Day Sixteen: A Market Like No Other

Lydia promised us something special yesterday morning. We would go by bus or moto to an authentic Senegalese market, in a village that rarely sees white people. Bring it on … give me the real deal.

We gathered at Lydia’s house. I sat across from Aziz in the open air, both of us in living room chairs with wooden arms. He did a bit of drumming and I repeated his rhythm. Then I started a new one, and the young fellow followed my lead. Soon we set up a frantic pace. I leaned across the coffee table to him, reaching with my arms. Our hands touched and then released. And on we went – Aziz forward and me back, Aziz back and me forward … a dance.

We were off. Some of us in a little bus and six of us on motos. I was on the back of Curd’s bike. We rolled through the streets of Toubacouta and then onto the highway. Way ahead a monkey scampered across the road, but I wanted more. I scanned left and right for the big red fellows. And I thought back almost fifty years, when I worked at a hotel in the Canadian Rockies. Deer were everywhere in the townsite and we employees loved laughing at the tourists who got all giddy when they saw one. Now I was the tourist and I wondered what my new Senegalese friends thought about the Canadian who went ga-ga over monkeys. Ha! What a good lesson.

Curd and I turned off the highway onto a sand road, which often narrowed to a strip of beach between two tracks. Lydia had told me that I needed to stay very still on the back because balance was essential. We could fall if the front tire dug deep into the sand.

I let go. I trusted the universe to care for me. I trusted Curd to be the best moto driver. It was one big exhale as we streamed through villages and across dry flats. I told myself not to look ahead, to just focus on the back of Curd’s ball cap, but I’ve never been good at following my own advice. So I watched the ruts ahead, the sidehill dips, the imaginary sand castles looming high. And the universe said “Thank you.”

In the little villages, kids would come rocketing out from behind walls made of branches or concrete blocks. They all seemed to be waving and screaming “Bonjour!” Occasionally I heard the word that sounds like “hallal”, which means money, but mostly the kids seemed to be waving just for the fun of it.

The market was completely, radically, new to me. Imagine a very narrow dirt street packed with human beings, with the women wearing outrageously colourful dresses. Donkey masters sat on top of loaded carts urging their beasts on with whips, and motioning wildly to get us out of the way. Live chickens, vegetables, jewelry, brightly coloured fabric, Islamic books, clothing – all were on offer.

I took three photos, two of a family and one of the street scene. Then Lydia came over and told me not to take pictures. The people don’t like it. So I put my phone away.

Everyone was black except us. Some responded to my “Bonjour”s with a smile and a “Ça va?” (How’s it going?) Others stared. People were jostling into me. Suddenly Yo stopped and Iced Tea was beside him in a flash. Someone had picked Jo’s pocket and his wallet was gone. Red alert zapped through our group and I moved my backpack over my chest, with cell phone and wallet inside. Iced Tea confronted the thief. The fellow dropped the wallet and ran. Nothing was missing except a few hundred heartbeats.

We slowed again as life for us in the street turned gentle once more. I went into a stall with Lydia and a few others to purchase some fabric for a tablecloth. I found an explosion of red and green circles on a blue background that shouted “Senegal!” to me. Eva coached me on being vigilant at every moment as I dipped inside the backpack for some francs CFAs. Bill out of wallet while wallet is inside backpack. Wallet stuffed back in. Bill out of backpack in a closed hand. Other hand zips up the pack. Piece of cake.

Now we were in a long line through tiny passages, ducking under hanging clothes and passing close by hanging carcasses. I hardly noticed for awhile but our friends Yusefa and Mamadou were always bringing up the rear, watching for thieves and making sure none of us got separated from the group. I told Louisa that I loved being in massive crowds. She smiled and said she felt the same.

The energy of the market was intense. All those voices crying out in languages I didn’t understand. Local folks moving fast when there was space – on foot or on donkey carts. The squeal of chickens who were tight together in large mesh bags. The tooting of moto horns. The braying of donkeys. The dust blowing over our faces. The sun doing its job. Wow! A world beyond my life, and yet I was a vital part of it all.

I rode home in the bus so that others could experience the wind on the bikes. I sat beside Yusefa. “Merci pour me protéger dans le marché.” (Thank you for protecting me in the market) He smiled. It was a fine moment of communion.

