Saturday, May 28, 2011

Familiar Strangers

You know who I mean - those people you see all the time, but never really know.

The man in the red truck you pass at the light every morning.
The lady with the bright pink running shoes you pass on your weekend walk.
The family who shops at the grocery store at the same time you do every week.

In our family, we make up stories about some of them. Our favourite was Herb. He was an elderly gentleman who sat at the picnic table outside his apartment building when I drove the kids to the babysitter's before work. We never spoke to him, but we looked for him every morning. I don't remember which of us came up with the name Herb.

It got to the point where the kids would wave. Herb never waved back. Not sure if he ever saw them wave. One day Herb was joined by a lady friend. Then she started showing up regularly. When it became a daily thing, we dubbed her Herbette.

Then one day, Herb wasn't there. Ever again. We looked every morning. We decided not to stop and ask. Herb and Herbette had obviously taken off to enjoy a vacation somewhere and liked it so much they stayed... That's our story and we're sticking to it. The alternative is too hard.

I discovered another familiar stranger in my life passed away over the weekend. We'd dubbed her Granny on the Go because she could make her wheelchair MOVE! We saw her at Tim Horton's on a regular basis. We saw her whizzing across the parking lot to the local grocery store almost every week.

We never learned her name. Only spoke to help her with her coffee or change at the counter. Yet we feel a loss.

Are we more likely to have these familiar strangers because as writers we tend to notice people? Do you have any familiar strangers in your world?

***
On another note ... thanks so much to the adorable Cherie over at Ready. Write. Go and the lovely Layna over at Layna Pimentel for awarding me the Irresistably Sweet Award! If you haven't met Cherie or Layna yet, do yourself a great big favour and pop on over for a visit. You won't regret it!! :)


79 comments:

  1. Hi stranger :)

    I think we all have familiar strangers that cross our paths. This post is a good reminder to us all, to take the time to say a simple 'hello' or to extend a hand to someone who might just be in need.

    Beautiful post, Jemi.

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  2. Hi Wendy!! :)

    Thanks so much. I was so sad when I heard about the poor lady - wished we'd done more.

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  3. This post reminds me that our world is very large and full of interesting people. Too many to know deeply, and yet, it is fun to reach out. We never know where a friend is waiting to be found.

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  4. Terra - you're so right! There are wonderful people everywhere. It's impossible to meet them all of course, but it's nice to reach out to at least some of them :)

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  5. Half the people in my church are friendly strangers because I never remember their name!
    And enjoying my vacation...

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  6. Alex - I'm terrible at recognizing faces - I have to see someone repeatedly in order to remember them!

    Hope you're enjoying your vacation!! Have a lot of fun :)

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  7. I have a familiar stranger on my street--he's been working on his deck for the past three years.

    Actually, originally the story in my head was that he had died and his widow was too distraught to finish the deck. Then my husband told me the guy's a trucker so he's not home often. His version is certainly better for the wife. :)

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  8. Stephanie - it certainly is better for her!! :)

    It's funny how we add stories to those people - who probably have interesting stories of their own!

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  9. Herb & Herbette sound like a nice couple!

    I've encountered familiar strangers a lot & I remember the woman in the overalls who worked in the maintenance dept. at a college. We worked the same shift but I was in an office & she was outdoors...

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  10. Hey Jemi,
    How's it goin' eh? I've been in Canada for three weeks now and I reckon your a familiar stranger :)
    Take care eh, Gary typing from a computer in Hope, British Columbia.

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  11. Congratulations with your sweet award!!! Yay!

    I think bloggie friends are in that strange category "familiar strangers" as klahanie says too. I feel I've gotten to know a few but we may never meet. Recently a bloggie friend passed away - her husband updated her blog to inform us - and I cried. I only knew her through her weekly Monday posts but I felt such loss.

    Take care
    x

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  12. There are loads of familiar strangers on my street! Crazy Screaming Man, Bow-tie Bloke... I could go on. It certainly makes for an interesting neighbourhood.

