Relationships Are Worth Nourishing

Relationships by

Although I am in regular contact with Brian, I have never met him and almost certainly never will. He’s serving a lengthy sentence in the Idaho Maximum Security Institution, a commercially operated prison. A trouble maker in the prison until quite recently, he was “bequeathed” to Linda and me by our friend Arnet Hales, who passed away last year.

With Arnet gone, we are Brian’s only connection to the world outside the high metal fence that surrounds the prison. From him and other inmates, I’ve learned something about how important it is to nourish relationships.

Maintaining outside relationships while in prison is particularly challenging. Prisons tend to have a plethora of regulations that discourage substantive interactions, even with family. U.S. prisons are especially harsh. Except for one telephone conversation, our communication with Brian has been by letter. In that single phone call from him, he said very forlornly, “I’ve done too much time. My family and friends have given up on me. I don’t know where they are anymore. I don’t blame them.” Possibly he didn’t make the effort and they didn’t either.

Having lived many years without letters or visits before Arnet’s time, Brian has become aware of the value of friendships. He invariably expresses fervent appreciation when we write.

In my work life I interviewed many inmates, many of whom, like Brian had lost all outside connections. On one occasion at the B.C. Penitentiary (since then shut down and demolished) I was required to speak with a man through a small metal mesh in a plexiglass window. Slight, with thinning brown hair and a wan, expressionless visage, everything about him suggested a deep inner desolation.

Dressed in grey prison garb, he observed me vacantly, seemingly incapable of believing any good would come from this conversation. 18 years in prison had apparently taken away all zest for life. Even so, he wanted a friend and had applied to our organization for a citizen sponsor.

I’ve come to understand that prison walls and regulations are not the only obstacles to communication. Most of us at times erect relationship barriers, intentionally or through neglect. Pressures at work, disagreements at home, discouragement, or complacency can distract us from what is really significant. I know one individual who will not accept a telephone call when her favorite tv program is on. In-depth conversations become more difficult when people continuously send and receive text messages.

Linda and I have been guilty of permitting relationships to languish. When we first moved to Hedley in the late 1970’s, we were too preoccupied with work and family to maintain important friendships we had left behind in the Fraser Valley. Due to lack of attention, they withered.

Dr. Mensa Otabil

Reflecting back on that time, we realize that Dr. Mensa Otabil was right when he wrote in Pathways To Success, “90% of the people in your life today will not be there in 10 years.”

Fortunately, when an employment change took us back to Abbotsford for some 25 years, we were able to restore many of the relationships we had neglected. When we returned to Hedley 5 years ago, we decided we would not repeat past negligence. In the hope of retaining and adding to our connections, we began writing an email letter to family and friends every 2 months.

Mostly they talk about life in this rustic, somewhat remote community. If Linda is baking brown bread or chocolate chip cookies, we write about the aroma and anticipation. When we still had 3 chickens, they received respectful, occasionally disgruntled mention. We have written about the popular monthly $5 pancake breakfasts at the Seniors’ Centre, the Museum’s Stamp Mill Day celebrating Hedley’s gold boom past, and the Community Club’s summer street dance.

The content of these letters is never sensational. Writing about small town life in a manner that interests our more sophisticated city friends can be daunting. Their responses at times do cause us to ponder. Some provide a sketch of daily routines, challenges, adventures. Many write only a few lines but want to stay in touch. Others never respond but when we meet them, they express appreciation for the letters. “We’re not good communicators,” they say, “but we like reading about your lives in Hedley. Keep the letters coming.”

Staying in touch need not be arduous. A phone call, card, email or visit lets people know we value their friendship. Relationships are worth nourishing.

Recent Arrivals A Benefit To Hedley

Our new neighbours in Hedley, Dian & Tap.

At the beginning of 2017 a number of homes in Hedley were for sale. Linda and I hoped for an influx of quality people willing to commit to our community. By the end of the year almost every for sale sign had come down and it appears our wish has been granted.

Among the new people are our next door neighbours, Tap Nevalainen and Dian McKusick, who moved from Maple Ridge in August. They have very quickly acquired a deep appreciation for the simplicity and peacefulness of rural life. “We lived near railway tracks,” Dian told us. “There were train whistles all night. I had difficulty sleeping.”

Both had experienced a failed relationship when they met in a bar 6 years ago. “I had decided I’d never do that again,” Di told us. Tap wasn’t looking either, but admits he was smitten quickly. “It was pretty close to love at first sight.” Di nodded and said, “It was the same for me.”

Like most of the new emigres to our community, Tap and Di have been matured and tempered by life experiences. Until they made their move to Hedley, Tap worked in construction, building high rise apartment buildings, at times 40 to 50 stories. “I was foreman overseeing the construction of the foundations,” he said. “All the concrete work. On the last building, we dug down 6 levels. On these projects there is always water to deal with.”

Tap was 13 when he moved with his parents from Finland to Canada. Having a pragmatic bent, he knew at a young age he wanted to be a carpenter. “I quit school after grade 10. That was enough to get me into an apprentice program when I turned 19. I didn’t see a need for more education.”

At age 12, Di learned from a sister she was a foster child, not the biological daughter of her parents. “It was a huge shock. She also told me my birth mother had just been found murdered. I first met my biological father and siblings at a Catholic prayer time for my mother.”

