Category Archives: Inspiration

A Treasured Christmas Memory


Domination of the holiday season by the corporate world appears to have doomed to obscurity the concept of the Christmas Spirit. Even a jovial mall Santa and brightly wrapped gifts under a tinsel bedecked evergreen cannot conjure up the deep joy and inner excitement many of us hope will enter our lives during this special season.

Linda and I were early in our dating relationship when we were gifted with a Christmas Spirit inducing memory. I was 19 and she was 16. It was the middle of December when the seed of the memory was sown on a road in a remote, heavily forested area behind Mission B.C.

I recall with great clarity the dark cloud that moved in rapidly and unexpectedly unleashed a drenching downpour. The windshield wipers could scarcely cope with the deluge. In the distance a grey figure became discernible, bumping in our direction beside the road. I slowed the car as we passed by. It was an elderly woman, her sodden coat wrapped tightly about her. Face toward the ground and shoulders slumping forward, she appeared feeble, miserable and utterly dejected.

Linda gasped and said, “she needs help!” I turned the car around and pulled alongside her. “Would you like a ride?” I asked. She nodded wearily, relief and gratitude on her disconsolate, lined face. I opened the rear door and, encumbered by her heavy wet coat, she clambered in awkwardly.

In a quiet, slightly quavering voice, she directed me to an obscure gravelled road. “There,” she said, “that’s where I live.” I pulled the car into a barely discernible driveway and opened the door for her. “Thank you,” she said, “I didn‘t think I’d get here.” Her teeth chattered but she declined my offer to assist her to the door of her shack.

I forgot about the woman, but Linda didn’t. The evening of December 24th, an almost full moon shining overhead, we drove again to the elderly woman’s home. Pale light shone through the only 2 windows. Walking toward the house, holding hands, we heard a dog bark inside. I knocked on the door, and the dog barked again. After waiting a long minute in the chill night air, I knocked a second time, more vigorously. Still no answer, so I made a fist and banged with considerable force. Excited barking suggested there might be more than one dog.

Sounds emanated from inside, as though the shack was shifting. Finally the door opened just enough to reveal the woman’s wispy face and uncombed hair. It was evident she wasn’t accustomed to company, especially two strangers after darkness had set in. She peered warily through the barely open door.

“Hello,” Linda said. “We picked you up a few weeks ago when it rained so hard. We’re here to wish you a Merry Christmas.”

Reassured, she stepped out onto the porch, clad in a flimsy house coat. “I’d invite you in,” she said apologetically, “but I have 17 dogs in there.”

She glanced up at the nearly full moon, then asked, “is it Christmas?” In the light of the moon a wistful expression on her lined face was clearly visible. “When I was a child my grandparents took me to church with them one Christmas Eve,” she said. “There was a manger and shepherds with sheep. A baby lay in the manger. They said it was Jesus. That was many years ago. I had forgotten.”

nativity scene 3

We talked for about 5 minutes, then saw she was shivering in the December air. Linda presented her with a small gift and we bade her farewell. She followed us to the car. As I backed onto the road, she stood clearly silhouetted in the light of the moon. Waving vigorously, she called, “Au revoir! Au revoir!” I turned down the car window, waved, and responded “auf wieder sehen!” As we drove away, she continued to wave and call out “au revoir!”

In time, Linda and I were married, adopted 2 wonderful children and pursued careers. I rarely thought about the little lady living alone with 17 dogs in an unpainted shack. A few years ago, just before Christmas I thought of her standing alone in the moonlight, waving with great fervour and calling “au revoir!”

Now each year, the memory rekindles the Christmas Spirit that otherwise might lie dormant within me. It’s a reminder that when I bring joy into someone’s life, I also receive joy.

Never Too Late For A Circle Of Friends

Our friend Laura at Manning Park Lodge
Our friend Laura at Manning Park Lodge

When Linda and I stopped at the Manning Park Lodge to pick up coffee last week, Laura told us she’d be leaving soon. Young, pretty and convivial, she has always had time for a brief visit with us in the park store. Earlier this year I wrote about her on my blog, calling her “the prettiest girl in Manning Park.” Apparently she has a huge fan base. That post drew an incredible number of visits. We had become friends. When she told us she was leaving Manning Park, we were disappointed, realizing we might never see her again.

