Day 205 - Ben

Day 205 - Ben (2nd person I approached)
July 24, 2014 - Ben was sitting by himself reading. I told him about my project and asked him if we could chat. He told me he was waiting for his wife, but that he’d be happy to chat with me while he waited. He assured me that if his wife arrived too soon, he knew she’d be okay to wait five minutes or so. Ben had been reading J.D. Salinger’s ‘Catcher in the Rye.’

“I've heard so much about it over the years and never read it. I saw a documentary about the book and thought it was time I finally read it. After all the years of hearing about it, I thought it would have been much bigger," he said laughing and waving the novel around. Ben told he was “glad to be reading it now.”

 

Ben was born in Maple Creek, in the southwest corner of Saskatchewan, near the border with Alberta.

“My family moved to Taber, Alberta when I was still an infant, so I have no memory of living in Maple Creek. I do know that it’s a small town. Very small,” he said. Ben is the third youngest of nine children.

“My parents were farmers, so we grew up doing chores and working on the farm, from an early age. I remember being in a corn field with a hoe, cleaning out between the rows of corn. When I looked behind me, I couldn’t see the end of the field and I couldn’t see it looking the other way either. I must have been about six at the time!” Ben’s parents were first generation Canadians. His grandparents came from Germany and his great grandparents from Odessa, Russia.

“My parents were both fluent in German. They grew sugar beets, corn, sweet peas and cucumbers on the farm.

“There was a company that processed and canned our crops. We sold directly to them. Our farm was surrounded by other farms, especially potato growers. It’s farm country all around there, due to the irrigation,” he said. (*Fact Check - see link below.) Ben remembers that there was a prison for German soldiers nearby.

"Some days there would be work crews come to our farm and they'd work in the fields all day. They had large red circle patches on the back of their blue shirts. They'd ride our horses as well. I was too young to fully understand, but I think it was for prisoners that were well behaved. We had to feed them lunch, and sometimes there would be about twenty five or more. They had armed guards with them too," he said.

“In school, I started singing when I was a just a small child, maybe about six years old. Throughout school I would do recitals and was in plays. I liked theatre classes as well. A friend and I were the only two boys in school who did a regular review type show. I still do some singing, from time to time,” he says with a somewhat wry smile.

 

After graduating from high school in Taber, Ben went to Mount Royal College in Calgary, Alberta.

“I studied Business. I just thought it was what I should do. While I was in college, I got a part-time job with a metal machinery company. The company were expanding, and they offered me a job in Vancouver, BC (British Columbia). I had been in college for two years. I decided to take the job with the intention of going back and completing college later. I never did,“ he said, seemingly without regret. Shortly after relocating to Vancouver, Ben met Helen, who would later become his wife.

“She was from Australia and after we got married, we went to Australia so I could meet her family. They weren’t able to come over here for our wedding. We spent a few months in Australia with her family, which was a good opportunity for all of us to get to know one another."

 

"We travelled by boat intending to go back to Canada. We got off the boat in Long Beach, California, and ended up staying there for three years,” said Ben. He got a job working for a food brokerage company.

“My job was to ensure that the product we had in stores was properly displayed, and that the outlets were well looked after. It was probably my most favourite job that I ever had, while working for someone else. The people I worked with, the company itself, it was just an all around great three years,” said Ben.

“My wife and I liked Long Beach, but we didn’t want to raise a family there, so we came back to Vancouver.”

 

Ben bought some property near Lion’s Bay, a small village located about thirty minutes northwest of Vancouver.

“I built our house there, and liked building it so much, that I went into contracting. The house became my portfolio, if you will. I made a career out of that, and never once had to advertise or scout around for business. People would see the house, and then I’d build another for someone. Their friends would see that one, and it just grew from there. For thirty-five years, my contracting and construction business was entirely word-of-mouth,” said Ben.

“It was very satisfying to have the business grow so successfully from the work I had already done.” Ben and his wife had a daughter and they wanted another child.

“We knew we wanted to have a son, and of course there are no guarantees, so we adopted a boy. The whole process was only about four months back then, and we drove out to (the city of) New Westminster and brought our son home.” Ben and Helen were always honest and open with their son about his adoption. They let him know that at any time he wanted, they had information that he could use to connect with his birth mother.

“He never wanted to. He always said that we were his parents and that he was happy with that,” said Ben. 

 

When both of their children were still young, they decided that they were going to sell everything and move to Australia.

“The house in Lion’s Bay sold quickly.  I had built a few spec houses in Squamish (thirty minutes drive northwest of Lion’s Bay), so we moved up there meanwhile. We started to go hiking and cross-country skiing while we lived there, and really enjoying ourselves. My wife said she didn’t understand why we were moving to Australia, because we had everything we needed for a good life. We were already living it. So we built another house in Squamish and that’s where we live still. It’s been almost thirty years now,” said Ben. His children are both grown and Ben has five grandchildren.

“My daughter has two kids and my son has three children, all girls. He and his wife adopted their youngest daughter. She’s from China and has a cleft palette. We went to China with them to meet her and bring her home when she was an infant,” says Ben.

“He already had two daughters and I asked him why he wasn’t adopting a boy. He told me ‘because we know girls,’ “ he said, laughing.

"She is the cutest and smartest little girl. She is six years old now and is so good at gymnastics. She just had her first competition and won one gold and four silver medals. It’s absolutely incredible to watch her on those bars and rings!”

 

I asked Ben when the last time he had sung was.

“I sung at my son’s wedding. They had no idea I was going to do that. I sang ‘Makin’ Whoopee.' I just sprung it on them by surprise!” That wry smile revealed.  (**Fact Check - see link below) Ben’s wife Helen arrived, signalling the end of our conversation. I introduced myself and told Helen what Ben and I had been chatting about. I said Ben ‘has been telling me about the great adventure that your life has been.’ To which she replied, while looking at him with intrigue,

“Oh. Is that what he called it?!” #notastranger

 

*Fact Check - http://www.smrid.ab.ca/history.html

** Fact Check - Makin’ Whoopee http://bit.ly/1t1JUGe