“Can you sub a restorative class at the Senior Center for me next Thursday?” asked Paula, a yoga instructor I’d known for a long time.
“I’d be happy to, thanks for thinking of me.” And I was happy. There are more yoga teachers in Fairfield County than banks and nail salons. Getting a regular gig is harder than getting into Hanumasana, and it’s even tough to get on sub lists.
“It’s a lovely group of women. Usually three or four show up, and we do not do too many poses.” That’s typical for an hour-long restorative class.
I prepared, as I always do for classes, well in advance. I choose a theme, the poses, and a closing quote. I always try to be flexible (yup, pun intended) and responsive to each group’s mood and needs, but I go in with a game plan.
When I got to the Center to set up and center myself, a Parkinson’s gym class was in progress, so I scouted out the props I’d need, and waited. They held a large parachute aloft as participants took turns running under it to the other side. It took me back to Gymboree classes, doing the same thing with my toddlers, now full grown men.
Once they finished up, the friendly and immensely helpful custodian, Jerry, turned off the lights, and brought the props I’d need into the space. I put on Deva Premal and settled into her dulcimer Sanskrit chants. Class start time came and went. Finally, one woman came in with her own lavender mat. I rose to greet her.
“Hi, I’m Diane and I’m subbing for Paula today.”
“Hi, I’m Rosaria. Nice to meet you.”
She settled in and we waited a bit, but it was obvious that no one else was coming, even though six names appeared on the sign up sheet they’d given me at the front desk.
“I don’t know why people do that,” she said kindly. “They don’t like change, so when they hear it’s a sub…”
“Oh, no worries at all. I understand completely. People love their yoga teachers and sometimes just don’t want to come if there’s a sub. I have to admit that I’ve done that myself, although my favorite teacher, Robert, always encourages us to take class when he’s not there. You never know when you’ll learn something new.”
“Exactly,” she said. “I just feel so badly for you, having to teach one person. Are you sure you want to do this?”
“Absolutely. It is really special to have a private session. It’s my pleasure. Let’s get started.”
I asked her if she had any limitations or body parts she’d like to work on. She shared that at 81 (I couldn’t believe it) she had her fair share of aches and pains, but nothing too serious. I loved her humor and her attitude. I ditched my class plan and worked through a series of poses more tailored to her needs. And we chatted. And chatted and chatted. About yoga, about our children, about home maintenance, and about life. She mentioned that she hailed from the Bronx, and I said, “Where? My father was from the Bronx, too.”
“The Tremont section,” she said. “My mother was Jewish, so we lived there, and my father was Italian. Over by Arthur Avenue was the Italian section.”
“That’s where my father’s from! They were Greek – Sephardic – and they all lived together in that area with others who had come from their town, Ioannina.”
“Do you know what high school he went to?”
“I’m not sure, but he told us that he used to run out to White Castle at lunchtime and bring back bags of French fries that he sold at a profit back at school.”
She laughed. “I had a date once who was going to take me to White Castle. He asked how many hamburgers I wanted. ‘How many? I said. One! How many do you usually get?’ He told me three or four! What a glutton, I thought. I’d never been to White Castle before. I laughed so hard when I got there and saw those small, square burgers and then I understood!”
We reminisced about this and other Bronx memories as we walked out to the parking lot.
“Is your father still alive?” she asked.
“No. He’s gone 15 years. It’s hard to believe. Rosaria, I am so glad I came to teach today and that it was just you and I in class. It was so nice to meet you and talk to you.”
“You too, thank you for teaching. Enjoy this beautiful day,” she said.
My cell phone rang the next morning, but I didn’t recognize the number so I didn’t pick up. I listened to the voicemail that the caller left.
“Hi, Diane, it’s Rosaria, from class yesterday. I have something personal to talk to you about, if you could give me a call back.”
I’d given her a card because she said her daughter might be interested in taking yoga. I called back right away.
“What was your father’s name?” she asked.
“Alvin,” I said. “Why?”
“I knew it. What were the chances? I’m sitting here looking at his photograph in my high school yearbook. It was Theodore Roosevelt High School.”
I got a chill. I got choked up. “Oh, Rosaria, I can’t believe it. Really?”
“I made a copy of it. I will leave it at the front desk at the Senior Center for you, if that’s ok.”
“Yes, thanks so much! I knit there on Tuesday. I will pick it up then. Please put all your contact information on the envelope. I’ll tell my sister Suzanne and maybe you’ll let us take you for coffee. She’ll remember his friends’ names. Maybe you can find them too. You have no idea how much this means to me. That was so sweet of you.”
Now it was her turn to say, “It’s my pleasure.”
“See, it’s a good thing I came to teach that class, and even better that no one else came! We’d never have made that connection otherwise.”
The universe works in funny ways. I am not sure we have dad’s yearbook, and certainly don’t have many, if any, photographs of him from high school. Thank you Paula, thank you Yoga, thank you Westport Senior Center, but most of all, thank you Rosaria.
Photo is of the author’s father in his yearbook photo, courtesy of the author and Rosaria