Friendships in our society are frequently short lived. They may surprise us like a brief ray of sunshine on a sombre day, then quickly fade away. We tend to be rather blasé about relationships, possibly because geographically many of us do not put down deep roots. In the past people often stayed in the village or town where they were born. This gave relationships time to mature.

Friendship Circle by Starwood Quilter
Friendship Circle by Starwood Quilter

When Laura told us she was leaving Manning Park, I was reminded of Roy. One of my most useful lessons concerning friendships came from him, an entirely unlikely source. My work at that time frequently took me into provincial and federal prisons. During those years I developed relationships of considerable trust with men doing time for fraud, trafficking in heroin and cocaine, murder, etc. In some cases all their relationships with people outside prison had been severed and they received no visits. When they became eligible for a Temporary Absence, Linda and I at times invited such men to our home for a meal. In some cases we became friends. Almost invariably though, upon release they reverted back to their former criminal associations and haunts. Most apparently didn’t understand the value of friends.

Inexplicably, Roy did understand, although he at times severely tested my patience. He was doing time at Matsqui Institution for b & e’s and possession of heroin. His stocky physique, massive arms and shiny dome gave the appearance of a Mafia enforcer. In his childhood and youth, family life had been a shambles. His father did jail time and his step mother didn’t want Roy in the home.

Roy never became a success story. In time he traded the heroin for alcohol, which did nothing to improve his outlook or circumstances. Unlike other men who disappeared when their parole time ran out, Roy continued to stay in contact with Walter, his community sponsor, and with Linda and myself. When our phone jangled raucously at 2 am, I knew it would be Roy. Invariably, he’d dipped deeply into some intoxicating beverage that had elevated him to a state of joyous euphoria. He was a happy drunk. Although not a religious man, as he grew older he often asked if he could pray for me and my family before we signed off.

The next day he’d phone to apologize for waking me and behaving like a fool. It was a crazy friendship but in his sober hours, Roy frequently expressed deep appreciation for Walter and his family and for Linda and myself. He had no one else in his life. I was never able to develop an appreciation for the nocturnal phone calls, but I realize now Roy desperately wanted to stay connected with his few friends.

Friendship Circle by Jennifer Sanborn
Friendship Circle by Jennifer Sanborn

When Linda and I returned to Hedley 3 years ago after an absence of 25 years, like Roy, we realized we’d need to be proactive about staying in touch. In our earlier stint here, many of our relationships in the Fraser Valley had fallen away due to lack of attention.

Not wanting another loss of friendships, we decided to employ the understanding Roy had, although we didn’t have the chutzbah to make middle of the night calls. I think of it as the Roy Friendship Plan. Our version consists of writing an e-mail letter every 2 months to family and friends. The response has been gratifying. After each letter, a number of recipients respond with a note about their activities. Some invite us to come for coffee or lunch when we’re in their neighbourhood.


Although Roy has moved on to another sphere where he doesn’t need alcohol or drugs to experience euphoria, we continue to be grateful for his example. It’s never too late to gather a circle of friends.

Reverence And Awe For Veterans

Veterans at Hedley Cenotaph
Veterans at Hedley Cenotaph

I have many times experienced a tingling of awe and reverence watching aging veterans solemnly marching in measured cadence to the Hedley cenotaph, a solitary piper playing martial music. Invariably, their visages are inscrutable, possibly remembering fallen comrades. On Remembrance Day we honour them, but unless we have hunkered down behind rocks in the mountains of Afghanistan under attack by the Taliban, or flown in bombing missions against ISIS, we cannot know the fear and danger many vets have endured.


