Jim Gray has the appearance of a cowboy philosopher. He is one of those unique and delightful characters who drift into our little community, look around and decide to put down roots. Hedley is pretty accepting of individuals who resist the strictures imposed by societal expectations. His father was in the military and the family moved around a lot. As a child in Germany, he played on the mounds of rubble remaining after World War 2.
As an adult he trained to be a chef and worked in hotels and also mining camps. He still enjoys preparing meals for others.
Some years ago he was in a serious automobile accident and subsequently endured numerous surgeries on his face to repair the damage. The surgeries were often followed by bouts of pneumonia and eventually he tired of this and declined further attempts to make him pretty. We like his face the way it is.
The past 2 years he has been on duty at the Hedley Historical Museum during the tourist season. He gravitates naturally to people and his booming voice and easy laugh draws them to him. Often they want to take photos of him. By the time they leave the museum Jim is their friend.
He is one of those delightful individuals who add a splash of colour to life in Hedley.
At the end of her presentation to a group of tourists at the Hedley Museum, Lynn Wells was approached hesitantly by a young woman. “Do you live here?” she whispered. Lynn assured her she did. Incredulous ,the woman’s eyes widened and she asked, “why?” Had she known where Lynn has lived, she might have been even more incredulous.
Lynn’s beginnings didn’t portend anything special. “I was born in Toronto,” she told me. “My family soon moved to a small acreage where we had a garden and an orchard.” From age 4 she pleaded with her parents to buy her a horse. When she was 10 they bought her a mature pony, or so they thought. Some months later, a vet informed them it was actually a young stallion. “I was bucked off that horse many times,” she said. It was an early lesson in staying in the game and using difficult situations to gain experience.
As a young adult, without a degree or training, she persuaded a tv station to hire her. She was trained to be a production assistant and worked on a variety of shows. “This is where I met my husband,” she said.
Her world continued to expand. “We lived in Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa and Oakville. After working for W5, my husband wanted to move to Paris to study for 2 years.” Suddenly she was in the midst of an unfamiliar culture, among people who spoke a language and had attitudes she didn’t comprehend.
Just as she had decided years ago to continue riding the bucking stallion, she now chose not to be overwhelmed by loneliness and anxiety. “I used that time to become quite fluent in French,” she said, “and I learned to get around in the city. I became more confident of my ability to survive in challenging circumstances. I learned I could take risks.”
Back in Canada, her marriage disintegrated and she needed to press ahead on her own, with two young sons. At age 48, while employed by Canada Post, she began working toward an Arts degree at the University of Ottawa. Her manager suggested professionally this degree would have no value. By now she had developed the inner strength to say, “I’m doing it for myself.” It was a step toward the inner contentment that would in time allow her to live anywhere, including Hedley.
Another development bringing Lynn closer to Hedley was her move to Penticton. “That was to support my mother.” She began working as Executive Director for a non-profit immigration services organization. “Two years as a stranger in France helped me better understand some of the issues faced by newcomers.” She had become quite adept at writing grant applications and increased funding for the organization from $80,000 per year to $300,000.
Here she was introduced to travelling Citizenship Judge Bill Day. “We were involved in putting on citizenship ceremonies,” she said. “Bill wanted to meet the person who had organized the event. After a talk, he handed me his card and invited me to join him for coffee when I came to Vancouver.” That invitation was the first step in a coming together of two individuals admirably suited to each other.
When her aged mother required extensive home care, Lynn quit her job and looked after her the last 2 years of her life. She said, “sometimes I’d get in my car and explore. This is how I discovered Hedley. It was a bit quirky. On one of my excursions into the community, I noticed a property I really liked. There were two, not in great shape, houses on it. In time it came on the market and I snapped it up.”
When her mother passed away, Lynn moved into one of the houses and quickly became involved in the community. Today she is a member of the Hedley Historic Museum and the Hedley Seniors’ Centre. She also chairs the Hedley Improvement District (HID).
