A girl walks into a cafe….
So, I had lunch with Rosie the Riveter yesterday. The conversation was unexpected and quite profound so I thought I’d retell the details below. Enjoy!
It’s been wild and crazy in Fluvial world, as always, and yesterday was more of the same. I was travelling between work locations and needed to pick up lunches for a team of vendors so after a quick Yelp check, I settled on a sandwich shop boasting homemade bread and tasty soup. I walked in, ordered the lunches, and proceeded to check my calendar to prep for the insanely busy afternoon ahead. I then heard someone say “Sweetie, come sit here with me and talk.” I looked up and saw that it was a lady and a gentleman probably in their 80s and when I looked up, the lady again motioned for me to come over.
(Pause: Seattle can be a super passive aggressive town and we have a reputation for avoiding interactions with strangers whenever possible.)
Not being one for social conformity, I decided to go over and chat. The conversation got pretty deep pretty fast and went something like this:
Lady: “I like your coat! All the pockets! Back before the war, we didn’t have any choices.”
Me: “Oh thank you! Yes, I’m grateful for the choices we have today”
Lady: “Do you have children?”
Me; “No, not yet. Maybe next year.”
Lady: “But you’re married, right?”
Me: “Yes. You?”
Lady: “Oh good. My husband and I have been married for 67 years!! We have 5 children and they’ve all grown up to be people we really like. They fight over who gets to take care of us and we just love them so much. You know, I was a newlywed before The Pill so I didn’t have the choices you have today. I had 13 pregnancies but only have 5 children. All the others died at 7 months while I was pregnant. When you lose a baby that way, it hurts just as much as it would if they died at 1 year of age.”
Woah. I was so grateful for her honesty and openness because it’s true, for all the political vitriol spewed about reproductive choice, it’s easy to forget the personal stories about families like hers. This woman delivered 8 (EIGHT!!!) still born babies and looked me straight in the eye and told me that she’s grateful that women now have a choice about when to have children. That’s powerful.
She then told me how she met her husband which went something like this: During WW II, she built C-47s and would hide notes in the plane to give the soldiers something fun to discover while in-flight. Turns out, her husband was a paratrooper and ended up flying in one of the planes she helped to build. He read the notes and realized he grew up in the same town as the author. Flash to a few years later, and the two meet at church! In her words “At that point, I had to marry him.” :)
We talked about her children a little more and how much she loves them. How they all grew up to be “…people we like” and their involvement with charitable organizations and causes.
At this point, my order has been ready for a while and is getting cold and I realize that I’m late for my meeting. So, I reluctantly told her that I needed to leave. When I asked her name, she told her real name but asked that I call her by her (incredibly awesome) nickname.
And with that, I returned to work. A few takeaways:
1. It’s awesome that she felt no fear in asking a total stranger to come over and chat with her.
2. Local involvement. She and her husband had been coming to the same cafe for years. She told me that the current owner came here for Laos and had trained with the original owner to learn how to make everything on the menu and continues to bake things the way they’ve always been baked for years.
3. Gratitude for progress. It was the part about her being grateful for today’s reproductive choices that gave me pause. She’s right. I am so lucky to be able to choose my pregnancies and, for the most part, it’s also my choice to end them should the need arise. Having a woman in her 80s remind me of this was pretty powerful.
4. Happy Spouse -> Happy House. She also opened up about her husband’s struggle with mental illness (we covered a lot of ground in 20 minutes) before the days of compassionate mental health care and, again, I was struck by the love and practicality she brought to her analysis. They loved each other and just made it work. You don’t stay married for 67 years by accident and I was blown away by her humor and vulnerability.
5. NICKNAMES! This is not the first time a woman ‘of a certain age’ has given me her nickname in response to the question ‘What’s your name’. While I’m going to withhold her name/nickname for the sake of anonymity, trust me, it was awesome. Another lady once told me “My real name is sldfjsldf but when I’m naughty, my husband calls me Darla!” (I don’t remember her real name because ‘Darla’ was the only person I met that night). I need a nickname. Seriously.
So yes, when asking if you should go talk to sweet elderly people in a random cafe, the answer is always yes.