Monday, June 16, 2014

There was an old woman who sat on her stoop!

It is one of the ironies in meager lives that the less there is to lose,
the greater is the fear of losing it.
                                      Joseph Gollomb


(I met so many interesting people on this trip to Toronto and Hamilton but I had to share one very special encounter that still has me thinking.)

Hamilton is city full of many beautiful houses but my favourite ones would be the one and a half story red brick well-built and often times identical houses. These were built brick by brick, row on row, city block by city block, side by side with very little room between them.

The city was created with the sweat and tears of hardworking immigrants who came to this country to work in the steel mills and other industries that surround trying to fulfill a dream in a new land. They worked long and hard and many of the older generation still remember what it was like to earn and hold onto what they had worked tirelessly for. I met a woman who not necessarily with her words but that and my own observations while spending some time with her on her front stoop had me wondering about not only this beautiful woman’s future but also filled my head with lingering questions about my own future.

Walking the downtown side streets of Steeltown as it is referred to by the locals and being in a bit of a hurry I rushed past house after house but kept my eye on the architecture that always seems to grab my attention. I have always loved this part of the city with its friendly passersby, the beautiful front yards with well-kept gardens, and an obvious pride of ownership in the homes that have stood here long before I, my father or even my grandfather had been around. History is when we preserve what came before and do our best to hold tight to it and keep it just the way it was so others will not forget, sometimes that thinking has hidden costs for some.

Standing in front of a beautiful old red brick house and enjoying the intoxicating fragrance coming from the white bloom of a Peony, a muffled sneeze penetrates the bushes lining the yard and seemingly coming from next door. I shuffled my feet to the right to peer around those bushes. There sat an older woman, Bless you slipped out of my mouth before I even had time to think, a instinctual response no doubt from my childhood, “Thank you”.

“Beautiful day isn’t it?” she said. Yes it is. You have a lovely garden. “It is so weedy I have to clean it out tomorrow”. I could not see any weeds only lovely purple and white Pansies freshly planted. I walked up to her and put my hand out, my name is Buttons. She grabbed my hand, “My name is Maria”. I have no idea why but I knew that even though I was in a hurry I had to take the time to talk to Maria.

Maria I would guess was in her late eighties or early nineties but you would not be able to tell that from her almost wrinkle free beautiful olive skin. That being said her sad brown eyes told a story of loss, and a long difficult life. Her twisted fingers, wrinkled skin and calloused hands revealed a woman who worked very hard labouring many years in some kind of occupation that was very physical, I did not ask, I did not need to I also have those hands.

Maria sat on an old worn second step obviously needing some attention with its peeling paint and missing rungs. The house had roof shingles peeling and curled and in some spots they were missing completely. The old door had peeling paint and obvious wear. There was a screen in the window with a big hole where I suspected the cat that peered through the window used it as its own entrance. Oh how I wished I could help Maria but I knew I could not, it was very clear to me as I watched her reach down to pull out a weed near the stoop that she was very independent and a proud woman.

She shared a story about how she had lived in this house for sixty years and how her husband had passed away ten years before. She talked about children who loved her and had very busy lives and families living in other cities and provinces. Of grandchildren she enjoys when they come for occasional visits but the conversations always revolve around her selling and moving with them to a nice new place. She has always answered NO, she always reminds them that her and their father built a lifetime of history here and it was not easy and she will not forget that and if she moves it would be for naught. She shared with me that she wants to live in that house forever and preserve the history and memories that lie inside those red brick walls.

Wow I must say this hit me like a red brick, I thought of our farm and my girls who have also moved far away and have created happy lives of their own and will probably never return. I wondered about Maria’s future and then wondered about my own. Would I be defiant and not take any help like Maria and hold on to and try to preserve those memories of our own hard work and struggles no matter what, is that what it means to hold on to your history? Must we have to struggle forever until you are also gone and people eventually forget then that is where it ends? I don’t know if I could or would do that.

I spent a little more time with Maria listening to her story then I had to excuse myself when I remembered my daughter was waiting and had no idea where I was. I gave Maria a hug and told her to take care of herself and maybe I would see her sitting on the stoop next time I made it back to Hamilton. “That would be lovely” she replied. I walked slowly down the street turning back once and wishing I could have done more and then I picked up speed and headed to see my own daughter.

 I walked through her door and grabbed hold of her and hugged her tightly. “How was your walk” she asked. Interesting, I replied. “Shall I put the kettle on?” Yes please do, there is a story I would love to share with you.

Holly published her version of our meeting here if you would like to read it. She is a fascinating woman and a wonderful writer. Check her blog out you will be smitten.

Later

42 comments:

  1. I wonder the same. Independence is important to me, but would I put that ahead of my children's peace of mind? I don't know. I guess I'll play it by ear. VERY enjoyable read!

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  2. The question becomes . . . for me . . . when to hold on, when to let go . . . and I imagine Maria has already made those decisions . . .

    Very reflective . . . it gives me thought and wonder . . .
    thank you for this piece Buttons . . .

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  3. Oh, that story brings tears to my eyes, Buttons. We have thought of making the move west to be near our daughter and grandkids but know it will never happen as we don't want to uproot from our spot in this world that we've worked at for almost 37 years. I can understand Maria's reasons for staying. Beautiful post!

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  4. Wow, such a thoughtful post. I don't know. As an expat sitting here unable to get back to my home to see my family, for me home will always be where my family are.

