Among the friendly residents who greeted us the day we moved in was our across-the-hall neighbor, a spritely grey-haired woman with a British accent, who told us that she had just returned from Tunisia but that when she was settled she would like to invite us over for tea.
Sure enough, yesterday afternoon she knocked on our door, and invited us for mid-afternoon tea. In contrast to our apartment which is furnished in Scandanavian modern, her home is bright with chintz and filled with art -- mostly souvenirs of her many travels. She poured tea and presented crumpets and pastries, and we had a grand conversation.
She earned $40 a month as a Vancouver school teacher in the Depression, $8 of which went for buses, so she jumped at the chance to earn $70 a month at a country school in the Cariboo.
The Cariboo is cattle country, at the back of beyond. There was no electricity or phone service. She boarded on a ranch with a German wife who did all the work and an Irish husband who sat around. The one time the wife managed to set aside more money, she bought a new couch for the husband! The other cowboys, who had spurned this woman who spoke no English, were sorry they missed out on such a wife!
Our neighbor told us how her school needed twelve students to be established, and ten to stay open. At one point they only had nine children enrolled but they found an Indian child who was being raised by her white grandfather. He was eager for her to get some education, so the German family took her in.
Well, they sort of took her in. The story was that she hated to be indoors and so they had to make her a tent to sleep in. She would wake up at dawn and want to come in for breakfast, but it was too early. So, sent back to her tent, she would howl like a coyote till it was time for her breakfast and school.
Our new friend is eighty-nine. She started traveling in her summers off as a schoolteacher. She hoarded her money to pay for travel, and always sought bargain trips. She mused that she's been to a lot of places that are now considered too dangerous to visit -- Russia, Colombia, Kenya. In fact, her travel agent told her that trips to Africa would only be possible for perhaps another five or ten years; after that it would be too dangerous.
She's slowing down now -- she can't take the really long airplane trips, so she has to plan her travel more carefully. But she's still a busy lady in Vancouver; she works at the Food Bank and also volunteers as an adult teacher of English.
What an amazing woman!