At a class reunion this summer I became reacquainted with my former classmate, Dr. Art Friesen. Both Art and spouse Marlyce are highly regarded cardiologists. “Twenty five years ago,” Art told me, “Marlyce and I decided every vacation must have a purpose. We had a desire to give something of value to the area we were visiting.”
Initially there were five “vacations” in China, where they taught at medical schools and hospitals. They also travelled twice to The Democratic Republic of Congo. Here they taught at a medical school and helped set up a clinic. In 1998 they visited Ukraine. In this land from which Art’s parents had emigrated in the 1920’s, they found people living in precarious circumstances. “They asked us to come and help, so we did,” he said.
In 2000 they attended a meeting with other concerned individuals at the University of Toronto. Most were Mennonites from Ukraine, or had relatives there. This group developed a Non Governmental Organization (NGO) with a board of 8-10 members. Art and Marlyce are on the board. “All the members of the board are highly motivated and deeply involved in various ways”, he said. “We purchased a former girls school in eastern Ukraine, about 150 kilometres from the violence. When the school was completely renovated we established the Friends of Mennonite Centre.”
The organization is funded almost entirely by donations from individuals around the globe, although most come from Canadians. It contributes financial aid and advice to Ukrainians who want to improve their nation. “We’re a small organization,” Art said. “We don’t have many people to do the work. Anyway, it’s important that Ukrainians do the work themselves. We have 10-12 employees, including a cook.”
Many seniors in Ukraine are destitute and don’t have access to nutritious meals. Three days a week 80-120 elderly individuals show up for a free meal.
The Friends of Mennonite Centre has partnered with local governments, hospitals, orphanages and schools. “We offer help and hope in tangible ways. We assist people in dire circumstances, regardless of religion, gender or ethnic background. Sometimes people ask why we do it. I say we do it in the name of Christ.”
By Canadian standards, Ukrainian medical services are abysmally lacking. In large centres they are often at third world levels, according to Art. “In small communities they are generally hopeless. They have no budget. No one maintains the facilities or supplies medical equipment. Doctors receive $100-$200 per month. In most places they can’t live on this. Often they require payment from patients, but people don’t have the money. Our organization has paid for about 1000 medical procedures to this time. We have also established a tele-medical service.”
The Friends of Mennonite Centre has replaced the floor of a school gym. On an ongoing basis they assist destitute farmers, also mothers and families. A school for disabled and autistic children receives assistance.
Art hopes the Centre’s example will encourage the people to again build a civil society. To develop leadership, they provide scholarships to gifted students who want to improve their country. Currently they support 44 students, all attending universities in Ukraine. “When students attend universities elsewhere,” Art said, “they rarely return.”
When we were speaking by telephone recently, Art was at his computer. “Requests for help are coming in as we speak,” he told me. “A church is asking if we can provide kitchen equipment. A kindergarten needs new windows before winter. The army is requesting stoves so the soldiers can heat meals.”
More than a million refugees have left their homes due to the conflict in the neighbouring Donetsk region. The Mennonite Centre helps groups set up and operate refugee centres. Being in eastern Ukraine, most of those requiring assistance speak Russian, so communication is through an interpreter. Financially, The Centre runs a tight ship and administration expenses are less than 10 %.
Now in semi-retirement, the Friesens could be living comfortably in their Abbotsford home. What they are doing may not fit our idea of a dream vacation, but the enthusiasm in Art’s voice suggests their “vacation” decision is giving them immense satisfaction and meaning. Their example may provide a clue as to how each of us can add a serious dose of adventure and significance to our life. Anyone wanting more information on this intriguing project can google Mennonite Centre in Ukraine.
Just over a week ago Linda and I drove Royal to Camp Tulahead . The camp is situated in a narrow section of the valley between Princeton and Merritt. It’s a pristine, peaceful setting, a perfect place for children and youths to forget about whatever issues they had at school and get away from parents and siblings. Tulahead also offers an opportunity to challenge body, mind and spirit. Royal has been to the camp in previous years, as has his older sister Tabitha. The family has always participated fully and energetically in the bottle drive organized by Hedley Grace Church to help with expenses. Some families contribute toward the tuition. The church covers the shortfall.
A week later when we returned to the camp to pick up Royal, he took us on a mini tour of the place, beginning with the climbing wall. He estimated it to be about 30 feet high. A good estimate, I thought. I would have loved to watch the campers climb it, but had to be content with a couple of photos.
He also showed us the outdoor chapel where the campers and staff meet in the morning. Surrounded by trees, it’s rustic but quite adequate. Here they sing, pray, listen to a meditation, and engage in meditation themselves if they choose to.
One of the highlights for Royal was winning an archery contest. He does archery at home so he has experience with a bow. Being lean and fit is a benefit in archery.
