By Liz Carroll
Norma McColl wasn’t looking for an octogenarian occupation. She was just waving at people passing by the Glensheil Retirement Residences, her Douglas Street home. She wasn’t the only waver although she was probably the most consistent. There are a lot of passersby.
Glenshiel Activity Director, Natalia Baraniecka, aware of the waving, came up with the idea of message paddles, and made it a project. The seniors decided on the greetings while she made white cardboard speech bubbles painted with their sayings. “Hi There” or “Hello” on one side, “Looking Great,” “You’re Awesome,” “Bundle Up”, and others on the flip side.
For most participants waving became a once in awhile thing. But Norma had found her calling. It became her all day activity of choice. Her life-partner, Chuck Desmarais, waves with her.
“I sometimes see people looking sad, upset. I wave a greeting. They smile and wave back. Their day might be better. I almost feel as if I’m letting them down if I’m not there.”
She’s probably right. The phrase I heard most is “She makes my day.” And it’s not just from locals. Tourists, especially cruisers, seem to find a smiling wave a better souvenir than a fridge magnet. Some couples even drop in to say hello after waving.
Obviously delighted, Hawri Rasch from Sweden took a picture from the sidewalk. “It makes Victoria feel like a very friendly place,”
Gina, who lives nearby agrees. “I’d just moved here and was on my way to find a grocery store, was feeling a bit overwhelmed, when Norma waved her ‘looking good’ paddle. It absolutely made my day, it gave me such a good feeling about moving to Victoria.” Now she visits Norma and loves her stories.
There’s a constant stream of pedestrian traffic and, after a delightful hour with Norma and her paddles, I’d estimate 90% cheerfully acknowledge the greetings. Brisk business types give a quick wave, dog walkers shake their pet’s paws, tourists take pictures, teenagers shape their hands into hearts. Norma and Chuck react positively in their side by side easy chairs. From both sides of the looking glass window this is a win-win experience
Young, adventurous Norma, in New Westminster, would never have envisioned an easy chair in her future. (Who does?) “I loved wheels,” she says glowing with the memory of motorcycles and pick-up trucks, even a sedate Austin. And there was the time she fitted a rowboat with street skates and rode down a New Westminster hill. “That got me in a bit of trouble.”
She had a couple of less than great marriages but has three really great children: Louise in Vancouver, Susan in New Brunswick and Bill Winter who lives in James Bay. “His wife Brenda is like a precious daughter to me.”
Life has given her empathy for people who pass by the window. Even the gloomy ones. Especially the gloomy ones. “They need a smile and a wave.”
If passersby who revel in being acknowledged had their own paddles they would probably read “Hi, there, Norma. You’re awesome!”