Connecting

There is a Farmers’ Market every Saturday in the summer. It’s in full swing now that local produce is available. In

Tuesday’s paper, I saw that it was the special Art session and then I saw my name there too. Oops!

The organizers had promised me a tent if I would come. Jack was bringing his paintings as well. There was a third person named whom I didn’t know. If it was in an advertisement, I was committed, wasn’t I? The thought of gathering my bits and pieces together one more time palled. I found packing up the car wearisome, fatiguing, but I remember my weak moment when I agreed to participate. I’d just have to buckle under and do it.

During the week, I assembled a few affordable, small paintings and reproductions and a box of art cards. I decided to carry the minimum possible since the only thing I would get out of it, I knew, was additional advertising. It seems that people do not come to Farmers’ Markets looking for Art with a capital A. I could perhaps at least get the message out to a few that I was offering private lessons and maybe, in the bargain, sell a few of the cards or reproductions at ten dollars a pop.

But you never know. You might meet someone who wants to look at more paintings, who will take your card and call up later for an appointment to view.

The other thing that deters me from enthusiastic participation in the Market is that vendors have to be there around seven o’clock in the morning to set up tents and displays. I’m a notorious night owl. Going to sleep at two in the morning is not strange for me. Getting up at six is. It benumbs my mind. Being out of the house by six forty-five is unthinkable; and yet, I set my alarm for six and had everything pretty much ready to go on Friday night. All I had to do was get dressed, get breakfast and go.

In that fumbling half hour before I had to leave, some fool phoned me. I begrudgingly answered to hear a foreign voice asking, “Kay? Kay Kerrer?”

“That’s me,’ I said, none to warmly waiting for the sales pitch to begin. Who would call at this ungodly hour? Were they calling from Vancouver, Montreal or New York, or New Delhi? The quality of phone lines is such now that you can’t tell when you have a local or a  long distance call. Hugh was already home in Ottawa, but it couldn’t be him. And it couldn’t be Cecil, my theater friend who successfully plays jokes on me by imitating various occupations or accents.

“Who is this?” I said querulously, none to friendly.

“Do you remember France?” was the reply

France? Was that a woman’s name or a country. I knew both. I wasn’t ready for phone games or twenty questions.

“Of course,” I replied and then stayed silent, hoping I could get a bit more of a clue from this husky-voiced woman.

“It’s Sophie. Do you remember Sophie?”

“Of course! Sophie!” I brightened as much as a grumpy non-morning person could.

“Sophie Martinez,” she continued to explain, as if I still hadn’t got it.

“Sophie! Of course. How are you. Better yet, where are you?” And even more mysteriously, why or how was it that she  was talking in English when I had known her in France and we spoke French together.

The puzzle pieces began to fit in one after the other. Sophie! I had been twenty eight and she was eighteen. We had both come to France to study, but there was a world of difference. She had received some sort of scholarship to study and had come from Portugal. She came with her sister so that both of them would have a chance through education to make something of themselves. Their parents were so poor that they could not afford to keep them.

Sophie became responsible for her younger sister, for her food, for her education, for her upbringing. It was not the era where you could Skype home for free (if you had computers at both ends of the spectrum), nor e-mail nor even phone. In France, in the mid-‘Seventies a phone was rare thing. Many families did not have them. In Portugal, they were even rarer.  Sophie was on her own, with all the responsibilities.

In addition to her school workload, she worked to provide her sister with food. Her sister didn’t have scholarship, but the family had figured that if Sophie had a room as a student, she could share it with her sister at no extra cost. If she just worked a little harder, she could  share her food allowance and provide extras through a job in her spare hours.

I met Sophie through another student and we spent time together. When our mutual friend Emily returned back to her home in Belgium, Sophie and I continued to visit. Sometimes she would come to me for motherly advice although I had never been a mother. What was she supposed to do with a sister who would not study? It was unthinkable that she should work so hard and then her sister not even appreciate the opportunity.

