Category Archives: Community

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 totalhealth.com
photo courtesy of totalhealth.com

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 wixphoto.com
Grain Elevator
wixphoto.com

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.

 

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
(Guideposts)

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.

Ceremony and Wreaths at Hedley Cenotaph

Parkas, toques and gloves abounded as approximately 100 Similkameen Valley citizens gathered around the Cenotaph in

Marching to the Hedley Cenotaph
Marching to the Hedley Cenotaph

Hedley for the Remembrance Day ceremony. Light flakes of snow were falling as a bag piper led a procession that included Constable Anthony Pankratz, MP Alex Atamanenko and local flag bearers. Pastor Graham Gore prayed for the fallen in conflicts ranging from WWI to Afghanistan. A moving talk by local war historian Andy English captured the full attention of the crowd. In spite of the cold, caps and toques came off during the minute of silence to remember and honour the fallen warriors.

Later, it was a sombre scene as 6 committed citizens of Hedley met

Ruth Woodin, Hedley Postmaster, placing wreath for TC Knowles, WWI war hero.
Ruth Woodin, Hedley Postmaster, placing wreath for TC Knowles, WWI war hero.

at the cemetery to lay wreaths on the graves of Hedley boys who had given their lives to preserve our freedom. Local Postmaster Ruth Woodin laid wreaths on several graves in the Masonic section. One was placed on the grave of TC Knowles, recipient of the Military Medal for Bravery in the Field in WWI. It was fitting that Woodin placed this wreath since Knowles was an earlier Hedley Postmaster, serving from 1937 until his passing in 1959.

Researchers Jennifer Douglass and Andy English placed a wreath on

Jennifer Douglass & Andy English, laying wreaths for Margaret Robertson & her 2 family members who gave their lives in WWI.
Jennifer Douglass & Andy English, laying wreaths for Margaret Robertson & her 2 family members who gave their lives in WWI.

the grave of Margaret Robertson who died in 1929. They believe the two empty graves fenced in with hers were likely intended for two fallen family members. In the fall of 1916 her brother, William H. Henderson, died of wounds from the accidental explosion of a mortar shell while in training school in France. Her son, Robert W. (Bobby) Robertson, died of wounds suffered in a trench raid at Vimy Ridge in spring of 1917.

Two other Hedley residents, Terry Sawiuk and George Koene, also participated in placing a total of 15 wreaths.

Our Mentors At Menno Hospital

Menno Hospital Entrance
Menno Hospital Entrance

When Linda and I entered East 1 at Menno Hospital in Abbotsford this past Tuesday, Eagan and his wife Mary pulled up alongside us. Mary was pushing him in his wheelchair.

“Are you going to pray for us?” he asked in his soft voice. It seemed an unusual question, but I said “sure, I’ ll pray for you.” However, in the midst of nurses and care aides chatter, I had not understood him correctly. Linda informed me that he’d asked if I was going to play for them. Although I’m a very basic plunker, I had played piano for them many times during the 6 years my Dad was a resident there.

While I played some of the old tunes like “Red River Valley,” “Home on the Range,” “I’ll Give you a Daisy a Day” and “The Wabash Cannon Ball”, Linda visited with Hazel. Hazel has been in care at Menno for a number of years.

After 20 minutes I switched to hymns. As in the past, 91 year old John Boersma joined us with his pleasant, very robust voice. Linda had advised me beforehand that she did not plan to sing, but I was pleased that she had a change of mind, possibly thinking she couldn’t leave the singing just to John. Many of the residents, all in wheelchairs and most of them white haired, were at their various tables waiting for the green clad kitchen staff to arrive with lunch. Linda told me later that quite a few had been singing or tapping their fingers. John called me to the sound system mike and suggested I ask for God’s blessing on the food. I was happy to do this.

The food had not yet arrived so we visited briefly with as many residents as possible. I stopped at Ilya’s table but couldn’t be certain I knew who she was, even though we had talked many times in the past. Inevitably I had found her asleep in her chair, appearing ready to pass away. This day she was alert, cheerful and smiling. A little later Linda saw her bent over as usual, sleeping, but we’ d had our few minutes together.

A visitor came and said Susie wanted us to come and talk with her. She was in her wheelchair, facing away from us. I noticed that she was observing us in a round mirror she held in both hands. We learned that she is 91 and had come to Canada with her parents from Russia when she was 5. A pleasant lady with a surprisingly young face.

After several other brief visits, we made the trek down the hall to see Mrs. Dosanjh. Mr. Dosanjh was in the room and I greeted him in Punjabi. When we drew near to her bed, we realized that this once vibrant woman with a clear, strong voice no longer recognized us. I looked at Mr. Dosanjh and he lifted his hands in a gesture of sadness and futility.

We left Menno Hospital, once again reminded that it’s a blessing to be able to walk, to live in our own home, and to have each other. We were also again reminded of the solid character of these people. In spite of their circumstances, very few complain. Some voice their thanks to God for the wonderful life they have had. They seem to have decided to squeeze meaning and joy out of whatever days or years they will be given. In their outlook and attitude, they are mentors to us. We feel deeply privileged to know count them as friends.