UVic Torch -- Spring 2003
Autumn 2003,
Volume 25, Number 1

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Chance Meeting - Illustration By Sam Shoichet Chance Metting
By GAIL ANDERSON-DARGATZ, BA '99
Illustration by SAMUEL SHOICHET, BFA '97

Careful who you sit next to in the campus cafeteria-it could be a life-altering lunch.

THIS PAST WEEK MY HUSBAND FLOYD AND I stopped at Coombs Old Country Market-the place with the goats on the roof-for ice cream. I popped into the newly renovated bathroom to wash my hands before choosing a flavour and spent a good five minutes looking for the tap handles before I realized the sink was controlled by motion detectors. It's not that I haven't encountered such sinks before; airports are replete with them. It's just that this was, well, Coombs, and you don't expect such modern technological wonders in that kind of down-home-country atmosphere. But then, times change.

As they have for me. Fifteen years ago I carted loaves of bread I had baked into my creative writing classes to give to friends as birthday presents. That was when I still baked bread, wore ankle length skirts and kept chickens, selling their eggs. It seemed I was never without a dozen eggs as I roamed the campus. I remember giving out invitations to a party-it must have been an Easter party-written in gold ink on uncooked eggs. My confused guests were then left with the dilemma of what to do with these raw eggs. Did I expect them to carry the eggs around in their backpacks for the rest of the day? Most memorized or wrote down the details of the invitation and gave the egg back. Those were the days when I was known around campus, much to my horror, as The Egg Lady.

I blame my husband Floyd for this reputation. Before I came to UVic, before I met Floyd, I'd held a job as a reporter, photographer, and cartoonist, and had won a number of awards for my literary fiction. I came to UVic with the ambition of becoming a novelist. Sure I came from a farm family, but I saw myself as somewhat urbane, or at least mildly sophisticated. I would not have characterized myself as The Egg Lady.

Then I met Floyd, this Alberta cattleman, within the crowded University Centre Cafeteria where I was forced to share a table with him. I'd chosen to sit at his table to eat my vegetarian pizza because I thought this unassuming guy wouldn't bug me. Then his English prof wandered by and handed Floyd his paper on The Horse's Mouth and that started up a conversation. That night we caught a movie together at Cinecenta, and within a couple of weeks he was frying up liver and onions in my kitchen as my vegetarian roommate pointedly opened all the windows and sat on the lawn to meditate.

Soon after Floyd and I were living together in a basement suite on Argyle Street behind Camosun College. It was from here, in the backyard greenhouses, that Floyd, unable to give up farming even as he studied anthropology, raised meat rabbits. (It was here, also, that we entertained friends from the Creative Writing Department by introducing the buck into a female's pen, to demonstrate what a quickie really looked like.) Within a year, as we continued our studies, we had moved to a small farm in Duncan where we raised pork and chicken for customers working at UVic and Camosun. We named the pigs, by gender, Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, to make them easier to part with.

Floyd, missing the herd in Alberta that his parents managed for him, became known amongst our friends as a man who would not look at another woman, but who would drive off the road if he saw a fine looking herd of Herefords. That is why, on another busy lunch hour at the University Centre Cafeteria, as Floyd sat with his friend John, I put on a cow suit (a Hereford cow suit) and trotted out to kneel in front of Floyd, to ask him to "moooarry me."

You see now, don't you, why I ended up writing novels about farm communities? I was drawn there by this unassuming cattleman named Floyd. It's on these seemingly trivial decisions-which table do I sit at?-that life, as a repercussion art, sometimes spins off in wholly unexpected directions. If I had chosen another table in that busy cafeteria, sat with a different stranger to eat my vegetarian pizza, I would have lived a much different life, and certainly written very different novels. Just a little something that got me thinking as I chose that flavour of ice cream.

Gail Anderson-Dargatz has written three novels and has twice been shortlisted for the Giller Prize. She lives on Vancouver Island with Floyd and their young family.





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