All posts by Art Martens

The Nelsons of Cawston

Phyllis & Fred Nelson

Sitting at a table among fruit laden trees in the midst of Fred and Phyllis Nelson’s Cawston orchard late this past summer, Linda and I felt embraced by their large family of neighbours and friends. The surrounding mountains outlined crisply against a pristine blue sky lent an aura of grandeur to the occasion. Scattered among the trees were about 200 people, all at tables, enjoying a delicious potluck meal. At the end of a protracted, dry summer, this was a welcome break in the routine of hard work. In the growing dusk, with talented musicians performing on stage, there seemed a pervasive sense of goodwill in the atmosphere.

Several very young boys with plastic shovels were digging vigorously in Fred’s potato patch. The expert manner in which they used their small shovels suggested they were offspring of local farmers.

Linda and I were intrigued by the Nelsons’ vision for this remarkable event. Wanting to know more, we returned to the orchard last week for a 2 hour conversation. “We’ve done this potluck annually for about 10 years,” Phyllis told us in reply to my question. “It’s a celebration of the harvest. We also celebrate music, and the fact we’ve been here another year. I get on the phone and invite our neighbours and friends. It’s strictly by invitation. There would be too many people if we opened it up.” We quickly grasped that she is a capable, proactive event planner.

I reminded Fred of seeing him shoo the youngsters out of his potato patch and asked if there are problems associated with the evening. “Digging up potatoes is not a permitted activity,” he said good-humouredly. “We spend a day preparing and another day cleaning up.”

Fred and Phyllis both grew up in Nelson, B.C., are only a few months apart in age and attended the same elementary school. “I became interested in Fred at age 8,” she said. “He wasn’t aware of me yet, but by age 13 we were dating.” Clearly Phyllis understood early how to make things fall into place.

After graduating in 1966, Fred trained in forestry at BCIT and Phyllis graduated from UVic with a degree in education. They were married at age 21. When their careers proved unfulfilling, they bought a VW bus and travelled for 26 months in Canada, the US and Mexico. Subsequently they fell in love with Cawston and rented the house in which they now live.

In time they were able to buy the house and a 10 acre portion of the orchard on which it is situated. The orchard was old and not producing an income. It would demand all the qualities normally required for success in any difficult endeavour. Their patience, perseverance and belief would be tested repeatedly. Fortunately Brian Mennell, a neighbour across the street, offered Fred employment and instruction in orcharding.

By this time they had 2 sons, Forrest and Pharron. Life became a financial scramble. Phyllis taught school and gave private piano lessons. Fred for some years was the water bailiff for the Fairview Irrigation District. He also did carpentry.

In 1996 they took what must have seemed a hazardous plunge into the unknown. Fred went into orcharding full-time. In the coming years they would encounter late frosts that destroyed blossoms, cold weather, crop destroying hail and much more. Lately, due to global warming there are new pests that destroy fruit and trees. All problems familiar to farmers. Their decision would require them to become a team forged together by love, trust, commitment and strength of character. They could not falter when disaster threatened.

Fred & Phyllis Nelson

I began a l0 year orchard development program,” Fred said. “Each year I took out one acre of trees and replanted with a variety of fruits, especially apples. I also switched to organic growing. For this I needed specialized equipment and materials. We are the only ones in the valley growing organic Aurora apples. They are particularly sweet, but delicate and require great care.”

Pherron Nelson (centre) & helpers packing organic aurora apples.

Now close to retirement, they will soon sell the orchard to Pharron and his wife, who already live and work on the property. Their other son, Forrest and his partner, also live in the Cawston area, and grow organic vegetables. Fred and Phyllis look forward to a slower pace and spending more time with their grandchildren. “I’m amazed at how quickly the years have flown by,” Phyllis said. Fred nodded agreement.

The Passing of Hugh Hefner and John Boersma

Hugh Hefner (April 9, 1926 – September 27, 2017) photo from Wikipedia

My friend John Boersma and Playboy empire founder Hugh Hefner had both attained the 9th decade when they passed away in September. This was pretty much all they had in common. John’s exit received little attention outside his very loyal circle of friends. Hefner had a following around the globe and for a couple of days, local and international media avidly interviewed anyone who had ever known him. I wondered about the impact of their lives.

