CHAPTER 14 - Farewell
Rod and Toni realized they had enjoyed the shorter, milder winters, and decided they would look for another location in British Columbia. A number of years earlier, their friends, Baldur and Betty Bjornson, had moved to Duncan, on Vancouver Island - perhaps a visit with them would open some vistas. Rod and Toni had enjoyed Baldur's company on a number of occasions since Rod first met him on the trapline early in 1945.
The Bjornson's had recently built a new home, and their former residence was still on their property on Jackson Road. If Rod and Toni would like to rent it, the house was certainly available to them. The Schuetzes' were most pleased with the arrangement, as were the Bjornsons' - they were delighted to see their old friends after a lapse of too many years.
At the time of their move to Duncan, Rod was seventy-seven years of age, and Toni sixty-eight. They travelled from the Okanagan Valley to Vancouver Island by bus and their furniture and other goods arrived on a moving truck. In many ways they were quite capable of caring for themselves. With the notable exception of being able to drive, they could manage their own affairs very well. Toni could see to their daily needs, and Rod was regaining his strength more fully than any of them had expected. They relished their time together - whether it was at home or travelling - for they still travelled, either by airplane or by bus.
From the time they sold their home at Longbow Lake, they had spent a considerable time travelling, by car and aircraft, to visit with family members and to see more of the country. Some of Rod's brothers and sisters were living in California, Eileen and her family in Alberta, Helen in northern British Columbia with her husband and children. Ray moved around a lot - living for a time in one community - then his employment taking him elsewhere. All the different areas family members lived in served to afford Rod and Toni another part of the country to visit - and they did so, camping out when the weather was agreeable, staying with family or friends when that was possible.They snapped many pictures - good times with family members, watching the little ones grow, seeing their own siblings change and age - their photo albums became a chronicle of the times of the Schuetze and Hoffman families. They were at the age when couples began to lose old friends - Clara Caldwell passed away while they were living at O'Keefe Siding - they each had lost some siblings; time was becoming very precious.
They truly revelled in each day they spent together, the memories of the long separations they had endured earlier in their marriage were never far from their minds - they looked on their current time together as compensation for the solitude they had suffered earlier.
As they lived longer in Duncan, they came to love the community. It was a quiet, homey centre - where people were not afraid to talk to one another, where friends had time for one another, and were prepared to lend a helping hand to those in need.
Rod befriended the birds as soon as they moved into their rented home. Soon the hummingbirds were meeting him at the door - so anxious to drink from the feeders he was bringing to hang up that they scarcely afforded him the time or room to place them in their hangers before their bills were probing the sweet liquid.
After living out two full seasonal cycles, the Schuetze's made the decision to buy a home, and that Duncan suited them just fine. They chose a house on College Street; one surrounded with trees and shrubs where birds would gather, where they could both continue to nurture and enjoy their feathered friends as they had in all the other places they had lived.
Picture 14-1 Left to right: Peter and Eileen, Toni. Seated: Albert Caldwell and Rod. Taken at Caldwell residence, Saanich Penninsula
Once again Rod took on the task of caring for the yard and flowers, and found his strength and stamina had returned so he was able to manage it all. Their home was located close to downtown, so they often walked to the shops and business places for their needs.
Their home abounded in reading materials - magazines of all types, a wide variety of books: history, novels, poetry. One day Toni read about a man by the name of Alan Innes-Taylor who was mentioned in an article on the Yukon. The text said he was a former member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. "Rod, do you think this is our Mr. Innes-Taylor from Berens River?" she asked.
"I don't know. Is there an address where we could write and find out?"
Toni found an address an wrote the letter. A couple of weeks slipped by and they began to think perhaps something had gone amiss, and they would not receive a reply, when one turned up in their mail box. The postmark was Edmonton, Alberta. Alan Innes-Taylor was a brother of the man they had known in northern Manitoba, and he had forwarded their inquiry to his brother who was living in Edmonton. Both men had served with the Mounties as young men - before the Schuetze's had met "Pep" Innes-Taylor in Berens River. Several months later "Pep" came to visit them and to catch up on all their news since they had last seen one another.
They travelled to visit others, and they had many visitors calling on them. Lothar and Gustie came from Penticton where Lothar was serving with the United Church - still offering his practical teaching blended with faith, to those he encountered; still offering the helping hand of religion to all who listened and heard.
Albert Caldwell and some of his children called in several times over a span of years, the children were now adults, married with children of their own. Cyril and Nelda Batten were now residents of Duncan - good friends from earlier times, always ready to visit and laugh together. Dan and Mary Patterson, also. Dan and Rod reminisced about old times - Rod's mechanical abilities - the airplance and what it may have meant to Berens River had the venture not met such an untimely end. Mary and Toni shared remembrances, too - it was Mary's father who had the sewing machine cabinet Rod purchased to complete the restoration of the sewing machine that survived the Poplar River trading post fire, and was later used to make the sail for their sailboat built at Longbow Lake.
