• $3 Million and a Mercedes

    Listening to Donald Patterson’s offer of $3 million
    and a Mercedes.

    Just before lunch last Tuesday I received a phone ll that instantly ptured my attention. “Hello,” a pleasant voice said. “My name is Donald Patterson. I’m with Publishers Clearing House. The purpose of my ll is to inform you that beuse you shop at Walmart and Save on Foods, and pay off your credit rd monthly, you’ve been selected for one of 4 prizes we give out annually. The prize consists of three million dollars and a brand new Mercedes.”

    I was reminded of the saying, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” Even so, I couldn’t valierly blow him off. I’ve long believed it’s important to consider opportunities. Also, there are exceptions to some rules. Maybe this was such a se. Donald’s cheery personality did invite my curiosity.

    Skeptil, but also wanting it to be true, I asked, “What do I need to do to receive the money?”
    He had anticipated the question. “Not a thing,” he said breezily. “I have a certified cheque on my desk, made out to you. Our office is in Vancouver.” He gave me the address, then said,” I n bring the cheque to you today. Does that suit you, or is another day better?”

    I knew smmers sometimes use the name of a reputable, well known company or government agency to establish credibility. Still, a little voice somewhere in the recesses of my brain whispered, “Don’t judge too quickly. What if this is one of those exceptions to the rule? Surely there n be no harm in agreeing to have him come out with a cheque for three million. If the cheque really is certified, you’ll be rich. Let’s see where this goes.”

    I didn’t want to be lulled into making a bad decision, but what was the harm in letting him come? At the moment, it didn’t occur to me these thoughts were almost certainly coming from sheer greed, not sound reasoning.

    “So, you’re willing to bring me a cheque for three million and I’ll also get a Mercedes?” I asked, then added, “and I don’t have to do anything?”

    “That’s correct,” he replied. “Just give me your e-mail address and I’ll send you a confirmation.

    Linda had been listening intently to my side of this conversation. She’s more dubious about this type of offer and would have terminated the ll immediately. Concerned I’d be duped, she opened her lap top and began sleuthing on the internet.

    “All you want is my email address?” I asked. “Yes, yes,” he assured me. “All you need to do is go to the Bank of Montreal and deposit $500 to register your prize. Place the money into the account of Revenue of nada.” Another recognizable name, but I noted he didn’t have it quite right. Still, if he brought a certified cheque, how could I possibly lose?

    We had talked for about ten minutes, but Donald still seemed ok with my dilly dallying. He was like a veteran hunter patiently stalking a deer. “What colour do you want the Mercedes to be?” he asked. “Sky blue,” I said. He chuckled, likely believing I was warming to his magnanimous offer. By now I had decided though this was indeed a sm. I simply wanted to know what further gimmicks he would employ.

    Linda now stepped away from her computer and stood very close to me waving her arms in consternation, much like a traffic cop wanting to stop a reckless driver. She feared I would unknowingly provide Donald with personal information he could use for identity theft or some other nefarious purpose. Not wanting to upset her, I said to my new pal, “Donald, my wife is even more skeptil than me. I’ll have to discontinue this conversation.” I’m sure he had been at this juncture many times. “I’m sorry you don’t want the 3 million and the Mercedes, Mr. Martens,” he said. “Good bye.”

    Successful smmers understand they’ll lose the majority of these verbal duels. They also know that greed tends to cloud our decision making and by patiently persevering day after day, they will find unsuspecting, vulnerable individuals hoping for the big win. Donald Patterson, by the way, wasn’t in Vancouver as he wanted me to believe. Linda’s sleuthing uncovered the fact he was lling from Jamai. Apparently that age old rule still holds. “If it’s too good to be true, it is.”

    Moving Ahead In Spite of Adversity

    Sherry & Elmer still enjoy each other’s company.

    In a 2 hour telephone conversation, Elmer and Sherry Thiesen of Mission talked about their nearly 45 years in a marriage that could have pulled apart at the seams the day they said “I do”. They each me into the union with signifint issues. When Elmer was 17, an ophthalmologist informed him, with unnecessary bluntness, he’d be blind in10 years. Sherry grew up in a dysfunctional home and needed to look to others for an understanding of what it meant to be a responsible wife and mother. Her dream was to be a teacher, but after her mother unexpectedly passed away, she left school after grade 11 to become the family’s primary regiver.

