In days, Gwen and I will mark a wedding anniversary. It is a fairly special one—our 50th. We’ve been a couple longer than that, having been close friends from grade eight.
The occasion returns a memory from 1960. Maternal grandparents, Jim and Bessie Mahood, celebrated their golden anniversary by partying with most of their seven children, 24 grandchildren and family friends.
I remember the gold-plated tea service presented to grandmother but not much more, beyond a young teenager’s sense of tedium when the speeches began.
This year’s celebration will be modest—dinner with our three offspring and the seven grandkids. The oldest youngster has become a teenager and one more is on the cusp. The only way they’d be happy at a party for old folks would be if we set up computer screens in a corner so they could do what they do.
Instead, Gwen and I will make plans for an Okanagan sojourn in September at one of the fabulous wineries there. We’ll enjoy a taste or three of something that will be a large step up from the Calona Cherry Jack first sampled in olden days. We were unschooled; a neighbour thought drink that came in gallon glassware was exotic.
The bit of detail above is an introduction to a wedding anniversary tale that resurfaced during a clearout of old files.
In 1998, Vancouver Sun asked readers for accounts of honeymoon experiences. I offered ours and the newspaper ran the story. It became a two-parter.
Part 1, Vancouver Sun, July 21, 1998
Cash is a good thing to take along on your honeymoon, even if everything is prepaid. And in 1969 Norm and Gwen Farrell had every intention of doing that, but in their rush to begin a life of wedded bliss, which had already been delayed several hours by missing car keys, they forgot most of their mad money at home in Powell River.
Once they arrived at the Harrison Hot Springs Hotel, they found out their pre-paid meal allowance paid for little more than grapefruit for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Extras were, well, extra.
Splurging the first night, dressed in their best, they glided into the Copper Room for an intimate dinner where they were promptly drenched with leftover soup, salad, coffee, tea and other assorted goodies following a head-on collision between two giant-tray-carrying busboys.
It had to get better, right? Well, not really. The next five days were spent in their room, glaring at the darkened rain-filled skies and chewing on grapefruit.
The next caper was the checkout. They figured out the bill for “extras” could be paid — using the last few quarters in their possession — but there was nothing left for the friendly young bellhops. A sneaky escape was essential to avoid paying tips. They pulled it off.
Few marriages had less auspicious beginnings, Norm says, but after 29 years and three kids they continue to happily share their lives together.
Part 2, Vancouver Sun, Sept. 2, 1998
We first told you about Norm and Gwen Farrell a month or so ago, when they passed on a wedding tale about their honeymoon 30 years ago at the Harrison Hot Springs Hotel.
They left their “mad money” at home and, even though everything was prepaid, they wound up subsisting on grapefruit and sneaking away like thieves in the night so they wouldn’t have to face the friendly bellhops and tell them they had no money left to tip them. The weather was horrible the entire time they were there and their one night out, dinner at the hotel’s Copper Room, ended in disaster when they were saturated with leftovers following a head-on collision between two busboys.
Our item caught the attention of the hotel’s general manager Jurgen Ludwig, who set out to make amends, and to make the Farrells’ 30th anniversary a memorable one. The hotel invited the couple to stay as their guests recently, then used the moments from their first visit to stage an elaborate funfest.
It began when they were presented with an envelope of cash, discreetly marked “for tips only.” It continued in the hotel dining room — the Copper Room is closed for renovations — where the staff had gone to great lengths to set up a temporary dance floor. Gwen and Norm were then presented with a gag “grapefruit” menu created specially for them in memory of the many sour fruits they’d eaten lo those many years ago. It didn’t stop there. After dinner the mayor of Harrison, Don Ramsay (the hotel’s piano man) played the Anniversary Waltz for the couple.
Then an RCMP officer, who was also in on the joke, showed up and handcuffed the couple to their chair, making sure they couldn’t skip out without paying their tips. “The hotel staff treated us with generosity and great humour,” reports Norm. “Gwen and I thought this was a marvellous experience.”
There was more to the original honeymoon experience. We had a gifted bottle of Champagne stuffed in the trunk of our car and, after a drive over 200 kilometres of mostly rural road, it had become a potential weapon, silently growing more lethal with each bounce of the old borrowed Buick.
On the first night, I was tasked with opening the still warm bottle. But, my experience was limited to flipping caps off brown bottles, like the ones used in my home-brewing activities.
Getting the foil cover off the Champagne was the easy part. But that wire cage over the cork was unfamiliar. Looking down at the bottle, smart guy me figured out that twisting the wire loop would loosen the cage’s hold on the cork.
Kapow! Right in the middle of the forehead. The ricochet put an obvious dent in the ceiling, something I noticed while briefly lying on the floor.
There was more misfortune, including Gwen’s short illness and my burned cornea after a match head explosion. (Pompous young pipe smokers preferred wooden matches in those days.)
With Gwen now required to drive we made an unscheduled visit to the relative most likely to turn over enough cash to get us home. This was before 24-hour cash dispensing machines or payday lenders and, like most Canadians, we carried no credit cards.
The beginning was not auspicious and I’ve been a git from time to time, but it has been a good fifty years. We’ve got adult children we’re proud of. They are persons with character and have partners we’re proud to know and children we love unconditionally.
I seldom mention Gwen in this site but she’s been my foundation and without her, I wouldn’t be doing this, or probably anything. She got her RN in 1969 and is still pressed regularly into service as a critical care nurse, since there has been an unresolved shortage of those for as long as I can remember.
My blog is now over ten years old. I had plans to close it down in 2017 but unconscionable mischief by Christy Clark and friends after the election of that year kept me motivated. Disappointments with the Horgan Government’s energy policies do the same today.
Yet non-commercial websites that don’t use clickbait or algorithmic promotions are declining. In the Twitter age, people prefer reading 280-character messages. Long form pieces don’t attract as much interest as short blusters. That leads readers to have less interest in detailed articles and less desire to volunteer financial support for works like In-Sights.
I understand that and also know there are many online sites worthy of financial contributions. Of course, I humbly salute the small percentage of readers who do help this effort stay alive. Thank you.
I hope future journalists in legacy media can do their jobs according to the standards expressed in the Ethics Guidelines of the Canadian Association of Journalists. Postmedia’s current manoeuvres suggest that will be less common.
If the Guidelines were widely followed, the limited output of at least one white-haired old guy would be unnecessary.