As every writing workshop facilitator has said – writers are people who actively engage their senses and record the richness of their daily experiences to share with others. In other words, if you’re paying attention, you’ll benefit from meeting new people or enjoying adventures on any ordinary day.
My friend and colleague Janis McC, Membership Coordinator of the Writers’ Community of York Region (WCYR) headed out to Vaughan for a meeting with Lisa McDonough, Manager of the Pierre Berton Resource Library. Our objective was to identify partnership opportunities to benefit Library patrons and WCYR members – workshops, meeting space, cross-promotion, identifying speakers, etc. We got on like a house afire and developed a list of projects we’ll start planning for. So that was a great start to the day.
When our meeting was finished, Janis and I asked at the front desk for a suggestion about a good place for us to eat lunch. Before the front desk librarian could answer, a lady wearing a fabulous gold-toned patterned chenille coat stepped up and suggested St. Phillips Bakery, just around the corner. Halfway through giving us directions, she said, ‘Wait. I’ll show you. Just follow me.’ That kindness bowled us over, but as we chatted about it on our way to the parking lot, we agreed that, yes, that’s what women do. Whether you’re in Winners store trying on a sweater (no, that colour does nothing for you), picking up tomatoes in the supermarket (aw, they’re too hard to use in salad) or in the bookstore (try this author, I loved her latest series) – if you appear receptive, someone will step up and give you some drive-by advice or assistance. Pay it forward – give back – help a Sister out – it all works when done appropriately. But I’m getting sidetracked.
We followed her to the plaza on Rutherford Road where the Bakery is located. I recognized it immediately – Hub and I had eaten there last spring, when we were doing a tour of model houses looking for decorating ideas. I remembered the dress shop next door, the variety store where we bought (losing) lotto tickets and the humongous Shoppers Drug Mart, but what stuck in my mind was the restaurant’s warmth, the great food and service and the killer desserts.
Finding the restaurant was the first bonus of the day. The chicken sandwich with peppers and onions I ordered was excellent. Janis had a lovely bowl of gnobetti or canestrini pasta – I’m not sure which – with garlic and rapini. As I waited for her to pick up her coffee, I eavesdropped on the men sitting at a table for two behind me. They were chatting about houses, renovations and financing – all of which feature in the novel I’m writing (Number 2). We turned our attention to savoring our food and a wide-ranging conversation about writing, but I confess, my mind wandered to the potentially valuable story resources sitting not three feet away. With apologies to Janis, I scrabbled in my purse and found a couple of Hub’s business cards, wrote down my name and phone number and approached the two gentlemen.
Anthony and Michael were more than gracious. As if a middle-aged woman chatted them up every day, giving them an ‘elevator pitch’ about her book project and asking if she could make an appointment to interview them sometime. Michael said ‘sure’ right away, but Anthony was a bit more skeptical. The thing is, after he got over his puzzlement, he agreed, too. Yowza! I know from experience that having access to real-world experiences that can be fictionalized gives a story unbeatable verisimilitude. Second bonus.
The third bonus was meeting Jerry – a handsome 75 year-old gentleman who was bussing the tables. Janis and I, being outgoing folks, said hello and asked him how he was doing. Well, after the initial pleasantries, he put down the espresso cups he carried so that he could ‘talk’ more easily (with his hands, of course). Turns out Jerry arrived in Canada in the 50s. Eventually, his five brothers and three sisters and parents joined him in Downsview. His cousin, a barber, convinced him to attend hairdressing school, which he did in the evenings because he was working full time to help support his family. In the end, Jerry spent 49 years in hairdressing, the first few years with his cousin at his Jane & Wilson shop, then in his brothers’ chain of salons across the GTA. He retired because those decades bending over the stylist chair messed up his back.
Was Jerry content to putter around at home and watch his favourite Jerry Springer shows? Oh, no! He called up his brother-in-law looking for something to do. Ten years later, he’s still working, loving life and sharing his story with Janis and I. The thing is, Jerry (his given name is Geronimo – Jerome, ‘one who bears a holy name’) is a ringer for my protagonist Kenora’s father – Leo Tedesco. Exactly as I’d imagined him – height, personality, gestures, voice inflections. Meeting him was such a gift.
Jerry attributes his youthful good looks and positive outlook to spending all of those years in the company of women. We couldn’t argue with that wisdom! Bonus four. What an amazing day!