I decided a trip to the Ottawa area would be the best way to celebrate my end-of-January birthday so with a coupon, the senior’s discount and “cheap Tuesday” sale, I landed a ticket price with VIA Rail that was much cheaper than driving the distance in my car. As it turned out, the weather was bitterly cold and we were hit with a snowstorm the night before I left. Strangely enough, south-western Ontario was colder than Ottawa all week which is very unusual. But Ottawa has a lot more accumulated snow with treacherous ice under that snow!
Much as I love the outdoors, this was not a week for walking trails or river sides or city sidewalks or parking lots. It was not a week to drive around rural roads looking for owls or raptors. So in spite of sunny skies, we stayed indoors most of the time. Life is not boring with a toddler underfoot and my week was full of love and joy!
My return home on the train started with yet another Ottawa snow fall which made the drive to the station challenging. No groundhog in the Ottawa Valley saw its shadow yesterday which supposedly forecasts an early spring. I wouldn’t bet any money on that though!
The train arrived on time and headed toward Toronto uneventfully until we passed Kingston. Due to an earlier accident on the line that resulted in a fuel spill, all subsequent train traffic was slowed almost to a halt. I had a connection time of over 100 minutes in Toronto for my next train but in the end we were almost 3 hours late. Shared misfortune brings a certain camaraderie and the train car was abuzz with conversation. Four women travelling together were headed for a Toronto airport to catch an early evening flight to Iceland where they hoped to see the Aurora Borealis. They received all kinds of advice and encouragement from fellow passengers even though it was unlikely that they would catch their plane.
VIA Rail did the best they could to accommodate the inconvenienced travellers. My connecting train waited for the passengers coming from Ottawa and Montreal. We received a voucher for 50% off our next trip. It was warm and comfortable on the train unlike a long delay on the highway in your car.
On the last leg of my journey, an elderly man sat beside me. He boarded the train in Moncton NB over 36 hours earlier and was also caught in the mishap on his way from Montreal to Toronto. I had a choice of burying my face in my iPad or engaging in conversation with him. I was glad I chose the conversation option.
He shared the highlights of his humble but joyful 83 year journey on earth. Growing up poor in a rural, French-speaking community in New Brunswick, he left for Ontario and worked on the roads laying asphalt for many years. He bought 70 acres of land in New Brunswick 30 years ago for $1700 and built a small house where he has lived alone since retirement. He chops his own wood and has a large vegetable garden. He gives away the fresh food he cannot use to his neighbours and they return the favour in food gifts and friendship. He had a significant stroke a few years ago that left him with some right-sided weakness but he returned to full independent living except for the cane he needs for walking. He drives his car and meets friends daily at Tim Hortons or McDonalds. He was coming to my city for a few weeks to catch up with friends he made while he worked here for over 40 years.
I couldn’t help myself from secretly assessing him for signs of frailty and cognitive decline. In spite of his lack of education, he was mentally alert and very robust. I love observing people who age well!
He enjoyed a positive outlook, a supportive community, social contacts, regular physical activity, acceptance of his limitations, and pleasure in the small things of life. And he didn’t complain once about the train delay. We disembarked at the same station where freezing rain was falling. We both made it safely off the platform and to our respective rides.
Goodbye Raymond, and thank you for your lesson on community and friendship.
|Community Spirit by Peter Etril Snyder|
Use of image granted by the niece of the artist Cynthia Weber who holds the copyright to his body of work
"Peter Etril Snyder painted "Community Spirit," in 2011 inspired by a photo published in The Record.
It was the final painting in a series he created as a fundraiser for KidsAbility, his charity of choice.
At the time he wrote, "I wanted to create a historical neighbourhood-themed Christmas painting. What can be more Canadian than shovelling snow. Including the little guys on the porch added to the idea of the community joyfully working together."
"I've had a charmed life," he said in 2009.
Snyder died in 2017, but his lifetime achievement remains, reminding us that we are surrounded by the beauty of community."