by Hugh Gilmore

We almost laughed at the Customs Officer’s questions as we waited for clearance to enter Canada, en route to Montreal. He’d started by asking us – two seniors and our peaceable 28-year-old son – if we were carrying firearms. “No,” we said.

But he rephrased his question: “No weapons?” No, we said again.

“Nothing to defend yourself with, if, say, you thought your were under attack?”

“No sir.”

A little more of this and we were let in to roam in Canada at will, Americans on the loose. My goodness, we thought as we drove away, is that what the Canadians think of us: Americans are a nation of violent psychos? How unfair.

We had a great time up there and then returned to begin playing catch-up on mail, work and so on, as one must do after vacation. At the end of the week, we went to Maria’s Ristorante in Roxborough, our favorite place to eat and unwind. We sometimes run into people we know from Chestnut Hill there.

For example, I often saw 85-year-old Regina Brunner Holmes and her male companion there at Maria’s. Though our paths had crossed only occasionally over the years, I was a “fan” of hers, you might say, so I always went over to her table and said hello for a while.

I was her fan for several reasons. First, because I buy and sell old books, she once mailed me a list of books she owned, wanting my opinion. From looking at the list I could see she loved literature and considered her books to be old friends. After that, I felt a warm affection for her, the kind one feels for a fellow book lover.

Next, I was her fan because two Valentine’s Days ago, she showed up at a “Read A Love Poem Aloud” party sponsored by the Chestnut Hill Book Festival. She wowed me that night. Where the other, younger, women of the audience stood up and recited cute poems about how much they loved their dogs, she got up and read some hot poems about a man she’d once loved.

The poems were passionate and sensuous. People were amazed that a gray-haired lady should be reading such personal paeans to a physical and emotional love she’d once felt. She didn’t hold anything back. How daring, I thought. A vivid demonstration that old people’s feelings are not merely the ashes left from yesteryear’s fire.

So, I looked for her at Maria’s on Saturday a week ago, but she wasn’t there. Her 87-year-old male friend had had to go into a rehabilitation center, so she was home alone that weekend. And murdered, probably the next morning. In a very personal way – fists and a knife.

How terribly repulsive and nauseating that news was. The shock waves shook the community on Monday. The few details made known by the police and press were frightening. Who would do such a thing? Why? And how?

On Tuesday, June 30, Regina’s two sons held a press conference to raise awareness of how vulnerable the elderly are. Regina’s car, presumably stolen by her murderer, was reported found in North Philadelphia. So was a wiped-down knife.

Friday was a quiet news day. Nothing in the newspapers and the online information remained unchanged. Then, on Saturday morning the police arrested a man named Leroy Wilson and said he’d been charged with Regina’s murder. Wilson was known to Regina and folks in her neighborhood as a man who did odd jobs for people. “Leroy the handyman.” One of the oldest motives in the world, the police said: somebody wanting someone else’s money. We probably won’t learn much more about this crime until Wilson’s trial begins.

Meanwhile: Just in the past week in Philadelphia, almost a dozen people were killed on the streets by gunfire and Chestnut Hill’s TD bank was robbed. What an environment we live in, with street crimes occurring all around us, all the time, as we try to live out our own personal lives in a peaceable way.

Regina’s sad, dignified memorial service was held yesterday, Sunday. Now we survivors are left once again with the task of making sense of the contemporary American world we live in. Perhaps the Canadian Customs Officer’s questions weren’t as strange as they seemed to us when we crossed the border two weeks ago.