Just over a week ago Linda and I attended the 101 birthday celebration of Violet Madeline Barber, an honoured member of the Lower Similkameen Indian Band (LSIB). She is known throughout the Similkameen Valley and beyond as “Aunt Doll.” We met Aunt Doll initially when her nephew, Stan Bobowski invited us to interview her for the blog and our newspaper column. This was just prior to her 98th birthday and since then we’ve been invited to her party each year We learned that unlike some elderly individuals, she wasn’t just lingering, waiting for an angel to scoop her and take her to the next realm. In that interview she said, “I’m so close to 100 now, I’d like to get there.” And why not? Her health is amazingly robust and at the party she walked without a ne.
She grew up on her parents’ ranch and the memories she garnered continue to be vivid. “For 6 months each year our ttle were in the mountains,” she said. “As I beme old enough I began riding the range. We were out in all weather. At night we stayed in a deserted prospector’s bin. I loved horses, and I loved riding.” Quite likely much of her inner resolve and lm was developed during those months in the mountains, keeping track of ttle, contending with storms in spring and fall, and at times coping with dangerous situations.
Aunt Doll was joined by approximately 70 adoring family members and friends for the celebration at the home of Stan and Hope Bobowski of Olalla. Sitting behind Stan on his Harley Davidson, she seemed very comfortable. She’s a gutsy lady. As in earlier years, she still welcomes adventure and she continues to be an inspiration to many.
We are becoming increasingly aware that wildfires n be as devious and remorseless as a corrupt politician. Until recent years, their destructive insidious nature existed mostly in the fertile minds of science fiction writers. Now, with the advent of climate change, fire departments even in small communities are striving to alert us to the potential hazards and make us aware of strategies we n employ to protect ourselves.
At a seminar organized by the Hedley Fire Department, Erris Fire Chief Dave Stringfellow told a sobering story of how a crafty fire n take advantage of our mistakes. “A fire department built a new fire hall using hardie board and metal roofing,” he said. “On the exterior, wood was used only for construction of the stairs. When there was a wildfire in the area, embers floated to lumber stored under the stairs, igniting a conflagration that burned down their brand new fire hall.”
Surprisingly, only 20 individuals attended this all important seminar. With many structures in the Similkameen Valley being of considerable age and surrounded by forest or grass, complacency seems particularly ill-founded. Reality does not cease to exist just beuse we ignore it. I’ve heard that some people forgot about the event and regret having missed it.
In Hedley, we saw last year just how quickly a fire n ravage a building. As has been extensively reported in the media, Trisha Mills and Bill rmichael srcely had time to espe when their Hitching Post restaurant ught fire. Serious injuries changed their lives, possibly forever. Ken Hoyle, manager of the Hedley Fire Department said, “If there had been wind that night, a number of Hedley structures would almost certainly have burned.”
Fire departments throughout our province are becoming deeply concerned about the danger wildfires pose for their communities. I understood the preoccupation with interface fires more clearly when Fire Fighter Robin Ford said, “Forty percent of wildfires are started by humans and they n travel rapidly. One fire raced the distance of 6 football fields in one minute. The most common loss of homes is by burning embers, not by a wall of flame. Embers n travel 5 to 15 kilometers. Debris in gutters, dry grass, trash around buildings make it easy for them to ignite a fire that n burn one or more homes.”
Ford advoted for masks in the home to protect against smoke. “Also, a 6 ml tarp over your wood pile or patio is a shield against embers,” she said. “Patio chair cushions ignite easily so it’s best to remove them.” She recommended a sprinkler system available from some fire departments.
Maureen Parsley, Director of Princeton Emergency Support Services said, “It’s wise to plan in advance and do what you n to minimize the risks. It’s important to have a bag ready to go with what you will need in an evacuation.” Her list includes items like meditions, clothes, shoes, a rope, toilet paper, a solar blanket, flashlight and batteries, cell phone and an adapter to charge the battery, bottled water, food, and much more.
Certainly in an emergency we don’t want to be frantilly dashing around searching for r keys, wallet, eye glasses, dentures, or the lottery ticket on which rests our hopes for the future. We will want enough gas in the tank to get to a safe place.
