Category Archives: Community

From Mt. Kilimanjaro to Hedley

Kim English of Hedley has visited Europe approximately 15 times.

Kim English
Kim English

She has done volunteer work in Tanzania and lived in a mud hut on Mt. Kilimanjaro. In Vancouver she successfully sold art at the Inuit Gallery. Six years ago she arrived in Hedley to visit a friend and stay “just for the summer.”

When I asked what had prompted her to make this little community her home she said, “I didn’t realize at that time my nephew Jordan would be coming to live with me. He was having significant behavioural challenges in his home and at school. I thought the slower pace and quiet of Hedley would have a calming effect. He’s the reason I stayed.”

During the time Jordan lived with Kim, we had opportunities to observe some of her interactions with him. Not having children of her own, it must have been a steep learning curve. What impressed us most was her total commitment to this youth who was bringing turmoil into her life. She spoke to him patiently but firmly. At times we were surprised at her understanding. Observing her in this relationship has led us to believe that her endeavours in the Similkameen community come from a basis of commitment to the people.

Kim came with little except some pretty decent furniture and a

Kim English, standing in her front yard.
Kim English, standing in her front yard.

willingness to do virtually anything to survive financially. She was single and after a failed relationship, had no interest in men. Also, in the city she had used public transit so she didn’t have a Driver’s Licence or a vehicle. She found a home to rent and began building a new life. She had ideas and a desire to make a positive difference. Initially she worked as a waitress at the Hitching Post Restaurant and also did pruning in a vineyard. A lot has changed since that early beginning.

One of the constants in Kim’s life since 1989 has been a friendship with Angelique Wood. As a student in Classical Studies at Langara College and then majoring in archaeology at SFU, she leaned on Angelique for help. “I had some dyslexia issues, particularly a problem with jumbling words,” she said. “Before I handed in papers, I asked Angelique to proof read them.”

In Hedley they have developed a collaborative partnership. While Angelique was an RDOS Director, they attracted a number of Similkameen community leaders to Hedley for “Community Conversations.” Their goal was to inspire creative approaches to community issues.

“One of the challenges for small, out of the way communities like Hedley,” she said, “is that seniors are moving to larger centres to get the services they need. They can’t manage on their own. That’s why we brought in a couple of speakers from Keremeos to explain Meals on Wheels. We don’t want to lose the wisdom and experience of seniors.”

She is also concerned that few families move to Hedley. “We need to make it possible for them to buy a home,” she believes. “One way of doing this would be to establish a Land Trust. We’ve had productive conversations with Michael Lewis, an expert in the field. The trust concept has been proven to be a viable approach in a number of places. We need people to live in the homes that are now empty. We need them to participate in the community. I believe they will come if there are attractive options. We’ll have to be creative to make this happen.”

Recently Kim has ventured into the realm of politics, supporting her friend Angelique who is the NDP candidate for the local riding. She is a member of the Election Planning Committee and a volunteer coordinator for the riding’s southern section.

I said earlier that a number of things have changed for Kim. She now has a Driver’s Licence and owns a shiny, nearly new 4×4 pickup. She has also bought a home and for a time had chickens in her back yard. Probably most exciting, she met Andy English when they were both members of the Hedley Fire Department. They are now happily married.

There is a further very positive development. When Jordan visited Kim and Andy recently, I spoke with him briefly. His growth in confidence and maturity is impressive, even delightful.

Kim’s commitment to fostering change in her family and her community is producing positive results. She has no plans to return to Mt. Kilimanjaro any time soon.

A Pastor And A Harley Rider

Clay (standing), Dwight and Graham
Clay (standing), Dwight and Graham

It’s a pretty certain indication spring has arrived when I see Dwight, my Harley riding neighbour, sitting outside in the sun having a beer with Graham. On warm days he often opens his garage door and can see Graham when he is outdoors, working on his yard almost across the street. The man standing in this photo is Clay, Dwight’s friend from Summerland.

Dwight and Graham represent two quite different cultures. Dwight worked in the Alberta oil patch many years. He rides a Harley and so do most of his friends. His biker buddies speak a “language” that Dwight knows is not suitable in conversations with Graham. He is quite able to make the switch.

