When my younger brother died, suddenly, much too young, at work, we were all stunned. At the reception after the service, I managed to say a few words and ended with this:
"I can think of no better example to follow than Don's.
Be brave enough to dream big dreams.
Be bold enough to work to make them come true.
Live life with love and joy.
And every day, try to be a better person."
It recently occurred to me that those words could just as easily apply to me. That perhaps, in some small way, I was an inspiration to him, just like so many of his friends told me that day. They made a point of coming up to me to tell me how much Don respected me. How much he looked up to me.
At the time I was puzzled as to why that might be. Yes, I was his older sister, which led to some interesting and funny things while growing up. But look up to me? I shook my head.
Ruth asked me about what day I wanted to aim for to hit publish on my book. Don's birthday was on December 2, and so the words fell out of my mouth - December 2. There were many reasons for that date, but it could have just as easily been Nov. 30 or Dec. 1. But as I said the words, they felt right.
Since shoving the ms at Ruth and waving it goodbye, there have been a lot of emotions to process. Things I'd forgotten about - or hadn't realized - have come percolating to the surface of my thoughts.
It suddenly made sense that in some small way I had been an inspiration to him. Because in so many ways, I have lived my life to those same things I attributed to him.
In school I took on the job of publishing the school newspaper. Worked on the yearbook. Was part of the group that organized the giant march from our old school to the brand new one we'd been waiting for to open. I was modelling my mother's behaviour in many ways. She worked tirelessly for the church, helped family members with all sorts of things, usually medical or legal, partly because she had the most education of any of the other family. Plus she was fluently bi-lingual and wound up translating in court or hospital for family/friends whose English wasn't the best.
She continued throughout her life to work hard on behalf of the hospital auxiliary, CNIB, and countless other charities.
So I was no stranger to the social responsibility that my mother felt and passed on to me.
When I graduated grade 12 I had no idea what I wanted in terms of education. My parents were not wealthy and could not afford to send me to Vancouver to take a B of A. And I didn't want a BA degree anyway because about the only thing to do with one was become a teacher. I certainly did not want to be a teacher! (ha. at least not a teacher in the school system, turns out.)
I told mom I wanted to go to Sweden to meet and visit with my pen friend. She talked it over with dad and they offered me the deal that if I worked hard and saved my money and didn't squander it, I could live at home rent free. Deal!
And so I investigated how I might do just that. I'd gotten a job with the telephone company as a long distance operator (yes, I am that old - switch boards were still a thing), which paid very good money, especially for a recent graduate from high school. I was so stingy you could hear the change in my purse whimper. And by the end of April I had enough money to go.
Now I didn't do the 'usual' thing and fly over. Nope, not me. Instead I took the train from here to Montreal, visited with mom's sister and her family and then boarded a freighter that took a small number of passengers. And sailed from Montreal to Oslo, Norway. There I boarded a train and headed east to Orebro, Sweden. Where I arrived with just my purse and no Swedish money - because I didn't know that if you 'checked' your luggage, it came on the overnight freight train.
(There is a lot more to the story, but another day - perhaps.)
While in Sweden I also took a bus tour of Europe, landing in Germany, over to Belgium, France, through Monaco, north-west Italy, through Switzerland, back to Germany and then returning to Sweden. Where I then took my first plane flight ever from Stockholm to Vancouver.
In 1975 I gave up a rather well paying job to become a weaver. My brother was 13 when I set off to Sweden, 18 when I abruptly changed course to become a weaver.
He saw me stick it out, through some really skinny times in terms of income, through injury, through recovery, and onwards to write a book and self-publish it.
Those were some mighty big dreams. And I was stubborn enough to make them happen, one way or another.
So. Second book, needing a publication date, preferably before Christmas. Checking the calendar, American Thanksgiving this year is Nov. 22. I will go back to Ruth's where we will do one last look-see at the ms, hopefully sieve any lingering typos out, make sure photos are captioned properly, diagrams correct. And then, in honour of my 'little' brother, hopefully hit publish on Dec. 2.
Hope you're proud Don. I was of you.
Royal Hudson steam locomotive, charted by Don, edited and woven by me, sewn into a jacket by Darlene Wainwright