In our second week in Mayfair, a sub neighborhood of Albany Park, about six miles northwest of downtown Chicago I wrote this in my journal on July 11, 2022.
I met a wonderful local named Blanca. "Blanca means white, like the color of the shirt you're wearing" she told me. Blanca is from Columbia and has lived in America for over 35 years. She followed her older sister to the states after she married a Mexican-American man. Her sister has three children and is 92 years old. Blanca is much younger at 72 and never had children of her own. Her husband and her are renters because as Blanca explained to me only white people own their homes in this part of town. They buy the houses located near the good schools. Everyone else, she thinks, rents like her. This opinion was not said in judgement just a matter of fact as she was helping me get to know my new neighborhood. She told me which blocks the Filipinos' lived on. She told me I was where the Mexicans and Colombians lived. She told me the Blacks were further down. When I teasingly asked where the Italians lived she considered my question and told me she wasn't quite sure. However, Blanca said if I wanted to try some really good Italian food she knew of a place called the Olive Garden not too far from here. Since we were on the subject of food Blanca told me that the gas station by her apartment sells a lot more than just gas. She said they sell fruit on a stick called a paleta and they sell very good chicken. We should try the gas station chicken and when we do please look for her as she lives nearby and spends time outside with her dog Lachey. Blanca got Lachey six years ago and it's the best thing she ever did for herself. Lachey is her best friend. Her husband is kind of boring and likes to stay inside a lot. Lachey and her spend a lot of time together and she hopes to find him a girlfriend. There is only one problem, Lachey is very small and all the girl dogs that he likes he cannot reach. He's always left hanging. I told her poor Lachey had it pretty rough. She asked if I had a dog but I sadly told her we did not at this time. She said I should get a little one for Lachey. In fact, she would stop by and check on me to see if I might come up with one. Blanca was so funny and charming speaking to me in her broken english but she also had concerns. She was very upset about the 4th of July shooting in Highland Park. It was so close and now she is afraid. She told me sometimes when the neighborhood is too quiet she wonders if people are hiding in their homes because there is a gunman on the loose. When she feels this way she walks fast. I told her I was sorry she was afraid. She thought maybe the parents of the gunman might have had something wrong with them too. We agreed it was a tragic family story. She hopes the little boy who was orphaned has people who love him. I assured her that I thought he did have loving grandparents and an extended family that would care for him. She held her heart and was happy to hear that. Blanca said she was still thinking about the shooting in Uvalde,Texas too. I told her it was all too close to home now and that I have family in San Antonio. She asked if I liked it there which I told her I did. I said it is on our list of cities to spend time in. Blanca said she and her husband considered moving there several years back but then she heard the strangest thing. She heard that many Mexicans there speak only english. Blanca wants live around people who speak english and spanish. I thanked her for speaking english with me. I told her I was making an effort to understand and speak basic spanish. She giggled and told me to keep practicing. Before we parted Blanca had me put her number in her phone. She said if we needed anything at all while we were here we should call her. When I do call she said tell me you are "the girl from Colorado" because that is how she will remember me. It feels nice. I feel like I made a friend. How nice.
Today, almost a year and a half later, I remember our talk well and specifically how it made me feel. A bonus of living life nomadically is it is impossible not to have a conversation with a stranger and taking the time to do so actually has health benefits. I pay a lot of attention to my mental wellness and anything I can do for myself mentally helps me physically combat pain caused by my nerve damage. Taking the time to ask "whazupbuttercup" to a stranger has been enlightening and the side effect of making my brain and body feel better is pure..gravy! Research shows:
Talking with a stranger leaves you feeling
and a stronger sense of belonging to your community
Reader, if you struggle with your mental wellness or are battling a chronic disease or disability do not forget about trying to lift yourself up emotionally. Short interactions can make a big impact. I have personally felt the benefits and I actively use these interactions as a mood booster. A "tool" in my "mental wellness kit". Free, convenient and effective.
Blanca, you made a nomad girl feel at home and left me feeling light which I needed that day. Gracias mi amiga. Nunca te olvidaré.