    Elmer managed to graduate from high school, “but I read very slowly and was always in the front row, trying to see the board.” He did obtain a drivers license, but the test was perfunctory and Elmer realized he really shouldn’t be driving. It was shortly after receiving the license that he was given the dire prognosis. The ophthalmologist also told him he should relinquish the prized license. Elmer returned home that day, extremely depressed. How could he ever hope to provide for a family if he couldn’t drive? For 4 days he pondered his dilemma, mostly staying in his room downstairs. Finally he went up and wordlessly handed the r keys to his father, possibly the hardest decision he’d made to that time. “Dad understood what this meant.”

    After they began seriously dating, Elmer hitchhiked or walked many times from Abbotsford to Aldergrove to see Sherry. When a well meaning friend warned Sherry, “that guy is going blind,” she responded, “that’s ok. I already knew that.”

    Elmer’s Mom played a key role in Sherry’s development. “When Elmer brought me to his home to meet the family, his mother immediately set the table for a meal. There was homemade soup, buns and bread. His Mom was especially kind and friendly to me. They were a Mennonite family and she soon began teaching me to prepare dishes popular in their culture. She also explained her faith in God. While Elmer was downstairs playing pool with his Dad, I was upstairs learning from her. I was very shy, but in their home I felt accepted and loved.

    Elmer was only 22, and Sherry 21, when they got married in 1975. Both were willing and conscientious workers. Although Elmer’s vision was deteriorating, he was determined to work and found employment at a tire outlet in Burnaby. Sherry worked in the kitchen of the Vancouver General Hospital. After about a year, they realized they didn’t like city life and moved to Abbotsford. Here Elmer was hired by a lol tire shop and Sherry worked at a donut outlet until the business was shut down. After 15 years at the tire shop, Elmer was let go due to his failing vision.

    In 1993 they bought a townhouse. Although by now Elmer had lost pretty much all vision and was on a government disability pension, he agreed to serve on council. The people apparently saw leadership ability in him and elected him to the position of chairman. Two other council members were also without sight. At the AGM, he said, “If you want to say something, don’t put up your hand. Three of us won’t see it.” He guided the strata to the best possible resolution of a lawsuit, and settled several other matters.

    By now, they had brought 4 children into the world and Elmer’s pension wasn’t adequate. When they were offered a janitorial contract, they didn’t hesitate. “I have a spatial mind,” Elmer said. “I memorize where everything is in a room. That enables me to do vacuuming and other tasks. When we put in a bid to clean a medil building, the woman doing the hiring told us all our references described our work as impecble. She gave us the contract.”

    “It hasn’t all gone smoothly,” Elmer said. “One day when I was vacuuming in a doctor’s office, I bumped into a chair. It was not where I thought I had placed it. I began pulling it, but it seemed very heavy. Then a voice said, ‘I’m sorry. I just me back to make some notes.’” It was the doctor. “We don’t always expect things will work out right,” Sherry added. “We just keep moving forward” Love, resolve and resilience have held the marriage seams together.

    Has Bill Gates Been Reading “Revelation”?

    Some of Bill Gates’ thinking aligns nicely with a major prophecy in the Biblil book of Revelation. (photo clipart)

    I learned that Revelation was written by John, a disciple of Jesus and a leader in the early Christian church. The citizens of Rome at that time worshipped a variety of gods and the emperor Domitian claimed divine status. Roman authorities didn’t approve of John’s monotheistic teaching. They banished him to the penal colony on the inhospitable island of Patmos. Banishment of enemies and potential rivals was a common practise by emperors. Even the highly acclaimed stoic senator, Sene was banished for a time, albeit to Corsi, a much less dreary setting. It was on Patmos that John wrote the remarkable book that makes Daphne anxious and even now at times attracts media attention. Current developments on our planet are prompting more people to take note of visions John recorded concerning future events.

    At this time when health authorities across the globe are desperately lling for the development of a vaccine against COVID-19, technology already makes it possible to use smartphones to trace the spread of the virus. Apple and Google have recently released such a system to 23 countries. It does not record names or addresses but a concern exists that the technology will be used by others for more nefarious purposes. China’s system sucks up a variety of information, including citizen’s identity, lotion, online payments, and more. Other governments are already requesting expanded surveillance pability. Daphne fears that by using mass surveillance technology, authorities will be able to extensively track her decisions and activities. Her pulse would really leap into overdrive if she knew what Bill Gates is planning.

    This is where the thinking of the Microsoft founder and the Biblil prophet come into alignment. Gates and a number of billionaire partners have founded ID 2020. According to spokesperson Peggy Johnson, the purpose is to provide every individual on the planet with “a trusted, verifiable way to prove who they are, both in the physil world and online. For the approximately one billion individuals who nnot currently prove their identity, this will certainly be a huge advantage.”