I must have met her in the first year that I was there. She didn’t have much time for visiting but she came for dinner from time to time and I would send her home with care packages – an end of roast or ham, some fried rice, a breast of chicken, some sweets or a dessert.

I taught her a little bit about drawing and how to look at paintings. When she finished her studies, she was allowed to stay and work in France. She had some lesser job that didn’t pay much, and still she cared for her sister and still she sent money home.

I was piecing all this together as I kept her talking about what she was doing and where she was.  She had translated for an organization for many years and then she went freelance. There was more work in Luxumbourg than France. She moved. She was phoning from Luxembourg now.

” I kept looking for you. I heard you had gone home to Canada,” she said.  “I had friends who went to Canada from time to time. If anyone ever went, then I asked them to see if they could find you in the directory.” She listed off the names of about five different people who had come for this conference or that, or had come for a vacation. None had successfully brought back any information.

I inwardly smiled at this, as if Canada were such a small country that you could look in the directory in Montreal and discover where someone lived or their telephone number six thousand miles away in Vancouver.

“Finally someone helped me look you up on the Internet. I tried your web site and the e-mail address there but it didn’t work. But the e-mail didn’t get to you. It got sent back to me as undeliverable. A friend showed me how to find your name in the phone book on the Internet and now I am speaking to you!”

“Do you know, ” she continued, ” that I still have your painting? Do you remember that painting? It was the first piece of art I ever had. Bought, I mean. It was the first painting I ever purchased.” I did not tell her that I could not remember the  painting although I did remember that I wanted to lower the price of it for her but she was adamant, proudly wanting to support my work, proudly wanting to pay the proper price for it.

“I have it by my front door. Every time I’ve moved, I have it with me and I always p lace it right by the front door. ”

“And how about you?” she asked. What have you been doing? Tell me about you?”
“Oh Sophie, I would love to tell you, but I must be at work this morning. I will have to phone you back.” I felt dreadful. She was so enthusiastic and here I was, putting her off. It was the only time in months that I actually had a firm commitment to work. The irony of it!
“Oh! I’m so sorry. I didn’t think. What time is it?”

I told her and then I got her telephone number so that I could phone her back, but cautioned her that it wouldn’t be today.  In a few days.

We signed off and I rushed to get out the door. I was late for setting up my tent at the market. I still had to pack things into the car. My head was operating at half speed now instead of a quarter. My mind was filling up with things that I hadn’t thought of in thirty years. How I had left all of a sudden when my father had died. How I had tried to contact some people to let them know I why I had left so precipitously. How Sophie’s letter had come back to me and I had no way of finding out where she had moved to.  How I had never gone back because it was a recession and our business, Frank’s and mine, had failed and there was no money to come back. We had ipso facto both lost our jobs at the same time. How I had remade my life in Canada and done well. But I hadn’t found Sophie to tell her.

I had gone ahead with a different life and almost forgotten. I had put that life behind me as if it had not existed and constructed a new one. Now here was a friendship coming full circle.

How life has changed in the last thirty years. Her last words were,

“I’ll soon have a means of talking to you for free. I’ll be in touch.”

I thought of my conversation with Hugh while he was in Vienna,free on Skype.

I thought of the ease with which I e-mail friends now across great distances.

I thought how through this miracle of blogging,  I have friends in distant countries that I have never met, whose writings I enjoy so much – and photographs, and paintings, and other accomplishments.

And I thought how much easier it is now to find lost friends through the Internet.

It really is a miracle and it really is a blessing.

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2 Responses to “Connecting”

  1. WR Jones Says:

    You make daily life so interesting. You remind me of the author of “Breathing Lessons”. She writes about simple daily events but in a way that is fascinating.

  2. ARTISETERNAL Says:

    Hi Bill,
    I thought maybe I’d end up being a latter day Samuela Peppy!
    Our daily lives are interesting. It’s not so much what you do but how you observe and translate it – you know that! You do it in your paintings and your writing too, but you like to give things a farcical twist. I drop by your posts more often than I comment.
    K

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