The Vancouver Main St. bus was a sea of sweaty elbows and I took purchase on a strap near the front so as to make a quick escape when we got to 12th Ave. I was a brand new letter carrier and still wearing the blue jeans of apprenticeship although I had secured a blue shirt from the cast offs at Station C. I was wearing two pouches with their shoulder harnesses crossed over my chest Juarez style. This was after seeing those thirty year vets in front of me who sported left shoulders a full 2 inches lower than their right ones.
I noticed an attractive woman maybe ten years senior to who stood attired in full blues with a single pouch. She took a wide stance and held a strap near the back aisle of the bus. I hadn't formerly met her yet but recognized her from the morning sort. From time to time I glanced up to meet her gaze. A few blocks from our stop, she spoke in a clear, loud, defiant voice.
“Hey Postie, You too good to come stand back here with me?”
I blushed a bit as the cargo of passengers all turned their eyes on me and then I smiled and ambled back to begin getting acquainted with Judy. We spoke of many things in rapid-fire succession during the remainder of that ride and on the walk back into the station. I had only worked at one other station on Fraser St. and this lady was the first person I got to know out of a crew I would work with from when I had a jet black beard until it turned white.
In time we became coffee buddies at the old Premier Coffee Shop on Main and Broadway prior to making our deliveries as well as sortation row-mates. She was Chinese and had two sons and a Caucasian living partner called Cush who was also a letter-carrier at the same station. Her little house was not far from the workplace and over time I had several massive Christmas dinners there. Many other posties were present at her gatherings and somehow there seemed to be a theme of hard knocks running through the whole crowd at any given time.
I was in the throws of a second mismatched marriage to a Chinese woman and very deeply unhappy about my lot. My life prior to that had been turbulent, violent and chaotic. I soon learned from those gathered as I got to know them that everyone assembled there was carrying heavy loads indeed even after they hung up their mail pouches.
I had put myself on a dry wagon about seven years prior to this after two solid years of very heavy drinking. I soon learned that I couldn't tolerate ethanol even in what used to be considered by me, small amounts. Cush's old car was the last vehicle I ever threw up in. I began to shy away from much social visiting because of my distrust in my ability to avoid the temptation to have just a few. I proved this to be true at the Italian wedding of another postie and after that I just said no.
This in no way curtailed thousands of hours of candid, heart-felt talks and discussions with Judy and very interesting exchanges with Cush on a wide variety of topics. The more her and I talked over the years, the more I felt drawn to her as to say, a newly discovered sister that I hadn't been raised with. There was another component to the magnetism that eventually came out in our coffee talks. Judy was half Native through her birth mother and I was 1/16 Cherokee through my mother.
I learned that her father, a Chinese immigrant had taken her to rural Canton Province at the age of 5 and deposited her there with his wife and family. From that day up to when she managed to escape to Hong Kong as a young teenager and return to Vancouver, she suffered abuse, neglect and the indignities reserved for unwanted slaves. After her arrival to Vancouver she had to fight for everything that eventually came her way.
I have known from around age twelve or so that somewhere in the world I have two half-sisters. They were born in the Colombian jungle and do not know that I or my two other sisters exist. I felt (and still do) an indescribable hollow within my heart even prior to learning of their existence; which only intensified with this revelation. When I learned from Judy that she had a birth mother at large in B.C., I told her that there was every chance that she also had brothers and sisters very close at hand. Thinking of my own empty spot, I encouraged her to look for them. I also made some halfhearted attempts to find my two lost siblings. This was before the days of internet and the Red Cross was to be counted on mainly for people separated by war not by lawyers. One worker even told me that it was possible that if found, my sisters might be upset by the whole affair and wish that I hadn't sought them out.
These matters are emotional nitroglycerin. Judy worked her own way and I mine. Over the years
I came to a second divorce and a third marriage. For my third wedding, I was going to have to take the bus after being financially down for the count. My new wife to be didn't mind this at all and that was one of many reasons she was and is precious to me. At the eleventh hour, I got a call from Judy that a big stretch limo would be pulling up to our apartment to take us to our wedding, courtesy of her and Cush.
There were many moves incurred by my new wife and I and several of the times saw Judy's two sons, Cush and the lady herself helping to shoulder the load. She became an Auntie to my sons and dropped me and my new family off at the airport when I went to the Philippines to meet my new in-laws. I remember finally having the chance to reciprocate when she moved out of her little house. The universe had conspired to place the date of the move on the same afternoon that Steely Dan was doing a live set a few blocks away at Nat Bailey Stadium. It was sublime and is forever etched on the soundtrack of my emotional life.