Having lived in Paris and Canada’s largest cities, and having visited Hong Kong numerous times, Lynn Wells is a cosmopolitan lady. It is in Hedley though, she has discovered an inner equilibrium, a quiet place in her soul. She likes the people, the scenery, the wildlife, and she likes to give back to her community. The incredulous young lady might not understand, but Lynn just likes to be here.
When Linda and I entered the Hedley Seniors’ Centre on Saturday, Nov. 14, we were greeted by a pleasant, animated buzz of voices. It was 9:30 am and the Centre’s annual craft sale was in full swing. The place was already swarming with vendors and patrons. In past years only the two rooms beyond the kitchen had been used. This year there were 19 vendors and additional tables were set up from the kitchen to the entrance. There was an eclectic assortment of wares.
Brendan McIver was situated at the first table. He had come from Osoyoos to sell his mini doughnuts. That is quite a trek but he seemed happy to be here. “It gets me out,” he said.
Michelle Jacobs of Hedley had one of the more elaborate arrays of products. Beadwork is a prominent feature in her display. A journeyman electrician by trade, she devotes a lot of her non working hours to crafts. In the coming year she plans to take her display to a number of First Nation Pow Wows.
Fourteen year old Ayrelea of Hedley used the sale to raise funds for a missions trip to Vicente Guerrero, Mexico. Her display featured hand crafted barrettes, chocolate lollipops and jars of cookie mix. Her friends Heidi and Stephanie were at her table for company and moral support.
Colleen Doherty, former chair of the Hedley Improvement District was selling jewellery and leather work, plus other crafts.
Also on hand was Joseph Dube, representing the Princeton Knights of Columbus. He was selling lottery tickets for $2.00. The first prize is $50,000. That would be handy, especially just before Christmas. Other prizes consist of vehicles.
Our friend Richard Lubiak again had small jars of jelly on display, as well as craft items. In the past his wife Margaret sold her jellies and other kitchen products at the sale. After her passing, Richard carried on. Margaret had left behind quite a supply of jellies. He has sold them all, but his daughter Tanya is following in her mother’s kitchen footsteps. Richard is now selling her jellies. The fruit comes from his little orchard.
Beryl Wallace, president of the Seniors’ Centre said later, “vendors told me they enjoy the atmosphere here. They say it’s friendlier than some venues.” Ruby Falk of Keremeos also commented on the friendliness of people. She and friend Bonita Aldous hosted side by side tables. For many it’s an opportunity to meet friends and make new acquaintances.
In addition to the Craft Sale, the Seniors’ Centre organizes and hosts a number of community functions. Every second Sunday of each month they offer a $5.00 breakfast which includes 2 eggs, 2 pancakes and sausages or bacon, and coffee. On Remembrance Day they provide a free lunch of sandwiches, desserts and a hot toddy. The Centre is available for Celebration of Life ceremonies and food is served. Hedley Improvement District elections are commonly held at the Centre. It’s a place where the community comes together for a variety of reasons.
Sitting at the round table in our sun room this week, Richmond attorney Veronica Armstrong talked about her life and her legal practice. She had given a free presentation on wills and personal planning at the Hedley Seniors’ Centre Saturday evening. Linda and I invited her to come for coffee before returning to her home Monday morning.
“My husband and I moved to Canada from South Africa in 1998,” she told us. “Our home was in Johannesburg, a leading financial centre at the time. We came for our 3 children. There was a lot of crime. We didn’t want them to have to look over their shoulders all the time.”
As with many immigrants, the move proved to be difficult for her. Having experienced the end of Apartheid, she had very much wanted to be part of the transition to a more equitable society. Not knowing many people in her new community, she felt deeply lonely. Also, in spite of solid legal experience in the financial realm in South Africa, finding employment in Canada was challenging.
Veronica is fluent in English and Afrikaans, and also speaks enough Cantonese to get by. “In South Africa I worked for a huge bank,” she said. “I was head of the bank’s international legal division. When I looked for work in Canada, employers intimated I had come from some remote backwater. The only job I could get initially was at a Taco Time.”
