Conversation One is in the previous post and must be read to understand anything that I’m about to talk about.
(Names are still changed for privacy reasons)
It’s the second night I’ve spent with Martha and the second time we’ve lost track of time and she’s gone to bed much later than she usually does. I’m a terrible employee, but I like to think I’m a good listener.
I walked into the kitchen upon my arrival and she asked me about my day. I told her that I had Skyped someone and whether she knew what that was. She said she had tried it before at Sue’s house. I asked whether she had expected, when she was a girl, to have such crazy technological advances.
She said that when she was growing up, there weren’t any TVs at all. I made her clarify whether that was because people didn’t have the money or if they simply hadn’t been invented yet. It was the latter, of course.
(I googled the date to see when TVs were actually invented, and it wasn’t until Martha was 14, in 1927.)
She dove into a story about how she had gone on a date with a boy, and he was really excited to show her something special in the area they were living in. Martha explained that there was one store that had a TV in its storefront. When the shop would close the storekeeper would keep the TV on in the store window, and by the time Martha and her date arrived, there were about a dozen people huddled outside to look at the moving images on the screen. Her date was unimpressed that so many people had heard about the TV already. Martha reassured me that nobody was pushy about watching the TV. Everyone stood around it quietly and waited for their turn to get close to it. She couldn’t recall what program was on, but it was American because Vancouver didn’t have any stations at the time.
This time I asked her questions about her and Peter, her late husband.
She told me he was really clever. He could speak Norwegian, German, French and Spanish. She added briefly that during the war, because Norwegian is similar to German (apparently) he could translate to his pals what the enemy soldiers were saying. She spoke proudly about his intelligence, but also somewhat somberly. She said that it was really too bad that he didn’t have greater opportunities in life, because he could have been great.
The funny thing is, he was great.
This is the story of how Martha met Peter (settle in kids) :
When she moved to Vancouver, Martha assumed she would only be there for four months. It was November when she started working at what she called a jiffy coffee shop, on the corner of Richards and Hastings in Downtown Vancouver. It was open from 7am to 7pm and she only had part-time work. The shop was meant for business people to come and grab some grub through out the business day. She was 22 years old, and by the sounds of it, she was a babe. She said she always had people asking for her to go out with them, and she sometimes did say yes. She said that she did have many boyfriends but that’s all they were to her, boy-friends. (Sounds like she knew the art of the Friend Zone before us kids gave it a name). She would never go out with a guy alone, there was always people – a double date. I can’t tell if this was a strategy, or if that was how things went for her. She was kind of going out with this guy named Bud, or at least, she would sit next to him whenever they went out to bowling and shows with friends.
Her friend Pat, who also worked at the shop, filled her in on who Bud was. There were four regulars that worked for BC District, what she filled me in on as being a courier service. (I asked what that was specifically and she said they delivered parcels, which is different than the post office – think FedEx).
She refers to the four as ‘boys,’ not men, and not guys.
So there were four boys that worked for BC District and would come in for coffee. One of them was Bud. Martha had met three of them, but not the fourth, so she asked Pat who the last boy was. Pat told her that his name was Peter and that he was the tallest of the four boys, had curly blonde hair and blue eyes. Martha laughed when she said that, and said that description sounded good to her.
She asked Bud one day why she had never met the fourth courier boy, Peter. He told her that he didn’t come in because he was trying to save money for his marriage. Martha went to Pat and told her this, and Pat said that she knew for sure that Peter wasn’t dating anybody and thought he was saving money for university, not marriage.
Martha and I shared a good astonished laugh when she told me that Bud had lied to her because he really liked her and didn’t want her to think Peter was available.
The day that Peter came into the jiffy coffee shop, Martha knew exactly who he was. He sat down in her section and ordered his usual, a glass of milk and a glazed doughnut. (Can we even order those two things together these days?)
She brought him the glazed doughnut and went to grab his glass of milk. When she came back to him, she looked right at Peter and not at where she was placing the glass and she ended up catching the side of the plate as she set it down.
I asked her why she was so nervous, and she seemed a bit offended by that question.
She wasn’t nervous, she just happened to be looking at him, and not at where the milk was going – just to be clear.
Martha had dumped milk all over Peter and his work uniform. She apologized profusely and figured she had just lost her job. Peter grabbed his doughnut off the plate and walked out of the shop. Meanwhile, Martha grabbed towels to clean up the mess and expected to be fired any minute.
