It sometimes seems to take an eternity for things to happen, especially when we are waiting on tenterhooks. “A watched pot never boils,” they say. I thought about that proverb and its meaning after our creative writing class last Monday. I was waiting to merge with other traffic funneling toward the Lions Gate Bridge. There was no need to press my foot to the gas peddle; releasing the brake every few seconds was enough to keep up with the traffic. It was like waiting for a pot to boil.
It is when we’re not watching and waiting impatiently for something to happen, that changes seem to occur in the blink of an eye. Case in point are the “then and now” pictures of Vancouver. They always intrigue me. I must not have been paying attention when Vancouver grew during my lifetime from a city with around half a million people to one with more than two million.
The Marine Building on the downtown waterfront would have been clearly visible from the Lions Gate Bridge when it first opened to traffic in the autumn of 1938. Although then it was the tallest building in Vancouver, now it is dwarfed by a cluster of modern towers and is no longer visible. The 48-floor Wall Centre is Vancouver’s tallest building, but not for long; that designation will soon go to the 62-floor Shangri-La now under construction. Vancouver is definitely growing up!
I was five years old in 1950 when my family moved to Lynn Valley. Fewer than 16,000 people lived in the District of North Vancouver then, compared with the over 82,000 residents counted there during the last census. My Dad built a rancher on the south-east corner of Fromme and Wellington, a quiet area with no streetlights, curbs, sidewalks, or nearby neighbours. The towering forest around our home was an idyllic place for blazing trails and building hideouts in the daytime. But it came alive on stormy nights with black ferocious monsters, their long arms whipping wildly in the wind. The forest has since been replaced with rows of houses; two narrow ones occupy the space where our rancher once stood. Curbs, sidewalks, and lights line the streets.
I was still inching my way toward the Lions Gate Bridge and thinking about how much the city has changed, when something dawned on me; I might be over the exact spot where the toll booths once stood. My Dad always fretted about paying the 10 cent toll to cross the bridge. That issue became the reason my family moved back to Vancouver after living only one year in Lynn Valley.
“This will be our last move,” Mom announced, her fists planted firmly on her hips and her chin held high. She meant it. After our move from Lynn Valley to Dunbar Street, we didn’t move again for 13 years.
I had finally maneuvered into the single lane of bridge traffic heading downtown. I was on my way to “play” with Bonnie, my oldest, dearest, and most influential friend. We had met on moving day in the autumn of 1951.
“Juuuuudddeeeeee. Can you come out to play?” Bonnie used to call so many years ago. It seemed pointless to walk all the way over to our house next door to ask the question when it could simply be hollered from her back porch. Today we still ask each other the same question: “Can you come out to play?”
When Bonnie first told me her name, she sang it like they were song lyrics: “Bonnie-Ta-Julie-Jang!” For a long time I thought “Ta” was an odd middle name. I had finally accepted it as just that – odd – when I finally got it! When “Ta” is added to “Bonnie” you get “Bonita.” Mystery solved!
Though we lived in town, Bonnie and I had ponies. Hers was called “Pony Grey” although it was green. I always wished my pony had a name. I must have believed that ponies came with names and that for some unknown reason mine just didn’t get one. “Why did it never occur to me to give it a name?” I wonder. Bonnie and I would bounce along, side by side, holding our invisible reins like the Lone Ranger and Tonto; we never failed to catch the bad guys.
When we revisited our back lane in 1988, we were horrified to discover that Pony Grey and my pony with no name were gone. The old handrails alongside the back stairs had been replaced years before and posts no longer stood at the bottom. There was no place to put our saddles! What a travesty!
Bonnie phoned me on her cell phone a couple of years ago. “Listen to this,” she said. She held her phone so that I, too, could hear the cacophony of crashing and scraping sounds and the growling of heavy equipment. Our homes which had seemed so substantial were quickly being reduced to a heap of rubble. Now an upscale Dunbar condominium development occupies the south end of the block.
“Thank heavens some things never change, Bon!” I exclaimed last Monday. Bonnie and I had just been seated at a window table at the Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts Restaurant at the entrance to Granville Island and were handed menus. I couldn’t wait to share my relief with her. The feeling was palpable.
“When I was driving over here to meet you,” I said, “I got to thinking about how much Vancouver has changed in our lifetime. Our old homes are gone, swept away like they were made of paper mache. Even the Granville Island we knew when we were kids is unrecognizable.”
“Yes,” she said. “Remember when Dad would bring us around here in the boat? It was a muddy industrial area then.”
Bonnie turned and we both looked out across the yacht basin to Granville Island and the city skyline beyond it. The factories we remembered were now galleries, theatres, restaurants, and market. On the opposite shore, cranes intermingling with new highrises indicated more changes were coming.
I continued, “When I was waiting in slow-moving traffic to cross the Lions Gate Bridge, I thought about my next creative writing topic: ‘A watched pot never boils.’ I realized I was waiting for that proverbial ‘pot to boil’ at that exact moment. The proverb was a catalyst because it led me to think about what happens when we’re not paying close attention, when we’re not waiting for the pot to boil. Changes seem to happen much more quickly. Look at how much Vancouver has changed since you and I were young. The changes didn’t seem so dramatic when they were happening.”
“But when you and I get together, dear friend, the changes brought about by the passing years seem to fall away. For awhile it is almost as if we are kids again, and for that I am grateful. In our hearts, we are still the same little girls that rode Pony Grey and the pony with no name, the same ones that played jacks, cutouts, and baseball with other neighbourhood kids on 18th Avenue using the trees for bases. We might still have the same urge to stamp our feet on mountain ash berries to make them pop or on mud puddles to cause the icy crust to break. We can still stay up talking until the wee hours of the morning and shriek with laughter over private jokes. The only difference is that now no one tells us we need to turn off the lights and get to sleep.”
“Hey, Bon! Can you come out to play again tomorrow?”
February 11, 2008.