You weren’t my first choice.

The other guy didn’t show up. 

Three times.  

Can’t say I blame him: removing a stand of bamboo is a miserable job.

Well, I do blame him.  What a jerk.

So, on the third ‘no show’, I called you. You’d come highly recommended.

But recommended the way someone recommends anchovies.

You’d come highly recommended. But recommended the way someone recommends anchovies.

The endorsement  juxtaposed ‘hard-working’ and ‘honest’ with ‘rehab’ and ‘recovery’.  Nobody said addict.  Nobody said substance abuse.  They just extolled your virtues and that I should give you a chance. I heard only the subtext: trouble.

Yeah, this was just what I needed: some wobbly guy who would run amok here and add to the chaos.

What fresh hell might this be?

I’d had a run of spectacular bad luck. I was mid-way through a cocked-up renovation and had come up against criminal contractors, shoddy work and cavalier attitudes. One contractor had billed for City permits that didn’t exist. Another used wet framing plywood which swiftly gave rise to black mould and a bathroom demolished and redone for a third time. One guy was a ‘hugger’. Let’s not even talk about the electricals.

Despair drove most of my decisions.

So I hired you.

Thin, wiry, compact – you looked like a cross between a jockey and beef jerky.  My heart sunk. I felt you were no match for the bamboo jungle that awaited you. 

Tools were organized and I left you to sort it out. From the kitchen window, I watched the way you approached the job. Systematic. Organized. And diligent. The blistering August sun didn’t seem to faze you. You came back the next day. And the next. Soon, the job was done. 

I was impressed.

I mentioned that the fence needed painting.  Thus began our routine.

You told me all this without pity or pretense, a narrative shorn of justification.

It’s now been six years and counting that you’ve been showing up here. In that time, I’ve come to know your story. Of how you found yourself in foster care at age five. Of how your mom claimed you and your two siblings a few years later. Of the relatively happy childhood that somehow still allowed for you to start drinking at age nine. You told me all this without pity or pretense, a narrative shorn of justification.

At age 36 you and a buddy headed out for a holiday weekend.

First stop was the liquor store for Canadian Club; a case.

That weekend turned into a week-long blackout bender that cost you your job plus your car. The only souvenir of that binge was the receipt for the new transmission you had installed in that car, the car you were to misplace. Permanently.

This was when you decided to get clean. Seventy days in a treatment facility saw you returned to the street utterly confident of your sobriety. You woke up in the Chilliwack drunk tank the next morning. Beaten up. Robbed. Bewildered.

You recount your epiphany: “That was the day that I realized that I was powerless over alcohol”.

That’s when things got really crazy.

The road to hell is slippery with good intentions. That was when your appetites turned to crack cocaine. That’s when things got really crazy.

That was all a long time ago now.

And then you ended up at my place.

You intervened when the french drains were installed upside down. The new walkway that was neither level nor straight, the pavers downside up?  You fixed that. You saw my desperation. What was pronounced impossible or unavoidable by the men in their shiny F-250 trucks and Mercedes Sprinter vans, you silently set right. You reminded me that I wasn’t crazy.

… “You never know when you’re having good luck”.

When I stood slack-jawed and empty handed at the ignominy and incomprehension of things gone awry, you sought to console me.  One of the things you often said was, “You never know when you’re having good luck”.

I didn’t quite understand that. I was too busy cleaning up after the flood. But let’s leave that one alone. It was a misery but we got through it. I couldn’t have done it without you.

These days there’s always something else that needs doing. The hedge gets too high. Gutters need clearing out. You might advise a line of silicone along a window that gets too much weather.  Right now you’ve suggested building a dry stack planter to raise an ailing dogwood out of boggy soil.

When we’ve needed an extra pair of hands, you’ve volunteered to bring someone from the recovery society.  My response remains: I trust your judgment, Mr. Wilson. The fellows you’ve brought have all been better than okay.  I struggle here to find the appropriate adjectives to describe them. A tender sheepishness. Uniformly, a scalded earnestness. I make an excessively healthy lunch for you and the fellows. The offering is met with the gladdest of thanks; the smallest kindness unfailingly met with deep appreciation. Two of them have died this year, victims of fentanyl. 

Two of them have died this year, victims of fentanyl. 

We often chat while pulling weeds or sorting out the garage. You like to read and your interests are scholarly. Measured sentences reveal a thoughtful, well-informed mind. You’ve laid bare your transgressions but you don’t want, nor need, my approval.  A small tide of self-recrimination rises up in me when I hear of your many charitable efforts and your devotion to your siblings. 