She explained to me that when she was hired, she warned her boss that she had a lot of experience working, but not as a waitress. There weren’t too many people left in the restaurant, but the ones that were all had their heads in their arms laughing at her. She said that someone came up and told her that she looked exactly like Lucille Ball when that happened and that she should have had it filmed. Lucille Ball was the actress of the silly show, I Love Lucy, in case you didn’t know.
Martha said that when Peter went back to his friends with his doughnut, they asked him if he had met the new waitress. He laughed and said “yes, she’s a clumsy little thing.”
Martha cracked a cheeky wrinkled smile when she said that. I’m guessing Peter must have told her that years later.
When Martha left the store that night, her boss yelled out “see you tomorrow Martha!” and didn’t fire her like she expected.
Fast forward to New Years Eve.
She and a few people decided they would go see a show, the word she uses to refer to a movie, and then go on Granville street and have fun in the NYE atmosphere.
I told her that that’s still something people in Vancouver like to do.
She was the first to be shown a seat by the usher and it was dark so she stumbled across and wasn’t aware of who was next to her. It turns out Peter had chosen to sit next to her, she explained sheepishly. She then looked at me and said “when it turned midnight…” and nodded at me with a smile. I yelled, “he kissed you!” And she smiled really big.
Martha was living in Kits at the time, and Peter asked her if he could walk her home that same night. She was perfectly happy walking herself home, she “did it all the time,” but he insisted.
On their way home, they crossed the Burrard Street Bridge and stopped on what she calls one of the ‘cubbies.’ I think that’s just a little lookout place where today, you stand in so you don’t get hit by bikes and joggers.
Martha said the weather that night was beautiful; it was clear and wasn’t raining. He pointed out parts of the city that she had never heard of, like the lighthouse in Lighthouse Park. Peter told her he had heard she was going back to Manitoba in March – she calls it ‘heading back East.’ He asked if she would consider staying, “Vancouver is beautiful in the summer.”
I told her that people still say that about Vancouver.
I loved the picture of the two of them strolling home, in the 1930s, high on life because it was the start of a new year and they were becoming more than strangers, smack dab in the middle of Vancouver with the most beautiful view of the city.
That was 80 years ago.
She paused from her stories and said that that was the start of her and Peter.
From then on , they got to know each others tastes. I think she meant that literally, and metaphorically, based on the story she told next.
Peter asked her if she liked milkshakes.
(Immediately my brain was all like, “my milkshake brings all the boys to the yard.”) and Martha answered “why, yes.”
“What’s your favourite milkshake flavour?”
(“…and they’re like, it’s better than yours…”)
“Pineapple.” she answered.
“Why, that’s my favourite flavour as well!” And from then on, they were regulars at this little ice cream place on Smithe and Burrard.
(It went something like that).
She told me that neither of them had a lot of money, and she made sure to pay for her own ticket at a show they saw the weekend after NYE. After the show they went to the little ice cream place, and they decided that it would be cheaper to order a large milkshake then order two small ones. So they got their milkshake, but it only came with one spoon and one straw.
Martha opted for the straw and let Peter have the spoon. She thought that was hilarious.
She said that they would take turns trading back and forth so they could each enjoy the utensils they were given.
The girl who worked at the place saw their struggle, that I’m sure they didn’t think was a struggle, and brought them two spoons every time they came in after that.
Martha said they got to know her well, and that her name was Sarah too.
I loved that.
Martha continued and said that one day a few months later, she and Peter walked back across the Burrard Street Bridge and stopped in one of the ‘cubbies.’ He had been telling her that it was his dream to leave the city and buy a boat and travel up the Coast. She said that he had noticed that she was really falling in love with the West Coast. He told her that he thought she would really enjoy the journey up the coast by boat and that they could run away for a weekend, leaving on Friday night and returning on Sunday night.
He asked her what she thought of that.
She told him shyly that she couldn’t do that sort of thing.
He looked at her and said “well, we’d be married of course!”
And that is how he proposed to her in May, 1936.
It was on the Burrard Street Bridge, talking about the Coast and his plans for the future he saw together.
They had only known each other for three months when Peter proposed.
They were going to celebrate their 65th wedding anniversary the year after Peter passed away.
I hope you too are hungry for a milkshake, and that like me, you will never see the Burrard Street Bridge in the same way.
When she was explaining all of this to me, I was giddy with the understanding of exactly who she was in her memory. She was 22 and she was checking out the local boys in her new Vancouver digz. I think I can guess that Martha, in 1935, was starry eyed and amazed by how big the world was outside her hometown. I bet she even walked past that stupid gastown steam clock when it actually ran on steam, and not batteries.