Hugh Hefner is principally known for his Playboy Magazine and the 29 room Playboy Mansion. The former was first published in December, 1953, with Marilyn Monroe on the front cover. It became famous for its centerfold. Each issue featured a dazzlingly lovely young woman sporting an exquisite, flawless, totally nude body.

John Boersma (November 29, 1922 – September 17, 2017) photo from Dignity Memorial.

When John Boersma was a young man, a woman exposing her body publicly was considered unseemly. This was certainly true in the conservative culture in which he lived. He attained a trade, worked diligently, got married and with his wife Theresa raised 3 children. They sought to instill sound values and modeled stability.

In the mean time, Hugh Hefner was embarking on an amazingly, hedonistic life style. He established the Playboy Mansion and surrounded himself with “bunnies,” gorgeous young women he invited to live with him in the mansion. He dated up to 7 women at a time, had 5 partners over the years, plus numerous girlfriends. Into this confusing mix, he added 3 marriages. His third wife, Crystal Harris, was 26 and he was 86 when they married.

John Boersma was already in his 80’s when I met him at a longterm care facility where he visited Theresa daily. She had drifted into dementia, which might have persuaded some men to part company. Not John though. Even when she lost all speech, probably didn’t recognize him, and needed to be fed, he continued to call her “sweetie” and spend the entire day with her. When she rested, John cheered up other residents, encouraging them, often whistling a tune, adding his deep baritone to a musical group, sometimes taking a female resident’s chair and dancing with her. His zest for life raised morale and brought joy.

Hefner’s Playboy magazine lured men into a very different lifestyle. The centerfold caused their hormones to flutter erratically and dance in excited anticipation. I never did buy a copy but as a teen I occasionally slipped into the local pharmacy and surreptitiously viewed the beauty of the month. Payment of $25,000 persuaded many cash strapped lovelies to disrobe for the Playboy camera.

There’s a meticulously crafted sense of mystique around the mansion, the magazine, and Hefner himself. The Playboy empire is deliberately portrayed as a glamorous, magical kingdom with Hefner in the role of Playboy Prince. The alluring imagery is calculated to lead people to believe they’re missing something essential, and to long for that elusive ingredient.

As seen from outside the Mansion, it is indeed a glamorous and enticing lifestyle. According to several former Hefner playmates however, the reality was not as enchanting as the public image. Holly Madison, for 6 years Hefner’s #1 girlfriend, presented a more somber view in Down the Rabbit Hole. In its promotion of the book, publisher Harper Collins wrote “What seemed like a fairy tale life quickly devolved into an oppressive routine of strict rules, manipulation and battles with ambitious, backstabbing bunnies. Life inside the notorious mansion wasn’t a dream at all, and quickly became her nightmare.”

In Bunny Tales, Izabella St. James, another former Hefner girlfriend wrote, “ Every Friday morning we had to go to Hef’s room, wait while he picked up all the dog poo off the carpet, and then asked for our one thousand dollar weekly allowance. He used the money to control us. We all hated the process.” St. James described the mansion as decrepit. “The mattresses on our beds were disgusting – old, worn and stained. The whole business was built on the bodies of nude women.”

There are always some who push the bar lower. Flamboyant individuals like Hugh Hefner are able to have a destabilizing impact on our society, because the media love to feature them and we are willing to be tempted. People like John Boersma do not exude the same charm or charisma, but they set for themselves a high standard of morality and decency. They are worthy role models for us all.

 

John van Dongen On Life And Politics

John van Dongen

In a drenching downpour on a Saturday morning in 1995, I huddled under an umbrella with a ragtag group of local citizens picketing a mushroom composting complex on Lefeuvre Road in the Fraser Valley. A car stopped alongside the roadway and MLA John van Dongen stepped out. Standing under a large umbrella he explained the Farm Practices Act and answered our questions. As the Liberal Agricultural Critic, he was a staunch supporter of farming in the province.

In the ensuing months we had further conversations with him and he came to understand our concerns about the stench emanating from mushroom plants at several locations in Abbotsford. Last week I called him at his home in Abbotsford and he agreed to talk about his early years, his time as an MLA and Minister in the provincial government and the recent Darryl Plecas decision.

