I imagine the Edmonton Transit bus barns of 40 years ago, smelling of gasoline and oil, their size dwarfing even the enormous city buses. The blue-uniformed drivers share stories of their routes, while leaning on the sides of their buses. The high ceilings swallow up their words and the strumming of the engines.
For years, the bus barns sat empty. How to fill a building so massive? With tables of green apples, red peppers, oriental paintings and whole-wheat buns. With the sounds of a violin, a banjo, a saxophone and 600 conversations. With the smells of doughnuts, roses and garlic. For 30 years, my family has sold flowers and plants at the Old Strathcona Farmers’ Market.
When I was 17, to finance a trip to the United Kingdom, I grew a field of brown-eyed-Susans, snapdragons and baby’s breath and sold them at the market. During my incorrigible youth, after I’d moved from home, the market was a handy Saturday job. After closing, once the truck was loaded and the sweeping was done, I’d escape my family as fast as I could. My morning’s pay in hand, I’d head over to the Commercial Hotel for the afternoon jam and belly up to the bikers, amidst blue smoke and endless renditions of “Wang Dang Doodle.”
Before I moved to Vancouver, I stood outside the brick walls having a smoke break with a fellow who sold his photos at the market. Across the way, Gazebo Park was filled with goths and granolas, and their representative goth and granola children, yuppies, politicians and protesters. I said, “I’m going to miss this place.” He said, “God, you’re getting all nostalgic and you haven’t even left yet.”
After I moved back to Edmonton, I worked at the market as a soon-to-be-single-mom. The Furniture Guy made a cardboard sign attached to a piece of twine and hung it around my neck over my nine-month pregnant belly. It said, “Please buy. If I sell all my plants, I can go home.”
After my son, Julian, was born, I took him to the market every Saturday to see his grandma. He grew up thinking treats were spanakopita and onion cakes. He became enamoured with a one-man-band busker. I bought Julian a harmonica and he’d blow it in his stroller, on the walk from our south-side Ritchie house, through the back roads, the train yards and industrial areas to the market. Once there, he couldn’t wait to get unbuckled so he could get out and dance.
Cassie Stocks was awarded the 2013 Leacock Medal for Canadian humour writing for her first novel, Dance, Gladys, Dance and was named one of “Ten Writers to Watch” by CBC Books. She has her Bachelor of Applied Communications in Professional Writing Degree from MacEwan University. She currently lives in Saskatchewan with her son and her partner, Mr. G. Every Saturday, she still misses her family in Edmonton and wonders if they’re having a good market day.