More to come …

Day Thirteen: A Little Sick, A Lot Happy

My day started with breakfast at the B&B. The group of us had the chance to taste baguettes with onions and potatoes, or with beans. I had one of each. They were both yummy. When in Rome …

Lydia wanted us to experience a far older village than Toubacouta. Secouna (I think) was eighteen kilometres away, and we doubled up on four motos. I was sitting behind Eddy, our B&B host, and was thrilled to see carts pulled by donkeys, crowds of folks seeking shade under wide-spreading trees, and even a couple of large red monkeys bounding across the road.

At one point, Eddy and I passed a fellow carrying a load of wood on his back. Eddy gave him a toot and the guy raised a couple of fingers in response. Beautiful. It reminded me of Ellwood Irwin, my former father-in-law. He was a wheat farmer on the vast Canadian prairie. When Ellwood was driving his truck and another farmer was approaching, he also would lift a couple of fingers in salute. Senegal … Alberta … just folks.

We were about halfway to Secouna when the urge to upchuck rose within me. Oh, no. Surely I wasn’t going to puke all over Eddy’s back! Oh, God, please help me here. I was also getting dizzy, and holding on to the bar behind me for all I was worth. “I can do this!” And I did.

We finally reached the village and stopped at a store. I ungracefully lurched off the bike and rested my head against the doorjamb of the entrance. The next thing I knew, there was a chair underneath my butt and a little container of water was in my hand. My friends were there in a flash to take care of me. Love lives.

As we sat on the patio of a restaurant with a big bottle of water, I looked across the street to see four fellows working on a bicycle. They were all so intent on the task and were chatting together, I suppose about what needed to be done. One guy worked for at least ten minutes, trying to get a tire off the rim. He didn’t have the right tool but no matter.

On the way back to Toubacouta, I felt much better. Eddy and I rolled past twenty or thirty monkeys who were running full out across the dry land. What athletes! We went through two tiny villages and I waved to the folks gathered under trees. Most people waved right back. I thought of the ride to Secouna, where I didn’t wave to anybody. Yes, I wasn’t feeling well, but it’s so strange to not be friendly.

Lydia and Jo invited me to have lunch with the family at their home. And she had a surprise for me: a large bowl of pasta was placed on the table accompanied by … a jar of pesto! My favourite flavour in the world. Mareama, the woman who made sure I got Senegalese pantaloons, was wearing a gorgeous pair of gold heart-shaped glasses. I asked her if I could wear them, and she tried mine on. We looked great, as you’ll see from the nearby photos.

A large group of us went for a walk later on a flat stretch of land that reveals itself at low tide. We felt the mud under our feet and walked into a watery area where snails lay on the intertidal floor. We could see the tracks they made in the sand. Partway, Lydia took my arm as we strolled along. We reflected on love and the beauty of the land. She is truly at home in Senegal. I can see myself feeling the same way.

Thank you for accompanying me on my journey.

Day Nine: We’re Off!

More human beings to enjoy on my travels, and they’re all coming to Senegal with us. Last night, at The Wizard of Oz, I remet Anja and Curd, the friends of Lydia and Jo who were with them on that hiking trail in Alberta. They didn’t seem to speak English so I didn’t get to know them back then. I wonder if they were surprised to hear that Lydia had invited me to go to Senegal, and that I had said yes.

Along with their parents, Olivia and Camille were also enjoying Dorothy, the Tin Man, the Scarecrow and the Cowardly Lion. We said hi and gave each other cheek kisses right away, as they do in Belgium. So different from how we greet each other in Canada. I like it.

This morning at the airport, I said hello to Sabrine and Lieselotte, both friends of Anja and Lydia. Simpatico. So we are eleven, now flying from Brussels to Lisbon, Portugal.

How many times have I said this? I feel so included, that I deeply belong. Some of the new folks have very limited English, and that’s okay because I have very limited everything else! We make funny faces, we laugh a lot, and already, I believe, we see each other. We’re each part of the tapestry that is the human family.

