Driving down through Rossland on the way to Trail in the deepest of winter is an experience worth having. The road drops at angles that are dizzying and almost every corner has a 'runaway lane' for trucks to use when the brakes fail. We had a day off before lecturing in Castlegar so we decided to take a day trip around the area where I grew up. While most in Salmo seemed to prefer Nelson as a place to shop on Saturdays, my parents preferred Trail. Every Friday night we went to bed knowing that the morning would be the weekly visit to the city to get groceries and my brother and I would spend our allowance.
We'd park near the grocery store and then we'd all head our separate ways. My brother always started by going to the record store and check out various 45's that were on the 'hit parade' that week. I would sneak away and walk a few blocks to a book store. It was my private discovery. They had several things that attracted me. A wall of magazines. A wall of books. But the best thing there were the owners. A wonderful couple. Their store was warm with welcome and cheery with laughter. They loved books, they loved those who loved books and they were genuine in their manner.
It didn't take long for them to notice the young fat boy who came every Saturday and loitered around, drinking in the atmosphere, smiling at their jokes with others. They asked me my name and then welcomed me every Saturday, by name. I came to really look forward to my few minutes there every week. It seemed like safe harbour. I knew nothing of them - only that they were Christian, that they were parents, that they loved books.
I met their son a couple of times and managed to do so without staring. He was the first child I ever saw with Down Syndrome. There were no kids like that at our school, in our neighbourhood, in our social world. He was there on the occasional Saturday and I remembered him playing in a small area behind the counter. I saw them with him and wondered at the love that poured out towards that kid. I wondered then if this child is what made them different. Made their hearts wider. Made them capable of gentleness with strangers.
One day I was in the store and I heard a gasp and turned and saw the owner pick a purse up from the floor by the register. She looked at me quickly and said, "Can you watch my son for me? I'll just be a second." I nodded and she ran out of the store after the purse's owner. I looked at the little boy who looked at me. He smiled. So did I.
"Your mom will be right back," I said.
He nodded, gravely.
I stood looking out the window, not knowing what to say. He came and stood beside me and took my hand. Together we stood there waiting for his mother to return.
It was the first time I had cared for another.
And I was hooked.