When I'm on the train with my son, we often get some extra attention - a lingering, doting gaze and smile from someone. As he has gotten bigger and he takes in the construction that we pass by or spot the Peace Bridge as we cross the river, his excitement can earn a smirk from other passengers.
Today, though, we were out with the cameras. I have handed down my old DSLR because of, or is that despite, his damage to his mother's point and shoot. We wandered around shooting for about an hour but I could not coax him into walking across the river to extend our shoot a little longer.
As we boarded the train to First Nations' men noticed us and offered to pose. I had my camera back in my bag and I had my son's on my lap. Gabriel was a little wary and he did not take the men up on their offer. He interacted a little, offering his name and his hand when the more talkative of the two, named Jesse, chatted him up. Gabriel was a little timid about taking their picture, already conscious of the intimacy or involvement that you engage in when looking someone in the eye and raising your camera to yours. The two men looked a little hard done by on the Saturday morning and I was conscious of oversimplifying them or telling them anything that risked becoming a stereotype.
Jesse told Gabriel that he and his friend were Natives and he asked Gabriel if he knew what that meant. I told Gabriel that it meant that they had been here longer than we had. The tangle of our relations and history with First Nations' people would be far too complex for me to unwind for a 4-year-old during a three minute train ride. Jesse filled the silence by talking about the gemstone that he had around his neck when we first saw him. As we settled into our seat, Jesse swung the stone around on its chain in a poor imitation of a num-chuk routine rendered either comical or menacing by the short chain that limited his range of executions with the stone and chain. He managed to send a women into retreat to another seat. He stopped the routine to show the stone. He claimed that there was werewolf hair in it. I pondered the full moon madness that would allow this hair to find its way into the crystal but there was a pattern in the stone that suggested a brown clump of fur. He added that the crystal would turn blue in certain light as well.
A bond of sorts formed over this stone, which Jesse popped in his mouth as he continued to talk to us. Jesse told Gabriel that he had an amazing name and that he was a prophet too. I cringed at the possibility of a long talk about religion but Jesse went on to add that he was part French and that his family name was Lambert - my mother's mother's maiden name of all things. I told Jesse and Gabriel of this link but Gabriel probably would not get the genealogical links either. After one stop we disembarked and I wondered how strong his memory was of a First Nations' man who had been playing the bagpipes on Stephen Avenue a year earlier. He was clean-cut, kilted and in a smiling mood as he played against type.
Ultimately these encounters on the train or on the bus, where he loves to sit at the back, will expose him to the wider world and raise questions. Hopefully they will present themselves in a sequence that will not engender fear or prejudice but instead allow me the opportunity to tell my son that he may or definitely does have more in common with the strangers around him than he may know or guess at first glance and that he can ponder the link comes from family trees or a shared set of needs, desires and ambitions.