I returned recently to the account of Louis Zamperini in the best selling book and movie, Unbroken. An Olympic runner, Louis’ athletic career was interrupted by World War 11. The Green Hornet, in which he served as a bombardier, went down over the Pacific Ocean on May 27, 1943. He and 2 crew members inflated two rubber rafts and began floating toward Japanese held territory. Their only food was several thick Hershey chocolate bars designed to be unpalatably bitter A few half pint tins of water, a fishing line and hooks, a brass mirror and a patch kit were among their meagre supplies.

Near the equator, they endured heat during the day and cold at night. Sharks 6 to 12 feet long circled the rafts incessantly, rubbing against the undersides. Their clothes were growing looser.

Determined to survive, Louis and Phil, pilot of the Green Hornet, challenged each other and willed fear away. Mac, another crew member, became increasingly pessimistic and resigned. His body grew weaker, following his spirit. One night, immersed in depression, he ate the remaining chocolate.

Louis captured 2 albatrosses, which they ate. He and Phil devised an ingenious plan and killed 2 sharks. They ate the livers. Having no drinking water Louis, whose lifestyle had been thoroughly irreligious, prayed for rain. The next day there was a downpour.

One day 2 Japanese planes strafed them, damaging the rafts but not wounding the men. That night they fought off sharks while baling water and repairing the rafts. In the water, Louis thwarted a shark attack by punching it hard on the nose. He promised if God would save them, he’d serve Heaven forever.

On Day 47 , they landed on an atoll of the Marshall Islands. Mac had given up and died. Gaunt in their ragged clothes, Louis and Phil were taken prisoner by the Japanese. Their initial captors treated them well. When Louis was sent to “Execution Island” though, a new ordeal began. In a small cell he shared with rats, fleas and mosquitoes, he received 2 cups of water per day. Rice balls were thrown on the gravel floor. Guards beat and poked him with sticks.

“The guards tried to rob us of our dignity and self-worth,” Louis wrote later. “I made a decision to not let them break me.”

One guard, The Bird, singled out Louis for particularly harsh attention. He regularly clubbed him and punched him in the face. Sometimes he forced him to stand holding a long beam over his head. In the final weeks of the war, he told Louis to fill a barrel with water. “Tomorrow I’m going to drown you,” The Bird told him. Only the end of the war prevented the prisoners from following through on a plot to kill this inhumane tormentor.

Free and back home, Louis could not escape the horrors he had endured. In flashbacks and nightmares, lice and fleas wriggled over his body. The Bird struck him with the heavy steel buckle on his belt. “I believed only The Bird could restore me, by suffering and dying in the grip of my hands.” One night he woke up on his wife Cynthia, choking her. Alcohol was destroying their marriage.

Although he resisted strenuously, Cynthia persuaded him to a attend a rally of a young Billy Graham. Graham’s words penetrated into the depth of his being and he was reminded of his promise on the raft. He responded to Graham’s invitation to accept God’s healing and never had another flashback.

In time he wanted to meet and forgive those who had tormented him. The Bird refused, but when Louis met many of the former tormentors in a Japanese prison, they warmly embraced him and his message.

For combatants, the inner battles don’t always end when they are demobilized. As a nation we need to commit to their physical, mental and emotional healing.

Autumn Beauty In Leaves And People

Manning Park Resort in Autumn
Manning Park Resort in Autumn

I reserve all forms of the word “amaze” for only that which is truly extraordinary. For me, autumn colours have an impact on my psyche and senses that I consider amazing. In Manning Park a month ago, the yellow leaves were lighted brilliantly by the October sun. At various points along Highway 3 between Hedley and Hope, numerous splashes of yellow contrasted with the green forest that blankets the towering mountains. Standing on the bridge across 20 Mile Creek here in Hedley a few days later, I was awed by the spectacular wall of yellow alongside the creek. A grove of trees on a meadow on Nickel Plate Mountain provided an astounding array of red leaves.

For me, “amazing” is an appropriate word to describe the manner in which Mother Nature, like a quick change artist, suddenly strips the colour and beauty from the trees, leaving them bereft and stark, at times dripping with rain. The change tends to leave me feeling somewhat bereft myself, and a little mystified at how silently and surreptitiously this is accomplished.