In 1999 the B.C. Securities Commission advertised a position. The competition had actually closed a week earlier, but she called and asked if she could still apply. When she told them she had considerable experience with derivatives, they instructed her to fax her resume immediately. They were looking at applications that afternoon.
Veronica was hired and worked for the Commission from 1999-2007, then joined a start-up company in real estate. When the crash of 2008 killed the company, she founded her own law practice, Veronica Armstrong Law Corporation, and started over. Her focus now is primarily on wills and personal planning, including power of attorney and representative agreements. She also does some small business contracts. All her clients, many of whom are women, come to her by referral. “Sometimes they just need to talk about their planning,” she said. “When they know they have done it right, they can relax.”
I asked Veronica what basic counsel she has for people. “Wills aren’t important just for people up in age,” she said. “It‘s a good idea for younger people to have a will too. Also, review the will, especially when there has been a major change such as a birth or a death in the family. Begin to have a conversation with the executor of your will or whoever has the power of attorney. Make your wishes known. Deal with legal and financial matters.”
“It’s also a good idea to have a Representative Agreement,” she continued. “This puts in writing your wishes concerning personal care and health care.” Legal advice is important so it’s done right, she suggested.
We then went on to ask Veronica further about her interests and activities away from her office. She smiled broadly as she talked with great enthusiasm about her 3 children. There was also excitement in her voice when she told us about her role in music at the church she attends. “There are about 3,000 families,” she said. “We have people from the Philippines, Goa (India), Africa and China, as well as many Caucasians.” She sings in 2 choirs and leads one church choir. Music is a joy and she continues to take voice lessons. Sensing her excitement when she talked about the church involvement, it was easy to conclude this is where she finds a great deal of inclusion and fulfillment.
When I asked about her purpose in life, she said, “I tried to figure this out for about a year. Now I understand that my purpose is to love. I smile at people a lot when I’m out walking. Some smile back. Some probably think I’m crazy.”
When we bade her goodbye, she smiled and gave us each a warm hug. An attorney whose interest goes far beyond wills and contracts, she does indeed love people. It’s easy to smile when Veronica smiles.
I have many times experienced a tingling of awe and reverence watching aging veterans solemnly marching in measured cadence to the Hedley cenotaph, a solitary piper playing martial music. Invariably, their visages are inscrutable, possibly remembering fallen comrades. On Remembrance Day we honour them, but unless we have hunkered down behind rocks in the mountains of Afghanistan under attack by the Taliban, or flown in bombing missions against ISIS, we cannot know the fear and danger many vets have endured.
I returned recently to the account of Louis Zamperini in the best selling book and movie, Unbroken. An Olympic runner, Louis’ athletic career was interrupted by World War 11. The Green Hornet, in which he served as a bombardier, went down over the Pacific Ocean on May 27, 1943. He and 2 crew members inflated two rubber rafts and began floating toward Japanese held territory. Their only food was several thick Hershey chocolate bars designed to be unpalatably bitter A few half pint tins of water, a fishing line and hooks, a brass mirror and a patch kit were among their meagre supplies.
Near the equator, they endured heat during the day and cold at night. Sharks 6 to 12 feet long circled the rafts incessantly, rubbing against the undersides. Their clothes were growing looser.
Determined to survive, Louis and Phil, pilot of the Green Hornet, challenged each other and willed fear away. Mac, another crew member, became increasingly pessimistic and resigned. His body grew weaker, following his spirit. One night, immersed in depression, he ate the remaining chocolate.
Louis captured 2 albatrosses, which they ate. He and Phil devised an ingenious plan and killed 2 sharks. They ate the livers. Having no drinking water Louis, whose lifestyle had been thoroughly irreligious, prayed for rain. The next day there was a downpour.
One day 2 Japanese planes strafed them, damaging the rafts but not wounding the men. That night they fought off sharks while baling water and repairing the rafts. In the water, Louis thwarted a shark attack by punching it hard on the nose. He promised if God would save them, he’d serve Heaven forever.