His beginnings were humble. “I was born 5 months after my parents came to Canada from Holland in 1949,” he said. “They had $219.00 to get started. In 1951 they bought a little swampy farm, probably with loans from family and friends. I didn’t know much English when I started grade one.”

John’s parents were Catholic. “My siblings and I were taught all the basic virtues of the Christian faith,” he said. “I attended a Catholic school and two teachers, both nuns, had a positive influence on my life. Initially I had serious thoughts about becoming a priest. I attended the Seminary of Christ the King, part of the Westminster Abbey at Mission. After 2 years, I realized I didn’t have a calling to be a priest.”

My father was a farmer, and by age 16 I decided I wanted to be a farmer too. We’d come running home from school, put on work clothes and go to the barn. My father expected us to work hard.”

At UBC he studied Agricultural Economics, still intent on farming. After his third year, the Ministry of Agriculture hired him as an Assistant Dairy Farm Inspector in summer. “I was 20,” he said, “but I looked 16. That’s when I started growing a beard.”

By 1975 he was renting a small dairy farm in Dewdney. He later bought the 135 acre dairy farm that he still operates with the help of his nephew, who is gradually taking over the family farm. In 1979, at age 29, his political education began as a member of the board of Dairyland. “I read a lot about corporate governance, and I learned from 3 senior Directors”. He was particularly influenced by Peter Friesen, an Abbotsford dairy and poultry farmer. “I held Peter’s hand when he was on his deathbed.”

John van Dongen on the dairy farm.

When Liberal MLA Harry deJong resigned his Abbotsford seat in 1994, John was nominated to replace him and he won the 1995 by-election. “I wanted government to be relevant to the people,” he said. “I tried to educate citizens about their rights. My constituency office worked with people on issues like child protection and income assistance. I would offer to come to the family home to learn about the problem. To be more effective on behalf of constituents, I worked to have constructive relationships with (NDP) government ministers.”

He developed a reputation for following through on commitments and returning phone calls. In regard to the mushroom composting issue I mentioned at the outset, John worked closely with Corky Evans, then Agriculture Minister. When I called Corky at his home and asked for his memory of this matter, he said, “John and I didn’t care about the politics. We just wanted to get the job done.”

The Liberals formed government in 2001. As Minister of Agriculture, John stickhandled through the Avian flu crises and the disastrous “mad cow” disease. Then, as Solicitor General he worked patiently with the federal government and also the Americans, to bring in the Enhanced Drivers Licence. He had been warned the Americans would never accept this.

At the end of our marathon telephone conversation, I asked about Darryl Plecas’ controversial decision to become Speaker of the Legislature. “Darryl took a 50% cut in pay to become an MLA,” he said. “Money wasn’t the motivation. He knew people didn’t want another election.”

When John van Dongen declined to support Christy Clark’s leadership, this decision ended his political career. For him it was a matter of integrity and ethics. The outcome of the recent provincial election suggests a lot of British Columbians agree.

My Dad’s Guatemalan Summer

Elderly Guatemalan Woman, photo by nationalsterotype.com

My gentle, white haired Dad didn’t actually go to Guatemala that summer in 1994. It just seemed that way. When the Mennonite Central Committee told him about Hugo, a 36 year old Guatemalan man who worked on a hog farm and lived in his car, Dad knew someone must do something. “I have much to be thankful for,” he said. “I’m living alone in a 3 bedroom home. He is welcome.”

Hugo walked in that first evening carrying his few belongings. Dad had supper waiting and over the meal they began to talk, but Hugo’s sketchy English made communication difficult.

During the first couple of weeks they collaborated in developing a simple system of signs and words. They were like 2 kids who haven’t yet learned communication requires a common language.

Jake, you want?” Hugo would say, holding up his offering. Sign language was unnecessary when Dad said, “Hugo, you want coffee?”

On work days Hugo got up at 5 a.m. and prepared breakfast for himself and Dad, often a fried egg, unbuttered toast, a spicy green pepper and coffee. By the time Dad woke, the food retained not even the slightest hint of warmth. Only the green pepper was hot. Dad ate all but the pepper, without complaint. “I lived through the Dirty Thirties,” he told us. “I was taught to be grateful for whatever was placed on the table.”