Tim, the camp director was wandering among the campers and came to us for a chat. He said Royal had done well, which we were pleased to hear. While we were asking Tim questions about the camp, Royal joined a small group of friends. I asked if I could take a picture for the blog. They seemed pleased and readily agreed.
When we arrived back at his home just east of Hedley, he thanked us and gave us each a warm hug. We sensed that the week at Camp Tulahead had produced some very positive inner growth.
For someone who doesn’t consider himself a collector of cars, Ken Helm of rural Cawston, BC certainly has a lot of them. When I asked “how many?” he replied, “I don’t know. Besides, what is a car? I have bodies of cars and plenty of parts. Just haven’t had time to put them all together.
A congenial man with a snow white beard, Ken is eager to share his encyclopedic knowledge of vintage automobiles and their genius creators. We were treated to a virtual seminar as he took us on a tour through several sturdy, weatherbeaten structures, some of which he had moved to his farm from places like Hedley, Princeton and Manning Park. “I married the farmer’s daughter,” he said to explain how he had come to own this 15 acre property with a phenomenal view.
Ken bought his first car, a 1929 Model A coupe, when he was 16. After restoring it, at age 20 he was interviewed for a job by a B.C. Tel (now Telus) foreman. He realized I knew something about electronics and liked the fact I’d rebuilt a car. They needed someone to fix equipment in remote areas.” He was assigned to the Hedley Microwave site and traveled to this area in the Model A. He drove the car to work every day for at least 20 years.
An incomplete (“approximately 1916”) McLaughlin awaited us in his work place. “I had only the 6 cylinder motor when I started this one,“ he said. “I’ve put electric lights on it. In the early years, cars had coal oil lamps for headlights. The fuel tank is a small barrel held in place with brackets from school desks. The throttle is on the steering wheel. It will be a 2 seater, with motor and driver exposed to the elements.”
For Ken, much of the joy comes from being unorthodox and innovative. “I’m trying to be a bit creative,” he told us. “I have a picking pile. When I need a part I look until I find one that interests me. Sometimes I make a part.”
In a long narrow building I counted 20 motors lined up on sturdy shelving, ready for him to pick one that interests him. In another structure numerous headlamps and steering wheels were hanging from the ceiling.
“Finding the right part is like a treasure hunt,” he said. “It’s a big part of the fun. I’m excited when I come up with something totally unique.”
For most of us, driving these elderly vehicles would be a nightmare. Not for Ken, although he admits “you’re pretty much on your own for figuring out how to fix them.” He has vivid memories of a trip to Horsefly in a 1928 Model A. “The car went through 15 quarts of oil and 7 tires. When my last tire went flat, a waitress in a café said her ex-boyfriend had tires. He did.”
This trip provided another significant challenge when one of the wooden wheels broke going around a corner. “Luckily, I was able to get a wire wheel from a farmer,” Ken said. “I welded it on and we continued.”
Some of Ken’s cars offer unusual features, like a tiny BMW with a single door at the front. The steering wheel is attached to the door and swings out with the door. This little gem cost him $800. to buy and fix. There is also a Czech built 2 cylinder model with a canvas body. To put it in reverse the motor must be shut off. The same to go forward. Not likely it was ever a big seller.
Some of the concepts incorporated into early automobiles would baffle today’s young drivers accustomed to high levels of technology. Looking at a Model T, I said, “you’d have to crank to start it?”
“Yes,” Ken responded. “They don’t have a starter.”
In retirement, Ken is still blessed with the enthusiasm of a 20 year old. As we were preparing to leave, I asked what inspires him to continue accumulating and creating what I think of as cars with unique character and sparkling personality. He considered for a moment, stroking the snow white beard, then said, “I think a guy likes to feel he’s part of something. It’s deeply rewarding when you can figure out how to fix a tough problem. It’s a way of expressing who I am.”
Last week Linda and I were once again reminded that a Sikh wedding is a joyous festival celebrating community, faith, culture, friendship, food and marriage. Like the approximately 600 guests in attendance, we were caught up by the aura of anticipation, pageantry and sense of reverence for marriage.
The invitation to the wedding came from Lucky (Lakhbir) and Santosh Farwaha, parents of Nikki, the captivatingly lovely bride. For many years the Farwahas lived across the street from my family. Sometimes late in the evening, Mom and Dad visited them. If they were having a late dinner, they always said, “come and eat with us.” In time Lucky began addressing them as Mom and Dad. The Farwahas adopted us as family and we adopted them.
It was about 9 a.m. when guests began arriving for the wedding at the Temple (Gurdwara) in Mission. The men wore mostly dark suits. The ladies with their sarees and scarves provided a delightful splash of brilliant red, yellow, green, blue. Their attire indicated to us these people consider marriage important.
