I was in the ninth grade, spending my Saturday afternoons at Regina Gardens. I was the girl behind the counter at the Cafe. I offered a smile, and willing ears as I gave tenants and visitors their coffee or afternoon snack.
I still remember the distinct smell of antiseptic and hand sanitizer that would fill my nostrils the moment I walked into the place. I remember how it didn’t bother me that I was doing it for free. I had to get my volunteer hours in some way or another.
The people I met and the stories I heard were my favorite part. I loved the way some of the old ladies would come down from their rooms just to chat for a while. Usually the ones who didn’t have family visiting and were still well enough to get around. Sometimes the hours would slip away while I heard their stories.
I remember thinking that maybe one day I should write their stories down. Seriously, so many wonderful stories. But then life moved on. I don’t really remember why I had to leave the place, but I did.
Over the years the faces and stories began to fade, until it was a distant memory. It all came crashing back today when I met a dear old man by the name of Jim Fish. A partially blind man who works security for the HSR in Hamilton.
I sat with him while I had my coffee from Timmie’s – a medium double double with a double mint shot – my notebook was open on my lap, as I had intended to write a short story or something.
Instead, I sat there and listened to Jim as he told me his story. Having come from a poor family, he’d been determined to make a good life for his own family. As a journalist for The Hamilton Spectator and the Globe and Mail, Jim made enough to pay the mortgage off his house after his first five years. He made enough that his wife could have a new car in the driveway every four years whether she wanted it or not.
Times got rough, but Jim continued to do what he loved. Now that his sight is poor and he can’t write anymore, he listens to the stories of the people he meets on a daily base. With those who take the time to listen, he shares his story.
I was inspired by this dear old man. I was reminded of the fact that everyone has a story to tell, even if they don’t know how. Jim made me realize that there are people out there who just need someone to stop and listen.
Now I find myself wondering about the people and the stories that lie ahead of me. I find myself wondering about all the stories that are just waiting to be told. Will anything come out of those stories? Will they fill my notebook? It’s as if suddenly, by talking to one man, a world of possibilities has opened up for me.