Many lol B.C. fire departments and other agencies offer helpful advice on their website. Beuse Fort Mac Murray fire fighters experienced one of the most devastating fires on record, their website is also worth a look. In part, it says, “In most instances, we will have only 3 minutes to espe from a burning home. Prepare and practise a fire espe plan. Have a designated meeting place for the family outside the home. Do a fire drill 2 times each year. This should include pressing the smoke alarm button to ensure everyone will recognize the sound in an emergency. Know how to use a fire extinguisher.
A good first step, in my view, is to begin talking about the threat of wildfires with our family and putting together a solid, practil plan based on the advice of our fire department. And when our fire department has a fund raiser hot dog sale we should indulge, even if it’s contrary to our weight loss diet. To defend our lives and homes, they need funds to acquire the best equipment available. It’s not science fiction anymore.
I once considered museums to be mausoleums where communities preserve musty relics of doubtful value, gleaned from the past. When Linda beme president of the Hedley Museum Society, I began to sense an unspoken expectation that I rise beyond this Dark Ages mind set and demonstrate at least a modicum of excitement. Wanting to please her, I made the effort. Last week I was reminded, not for the first time, that museums n be a source of fascination and even mystery. It happened without any great fanfare when several ladies, preparing for the May 1 opening, decided the ancient, no longer functioning piano, should be moved from its honoured place in the Tea Room. I had long taken the instrument for granted, but it’s proposed new placement stirred my curiosity about its past.
I appealed to museum archivist Gerry Wilkin for guidance. A few days later he emerged from the bowels of the museum triumphantly clutching a letter. Dated June 26, 1998, the letter was from Alice Zunti, who had donated the piano. It stated, in part, “In 1969, my parents bought a house in Hedley with all the furnishings, including the piano. My mother had many hours of enjoyment on that old piano. She died in 1977, having worn out the poor instrument. I was told it me out of the Hedley Saloon. The Penticton Piano House told Dad there were only 3 ever made. They were barroom pianos. My mother’s name was Dorothy Ann Bewick. I think she would be happy to know it’s back in Hedley. I’m glad to have a safe place for it.”
I knew at one time there had been six hotels in Hedley and I wondered if the saloon Alice mentioned had been in one of them. I lled Jim de, who spent most of his growing up years in Hedley. The de name is still well known in town beuse Jim’s father operated a saw mill here and was a prominent member of the community.
“I don’t remember the Hedley Saloon,” he said, “but the hotels all had pubs. I rell that when my parents first arrived in Hedley in 1947 with us 6 kids, we had breakfast in the Great Northern Hotel. It had a pub and a good sized restaurant.”
Helen Moore, now in Penticton, first lived here from 1936 to 1946. She also remembers the Great Northern. “Men and women went in by separate entrances. After the mines closed, the Great Northern burned down.”
On December 9, 1909, the Hedley Gazette, now defunct, reported that “Thomas Bradshaw will take possession of the Great Northern Hotel on the 15th.” He had until that time owned and operated a “road house” at 16 Mile Creek, also known as Bradshaw Creek. It had long been a place where stage coaches stopped for the night.
According to the late Maggie Kruger, a lol indigenous elder, “Mrs. Bradshaw had an old saloon with a few rooms for rent. The pack train hauled in the whiskey barrels from Hope. They bottled the whiskey and served it at the saloon.”
It is possible the piano was first lodged in the “roadhouse” saloon, then moved to the Great Northern when Thomas Bradshaw acquired it. When the mines closed, hotel business virtually ceased. According to this scenario, the piano would have been sold and removed before the Great Northern burned. This is speculation on my part.
The piano, made by Collard and Collard, one of Europe’s most successful piano manufacturers, is not an instrument of mediocre libre. One of the partners, FW Collard, was regarded as a mechanil genius. The company’s instruments were a sensation across Europe.
