I met Joan today in Valemount BC when I stopped at the Swiss Bakery. I was driving from the Sunshine Coast, north of Vancouver, to a town north of Edmonton. I’d stopped for the night in Clearwater, BC and now, mid-day on the second day of driving, I’m ready for a break.
A fine coffee and a generous portion of fresh home-baked black forest cake sets me back a whole $4.50. An elderly lady at the corner table asks where I’m headed. Whitecourt, Alberta. She brightens . “I did my first year of teaching in Whitecourt in 1955!” I sit down and join her. She had a class of 33 grade 3’s including identical twins Donald and Ronald, and 5 John’s. Her stories unfold: growing up in a coal mining town, her father dying from a mining accident when she was 12. The birth of four children and the death of her youngest in his 50’s — her husband, broken, died a year later. She celebrated her 80th birthday in January with a black forest cake the size of our table. She speaks of students she has had, their lives, some deaths, and living beside the creek for 50 years. When I leave, she gives me a vigorous hug. “I’m not afraid of catching your cold,” she says fiercely. “After all those years of teaching, I’m not afraid of catching anything!”
I leave Valemount and drive through the Rockies. Always stunning.