At supper it was Dad’s turn to cook. His specialty was vegetarian soups and pies. Except for Guatemalan foods, Hugo had a teenager’s palette. He loved greasy foods, especially burgers and fries. He always praised Dad lavishly, smiling broadly and saying “good food, Jake. I like.” Dad noticed though that Hugo ate little. “I don’t think he cares for my cooking,” he said. “I’m sure he stops at McDonald’s on his way home.”

At the beginning of summer, Hugo said, “Jake, my mother, my sister. They want come visit Canada 2 weeks. Is alright they stay here?” Dad knew Hugo’s family ties were tenuous. This might be an opportunity to mend fences. “Yes, Hugo,” he said. “They are welcome.”

The mother and sister soon arrived. They spoke only Spanish, so Hugo needed to interpret in his still skeletal English. The two women quickly commandeered the kitchen. Soon the fridge was stocked with ingredients to prepare tortillas, tacos, burritos, enchiladas and more. Dad was pleased.

Virtually every day, while Hugo was at work, the old mother and her daughter visited local thrift shops. They returned with bulging shopping bags. Because Hugo left early in the morning and usually returned late, Dad was often at home with the two ladies. They were learning English, but initially communication was primarily by signs and gestures.

We remembered that Hugo had told Dad the ladies wanted to stay two weeks. The time passed rapidly and when we expected they’d be leaving imminently Linda and I invited Dad and his “Guatemalan family” for dinner. Over coffee and dessert, Linda innocently asked what day they were planning to leave.

The Old Mother’s response provided insight into Guatemalan time and culture. “In our village, when someone goes on a holiday,” she explained, speaking through Hugo, “it is necessary to bring a small gift for everyone. I have too many presents for the plane. I will buy a truck and my other son will drive it back. We will go with him.”

When Hugo’s sister unexpectedly left for L.A., Dad faced a new challenge. It was not considered proper in his Mennonite culture for a man and woman to live in the same house outside the bond of marriage. How would he explain this woman, almost his own age, living in his house? He devoted many hours to working on his yard. It was looking pretty spiffy.

Several weeks later Hugo arrived driving a red 1979 Toyota pickup truck. “Brakes no good,” he said. “My brother Otto fix when he has time.”

In the eighth week Otto arrived in the pickup. When he had loaded the truck, the Old Mother came to Dad and gave him a large straw hat with a red ribbon. With tears in her eyes she said, “In my village you welcome to visit.” Then she added, “Please, you take care my Hugo.”

Yes,” Dad said. “He is like a son.” She climbed into the truck, tears on her cheeks. And so ended my Dad’s Guatemalan summer.

Rick Wilsher, “Lottery Winner”

Rick Wilsher

Four years ago  Rick Wilsher died while watching the Grey Cup Game in the Hedley Community Club. He had donated a large screen for this type of event and a number of local people were present. His plan had been to leave at half time to go to his home several kilometers east of Hedley and feed his deaf dog. He delayed his departure when he realized that “Hedley,” the band named for this community, would be providing entertainment during the intermission. Had he not delayed, he would not have been sitting at our kitchen table last week talking about what he referred to as “my death.” I decided it’s a story worth telling because it could save lives.

Rick’s body provided no clues beforehand of what was about to happen to him. When he toppled over and fell to the floor that November 24, 2013, his face quickly turned blue. Fortunately several Hedley Fire Fighters and First Responders were sitting close by. Also, a retired cardiac care nurse.

I don’t remember anything about it,” Rick told Linda and me. “I just know I was dead as a door nail.”

What happened next is an amazing account of highly motivated, trained, well equipped volunteers and concerned citizens taking action. Cherie, the retired nurse saw that Rick’s face was turning blue. She immediately understood he wasn’t breathing and there was no pulse. “He’s dead,” she said to First Responder Doug Nimchuk, “Start compressions.”

While Doug was compressing Rick’s chest to create oxygen flow to the brain and other vital organs, Doug Bratt, co-owner of the Country Market, ran to the store to call 911. Hedley didn’t yet have cell service. Chantal, a First Responder and Russ, a Fire Fighter, ran to the Fire Department for the van which was equipped with oxygen and an Automated External Defibrillator (AED). Russ cleared cars from the front of the Community Club so the ambulance would have a space.

