Travelers return from a vacation with souvenirs and a suntan. Others come home with beautiful photographs and empty purses. I, on the other hand, am a collector of observable moments.
Writers worth their weight in gold are natural people watchers, and although I am not one that carries around a black moleskin notebook, I do record mentally what is happening when I am out in public, and hopefully, I blend into the background.
Without throwing the salt shaker over my shoulder for good fortune, later snippets of this or that will show up in my work at the critical moment when most needed. Other times they stay stored in my head for years, and I am as surprised as the next person when my fingers start typing on the keyboard and a personality from a long ago chance encounter somewhere appears just as real as day.
I have trained myself to visualize down to the smallest detail such as in this trio of flash non-fiction from a recent visit to Niagara Falls, Ontario.
Each piece occurs in a different restaurant and with a rather varied cast of characters. I just happen to be sitting in the right place all three times, and I cast no judgment on what I observe.
The dad had been occupying a large table by the window and waiting with a cup of coffee for the family to arrive from upstairs, and as they do, each child gives him a big hug and a good morning greeting. He has that teddy bear feel to him and his squeezes are warm and natural like it’s an everyday occurrence.
Right away the family fans out in all directions to check out their food options. One by one each child comes back to the table with her plate loaded with personal choices, and between give-and-take conversation planning out their touring day, they eat a hearty meal. The smells of fruit, pancakes and bacon abound along with a laughter level suitable for a public place. There is not a picky eater in attendance, and the boxed Fruit Loops are consumed equally as well as the hand-built omelet. I get the impression that this family is comfortable dining out.
Once the middle-sized child slips out her iPhone and her dad immediately gives her a knowing look with an arch to his dark eyebrow. She slips it back into her jeans pocket, and resumes eating her waffles topped with whipped cream and strawberries while pulling back her long brown hair into a ponytail.
When it looks like the family is all finished, the youngest daughter decides that she wants an extra serving of white toast. She swings her pink Ugg boots underneath the table, and politely asks the waiter. Everyone waits patiently while her order is filled. She carefully butters and spreads on the grape jelly thickly with spillage over the crusts onto her fingers. She takes bites as if she doesn't have a care in the world. The teenage sister rolls her eyes, and resumes chatting with her mom about a potential shopping excursion.
There is no whining, sulking or barbs between sisters that could launch off into a tirade or two. It’s not a “les misérables” family vacation gone sour before it gets off the ground at first base. Mom is relaxing into her own space and dad is stepping up to the plate taking charge.
Did I mention that there is a seventh member of the family present? The tiny grandmother is the most inconspicuous of the entire group, and whether or not she was already tired of it all and tuning it out, is not my concern.
Niagara Falls is for lovers, and the elegantly dressed white-haired French couple in their seventies sit side by side in the round upholstered booth facing the colorful illuminated falls view while sipping white wine. By the second glass their bodies are closer together almost rubbing shoulders and his hand rests over hers. They leave in a glow after a third glass, and my guess as to the rest of the evening is as good as yours.
A spindly size zero woman continues her lettuce leaf regimen and is in agony from her facial expression with every mouthful of caloric intake. She painfully picks away at her veggie plate as an afterthought not letting the meal get the best of her waisteline.
I wonder if her shopping afternoon was more satisfying, and she cashed in on the value of the dollar; or could it have been the hours in the spa slathered in the latest skin hydrotherapeutic regime while drinking seaweed brew by the gallons that made it a super day.
Her partner’s meal is sweet potato encrusted Atlantic salmon and he consumes every mouthful with no guilt whatsoever while expounding upon the layers of flavors to the disnterested skinny woman seated across from him.
A winter getaway to Niagara Falls is a great opportunity if you handle cold weather optimistically. The Butterfly Conservancy. The ice wine. The gorge overlook walk.The friendly attitude of the Canadians.