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I Called the Front

As a young child I had to wait my turn to get the front seat. This was before airbags and booster seats, in a day when some of our friends looked at my dad funny when he asked them to buckle up. I loved sitting close to my mom and the radio, where the windows rolled down more than half way and the cigarette smoke whooshed out instead of going up your nose.

In elementary school I was always one of the shortest kids, which secured me a place in the front bleachers for things like class pictures and choir recitals. But as I got older and caught up with the crowd, I learned to blend in. It was then that I started to choose seats at the back. First on the yellow bus in grade seven and eight and then on the city bus to high school. I often think about Finite class in my final year, where I sat at the back near my boyfriend's posse. It was the first class I almost failed, and I knew I'd need to move away from the giggles and note passing if I wanted to pass. For about a week or so I did take a seat up at the front, but I dropped out soon after that, unable to handle life in the trenches. By the time I got to university I was an expert at living my back seat life. I'd choose the furthest seat from the professors, where no one would possibly expect me to raise my hand or speak out. And, most recently, after returning to church as an adult, I picked the furthest seat from the minister, where my children and I couldn't possibly cause a scene.

A few months ago though, one of the other church mothers invited me to sit with her after the kids went down to the Sunday school. I grabbed the coats and followed her all the way to the first pew.

"I never sit at the front," I whispered, taking the seat next to her.

"Really? My kids like to sit right where the action is," she said, with a smile that showed she wanted to be there too.

Action, I wanted to laugh, but she was right. This was where the action was. Besides being able to hear everything that was said and done, we were right there when the power point broke and the organist was forced to improvise. We could even hear the panic in the substitute minister's whisper. Should she try to kill time since the Sunday school kids were late for communion? This is where a writer belongs, I thought to myself.

On a bus trip a few weeks ago, I tried the front seat again. At first when I stepped on I walked to the back as I normally would. I placed my knapsack on the seat next to me and stretched out as big as I could in hopes that no other human would sit next to me. But as the Greyhound weaved through the first mountain pass, I felt my stomach going with it. I had no choice but to move closer to the front of the bus. This time, with my stomach still queasy, I chose the first seat right behind the driver, where a giant window filled my row with sunlight. Though at first I felt a bit like the teacher's pet up so close to the driver, by the second stop I was confident I had made the right decision. The space and the view inspired me to work diligently on my current work-in-progress, while the soft voice of the driver lulled me to sleep after a broken reading light forced my books to close.

It was at Vancouver's most popular Starbucks where I found myself standing at the back again. I ordered a medium coffee, and then shrugged as the young girl looked at me is if I had given the wrong answer. When she had written something on a cup I went over and stood by a counter, where I thought customers waited for beverages. A few minutes passed and nobody offered me my drink. Back at the service counter I arrived just in time to see the barista pour my coffee down the drain.

"I thought you left," she said, when I reminded her what I had ordered.

"I thought I was supposed to wait back there," I said, pointing around the corner. She shook her head at me and passed me a fresh cup.

As I drank my bitter grande on the city bus to Grandma's, I hoped no one had seen my small town blunder. I was at the back again, or at least close to the back doors, where I spent most of the ride wishing people wouldn't pollute my space with their cell phone conversations. It wasn't until my grandfather led me into their suite that I realized the true importance of choosing the right seat. There sat my beautiful dying grandmother, in my grandfather's chair. The same chair we had wrestled him in for years while he pretended to read his newspaper. The chair where he had taught me to whistle, and where there was a little mousy that ran way up there. This was the place where he had enjoyed his morning coffee and afternoon snooze ever day of his life. Yet here, for the first time was Grandma, half her usual size, stretched out in her husband's throne.

"We all have a thousand stories, and my life has had no more or fewer than others. But stories, carefully chosen and shaped both by the teller and the listener, can open gateways into our interior landscape, can reveal the meaning in our lives enfolded in the details and unfold in the telling and conscious contemplation." Oriah M. Dreamer

2 total marks.

Posted by Tara:

Thanks! Jennifer Louden is a hero of mine. Her Comfort Queen book helped me through a particularly difficult time when my babies were taking over my life (as they should). I used to love her podcasts, as her voice somehow soothed my soul. I was glad to find that she is blogging again. While she was on her sabbatical I discovered "The Writer's Group" blog, which sort of filled the void. Hope you enjoy your summer with your kids!
6.05.08 @ 21:30

Posted by Kathleen Botsford:

I love your writing! I am so glad I found you! I rarely read the newsletters I get but Jennifer Louden's this morning connected me to you. Good luck with your book. Small children and writing, you are my hero!
6.04.08 @ 9:25

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