The AED was hooked up and began issuing verbal instructions and information. “No pulse,” it said. “Stand back.” Then, “Shock the patient. Resume compressions.” After 2 shocks from the AED, administration of oxygen, and 9 minutes of compressions by Doug, Rick’s colour had returned and he had a pulse.

Before he was placed in the ambulance he gave house keys to a friend and asked him to feed the dog. He also paid the 50 cent bet he had made on the football game.

As a health professional Cherie had observed highly skilled practitioners. Her praise for the performance of the Hedley Fire Fighters and First Responders was unreserved.

Without them, Rick would not have made it,” she said. “They did everything they were trained to do. They keep up their certification. They have practise every Tuesday evening.”

Rick was transported first to Penticton Hospital, and then flown to St. Paul’s in Vancouver. The doctors received the report of the event as recorded by the AED.

After reading the report one of the doctors told Rick, “You should never have come out of that.”

AED & CPR training by Fire Fighter and First Responder, Doug Nimchuk

I became interested in this incident when Linda and I recently took the evening CPR and AED training offered by the Hedley Fire Department. Wanting to know more, I called Chris, owner of MediQuest in North Vancouver, a supplier of AEDs. He agreed with Cherie’s assessment. “When there is no breath and no heart beat, the individual is clinically dead. The heart doesn’t immediately cease electrical activity, but it is uncoordinated. Compressions need to begin immediately to keep electrical activity going and supply oxygen. The AED is also required very quickly. The survival rate drops 10% each minute before a shock is applied.

Chris next explained the functioning of the AED. “It determines whether there is electric activity. It makes the decision whether a shock should be delivered. A person cannot make the decision. This makes the device very safe, even for someone with little training. The survival rate 20 years ago was 2%. Today, if an AED shock is administered within 3 minutes, the survival rate is 75%.”

Rick now has a pacemaker with a built-in defibrillator. It monitors his heart. “If anything happens, it stops my heart and gives it a zap to start it.” He leaned forward and added, “I try to do all things in moderation now. Life is good. I feel so lucky, like I’ve won the lottery a dozen times.”

Kazumi Tanaka, A Sculptor Of Renown

Sculptor Kazumi Tanaka

Over the past 3 years Linda and I have had more than 100 conversations for the purpose of this column. The one with internationally recognized sculptor Kazumi Tanaka last week was undoubtedly the most challenging. A resident of Princeton the past 15 years, Kazumi was born in Japan and was deeply influenced by the culture, traditions and values of that country. Now, after many years, he seems suspended between what he learned in Japan and what he experiences in Canada. “I realize I sometimes cannot synchronize my brain with yours,” he told us.

In spite of the cultural chasm separating us, Kazumi seemed at ease sitting in our sun room. He added milk and sugar to his coffee, smiled and waited for our questions.

“I received a Bachelor of Fine Arts from a university in Japan,” he said. “That was just a beginning. It opened a door for me, but I needed to learn more. The sculpting is mostly self taught.”

He’s been attracted to other art forms and actually began his career doing photography, painting, and drawing. They have enriched his sculpting. “In 1981 I spent 6 months at the Banff Centre in their Winter Cycle. It was open to many art forms. One of the participants was a professor from Columbia University. He had won a Pulitzer Prize for music composition. I did a lot of painting there.” Although they worked in different mediums, Kazumi felt stimulated by this connection.

We received a sense of his international importance when he talked about a competition to participate in a prestigious Czech Republic sculpture project. “I am very lucky. I was invited to apply for 1 of 4 positions available. There were 110 international applications. I was chosen for one of the four positions. They provided my airfare, a hotel room, meals and an assistant to work with me. It was a big project and it took place in a quarry. They brought in cranes and forklifts and other equipment to assist us. This is done every year and the sculptures are on display.” He received a $3,000 honorarium for his participation.

Over the years there have been various international invitations. At a sculpture symposium in Sophia, Bulgaria he worked on a sculpture project with the highly respected professor Emil Popov. Kazumi has numerous works on display in Japan, Eastern Europe, Canada and the U.S. On a street in New Delhi, India he was surprised to see Jon Bartlett of Princeton.