After that move I only saw her at work until she and Cush retired. I never visited her new place in Delta, B.C. At some point I heard she had moved again and I did not even know where. I finished raising my children, walked off my thirty years delivering mail and retired to my little trailer here in Lillooet.
One afternoon, a year or so before I moved to Lillooet permanently but had already purchased my property, I was at the rifle range by the airport and made the chance acquaintance of a nice young woman who was shooting little pink balloons with a twenty-two. Between salvos, I learned that her father had been a letter-carrier as well. She said that maybe I had come across him. I told her the chances were remote but to go ahead and give me a name.
Upon doing that we both put down our guns and had to call it a day for the name she gave me was known to me. From my first weeks as a postie, thirty years back in the past, I had worked beside her father on Fraser St. at Station O and had also sat at Judy's kitchen table with him to eat and drink. He always stuck in my memory due to his kindness and the fact that he resembled my own father in some of his features. This talk seemed to cloud the thoughts of my new acquaintance and we both headed for our homes to ponder our chance meeting.
I next saw that young woman at the Post Office, in uniform. Well, after my wife and I had settled into our trailer and I was well and truly retired, I had a most curious experience. I was out on the front porch one night and my wife had left the TV on some random channel. As I listened to the night sounds I heard Judy's voice loud and clear from inside the trailer. I ran inside and proceeded to watch her there on the TV telling the whole story of her childhood and her eventual adult confrontation with her step-mother in China as well the search for her birth mother and siblings in B.C.
As I watched and listened to a CBC production entitled Cedar and Bamboo, my neck hair went up. As her story unfolded to a point beyond what I had been privy to and I learned for the first time of her eventual reunion with her Aboriginal family, I was slapped by the familiar magical fishtail of coincidence yet again. For Judy's arduous lifelong search had culminated within a ten minute drive from where I sat. I hadn't spoken to her more than a dozen words in sixteen years, save for one chance encounter at Oakridge Mall in Vancouver before I had retired.
Judy found her half-brothers and sisters and learned of her Mother from one of them. It turned out that the woman had visited a beauty shop in Chinatown that Judy used to own after she was back in Canada and hadn't yet mastered her English for the second time. The poor woman tried in vain to indicate that she was Judy's mother. The young Judy had sent her packing in disbelief. When the siblings were finally located all except one chose not to get to know her. I can say with certainty that this decision is their loss.
I phoned Judy that evening and heard the whole story again from her own lips and filled her in on mine. We swapped addresses again. A year went by. I had a call from her a few days ago and my wife and I were invited to spend the night. We drove down to Maple Ridge and there she was with Cush by her side as well as a middle-aged son and two strapping grandsons. She had a wonderful yard and garden and we dined outside.
I went strolling in her back yard and paused at two large heavily laden fig trees. I looked back at her and started to formulate a question, which she answered before I could ask. Yes, those trees were from several sticks I had been gifted by the Calabrian father of another postie friend of mine. The man had nurtured them at his own houses since before I was born and when his son brought them to me at work, I was living in an apartment and asked Judy if she could plant them in her yard. She took them thirty years ago planted them and took shoots to each of her other houses every time she moved. I got to taste one for the first time.
It was a wonderful visit and from what I could see Judy in her seventies is just getting warmed up. At almost sixty, I remain her little brother standing in awe of her power, strength, goodness and loyalty. Today as I write this, it is her birthday and I wish her many, many more. It occurs to me as I close this narrative that I may never find those two Colombian half-sisters of mine on this side of life but I cannot deny having been blessed with a soul sister to more than make up for it.
I remember being phoned one rainy evening more than twenty years ago by Judy that a favorite movie of mine was going to be on TV that night. It was Spencer Tracy in The Old Man And The Sea. She remembered me mentioning the book and film during one of our morning talks at the Premier. I would have missed it for sure among the commotion of diapers and bedtime stories that were going on at my place that evening. It was the kind of a thing a sister would do for you.
I figure now, upon reflection that the big marlin was like those sought after, yearned for, missing siblings that populated both our lives. When strong, whole and healthy, the fish was like the soul brothers and sisters we are all gifted with by the Creator who doesn't reckon lineage the same way we do. If we are like Santiago, desperate to row into the port of our lives with our official prize, there may be nothing to show but the skeleton of estranged siblings after the sharks are done. I think the trick is recognizing what is yours without having to own it. In fact sister, I know that's the case.
Michael Hawes was born in Texas, raised in Louisiana and lives in British Columbia.