As we waited in the Brussels Airport this morning, four soldiers walked by in camouflage uniforms, toting machine guns. Oh my. Someone in our group told me that maybe three years ago, just down the concourse from us, terrorists ignited a bomb that was hidden in luggage, killing many people. I walked over to the approximate area where it happened. I stood. I mourned. And then I went back to my family.

I’ll write some more in the Lisbon Airport and then send it to you. I figure that’ll be it for today. There’s a long road ahead to tomorrow morning and I don’t expect to have any internet access. Ciao!

***

I’m so proud of myself! On arrival in Lisbon, we were channelled into a narrow passage which soon opened onto a grand vista – behind a left to right railing stood perhaps one hundred folks waiting to greet their loved ones. I found my right arm rising naturally and a smile curling my lips. I waved to them all. In return were a good many stares and perhaps ten hands raised in response. Perfect.

Lydia lent me her hat for the day. I consider myself very pretty. Folks strolling through the airport seem to have a different opinion. It’s all fun.

Until the next time, dear friends …

Day Eight: The Day Before

Tomorrow we fly to Dakar, Senegal. We leave the house at 8:30 am for the Brussels Airport. After a short flight to Lisbon, Portugal, we wait for hours before flying to Dakar. We get there at 1:00 am and then five hours overland to our village. So I’ll be laying my head on the pillow around 7:00 am on Monday. Oh boy … an adventure for the tired body and astonished mind.

Today I went with Jo on a series of last minute errands. Our final stop was to his funeral services business. The company inscribes headstones and sells products such as urns for the ashes. As Jo hurried around, I looked around.

There was a plaque on the wall showing photographs of people who had died, all enclosed in small oval frames. They go on the headstone. I looked into the eyes of the departed. A few were old, as you’d expect. A couple were middle-aged. Most of the souls, however, were kids. How sad to think that the children facing me had their lives end so soon. It teaches me to cherish my longtime and just met loved ones because we don’t know when we’ll be saying goodbye.

In Jo’s office, I spied a pile of small books. They were dictionaries. The tongues were Dutch (very close to Flemish), German, English, French and Italian. It was such a symbol of diversity, and of connection. Jo and Lydia speak four or five languages and Baziel and Lore aren’t far behind. The peoples coming together in Europe remind me of all the ethnic neighbourhoods in Toronto. We’re apparently so different … but actually not. Behind your eyes are the same glories and agonies that rest behind mine. And early Monday morning, Senegalese souls will say hello to Belgians and a Canadian. It is as it should be.

When in Belgium, play basketball. That’s certainly Baziel’s approach to life. As Jo and I pulled into the driveway, I saw Baziel grooving his jump shot. I just had to join him – some NBA force was propelling me forward. We took turns shooting … he of the graceful flourish and me of the rather stiff non-jump shot, but we were the same. We grimaced as the ball hit iron and threw our arms in the air when it was nothing but net. He’s 14 and I’m 69. I pretended I was grandpa. Just hanging loose with each other.

Later in the afternoon, Lydia’s mom Marie-Paule came to visit. Lydia had told me all about her and suggested that it would be good for me to marry her and whisk her off to Canada. We were even the same age.

I received coaching on the line I wanted to use with Marie-Paule as soon as I met her – “Voulez-vous me marier?” (Will you marry me?) So I gave it a go, giving her a gigantic hug in the first moment. Clearly, Lydia had also coached Marie-Paule, because she was ready with a smile. Initially we laughed a lot but we also shared our histories – Jody died four years ago and Marie-Paule’s husband ten years ago. We shared a few moments of missing our life partner. It was sweet.

Tonight we went to a play in Flemish – The Wizard of Oz. I loved the crows surrounding the scarecrow. I loved hearing Dorothy sing. But I’m just too tired to wax poetic about it all.

So to bed. Africa around the next bend.

Day Seven: Des Gens Extraordinaires

The family Nachtergaele has a cat. We leave for Senegal in two days. Last night, Poopi curled up on top of a piece of luggage lying in the living room. Lydia knows that Poopi knows we’re leaving and she doesn’t want us to go.

We need to be in each other’s presence. We need to love even more than we need to be loved. Both are blessings.

This morning, the family’s housekeeper Karin was cleaning up. She only speaks French, exactly the situation I’ll face in Senegal. I said “Bonjour, Karin.” She returned the favour. I saw her stare at the piece of luggage. Perhaps Poopi left a little poopy – I didn’t look closely. What I did do was furrow my brow in potential translation. I so much wanted to communicate with Karin.