Through you, I’ve learned of the humility necessary to defeat addiction as well as the corrosion of self that fosters pernicious dependency.  I’ve seen first hand the beauty of broken-ness in the human soul. 

Your life is a triumph, Mr. Wilson.

You have been a catechism. I had my clock cleaned by unscrupulous contractors. Stripped of any sense of adult agency,  budget and schedule blown to smithereens, I felt the only luck I had was bad luck.

I had someone else lined up for the job.

He didn’t show up so I defaulted to you. I wasn’t happy about it. 

But you never know when you’re having good luck.

This week’s question for readers:


Now, in return, will you do something for me? Will you sign up for The Plain Jane, my newsletter? You can ignore it, if you want, when it shows up in your inbox every few weeks, but my rotten kids will think I’m a star if I have a decent subscriber list. 

Here’s further incentive to sign up: PRIZES!!!

Submissions to last week’s question:

What is something that you experienced in your childhood that kids of today are missing out on? What in the modern world might your childhood have benefited from?

Saturday morning, chores done, four bored Dunbar neighbourhood kids, aged 8 to 11, decide to walk to Horseshoe Bay. Sauntering along, we collected pop bottles to pay the toll on Lions Gate Bridge.  I don’t remember the exact route but we did stop at the foot of Denman street where two of the kids’ father worked for Vancouver Barge and Towing. The causeway was daunting and the swaying bridge intimidating. Walking on, tired and hungry, we realized we had no way home and no bus fare. This was well before families had cars at their disposal and pay phones were not always nearby.  Victor remembered his uncle lived close to Horseshoe Bay, so late in the afternoon we arrived at this unsuspecting relative’s home. We did get a ride back to the Dunbar area and were royally grounded. We’d had fun, took care of each other and learned a lot about planning ahead.

Diane Salter

I recently discovered a diary that I had written when I was 14 years old, and lived on a homestead 7 miles from the nearest village of Meota, Saskatchewan.

An uncle was one of the first to raise Arabian horses in western Canada. He had four young half-Arabians that weren’t selling, so he said “If I can’t sell ‘em, I’ll give ‘em away”. So he selected four of his nieces and nephews whom he knew liked horses, and we were invited to his ranch north of Jackfish Lake. We each drew a name from the hat, and mine said “Bay with white face”. That is likely the most exciting day of my life!  My cousin and I used to ride everywhere in the countryside, to school where there was a barn, always bareback, often riding 20 miles a day. In hunting season we would overhear where our brothers were going to go, and we would get up an hour earlier and ride out and scare up the geese or ducks. Our parents never seemed to worry about us. It was total freedom.

Patte Rust (Iverson)

Childhood for me was a series of exhilarations and adventures. We hung by our knees from the monkey bars in the park, played tree tag, reached through picket fences in lanes to snitch raspberries, and played Knock Out Ginger, Kick the Can and Red Rover. The oldest kid in the group always gave the orders and we all obeyed without question. We had a tree fort in the woods, where we picked huckleberries and blackberries. We were always scratched and dirty, and had wonderful times getting that way.

Kathy ( Greenwood) Mukai

Stanley, my husband started writing about his childhood experiences 8 years ago before Alzheimer’s began destroying his memories.  He and his parents were relocated from their farm in Mission to Vernon in 1942 until 1949.  He recorded his stories to share with his children and grandchildren but your readers may find it of benefit also.

Looking back over my 76 years of life, I’m still awed at the moral authority of a friend–still a child–who stood up to defend me when I was about to be attacked by schoolyard bullies.  They felt justified in ganging-up on a “Jap-kid” who represented to them, the enemy races that their country had fought and just defeated.  There were still constant reminders in the media about the atrocities committed by the Nazis and the Japs against whom all good people could freely vent their hate.  They saw in me an opportunity to act out some of the revenge which was only a pay-back for being born of an evil race.

It was in 1946 or 1947, at Coldstream Elementary School.  I was in the schoolyard playing with my usual play group, the boys who, most days, walked together to the school from the Coldstream Ranch side.  I was the only Asian kid in the group.I was surrounded by a menacing group of boys whose antagonism had been aroused by some of their number.  When I was pushed, the unofficial leader of our group, Bob Schram, asked the standard schoolboy question, “What did he do to you?” The response was, “He’s a Jap, you know that,” implying that all Japs were fair game for vengeance for being bad people.

Bob’s voice was authoritative.  “So, what.  He’s just as good as you are.  Leave him alone.” They backed off. 