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  13. You might have a point there. I think as writers we are certainly more observant. I spend most days at home so am not out long enough to become familiar with people's faces other than shop owners. there are a lot of small shops in my neighborhood.

    Actually, last night I went to the corner store which is run by a very old man and the shop was half empty. He didn't have what I needed for the first time ever. It makes me wonder if he's not earning enough to keep the store going. That makes me sad.

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  14. People Watching! I love it... But like you said about Herb, it would be nice to think they went off together hand in hand. Maybe, she was his lost love who he sat waiting for the day she would return to him, and she did.

    Everyone has their story, but we just make them an extra one.

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  15. Lisa - we always thought Herb & Herbette would be great people too!

    There are some people who stick in your memory, aren't there? :)

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  16. Hey Gary! I've been wondering how your time in Canada has been going! Hope all is well :)

    We're probably not familiar strangers from that distance - I'm over in Ontario :)

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  17. Old Kitty - Ahhhh - I never thought of Gary's comment that way!! (Sorry Gary - I thought you were joking we'd crossed paths!)

    You're so right - we know our bloggy friends so well, yet most of us have never met, probably never will meet. Great point!

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  18. Talli - and I think for a while you had some construction workers who become familiar strangers, didn't you? You do live in an interesting place! :)

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  19. Jessica - it is so sad to see those neighbourhood shops disappearing. We hardly have any now. Most people shop in the larger stores. I think we got to know people so much better the old way too.

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  20. Jarmara - love your last line! ...

    Everyone has their story - we just make them an extra one. Perfect! :)

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  21. Good post Jemi. I do believe we writers notice people and pay more attention to conversations (a writer must eavesdrop)than the rest of the population. A writer must have empathy for and watch out for people. Like you do.

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  22. I left two comments yesterday but neither took. Trying again.
    This is a charming post and so spot-on for writers as observers of the world.

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  23. Yay, the comment stuck. So, I'll add the rest. There is a lady down my block, who is so short she could almost be a Little Person. I see her go by with a push basket and imagine she's too short to drive. But she's always full of energy and purpose, as if she's ready for anything. I admire her without knowing her.

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  24. I do have familiar strangers in my life, especially at the grocery store. But I never thought of giving them names before....

    I wonder if someone made up a name for me?

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  25. Yvonne - awww - thanks! I eavesdrop too - so much fun! Sometimes it's hard to keep a straight face when you catch the snippets and imagine the rest! :)

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  26. Tricia - thanks so much for trying so hard. I've been having nightmares trying to comment too. If people have comments in the pop up windows, I can leave one. If not, I can't! Frustrating.

    Sounds like your neighbourhood lady is a go getter!

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  27. Aubrie - wow - I actually never thought of it from that side! I wonder who I'm a familiar stranger too...

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  28. ooh, I actually had hots for some of those unknown strangers we see every day :))) /naughtysmile/

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  29. Dez - lol! :)

    Strangely I don't have a lot of that style of familiar strangers - gotta get me some!

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  30. I know what you mean - people we see all the time, and then one day, they're gone. You're right, better not to know the truth.

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  31. Diane - I agree. Much better to have them all ride off into their own beautiful sunsets :)

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  32. I love to people watch! And I do think it fuels my writing. P.S. I love your Herb and Herbette observations.

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  33. Cynthia - thank you! Herb & Herbette were wonderful to watch.

    I adore people watching too - so many great characters out there!

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  34. Great post! I do this all the time. I even make up names for people I see on a consistent basis. Its strange when we no longer see them again and wonder where they went. Are they well? Have they simply moved on to better things?

    Ah the endless possibilities for inspiration for character development. But I'm still concerned nonetheless. I worry when I no longer see these people.

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  35. That award does look irresistably sweet! I'll often pass homes, creating stories of the people who live in them, even if the current homes are falling down farm houses. I'd stick with the Herb and Herbette story of them moving on to better places too!

