My granddaughter’s arms reach up above her head, her tiny hands each grasping one of my fingers. She takes a wobbly step forward and then pauses to gaze in the glass counter beside us.
“Buh”, she says.
“Pretty” I respond. The cabinet showcases an array of colourful china cups. “Keep going.”
She takes a few more precarious steps and stops again. Thus we entertain ourselves while her mother and aunt shop for antiques. My girls arranged this little getaway as a celebration of my fifty-fifth birthday. Their brother would be joining us later for dinner. The site of our gathering is a quaint, tourist attraction, noted for its shops and market. I am amused at some of the items on display: mementos of bygone days. Hard for me to see the value in what was once common place, and overdone. I mean, really, could blue mountain pottery be making a comeback?
Annie stumbles and I catch her up in my arms, wanting to move on from this aisle where everything is breakable. That’s when I hear a familiar voice – one I haven’t heard for years. I turn and catch site of a childhood friend.
We embrace, and I call in my children to share in the encounter, proudly introducing the newest member of the family. Beth and her husband join our little entourage and we wander out into the street in search of a place where we can catch up.
Our conversation comes so easily, as if there has been no separation of years.
Annie, close to needing feeding, cries out for her mother. Beth and I simultaneously remember another time, when Annie’s mother was a baby, and would accept comfort from no one but me. Beth’s husband makes a comment about my nature, a dig rooted in our teenage years when he teased me constantly. I feel like I am fourteen again.
It is a surreal moment. I have journeyed down many paths and crossed many bridges in my life, and in an instance I travel back forty years.
The meeting lingers with me for the rest of the day. So many thoughts and emotions swirling inside.
I always loved Beth. Her gentle nature and practical approach to life balanced my dramatic, frantic self. There had been three of us in those teenage years, and despite our hopes and dreams, I was the only one to go on and have a family. Beth and her husband chose not to have children, and our third friend never even married. None of us could see back then how things would turn out.
I kept in touch with Beth in the early years of marriage and children, visiting every six months or so, but as my children grew and our lives became more complicated, I let the relationship go. As I did with many of my close friendships, I created a distance that would protect me from rejection. Today’s encounter reminded me that the people who know me best don’t care about my faults and failings. I have worried for nothing.
A chance meeting today propelled me back in time, looking at my life from a new perspective. Yes, there has been strife and regrets, but there has been so much more. My family is a testament to that.
Time travel: it’s good for the soul.