“Le chat dormit au bagage.” That was my best attempt at “The cat slept on the piece of luggage,” although I couldn’t remember how to do the past tense, or the word “on”.

Quite proud of myself, I wasn’t ready for the barrage of words that came back. And memories returned from Jody’s and my vacation in old Quebec City in 2008. The Francophone no doubt thinks I understand a fair bit of French and blasts out a sentence or two at supersonic speed, leaving me in the linguistic dust. But really, who cares? I will love my new Senegalese friends, with or without our mutual understanding of words. Our eyes will make meaning.

Now it’s later in the morning and Pil and I have been talking at the dining room table. I still have happy memories of the 12% (!) beer we shared in Bruges yesterday. We look out over the back field and watch flocks of pigeons fly. Pil is so happy to teach me about local things. These pigeons will hang around some more, as long as the weather stays warm (5 degrees Celsius) but when winter sets in, they’re off to Spain.

Down by the pond, the orange leaves of a weeping willow are waving in the breeze. The two Shetland ponies are searching for the best grass. Mom is about thirty and son around ten. They have each other. An orange-headed woodpecker has just stopped for a visit near the window. Peace is here.

Away up on the horizon, vehicles move left and right. Who are those people? Where are they going? Do they have the same joys and sorrows that I do? Of course.

***

This evening two families enjoyed food at a Chinese restaurant. Liesbet is Lydia’s best friend and the two of them sat side by side, joking in Flemish most of the evening. The love between was as clear as a moonlit night.

Both Lydia and Liesbet had gifts for all of us. Liesbet and Lode gave me two jars of mustard created in Oudenaard. Lydia presented me with a quill pen – a fine white feather inscribed with “Dream On.” It’s so sweet to be included.

The meal and the wine were delicious but eating was just a convenient excuse to be together. The four kids gabbed away, and so did we five adults. My goodness, I’m part of a family after being alone for four years.

I said silly things to the servers and at one point started eating a decorative onion. Anything to get a laugh out of people. I threatened to approach the table next door to see if they were as nice as us but Lydia held me back. I enjoyed myself so much.

I’m in Belgium. Sure the streets wind so exquisitely and are often cobblestoned. Sure the buildings are ancient and the old brick shines in the sun. Sure the beer is strong and the wine sublime. But give me people any day.

We were together
I don’t remember the rest

Walt Whitman

Day Three: ‘Sploring

Ten hours of sleep … good for a jet-lagged Canadian. I awoke to the sun. Jo and Lydia’s dining room was bathed in light. As Julie Andrews was found of saying, the hills were alive.

Lore had an oral exam at school this morning and Lydia drove her, with me in tow. The sloping fields here are green and the tall trees cast magnificent shadows.

Lore was nervous and mom was reassuring her, in Flemish, so I didn’t know what she was saying. I told daughter that we’d be thinking about her from 10:15 to 11:00, and I followed through with that, sending her good wishes.

Then it was off to Lydia’s work. She and Jo are managers at a funeral wholesaler, carving inscriptions on headstones, and selling products such as urns. Lydia wanted me to meet her colleagues and I wanted to say hi to them. After a round of Flemish hellos and smiles, I decided to do the natural thing – sing them O Canada. They laughed.

I followed Jo around, first through the shop to see how the inscriptions are created, and later out and about in town. First stop was the bakery, the home of freshly-baked smells, Then it was on to a huge home improvement store to get plumbing and electrical supplies for Senegal. While there, I picked up a can of insulating foam. Like at home, the words were in two languages. Unlike what I know, the languages were Flemish and French. Welcome to the rest of the world, Bruce.

Baziel and I went for a walk in the afternoon. Across a muddy field to see a 300-hundred-year-old windmill. I wondered what stories were hidden between those walls.

We walked on a lovely paved path between emerald fields. Such peace in the country. Turns out that the path was a road and we had to move onto the field a little to let cars pass. Soon a Mcdonalds cup appeared and then seven cans thrown out at intervals, each labelled as a gin and tonic drink. We picked them all up and later recycled them at home.