This autumn the falling of the leaves came quickly, coinciding with the passing of 3 valued friends. In each case, like the leaves, they departed too soon. As a university student Eric Robinson was for two summers a labourer/teacher with Frontier College. He later became principle of the college, received an honourary doctorate from the University of Calgary and was awarded the Order of Ontario. Although I had not seen Eric in years prior to his passing, I continue to miss his warmth and ability to speak about ideas. Another lost friend is Barry Berger of Keremeos. A physically large man with a self deprecating sense of humour, Barry worked with street people in Vancouver, sometimes in dangerous circumstances. Cousin Eddy, who I wrote about last week is another individual I will miss. Known as “Fast Eddy,” he was a highly skilled and respected truck driver. Each of these individuals exemplified qualities I enjoyed and respected.

Both fall leaves and human lives possess the capacity to create in me a sense of awe. Then all too quickly the beauty begins to recede and soon fades into oblivion. Just as we have a short time to observe and appreciate the grandeur of nature’s autumn colours, the opportunity to understand and appreciate the people in our lives is also relatively short.

Fortunately the colours of late fall can still impress, and so can the wisdom of people, especially those with white hair. I’ve concluded that if I stand still long enough to take note of the leaves, and take time to get to know the people around me, the sense of amazement can always be there.

Pacific Crest Trail

Jay and his magnificent beard
Jay and his magnificent beard

When Linda and I stopped for coffee at Manning Park yesterday, we met several individuals who had just completed hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. One of them was Jay, a young man probably a little upward of age 25. He sported a black beard a lot of men would envy. His lean physique reminded me of mountain men I’ve seen in movies. I asked if he had been hiking in the park.

“I’ve actually just come off the Pacific Crest Trail,” he said. “I started in Campo, California 175 days ago.” He looked down at his feet and said, “this I my seventh pair of runners. I wore out 6 pairs.

Pacific Crest Trail overview from Forest Service brochure
Pacific Crest Trail overview from Forest Service brochure

Most of those intrepid individuals who walk the entire trail begin at the southern terminus near the U.S. – Mexico border. In length it is 4,286 km. (2,663 miles) and reaches an elevation of 4,009 meters (13,153 ft.). The trail traverses California, Oregon and Washington, ending at Monument 78 at the U.S.- Canada border. This is on the edge of Manning Park.


Adriana answered the phone at Manning Park Lodge when I called with a few questions. She estimated they see 40-60 of these long distance hikers at the park each year. “They begin arriving sometime in August,” she said. “By the end of October the last ones have straggled in. They’re always pretty thin.”

While I was talking with Jay, Linda approached another young man who had also just completed the trail.

“You appear very fit and lean,” she said.

“Yes,” he agreed. “Doing the trail, you lose all your body fat.”

A young woman standing nearby was listening intently, then broke in. “I’ve just come off the trail today,” she said. “I didn’t lose all my body fat. It doesn’t seem quite fair.”

It is believed that about 300 hikers challenge the trail each year. About 180 complete it. It is also common to attempt only a portion of the trail. Probably the most common reason for failure to complete the entire length is running out of funds. Some hikers have re-supply packages sent to themselves at postal outlets or general stores in communities along the way.

Planning and commitment are considered essential. It is a gruelling trek and there have been occasional deaths. A variety of health related issues can also develop. Jay, a software engineer in San Francisco suffered a broken foot along the way. “Probably a stress fracture from all the walking,” he said.

Jay’s enthusiasm for the adventure and also his trim body made me a little envious. Although I’m somewhat past my “best before” time in life, the spirit is still willing. I rather doubt I could persuade Linda, but the Pacific Crest Trail does appeal.

A Relationship Adventure With Dad

My Dad grew up on a remote, infertile Manitoba farm. During the Great Depression of the 1930’s, his father had difficulty feeding and clothing a wife and 9 children. Their soul wrenching poverty didn’t encourage expressing thoughts such as “I love you.” When Dad fell at age 89 and broke a hip, he required the assistance available only in a longterm care facility. It was the beginning of a relationship adventure for him and me.