I still marvel at the status that Bob conferred upon me without hesitation–that I was as worthy as the other kids who were white.  Having been exposed to anti-Japanese propaganda in the Hollywood movies, on the radio, in school in the Victory Bonds and Stamps campaigns, war propaganda films, and in the print media, although I knew inside that I was a good person, as were members of my family, I did not have confidence in the goodness of all ethnic Japanese I did not know personally.  I was not immune to the racist propaganda that I saw and heard all around me.  Like most children, I learned early how minorities were viewed by the majority and largely accepted the biases in the public mind.  Before that moment my own mind was not independent enough to believe and assert what Bob had said about my own worth. 

It was a huge boost to my self-confidence and sense of self-worth to be supported publicly at a crucial time.  A friend and respected schoolyard leader had spoken up to say that I was a good person. 

It was just an incident in Grade 3 in a country schoolyard but I have always remembered it, felt grateful for it and tried to follow the example of my heroic friend by speaking out in similar situations.  In our multi-ethnic society with its racial and religious diversity, it constantly surprises me how we seem to be able to find any number of reasons to dislike or be suspicious of those who are even the slightest bit different to ourselves.  It taught me that even one child’s opinion, simply stated, can make a huge difference in our lives.   I have remembered this for a lifetime.

Stanley Fukawa

I grew up in Metcalfe, Ontario, population 300.  We had such freedom!  My friends had ponies and we rode them everyday after school. It taught us independence and responsibility. I was pony crazy, riding freely through the fields.

We rode those ponies everywhere we could, even in the Metcalfe fair, teaching us the concept of fun competition. We rode our bicycles, played hopscotch, bounced rubber balls, went to Sunday school, and learned the importance of simple pleasures. Community was really the biggest lesson there was to learn –  people helping people under any circumstance. Life long friendships were established and kept.

We still say, lucky us.

Diana Hicks

One of the greatest joys I remember experiencing as a child growing up was working with my hands. Whether it was building forts or putting on puppet shows, the creativity that sparked has carried forward throughout my life. As far as what my childhood might have benefited from today’s modern world? In a word, Google. The vast trove of information that‘s available offers unlimited possibilities.

Bruce Shaw

I grew up in Kamloops in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s when there were only 12,000 – 20,000 people living there.  Every kid my age had a bicycle.   My family lived on a street that was at the Western edge of the town.  We had total freedom and trust from our moms to go and play in the hills around the town and ride our bikes anywhere we wanted, as long as we were home by 6:00PM for dinner.  No questions were asked.  This sense of personal freedom let us dream and imagine all kinds of great things, make close friendships from everyday adventures in the hills.  No kid ever locked their bike because no bikes were ever stolen.

I can’t think of anything meaningful from today’s modern world that my childhood would have benefited from.  Perhaps the Internet, if only to learn about far away countries and their cultures.  I had to borrow a wealthy friend’s National Geographics to learn these things in those days.

Keith Akenhead

I think what children miss most is not so much old-fashioned games, as much as imparting the rules and skills of such games. In 1979, at a community centre picnic for children, I taught six boys to play a search and chase game called Run, Sheep, Run! Two weeks later a young boy  told me that since then, sixty additional children had tried the game.  Soon the whole of the neighbourhood school was playing it.

Apparently, the teachers would take the children outdoors to play it in lieu of indoor physical education.

Vaughan Evans

The very most important thing that we might have benefitted from in the ‘old days’ is vaccines!  There was no protection against most childhood diseases, with polio probably the deadliest.  There was a little girl in my grade four class who wore a metal leg brace, a legacy of her experience with polio. Many children suffered from measles, scarlet fever, whooping cough and mumps, treated with quarantine and home nursing. In a family with several children it could take many weeks for a disease to run through the kids, with their worried and exhausted mother nursing each one in turn. Those parents would have appreciated the lifesaving gift of vaccine protection for their children. 

Shelia Charneski

11 thoughts on “EVERYDAY HEROES”

  1. I just read your column on Bruce Wilson. The account of your trials and tribulations really resonated! How can I contact Mr. Wilson?

  2. Hi Jane
    I am a huge fan of your Saturday Bookless Club offerings. Your writing style is, in my opinion, uniquely compact and expressive. Perfectly ‘to the point’ and concise, while somehow also injecting richness and texture, whatever your chosen topic. I’m a bit of a news junkie and read alot. Your style of writing fits me like a hand in a well fitted glove…every time, regardless of the subject matter…

    I suspect today’s offering may have had particular chalenges related to navigating your story around a real person who has overcome serious life issues. Someone who, by chance, you have come to know, respect and admire, over a period of time when you ‘didn’t know you were having good luck’. And so the wheel turns for all of us….