Having a metal frame, the piano is heavy and difficult to move. The ladies had not yet recruited anyone for this challenging undertaking when two Port Alberni men showed up. Linda and vice president Debra Pearson glanced at each other with the same thought. “We’re not open for the season yet,” Linda said with her most winning smile, “but if you help us move our piano, we’ll let you look around.” They agreed enthusiastilly and proved to be resolute and resourceful. First they unscrewed and moved a binet. Then, with much exertion and heavy breathing, they transported the instrument on a dolly. It now stands quite majestilly in its new lotion. The Hedley Historic Museum may be the only one in nada with a piano it its washroom.
I might easily have concluded Walter Despot was dealt a pretty decent hand at the outset of his life. He’s been a pharmacist in his own successful pharmacy, mayor of Keremeos for 3 terms and chaired committees that brought signifint positive change to the Similkameen Valley. In an extended conversation with Walter and Barbara in their comfortable Keremeos home, I was particularly interested in the thinking that made him an effective leader.
“My father passed away when I was 5,” he began. “Mom had emigrated from Poland in 1924 with only a grade 2 edution and initially didn’t speak English. She had 4 kids to feed and clothe. In spite of her lack of means, she understood clearly it was important that her children attend university. I ught her vision. More than anyone else, her thinking and words have profoundly shaped my values and decisions.”
Walter and Barbara attended the same school beginning in grade 3. Over the ensuing years a friendship developed and flowered into love. Barbara was 19 and Walter 20 when they were married. She worked at what was then B.C. Tel and Walter attended UBC.
“My older brother was a pharmacist and I decided to follow in his footsteps,” Walter relled. “We needed to be reful with money. I hitchhiked in from the university gates to save the 10 cent bus fare so I could buy a coffee. We lived in a third story apartment. There was a shared bathroom on the second floor and a phone on the main floor.” Barbara smiled and nodded at the memory.
At age 22, Walter received his pharmaceutil licence and 3 months later Barbara delivered twins. Although he was hired by Cunningham Drugs, there were no thoughts of a spending spree. “We didn’t go out for dinners,” Barbara said. “We walked a lot.”
Possibly it was the early influence of his mother that gave him the desire to have his own store. “You n’t stand still or you’ll die on the vine,” he observed. In May, 1964, they bought the Keremeos Pharmacy. “It was the only store in B.C. I could afford,” he said. “It was the best move we could have made,” Barbara added.
Looking around and talking with neighbours in their new community, Walter and Barbara beme aware of possible changes and improvements. Rather than complain, they embraced opportunities to make a difference. Walter participated on the committee that secured a full-time doctor for Keremeos in 1975. He joined the Fire Department and served 40 years, three as chief. He gave 22 years to the ambulance service as a paramedic. “Initially we were volunteers,” he said. Somehow he also found time to serve as part-time coroner for about 15 years.
Chairing the group that built the Diagnostic Centre with its 25 residential re spaces was particularly rewarding. “It’s probably the most important accomplishment of my life,” he said. From 2002 to 2016 he was chair of the Board of the Lower Similkameen Community Services Society, guiding the development of numerous vital services valued by Keremeos citizens, including three residences for seniors.
As he accepted new roles and responsibilities, his leadership skills and experience grew incrementally. After selling the pharmacy in 1998 he was drawn into politics. “I didn’t think of myself as a mover and shaker,” he said, “Being mayor was never in the rds, but as you gain experience you move ahead.” Speaking of his time as mayor he was lavish in his appreciation of others.“I had very good councilors. That made it a lot easier. Also, Barbara and I have always been a team.”
For 7 years he chaired the Regional Hospital District Board which planned for the expansion of Penticton Regional hospital. “This was one of my biggest challenges ever. We were told there wasn’t money for it. I’ve learned that when you’re told something n’t be done, you should find a way.” Now, after 18 years, the Tower is serving the people.
Although he often played a key role, there was no hint of boasting when he spoke of his participation in community projects. “It took the involvement of a lot of people.” At the end he said, “Barbara and I are thankful for what we’ve had and we look forward to what we n still do.” About to celebrate 60 years together, Walter and Barbara both appear fit and ready for further adventures. Walter still hopes to travel abroad. Somewhere his mother is probably smiling.