Sculpture “Waiting” by Kazumi Tanaka

Kazumi`s life and work have been greatly impacted by Zen Buddhism. He lived in the Mount Baldy Zen Center, a Los Angeles monastery, for 6 years. Here he was a translator for Josyu Sasaki Roshi, founder of the monastery. Roshi lived to age 108. While living in the monastery Kazumi came to know Leonard Cohen, who was also there. “He was very kind, very decent, very educated, and very generous.”

Kazumi has immersed himself in Zen and in our conversation he referred to it many times. His focus on Zen, sculpting, photography and other art forms hasn’t allowed much time or opportunity to forge a Canadian identity. All require a measure of separation from the world.

Now 68, Kazumi seems to realize he needs to make a greater effort to understand Canadian ways and become more involved. In a community heavily sprinkled with loggers, miners, farmers and ranchers, a sculptor of Japanese birth is somewhat of a rarity. “The Dalai Lama said it’s good to understand our neighbours who have another faith. I know I should connect to your issues more. I should listen to CBC. I recently bought a small radio. I should also spend 10 minutes each day reading The Province. I should know what is happening.” Changing his ways is requiring a significant inner shift he probably hasn’t totally come to grips with.

I sensed in Kazumi an emotional and intellectual loyalty to Japanese thinking and culture. To discard what was bequeathed to him by his country of birth would be a betrayal. He said, “I am becoming neither Canadian nor Japanese. And I am not interested in integrating into the mainstream Canada but try to stay in my style or alternative culture.”

“The world is a little strange right now,” he said. “But I came to a multicultural country and I am in the process of cultural mixing. I’m not only visiting in Canada. I will die here.”

Hedley Gondola Project

Former Senator Gerry St. Germain & USIB Chief Rick Holmes

Hedley residents turned out in force last Saturday (Sept. 9, 2017) to learn about the gondola project under consideration by the Upper Similkameen Indian Band and a group of entrepreneurs, mostly from Texas. A couple of local ranchers, former Senator Gerry St. Germain and his son Jay, appear to be key in connecting the band with the Texans. The senior St. Germain has a wealth of business and political experience and connections.

Band Chief Rick Holmes said, “It’s an idea that has been talked about for at least 10 years. We are concerned for the entire community and we want people to be informed.” He told the audience he had become excited about the project after talking with Gerry St. Germain. “The band needs to generate more revenue,” he said. He had taken the investors from Texas to the former Mascot mine site and they believe the gondola concept has possibilities.

We already have contracts with the Squamish Nation,” Jack Matthews said. “Hedley is quaint and the view from the mine site is spectacular. There is still a lot of research to be done before we know if it’s feasible. We’ll have more answers in a year.”

One of the challenges for the proposed enterprise is where to situate the gondola at the bottom and also at the mine. At this time two sites are favoured. One is in the vicinity of the pump houses for the town’s water system. Lynn Wells, chair of the Hedley Improvement District registered her concern, citing the potential of pollution and other issues. The town has an easement allowing for its pumps. The land is owned by Barrick Gold.

The other site the group likes is on Lot 2900, located on the far side of the Colonial Lodge and the Gold House. I’ve been told this property is under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Mines.

The business group recognizes that the tourist season here is limited, due to weather. Initially they talked about “layering.” They mentioned building a zip line and offering gold panning.

During the question period, some interest was expressed in the project, also a number of concerns. One resident drew chuckles when he said, “I don’t want people looking down on me when I’m sun bathing in the nude in my back yard.” He likely doesn’t sun bathe in the nude but his objection was understood by all.

It was apparent that one of the main issues for a lot of people was the likely disruption of the peaceful way of life we enjoy here. People were nervous about the possibility of hotels and restaurants being added to the gondola concept to make it more attractive and profitable.

Several of the business group said they want to consider the concerns of local people. Gerry St. Germain said, “I don’t want the town to change in a big way.”

At the end of the meeting I said that for the Hedley Gondola project to proceed and be good for the Band and the town, the promoters will need to win our trust. They will be under tremendous pressure to add amenities to attract tourists. This will certainly be disturbing to many residents. We came here, at least in part, to escape the noise and pace of city life. Promises about not changing the town in a big way will be kept only if the people who make them are of good character.