On Day 47 , they landed on an atoll of the Marshall Islands. Mac had given up and died. Gaunt in their ragged clothes, Louis and Phil were taken prisoner by the Japanese. Their initial captors treated them well. When Louis was sent to “Execution Island” though, a new ordeal began. In a small cell he shared with rats, fleas and mosquitoes, he received 2 cups of water per day. Rice balls were thrown on the gravel floor. Guards beat and poked him with sticks.
“The guards tried to rob us of our dignity and self-worth,” Louis wrote later. “I made a decision to not let them break me.”
One guard, The Bird, singled out Louis for particularly harsh attention. He regularly clubbed him and punched him in the face. Sometimes he forced him to stand holding a long beam over his head. In the final weeks of the war, he told Louis to fill a barrel with water. “Tomorrow I’m going to drown you,” The Bird told him. Only the end of the war prevented the prisoners from following through on a plot to kill this inhumane tormentor.
Free and back home, Louis could not escape the horrors he had endured. In flashbacks and nightmares, lice and fleas wriggled over his body. The Bird struck him with the heavy steel buckle on his belt. “I believed only The Bird could restore me, by suffering and dying in the grip of my hands.” One night he woke up on his wife Cynthia, choking her. Alcohol was destroying their marriage.
Although he resisted strenuously, Cynthia persuaded him to a attend a rally of a young Billy Graham. Graham’s words penetrated into the depth of his being and he was reminded of his promise on the raft. He responded to Graham’s invitation to accept God’s healing and never had another flashback.
In time he wanted to meet and forgive those who had tormented him. The Bird refused, but when Louis met many of the former tormentors in a Japanese prison, they warmly embraced him and his message.
For combatants, the inner battles don’t always end when they are demobilized. As a nation we need to commit to their physical, mental and emotional healing.
I reserve all forms of the word “amaze” for only that which is truly extraordinary. For me, autumn colours have an impact on my psyche and senses that I consider amazing. In Manning Park a month ago, the yellow leaves were lighted brilliantly by the October sun. At various points along Highway 3 between Hedley and Hope, numerous splashes of yellow contrasted with the green forest that blankets the towering mountains. Standing on the bridge across 20 Mile Creek here in Hedley a few days later, I was awed by the spectacular wall of yellow alongside the creek. A grove of trees on a meadow on Nickel Plate Mountain provided an astounding array of red leaves.
For me, “amazing” is an appropriate word to describe the manner in which Mother Nature, like a quick change artist, suddenly strips the colour and beauty from the trees, leaving them bereft and stark, at times dripping with rain. The change tends to leave me feeling somewhat bereft myself, and a little mystified at how silently and surreptitiously this is accomplished.
This autumn the falling of the leaves came quickly, coinciding with the passing of 3 valued friends. In each case, like the leaves, they departed too soon. As a university student Eric Robinson was for two summers a labourer/teacher with Frontier College. He later became principle of the college, received an honourary doctorate from the University of Calgary and was awarded the Order of Ontario. Although I had not seen Eric in years prior to his passing, I continue to miss his warmth and ability to speak about ideas. Another lost friend is Barry Berger of Keremeos. A physically large man with a self deprecating sense of humour, Barry worked with street people in Vancouver, sometimes in dangerous circumstances. Cousin Eddy, who I wrote about last week is another individual I will miss. Known as “Fast Eddy,” he was a highly skilled and respected truck driver. Each of these individuals exemplified qualities I enjoyed and respected.
Both fall leaves and human lives possess the capacity to create in me a sense of awe. Then all too quickly the beauty begins to recede and soon fades into oblivion. Just as we have a short time to observe and appreciate the grandeur of nature’s autumn colours, the opportunity to understand and appreciate the people in our lives is also relatively short.
Fortunately the colours of late fall can still impress, and so can the wisdom of people, especially those with white hair. I’ve concluded that if I stand still long enough to take note of the leaves, and take time to get to know the people around me, the sense of amazement can always be there.
A small town perspective on people, community, politics and environment.