Ginta: Stories of the lilac town

Last Friday, we returned home after a few days on the Coast and found two big beautiful tomato plants on the porch. The note attached to them read: Cherry tomato plants need a transplant to good home:-)

It was signed by our neighbour across the street. She is 92.

We met after we moved to Kamloops in September; I saw her puttering around the yard one day and went to introduce myself. It's good to let people know you're there.

I was charmed on the spot.

She is witty and knows a lot of stories of Kamloops and Western Canada, too, and she smiles a lot. The only thing that's slightly wobbly is her vision, she says. She can't see farther than a couple of metres and even close range is not what it used to be.

Far from crippled by it, she accepts it as a fact of life. Complaining would not bring her vision back, she says.

During our first chat she tells me stories of old Kamloops, how it has changed since and she also tells me I will love it here. A magpie hovers over her house and she's quick to point out that a crow will show up soon to chase it away. As if on cue, the crow arrives. It takes being somewhere long enough to know that.

I find out that the house I live in and others around here were built shortly after the Second World War for the returning soldiers and their families. I get a glimpse of old Kamloops - and I like it. It's not every day I get to hear something like this.

I didn't keep track of time that day, but instantly freed some of my afternoon to be there. Relishing my neighbour's sparkling presence, I could not get over the fact that she is 92. The references we have can sometimes point us in the wrong direction, but lucky me.

I always say that age is but a number; my neighbour makes it true. It's been like that every time we chatted after that. She's funny and her way of mixing old stories with new ones has been locking me into good conversations from that first sidewalk talk.

Last Saturday, I went to thank her for the tomato plants. We sat in the shade of an old apricot tree and the afternoon sun splashed warmth all around us.

Then she showed me her secret garden, where she proudly pointed to a rainwater-collecting system that brings every drop of water from the roof into her backyard. Both the vegetable garden and the exquisite flowerbed benefit from it. If I were a butterfly or hummingbird, I would call this my happy place.

Dark purple clumps of lilac hang heavy and fragrant in a corner. I told her about the surprise of discovering that Kamloops is a city of lilac. I grew up in a yard guarded by thick, old lilac trees and they made my world joyful. It was an unexpected surprise to see that I now live in a place lined with the very trees I've been searching for since I left home.

Exploding white and lilac bushes remind me every day of growing up in a place where I could walk across the street to visit my neighbours, old friends of my grandparents. I was four, but that was no hindrance to sitting and listening to stories. It was easy to forget about time back then, too.

On my way out, my neighbour invites me to take a shortcut through her home, a keeper of memories. She shows me the sun-drenched room where she grew the tomato plants. There are family photos all over.

I notice a violin hanging on the wall in the hallway, a bow next to it. Silent as they are, sounds and memories trickle out of the instruments.

I ask.

Her late husband's violin, she explains.

Some say violins carry their owner's musical impression in the wood - an imprint of some sort. It must be true. I see my neighbour's hand reaching out to touch the violin as if to cradle in her palm once more the memory of the music she once listened to, and of the man who played it. Her eyes light up. Her soul sees further than her eyes can, and I am humbled to witness it.

I thank her for the gift of the tomato plants, and for much more - for stories shared under the shade of the old apricot tree, for the inspiration and for those smiles that make me feel welcome because somehow they bridge the world I know with the one she has been privileged to witness over the years.

I leave with a beautiful bouquet of dark lilac and with the thought that, often times, the best way to see what's ahead is to look behind. And truth is, we cannot have one without the other.

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Daniela Ginta is a mother, scientist, writer and blogger. She can be reached at daniela.ginta@gmail.com, or through her blog at www.thinkofclouds.com.

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