Karl Hoffman, Ralph Schuetze, Gerda Schuetze Overaa - these and many others came to Duncan to visit Rod and Toni. All these gatherings served as adventures in re-living the best of their early years - sharing appreciation of a time that was special to all of them, and each meeting provided precious memories to Rod and Toni.
Rod thought about Dr. Taylor in Calgary, and of the extra years he was enjoying because of the medical man's skill and interest in him. "Please write to Dr. Taylor and tell him how well I have been, and thank him again for all he did for me", he said to Toni. She did as Rod asked. They received a reply, filled with Dr. Taylor's pleasure at hearing from them and of Rod's continuing zest for life. Rod marvelled at the letter, for it was clear the doctor remembered his case absolutely - how could he do that? with so many patients going through his practice each year? They packaged up one of Rod's trinket holders, made on his wood lathe, and sent it to Dr. Taylor as a gift - he had been a very special person in their lives, and they appreciated, not only what his skills had afforded Rod, but his concern for them both, and his reply with the encouragement it contained (Picture 14 - 2) .
Picture 14-2 Rod splitting wood in Duncan, age early 80's
Rod and Toni had some special birds at their home on College Street. A family of tree swallows, those beautiful green and violet specimens who dazzle us with their colour and flying maneuvers, nested in a bird house Rod had built for them. In watching their nesting activities one spring, Rod and Toni concluded some English sparrows were beginning to build their nest on top of the existing swallow nest in the birdhouse. Rod took the house down from its mounting, opened it up - sure enough, there was the foundation of the sparrows nest right on top of three tiny swallow babies. Carefully, Rod removed the swallow nest and contents from the house, and cleaned out the remaining debris. He removed the extra material from the swallow nest, without any more disruption to the little ones than was necessary. Replacing the nest and babies in the birdhouse, he remounted it on a bird feeder base close to their kitchen window, so they could more closely observe the nestlings safety. The adult tree swallows were close at hand throughout this flurry of activity, and as soon as Rod finished re-mounting the birdhouse and joined Toni in the kitchen, they swooped into the birdhouse to check on their little ones. With the rescue of their off-spring, the adult tree swallows became even more attached to Rod and Toni - they would even ride the clothes line as Toni hung out, or gathered in, laundry. The birdhouse hanging just outside the kitchen window was a constant source of entertainment and instruction in nature's ways, as the adults fed and reared their young, then coaxed thm out of the nest, taught them to fly, and to explore the world for themselves.
Rod carved a little, working on small projects. He enjoyed his work, but with a little less enthusiasm than earlier. His health was more variable now - some months he was very active and outgoing, other periods of time found him quieter, less mobile, more withdrawn.
His eyes had been troubling him - his vision dimmed, they consulted doctors. Over a span of seven years, Rod underwent eye surgery three times, and in the end, was left with only partial vision in one eye. He suffered a minor stroke - it left little or no permanent damage, but it was a warning that they must prepared themselves for a more limited lifestyle. Toni, too, had health considerations to deal with. When a medical examination revealed a lump in one breast, and a further check showed the lump to be malignant, Toni faced the necessity of a mastectomy. Rod was very supportive - the emphasis placed on physical beauty meant nothing to him - he wanted Toni to have whatever surgery and care she needed to protect her life. Toni's ward mate, Barbara Johnson, faced the same problem - they both met the challenge, overcame it and went on with their lives and daily activities.
One day, after they had been married over fifty years, Rod turned to Toni and smiled - "Now I know I married the right girl!" he said. A decade later, in a mood both solemn and thoughtful, Rod's thinking had moved on to the future, considering the hereafter.
"If there is something, an existance beyond this life, I want to share that with you, too, Toni, but one small thing worries me - how will we find each other again?"
Deeply touched at his expression of love he was sure would survive even the final separation, Toni smiled her love in return and replied:
"There's a piece of poetry that says it so much better than I ever could -
To me it says we will know and find each other anywhere, anytime - we have shared so much we will be drawn to each other, even in the next world."
It was the last time they spoke of such things. Rod was now past ninety years of age. They sold their home on College Street, as the upkeep of the yard and house was more than he could handle, and he did not want to see Toni doing the things he felt were his responsibility to care for. They bought a mobile home in an organized park (Picture 14 - 3) in the area, a home resting on a very small parcel of land - very little yard work to do. It was a necessary sacrifice to make it possible for them to remain in their own home, to maintain a measure of independence.
Picture 14-3 Rod and Toni, with Ralph Schuetzeoutside their mobile home, Duncan
Rod began to fail. His vision was so poor he could no longer enjoy television, for he could no longer follow the puck during the hockey games he once followed so avidly. As his eyesight and hearing faded, so also his mind slowly withdrew from daily happenings. Often Toni would watch him, lost in reverie, dreaming of other times, other locales, when life was a daily challenge, but one that yielded rewards no longer available to him.
One day he looked at her, and said wistfully, "Let's go home, Toni."
"But we are home, Rod. Don't you remember when we bought the trailer and moved in? She watched him as he looked at her, uncomprehending. Thinking quickly, she asked - "Where is home, Rod? Tell me where home is, and I'll take you there, I promise!"