In the midst of the throng gathering outside the temple, Lucky noticed us. “Sat siri akal brother,” he said. I greeted him in like manner. Linda snapped a hasty picture of me with him and his brother Jaspar. Lucky doesn’t stand still long and now he needed to rush away to greet other guests. He told me later, “we’ve had gatherings all week.” Weddings are viewed as an opportunity to see friends, party, and also bless the bride and groom.
The groom, Govind, was now waiting with several men near the Temple entrance. His gold wedding attire, turban, pointed gold shoes, and ceremonial sword gave the appearance of nobility. An exuberant four man band in uniform was approaching, followed by dancers. This was the Barat, a wedding procession of the groom’s friends and family.
The bride, in an ornate gold and red dress, and her family came from inside the temple to formally meet the groom and his family. Following this ceremony, everyone entered a spacious dining hall with tables and chairs. People were forming lines to where treats, juice and Indian tea were set out. A helpful lady informed Linda she should join the line of women. I went with the men.
After refreshments, we made our way to the main meeting hall. As required, Linda and I covered our heads and removed our shoes. An elderly man explained to me this is an act of reverence for the Sikh Holy Book.
In the meeting hall women sat on one side of the aisle, men on the other. Before sitting down, many guests walked reverently to the front to bow before the Holy Book. We sat cross legged on a carpeted floor. There were no chairs.
After singing by several men, the priest, a tall lean man clad in white and wearing a black turban, addressed the bride and groom in Punjabi. He then read four Laavs (verses of a hymn). The words, emphasizing Sikh values and faith, were displayed in English on an overhead monitor. After each Laav, the bride walked around the Holy Book, following the Groom. In this she was accompanied first by her sister Sandy. At prescribed points, others took turns walking with her. It was a show of family support and solidarity. Upon completing this ritual, Nikki and Govind were husband and wife. Once again there was singing, counsel and prayer.
MP Jinny Sim then spoke in English. “Go to the PNE and ride on the roller coaster,” she advised Nikki and Govind. “You’ll find married life is much like the ups and downs of the roller coaster experience”.
To mark the end of the ceremony, several men then walked among the guests, distributing Karah Prashad, a sweet sacramental pudding. A reception and sumptuous Punjabi meal followed. Lucky and Santosh had spared no expense to provide a marriage experience Nikki and Govind would treasure.
Later, on our drive back to Hedley, Linda and I agreed the wedding had been a pleasing intertwining of Sikh faith, community, culture and values. For Nikki and Govind, the rich experience will provide lasting memories, an undergirding for a lifelong relationship. They will continue to receive support from their community, something that would be of benefit to every marriage and every family in our country.
When we celebrated Brandon’s 16th birthday at the end of June, the major event was the presentation of a gift by his other grandfather. Grampa Axel, now in his early 80’s, has always been pretty generous toward both Brandon and Alexa. When one has a birthday, the other receives a gift as well.
On this day, Grampa Axel didn’t arrive in his Dorango as usual. He owns 3 classic cars, all Chryslers, but rarely drives them, certainly never in rain. For this reason I was surprised when he pulled up in his immaculate green, 1966 Chrysler. The car has been meticulously maintained and cared for. Except for an occasional road trip to Manitoba, it has spent most of its life in a garage, along with the other two classics.
On this day, Grampa Axel backed the Chrysler carefully onto the front lawn and parked near the entrance of the house. The vehicle has an enormous trunk and I quickly concluded it must contain a large, very special gift. A gift too heavy to carry far. Cars aren’t usually permitted on the lawn, but he obviously believed the indiscretion would be overlooked this time.
I waited with considerable anticipation for Grampa Axel to open the trunk. I was disappointed and at least a little mystified when he got out and walked to the front door of the house, as though nothing of consequence was happening. Apparently I was the only one curious about what the trunk contained. No one asked why he had parked there or why he didn’t open the trunk.
From a conversation I overheard a little later between our daughter Vivian, son-in-law Troy, and Alexa and Brandon, I began to understand that they already knew what the very special gift in the trunk was. Actually, the gift was not in the trunk. The gift was the car.
“I had the entire brake system re-done,” Grampa Axel told us. “It cost me $2,000.” He wouldn’t give his grandson an unsafe car.
Brandon has just applied for his driver’s licence and has an “N”. Unlike most youths his age, he now possesses 2 cars. The other car is a 1981 Camero, given to him by Mike, the next door neighbour. He apparently is a magnet for cars. Or maybe it’s just that people like him and want to do something that will make him happy.
Brandon and his dad have devoted several months to restoring the Camero. It definitely isn’t in the extraordinary condition of the Chrysler. Mike has a gregarious, over powering personality that leans more to fast driving, with little attention to the vehicle’s upkeep. Both cars have powerful engines. Fortunately Brandon has demonstrated exceptionally sound judgment to this time. Although some friends will likely attempt to persuade him to speed or engage in other foolishness with his cars, Linda and I feel he is strong enough to resist much of this.