Graham is pastor of Hedley’s only church. He once rode a Harley and had a significant alcohol issue. Unlike most former alcoholics though, he can have one beer and not desire more. He refers to himself as a “delivered” (as opposed to recovered) alcoholic. I’ve never heard even the sniff of a rumour that he still has a problem.

His past has shaped him perfectly to be a pastor in this community where interest in religion is minimal at best. He is able to relate and interact with his small congregation and with those who have no interest in the faith. Also with the beer drinkers. Some in town come to him for counselling. He is asked to perform Celebration of Life ceremonies, and sometimes weddings.

With his history, Graham seems to understand the biker/beer culture. In his mid-seventies he sometimes says, “I’d like to have one more ride on a Harley.”

Although the two men are radically different in their life style, they evidently have some values in common. Where they may differ, they are tolerant. Dwight apparently sees something in Graham that he likes and respects. He told me last year, “Graham is my best friend.”

This friendship between a Harley rider and a pastor is intriguing and somewhat unconventional. But then, Hedley is an intriguing and somewhat unconventional community.

Our Easter Weekend

Linda and I both grew up in a Mennonite church. As a kid I was

photo courtesy of
photo courtesy of

reluctant to attend a service on Good Friday but it was what our family did. Good Friday services seem to be somewhat rare now, but the little church in Hedley did have one this year. Derek Lilly, a professional electrician and former Fire Chief spoke. He challenged us with “something to think about” and kept it to a decent length, something I still appreciate.

On a purely intellectual level I consider it an improbability that the God who created the universe and humankind would send his Son to die for beings he deemed to be sinful. For me, accepting this has required a huge leap across an intellectual chasm. However, the improbability of it is also uncannily appealing, at least for me. It’s a “scheme” to which I could not sacrifice either my son or daughter. It’s such an incredible plan that after dealing with many doubts and misgivings over the years, I have come to accept that it actually happened.

Sunday morning we were at the Coast and decided to attend the Easter service at South Langley Church (Mennonite). The reason for this selection was that a former classmate, Joanne, attends there and we thought that with a little luck we might see her. It’s a large church so we knew it was a longshot. We were surprised to see her sitting in the row ahead of ours and just a little farther along. She recognized us immediately and waved.

After the service I asked if she had served with the Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS), something she mentioned in an e-mail last summer. She said she had cooked for the volunteers during the High River, Alberta flood and its aftermath. “I loved it,” she told us. We have only occasional contacts with former school friends, so this was special.

In the afternoon it was a family gathering on Linda’s side. The meals at these gatherings invariably have an unsettling effect on my resolve, and at times on my stomach. Our daughter Vivian had made her much loved dessert. Also Linda’s sister Leona had baked large apple pies. I sampled both desserts, with ice cream.

After the meal, the ladies decided to play Skippo as usual. They are an amazingly fanatical bunch and carry on for hours. Eventually it becomes tedious for us men. When Vivian and Troy decided to leave, I went with them.

While Linda was playing the game, I walked in a wooded area and

My walk on Easter weekend
My walk on Easter weekend

then across a wetlands and around a large man made duck pond. Fortunately, the path across the wetland had largely dried up. At times we’ve found it submerged under more than a foot of water. I’m very pleased the city is protecting this area from development. Had the camera with me and snapped a few shots.

I’m reluctant and somewhat embarrassed to admit that Monday evening I ate a slice of Costco apple pie, which I discovered in Vivian’s fridge . Pretty tasty, but not competition for Leona’s home made version. This was after a lunch gathering with my side of the family at sister Linda’s farm.

While we were at the Coast we stayed with Vivian, Troy and family, as usual. Both Brandon (15 and now almost 6 ft 5 in.) and Alexa are on basketball teams at school. Alexa began more recently but surprised and impressed me with her ability to sink 3 point shots. They used to ask me to play with them in their backyard, but I noticed with a bit of chagrin that this time there was no invitation. They have progressed too far beyond Grampa’s experience and ability. Possibly with a personal coach I’d be at least considered.

