Day 358 - Tom

Day 358 - Tom (1st person I approached)
December 24, 2014 - I was walking along West Broadway early this afternoon and I noticed a couple of things. It was less busy than usual; I’m guessing many people had the day off. Or everyone was downtown, deep in the crowds of folk getting their last minute shopping done. The people I was seeing on the street seemed to all be on a mission. Everyone seemed to be hurrying from point A to point B - I wondered if it would be more challenging to find today’s story. 


Be careful who you smile at on the street. Tom was removing the lock from his bicycle at the edge of the sidewalk. He looked up and his eye caught mine and he gave me a cheery smile. I smiled back, then made my move. I said hello and told him about my project, and asked if he would chat with me. With another big smile, and chuckling to himself, Tom agreed to chat. 


Born in Kamloops, Tom grew up in Barriere, a small town about 65kms north of Kamloops, in central British Columbia (BC).

“I’m the middle child. I have two older brothers, a younger sister and two younger brothers. I made sure to never be the invisible middle child though,” he said assuredly.

“I fought against that, although my two older brothers did the hunting and fishing thing. I never did any of that.” There's twelve years between the oldest and youngest sibling.

“We grew up almost in pods. My two older brothers. My sister and I, and then my two younger brothers. But it fluctuated. I got along well with my brother who is just older than I am, and my sister got along with one of the younger brothers. I mean, it wasn’t a hard rule, we all got along. We just had our groupings,” said Tom. 


“I went to elementary school in Barriere, and did my first two years of high school there as well. Then the high school burned down, and I moved to high school in Kamloops, taking the bus to school,” he said.

“That was quite a transition. Going from a small town to ‘the big city’ of Kamloops. There were all the cliques and older kids. And it seemed like all the kids from Kamloops stuck together and I felt like an outsider.” Tom told me he was good at Math in school.

“It just made sense to me. I wasn’t the best speller and finding the right words to express myself didn’t come naturally to me. I understood math.”


The adjustment from small town high-school to the bigger city school, helped Tom when he went to university.

“It was easier then, because I had learned how to cope with that in high-school. I didn’t go to university right away though. I failed a couple of classes so I had to go to night school in Kamloops to upgrade,” he said. Tom went to the University of Victoria (UVic).

“I started in general arts, and had thoughts of going into commerce. But I didn’t seem to be able to avoid getting into conversations about children, education and teaching. I did my first year of university at UVic and then transferred to UBC (University of British Columbia),” he told me. It was at UBC that Tom made the change to pursue Education. He spent a year at UBC, then went back to Victoria, on Vancouver Island, and completed his degree in Education at UVic.


“I spent five years getting my undergrad degree. Then I went back to Barriere to teach. I had too, teachers usually started in smaller towns. I taught there for three years and then took a year off. I went to England and lived in London, working in a bar there,” he said.

“I just needed a break and wanted to do some travelling.” Tom told me that his sister had come to visit him while he was living in London.

“She was amazed that as we walked around in all different parts of town, that I was saying hello to people, everywhere we went. They were all people that I knew from the bar I worked in,” he said, laughing.

“My kid brother, the youngest one, came to visit and he never left. He and his partner moved out to the English countryside, and have been together for thirty-five years.” Ironically, just as Tom was telling me about his brother’s home in the countryside, a man walked by us, and turned to say

“Hi Tom!” Tom smiled and said hello back to the man, who kept walking. It seems Tom knows people everywhere he goes.  


“I went back to teaching as soon as I came home. I had really missed it,” Tom said. He spent the next twenty five years teaching.

“I went back to UBC and got my Master’s degree, in Counselling Education. I moved into becoming a counsellor for children with behavioural problems. There’s always been counsellors in school. They’re not able to spend much time with the students, building relationships,” said Tom.

"I’m not that interested in how little Johnny learns to read. What I am interested in, is how little Johnny feels about learning to read. It’s important to have a connection with these kids. I get as much from them as they get from me. They’re helping me to learn.”


Tom was offered a position with Simon Fraser University (SFU).

“I was asked to work with student teachers who wanted to integrate Aboriginal lessons into education. I did that for half a year at the Kamloops SFU campus. Then I came down here to Vancouver. It was time, and I was ready for the change,” he said.


As we chatted, I asked Tom a couple of questions to make sure I had the timeline correct. He causally mentioned another life event.

“Yeah, then I had this thing with cancer, and after that was done, I went back to SFU as an adjunct teacher. The actual title is Faculty Associate, working with student teachers. If there was a class with an overflow of students, I’d go in from time to time, and teach however many extra students there were,” he said. 


I told Tom that I always want to be respectful of what people are comfortable talking about. I asked if we could go back and talk about his mention of cancer.

“Yeah, that’s fine. I had cancer of the gall bladder. It started out as something else, and they removed my gall bladder, and it tested cancerous. So they went back in and removed part of my liver as well. I was fortunate, I didn’t have to go through chemotherapy. One of the doctors said he had good news and bad news. The good news was I didn’t need chemo, and the bad news was it wouldn’t work on the type of cancer I had anyway,” Tom laughed. His energy shone it’s brightest as he talked about this. 


“I went to this wonderful organization called ‘Inspire Health.’ I talk about them whenever I can. I had a great support network of family and friends around me. The people at Inspire Health all had cancer. We’d gather together and do yoga and talk and laugh and no one talked about cancer. It’s such a loving, supportive, network. They integrate traditional healing with an emphasis on healthy exercise, a balanced diet and emotional well-being,” he said. “I can’t say enough good things about them.” Tom recently had his three-and-a-half year check up and everything looks good. (*Fact Check - see link below) 


“I’m pretty much retired now, after seven years with SFU. I still have a home in Kamloops, and rent here in Vancouver. I’ve rented out my house in Kamloops to a good friend, and we have an agreement that I can still pass through town, and spend time there. I was just there for a week recently. My fruit trees and garden and friends are all still there. I guess part of me just doesn’t want to let go. And that’s ok,” he said. Tom rides his bicycle everywhere.


Christmas for Tom means having dinner tonight with

"a group of good friends. Spending time together, eating great food, and enjoying the people in my life. I’m very fortunate to have incredible relationships with many wonderful people. Tomorrow, there’s a smaller group of us that get together for what we call ‘Our Jewish Christmas.’ So Chinese food and going to see a movie,” he said, laughing. We shook hands and wished each other well. Our conversation ended just as it started. With a big, warm smile. #notastranger 

*Fact Check -