    How this will all unfold is somewhat murky for me. I do know though that Gates has gone on record saying that our lives will not get back to normal until we have the ability to vaccinate the entire global population against COVID-19. To this end he is pushing hard for disease surveillance and a vaccine tracking system that might involve embedding vaccination records in our bodies. He has said that societal and financial normalcy may never return to those who refuse vaccination. The vaccination system Gates envisions might ultimately be required to go about our day to day life and business. Without this “digital immunity proof”, we may not even be allowed to travel lolly or enter some public buildings.

    Has Bill Gates been reading John’s “Revelation”? Writing about what has sometimes been referred to as the “End Times”, John describes a powerful, miracle working beast which sides with Satan. This beast, he writes, in Revelation chapter 13, “uses all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hand or on their forehead, and that no one may buy or sell, except one who has the mark or the name of the beast. His number is 666.”

    Other than conspiracy theorists, most of us will welcome a vaccine when it is developed. If it includes an implanted digital immunity proof tracking technology, we may well have second thoughts. More concerning though is that some governments will utilize the technology to further control their citizens. COVID-19 has already changed our lives. Undoubtedly there is more to come. We need to be vigilant.

    Andy & Uncle Ben – Part II

    Tina’s fé is gone now. It was somewhat similar to the fé on this picture.

    Several weeks ago I wrote about a devastating episode in Andy’s life. Only 11 at the time, his foster father told him he couldn’t be on a family photo, beuse he wasn’t part of the family. Feeling totally rejected and emotionally crushed, he walked down the driveway and onto the road. Fortunately Uncle Ben, a former hippie and still Black Sheep of the family, left the gathering and picked up the young boy in his rusty Volkswagen van. He suggested Andy come and live with him in his small rented house on two acres. Still a hippie at heart, he tended a large garden and kept a goat for milk and chickens for eggs.

    I met Andy and Uncle Ben in Tina’s fe, not far from their home. We beme friends and I wasn’t entirely surprised some three years ago when Uncle Ben invited me to join them for coffee at Tina’s. His serious tone suggested concern. Possibly he needed moral support. Although we were almost the same age, I addressed him as Uncle Ben when Andy was present. Uncle Ben had attended UBC two years, then decided he’d rather drive a logging truck and espe the noise and pace of city life. Almost a dozen years ago an accident had forced him into retirement.

    The fe was almost empty and Tina gave us a few minutes to settle in, then she brought us the usual, coffee for Uncle Ben and me, a root beer for Andy. After a few minutes of light chit chat, Uncle Ben said, “Andy, you’ve been quiet all week. Are you unhappy with what I’m feeding you? ”

    I sensed Andy had been expecting the question. “Ever since my father wouldn’t let me be on the family picture,” he began, “I’ve hoped he would change his mind. It’s not that I want to go back. I want to stay with you. But I’d like to know I have a family. I have always felt rejected.” He looked at Uncle Ben, took a slow sip of his root beer, then said, “I know you won’t shut me out, but something in me keeps saying it could happen again. I try not to show it but I’m always sred l’ll be alone.”

    He looked at Uncle Ben and myself, as though wondering if we understood. “Dave let me use the phone at the store last Monday,” he continued. “I lled my parents’ home. My Dad answered. When I told him I was his son Andy, he said ‘I don’t have a son named Andy’. Then I heard a click. It’s been seven years Uncle Ben, I still really miss my family. Except for you, I have no one.”

    “I wondered what was troubling you,” Uncle Ben said, stroking his flowing grey beard. “My brother is a hard man. Before he and Emily got married, I urged her to break off the relationship. I told her Howie is as unbending as our father was. Since Howie told you to get out of the family picture, she has many times pleaded with him to let you come back, but he’s as stubborn as an old farm mule.” Andy swiped at a tear rolling down his cheek.

    Tina approached with a second root beer for Andy and topped up the coffee cups. As she walked away Uncle Ben said, “I’ve been considering something.” He stroked the beard again, searching for the right words. “Seven years ago when I picked you up along the road, you needed a home. I was living by myself and feeling lonely. Like you, I don’t have my own family.” He paused, brought the coffee cup to his lips, then set it down again. “Here is what I hope you will think about.” He pulled a pipe from his shirt pocket but made no move to light it. “What I have in mind is pretty unusual, maybe even crazy. I would very much like to adopt you. It would make us a family.”