Baziel described a conflict or two with his mom – no big deal from his end but mom sometimes builds it up in his opinion. As for fights with his sister, Baziel shrugged and said they make up within five minutes. Usual family stuff but I sense an unusual love among them.

Later in the Monday agenda, Lydia, Lore and I headed to a grocery store. As the women picked up cool items from a variety of displays, I tagged along, often falling behind the purchases. At one point, I passed an old couple. The woman and I held gazes for a few seconds and then started chatting, she in Flemish and I in English. Neither of us knew what the other one was saying and it didn’t matter. We just kept looking and smiling. It was fun.

Yesterday Lydia asked me what my favourite food was. My response? Pesto pasta. So three guesses what the meal was tonight. I was in heaven and generously allowed myself to have seconds.

I am being treated like a king near Oudenaard, Belgium. The simple events of the day, as long as they’re experienced with family, are a joy.

Day Two: Family

“Je sens déjà une partie de ta famille.” Lydia and Jo, the friends I met on a hiking trail in Alberta, are sitting with their children Lore and Baziel (and me) as we shared a meal. I had been in their home for only an hour or two but I knew what was true: “I already feel a part of your family.”

I picked up my luggage at the Brussels airport and there was Lydia greeting me at the gate with a big hug. On our serpentine way home, we laughed a lot and actually giggled about me being here. Lydia’s friends had said “You mean that Canadian guy is really coming?” Yes, indeed he is.

Lydia is so in love with life. Enthousiasme! Tonight we walked down a dark street on the way to watching Lore and her horse doing jumping training. We bounced along walking arm in arm. I made animal sounds and Lydia smiled lots.

Jo started almost two months ago turning a dusty attic into a sanctuary for me. His home is a marvel of his own making and my bedroom fits right in. Right now I’m sitting in his designed living room with a wall of windows facing a horse meadow sloping down to a pond. There’s such a feeling of space. Thanks, Jo.

Last night, Baziel stayed up to 11:30 to do the finishing touches in the room – and this with exams looming on Monday. Such dedication to someone he’d never met.

Baziel’s passion is basketball. I saw him shooting hoops in the farm’s courtyard … swoosh, swoosh, swoosh. And tomorrow evening, I’m going to watch him practice with his team. That should be fun. I think I’ll be the proud uncle.

I walked into the muddy yard to greet Lore’s two Shetland ponies: the 24-year-old mom and her son. What a wonder to run my hand through that long hair. And then there was the star of the show – Jackson, truly Lore’s horse. I watched the two of them together, and the love between animal and human flowed freely.

Tonight Lore and Jackson had a jumping session at a nearby horse barn. Poles were set up in various configurations for Jackson to float over … and mostly he did! I stood nearby to watch the grace and power.

Lore was the main chooser of objects to display in my bedroom. The first thing I noticed was Jody’s book standing proudly on a cupboard. Across the way was a small statue of the Buddha – perfect for me. Her attention to detail was a perfect expression of love for, again, someone she’d never met.

I’m home here. The old sharp-sloped rooves, the shale tiles and the red brick are a factor, but essentially the people in this home are the beauty. Thank you, dear loved ones.

Crying and Sport

The Athletic is a fairly new website which follows the stories of professional sports teams in several North American cities. I love the Toronto news. Gifted writers analyze the play of the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey team with a level of insight that I haven’t seen before. And then there are the human interest stories about the players – some famous athletes and others recently uncovered. Bottom line: I click on The Athletic and find myself nodding or smiling or ah-hahing. It makes me happy.

Then there was today, and a masterpiece of writing from James Mirtle. The Leafs are on their annual Florida swing, with games Thursday in Tampa and Saturday near Fort Lauderdale. The history is that the players’ dads come on down but this time it’s the moms. James writes about the tender relationship between superstar Auston Matthews and his mother Ema. She talks about her parents in Mexico:

He started watching. They can see (Maple Leafs games) in Mexico. I would buy it (on satellite) for them, and they can see it. He kind of understands the game better than my mom. Mom only wants to go to see where Auston is. She’s always asking “Where is Auston?” She just wants to see her grandson, not the sport.