Jeff Lakey, Healing With Music

Jeff Lakey

Sitting under a lush canopy of green leaves in a Cawston orchard last week, I asked musician Jeff Lakey, “What has surprised you?” He replied, “I’m surprised I’m still alive and healthy.” After hearing his story, Linda and I were surprised too.

The setting was a neighbourhood gathering of orchardists, farmers, fruit pickers, and anyone living in the area. A long table was laden with tempting, sumptuous dishes. I lost count of the many people seated at tables scattered among the trees.

Jeff was there as one of the entertainers who would perform on the spacious stage. He had asked us to meet him here for the conversation we had arranged when he was in Hedley with his band, the Black Birds. As we were eating, a succession of individuals came around to greet him. Some shook hands, some hugged. It was evident they were delighted to see him. I thought there was a sense of poignant nostalgia in some of the greetings. He was one of them, and yet different.

We learned that music has been a constant thread in most of Jeff’s 53 years and has almost certainly buoyed him and kept him alive. “I play drums, guitar, strings (key board), piano, bass guitar and I do vocals.” He writes much of the music he performs and has produced 2 albums. When the first musicians appeared on stage, Jeff was asked for help with the elaborate sound system.

Now a warehouse supervisor in Keremeos, he earlier worked 10 years at a center for children with mental disorders. “I introduced music therapy,” he said. “I brought in tambourines and shakers and we made music together.” He still cherishes the memory of hearing children say, “I feel like I’m actually worth something.”

He also did music therapy at Portage. “One day I heard a girl singing in her room. She had a beautiful voice. I urged her to come out and sing for everyone. She told me she didn’t sing for people. I offered to accompany her on my guitar and she agreed. She went on to sing ‘True Colours’ at a concert in Vancouver. About 30 musicians came out of my program at Portage. I always recorded them and gave them a copy.”

Personable and energetic, Jeff has loyal friends and has enjoyed considerable success as a musician. But, it almost didn’t happen. “My dad left when I was 3,” he said. “I’ve totally lost track of him. Fortunately Mom married again. This man became my father. He was my friend and mentor.”

For reasons Jeff doesn’t fully comprehend, his life began to unravel in his early teens. “I was carrying a lot of resentment,” he recalled. “I got into drugs, anything I could get my hands on.” In 1999 his parents intervened. They brought him home to their farm.

“I continued with the drugs though and hid this for 2 years. Later people in Cawston told me they knew. They accepted me anyway. During that time I teamed up with a friend and started the Black Birds band. Then my father died at age 56. He was my rock. With him gone, that was it. I couldn’t do anything. I crashed.”

A friend came looking for him and found him in a drug house. “I was lying on the floor. He took me away from there.”

In 2001, at age 38, he understood his life style was leading downward to certain failure and destruction. This wasn’t what he wanted. Within him was a desire to do something of value with his musical talent. He entered treatment at the Cross Roads Centre in Kelowna. This cleared his thinking. It was after this that he produced the 2 albums, worked with mentally disadvantaged children and then persons with addictions. He has written and performed numerous songs. When his mother died 3 weeks prior to our conversation, he wrote a song for her. It says in part, “Images of you in my heart, keep me satisfied.”

Jeff’s life experiences enable him to write realistically about addiction and homelessness. “My message,” he said, “is that sometimes when you are knocking on a door, asking for help, people don’t understand. Keep knocking and in time someone will answer.”

Recently Jeff Lakey auditioned successfully with an all-star band in Vancouver. He’ll have a bigger stage for his message. The people in that Cawston orchard will be cheering him on.

 

 

 

Mark, A Vision For Cycling Adventure

Mark from Germany, cycling in North America

I invariably experience a twinge of envy when I meet an individual with the vision, courage and will to do something that is a significant challenge, whether it’s physical, mental, or emotional. Linda and I met Mark in Manning Park this past week, on our way to Abbotsford. He told us he had flown from Frankfurt, Germany to Anchorage. From there he had come by bike, cycling most of the way but occasionally hitching a ride with a pickup truck. I noticed that the bike was heavily loaded. Four saddle bags hold everything he requires on the way. He is hauling, food, tools to repair the bike, and clothes.

