Petite May first arrived in my office around l980 to help as a volunteer with addressing and filling envelopes for a large mail out. Little did I know then that May would be a volunteer in my office, almost every day, for the next 20 years. In that time, she became a whiz with the photocopying machine and was, prior to the age of computerization, the “go to” volunteer to help with filing, mail-outs and the record keeping of office work associated with running various arts administration offices in Victoria. As I moved from one organization to another, May would say, “Make sure there is a job for the two of us, dear.”
In the middle of January, I began to ponder, “What do you give a person for their 100th birthday?” I began thinking of conversations we had had during our 20 years of working together. It was during some of these conversations May would recall a time of her life when, as a small child, she lived in a tent beside the railroad track at Lac La Biche, Alberta, north of Edmonton. Occasionally, wistfully, she wished she “had some pebbles from the railroad track as a keepsake of her time there.” It occurred to me that now was the time to make that wish come true and, with two weeks to go, set about trying to get pebbles sent from the railroad track at Lac La Biche to Victoria in time for her birthday on February 9th.
My first call was to the Volunteer Fire Department at Lac La Biche. They were unable to help, as the land around the track is privately owned. They suggested, however, I call CN's head office in Montreal.
When I phoned CN’s head office, they (not surprisingly) did not have a button to push on their answering service that covered sending pebbles from Lac La Biche to Victoria. However, I did talk to someone who thought it a great idea and suggested I phone a company in Toronto that has a contract with CN to move household effects across the country. In the meantime, they would talk it over and see if there was any way they could help with the request.
When I called the company in Toronto, they too were intrigued with the idea, but were unable to suggest anyway or anyone who might be able to help get pebbles from Lac La Biche to Victoria. They said they would talk among themselves and let me know if they had any thoughts on what to do or who to approach.
The next day, I was out walking and thinking about the challenge I had set myself when the obvious occurred to me, the RCMP! They were bound to have a detachment in Lac La Biche.
The local RCMP detachment office in Langford was very encouraging and gave me the number to call in Lac La Biche. When I spoke with the RCMP in Lac La Biche regarding my request, they were most enthusiastic about the idea, expressed “they loved doing things like this,” and promised to go to the track and pick up some pebbles to mail to Victoria in time for May’s birthday.
The pebbles arrived on February 5th, in time for the celebrations taking place on May’s 100th birthday on February 9th. I cut the return address on the envelope with: “From RCMP Lac La Biche, Alberta” written on it. The pebbles now had provenance as being from Lac La Biche, and not my own backyard. This piece of envelope would be placed in the small jar to be used to contain and display the pebbles. I decided not to clean the three pebbles as parts of them still had a thin layer of dirt from the tracks. With tissue paper at the bottom of the jar, I placed the pebbles in a row against the glass on the inside, so they could be seen from the outside, and filled the rest of the jar with tissue paper. I wrapped the jar to take to May’s 100th birthday party with family and friends.
May’s “surprise” party was a whirl for her - being the centre of attention, socializing, eating, singing and blowing out the candles on her cake - she was in her element. But the excitement made it impossible for her to concentrate on her gifts.
I visited her at home a few days later. Surrounded by cards and flowers, she sat in her favourite chair. Beside her, prominently displayed, was the jar of pebbles. “Oh, I am so pleased to see you, dear,” she said as she stood up to hug a welcome. She then took hold of the jar and sitting down again, her face alight with joy, she said, “Oh, thank you, thank you for the stones. You remembered! I shall keep them forever!”
I then shared with her the story of how they had arrived in Victoria for her birthday. Lifting her hand to her cheek, she said, in astonishment, “Oh! The RCMP?” Still cradling the jar in her hands and with eyes sparkling, “They bring back so many memories. I remember asking Daddy, 'What will we do if a bear tries to come into the tent?' He said, 'We’ll just poke its nose and it will run away.'” We both laughed. The pebbles were weaving their magic, bringing joy to May. And I felt the joy of being a part of making a wish come true.