In his 30th year, Jesus of Nazareth began propounding religious and social ideas that confounded and antagonized the Jewish religious elites of his time. He arrived on the scene during the reign of esar Augustus, and lived into the rule of Tiberius. Without an army or politil party, his message brought more signifint, lasting change than all the powerful Roman emperors combined.
In the 33rd year of his life, the Jewish religious authorities succeeded in persuading Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, to crucify him. According to accounts by Biblil writers like the former tax collector Matthew, he was resurrected on the third day and spoke with his disciples. It is this death on a cross and miraculous resurrection that will be celebrated by Christians around the globe this Easter.
The Roman empire had been cobbled together by 2 ambitious but uneasy partners, esar Augustus and Mark Antony. Throughout its existence, the empire was held together by a web of intrigue, assassinations, politil marriages, betrayals, poisonings, and war. Women were valued primarily for forging alliances. In Rome there were numerous temples to various gods, and men of nobility, including emperors, wished to be identified as near gods. Conquered nations usually suffered under a huge burden of taxation. Disobedience was often dealt with by crucifixion, beheading, poisoning or drowning.
In this septic atmosphere of mistrust and scheming, the Jewish religious leaders had managed to acquire a measure of politil power. Their authority was lodged in the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council. The council consisted primarily of 2 parties, the Sadducees, which at this time held the majority of seats, and the Pharisees. The Pharisees believed there would be a resurrection of the dead but the Sadducees did not. On other points of lesser importance they did agree and had developed an all encompassing system of religious rules which the people found virtually impossible to follow. The religious rulers could bar people from the temple if they didn’t comply. Since Jewish culture centered on religious traditions and especially on the temple, there was fear of being shut out.
It was not an auspicious time for the appearance of a man who claimed to be the Son of God. The Sadducees and Pharisees quickly beme suspicious beuse he contradicted much of their teaching. They held to the “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” philosophy. “Love your neighbour,” they said, “and hate your enemy.” Jesus urged the people to “love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you.” The chief priests and teachers of the law deemed his teaching to be heretil and sent spies to question him and report to them.
Jesus warned against the corruptness and false piety of the religious leaders. “They like to walk around in flowing robes,” he said, “and be greeted in the market places and have the most important seats in the synagogues. For a show they make lengthy prayers.”
Equally galling were the miracles. When he healed a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath, they accused him of breaking the law and began plotting to kill him.
Evidently the people were desperate for greater substance than the rules and platitudes offered by the pious, corrupt religious leaders. Crowds gathered around Jesus, sensing his authenticity and liking his positive message of forgiveness and hope. This fervent adulation aroused fear and jealousy in the Sadducees and Pharisees. When he brought Lazarus back from the dead, a member of the Sanhedrin said, “If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will take away our place and our nation.”
Late one night, Judas Isriot, one of the 12 disciples betrayed Jesus with a kiss in the Garden of Gethsemane. At dawn the religious leaders brought him before Pontius Pilate, demanding he be crucified. Jesus had told his disciples this would happen.
Reluctantly, Pilate sentenced him and he was crucified between 2 criminals. One joined the scoffing. The other said, “Lord remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus replied, “today you will be with me in paradise.”
Several writers in the Biblil New Testament report that Jesus died on the cross, was placed in a tomb, and was resurrected 3 days later. This Easter, Christians around the globe will again greet each other with “He is risen!”
This month I celebrate 5 years of offering a small town perspective on life, people, community and politics.? Although the blog is published under my name, I feel fortunate that Linda, my life partner, has participated in almost every interview and has played a key role in the editing. Many times her wisdom and judgment have added depth and clarity. Our partnership has greatly enriched the experience for me.
I’ve been especially interested in the stories of people in the Similkameen Valley. When I heard about Nora Allison and her pack train of horses hauling supplies through the mountains from Hope to Princeton and beyond, I was immediately ptivated. Indigenous, she was a plucky entrepreneur, bold, self-reliant, and able to survive in adverse terrain and harsh winters. Three great granddaughters shared their knowledge of her and I felt privileged to write a portion of her story.