Art & Greenhouse (3)Tuesday morning it was time to get back to Hedley and attend to the chickens and the garden. I’ve constructed a greenhouse as an experiment to see if I can protect our kale, bok choy , cabbage, etc. from the predations of Cabbage Moths. Last year they reminded me of the grasshoppers in Egypt during Moses’ time. They just kept coming Chasing them down with a butterfly net had no discernible impact on their numbers. Time for a new strategy.

It was an enjoyable Easter weekend.

Children Walk In Our Footsteps

For a number of years I had several career criminals in my circle of friends. They enabled me to understand more fully that our attitude, thinking, words and example have the capacity to shape not only ourfootsteps_2608305 children, but also our grandchildren and beyond. One of these men was Roy. I met him at Matsqui Institution where he was doing time for a string of B&E’s and heroin possession.

“My Old Man was a petty crook, in and out of Oakalla,” he told me. “After my Mom died, he married again. The woman didn’t like me. She was always trying to get me booted out of the family.”

Roy’s massive arms, barrel chest and balding pate gave him the burly image of a Mafia hitman. Inside though, he felt he was an outcast from society. Although he could joke and be funny at times, he viewed the world as a sinister place where danger lurked. Deeply entrenched in the criminal culture and feeling abandoned by his derelict father, he trusted no one. At age 43, in desperation he applied to our organization for a citizen sponsor. As coordinator of the Matsqui program, I matched him with Walter, a patient, steady poultry farmer. Roy tested his commitment repeatedly, but Walter didn’t flinch or waver.

When Roy was paroled, he found Sonia, a woman as lonely and bereft as himself. Nine months later she bore Sammy, a blond, blue eyed, good natured kid.

Roy loved the child. He felt responsible for imparting to Sammy the destructive perceptions he’d picked up from his father. When kid-435140__180Sammy was 3, Roy placed him on a table and said, “Jump Sammy, Daddy will catch you.” He reached out his arms. Trusting his dad, Sammy stepped to the edge of the table and jumped. Roy stepped back, letting the boy land on the hard floor. Looking down at his weeping child he said, “Son, that’s to teach you never to trust anyone.”

At this time Roy was still shooting up with heroin. When he and Sonia threw in the towel on their relationship, the separation added further disturbance to Sammy’s already chaotic life. He began running away when he was four and the police were called several times. At age seven he was accused of starting a fire in the apartment where he and Roy were living. Fearing he’d lose the boy to a foster home, Roy told police he had set the fire himself. Aware of his extensive prison record, the police believed him. I spoke on his behalf in court but he was sentenced to a minimum security facility.

Roy was benefiting from the relationship with Walter and several others in the community. Upon release, wanting to be a better father, he dumped the heroin habit. Unfortunately, he hadn’t anticipated the void that resulted. He sought to fill it with alcohol. One evening he left Sammy in the car while he and a friend spent an hour in a bar. Unwisely, he drove after too many drinks. Fortunately Sammy wasn’t hurt when the car left the road and plunged into a deep ditch. Roy wasn’t so lucky. He spent the rest of his days in a wheelchair.

In his early teen years, Sammy was picked up several times for shoplifting and other petty crimes. Once again Roy feared Children’s Services would take the boy. One day he said to me, “Do you want Sammy? He’s getting into too much trouble. I’m not a good father. I want to give him to you.” Linda and I had 2 young children and we didn’t want to subject them to the mayhem of Sammy’s increasingly unruly life.

In time, Roy developed considerable trust in the people in our organization. The messages he received from us were positive, and he came to value that. People invited him into their homes for meals. Slowly, the suspicion ebbed.

Unfortunately, the negative seed he had planted in Sammy’s psyche had taken root and flourished. He followed in the footsteps of his father and grandfather. Before he was 20, those footsteps led to prison.

I was a young dad at the time. Roy’s example helped me understand it is essential that parents sow good seed in their children’s lives which will produce honest, contributing citizens and a stable society.

Chopaka Rodeo Offers Excitement & Risks

When Nancy Allison, lead organizer for the Chopaka Rodeo, sat down with Linda and me at our kitchen table last week, her smile and

Chopaka Rodeo photo permission by Nancy Allison
Chopaka Rodeo
photo permission by Nancy Allison

sparkling eyes quickly convinced me she’s a zealot. “I’ve been at this for 50 years,” was her response to my first question. “I was 9 at the time of the first rodeo. My Dad, Barney Allison, was one of the organizers. It began on his ranch, and although he is gone now, it is still there. First everyone went to church. After church some people began doing calf roping for fun. From that small beginning it developed into a very successful rodeo.”