He said, “At first I carried mostly Snickers for food.| (I gathered he meant junk food in general.) Then I met someone who was eating only vegetables. We exchanged ideas and he started eating Snickers as well as vegetables. I added vegetables to my diet.”

Mark, taking a break from his cycling in Manning Park, BC.

In Frankfurt he teaches English and Spanish. He will be traveling for one year and two months. I noticed that in spite of the Snickers in his diet, he carries no excess pounds on his body. There are side benefits to his life of adventure. Upon leaving Manning Park, he planned to ride to Whistler, B.C. We’re not sure where he will travel beyond that, but Linda thinks he may have mentioned South America.

For the time being at least, Linda and I will let Mark do the cycling. We are supremely satisfied with our Hedley adventure.

In Conversation With MP Dan Albas

MP Dan Albas in my home.

When I called the West Kelowna constituency office of MP Dan Albas a couple of months ago, the receptionist said, “He’s in Ottawa. He will return your call.” I live in a community with an insignificant number of votes so I anticipated a long wait, if he actually did call. Within 5 minutes my phone rang and it was Dan, calling from Ottawa, ready to help me with a Canada Post issue.

MP Dan Albas speaking at the Hedley Cenotaph Rededication.

Last week he was in Hedley for the rededication of the Cenotaph. After the ceremony I asked if he’d have time for a conversation before he returns to Ottawa. He glanced at his watch. “Let’s do it now,” he said. He had an hour before the next event.

Sitting in the sun room of our home, I asked, “what is important to you as a Member of Parliament?” Without hesitating, he said, “people.” Then he elaborated. “Most people pay their taxes and when they have a problem, they expect to be treated fairly. Often it’s not as clean though as the rules suggest. There are occasions when they need someone to help them deal with bureaucracy.”

Dan’s political education began during his 15 years as owner of a martial arts centre in Penticton. He joined Rotary in 2004 and in 2006 became chair of the South Okanagan and Similkameen United Way. Elected to the Penticton Chamber of Commerce in 2008, he became aware of concerns about the way some senior staff were responding to questions.

In 2011 he succeeded Stockwell Day as the Conservative Party’s representative in the Boundary/Similkameen riding, At the outset of Dan’s career in federal politics Tom Siddon, former Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development advised, “You go in with your integrity. Be sure to also go out with it.” Dan gave serious attention to this counsel. Wanting to make constituents his priority, he decided to have 3 full time staff in the riding office and only a half time position in Ottawa.

MP’s typically receive calls regarding income tax, employment insurance, immigration issues, Canada Pension and Old Age Pension, among others.“As an MP I’m like an ombudsman,” Dan said. “If people have legitimate concerns, I want to know about them. We can help people understand how to navigate the systems. We give them the steps to take.

In one case we intervened on behalf of a young woman when a company refused to return her funds, even though it had not provided the promised service. She received a letter from the company president and the money. The greatest reward comes when you help someone and they feel respected and they’re proud of their country.” He does “Listening Tours” to feel the pulse of the community and establish priorities.

Dan’s ability and diligence have evidently been noticed by party leaders. He has been assigned to work on key parliamentary committees. The Elder Abuse Act was passed during his time on the Justice Committee. More recently, as a member of the Finance Committee, he questioned the decision to not allow Credit Unions to use the terms bank or banking in their promotions. This would affect Valley First Credit Union. The Minister of Finance has promised to look into the matter.

On June 28, 2017 his private members Free my Grapes bill was passed unanimously. “Liberal MP Scott Bryson asked how he could help me with this. He agreed to allow me to speak at his designated time. I wanted to get the bill passed before the summer recess.” He almost didn’t succeed because some members wanted to make speeches. Alert and proactive, Dan forestalled this. “If we stop talking,” he said, “we can pass this today.” They agreed and the bill passed. Although some provincial legislation interferes with the act, it does allow people to purchase wine for personal consumption and carry it into another province.

It was Dan’s  expeditious return of my phone call several months ago that initially led me to believe he might be an MP people can rely on to listen and actually take action. After an hour of conversation with him, I concluded he genuinely wants to represent people effectively. He returns calls, hosts town meetings, writes monthly reports for constituents, attends to individual cases, and is active on national issues. At age 40, Dan Albas has the energy, experience, vision and will to be a potent force for good in his riding and in our country.