Personal Stuff

I was in the West Kootenay last weekend: visiting family, hiking mountains, quick vacation. The primary reason for my visit, however, is a long story.

My parents grew up in Montreal, my Dad in Anglophone Lachine, my Mom originally in Verdun, but moving to Lachine as a school girl. My Dad tells the story of he and his 14-year-old pals hanging around in the neighbourhood one day when he noticed a cute, dark-haired girl wearing a bomber jacket. Soon enough, he was hanging out with that cute girl in the bomber jacket more than his pals.

Neither of my parents had easy traditional childhoods. My Maternal Grandfather came back from WW2 with scars that affected the entire family. My Paternal Grandmother raised a son and two daughters on a teacher’s salary after her marriage broke up. My parents talk of growing up without much luxury, but also growing up not needing or expecting much. They did seem to have some excess affection for each other, though.

Both were academically and athletically inclined. My father a track star winning significant running races on Quebec, but also playing football, baseball, and seemingly whatever came his way; my mom a gymnast and swimmer. She went on to study Phys-Ed at MacDonald college and he went on to and Engineering Degree with academic honours at McGill. Along with all this, he had two little sisters at home, and was “the man of the house”, so his Mother was reluctant to see him getting married until he grew up. To her, that meant being 21.

My parents were married, after a 7-year courtship, the very day after his 21st birthday. Nine months to the day after, they had a son, with three more kids to follow over the next 8 years. As my father built an engineering career, they bounced from town to town in Ontario and Quebec (La Tuque, Burlington, Timiskaming) until they decided to stake out west.

There are two, not necessarily contradictory, family legends about the move the Castlegar, both around the theme of my Father’s renowned dislike for cold weather. One was that Castlegar was meant to be a stopping point to work a few years before grander adventures in Australia. The other that the only thing my father knew about Castlegar before moving there is that it had a new state-of-the-art Kraft Pulp mill (where he would work), and that it was the “Warmest City in Canada”.

The story (as family legend goes) is that Castlegar, being the host of the regional airport, had a weather station in the 60s, long before places like Lytton or Cache Creek or even Osoyoos. Castlegar also has hot, dry summers, typically above 30 degrees for days or weeks on end, but the winters were comparatively mild, due to the open sunny valley, proximity to the US border, and the moderating effect of the Columbia River, which is virtually wrapped around the town. Therefore, when counting up annual averages through all the seasons, it was the “warmest” overall City in the Country.

Whether this is true or not, it didn’t change the fact that the winter my parents arrived, three kids in arms, will always e remembered as the snowiest in Castlegar history. That year it started snowing in December and didn’t stop until March. My father’s first winter in this “Warmest City” involved a lot of shovelling pathways through 6′ snow drifts to get his air-cooled Volkswagen started in the morning.

After that inglorious start, they stuck it out. Child #4 arrived the next winter, and Castlegar’s charms began to show. There was a better golf course than one would expect, a solid Curling Club, a good school system, and lots of sports for the kids, from figure skating to swimming to skiing. It was still the sort of small town where you opened your door in the morning and kicked the kids outside to play, telling them to be home for dinner. My mom did some substitute teaching, then as the kids got older and less attention-grubbing, they bought a sporting goods store. The Store was where my mom worked the customary retail-owner 60 hour weeks, with my dad commonly putting in an extra 20 over his 9-5 job at The Mill.

The Kids grew up, got educated, moved on, got good jobs: two accountants, a software tech expert, and whatever I am. There is a smattering of Grandkids to keep things interesting. Two of the kids even moved back to that “Warmest City in Canada” to raise their kids and advance their careers.

Parents stayed more or less athletically inclined, both coming down to Burnaby next week to compete in the Seniors games: he in track events, she in swimming (how many 70 year olds do you know who can still do 50m of butterfly?!) They have been fortunate with their health, and that their kids all turned out happy and healthy. After many years of hard work, they aren’t rich, but are financially comfortable enough that my Dad can avoid the worst of the cold weather, seeking sunnier climes in the winter (including, last year, finally getting to explore Australia!)

But mostly, they have been fortunate that they found each other in that Lachine neighbourhood in 1955, and fell in love some time over the next 7 years. This last weekend, they had close to 100 family and friends get together to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. Guests came from as far away as Alaska and Arizona, including 5 of the 8 members of their original wedding party, people from the Lachine neighbourhood, people who they met on that first snowy winter in Castlegar, and people they have more recently befriended.

It is hard to imagine for most of us, 50 years of marriage. A half century of joy and sorrow, arguments minor and major, successes and failures, dreams and disappointments, an entire lifetime shared. And they are still doing it, making each other laugh and making each other dinner. Marrying young and good health means they have many more years to prove the cynics wrong. Love can last a lifetime.

Happy Anniversary, Mom & Dad!

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