Slowly he shook his head "no".
Toni persisted - "Is home the house on College Street?" No response. "At O'Keefe Siding?" "At Longbow Lake?" But it was to no avail - Rod's mind had slipped away, he had lost touch with the conversation, and Toni never did learn where he meant when he said "Let's go home."
Life became a routine of doctor's offices, the hospital and housework. Rod was weakening. As he failed, the doctors would admit him to the hospital where they fed him by glucose drip. Once he had been hospitalized for several days, he was discharged to Toni who took him home, where they spent all their time together. Home nurses came daily to check on himand when his condition dictated, they called an ambulance and re-admitted him to the hospital. Toni's circle narrowed - her prime concern was for Rod - others had to wait their turn, first she had to see to Rod's needs and wants.
He was so frail now. She knew their days together were numbered, she needed to prepare herself for that eventuality - to be there for him, but to be ready for the final day, whenever it came.
In earlier years when she had been ill and Rod the caregiver, he had often sat at her bedside and caressed her hair, running his fingers through the jumble of curly hair, smoothing and fixing each small curl into its appropriate spot. Now she sat at his feet and laid her head in his lap. Immediately, his hands went to her hair, beginning the routine of re-arranging it as he had done so many times in the past. As Rod was comforted by handling her hair, so was Toni comforted by his doing so. Memory transported her back to Poplar River and her bout with eclampsia - when he could do little else for her, Rod had smoothed her hair then, as he was doing now, and she had been comforted. He had told her, some time in their years together, that her hair was one of the things that had attracted him to her. Her shoulder length mass of reddish-brown hair, naturally curly, always so attractive, so natural.
She asked Rod if he remembered the time she had visited the wife of the Mountie in Berens River - a hairdresser. The lady had trimmed Toni's hair, wetted and arranged the curls, then covered it with a net until it could dry. Her hair so dealt with, Toni went to meet Rod. He took one glance at her hair and exclaimed sorrowfully, "All that beautiful hair!"
Toni assured him it was only trimmed, but until he saw the length for himself, he was upset at the prospect of her hair being cut so short. They laughed together, gently, remembering that other day, so long ago.
Irene Kinnee was the Homemaker who came once a week to help Toni around the house. This was one of the concessions they had been required to agree to before the doctors would allow Rod to come home for a few days at a time. Toni lived for those days when Rod was with her - when he was in the hospital, she visited him daily. When he was home, she spent as much of his waking time with him as was possible.
Rod was in the hospital again. Yesterday when she visited, he had not talked with her - he had not responded to her at all. As the clock struck ten-thirty,the telephone rang. A nurse from the floor Rod was on asked if she could come a little earlier than usual to see him. Toni agreed quickly, mentally noting it was now too late to cancel Irene Kinnee's scheduled cleaning, but they would forego that, she would have Irene take her to the hospital instead.
Walking up to the nurses station with Irene, a nurse came to Toni's side and took her firmly, but gently, by the arm. Instantly, Irene grasped Toni's other arm in the same fashion. They had arrived too late - Rod was gone.
Although she instinctively knew, Toni allowed the nurse to tell her. Then she spent a few quiet moments with Rod, alone, before she emerged from the room. The nurse inquired about the arrangements, and Toni answered her. She was in shock - only dimly aware of what was happening around her. She knew that Rod was gone, but she could not allow herself to think about that until she was once again within the walls of their home. While they had openly expressed their love for one another, her grief was now too intense, too all-encompassing, to be shown publicly.
Irene took charge. She knew where they had to go, what they had to do. She phoned her own family, advising them Toni needed her for the afternoon - they understood. Later, Betty Bjornson came to spend the nights with Toni until members of her family could arrive to be with her during this difficult time.
After the family departed again, and Toni was alone, time hung heavy on her hands. For sixty-three years, Rod had been the most important consideration in her life - now he was gone. The days without Rod were grey, even though the sun was shining. There was no purpose to her life - she was a ship without a rudder, drifting through days with no focus, no function. Her grief was devastating, and she had to deal with it alone.
The telephone rang. Marianne, a volunteer with the Cowichan Valley Hospice Society wanted to come and see her. A visit from anyone would be welcome! Marianne brought more than an opportunity to talk and share afternoon tea - she gave Toni the chance to talk out her grief, to release those emotions she had bottled up during the last few years of Rod's life, and in the time of his final illness. Over the course of the months Marianne visited with her, Toni came to value her more and more as a friend, and to share with her some of the events of her life with Rod. Even after her purpose as a Hospice worker had been fulfilled, Marianne took time to visit with Toni, to help alleviate the loneliness she was slowly learning to cope with.
Toni often talked of writing an account of the life she shared with Rod - a recorded legacy for their children and grandchildren. Each time she started writing she was unhappy with her efforts, and the project was delayed. Encouraged by her family, she tried a number of different approaches, but each ended with frustration and disappointment.
Fate took a hand. Toni met a woman she could work with, and this story of the life of the Schuetze's is the result.