It has become a popular event on the amateur rodeo circuit and

Chopaka Rodeo, photo permission by Nancy Allison
Chopaka Rodeo, photo permission by Nancy Allison

attracts contestants and spectators from the Coast, Williams Lake, Washington State and elsewhere. Events include bullriding, bareback, saddlebronc, team roping, ladies, junior and Pee Wee barrels, and more. “Wild Cow Milking is a crowd pleaser,” Nancy said.

The Kids Calf Scramble requires contestants to chase and snatch ribbons from the ears of calves. According to Nancy, the rodeo is a good place for young contestants to practise their techniques. In addition to an added purse of at least $500, winners of major events will receive a coveted silver buckle crafted by Montana Silversmith.

“In the early years the cowboys went out and caught wild horses for the rodeo,” Nancy said. “Now all contest animals are supplied by contractors. Each time an animal (rough stock) supplied by a contractor exits the chute it costs $150.”

One of the contestants, Chad Eneaus, began riding saddle broncs at age 14, and bulls when he was 16. He won the Canadian High School Bronc Riding Championship. He is a member of the Western Indian Rodeo Association and won the Saddle Bronc Championship in 2010. He has won prize money in a number of rodeos and I felt fortunate in tracking him down. He told me, “in the beginning it was kind of a saving grace. It gave me an opportunity to challenge myself emotionally, mentally and spiritually.”

When I asked Chad about the dangers, he replied, “in one rodeo a bull threw me and then planted its rear hoofs on my chest. Both my lungs collapsed and my liver was lacerated.” He paused a moment and then said, “you have to know when to get a new hold, and when to let go. You don’t have a second to think. It has to be automatic. You have to figure out how to work with the animal. The ground is the best teacher. It hurts when you land.”

Hay rancher Linnea Cappos has been part of the rodeo since 1979. “I rodeoed hard for 40 years in the barrel event,” she told me in a phone conversation. “I competed in the Barrel Racing event. Now I just help the girls make it happen. I’m involved with the paperwork and I also prepare the ground for the Barrel Racing. It’s a timed event and the footing needs to be secure for the horses so they don’t get hurt. The rodeo has given me a lot of satisfaction,” she said. “Now I just want to give something back.”

Linnea loves the family atmosphere. “When I get there, I head first to where they make the Fried Bread. People sit on blankets or lawn chairs, There are no bleachers. Some sit on the tailgates of pickups. It’s pretty informal.” She has gotten her 4 year old grand daughter Sophie involved in Barrel Racing. She does it because I do it,” she said. “Like me, she loves horses.”

I asked Nancy about the level of danger for contestants. “The saddle events are probably more dangerous than the bareback ones,” she

Chopaka Rodeo, photo by permission of Nancy Allison
Chopaka Rodeo, photo by permission of Nancy Allison

replied. “A rider can get hooked on the saddle horn and be dragged along by the horse. One year a rider caught a hoof in his chest. I had to drive him and the first aid attendants to the clinic. On the way they shouted at me to stop because they had lost him. They pounded on his chest and he came back. After a few days in the hospital he was fine.”

“This year we’ll probably get at least 1000 spectators, if the weather’s good. I tell people to bring their coolers, bikinis, mackinaws and lawn chairs. The entrance fee is only $10.00 and free for kids 10 and under. On Sunday, April 5, 2015 the show begins at 10 am.”

After listening to Chad and Nancy, I’m quite content to let others do the bronco and bull riding at the Chopaka Rodeo. The fried bread sounds pretty good though.

Abbotsford Sundown Toastmasters

When Linda and I were still members of Abbotsford Sundown Toastmasters, I often said to visitors, “Other than obtaining a university degree, joining a Toastmasters club is the best career move you can make. For some people, it’s even better.”