Dad on front-end loader - Copy

In my early years, Dad worked as a logger in the steep mountainous terrain back of Hope. Strong, skilled and rugged, he was away 2 weeks at a time and I didn’t get to know him well. Eventually he brought his big bulldozer back to the Fraser Valley. Then, in summer he took me along to his jobs and taught me to operate the dozer, front end loader and backhoe, use a chain saw and blow huge stumps out of the ground with dynamite. Although this wasn’t what I wanted for a career, it provided an opportunity to know and respect Dad.

He enjoyed music and played the violin. I was about 8 when he bought a 12 bass accordion for me, then later upgraded it to a 120 bass. He hoped I would make music with him. I didn’t share his enthusiasm for music though and when I moved out of the family home, I left the accordion and the music behind.

In mid-life, Dad bought a bass fiddle and joined a seniors’ orchestra. Years later, just prior to his life altering fall, he bought a cello and taught himself to play it.

When he fell, his head struck the floor hard and erased his memory of music. For two years my white haired Dad spent many hours, hunched over in his wheelchair, awkwardly grasping the instrument in a futile attempt to revive his skill. When I engaged a cello instructor to teach him, Dad devoted hours to practising. In his many sleepless nights, he mentally rehearsed musical scales.

Making music with his children was what Dad had dreamed of from the beginning. Now he needed someone to play with so I sat down at the piano in the common area and began to apply what I’d learned on the accordion. It wasn’t pretty, but I learned a few tunes. Each time I came in he’d say, “let’s go to the piano.”

arts dad (1)

We learned old time songs like “You’re Cheatin’ Heart,” “You are my Sunshine,” and “The Tennessee Waltz.” He had a deep faith in God, as did some of the residents, so we included such numbers as “The Old Rugged Cross” and “Amazing Grace.” Some residents drew close to us in their wheelchairs. Others quietly sang or tapped fingers on a table. At the end they applauded with their frail aged hands.

We learned old time songs like “You’re Cheatin’ Heart,” “You are my Sunshine,” and “The Tennessee Waltz.” He had a deep faith in God, as did some of the residents, so we included such numbers as “The Old Rugged Cross” and “Amazing Grace.” Some residents drew close to us in their wheelchairs. Others quietly sang or tapped fingers on a table. At the end they applauded with their frail aged hands.

In time, holding the cello became difficult and Dad wearied more rapidly. His strong, rugged face could no longer hide the pain. Even when he grew too weak to hold the cello, he continued to say, “let’s go to the piano.”

Several nurses counselled me to tell Dad it’s ok to die. I did tell him if he chose to let go, the family would be ok. He fixed his clear blue eyes on me and said, “I still like to live.”

This reminded me of a time when I watched him on the big bulldozer, cutting in a road along the side of a steep ravine. A mistake would have sent him and his machine hurtling down. Now, white haired and no longer able to even get in or out of bed without assistance, this was just another difficult challenge. As long as he had music and his faith in God, his life had meaning.

When he was no longer strong enough to sit in his chair, I stood beside his bed, holding his hand. Sometimes, when the pain in his beleaguered body caused him to twitch and groan, I turned away, knowing my tears would trouble him.

One day, overcome by his helplessness and discomfort, I took his big hand and said, “I love you Dad.” He fixed those blue eyes on me and quietly said, “I love you too.”

One night, in his 95th year, the phone rang at 5:05 a.m. A nurse said, “your father has just passed away.” I was deeply saddened, but comforted by the thought that we had learned to say “I love you.”

Rollo Ceccon Is Still Enthusiastic

When Linda and I walked into the former business office of 87 year old Rollo Ceccon in Princeton, he greeted us enthusiastically. Then,

Rollo Ceccon Explaining His Photos
Rollo Ceccon Explaining His Photos

with the energy and passion characteristic of the deeply committed, he urged us to join him at a photo gallery on 3 walls. There were pictures of him with dump trucks and other equipment dating back to before the middle of the past century. I understood quickly this man grasps the value of preserving a record for future generations.