Woh. The tone is set, and it’s called love. Here’s more from Ema:

I’m very excited. I’m looking forward to seeing what Auston actually does. Because usually when you ask Auston – everything is cool, it’s fun. But he doesn’t tell you details. Guys don’t explain to moms what they do. I’m looking forward to seeing what goes behind all the work the team does before the game. And to spend some time with the team, with the moms, and of course with my boy.

Well … this is worlds away from how many goals and how many assists, how well Auston gets his wrist shot off, and whether he has what it takes to be a good backchecker. There’s something else, something big, going on.

I admire Auston so much. You’re going to make me cry because it’s hard for me to talk about Auston. He knew what he wanted since he was little. He always knew. Even myself, now looking back, all the things he used to tell me – he knew what he wanted. And to get in this market (in Toronto), who would have thought, right?

We’ve always asked our kids to be humble. It doesn’t matter if you have money or if you don’t. You always be humble. Don’t get things into your head. We always loved people like that. We wanted to raise our kids like that. We always saw kids that were spoiled, and they didn’t appreciate what they had. We didn’t want that for our kids. Auston, we tell him just to enjoy what you have. Be grateful.

I’m sure you feel it … Ema Matthews is a full human being. And you and I aren’t the only ones with brimming eyes. Here’s a sample of the comments that readers sent in:

I’m not crying. It’s just been raining … on my face.

For many years my wife sacrificed for our 19-year-old but even without the NHL, it was worth it. Auston’s mom is the real star. As are hockey moms everywhere that just want the game to be fun for their boys and girls.

I have to go call my mother and tell her I love her.

My next jersey is going to be Matthews. Ema Matthews.

Greatest story I’ve read on The Athletic so far. Thank you Ema for raising such a good young man. It’s both a pleasure and a thrill to watch him play for the team I’ve loved since I was a little boy.

Is any athlete’s mother as beloved by their fanbase as Ema Matthews is by Leaf fans?

***

We touch each other

Day Seven: Roaming St. John’s

First, a bit about last night …

Riders, staff, family members and friends gathered at the Knights of Columbus Hall for the celebratory banquet. Cool stories of Canada travel were flying fast and furious. I kept asking questions such as “What did you like best about the Tour du Canada?” and “What impact do you think the ride will have on your life?” The answer to that one will no doubt take time to percolate through. The wife of one of the riders looked at me and said “You like asking deep stuff.” So true. The undeep is usually boring.

I spent a lot of time looking around the room, remembering conversations I’d had with each of the cyclists. Precious moments recalled. And I wondered what could have been if I’d stayed. I also thought about the goodbyes that were coming after these fine people had spent ten weeks together.

Several folks gave short speeches after dinner. Jim shocked me by talking about the impact I’d had on the group. (Gulp) I stood up and told the riders that they’d always be with me. And that’s true, whether or not we ever meet again. Paul also spoke about me, saying that I had inspired him, that I had tried so hard. (Accept it all with grace, Bruce)

I’m sad that I didn’t say goodbye to every cyclist. I was talking to Uli when a few of the folks left the hall. Fare thee well, friends. Afterwards, several of us went to a pub. Good old Newfoundland music competed with our conversations and I mostly couldn’t hear anyone at a distance. Across the table, Ken and Mary talked about the time they climbed France’s Mont Ventoux on their bicycles. The Tour de France riders go there! What an epic achievement. I hope it’s touched their lives deeply.

***

Now I’m writing about Saturday, even though it’s Sunday morning. Oh well. I like the slow pace.

Paul and his family invited me to join them for the day. That was so generous of them. Al came as well. We went to see the Terry Fox memorial on the waterfront. Terry lost his leg to cancer in the 1980’s and began running across Canada to raise money for research. He averaged a marathon a day (26 miles) until the cancer brought him to a halt halfway across Canada. Terry’s statue in St. John’s was slightly bigger than lifesize and I got to look right into his eyes. We connected. I think deep eye contact is one of the great gifts in life.

Paul’s daughters Hayley and Lindsay suggested we go on a five-kilometre hike around Signal Hill. Paul, Laurie, Al and I were up for it. Laurie drives so confidently, like she’s a Newfoundlander, and we were off.

