Valentine’s Day, More Than A Box Of Chocolates?

Art & Linda Martens in Hedley, BC

Last week, while thinking about the coming of Valentine’s Day, my mind drifted back to the evening I met Linda on a hayride sponsored by the Mennonite church she attended. We had both been raised in the church, but my commitment had lapsed, as had that of my closest friends. I felt drawn to Linda’s fun loving nature and her capacity to laugh easily. Two weeks later I walked half a mile to the nearest pay phone and asked her to go to an Abbotsford Panthers basketball game. I didn’t want my family to be aware if she turned me down.

Looking now at the early years of our relationship, I realize I really didn’t have the understanding or maturity to make it work. Fortunately Linda was more settled and she was thinking beyond a few dates. Even that might not have been sufficient though and Linda’s mom apparently considered me an ill-conceived choice by her daughter. Shortly before we were married, she said to Linda, “I’m concerned about you two.” Understandably, she was probably troubled by the fact that I owned nothing except a recently purchased 1950 flathead Ford.

In today’s pretty complacent thinking about marriage, I wonder if ours would have survived. Like many of our friends, financially we started with almost nothing. Also, I always tended to over commit to work and Linda was at home with our children many evenings. What held us together?

We had grown up in the still quite cohesive Mennonite culture existing at that time. Our parents, and virtually their entire social circle, provided an example of a stable family life. They clung tenaciously to Mennonite roots, culture, and beliefs. Also to the German language. They wanted their children to embrace the simple, unadorned faith that had been passed on to them by previous generations. It was a faith intertwined with a good deal of culture, and had been practised by Mennonites in Ukraine and Russia, and in Holland before that. Although pyrogies, farmers sausage, cabbage rolls and home made white buns weren’t essential to the faith, in practise, a relationship did exist.

In our preschool days, our families spoke Low German at home. It was a dialect that came out of Holland and was the mother tongue of many Mennonites. The written version never really caught on, so in most churches the regular German predominated. Since neither Linda or I had a grasp of the language spoken by ministers, we didn’t understand the sermons until an English language Mennonite church was later started in our community. In spite of this, we understood the teaching that marriage was “for better or for worse, till death do us part.”

Without realizing it, this historical heritage of culture, language and faith seeped into our psyches. And into the psyches of the Mennonite friends we grew up with and who are still important to us. None of the approximately dozen couples we still consider intimate friends from the past have gone through a separation or divorce.

It was a different, more stable time in Canada and certainly Mennonites were not alone in wanting marriages to survive. Our grandchildren, now in their late teens, are immersed in a culture in which there isn’t a high regard for fidelity in marital relationships. It doesn’t even encourage marriage.

Linda was 20 (plus 4 days, as she sometimes reminds me), and I was 23 when we got married. Very young by today’s standards. We tested the bond between us early, tent camping for 3 months on the then undeveloped far side of Sheridan Lake in the Cariboo. The mosquitoes were ravenous and Linda particularly deplored the rain. Those 3 months set the stage for me attending university and for many of the adventures we have shared. In spite of our share of setbacks and failures, staying in the game for the long run has given us a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction.

By their example, our parents and their friends showed us the importance of overlooking slights, forgiving, never giving up and providing a stable home for their children. If we pass on to the next generation this deep commitment to sound values, Valentine’s Day could mean more than a card, a box of chocolates and a glass of wine.

Lee McFadyen, Environmental and Organic Advocate

Lee McFadyen

When Lee McFadyen arrived in Canada from Australia in 1967 at age 25, she planned to stay only 2 years. “I wanted to see the country, particularly the Canadian Rockies,” she said. “I had a nursing degree and it was my intention to return to Melbourne and work there. Everything changed when I turned in to a farm in Cawston and asked for a drink of water. The owner of the farm was Mr. McFadyen.”

Lee had been made aware at an early age that water is important for much more than drinking. “The only time my Dad ever swatted my back side,” she recalled with evident amusement, “ was when I threw out half a glass of water. He told me I should have poured it into the bucket we used to water the garden. We were in the midst of a serious drought.”

She had grown up on the family farm in Australia. “We didn’t have television or electricity. My early years instilled in me a deep respect for land and water and all nature. The aboriginal people taught us to look after the land. That became embedded in me.”

Upon arriving in Toronto she initially worked in a hospital. “I didn’t live comfortably in the city,” she said. “I didn’t like the smells and the noise.” Requesting the glass of water led to marriage with Bob and a lifetime of organic farming and advocating for the Similkameen environment.

At that time their farm consisted of 250 acres. “I loved the sounds of birds, lightning and thunder, the river rising, a snake slithering in the grass.”

Lee McFadyen in her backyard, with Mt. Chopaka in the background.

Reading Sir Albert Howard’s An Agricultural Testament provided the sound understanding she would need to become a force in organic farming. Sir Albert was one of the key founders of organic agriculture. Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring significantly impacted her work in protecting the environment. The Rodale Institute also played a role in her education.

“My father understood the need to protect the land. He didn’t use chemical fertilizers. At the end of his life he told me he had only one serious regret. He had agreed to let the government use a portion of his land for experimentation. They sprayed DDT on it. Years later this still saddened him.”

Lee’s environmental advocacy began some 40 years ago. She was asked by pioneer rancher, Mrs. C.C. McCurdy, for help in responding to the proposal to construct a Keremeos sewage treatment plant. “We weren’t opposed to the plant, but the location was a serious issue for us. It required a lot of research. Fortunately I had learned to do research as a nurse. We didn’t get everything we wanted, but in time we did get a better location and a plant more suited to future needs.”

Her understanding was enlarged when she began noticing there were fewer birds. “It became clear to me that without cleaner agriculture, we can’t have a cleaner environment. Everything we touch comes from the land. Land is life giving. ”

Lee McFadyen received COABC (Certified Organic Associations of BC) Founder’s Award

There wasn’t much information available concerning organic growing so she developed a course and taught it at the Keremeos and Penticton campuses of Okanagan college. She also developed a course that is now used by Canadian Organic Growers.

For some time Lee and others have been pressing hard for policies and practices to save our water shed. “Everyone can do something,” she said. “We should all be very aware of the amount of water we use. Also, don’t litter. Plastics are especially destructive. Bits of plastic migrate through the soil and end up in the watertable. The way we dispose of medications and cosmetics is also a problem for water.”

Lee practises what she teaches. “I’ve never owned a clothes dryer,” she said. “They use too much energy. Also, clothes last longer when they’re dried on a line.” She is concerned about the excessive amount of packaging, especially plastics. “When I come home with a new product, I sometimes write to the manufacturer about the excess. Letters have more power than emails. They take up space.”

Consumerism troubles her. “Advertising programs children to want things. Consumerism causes enormous damage to the planet.”

Lee still grows and markets basil and parsley, and seems surprisingly content. “I enjoy my grandchildren, the cycle of the seasons, seeing 5 nuthatches at my birdfeeder. I’m happy when a sick friend gets better.” It started with a glass of water.