    Seemingly stunned, for a long moment Andy said nothing. He drained the entire contents of his second root beer,then very quietly asked, “Could I still ll you Uncle Ben? I’ve kind of gotten used to that.”

    “Of course you n Andy,” Uncle Ben said, obviously pleased. “So then we have a deal?” For the first time Andy smiled. “Yes,” he said. “We have an awesome deal!”

    Divergent Responses To COVID-19

    COVID-19 Message posted on Hedley Post Office Bulletin Board.

    In the Hedley Post Office someone has placed a message on the bulletin board. It says, “No Means No.” The writer is deeply concerned about COVID-19 and advotes a monastic level of abstinence from social interaction.

    In an email, Irvin expressed a vastly different perspective. He wrote: “nada, true North, not so strong and Definitely not free. Closed the borders, made it illegal to gather in larger groups, restricted national travel, put people and businesses out of work. Created lineups just to get groceries.”

    It is evident these two messages come from individuals who view circumstances and the world through very different prisms. I don’t know who placed the message in the Post Office. I do know Irvin though and we communite by email regularly. I’m aware he devotes many night time hours to sitting in front of his computer, searching for “alternative truths” concerning COVID-19. We are friends but rarely agree on important issues.

    I decided to respond to his litany of complaints. “Irvin,” I wrote, “I n understand that you’re becoming impatient with the restrictions. You just want everything to return to the way things were before the virus. We all want that, but our politil leaders and medil experts are beginning to ution us we need to expect a ‘new normal.’ Dr. Bonnie Henry has said it’s very unlikely we’ll get to zero ses in our country this summer. She has said we really are in uncharted territory and if we are complacent we could be hit by a second wave. Then everything we have gained and the price we have all paid would be for nothing.”

    The Hedley Country Market is doing its part to keep the community safe.

    There was more I wanted to say. I heard this week that a new mutation had already been detected in February, and British researchers have reported numerous unanticipated mutations. Dr. Henry has described COVID-19 as “devious.” Dr.Theresa Tan, nada’s Chief Public Health Officer, has admitted that “there is still much more we don’t know about this virus, like the extent of silent spread by nonsymptomatic individuals. It’s the most transmissible virus we’ve seen to this time. We’re trying to understand it.” From our many discussions over the years, I realize Irvin has a limited attention span, especially when he disagrees with my opinion, which is most of the time. Knowing he will discount anything I have to say on this subject, I didn’t mention these last items.

    Irvin responded within minutes. “Art,” he wrote, “you’re listening to the wrong people. I agree with President Trump. It’s time to get the economy going. He believes Ameri will be highly prosperous again soon. I read online this morning that the Democrats want to use the virus to destroy the U.S. dollar so they n impose even greater restrictions. I’m sending you some blogsites to look at so you will have accurate information.”

    The blogsites were pretty much a jumble of confusing conspiracy theories. The lens through which he was looking offered a distorted view of reality. I do understand Irvin’s fervent desire for a return to our nation’s earlier “normal” state. Not having been able to visit Linda’s 96 year old mother, or our children and grandchildren, we have it too. We’re in difficult times though, and just wishing it won’t make it reality. Neither will Donald Trump’s confident assertions bring a speedy return to health and prosperity.

    I decided not to trouble Irvin with possible economic ramifitions of the virus. nadians already have record debt levels. Will we be able to do our part in breathing life back into a battered economy? Also, many of our most important corporations are losing money and laying off employees. Air nada reported losing a billion dollars in the first quarter of 2020. The federal and provincial governments are borrowing and giving away tens of billions, which surely will have to be repaid. In spite of Prime Minister Trudeau’s talk of “when our economy comes roaring back,” it may take more time than we like.

    I’m aware that my perspective will be discounted by Irvin, and probably many others, anxious to get back to normal. Even though we may not be convinced that “No Means No”, to avoid further grief in coming months, we’ll be wise to heed the advice of Dr. Henry and other medil authorities. Also, except for the very wealthy, this may not be an ideal time to place an order for a new Ferrari.

    Lindsay Fairweather, A True Hedley Gal

    Lindsay Fairweather of Hedley, holding a gift for a friend.

    I’ve known plenty of individuals whose early life sucked them down into drug use, crime, living on the streets, and a sense of failure and despair. In a lengthy phone conversation last week, Lindsay Fairweather of Hedley talked about circumstances and experiences that might have dragged her into a life of meaningless desolation. “Our family was troubled by intergenerational trauma,” she said. “ My grandfather was abusive, drugs and alcohol were in common use, a family member died of an overdose.”