“I was born in Treviso, Italy,” he said when we had seated ourselves at his desk. “In 1930 my mother and I joined my father in Canada. As I was growing up, my father impressed on me how good we have it here. If I complained he’d say ‘you should go to another country and see how people live there.’” As a father himself, Rollo would later give a similar message to his son and daughter.

He attended the Edmonton campus of Chicago Vocational

Rollo Ceccon & Friends, With His First Car, 1945 Model T Ford
Rollo Ceccon & Friends, With His First Car, 1945 Model T Ford

School, learning diesel and automotive mechanics. Not happy with his first job and the big mosquitoes at Uranium City, he quit and was hired by Minneapolis Honeywell Thermostats. Being young and strong willed, he said to his boss one day, “if I don’t get more pay, I’ll quit.” The boss said “there’s the door.” Rollo laughed when he told us, “I never did that again.”

In 1950 he bought his first truck, a 1944 3 ton Ford, and started in business. He became a fan of Ford trucks. “The other models broke down,” he said. “The 6 cylinder engines couldn’t hold the trucks back going down the hill from Copper Mountain and Blackburn. I bought 8 cylinder Fords.”

A serious accident on Nov. 10, 1954 shaped his thinking to

Rollo's Father and the Crushed Truck
Rollo’s Father and the Crushed Truck

the present time. He was backing his dump truck to the edge of a 1,000 foot deep “glory hole.” The edge broke away. He and his truck tumbled down 250 feet. A rock outcropping prevented the truck from hurtling all the way to the bottom.

The man sent down to help rescue Rollo later told him, “I thought you were dead. Then blood spurting from your head wound hit me in the eye, so I knew your heart was pumping.” Three hours later the winch of a D6 Cat hoisted him to the surface. He had 6 broken vertebrae, several broken ribs and a broken leg. Wounds on his head required 120 stitches. He remained unconscious 2 weeks. “That day my father’s hair turned white in one hour.”

Rollo Ceccon Late Summer 1956, At Work & Still In A Walking Cast, On Crutches
Rollo Ceccon Late Summer 1956, At Work & Still In A Walking Cast, On Crutches

In the hospital he was placed in a body cast. After regaining consciousness the specialist said to him one day, “we’ve done all we can. The rest is up to you.” Rollo was determined to get out of the hospital. Now in a walking cast and using crutches, he signed himself out. Four months later, still in the cast and on crutches, he was back at work.

He leaned toward us from his side of the desk, as though about to say something of deep importance. “If I hadn’t had that accident,” he continued quietly, “I would never have understood how good I have it. People helped me a lot.”

Before the accident, he had started going into the Traveller’s Café. He became keenly interested in Blanche, a pretty young waitress. “It took a long time to persuade her to go to a movie,” he remembers.

Eventually she agreed to marry him and “we tied the knot on March 2, 1957. That day I threw away my crutches and started using a cane.”

Rollo’s business was flourishing. He bought dump trucks, a back hoe, a screening plant and other equipment. Blanche did the books.

When the Hope slide covered the # 3 Highway, his was the first company on the job. “One of my machines blew a line,” he said. “Phil Gaglardi, Minister of Highways, had just landed in a chopper. He told me to remove the line and he’d fly me to Chilliwack to get a new one.”

Rollo Ceccon, Still Enthusiastic About Life
Rollo Ceccon, Still Enthusiastic About Life

Until 2013 he still owned a front end loader. Without charge, he continued to clear snow for the Legion, firehall and arena. In 1973 the Princeton Chamber of Commerce named him “Citizen of the Year.” He was also honoured by the Lions Club for his “invaluable services and cooperation.”

Rollo’s last words to us were, “I’ve had a good life and it’s still good.”

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.