The Chrysler is monstrously large, not the type of car a young man would readily choose. I sensed though that Brandon understands the depth of this gesture by Grampa Axel. He knows his grandfather has long prized the Chrysler, and that for him it is no ordinary car. I observed them talking and saw Brandon several times put an arm around Grampa Axel.
He understands that in Grampa Axel’s mind, the car is like a precious heirloom. He is passing it on to a responsible member of a younger generation, in the hope it will continue to be cared for and preserved. He knows, of course, that it won’t be stored in a garage. No, he hopes Brandon will drive the car and enjoy it. The Chrysler is a gift given with a lot of forethought and a great measure of love.
I knew attempting to persuade Howie Smith to do anything was a lot like playing poker with a professional gambler. Before being sent to our camp in Hedley, he’d been in foster homes and group homes. Although only 15, he had decided that every worker’s goal was to change him. He had become adept at resisting change. His goal was to one day be sentenced to Matsqui Institution, a federal penitentiary where he’d heard his Dad was doing time.
On this July day, with the temperature in the high 30’s, a one inch thick steak placed on the hood of a car would have broiled in minutes. As I walked toward the Lodge where our students ate lunch, I felt certain Howie would be waiting. His group was planning to swim in the Similkameen River. Howie though, was assigned to kitchen duty in the Lodge today and I knew he’d resist this tenaciously. I knew also the others would be keen observers as he argued his case. If Howie contrived to avoid kitchen duty they would employ his tactics when they wished to avoid an assignment. As program coordinator, the weight of this fell on me.
The Probation Officer’s background notes indicated no one had been able to control Howie to this time – not his mother, the school
system, the probation officer, or the police.
He was too smart, focused and stubborn to be bribed. Too tough to feel threatened. And seemingly too insulated, at least to this time, to respond to love.
Walking briskly along the path to the Lodge, Howie and the others came into view. They had finished lunch and were lounging languidly around the picnic tables under the tall pines, trying to escape the intense Hedley heat. Their equally over-heated leaders were talking quietly at another table.
Howie’s white kitchen garb contrasted sharply with his shiny black hair and dark skin. I plunked myself down on a table top and, as I had anticipated, he detached himself from the little group and parked himself resolutely in front of me. Feet spread apart and arms folded across his chest, it seemed he wanted to intimidate me. Like most students, he had arrived here already a committed smoker. Without shifting his intent gaze from my face, he inhaled deeply from his cigarette, gathering courage. He knew I wouldn’t roll over easily.
“I need to talk to ya!” he said, a distinct note of challenge already in his voice.
“Yes Howie, that’s why l came.”
For a moment my response disconcerted him. Then, jerking his head toward the Lodge, he said “I don’t want to go back in there. Everyone’s going swimming in the river.”
Aware an attempt to persuade him would be frustrating and a waste of time for us both, I decided to take a calculated risk.
“Howie,” I said.
“If your dad was here, I think there’s something he’d really want to say to you.”
His eyes widened perceptibly. I was playing an unexpected card.
I had his attention, but, not wanting to be conned, he silently scrutinized me with great intensity. After an uncomfortable silence, I said quietly, “Howie, do you want to know what your dad would say?”
Brushing a fly from his arm, he relented. “Ya,” he said, “I do.”
Placing a hand on his shoulder, I lowered my voice and spoke as though to my own son. “Howie, I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life. The one I regret most is walking away from the family. If I had been there when you needed me, your life would have been better.’’
A single tear trickled down Howie’s cheek. I continued, “Son, I always turned from the hard things. Never got strong. When I grew up, I was afraid. Don’t be like me. The hard stuff will make you strong. For you there’s still time.” I paused, then said, “Howie, I haven’t told you this before, but I really do love you.”
Howie’s shoulder’s twitched involuntarily, as though the words had touched his soul. There was a straightening of the shoulders, an almost imperceptible nod.
“Thanks,” he said, then turned and walked back into the Lodge.
You could say Howie lost the poker game, but I’m pretty sure if you’d asked him, he would have said, “I won big.”
Shirley Hardy was given her first diagnosis of cancer 15 years ago. Presently she is battling it for the third time. She has endured both chemotherapy and radiation. “I don’t want any more of that,” she said. Her doctor has told her it is inoperable and would like to give her his estimate of the time she has left.
Shirley is a fighter, though, and is focusing her thoughts on staying alive and becoming healthy again. Talking about this significant health challenge she smiled and said, “I’ve tried what doctors have to offer. Now I’m putting my hope in homeopathic medicine.” On Sunday the Hedley Community Club served a delicious brunch as part of a fund raiser to help Shirley pay for the homeopathic approach. Anyone looking for a good cause to support can contact T.J. Bratt at the Hedley Country Market. Ph. 250-292-8600.
A small town perspective on people, community, politics and environment.