My iPad is my morning alarm, and it is set to wake me with music instead of some harsh siren. John Mayer’s lyrics seep into my sleep this week. I’m not sure what a “nascent trying to harness huge fire” means, but the words conjure images which weave their way into my dreams as I press the snooze button… twice. As I surface, it takes a moment to register that I am again in a strange bed. This morning finds me in a hotel room somewhere in Small Town, BC. Or, is it a motel? I remember a sign along the Yellowhead Highway, just east of Edmonton, that I would misread as a boy. I was certain its orange letters, which matched the orange doors, spelled “Motel Hotel”. As I look from my bed to this room’s door which opens to a parking lot, the words “Motor Hotel”— there, in orange – correct my memory. Beginning at the motel with orange doors, my relationship with temporary lodgings has been steady for more than fifty years.
When my young father first brought his new wife and son to his hometown, we lived behind one of those orange doors on Highway 16. I have no memory of those days, and do not know how long we called it home, but it is likely the reason for the lingering attention I paid the sign whenever we drove past. Later, I would spend special weekends in a motel when my mom returned for a visit. Initial excitement and happiness blended with melancholy and hard goodbyes when the days in a room with two double beds had passed.
This pattern would repeat and hold true, even as an adult. Nights in a motel or hotel were exciting, time on the road that signaled something special. Maybe it was a weekend away for fun, an out-of-town wedding, or a distant tournament. We would bounce between identical rooms to visit with friends, cousins, or aunties. Then, too soon, the inevitable departure deflated the mood.
One ‘check-in’ from my youth stands out for breaking the pattern, and it followed the sudden fire which took our apartment home. The fire destroyed the top floor of our apartment block in early December. After spending the holidays with family, we checked in to a motel on Clarke Road in Port Moody. While it was not mom’s preferred plan, this room with two beds, a stove, and a fridge became our home. Initially, it felt like we were on a vacation… sort of; but that soon faded, replaced with a strange stasis, neither happy nor sad. Just nowhere.
I awake this week in a motel much like those I’ve stayed in across BC. I am in a small town. It could be near Cache Creek, or maybe Port McNeill. Hope? Maybe this is Chase or Elkford. Is this Boston Bar or Ashcroft? Could be I’m near Revelstoke or Williams Lake or Edgewater. Most recently, I have been driving throughout BC, and spending time with BCPVPA members in their schools and home communities. A good friend once shared with me that to connect with Principals and Vice-Principals, you must “breathe their air.” He was right. I would add that it helps to drive their roads. And, this month, I drove through Lytton.
To be more accurate, I was driven through Lytton. The distinction is important because, in this case, I did not have to watch the road. I was free to look to the left and the right, taking in the full impact of the Lytton Creek Fire. The destruction is complete and indiscriminate. Chimneys stand, and a rainbow crosswalk connects a skeletal pair of foundations. Yet, just beyond Main Street, structures appear, overlooked by the flames. My Principal host spoke of the frenzied fourteen minutes of the fire, and the painfully long months since. She talked about the loss of history and record, for the town hall and the medical centre are no more. She related the hardship and isolation, and how difficult the simple has become. She spoke of the efforts to create new homes for those who lost everything, those who call a motel home, those living in stasis, nowhere. She talked of the spirit of the people in this Small Town, BC.
Above the town, the highway winds. A fence along its edge is covered with black cloth; Lytton deserves this privacy. While the highway continues, the fence ends. Just south of its end, travellers will find Kumsheen ShchEma-meet School. It is beautiful and untouched on the outside. Inside, on the lower floor and still operating, is the Resiliency Centre, opened by the Village of Lytton to support wildfire evacuees and area residents. In the classrooms and the hallways are students and teachers and support staff. Despite the outside appearance, the inside of this school is much affected by the fire and will be for some time. And guiding me through the school is the Principal. Her dedication and compassion for this community is raw and pure; I hear it in her questions, seeking resources and networks for support.
It is different in Small Town, BC. Not to say it is easier in larger centres, yet one can find spaces wherein they are not The Principal. One can get lost in a crowd and become anonymous… at least, for a while. Not so much in Small Town, where Principals and Vice-Principals are known in any crowd. And they are laced into the community fabric. Celebrations and hardship alike deeply touch our members in Small Town, where everyone is family.
Nearly a year ago, I read a comment from one of our members, and it struck me. It read, “I feel disconnected from the organization. I pay my fees but not sure what I get in return.” Fate launched my career in Small Town, BC. Choice kept me there. And connection will see me soon return. In the short time I have left in my role, I hope to spend as much of it as possible in hotels or motels, somewhere in BC, helping members feel connected to the BCPVPA family.
Keep well and safe.