Last Thursday evening Sundown celebrated 30 years as a club, and

Abbotsford Sundown Toastmasters Celebrates 30 Years
Abbotsford Sundown Toastmasters Celebrates 30 Years

we drove to the Coast for this. It was an opportunity to renew friendships and also marvel at the growth of members we have known for many years. Jack Sweeten, who joined during our time, is now Area Governor. Lois Boughton, another recruit during these years is Division Governor.

Sgt. At Arms, Phyllis Kotyk and President Dr. Caroline Cesar
Sgt. At Arms, Phyllis Kotyk and President Dr. Caroline Cesar

Phyllis Kotyk opened the meeting as Sergeant-at-Arms. She joined the club at about the same time as Linda and I. Her confident, welcoming voice and demeanour gave us a surge of joy. This wasn’t the timid Phyllis we knew in the early years. Caroline Cesar surprised us with vitality, wonderful vocal variety and an abundance of confidence. As President, she chaired the meeting.

David Hobson, my personal mentor for a number of years,

David Hobson, a Distinguished Toastmaster
David Hobson, a Distinguished Toastmaster

delivered the keynote address. He is a professional presenter, trainer and coach. Also the most committed Toastmaster I have known. He has given considerable thought to the subject of Evaluations, key to improving speaking skills. David shared specific, helpful insights to enable T.M.’s to provide substantive evaluations.

One of the great benefits of Toastmasters for virtually everyone who joins a club is a tremendous growth in confidence. This comes from performing a variety of roles in the club. Each role is evaluated, usually with an

James Njeru. A Toastmaster who could be in the movies.
James Njeru. A Toastmaster who could be in the movies.

observation as to what went well, and also a suggestion for improvement. The club provides a safety net for the terrified novice speaker. Even if a performance is considerably less than stellar, it will not be criticized. By being shown how to improve, the Toastmaster gains the courage to speak outside the club. It’s an encouraging environment.

Although there is no club within reasonable driving distance of Hedley, Linda and I continue to benefit from the encouragement and evaluation we received at Sundown. It gave Linda the confidence to accept the position of Vice President of the Hedley Historical Museum Society. As a columnist for two small town newspapers, I approach people virtually every week to request an interview. Whether they agree or not depends a lot on my initial, very brief “pitch.” Toastmasters taught me a well thought through, effectively presented request is more likely to produce a positive reception.

Linda and I are deeply grateful to the members of Sundown Toastmasters for many positive, often wise evaluations. With your help, we have been able to move on and accomplish more. We are delighted with the enthusiasm of the members and the strength of the club. It is definitely built to last.

Lessons From Hitchhiking

Grain Elevator
Grain Elevator

I was 19, standing on the outskirts of Pouce Coupe in northern B.C. with my thumb out, hoping some compassionate soul would give me a lift. My destination was Abbotsford and I planned to travel there via Alberta. The few dollars in my pocket were sufficient to buy little more than a loaf of bread, a package of sliced meat, and a cup of coffee. Picking up a hitch hiker was not considered especially dangerous at that time, but I was to discover most drivers were not willing to stop.

My first ride was with two young couples on a Sunday morning drive. I’m still surprised they picked me up. Before long it occurred to them they weren’t going to the next point where there was at least a semblance of civilization. After some discussion they extended their drive considerably and dropped me off at the B.C. /Alberta border. I can only guess at what motivated their thoughtfulness.

Farm Pickup Truck

At the small cafe on the border, I bought a cup of coffee so potent I worried it might be hazardous to my digestive system. Then, after standing too long on the bald, empty prairie stretching endlessly to the horizon, an elderly farmer in an aging rusted pickup bumped to a stop. He carried on well past his little farm because like the young couples, he didn’t want to leave me where drivers would be reluctant to pull over.

At the entrance to Grand Prairie, I was quickly picked up by three young men. An open case of beer was on the floor of the car and each had a bottle in hand. I was barely in the car when the driver glanced in his rear view mirror. “Cops,” he said and abruptly pulled onto a side street. I gathered they were just driving around town, hoping for some excitement. With his eyes frequently scrutinizing the rear view mirror, the driver made his way to the other end of town and dropped me off. Without that ride I’d almost certainly have needed to walk to this point. I appreciated what appeared to be an act of entirely unselfish helpfulness.

After a succession of rides, I found myself on the far side of Calgary. Dusk was approaching and I knew if I carried on, I might soon be standing in the mountainous darkness of Banff, hoping no bear would be looking for its dinner.