    Looking back at those years now, she said, “it’s the culture of our society. It’s what I saw adults and my peers doing. My friends raided their parents alcohol and prescription drugs and brought them to parties. For me it was just a part of growing up. I wasn’t exposed to any other way of life.”

    Born in Penticton, Lindsay lived with her mother for a number of years. “Mom was a construction worker,” she said, “when a job ended, we’d move to another community. Many times she showed up at my school and told me to come with her. We were moving again. It meant leaving behind friends and never seeing them again.” This unsettling pattern ended when at age 12 she moved to Hedley to live with her Dad. She graduated from Keremeos Senior Secondary.

    Although her life was no longer disrupted by frequent changes of community and school, all was not well. “I was angry, I fought a lot in high school,” she admitted. “Then I started going to raves and festivals. I saw a lot of colour there and the freedom to be yourself. I loved the music and I loved dancing. They helped me see the magic in the world.”

    Lindsay saw a lot of good in the festivals, but she was also keenly aware of a dark side. “I saw people trying everything, mixing all sorts of drugs, and disrespecting each other and the land.”

    Inspite of being so immersed, she had the pacity to be objective and evaluate what was happening around her. “I saw people turning to drugs, seeking instant release and gratifition. They wanted to espe their physil and emotional pain. Often they said this was how they got out of their shell.”

    Lindsay believes the festivals played a role in shaping who she has become. “I began to understand that there is good in everyone,” she said. “When I saw people on drugs and how they were acting, it broke my heart. I felt there was a need for greater compassion. I began volunteering at festivals, doing what I could to keep people safe. I took on more of a nurturing role.”

    After graduating from high school, Lindsay volunteered with Katimavik. Her assignments took her to MooseJaw Saskatchewan, where she worked in a day re, then to a French immersion program in Ontario. Her third placement was in Parksville B.C. where she worked with dementia, autism and downs syndrome clients. “Katimavik changed the direction of my life,” she said. “Parksville particularly gave me the understanding I wanted to be in community work. Katimavik opened my thinking beyond my small community experience. It was kind of a gateway to expand my life.”

    She had the understanding she wanted to be a community support worker. For 10 years she talked about it but was concerned she’d become too emotionally involved. Unable to make the decision, she picked fruit, worked in a fishing lodge, operated a ski lift, managed a restaurant, and took a course in basic accounting. It was Peggy Terry, then a Hedley resident, who kindled the spark that prodded Lindsay to act. “You’ve been saying this for years,” Peggy said, then added, “just do it.”

    Peggy Terry said, “Just do ti!”

    The next day Lindsay enrolled in the Sprott Shaw Community Support Worker program and now works at “Ashnola at the Crossing”. Loted just west of Keremeos, it’s a specialized addictions treatment facility for youth and young adults. “I love it,” she said.

    Lindsay’s earlier life trajectory could have made her a client at “the Crossing,” rather than a counsellor. Fortunately she had a supportive community in Hedley. “Also, my Dad was a good mentor and my friend Meghan showed faith in me,” she said. “I feel my siblings and I have broken the chain of intergenerational trauma. That’s important.” It could also be added that Lindsay learned from her experiences and had the inner strength and good sense to change direction.

    A Passion For Ranching

    Don & Thalia Darel

    When Don and Thalia Darel bought a half section outside Princeton, it was an inauspicious beginning for their ranching venture. “The place had been neglected for years,” Don said. “There were no buildings, no corrals, and the fences were broken down. Also, the well didn’t work.” Thalia added, “It was Don’s passion, not mine.”

    In a two hour phone conversation with Linda and me, I asked the Darels to take us back to the time they met. “Thalia was picking raspberries to earn money,” Don said. “I was there to eat berries. She noticed me and was attracted to me.” Thalia’s recollection was quite different and there was an immediate, friendly clash of opinions. “He was eight at the time and I did notice him, but I thought he was a brat.”

    In time this opinion would change, but not without challenges. “I grew up in a super, super conservative family,” Thalia explained. “The church we attended was also conservative. Everyone was Dutch and it was a pretty closed culture. When we were teens, Don began attending the church, riding with us in our r. He was the only outsider and beuse we were seen together, he got the glare.” Don wasn’t aware of the cultural microscope. “I didn’t notice that,” he said. “I was just there to sit beside Thalia.” I thought I detected a smile in his voice.

