"Hey Omie," she said in her text, "looks like it's looking good for getting the rats in Owen Sound. I will have enough money on the 30th. Are you still able to drive me?"
She doesn't know this, but I would go to the ends of the earth for any of my grandchildren. On second thought, maybe she does know it.
I knew that Tori's mom probably knew nothing of these arrangements and I was right, but Brenda was not surprised--Tori is independent by nature and goes about her life capably, just getting things done.
Following the recent death through a respiratory infection, of one of her two beloved pet rats; Tori did her own research. She said she did not want to buy one from a pet store, as they would have likely come from a "rat mill." She wanted a healthy rat, and this is how we came to be going to Owen Sound.
If I were her parent, I am sure I would have said, "Owen Sound? Surely you can find a rat somewhere closer than Owen Sound!" But I am her Omie, so I told her that it would be a treat to spend this time with her, and sent her several dates that I was available to make the trip. Instead of speaking common sense into her life as a parent would feel compelled to do, I wanted to support her in a plan that she had made all by herself, without second guessing it.
Tori informed me that she was still in discussions with the breeder. She promised to text me again soon.
Her next text said, "Hey Omie, do you think you would be available to drive me to Owen Sound next week on Sunday, Monday, Wednesday or Friday?"
Before I could actually answer, another text arrived, "Or I guess just Sunday or Friday actually. I forgot about school."
We settled on Friday, January 30th, which was a P.A. day for Tori, and met in Newmarket in the late afternoon, setting off in a north westerly direction for Georgian Bay on Lake Huron. The Owen Sound address was safely entered into my GPS; the empty rat cage and a large towel lay on the back seat. The weather was crisp and clear, and light snow drifted in the air.
As we approached the town of Alliston we decided to stop at McDonalds for supper to go. With a delicious sense of adventure we ate our food in a car full of the fragrance of fries. Tori told me that she had met Melissa, the woman she was buying the rats from in a rat forum on the internet. Who knew there were such things? Not me. Lily and Rue, one year old rats, she said, were rescued from a breeder that got tired of breeding rats and was instead selling them off as snake food. What a fate they had narrowly escaped.
I learned a lot on our drive as Tori shared the process of introducing the new rats to the environment of her remaining rat, Dante. I was impressed by the trouble she had gone to in learning how to go about it properly. It wasn't as simple as opening a cage door and saying, "Welcome home." There was sanitizing of cages to remove scents and introductions for short periods of time until they gradually accepted one another. All very carefully done!
The road wound on and on, it seemed, but we chatted about this and that, and we got stuck right behind a road sander for several miles, which I was too nervous to risk overtaking on the bendy road. Tori didn't seem to mind. I kept her informed of the countdown of kilometers as we neared our destination, and she grew more excited with every update.
Owen Sound, for most of it's history was a major port city, once known as "the Chicago of the north." It has a magnificent harbour and bay according the city's website; and two winding rivers, tree lined streets and four conservation areas. Unfortunately all of this was lost on us as we arrived in the dark, while concentrating on following the instructions of the GPS.
Soon we were at our destination, a parking lot surrounded by quiet streets and snowbanks so high we couldn't see over them. The town clock was chiming 7 o'clock as we exited the car and crossed the street, headed towards a long row of Edwardian houses.
Tori's confidence momentarily forsook her when we stood before the door, and she stepped slightly behind me so that I would knock. But it was opened by a short, softly rounded woman with a kind and friendly face, brown eyes and a mane of long, dark, curly hair. "Hi, I'm Melissa," she said, "come on in." Tori stepped ahead, brave once more, and excited to meet her rats. I stayed by the door until a young man came down. "Hi, I'm Andrew," he said, smiling, "take off your boots and come into the living room."
The house had high ceilings and was old, but painted tastefully, spotlessly clean, and neat as a pin. Andrew, after chatting for a few moments went back upstairs, and we could hear him laughing with someone.
Melissa and Tori were talking "rat talk" and Tori was handling Rue, the silver grey, who promptly climbed behind her kneck,went down the back of her coat, and had to be carefully retrieved. Tori was calmer than I would have been! Lily was a lovely champagne colour with pink eyes. Tori loved them both.
After a little time for them to get used to Tori, I went to get the car so that they would have less time exposed to the cold outside. Tori climbed into the back seat for the drive home, so that she could be beside her rats, blissfully happy, although she acknowledged, "I had no idea that Owen Sound was so far away."
All of the evening had been wonderful and the return journey, as always seems to happen with return journeys, went faster. Because Tori was focused on her rats, I turned on the radio on and found The New Classical 102.9 FM . All the way back to Alliston, where we had stopped at McDonalds earlier, I enjoyed beautiful music. We stopped at Tim Hortons this time, for tea and an apple fritter for me and hot chocolate and a Boston cream donut for Tori.
As we set off for the last hour of our journey home, we were back in range of CBC radio, and I tuned into Ideas, one of the many CBC programs I enjoy listening to. It was on social justice and forgiveness, and an interview with a woman who had worked with the widows of men murdered by Eugene de Kock, a former South African police colonel and assasin under the Apartheid regime. He had been known as Prime Evil. Unbelievably, both the widows and this woman had found it in their hearts to forgive this man for the atrocities that had affected them so directly.
I heard a sound from the back seat, Tori talking to the rats, so I turned the radio off, to engage her in conversation, as I had thought she was asleep. That was when she said, "Would you mind turning the radio back on Omie? It was interesting."
Suddenly my 16 year old granddaughter, a kindred spirit on many levels had given me an insight into who she is becoming; a young woman who is interested in matters of social justice and in thinking through complex issues of good and evil. She has been on two trips to the far north as a volunteer, seeing for herself the reality of life on a First Nations reservation but teenagers don't reveal much of what is going on in their heads. I wait for moments of spontaneous conversation and connection, which is why I was happy to drive to Owen Sound on a quest to find two pet rats.
We spent the last half hour of our drive listening together to a program that held us in its thrall.
At 10.00 on the dot, we were back at Tori's home and her older sister Tippy, the only one still up, was anxious to meet Lily and Rue.
I hugged them both, whispered, "Goodnight," and hopped back in my warm car to started for home, grateful for the all the gifts of the evening. It was so much more than a trip to pick up rats. It was about supporting someone I love in the execution of a large plan and in doing so, helping them grow in confidence. And I had a glimpse of the interests forming in a girl growing fast towards womanhood;; a glimpse that showed me that we will have even more to share with every year that passes. All God's gifts are precious and sometimes he throws in an extra special one.