The Allisons at Standing Rock

Henry and Barb Allison live on Reserve land directly across from the iconic Standing Rock on Highway #3 near Keremeos. From the IMG_0841outset of our 2 hour conversation with them in their immaculate log home, my wife Linda and I were impressed with their warmth and congeniality.

My interest in them stems in part from their status as Elders in the Lower Similkameen Indian Band. I was also curious about Standing Rock, a revered First Nations ceremonial site.

In response to my question about their home, Henry said, “I was a logger. I personally logged the trees for the house. I traded logs in exchange for the construction.”

I encouraged Henry to continue. “We weren’t going to build on this

Henry & Barb Allison with Standing Rock in the background
Henry & Barb Allison with Standing Rock in the background

site,” he said, “but Barb’s mom owned the land and she insisted we build here so we could protect Standing Rock.” They have been diligent in carrying out her wish, at times telling people not to deface the Rock with writing.

Henry was born in Princeton and lived in Hedley, attending school here to the end of grade 6. “It wasn’t easy,” he said. “The other kids teased us a lot because we were Indians. For a time we had to sit on a bench along the wall. The white kids had desks.” He completed grade 8 in Keremeos. In grade 9 his teacher said, “We don’t know how you’re doing it, but you must be cheating. You couldn’t be getting such high marks.” Frustrated by the racially inspired accusations, he quit school.

It was at the Keremeos School that he met Barb. They come from very different families. Barb’s parents were ranchers, living in Chopaka. “Dad was sent to a residential school,” she told us. “When the authorities came for us, he wouldn’t let them take us away.” She and her siblings rode horses across the Similkameen River to their school in Cawston. Like Henry, she and other Indian children had to initially sit on a bench against the wall.

Especially at that age, being Aboriginal was difficult. “One day some white boys told us they would wait for us at the railroad tracks,” she said. “They were going to beat us up. We waited at the school, hoping they would leave. Finally we went to meet them. When we put up our fists to defend ourselves, they ran away.”

Henry’s mom had been taken to a residential school at age 10 and wasn’t returned home until she was 18. “She didn’t see her mother all those years,” he said. “She never learned to be a mother and as an adult alcohol got a hold of her. Once, when I was 8, us kids were left with cousins in a cabin in the bush near Hope. We fished and picked berries to feed ourselves. We didn’t know if our parents would ever return. I felt abandoned.”

“I didn’t understand her life until I attended a workshop about residential school experience,” he said. “Then I was finally able to forgive her.”

Henry grew up to be physically robust, with a desire to leave his past behind. Working in the bush, he became a skilled logger, eventually owning 2 mills and his own logging show. He and Barb began dating and he gave her an engagement ring as a graduation gift.

“That really upset my mom,” Barb recalls. “She was completely against our engagement. She wanted me to go to university and become a lawyer.”

Barb and Henry met with her parents to talk. Finally her dad said,“ we better let them get married or they’ll run away.”

Henry was non-status at the time so when they got married, Barb lost her status.  Later she and a group of women travelled to Ottawa to plead for status and it was granted. “I had some trouble persuading them I was Indian,” she said. Possibly the bureaucrats in Ottawa didn’t understand that an Indian could be so intelligent and articulate.

After gaining some life experience, Barb was nominated for the position of band chief in 1994.  She won in spite of intense opposition.  Believing band accounting might be flawed, she submitted the books for a forensic audit in Kamloops. Irregularities came to light and some individuals lost their jobs and band funding. This was not an easy decision but she possessed the integrity and inner strength to do it.

We sensed the depth of their despair when they talked about the loss of one of their 3 children.  “Our son was 18,” Henry said, “He was my right hand man in our logging operation. One day when he was on the job the new pickup he was driving stalled on a hill and went over a steep bank. I was away with the logging truck at the time. When Barb arrived, she climbed down the bank and lay down beside him until he died.”  Now years later, both Barb and Henry still carry the grief of that loss.

When we left the Allisons and their comfortable house of blond logs, we felt we had become friends. The racism in their early years and also later hasn’t made them bitter. The tragic loss of their son has not robbed them of joy.