Grey station wagon (1)

An elderly man in a grey station wagon pulled over and pushed open the passenger door. I was dismayed to learn he was only going to Banff, where he lived. Evidently he came to trust me during our conversation enroute. Discovering I had little money, he said, “talk to my wife. She might put you up for a few dollars.” Darkness had fallen and I was relieved when his wife said I could stay for one dollar.

The following morning this wonderful trusting couple needed to leave for Calgary. They showed me where they kept their house key, and suggested I leave my bag in the house and look around town before carrying on. I gratefully accepted their offer, and after a little sightseeing I resumed my trek to Abbotsford.

Since that time I’ve sometimes thought back to my little hitch hiking adventure. I still wonder what motivated a very small percentage of drivers to stop, while the majority raced by blithely. Did they want to make a difference in someone’s life? Were they unselfish, giving individuals? Did they understand intuitively that an act of kindness can make the world a better place for someone?

For me the question concerning motivation is important. I’ve observed a similar dynamic prevail in community matters. A small minority of individuals shovel the walk of a frail pensioner, or provide a ride to the doctor. Often it is these people who serve on committees and boards of organizations. In Hedley, a handful of individuals put on the popular monthly pancake breakfasts and other events. Lately I’ve heard several say, “we are getting old. We won’t be able to do it much longer.” Do we delude ourselves with the belief others will always be there to do what is required to make this a pleasant community?

To retain what we have, and build on it, more of us need to rouse ourselves and get involved.

Mist and Mystique at Brydon Park

Early on Christmas morning, while many people were still sleeping off the effects of partaking too lavishly of wine and turkey, Linda and IMG_0801I walked through the Brydon Park wetlands. We hoped it might be a more effective strategy for coping with last nights’ feast and preparing for another one in the afternoon. In Langley, the park is near the home of our daughter and her family where we stayed a few days.

Heavy rain at times causes flooding and makes the path impassable, except possibly with a canoe. This morning it was muddy in places but with watchful stepping, we were able to keep our feet reasonably dry.

A light mist shrouded the wetlands and the adjacent lagoon. At least

Ducks in Brydon Park Lagoon
Ducks in Brydon Park Lagoon

a dozen ducks were waiting for some thoughtful soul to throw them tidbits of food. It was a magical moment in a mystical scene and we were alone in this wonderland. The aura fostered thoughts of a pre-historic setting where humans rarely ventured and the environment existed untarnished.

I said to Linda, “I should have brought the camera.”

“Should we go back and get it?” she asked, also enchanted by the pristine beauty surrounding us.

Fetching the camera and returning to the lagoon entailed at least a 2 kilometer walk. In the meantime the mist might lift and the sense of mystery would evaporate with it. We did make the trek through the muddy wetlands to the house though, and returned with the camera.

My concern had been justified. The mist had indeed lifted and the IMG_0791aura of mystery dispelled. For me it was a reminder of Napoleon Hill’s statement that “success comes when preparation and opportunity meet.” The scene had changed The sense of magic was gone. Even so, we did get some shots that please us.

The Brydon Park wetlands and the lagoon are a gem near the heart of Langley. Next time we venture to the coast, we hope to be given another opportunity to capture the sense of mystery when the mist again casts a shroud over the lagoon and the wetlands. It’s worth waiting for.


Only A Child, Only At Christmas

Taegert, B.C. 1979. It was Christmas Eve in Taegert, a small remote former gold mining community in northern B.C. Snow had begun IMG_0742falling steadily the previous night and the mountains surrounding our little town were now bedecked with a soft white mantel. Through the still falling snow plumes of grey wood smoke streamed upward from chimneys into the dark sky.

My wife and I leaned forward, pressing into the chill north wind flinging snow into our cold faces. Not far ahead snow laden figures loomed out of the whiteness of the night. We were all hurrying, adults and children, to get a good seat at the Christmas Eve celebration in the community hall.

We arrived to find the hall already packed with a boisterous crowd. The only place was along the back wall with other stragglers. Outside, cold snow hurled itself at the hall, but inside it was toasty. The ancient pot bellied wood stove was working its magic. In one corner an enormous fir tree, with lights, ornaments and tinsel encouraged a holiday spirit.