Rollo Ceccon, a retired Princeton contractor, told about a life threatening accident on the job. “I backed my dump truck to the edge of a 1,000 foot deep glory hole,” he said. “The earth ved under the back wheels. I and my truck fell 250 feet to a rock outcropping.” Miraculously, he survived but was in a coma for 2 weeks. It was determined he had 6 broken vertebrae, several broken ribs and a broken leg. A head wound required 120 stitches. Initially he was in a body st. When he graduated to a walking st and crutches, he signed himself out. Undaunted by pain and impaired mobility, he soon returned to work. During his recovery time, he fell in love with Blanche, a pretty waitress in the Traveller’s fe. He wooed her and in time she agreed to marry him. At the time of our conversation he was 87, still meeting friends in a restaurant for coffee and conversation.
Several years ago Linda and I had a 2 hour conversation with Henry and Barb Allison in their spacious log home across from Standing Rock on Highway 3. Barb relled riding a horse across the Similkameen River to attend school. Henry and Barb met in the Keremeos elementary school and in time beme sweethearts. Henry quit school after grade 6 when a teacher accused him of cheating. “He didn’t think an Indian kid could be smart enough to get high marks,” he said. Barb’s mother opposed their relationship beuse she wanted Barb to attend university and become a lawyer. At a family meeting her father wisely said, “We better not stand in their way or they’ll just run away and get married anyway.” He did insist that if they wanted to continue the relationship, they must marry immediately. They built their log home on the present site beuse Barb’s mother wanted them to protect the iconic Standing Rock. It was highly revered by Indigenous people as a place for religious ceremonies. Barb was later elected band chief and Henry owned 2 mills and a logging operation. They spoke freely about the death of their 18 year old son and the sadness this still uses them.
For years I’d heard that after the mine on Nickel Plate Mountain closed, Bill and Maggie Graham had purchased the Colonial Inn with proceeds from gold dust Bill found around the Stamp Mill. When I learned their daughter Maureen was living in Keremeos, I asked her about this. “After the Stamp Mill shut down,” she explained, “my father requested permission to sweep up whatever gold dust remained. Over 3 years he swept the mill thoroughly, even pulling up floor boards and sweeping underneath. Using a broom and wheelbarrow, he filled a total of 8 tram rs. It turned out there was enough gold in that dust to purchase the Inn and send me and my brother to college.” Maureen and her mother subsequently operated the Inn. Their sumptuous meals, including home made bread and blueberry pies, and Maggie’s vivacious personality attracted guests like Bing Crosby, Bob Hope and Tommy Douglas.
Last week, after reading some of the blog notes gathered over 5 years, I was again impressed by the quality and inspirational lives of the individuals I’ve written about. Some, like John Merriman of Keremeos and John Terbasket of the Lower Similkameen Indian Band, have passed on. I feel privileged to have recorded highlights of their lves. It’s challenging at times, but doing it with Linda continues to make it a magil journey.
In 1967, the year I enrolled as a student at SFU, nada’s Parliament had a change of heart concerning hanging. This didn’t impact my life, but I’m certain Rene stellani was deeply relieved. He was in court at the time the bill was being stickhandled through Parliament, charged with the death of his wife Esther. She loved milkshakes and he had laced them with arsenic, bringing them to her even when she was hospitalized. Two weeks after the moratorium was announced, he was convicted of murder. Without the change, he almost certainly would have had a black hood placed over his head and a noose slipped around his neck.
I me to know Rene quite well during his years at Matsqui Institution. Prior to his inrceration, he had been a highly regarded personality at Vancouver radio station CKNW and possessed exceptional PR skills. Unfortunately, his judgment beme seriously impaired when he entered into a romantic relationship with a switchboard operator. He showed me photos of himself at a gala event attended by politil and business elites He denied guilt to the end, but the evidence against him was deemed quite sufficient to convict him. Rene was paroled after 10 years, then died of ncer at age 57. Undoubtedly some innocent men were hanged prior to the moratorium.