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  5. oh buttons, what a great encounter...serendipity for sure!!

    a meeting both of you will treasure for a very long time!!!

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  6. Very sweet post.
    On a side note, I LOVE old brick houses

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  7. That is an amazing story. For myself, if I end up alone, I want it to be on a little piece of hilly land with a wooded area and a creek running through and a GSD at my side. And a porch, or at least a stoop, so someone would stop by and talk to me.

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  8. Beautiful story that makes me reflect too, B. My mother had to give up her home when she could no longer take care of it and is in an assisted living home. My mother-in-law is 91 and still lives in the home she's been in for over 60 years. But she's not really happy there even though her health is good. It's hard to think about the decisions we'll have to make as we get older.

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  9. What a sweet post. Nice memories. Thank you for sharing it.

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  10. What perseverance and determination she has! She is most excellent!

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  11. Very touching story. It is hard to walk away from the physical things that represent our family history. Now if she was a writer....and photographer....she could document that history in a permanent fashion and perhaps it wouldn't bother her so very much to leave the house. Maybe she could find someone to do that for her?

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  12. You meet the nicest people and then the richest life lessons come from that. Thank you for sharing.

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  13. Yes, I can understand Maria - we built this house with our own two hands - it would be difficult to leave. But, my children still live close enough to visit. Maybe I would feel differently if they were far away. Growing old takes enormous courage. Thanks for sharing, Buttons. xo Karen

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  14. What a lovely poignant story, Buttons. I love Hamilton. I grew up 45 minutes form there. Such a pretty area. xo Laura

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  15. If she is content with how she lives her life ~ I think that is what really counts after all is said and done .

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  16. Grace, thank you for drawing us into your conversation...moments spent with strangers can have such a profound effect on our hearts. It makes you wonder if they are meant to be part of our life lessons...

    Jen

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  17. Thank you for sharing this beautiful story. I see my aunt and uncle still living on their own at ages 87 and 88, both hating to give up their home and independence. The day is soon coming when they will need assistance, in fact they really need it now. But, I also know if it were me, I'd hang on to my home as long as possible. Although if both our children lived away, I think it would be easier to leave and live near one of them.

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  18. lovely poignant story. it seems I am hearing it over and over. so many people facing these choices for themselves or their loved ones.

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  19. Thank you Buttons for sharing that heartwarming story. It does make me reflective on some things on many levels. I have a few tears after reading your post.

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  20. Ah she reminds me of my mother who lived on the land her parents homesteaded until she was 77. She moved there in her late 60's - no electricity or running water, but it was her land and she loved it.

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  21. Wonderful post! Thanks for sharing!

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  22. B,

    I wish you had more time to spend with Maria. Maybe when you return you can have a nice tea with Maria.
    I love listening to stories of history and hard working families. Thank you for sharing with us your visit with Maria.

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  23. It was lovely you stopped and talked to the lady.
    If she can look after herself, why shouldn't she stay there if she wants to :)
    Hugs M xox

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  24. Wonderful story-some my best encounters and random chats have been with strangers, elderly or not-we've a large population of 80++ who live alone and refuse to budge, like Maria they do what they can, quite inspiring and always the best conversationalists, lots of time and interest.

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  25. Such strength and determination; obviously you found a kindred spirit, and all because you took a moment and shared it with Maria.

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  26. How nice of you to spend a moment with an old ,lonely lady. It is an important question...what to do at the end .....stay put or move closer to children. It is one I ponder often. Trouble is my kids are still moving around the world, so it is stay put for a while longer yet.

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  27. This would be a tough call. It would be so hard to leave one's home, that sens of belonging. If she wants to live there and reserve that history, then that's her right and she should never have to apologize for it :)

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  28. Hit home for me. From so many different angles. Thank you B, for putting such well written thoughts to print.

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  29. What a heart-warming story!!! I bet you made her day!!

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  30. I imagine that Buttons Hug would carry her safely for a long time. Lovely story.

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  31. I like her determination. I imagine she enjoyed visiting with you.

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  32. I bet you will find that woman again. Maybe she would like one of your hats.

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  33. Oh dear.......... we truly will be comin' round that bend too soon Buttons.......---Rain

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  34. She sounds like a determined soul with a conversation of food for thought...

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  35. Buttons, you often manage to sneak up behind me and start cutting onions, then I sit here and hope that no one wanders past and notices me in this state, as I would have to answer that my dear friend in Ontario is slicing onions in my computer monitor.

    You are a lovely person, and I greatly appreciate the time you take to share your stories and adventures with us, and with others. It is a rare gift you have that enables folks to feel so at ease with you, and share their stories and adventures so you can pass them along to us.

    Gigantic hugs!!!! Mandi xo

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  36. I'm still here! :) You always meet the most interesting people, and find the best stories! I think that's called "living".

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  37. Oh, Buttons -- I love the way you tell stories!

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  38. Interesting read. So many decisions need to be made as we get older!

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  39. Hello B, thank you for another one of your beautifully written, thought provoking, stories. I loved your chance encounter :D)

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  40. you are such an excellent writer...

    well, we could start a home for independent elderly women writers someday. we could have satellite homes in Canada and the US.

    Maybe New Zealand too. or a tropical island. I think im onto something...

    ;p

    xoxo

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The mind grows by what it feeds on. J.G. Holland

Thank you so much for your comments, they mean more to me then I could ever express. Hug B

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