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  36. I have so many of those familiar strangers in my life--the gym, the trail, the farmers' market, the coffee shop. And I think because I write I do pay attention to them, their mannerisms, the way they walk. Now that you've mentioned it, I think some have popped up in my novels. Hope they don't notice. :-)

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  37. You may be right. Because we are writers, we notice people and places more than non-writers might. People are infinitely interesting.

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  38. Stephen - me too. I worry about them a lot. It's been a lot of years since we've seen Herb & his lady friend, but we still talk about them :)

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  39. Lynn - it's fun to make up those stories! My kids laugh because mine are always happy - their stories are often more dramatic! :)

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  40. Lee - exactly! I probably get more ideas from these people than from people I know - it's easier to make up the stories that go with them :)

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  41. Helen - exactly - "People are infinitely interesting" is the perfect phrase! I love to watch and wonder :)

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  42. I love this. I do have many familiar strangers, but I always tend to break down and start talking to them.

    It helps w/the making up stories about them. Then you have their voice...

    LOL! I love this. And I love the idea of doing it w/your family. <3

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  43. Leigh - thanks! I generally don't work up the nerve to talk to them - too shy I guess :)

    We did it as a family a lot more when the kids were younger - usually with people we saw from the car. Really is fun :)

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  44. I'd never really thought about it until I just read your post but yes, there are people who I know but don't know. I've lived in Leicester all my life so inevitably there are familiar faces who smile or nod at me but who I don't know well enough to name. I shall be looking out for them now and I'm going to give them names, just like your Herb and Herbette. That's priceless!

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  45. 'herb' is a tad better than 'plant', even if they both are :O lol

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  46. Rosalind - glad you enjoyed! Herb and Herbette were with us for years! I hope they're enjoying wherever it is they went off to... :)

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  47. Laughing Wolf - a tad, yes! I don't know why we named him Herb - just one of those things I guess! :)

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  48. I have always had familiar strangers! We used to have one guy in our old neighborhood who walked his two shitzu pups every morning and night. They all had the same walk! We dubbed him George. George disappeared one day and I had no idea where to ask. He showed up again a month later with a cane, a heavy limp, but still walking his dogs. I was glad for that - and for them. My husband is not a creative person at all and he makes up stories. Perhaps that is something he started once we were together, though. I'll have to ask him! Poor Granny on the Go. I bet she was a sight whizzing around in that wheelchair!

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  49. Jennie - I'm so glad to know I'm not the only one who does this!! :)

    Granny on the Go was terrific - always moving - always going somewhere.

    So glad George came back - maybe a hip replacement??? Bet his pups were glad to see him too!

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  50. In the neighborhood I see several people on a daily basis. A half smile or a slight wave makes my morning or afternoon.

    I have to admit if I don't see a person for a few days or more I wonder.

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  51. Michael - it's true - making that small connection with one of our familiar strangers can make my whole day too! We do make more connections than we sometimes expect! :)

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  52. How fascinating that you make up stories about them.

    Miami Beach is a thin strip of land, so I come across many familiar strangers. I once read a newspaper article about one of them, so I got to know him better even though I haven't said a word to him.

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  53. This is a precious, poingant post. beautiful. Thank you, Jemi.

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  54. Medeia - that's so cool! Seeing one of my familiar strangers in the paper would make my day! :)

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  55. Lynda - thank you! I felt so sad when I heard of Granny on the Go passing away. She'll be remembered.

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  56. Sometimes I'm completely overwhelmed by the number of PEOPLE that exist. When you actually think about how many different lives go by, each with such an utterly complicated mind, distinct from any other--oof. When I was little I used to think I was the only real person, and everyone else was robots or illusions or something. I think I just couldn't comprehend how there could be so many people, so different from me, and yet complete and discrete.

    What a lovely post. I'm going to have to start paying attention and getting to notice these familiar strangers in my own life.

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  57. Meagan - it is incredible. I can completely understand how you might have thought that as a child. It is really overwhelming when you start trying to imagine it all!

