I have a certain type of face. The type of face that strangers regularly approach for directions. And the type of face that says: You can confide in me; I am all ears and empathy. I can thank genetics for this - it runs in the family. At times it can be uncomfortable but it is always a moment of real communion with a fellow human.
I had such a moment on Friday night. I attended the approximately bi-monthly, and for now, roving St. Jamestown Community Café. I learned about this endeavour at the monthly (intentionally roving) Foodie Drinks. The organizers I met (Nancy Slamet and Lucas Lu) certainly captivated my interest and I attended not only to support their efforts but also as a detective. I was sussing out the vibe in order to bring back info to my upcoming community association meeting. The St. Jamestown Community Café is hoping to eventually create an incubator model for other cafés and since Nancy herself interned at the long time successful Queen Street Commons café in Kitchener, I have tremendous faith in the likelihood of the success of the St. Jamestown Community Café.
|St. Jamestown community café Friday November 18th, 2011.|
While I stayed stationary at the same table, the cast of characters surrounding me completely turned over three times. I first enjoyed an amusing rapport with three long term residents (30+years!) from the community. These three women have raised children and buried husbands together. The only one with a walker departed by getting up and dancing her way to the front of the room (where the musicians were providing an excellent foot tapping show) before returning to collect her walker and go home. I was still giggling when a much older woman with a walker came through the door.
The elder woman's paid caretaker saw my now empty table and got the woman seated and her walker stashed away before going to collect her a plate of food. The woman settled quite close to me and I asked her her name. She told me and was quite delighted to find out that I knew it was italian since one of my own neighbours that is about the same age (91) has the very same unusual italian name that has fallen out of favour since the earlier part of the 20th century.
This woman was as sharp as a tack and her immediate familiarity with me was a little daunting but quite enjoyable. We meandered our way through the niceties and I found out that she too is a long time resident of St. Jamestown and in fact moved to the area after her mother died in Kapuskasing, ON. She was 20 years old so that means that she has lived there for over 70 years! A veritable walking history book!
In the course of the conversation I thought to ask her if she had any children. That is when her eyes started quivering and I simultaneously thought of the trite phrase whilst panicking at what I was to find out. "Yes, my daughter. But she left me. Five years ago. I buried her. She had taken a job since she was broke. She hit her head. Her work didn't phone a doctor, and so she just went to bed that night. AND DIED." I capitalize since by the end of this halting speech the tiny frail woman was wailing. And I was bawling. And during the course of her delivery I had instinctively reached out and grabbed the tiny arm and felt the life force of this woman humming along, albeit in vast amounts of pain. I could not choke back my sobs. So we sat there and cried a bit with me holding on to her arm with both hands now - an awkward but universal type of embrace that is instinctive to humans sharing pain. After a few minutes I said that I applauded her courage to get up every day and go out and that no mother should ever have to bury a child. After a few more weepy minutes we gravitated away from the subject and she entertained me with stories of her life as a cleaning woman in Toronto and her cat and the bedbugs that her nursing home is fighting. She left after eating a healthy sized meal for a 91 year old and I hope to see her again.
The last cast of characters at my table were also fascinating and engaging people. Two of them were the musicians finally enjoying their repast after entertaining us so wonderfully. In fact we were all so engrossed in conversing with one another we were literally kicked out (laughingly)! I had not realized that the tables were being packed up around us and ours was the very last table to be dismantled and put away.
Kudos to the St. Jamestown Community Café. If my experience can be considered representative of other attendees, I have no doubt that your community development efforts will be successful. I left the event nourished completely in both body and spirit and I can't imagine any other measure of success that such an effort would desire.