  3. Hi Jane -terrific anecdote today. People can really surprise us huh? Anyway great to have you back in the Sun the last two weeks.
    Let me briefly describe a recent experience regarding an unexpected act of kindness. A local contractor was parked in my strata complex having lunch and I asked about a small plumbing issue in my unit. Ricky from Trinity Plumbing without hesitation said he would be glad to have a look. He fixed the minor problem and refused payment even some cash for a meal. Ricky said his effort came from the goodness of his heart and that was enough. An impressive act from a decent young man.
    Hope you and your extended family are well so Merry Christmas and a wonderful 2022 to you all.
    Take care.

  4. Jane,

    Omggg. This was a lovely piece. I’m in tears…for both the challenges and frustrations you’ve experienced as a homeowner (I relate) as well as the beauty you discovered in this broken soul who persevered through his personal darkness to shine his unadulterated self upon you. Just beautiful

  5. Hello Jane:

    I just wanted to say how much I enjoyed your column today about Mr. Wilson. How fortunate for both of you that you found each other. And I feel your pain about your renovation experiences (some contractors are the scum of the earth, if I may say so!)

    As for who impresses me: you do. Your writing style and talent (demonstrated by today’s column) absolutely delights me and inspires me.

    Merry Christmas to you – and I look forward to reading much more from you in the New Year!

  6. Jane: I’m impressed daily by the Knitting Circle in my PoCo retirement residence The Astoria. They’re generous to a fault with time and energy.

    On any day, you’ll find four to six of 11 lovely senior ladies in front of the fireplace, creating hats, baby blankets, toys, lap blankets and other soft and cuddly woolen goods for men, women and children served by Nurses Without Borders, the Tri-Cities Transition Society and Fellburn Care Centre in Burnaby.

    Aged from late 70s to early 90s, they knit throughout the year, some never missing a day: Sonja Archbold, Anne Conway, Renata Hartman, Diane Kennedy, Audrey Lactin, Therese Lamb, Anne Marie Mattman, Jessie Richmond, Bette Stirling, Isobel Straghan and Irene Williams. This year’s November craft fair and auction raised $1,795, given to the Tri-Cities Transition Society. Residents of the Fellburn Care Centre got 13 lap top blankets

  7. Dr. Pamela Palmater is the most spectacular commentator on Indigenous issues in Canada. A lawyer, university professor, author and mother, her words are thoughtful, astute, insightful, comprehensive, informative, fearless, and honest. A Mi’kmaq from Eel River Bar First Nation, she has been for years a tireless advocate for many Indigenous concerns, including sovereignty and missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
    Through her work and actions, Ms. Palmater shows there’s no substitute for hard work and dedication, and no reasons to avoid controversial subjects. She is a true Indigenous leader, matriarch, and my personal hero; I always learn from her.

  8. Hi Jane,
    Thank you for this story. It was very well written. Almost like a poem. I love the title “everyday heroes”. It is so good to hear a positive story about someone struggling with addiction. It gives hope and humanity.
    Merry Christmas and many blessings to you and your family.

  9. My wife Susan is my every day hero. When she senses that one of her friends is down or going through a rough time she drops everything to take them a plant, card or some token to let them know that she notices and is there for them. The gifts that she gives people are chosen thoughtfully with love and care not just on special occasions but throughout the year. In an age of egocentricity it is so refreshing to know that the gift of giving for giving’s sake is alive and well.

  10. J raised four children, mostly on her own, the eldest still battling debilitating developmental and mental health issues, her home always open to those who’ve needed a safe haven. J taught elementary school, for years inspiring and advocating for students while mentoring younger teachers. And, she was a foster parent, caring for many children over 20 years, including nurturing, from toddler to adult, a young woman who has defied all odds to survive and succeed. In between, J has volunteered in many ways, including advocating for families dealing with mental illness. J models empathy, care, open-mindedness and mindfulness.

    I have not named her, as I am unsure J and her family would be comfortable with me doing so…I know some will recognize my description and each would second my ‘nomination’

  11. As a retired social worker, I’ve had the honour to meet many individuals who have impressed and inspired me with their courage and tenacity. None moreso though, than my friend Mary, whom I’ve know for fourteen years. My friend, Mary S., regularly impresses me. She was a nurse, but became addicted to pain killers after an injury. When we met, she told me she wanted to get clean, re-connect with her three adult sons, and return to nursing. Mary has been clean for four years now, survived major heart surgery, completed extensive cardiac rehab and reconnected with her three wonderful sons. Now she works on the DTES as a harm reduction coordinator, helping other women who are where she has been. Mary continues to impress me by setting goals and then working relentlessly to accomplish them.

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