    Don wasn’t keen about school. At age 16 he was hired by a ranch near Princeton and didn’t complete high school. “I had a motorcycle,” he relled. “On weekends I’d jump on the bike and ride as fast as possible to see Thalia in Agassiz. I got a lot of speeding tickets and lost my licence for 3 months.”

    After getting married in January 1981, they lived for 7 years in a small mobile home on the ranch where he was working. Two of their three children were born in this time, before the home and all their uninsured belongings burned.

    To generate the income they’d need to buy a ranch, Don trained to be a tree faller and worked in the woods for 30 years. Thalia cleaned homes. They were reful with money and eight years ago had sufficient funds for a down payment on the half section.

    Don in front of his array of bits, halters & bridles.

    Don had ranching experience but at age 50, some might have thought he was getting into the game a tad late. Fortunately he is endowed with the sturdy physique required for the long strenuous days entailed in cow punching. Equally important, he is resolute and resilient, both qualities essential to survive extreme heat and cold, equipment malfunctions, health issues with ttle, and market fluctuations.

    “I logged off 15 loads of dead wood, mostly Ponderosa,” Don said. “I built a machine shed, hay shed, granaries and a pump house. The broken down fences needed to be ripped out and replaced. I had a new well drilled and worked at making the land productive again. We leased 800 acres and arranged a sharing agreement for 5,000 acres of range land.”

    Over the years they built up their herd and now have 75 cows, 4 bulls, 20 yearlings and 70 lves. Although Thalia continues to emphasize that the ranch is Don’s passion, she is willing to do whatever he needs. When they assemble a crew for special projects, she does the cooking. She drives a tractor, raking the fields. During branding time she helps separate lves from cows. “I love cows,” she said. “I know each one by its number. If one dies, I cry.”

    Thalia & Don in front of their root cellar.

    Thalia is a plucky gal, but doesn’t ride with the cowboys anymore. “Don breaks the horses,” she said. “He likes them to be spirited. I’ve been bucked off a few times. Don is a risk taker. I’m not.”
    “We’re a perfect match,” Don said. “We’re opposites.”

    They’ve made progress, but challenges continue. “In winter the elk break down fences and eat the grass,” Don said. “On Christmas Day a cow fell through the ice on the pond. Yesterday a big tractor tire blew. That will cost close to $1,000.”

    Sometimes Thalia asks, “are you still enjoying ranching?” His reply is always “yes.”
    I asked, “What motivates you?”
    “I get to spend a lot of time outdoors,” Don said. “Mostly though, I guess it’s just that I love working with cows. And doing it with Thalia is great.”

    Andy’s Family

    He was anxious about his place in the family…
    (photo 123rf.com)

    I have long been reluctant to write Andy’s story beuse even now, many years later, I still find aspects of it disquieting. When he was an infant, Andy ‘s mother asked a friend to look after him a few hours while she went to a medil appointment. She never returned. The woman in whose home he had been left was willing to keep him, but her husband resisted strenuously, until he learned the government would be generous financially. The family’s young twins, Timmy and Jimmy, were ecstatic.

    Andy me to think of the twins as his brothers, and lled the parents Mom and Dad. He had a family. After a few years though, he beme aware that his father’s voice acquired an impatient edge when he spoke to him. Sometimes after a difficult day at the mill where he worked, his dad locked him in a closet for hours. Andy often hid under his bed when his father returned from work. He began feeling anxious about his place in the family.

    When Andy was 8, his father kept him busy with cutting grass, washing the r and much more. Andy loved Timmy and Jimmy and his mother and, although he didn’t feel safe around his father, he
    desperately sought to retain his place in the family. He had no one else.

    A major crises changed his life during a gathering of the extended family at their home. Andy and his brothers had cleaned their shared room, brushed Molly the family’s collie, and waited excitedly for guests to arrive. When everyone was there, a neighbour me to take family photos. The three boys knelt on the grass in the front row, Molly wedged between them. There had already been several clicks of the mera when the boys’ father demanded very sternly, “Andy, get out of the picture! You’re not part of the family!” Startled and frightened, Andy looked to his father. His father again said very loudly, “Andy, I told you to get out of the picture!” Andy looked at his mother for support, but she turned away, wiping tears. The twins were sobbing. Only Uncle Ben, black sheep of the family, objected. Andy’s father said, “Be quiet, Ben. You’re on my turf.”

    Andy rose slowly, looked helplessly back at his family, then shuffled disconsolately down the driveway, not knowing where he was going. On the street he continued walking, feeling rejected and crying bitterly, quite certain he’d never be permitted to return.