My left ankle and right knee continue to be unfriendly and it soon became clear to me that the trail wasn’t a good idea. A few rocky downhill stretches and I knew I was in trouble. How humbling to be poised above a tiny slope, not knowing if my body will get the job done.

To say something or not? Well … clearly I needed to speak up. I told Paul and friends that I’d sprained my ankle recently and I needed to take the road up Signal Hill. They understood, and Paul and Al chose to accompany me.

One delicious and expensive hot chocolate later, we were atop the hill where 24 hours earlier 18 cyclists had completed their journey across Canada. The slope just below the parking lot was so steep and they would have been so tired. Chapeau, dear riders!

The family wanted to take the trail to Quidi Vidi, whatever that was. A St. John’s bus driver, leaning against her vehicle, mentioned that part of the trail was a bit rugged, but that her route would take me right there. I could feel my pride swallowing and voted for the bus.

Quidi Vidi is a rocky inlet, with a few of the old homes on stilts over the water. I came upon a wedding party, red dresses and black tuxedos, plus one special woman who got to wear a white dress. After all the photos, I went up to the bride and groom and said “Have a happy marriage.” She especially smiled.

I had a seat in the Quidi Vidi Brewing Company with my Iceberg beer. The fellow singing announced that the next song would separate the CFA’s from the Newfoundlanders. CFA means “Come from away” – anyone who’s not local.

I tried unsuccessfully to pick up the lyrics. Across the room, a woman in her 60’s was belting out the words and looking at me. I threw my arms into the air with my hands spread, letting her know that I was CFA. She smiled.

Then the whole crew arrived and we settled into a beer-laden table for six. As the singer sang and the room vibrated with conversation, I looked over to Paul. He was talking to his wife and two daughters, all of them sitting to his right. And the looks of love between him and them were marvelous. What a family.

Later I came upon a big circle of folks, singing and playing their instruments. For some unknown reason, I pulled out my MasterCard and flung it into the middle of them. Then I called out “2112”, which just happens to be my PIN. A few smiles came back, as well as one thumbs up. And a woman rushed over to return the card.

In the evening, we were on George Street, being screeched in at a bar called Christian’s. All six of us were sitting at the bar, watching drinks be poured and taking in the din of the place. Wow, was it loud! I was basically yelling at Hayley next door. Our host wore a newfie fisherman’s hat and regaled us with stories, Newfoundland lingo and an astonishing ability to remember the names of the 25 or so people who were being screeched.

The highlight of the day lasted several hours. Paul, Laurie, Lindsay and Hayley included Al and me. We were welcomed into the family, and how precious that was. Paul had been away from his kin for two-and-a-half months, and the family could have kept him to themselves yesterday. Happily for me, they didn’t. Thank you, folks.

Burwell

If it’s the Sunday of the long Civic Holiday weekend, it’s time for fireworks on the Port Burwell beach. Twilight is here and the pleasure boats are twinkling on Lake Erie. I’m surrounded by families on the sand – lots of bathing suits, sunburns and happy faces. Glow sticks are shining in their circular paths on necks, wrists and waists and the world is at peace. A great grandma jiggles a tiny boy, much to his delight.

Earlier I was in the beer garden, right up front, sporting the appropriate beverage. A duet played old folk songs, such as Harry Chapin’s “Cat’s in the Cradle”, she of 15 years and he of 70 or so. Avery was so nervous and kept looking out to her friends in the crowd for support. She did fine, and the tunes went down as sweetly as the beer. Seagulls soared over the stage. I sang along. And all was well.

Back to the moment of now and the darkness descends. Excited chatter all around. Kids straining to see their sand castle creations. Others asking what there is to eat. All of us eager for the explosions of light.

“Mom. When are the fireworks going to start?”

And then … poof! The first streamer and banger. Yay for the bright.

As the flowers opened above me, I looked out to the lake and saw the ripples shining. And between were silhouettes of human beings, heads tilted to the heavens. I do believe we were all in awe as the show went on and on. My favourite was a shimmering gold curtain filled in by at least six explosions. It lingered above our heads for so long, seeming to bless us.

Kids oohed and adults ahhed. Though we didn’t know each other, the crowd was family, enraptured with the bursts of white against a blanket of black. And I heard the message: “Wake up! There is so much to live in this world.” May we heed the call.