just at the mere presence of a stranger. I don’t know what her background or her particular circumstance was today, but it still seemed sad. I hope I didn’t add to her reasons to be alarmed in future…


Wendy and I were on a collision course that put us in each other's path. I was crossing a busy street at a controlled crosswalk and as always, I had sunglasses on, but the sun was shinning directly in my eyes. Once I got to the other side of the street, I was in the shade and couldn’t see for a moment while my eyes adjusted. Wendy was barreling right at me with her full-to-capacity shopping buggy of empty bottles and cans. She and her cart quickly came to an abrupt stop. She smiled and gestured at me as if to let me go ahead of her. I insisted she go first. We ended up walking side by side. She smiled again. I told her what I was doing and asked her if she’d chat with me.

“Well, I’d love to, but I’m heading to the bottle depot. I have to get there pretty fast before they close,” she said, as we continued walking side by side. When I offered to walk to the depot with her, she suggested if I was in a hurry, she’d be happy to give me the condensed version of her life. I assured her I was in no hurry and that I’d love to hear more than the highlights. Of to the bottle depot we went.


Wendy, the youngest of three children, was born in Calgary, Alberta.

“My father was in the military, so we moved around a fair bit. We left Calgary when I was two years old. I remember being there, and my mother having me in one of those full body winter suits. The ones that make it almost impossible to walk in because they’re so big and puffy. I remember trying to keep up with my two older brothers. That’s all I remember of Calgary,” she said, with animated laughter. Wendy then mimicked for me what it was like trying to walk in that winter suit.

“We had gone from Calgary, to Edmonton and then Winnipeg, living on military bases each time. In 1957, the family moved to Germany.

“We were in Berlin for the World’s Fair. I was six years old and the fireworks display was incredible. Oh boy, could the German’s put on a display. I remember hanging on to my father’s coat and looking up at the sky. It was exciting and scary at the same time!” she said.

“We settled in Raastad (Germany) for about a year. I went to school on the base there. We were quite the family of languages which annoyed my father. He was a Mathematician, and had no interest in languages. And I had no interest in Mathematics,” she said.

“My brother was okay at speaking German, and my oldest brother only ever spoke English. I became fluent in German. My mother was Acadian French. She came from Grosses Coques in Nova Scotia.” We had quite the conversation about the meaning of the town’s name of ‘Grosses Coques.’ According to Wendy, it refers to a certain anatomical appendage on a geoduck. Another lesson for today! 


Wendy had an extraordinary experience in Italy before returning to Canada.

“Through a relative on my mother’s side of the family, we were included in a private audience with the Pope. The only thing I really remember was that I thought boys had cooties and I did not want to kiss his ring. That’s what I had heard could happen. We got a plaque to commemorate that visit which my mother was proud of for the rest of her life,” said Wendy.

“Oh and I remember we went camping in Italy and we found white sugar doves under our pillows. My parents had put them there, but we kids thought it was magic.”  


After two years in Europe, the family returned to Canada.

“We continued hopping around. We lived in Quebec for about three years, and I went to a Catholic school on the base. Then we moved to New Brunswick, and then North Bay in Ontario. Finally we ended up in Comox on Vancouver Island. That’s how I got to the west coast. I loved Comox because I got to go to a regular school and didn’t feel like I was going to become a nun!” said Wendy. After completing high school, Wendy started to teach figure skating.

“I had started skating when I was about eleven and I got pretty good at it. I even won a few competitions and medals when I was fifteen or sixteen years old,” said Wendy. She then went on to do a number of different things.

“I worked on a fishing boat as a deck hand, worked on a trawler, went tree planting. I’m not afraid of hard work,” she said, making a fist and posing to show me her bicep.

“Look at these pipes!” 


She married her best friend who she had been dating for a number of years.

“That was a mistake. We got along really well, then when we got married, he seemed to think I became his property. We got married in December and divorced by May. We have a daughter together. I still get along with him, he’s a good guy. We just couldn’t be married,” said Wendy. Their daughter is a year away from getting her Doctorate in Psychology. I asked Wendy what brought her to Vancouver.

“After my marriage, my rebound relationship wasn’t such a good choice. I like to refer to what happened as ‘we both got recycled.’ He started battering me. Not a good man. So I came over here to get away from him,” she said. Wendy has been in Vancouver for about thirty years.


“I live in a tiny room in a BC (British Columbia) Housing place (subsidized housing for low-income and no income persons). I’ve been a binner for about fifteen years. It helps me help my daughter when I can. I don’t actually go in the bins and dumpsters though. I’m too old for that. I collect bottles and cans in areas that there aren’t many other binner’s. There’s a lot of people that will save their bottles for me and leave them out knowing I’ll be around to collect them. I don’t do this everyday. Sometimes I’ll stay home but I like having something to do. It gets me out of the house, so I’m not sitting staring at the walls. On a slow day I’ll get about $20 and on a good day, I can pull in as much as $60. I’m not getting rich, that's for sure,” said Wendy. 


By the time we had arrived at the bottle depot, we had walked and talked for a good thirty minutes. I walked into the entrance of the bottle depot with Wendy. She said hello to a few of the guys standing around by the entrance. Wendy took off her hat and I asked to take her photograph. I showed her the picture, and she seemed surprised.

"Oh, ok, yeah that’s me, I don’t look so bad, do I? Did you want to take another one with me flexing my muscles?” We both laughed. Then she smiled, shook my hand and said,

”It was nice talking with you.” Pointing to her shopping cart full of bags of empty bottles and cans, she says

“Time for me to get to work sorting these out. See you later.” #notastranger