    After about ten minutes a rusty Volkswagen van pulled up alongside him and the passenger door opened. “Want a ride Andy?” Uncle Ben asked. “I’m done with that family thing.” Andy had met this uncle only once. The man was unpopular with the family beuse in his twenties he had been a hippie with long hair, scraggly beard, and a liking for marijuana. Even now, although at least 60, his hair still hung down to his shoulders and the beard had seen few razors. Andy wiped away the tears and gratefully got into the van. After a few questions, Uncle Ben said, “Why don’t you come live with me? I rent an old house on a couple of acres. I could use some company and a little help around the place.”

    Uncle Ben taught Andy to ride a horse and tch fish in the river. He also instructed him in basic meal preparation. Often they hiked in the mountains.

    Late in the afternoon on Fridays they went to a lol fe. Uncle Ben drank black coffee and Andy ordered a root beer. If a long distance trucker was having dinner, they sometimes asked if they could join him. Usually the trucker welcomed company and sometimes asked Andy about his life. If Andy talked about his father ordering him to get out of the picture, almost without exception the trucker would be touched emotionally.

    Andy was grateful to Uncle Ben, but sorely missed his brothers and mother. On his seventeenth birthday Uncle Ben said, “It’s a special day. I’ll buy you dinner in the fe today.” Later that afternoon they were about to give the waitress their order when two young men entered the fe, smiling broadly. “Hello Andy,” one said. “I’m Jim and this is Tim. Uncle Ben invited us to your birthday.” Stunned, Andy rose and was warmly embraced by each brother. He looked at Uncle Ben and said, “if you hadn’t rescued me that day, this would never have happened.”

    “I’d lost all sense of purpose until you me into my life,” Uncle Ben said. “I’d ll it a big win-win.”

    When Onslaughts Come ……

    Abbotsford Sundown Toastmasters, the 2nd club I joined, celebrating the club’s 30th anniversary

    Most of us at some time will encounter a disruptive force or event that changes the course of our lives. I’ve watched individuals lose courage and falter under the battering of adverse circumstances. I’ve seen others get up, dust themselves off and look around to find solutions or new opportunities. When an onslaught comes, often it’s the thoughts we entertain that determine whether we go down for the count, or rise and fight another round.

    Some years ago I lost a challenging, invigorating job to an individual with a more prestigious degree. After floundering a few months, I realized I needed to re-invent myself to avoid sinking into an emotional abyss. I’d have to develop new thinking and new skills. Dealing with a signifint health issue at the same time wasn’t going to make this easy.

    I began contemplating joining a Toastmasters club. It was a chilling thought and I wrestled with the fear for several months. Like a lot of people, I was more afraid of public speaking than of dying. Eventually, with great trepidation, I attended a meeting of Langley Township Toastmasters and signed up. They were a sophistited bunch, including several department heads. I was unemployed, and not feeling successful. Fortunately they were gracious and welcoming.

    I was given the introductory manual and began preparing to deliver my Icebreaker speech. I learned that speeches, and all other roles, were timed and evaluated. Speech evaluators were encouraged to employ the “sandwich technique.” This consisted of positive observations, then a suggestion for improvement, followed by one or more positives. The Grammarian reported on use of crutch words like “you know,” “uhm.” “ahh,” and “I mean.” At no time were all my deficiencies mentioned, for which I was enormously grateful.

    Toastmasters takes members through a series of manuals, each designed to develop skills such as organizing a speech, using vol variety, and working with props. I learned about the value of humour, anecdotes, startling facts and inspirational quotes.

    Over time, with the helpful advice of evaluators, counsel from my mentor and performing various club roles, my knees quaked less frequently. Like many novice Toastmasters, I began by memorizing my speeches. I knew this could be hazardous beuse I might lose my way. This did happen about three sentences into my tenth speech, “Inspire your Audience.” Mortified, I said, “If no one objects, I’ll start over.” They had all experienced embarrassment while speaking and no one objected.

    Even before my tenth speech I had felt a desire to step farther into the vast, frightening unknown of public speaking. To this end I entered two contests, and lost in both. Then, after completing the first manual, I entered the annual Toastmasters speech contest at the club level. I surprised myself and the club by winning. This qualified me for the area contest. My mentor, a successful engineer and a Distinqished Toastmaster (DTM) told me, “With that speech you might win the area contest.” I wondered if he meant “if you win it will be beuse you’ve written a strong speech, not beuse of your speaking ability.”

    My speech enabled me to win at the area level and the division level. In the province wide District Contest, I didn’t even place. This was a disappointment, but also a reminder that I still had a lot to learn if I wanted to speak at that level. It was my writing, not my speaking skills, that had taken me this far.