The program MC, Marty Dyke, slipped from behind a curtain at the left end of the stage. She was a robust woman, something her loose, bright red dress could not hide. With a hearty laugh and booming voice, she said, “ Welcome to our community’s 38th Christmas concert.” Then she turned to the side of the stage where she had entered. “ Without further adieu, let’s put our hands together and bring on the famous Jones family!” There was clapping, hollering and stamping of feet.

The Jones clan came hustling on stage with guitars, fiddles, harmonicas and a banjo. Grandpa Jones began belting out the tunes and his whole lusty clan backed him up like they were on stage at Nashville, Tennessee. Pretty quick folks were smiling and singing along. A few pretty young girls in bright dresses danced in the aisles. It was a Christmas hootenanny. Marty always introduced them first because they knew how to stir up the crowd’s Christmas spirit.

Everyone settled down when 11 year old Susie Thomas began telling about the baby Jesus born in Bethlehem and laid in a manger. “It happened in a stable,” she said, “and there were probably sheep and donkeys watching. And shepherds came from taking care of their flocks in the fields.” She seemed awed by the event. Susie was followed by Mrs. Brown reading her latest Christmas poem.

Everyone was having a grand time. Everyone except me, that is. Just before the program started, Marty Dyke had whispered to me, “I’ve asked your friend J.K. Barnabas to bring his guitar and sing two or three tunes at the end. Be a fine way to wrap up the evening, don’t you think?” It was too late to change things, so I remained silent.

I was concerned because J.K.’s a black man. A big old white haired blues singer who used to perform in bars in cities like Winnipeg, Vancouver and Seattle. Not that anyone in Taegert would object to him singing blues, or to him being black. No one that is, except Gerhardt Gruber. And, in a way, old Gruber had a pretty good reason for not liking black men. He had nothing against black women.

In the big war back in the forties, he and his son were in the same company in the German Wehrmacht. In close combat, a black Yankee soldier shot the son dead right in front of Gruber. He’s been bitter against black men since that day.

That’s why I was troubled about J.K. Barnabas getting in front of this crowd. Gruber might have a flashback. What if he did something crazy? J.K. isn’t a well man. He doesn’t need that.

While my mind was thinking about these things, the evening was flying by. Now Marty called on J.K. He walked to the front slowly and sat down on a hard wooden bench. After taking a moment to adjust the guitar strings, he grinned at the children in the front row and launched into a frisky rendition of Frosty the Snowman. Next he pleased the crowd with Rudolph the Red Nosed reindeer. Everyone cheered when he was done, but not Gruber.

Then the raucous, buoyant mood was gone and he seemed to forget we were there. He drifted into a tune I was sure he had written himself.

“I woke up this mornin’ and the sun, it didn’t shine,
Was sittin’ in my room all alone, didn’t have one friend I could say was mine.
Too many nights in the bars, too many days on the road, now this body’s gettin’ old.
Snow’s fallin’ and I’m feelin’ mighty low, oh yes, I’m feelin’ mighty low.
My little baby’s gone.
She’s grown up big, don’t come to her daddy no more to play.
Sure has broke this old man’s heart.
Oh Yeah, sure has broke this old man’s heart.”

Then he was quiet, still sitting on the bench, a lonely old blues man. A single tear rolled slowly down one cheek.

A hush fell over the hall, and no one cheered or moved. It seemed everyone was expecting something to happen.

I heard the rustle of a dress and I looked to my left where old Gruber was sitting, arms crossed over his chest and face hard as the barrel of a German army rifle. Before he could stop her, his pretty little granddaughter had slipped off his lap and was running to where the white haired J.K. Barnabas was sitting.

Gruber's granddaughter offering her baby to Mr. JK
Gruber’s granddaughter offering her baby to Mr. JK

“Here, Mr. J.K.” she said, holding a little blond doll toward him. “Take my baby. She’ll make you happy. I have more babies at home.”

I think everyone stopped breathing and looked at old Gruber. His stiff white Wehrmacht moustache made him look real serious.

