An aging native woman is sitting at the front of the bus yakking to a friend. As soon as I got on, my eyes noticed her. She is captivating. There is an ease to her; an innate grace. Says that she’s returning from a west end babysitting mission, watching over her daughter’s daughter. At first blush, the woman looks too young to be a grandmother – no older than 45 or so. She tells her friend of the granddaughter, her stone colored hair, her boundless energy. The woman smiles the whole time, a gap-toothed grin reminiscent of a boxer’s. Her graying black hair tumbles over the pale red of the bus seat as she speaks. She is getting to old to babysit. She can’t keep up with the little gaffers any more. They run around too much, they get into too much trouble, banging the cupboard doors, yanking the tablecloths down, drawing on the walls. It wears her out. Perhaps I was wrong about her age. Perhaps by many years.
She is seeing someone, she says. A man named Stephen. It’s been a long time since she’s seen anyone. How long has it been? asks the friend. She thinks it’s been ten years since she’s been with a man. That’s a long time. Indeed.
The two women sit and talk casually. Grandma does most of the talking. Her talk floats between her daughter, her granddaughter, and her new man, Stephen. She shines when talking of the granddaughter and of Stephen. It is hard to tell who brings her more joy.
In the course of my listening, I imagine her back story. She was a stunner in her youth. Long black hair flowing and shiny, flower dresses and open toe shoes. She got married young, had a kid young. The father of her daughter, a meek man who got his fists up when on the bottle, left soon after the kid was born. She raised the youngun on her own, with a little help from her mother. She got skinny after the birth and hooked up with a few guys, none of them in any shape to take care of her or her young daughter. She’s been keeping it low for the past few years, maybe for longer than she thinks. She met Stephen three weeks ago. He is a patient, mature man with short hair and a beard. He’s a mechanic at a Ford dealership. They are taking it slow.
Grandma says that her daughter is grateful for the help. The old woman likes that feeling; that feeling of being useful, of having a new sense of purpose, of giving a bit of something that she didn’t have when she was young. She knows it is hard for her daughter to say “thanks”, and that fact makes her like the feeling all the more. Sometimes she wonders about her granddaughter’s grandfather. She hasn’t heard from him in years and it’s very possible that he might not even know that he is a grandfather. It is a shame, she says.
Grandma reaches up and pulls the cord for the next stop. The two women sit in silence for a moment, and grandma’s big smile does not fade. As we pull up to the stop, she notices that a friend of hers is sitting there waiting for another bus. Richard, she says, look, it’s Richard. She exits the bus slowly but deliberately. Greets Richard with a loud “hello” and a huge smile. The bus doors slide closed behind her. There is silence now, and it continues for a few blocks before I pull the cord. A feeling of sadness comes over me as I take leave of the #6. I got a glimpse into a stranger’s life, and a bit of a look into her heart. That doesn’t happen every day. It was a loving glimpse, short and fleeting. As life is.
StreetRag ::: An Urban Notebook
StreetRag is an urban weblog and podcast about the city of Edmonton, which is located in the province of Alberta, Canada. It is authored by Edmonton-based writer, web advocate, and poet Michael Gravel and is updated frequently with written urban vignettes, amateurish photographs, deuteronomous audio material, barely coherent musings and rambling ecumenical treatises. StreetRag is a love letter to a lonely prairie burg struggling with its big city ambitions and small-town feel.
The city is Edmonton. It's a subject, not a passion. E-Town is almost universally derided by outsiders as an unlivable tundra wasteland populated by oil-hungry redneck conservatives who despise the arts. All of that is true. But it's not the whole story. There is beauty here. Dusty snowfalls. Brilliant summers. A stunning river valley. A diverse arts community that flourishes. It's a place that inspires a gray relationship - not all good, not all shitty. For that reason alone it is lovable, for what is life but a grayscale?