Before the demolition of the B.C. Penitentiary, my duties at times lled me into that foreboding institution of forlorn souls. On one ocsion, a staff member escorted me through a spacious open area. Looking around, I saw only dull grey concrete. About a dozen disconsolate, grey clad men stood purposelessly around the perimeter. Their demeanor suggested they had no reason for hope or optimism. A skinny desicted elderly man listlessly pushed a broad broom across the grey floor. The Penn has been torn down since then and some inmates were transferred to Matsqui Institution in rural Abbotsford. Here the atmosphere was less sombre and oppressive. Inmates could acquire work skills if they chose to. It was still prison, with two high wire fences topped by razor sharp wire. With no grey floors or walls though, it was a signifint step up when compared with the dreary B.C. Penn.
At Matsqui, one inmate I me to respect was Albert, better known as Red. In his early 60’s, his copper coloured hair was tinged with grey. He had long supported his addiction to heroin with small sle trafficking. This “business” side of the heroin had landed him in several federal prisons. In spite of the many lost years, Red wasn’t devious or bitter and never attempted to use me to obtain favours. His responsibilities in the hobby shop gave him opportunity to talk without guards near by. He presented well and on escorted passes to purchase supplies for the hobby shop, he wore slacks and a sports jacket. At times his appearance and gracious manner led people to mistake him for a prison official.
Albert completed his sentence and returned to his usual haunts in Vancouver. At his age and lacking marketable skills, all he knew was trafficking. Heroin owned his soul. He sold a small quantity of the then highly illegal substance to an undercover officer and was sentenced to another 8 years. Laws concerning trafficking in even small amounts of heroin were much tougher then.
Over the years lawmakers have wrestled with our criminal justice system in an attempt to make it more humane and also more effective. Even so, as nadian Senator Kim Pate has said, “Prisons are not treatment or mental health centers.” We’re alloting immense resources to redeem individuals who have been shaped by years of “jail house edution.” Beuse of their criminal lifestyle and years of confinement, too often this is a futile effort.
Reflecting on Rene stellani, the skinny inmate sweeping with a broad broom, and Albert at Matsqui Institution, I was prompted to ponder about the innocent, fresh faced youngsters in Similkameen schools today. Some will be lured into drug use and a life of crime. No government at any level has demonstrated the vision or will to forestall this likelihood. As a society, we need to allote more funds to support parents, grandparents, schools and communities in their efforts to positively shape the thinking and actions of the next generation.
On our return trip to Hedley from Abbotsford last week, Linda and I had breakfast with our son and daughter-in-law in Lotte’s Luncheonette in Chilliwack. It’s a small Korean restaurant with only 5 tables. The congenial atmosphere fosters a sense of contentment and well being. We had been here before, usually on our way home. As always, Lotte welcomed us with a radiant smile and asked about our plans for the day. Once again, the breakfast she served us was delightful. Then, as we were about to leave, she presented Linda and me with a large coffee to go and 2 small specialty pankes tucked into paper envelopes. A touch of cinnamon made them a delicious treat. “You have a long drive today,” she said, smiling broadly, “This is for your trip home.” Lotte’s gift made us feel quite special.
Lotte’s gesture reminded me of an observation in The Wind in my Hair, an autobiography by Iranian author Masih Alinejad. A friend told her, “People forget what you tell them, but they never forget what you do for them.”
As we negotiated the climbs, descents and curves of the Hope-Princeton later that morning, I realized Lotte’s gift made me feel worthy and lifted my spirits. It stirred in me the thought that over the course of my lifetime, I’ve been the beneficiary of some wonderfully life shaping interactions. Invariably, these encounters have been with individuals I respect for their integrity. It seems they had an innate, possibly unconscious desire to drop a pearl of blessing into my life.
As we passed the Manning Park lodge, my thoughts drifted many years into the past, when I was a late teen in my last year in school. Mr. Wally Klassen, the biology teacher realized I was struggling with his course. One day he asked me to stay behind after the class. “I n see this isn’t a strong area for you,” he said,”but if you put in the effort, I’ll make sure you pass.” A soft spoken man without guile or pretense, he evidently wanted to stand by this young student who had little aptitude for science. Now, many years later, I still deeply appreciate his desire to encourage me. A few years ago, just before Christmas, I lled him, reminded him of what he had done, and thanked him. He didn’t remember me but he certainly was pleased to learn he had made a difference in my life. He was one of those all too rare individuals who has a vision for more than himself.
