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Hay’s Daze: The gift of stories

There’s nothing quite like a good story. Especially one that’s true, and especially one that brings back memories, especially the good kind of memories. Even if they are someone else’s.

A friend of mine dropped by yesterday, unannounced, and he was bringing a special gift. A gift of stories. Now, Bert is eighty-something-something and I have known and looked up to him for many of those 80+ trips around the sun. In fact, the way we met way back when was on account of his lovely wife, whom I shall call Mrs. Lougheed because that’s her name, who was my very favorite teacher of all time. Grade 3. The four best years of my life (har, har).

I’ve written about Mrs. Lougheed (who is sorely missed) and her wonderfulness as both a teacher and human being before, but have only barely mentioned her well-known husband in my own stories. Until now.

As we chatted in the shade over a cup of tea, Bert patted his wonderfully friendly Moyen Poodle (you would never guess what the poodle’s name is) and told me that a friend said to him recently, “You’re always telling those great stories – why don’t you write them down!”

“I thought about it,” Bert told me, “And when I got home I wrote one. And then another one. And all of sudden, I had 22 stories.” “Wow,” I said. ‘Way to go!” And he just smiled and said, “This is for you.” And he handed me his book: The Day I Bit The Horse! – A Collection of Little Stories.

After Bert left, I sat down and read the whole thing and what a treat it is. From growing up on a Central Alberta farm, riding a stubborn 20-year-old Shetland Pony 2.5 kilometres to school (uphill, both ways, Bert??) and getting so mad at the old horse he bit its ear, to living at the LTCHS dorms in the ‘50s at the age of 18 with about 100 roommates (the co-ed kind) the same age. Stories!

His first teaching job (as a teenager) at a one-room school east of Pine Lake where he was only two years older than the oldest student. The school Christmas concert when all the building had was kerosene lamps – not the safest environment for a packed hall.

So Bert remembered when he was a kid in a different one-room school someone would bring in a 16mm projector for education films and power it with a generator out behind the school. So Bert visits the County Maintenance Department and finds an old generator in amongst a pile of chairs in storage and when the folks filed into his school that night there was a sparkling Christmas tree with colored lights and 200-watt bulb hanging from the ceiling. People “couldn’t believe what they saw!” (Vegas, who needs Vegas?).

Stories. Bert became the go-to Principal for a whole slew of new schools in Red Deer. It seems like every time Superintendent Harold Dawe approved a new school, Bert got a visit from the boss and a new assignment. Nearly 40 years wrangling readers and arithmetic-ers in our fair city and we are better for it.

Stories. Decades as a pilot, originating member of the local Civil Air Search and Rescue Association, building his own airplane (and crashing into Sylvan Lake), photographer, ham radio operator, dog lover, cottage renovator. Church groups, YMCA, youth camps, special kids programs.

How do you celebrate a lifetime of service, good work and adventure? Stories. You write your stories down and print them up and give them to friends. I can’t think of a better gift.

Harley Hay is a Red Deer author and filmmaker. Send him a column idea to harleyhay1@hotmail.com.