Deeply troubled by the unexpected revelations, her life spiraled downward and she ran away. “I was mixed up and didn’t understand. I was unhappy with school and myself.” Unable to cope with Di’s erratic behaviours, her mother enrolled her in the school at Convent of the Sacred Heart, hoping this would settle her. It proved to be an ineffective solution. Di was then placed in a group home where she lived until age 18.

She didn’t become bitter toward the family. “I consider myself lucky, ” she said, “I didn’t get moved around like a lot of foster kids. They are my family and I have a lot of contact with them.”

Di attended school only to grade 7. At age 16 she began working weekends in a rest home, preparing breakfast and dinner for residents, giving medications and doing other tasks. Her husband’s business took her to Quebec for 25 years. When the relationship collapsed she returned to B.C. “I was determined to prove I could make it on my own. I cleaned houses and high rises. On weekends I cleaned at Canada Place.”

Meanwhile, for about 30 years, Tap was a foreman on high rise construction. Getting the foundation exactly right was crucial. He needed to develop the thinking to deal with complex challenges, some of them people related. “It’s nasty out there in big construction,” he said. “The people can make your life miserable. I’m very happy to be out of there.”

Tap, holding one of his rustic birdhouses.

Now in Hedley Tap is again in construction, building dwellings for birds. With Di’s deft decorating skills, each house becomes an intricate work of art, with an alluring rustic aura. It’s a great common ground for them.

Di decorates Tap’s creations.

Until I met Tap, I didn’t think I’d ever be happy again,” Di said. “Moving to Hedley and doing the birdhouses together has been good for us. I’m very happy.”

Like most of those who migrated here in 2017, Tap and Di show up at community functions, including the early morning coffee time at the Seniors’ Centre. They intend to volunteer their time and talents to assist local organizations. Very likely other rural centres are benefiting from a similar influx of solid contributing citizens. Many come with experience, ideas, and skills that will make communities more attractive, and enrich us all.

The Grahams of Hedley

Maggie Graham Pitkethly (photo taken in 1970)

Over the years I’ve heard plenty of speculation by Hedley oldtimers as to how Bill and Maggie Graham found the means to purchase the Colonial Inn after the mine closed. Maggie had worked as a housekeeper for the mine. Bill had operated an ore crusher in the Stamp Mill at the base of the mountain. It was generally known they had not come with money. Since none of the speculations could be verified, I decided they were a rural version of urban myth.

When I learned recently the Grahams’ daughter Maureen and her husband Campbell Dirksen live in Keremeos, I immediately called them and asked if they would talk with Linda and me.

In their comfortable home with a spectacular view of the valley and mountains, we enjoyed Maureen’s rich blend of coffee and delightful blueberry scones. We would learn she and Campbell have an impressive grasp of details from the past.

My dad, Bill Graham came from Scotland,” Maureen told us at the outset. “Mom was born in Hedley in 1909, in the house that still stands at the corner of Daly and Irene. Her father, Anton Winkler, owned several hotels, including the Grand Union, one of 6 in town. Over the years all burned down. My parents were married in 1935.”

The Inn was purchased first by Dr. Moore, a dentist who used it for his practice. When the mine shut down operations in 1955, the miners mostly moved on. Having few clients in town, Dr. Moore sold the Inn to the Grahams about a year and a half later.

Where did they get that amount of money?” I asked, hoping they could shed light on this local mystery.

Dad asked the Kelowna Exploration Company for permission to clean up the dust left behind from the mining operation,” Maureen said. “He was the only one who thought there must be gold in that dust. They gave him a profit sharing contract.”

Campbell picked up the story. “With a broom and wheel barrow, he swept up the dust in the Stamp Mill. He removed the floor boards and swept under them. All told, he collected enough dust to fill 8 tram line cars. He had it sent by train from Princeton to Everett, Washington. It took 3 years.”

It turned out there was a lot of gold in all that dust,” Maureen recalled. “Even after the mine got its share, my parents were able to buy the Inn and also send me and my brother to college in Vancouver.”

Bill and Maggie ran the Inn as a lodge and restaurant. Maureen has warm memories of working in the kitchen with her red headed, vivacious Mom. “She taught me everything I know. I baked 12 loaves of bread every day. People wanted to buy them but we needed them all. Our blueberry pies were very popular. We received letters from all over the world from satisfied guests.”

Famous people like Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Governor Generals, and former Saskatchewan premier Tommy Douglas came by for a meal and sometimes stayed overnight.

One time Bing Crosby said we should have a juke box. Mom teased him, saying she wouldn’t have any Bing Crosby records in it anyway. She was good with people. Very friendly and she always remembered names of guests when they returned. She often picked up hitch hikers and brought them to the restaurant and gave them a meal. Sometimes she put them up overnight.”

Eight years after buying the Inn, the Grahams also acquired the Coach House, located at the rear of the property, near the Stamp Mill. “People were removing doors and windows and other items,” Campbell said. “It required a lot of repairs.” Unfortunately in 1971, Kelowna Exploration Co. had the iconic stamp mill burned due to liability concerns.

Bill died of cancer in 1968. About 5 years later Maggie married David Pitkethly, a wealthy businessman who stopped regularly for a meal at the Colonial Inn.

In July, 1975 Maggie and Maureen were collecting rocks on a mountainside. Without warning, a large boulder broke loose above them and came hurtling down toward the two women. Without thought for her own safety, Maggie pushed Maureen out of its path. She didn’t have time to get out of the way herself and was killed instantly.

At the end of our conversation with the Dirksens, Linda and I were convinced Bill and Maggie Graham played a significant role in Similkameen history. Their story is authentic, not an urban or rural myth.