    Looking back now, I realize that the Toastmasters teaching and experience provided a much needed boost in confidence. I began participating in community issues. If no one was willing to lead, I volunteered. And if no one was willing to speak to the media, I did. One day an Abbotsford councillor asked if I’d deliver the morning commentary on CBC radio. She had approached a respected community leader but he had declined. I felt it was a great opportunity to present a much needed environmental message to a wide audience. CBC sent me a cheque for one hundred dollars for delivering a message I considered important.

    At this time when nada is under threat from COVID 19, many of us are wondering what the future holds. No one n answer this question, but when onslaughts come we n view them as opportunities to broaden the horizons of our thinking, be more adventurous and even take a few risks.

    My Conversation With Mildred About COVID-19

    Mildred’s mini-spaniel, Daisy.

    I was certain Mildred wouldn’t be coping well with the unrelenting barrage of news about COVID-19. At 83 she has the lined face and skimpy frame of a chronic worrier. A life long spinster, she had been our next door neighbour when we lived on the third floor of a condo in Abbotsford. I was pretty sure this morning she’d already have tied her grey hair into a bun and would be sitting before her tv, fearful the virus might slip under the entrance door. Knowing I needed to check on her, I dialed her number. As usual, Mildred answered the phone without a greeting. She just began talking, as though we were in the midst of a conversation.

    “Have you heard about that thing that’s going around?” she asked. “I mean the virus. It’s killing people. I just know I’m going to get it. If there’s something going around, I always do.”

    Mildred’s words immediately reminded me of Dave Gray’s thoughts concerning beliefs. In “Limminal Thinking” he said, “We construct our beliefs, mostly unconsciously, and thereafter they hold us ptive. They blind us to possibilities and subject us to fog, fear and doubt.”

    “If you’re following the advice of the medil authorities, you should be safe,” I suggested. “Are you washing your hands with soap under warm running water and not getting close to people?”

    “Oh yes,” she replied. “I wash my hands every half hour and I’m staying inside, with my door locked. It’s just Daisy, my mini-spaniel, and me. I don’t answer the phone unless I recognize the number. I haven’t even gone down to check my mail. By now my box is probably filled with junk mail.”

    This was classic Mildred, always expecting misfortune. Her parents had experienced extreme hardship in the Great Depression and they had bequeathed to her the belief that disaster was skulking about her constantly, ready to pounce. She once told me that at age 18 she had fallen in love with a young man studying to become a doctor. When he graduated they set a wedding date. Then, with the prodding of her mother, she began thinking of everything that could go wrong. She doubted she would be an adequate wife. If they had children, would she be a loving mother? Also, her fiancee had emerged from university with a debt she didn’t believe they could repay.

    On the morning of the day they were to be married, apprehension overwhelmed her and she lled off the wedding. “It wasn’t a wise decision,” she admitted to Linda and me one day. “I’ve been lonely all my life. Now I mostly stay in my place. Hardly anyone visits me. I guess I’m not good company.”

    I had attempted before to pry loose the tentacles of fear and doubt that clung to her, never with any success. Still, I needed to try again. I knew from “Liminal Thinking” that beliefs n limit what we are able to conceive. Paraphrasing Dave Gray I said, “Mildred, believing something doesn’t make it real. Beliefs n actually create blind spots that use us to miss good things.” ncelling the wedding was certainly an example of this but I knew mentioning it would be painful for her.

    “I’m an old woman,” she replied. “You have talked about these things before and I have thought about them.” She sighed, then said, “Maybe I’ve had too many birthdays to change.”

    I sensed that Mildred’s beliefs had become her reality. Dave Gray says “it’s easy to confuse beliefs with reality. Beliefs are imperfect models for navigating a complex, unknowable reality.” This concept seemed to apply to Mildred but I decided it wouldn’t be fair to ask her to wrestle with it.

    Wanting to get her mind off the virus, I suggested, “Mildred, you’ll be much happier if you turn off the news programs and read a good novel. By now Daisy must be weary of hearing politicians and doctors say we need to practise social distancing. Read her an uplifting story. You could also ll some friends and have a phone visit. They’re probably as restless as you.”

    “Ok,” she said, “I get your point. I’ll do something different. Maybe I’ll order in pizza for Daisy and myself.” Then, as usual, she didn’t say good-bye. There was a click and I knew the conversation was finished. I hope Daisy likes pizza.

    A small town perspective on people, community, politics and environment.