In the 1940s, Joan was one of the more popular girls’ names. Today almost no one names their kid Joan.
Joan # 1
There’s a Joan on my morning bus. She’s about my age, originally from Newfoundland, single mum with a visually impaired child. Joan works in a seniors’ residence, a job most people would find very difficult, if not impossible to do. She sets up the dining room, serves meals; cleans up afterwards. Sometimes they move her to room care where she has to tidy and clean the resident’s rooms, do their laundry or run errands for them.
It’s hard physically and emotionally because the people she works with every day tend to die on a fairly regular basis. And Joan works long hours without breaks, gets a very modest hourly salary, no benefits, no pension.
Yet Joan is always cheerful, full of chatter every morning about little things that happened the day before. She loves her job. And she seems generally happy with her life although she has very, very little and struggles to maintain a home for herself and her child and to provide for his special needs.
Whenever I think of Joan, I can’t help but think of another, very different Joan I knew once a long, long time ago.
Joan # 2
My parents and I immigrated to Canada when I was a toddler and they were both in their early 20s. We landed on a farm, working for this other Joan. She was a widow and ran a big farm with her adult son, Allen.
I have no idea how old she would have been, but she had white hair and her son seemed significantly older than my parents.
For some reason I was fascinated by Joan. Joan had emigrated from England, when she got married and was the picture of the English countrywoman. So, first chance I got I trotted over to her house and knocked on her door.
She let me in and I began snooping around her big old farm house. I’d never seen anything like it. Joan followed me around curiously and tried to talk to me, but of course I spoke no English.
Joan, being a no-nonsense type, soon got fed up with my wandering around her home touching stuff, so she gave me a dust cloth and showed me how to dust. I guess she reckoned if I was going to walk around fondling her things I might as well clean them while I was at it.
I ran off to visit Joan whenever I could. Sometimes she had other chores for me; sometimes we’d sit in her parlour and listen to opera; sometimes she was reading and would plop me into one of her big chairs with one of the big, incomprehensible books from her big library and made it clear that I was to sit still with the book or I could leave. I sat.
I’d sit as still as possible in that parlour during reading or opera time and look around at all her photos and paintings and memorabilia – much of it wartime stuff. It was like a museum and art gallery in one.
Joan tried to teach me to play bridge and let me sit in sometimes when her ladies came over for tea and bridge. I was allowed one of the beautiful china tea cups just like all the other ladies; and had my tea “very milky with several biscuits” and my own set of cards.
She also tried very hard to teach me English, but I never clued in that she was speaking an actual language. I just thought there was something wrong with her and that she was just babbling gibberish. When I finally when to school, at the ripe old age of seven, it suddenly all made sense. After that, it was easy. 
Once I could understand her, Joan told me stories about the war and her husband and how she, herself was a nurse in the war. She let me root through her library and her picture albums and talked about her paintings and let me play in her trunks of old clothes and toys and with her amazing collection of clip-on earrings.
Sometimes I was allowed to go on errands with her and sit in the front seat of her grey Volvo (which she replaced faithfully ever year with a new grey Volvo).
She helped me learn to read; she introduced me to a whole new world (literally and figuratively) of history, literature, art and culture.
She sorted out the school and the police when I was nabbed at 7 ½ for riding my bicycle down the middle of the road instead of on the side like I was taught my Elmer the Safety Elephant. They wanted to confiscate my bike for six weeks until they were sure I was clear on the rules. She got the sentence reduced to three weeks.
And, one year, her grand-nephew, Charlie came to spend the summer; so Joan was even indirectly responsible for my very first crush. Of course, he was around 16 and barely noticed I existed.
Mostly, I just helped Joan with chores around the house, dusting her beautiful things and chatting nonsense with her.
When I was nine, my parents bought their own farm and we moved away. I was probably sad, but I was above all resilient, so the first thing I did was find myself a new old lady. This one was a spinster school teacher with a dark little house in the country. It took some convincing to persuade her that it would be fun for her to have me hanging around. But, I eventually wore her down. We had a good few years together; but it wasn’t quite the same and that’s a story for another time.
Her name was Gladys.
 I could only have been about five, but we were in the middle of nowhere and people weren’t as paranoid about letting their kids run loose as they are today.)
 Of course I had no idea what I was doing and didn’t really “play”.
 I was fluent in four months – not that I was any kind of genius or anything; it just goes to show how quickly kids can learn stuff. There were lots of immigrant kids back then and they all picked up the language within a few months.
 My parents didn’t speak enough English to be much help
 Years later when I was about 17, I was hitchhiking and this older guy picked me up in a grey Volvo. We got to talking and he told me he was visiting his great-aunt on her farm for the summer. Right away I knew and asked him if his name was Charlie. He was astonished; and though I tried to remind him who I was, he didn’t really remember. Joan was still going strong he said and I sent along my regards. I’m happy to report that Charlie had grown up to become a pencil-necked geek