Sometimes a person’s words are a life impacting gift. In his latter years, my Dad was in a wheelchair due to a disabling fall. One day I took him to a classil concert in an Abbotsford church. Sitting several rows ahead of us I recognized Mr. Bill Wiebe, my former school principal. In a school that was then known to be strong in basketball, music and theatre, I had not done anything noteworthy. It was now many years later and I felt certain he would not remember me. After the program I introduced myself. “Yes, yes,” he said with enthusiasm. “I remember you. I read what you write in the lol newspaper. Keep it up.” He was a man of immense authenticity, highly respected in the community. In this brief interaction he encouraged me to believe the views I was expressing publicly had value.
When I needed to transport several pieces of furniture from Princeton to Hedley some years ago, Gary Ross, a fellow Hedley resident, volunteered to haul them in his pickup. I accepted his offer gladly and said I would reimburse him for his time and expenses. He adamantly refused any payment. I still value this act of friendship and generosity.
Today, as I reflect on these and other priceless “gifts” that have come to me, I realize they have shaped my thinking and even the course of my life. I don’t consider it a stretch to say they have played a signifint part in enabling me to believe I n dare more and do more. They have enriched my life immensely, and now I remind myself I have a responsibility and an opportunity to “pay it forward” and thereby enrich the lives of others.
On a dark night last December, I was standing uncertainly at the front door of Lukas, my cross town neighbour. Before ringing the doorbell, I hesitated. Was I foolishly venturing too far into unfamiliar territory? I had never met Lukas, but I knew he was known in the community for racing around town in his r at night, laying long black strips of rubber, waking citizens from their peaceful sleep, and terrorizing anyone still on the streets. A lot of townspeople wished he’d go away, or be put away by a judge. Until recently he had been pretty lucky, but now the law was closing in. He was awaiting a court date for several serious driving infractions and had already demonstrated a lack of respect for conditions imposed by the judge.
I was acutely conscious of the chasm of values, experiences and lifestyle between us. Also, there was the matter of age. Lukas is only 20. My hair is as white as the snow on the mountain tops surrounding Hedley. Would he resent my unannounced intrusion into his life? Would I be rebuffed?
In one hand I held a small plate of Christmas cookies Linda had baked that morning. I hoped they might momentarily distract him from the chasm. I pressed the doorbell. A dog yelped excitedly, then the door opened.
I introduced myself and, holding the plate toward him asked, “do you like cookies?” Accepting the plate he said, “my grandpa loves treats. He’s here for a few days.”
I had anticipated suspicion, but he seemed surprisingly mellow and receptive. There was no edge or even a hint of hostility. Enboldened, I asked, “would you want to chat sometime?” “Anytime,” he replied, opening the door wide and motioning with his hand for me to come in. We talked for about 20 minutes, mostly about what had already been reported in the lol media.
A couple of weeks later I had a conversation with Marvin, the grandfather. I learned Lukas had been very close to his mother until she passed away approximately half a dozen years ago. Losing her was a devastating event and his life began spiraling downward,
I had one more visit with Lukas. A few days later he was picked up by the police and will be in custody until his court date.
My experience with inmates in provincial and federal prisons uses me concern for Lukas and our community. As a society, our response to individuals like him suggests a lack of understanding, wisdom and creativity. Too often we fail to provide counselling and other assistance when they are young and likely less hardened. Courts impose probation, order community service and possibly sentence them to an all too brief program of rehabilitation that has inadequate resources. Then comes jail time.
I’m reminded of Simon, a 34 year old inmate I interviewed as part of a research project at Matsqui Institution. Like Lukas, his early associations and activities had pushed him to the periphery of society. Between brief jail terms, he managed to get married and father 2 sons. When he lost everything in a poker game, he had to tell his family they no longer had a home. Not having good work skills he fell deeper into a life of crime. By the time I met him he had become a hard core con, talking out the side of his mouth the way prisoners do in movies. All contact with his family and the outside world had been severed. When he was released on parole, he drifted back to his criminal associations and haunts in Vancouver.