    Thanks so much! I do enjoy my strangers! :)

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  58. My two favorite places to park myself on a bench with a notebook and make up stories about people passing by are Disneyland and Las Vegas. They are both character rich environments.

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  59. Leslie - great idea! I've never been to either - but you'd see ALL kinds of people there! They would certainly be great fodder for the imagination :)

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  60. I think we do notice people more. We not only wonder about their name, but we wonder about their story. People watching is one of my favorite activities, which is why I keep paper with me all the time!

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  61. Julie - I agree. It's always me who points out the people we see all the time. I'm still working on a fitting name for a guy we see on his bike every day...

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  62. I love those kinds of people. I have lots of them in my life, too. Usually I can find out a little bit about them because we live in a small town and my father-in-law is a been-around-forever physician. Not that he tells me people's health problems, but he can tell me at least their first names and who they're related to. Usually they're related to someone I've met. :)

    I'm sorry about Granny on the Go. :( Our elderly neighbor who I hardly knew passed away a few months ago. I still feel sad every time I pass his house.

    Amy

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  63. A.L. - these familiar strangers do touch us. I'm glad there are people around who will remember Granny on the Go and your neighbour. That way they're not really gone.

    Sounds like your dad would be a great resource for your writer's brain! Love it! :)

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  64. I pass quite a few familiar strangers on the freeway every morning. Seems strange that I would end up sitting next to so many of the same people in a sea of traffic. Of course, everyone is too busy being annoyed by the traffic to notice each other - except me. I keep thinking I should roll down the window one day and wave. Maybe I should. :)

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  65. I totally notice familiar strangers all over the place! And they definitely influence the characterization in my stories. I have based several stories on the people I see.

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  66. Kari - go for it! Although I do wonder what kind of reaction you'd get - I bet it wouldn't be the same as if you lived in a small city! :)

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  67. Jo - love it! I've never used anyone as the basis for a character, but I just might have to try that! :)

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  68. I love this! I do know who you mean. The lady who walks her dog every morning. The checker at the grocery store. So many!

    I confess, I've never actually made up a story yet, but I do about complete strangers. :)

    And P.S. I'm tagging you tomorrow.

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  69. I love the idea of making up stories for these "familiar strangers." I already tend to do that when I am people-watching total strangers!

    Congrats on your blog awards, I am going to check those other ladies out as I love discovering new blogs. :)

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  70. Janet - I do make up too many stories - just habit I think because I don't share them all! My writer's brain at work I guess :)

    Yikes! Should I be scared??? :)

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  71. Julie - you'll love them both! They're terrific people :)

    I love people watching too - always have since I was little!

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  72. I think we do notice and acknowledge the people we pass more than "regular" people. There is a young man in our community that I see all the time. He walks everywhere and seems to be wearing the same thing every day. Over the winter he grew a beard. I kept wanting to stop and tell him that I like him better without it. One day we were at the grocery store and he was there and I said hi. I think it surprised him. It surprised me too...it just popped out like I knew him. I had seen him for the three years we have lived here...it felt like I knew him...Yep, writers are observant...

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  73. I guess all our twitter friends are a sort of familiar stranger. We have their names and some information instead of their faces. They make a great company and I don't know what it would be of me as a writer without them. (as yourself, Jemi :)

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  74. Have you read Sundays at Tiffanys (James Patterson)? This post reminded me of it. REALLY sweet book!

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  75. Sharon - that's an awesome story! I wonder how he would have reacted if you'd told him about the beard! :)

    We are pretty observant as writers I think. It's fun thinking about others and making up stories for them :)

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  76. Mari - thank you and I totally agree! Our bloggy friends make fabulous familiar strangers. I've loved getting to know so many other writers.

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  77. Beth - I haven't read that one yet! I've enjoyed some of Patterson's work so I'll have to check that one out! :)

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  78. Looking forward to your game picks for Monday's blogfest!

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  79. Alex - it's going to be fun! I had my post ready about 20 minutes after I read about the blog fest!! :)

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