They have decided instead to focus on the wonderful blessing of having 2 children, 10 grandchildren and 3 great grandchildren. They have become resolute, people of integrity and strong character. Henry and Barb would indeed be good friends.

Embracing the Storms of Life

On a visit to Mountain Prison near Agassiz some years ago, I encountered a number of round faced men, clad in drab grey prison P2260031garb. They were sitting on hard wooden benches set against long metal huts. Except for occasionally inserting a cigarette between their lips, they sat still and lifeless as sand sculptures on a forgotten beach. I approached them and asked, “what are you all waiting for?”

An elderly man with a balding scalp roused himself and responded quite amicably, “we’re waiting for the ringing of the lunch bell. Then we can go in and eat.”

On subsequent visits, I saw the men there many times, often arriving long before the bell summoned them. For some, meals were the most significant events in their day. In time I understood that prison life had fostered a toxic lethargy in them and most had no realistic goals or vision for anything better. They seemed not to grasp they could be preparing for the rigours of life awaiting them beyond the high chain link fence around the prison. Inside the fence they were able to blame others for their plight. Outside they would need to deal with reality. They feared reality. Although they admitted it only rarely, some felt safe only within the fence. They reminded me of T.S. Eliot’s “Hollow Men.”

Seeing these men was a reminder to me that it is in the storms of life that we grow strong. I realized how true this is later when I was Art (far left) paddling on a Bowron Lakeworking for the One Way Adventure Foundation in Hedley. Each summer we took small groups of Young Offenders on a Bowron Lakes canoe expedition. The trip consists of portaging, canoeing on lakes and rivers, and camping in a pristine wilderness. Once on the lakes, we had no means of communicating with anyone outside our group. If a canoe began to leak, we had to deal with it.

On one trip our crew consisted of 3 leaders and 9 adolescent boys travelling in 6 sturdy, Frontiersman canoes. The youths came primarily from poorly functioning homes. They generally arrived at our campus with a distinctly uncooperative attitude, often with a swagger. They attempted to portray themselves as tough and street smart. Having no chain link fence to protect them from life’s harsh realities, they had donned a mask to hide their sense of insecurity.

We wanted to expose them to mosquitoes, horse flies, paddling or portaging all day, sometimes in incessant rain. We considered it important that they feel the discomfort of a canoe yoke digging into their shoulders on portages. The experience would plant a significant memory in their psyche. A memory of grappling with unaccustomed and unexpected challenges, and discovering they had the stamina to persevere to the end. They would see that we, the leaders, were also being ravaged by the insects and the elements. Masks would begin to slip as we all contended with a reality we could not ignore.

It was an overcast Thursday morning when our little contingent emerged from the fast flowing, dangerous waters of the Cariboo River onto Lanezi Lake. A powerful headwind was already whipping up waves. Spray blew into our faces and we could scarcely move. Our canoes bobbed like corks on the restless water. Because the towering mountains descended on either side to the edge of the lake, we could find no refuge there. Fear gripped the boys. They were city youths and had never paddled in turbulent water like this.

Fear in their voices concerned me. It was quickly eroding their inner strength. I needed to do something to give them confidence. I started singing, “row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream.” Initially they looked at me as though doubting my sanity. Sensing my confidence, a couple of the older boys began singing with me. Their voices weren’t much better than mine but in the blowing wind, it didn’t matter.

“Row, row, row your boat.” Soon we were all singing and whooping and paddling like mad voyageurs. Suddenly, we were lusty and strong and free.

I looked at the 2 straining, sweating boys in the canoe closest to me and both of them grinned broadly. They were having too much fun to be scared. Three hours later, in the safety of our rustic camp, with tents set up, a camp fire warming us, and hot food in our bellies, we knew we had conquered our fears.

Now, with a new year dawning, this is a good time for all of us to decide we won’t be content to sit on a bench mindlessly waiting for our next meal. This is a good time to think about how we will respond to the storms of life that may descend on us in 2015.