And then it happened. Gruber got up. Using his cane, he walked unsteadily to where his granddaughter and JK. were. He sat down on the bench next to J.K. and lifted the little girl onto the black man’s lap. Although he wasn’t a religious man, far as I knew, he began singing “Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht,” in his native German, his sweet tenor carrying the words throughout the hall. After hesitating a moment, the old blues man joined his deep baritone to Gruber’s tenor.

“Silent night. Holy night. All is calm, all is bright.
Round yon virgin mother and child
Holy infant so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace
Sleep in heavenly peace.”

Then everyone was singing, and when the song was done, I saw men and women laughing and crying, shaking hands and embracing. At the front of the room, I saw the old black man and the old German army officer rise and embrace.

Taegert was never quite the same again. There was more of a sense of peace. And that’s why I say, “Only a child could have accomplished what happened in our little town that night. And only at Christmas.”

Elections Expose Community Fault Lines

Elections have an uncanny and inconvenient capacity to expose

section of the San Andreas Fault (photo from Quake Basics)
section of the San Andreas Fault (photo from Quake Basics)

community fault lines. This once again became evident prior to last week’s municipal vote. Especially in larger centres like Vancouver, Surrey, Abbotsford and Kelowna, the vitriol at times flowed as freely as beer at a bartenders convention. Ambitious politicians flayed at each other with verbal clubs in media ads, a plethora of letters and brochures in our mail boxes, public meetings etc. There was the usual frenzied competition to persuade us by putting up enough signs to construct a few homes. Even in Princeton, Keremeos and usually quiet, peaceful Hedley, cracks were revealed in the political and social fabric.

We have come to accept that politicians will heatedly espouse opposing views as to what is most beneficial for our community. When the skirmishing between leaders becomes personal and continues after the election, we have reason to be concerned. Leaders at war with each other are not able to focus on creating a safer, healthier, more vibrant community.

We cannot do anything about fault lines that exist below the earth’s surface. By examining our motivation and changing our thinking, we can do something about fault lines in the fabric of our communities. For the sake of the people, it is essential that leaders develop the maturity, wisdom and will to work productively with those who hold differing views. We grow stronger as a community when we do not permit diversity of outlook and ideas to divide us.

Wise leaders, whether in politics, business, a profession, etc., consider the ramifications of their attitudes, words and actions. They choose to work constructively with others, sometimes even with those who have radically different ideas.

This will almost certainly mean overlooking slights, harsh words, possibly even physical injury. It may also require forgiving. Josh Billings has said, “There is no revenge so complete as forgiveness.”

Politicians could benefit from studying carefully the inspiring example of Nelson Mandela. For much of the 26 years of his imprisonment, he was held in the infamous Robben Island Prison. He was compelled to do hard labour in a lime quarry and was permitted only rare visits from his wife Winnie and their 2 daughters. He longed to be at home with his family and to continue his struggle against the government’s policy of strict dehumanizing racial segregation. It grieved him when he received reports of his people being shot while demonstrating against Apartheid.

When the government realized it could no longer cling to power, Nelson Mandela was released. Elected to the position of President, it was expected he would wreak vengeance on the minority white population. South Africa was in danger of degenerating into a bloody civil war. Mandela’s thinking, decisions and actions would determine its future.

While in prison he had made a conscious decision to not become

Nelson Mandela (Guideposts)
Nelson Mandela

bitter. He chose to rise above the pain and loneliness of his lost years. The understanding and philosophy he developed during the difficult years of confinement enabled him to forego punishing those who had kept his people in virtual slavery. He understood that for the good of all citizens, black and white, he must rise above anger and bitterness. He needed to enlist the skills, experience, and cooperation of the former masters. To this end, he appointed F.W. de Klerk, the former president, as his first Deputy President.

The politicians elected in the Similkameen communities last Saturday don’t need to deal with issues that could destroy their community and bring death to many. But there are important matters to grapple with. Many of these were raised in the race to win. Will the winners shut out the losers now or will they respect them and listen to them? Will the losers adopt a fifth column role, always seeking to undermine and sabotage those in power?

Whether there is animosity or a spirit of cooperation will to a great extent be determined by the level of maturity and good will demonstrated by our leaders, both winners and losers. Societal and political fault lines do not have to divide our communities.