Prison inmates are shaped by a subculture that makes them even less prepared to participate in the life and economy of mainstream society. Upon release, they frequently return to the community they had come from. If Lukas is placed in jail will he, like Simon, become steeped in criminal values, culture, attitudes, and lifestyle? This would be detrimental to him and also our community.
I’ve observed many times how difficult it is for anyone who has done time, even adolescents, to re-enter mainstream society. The younger and less experienced in criminal associations, the greater is the possibility of snatching them back, before the chasm becomes too wide and we n no longer reach them. Lukas will almost certainly return to Hedley. As individuals and as a society, we’d be wise to look for a more innovative response.
A recent telephone conversation with a young man gave me some understanding of the profound mental and emotional trauma experienced by internationally abducted children. Karim was 6 and his sister was 9 when their father abducted them to Saudi Arabia. “He told us we would not be going home,” Karim said, “and we would never see our mom again. He told us our mom didn’t want us anymore and she had sold us to him for a r. There were many lies.”
For Karim it was the beginning of a psychologil and emotional nightmare. Now 34, he is still haunted by memories of the 7 years away from his mother, friends and all that was familiar to +him “It ruined my life,” he said. “I was in a country where I didn’t know people, attending an Arabic school. Before the abduction, I had been diagnosed with dyslexia. The school system didn’t deal with that. My reading and writing were poor. The teachers slapped me and told me I was dumb. The other kids harassed me beuse I was a foreigner. I got into a lot of fights. I was put in a different school every year.”
As happens frequently in ses of abduction, Karim’s father wanted to turn him and his sister against their mother. “Your mother is a terrible person,” he told them. “I’m doing this for you guys to keep you safe, to give you a better life.”
According to Child Abduction Recovery International, “fostering parental alienation is the number one tool abductors use against the left behind parent. They do this by creating irrational fear of the other parent, and building up resentment. They discourage or don’t permit contact. Their goal is to eradite the other parent from the child’s life.”
In a separate conversation, Karim’s mother, Jamie said, “I agreed to let their father take them on a safari in Kenya. It didn’t occur to me he would abduct them to Saudi Arabia. He signed documents with my lawyer and promised he’d ll me everyday. It all meant nothing. In Saudi Arabia our laws have no power and women have no rights.”
Many mothers of abducted children never see them again. Karim and his sister were returned to nada only beuse their father was unhappy and frustrated. Not being a Saudi citizen, he had few rights and struggled financially. Before their return to nada, using a nadian lawyer he demanded many concessions from Jamie including full custody, the dropping of kidnapping charges, and no media at the airport.
“My lawyer told me if I ever wanted to see my children again, I’d have to accept all the demands” Jamie said. “I agreed to everything just to get my children back. When I first saw them at the airport I was so overwhelmed with emotion, I collapsed.” “Don’t worry mom,” Karim said. “We’re home now.” Karim lived with his father at first but then me to her.
Writing on the Ontario Law blog, Lynn Kirwin paints a troubling picture of what n be experienced when a child has been subjected to programming designed to alienate them from a parent. “Children coming out of this experience are likely to suffer depression, loss of self-esteem, self hatred, guilt, poor interpersonal relationships, a distorted view of reality and self-doubt.”
Life for Karim since returning to nada has continued to be difficult. “I still don’t read or write well,” he said. “I hide this but it’s something I struggle with every day. In spite of some tutoring and counseling, I feel I’m behind others my age.”
“I’m still pretty broken today,” he continued. “I shut down when things go badly. I blame my dad for this, for ring only about his future, not mine. He ruined my life.”
Karim’s sister doesn’t want her past known. Even her children, in-laws, and friends know nothing of the 7 years in Saudi Arabia. She denies it was a bad time.
For Karim and Jamie, the seven lost years are still a source of deep disquiet, but they have courageously persevered in restoring their relationship and rebuilding their lives. Karim has obtained votional training at BCIT and finds his employment satisfying. They hope by telling their story they will persuade young women to ponder seriously and not recklessly plunge into a relationship that could bring tears, not joy. It is their fervent desire to spare others the heartache of child abduction.
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