The People of Avalon
A collection of articles based on interviews with Avalon Residents
written by Elise Kinsey
My first impression of Val, after speaking with her for just a few minutes, is this is a strong woman. She isn’t big, I would guess she is about 5’3, but as I was talking to her I kept thinking to myself “This is someone who I could learn a lot from.”
She’s funny. She’s up to try new things. She works hard. And she doesn’t take BS. So, let me introduce you.
“Can I start by asking how old you are?”
“I turned 72 yesterday! So 72 and one day!”
Val was born October 27, 1948 in Emo, Ontario. It was a small town with a small-town feel, which she liked.
When I asked her about siblings she laughed, and recalled, “One sister, and we fought like hell”
Val’s sister, Judith, was born just 15 months before her, which is wonderful now but could be tense in the teen years.
“We would be walking in the hallways at school, and I’d say, ‘Hi, Jude!’ And she would just ignore me and keep walking” Val chuckles.
The girls became closer once Judith got married and moved out (isn’t this always the way 😆) and they currently live a 10 minute walk from each other, getting together 3-4 times a week.
When I asked Val about her parents, she didn’t hesitate with her answer.
“They were good people. The best. All my friends would come to my house and say they wished their parents were like mine!”
Val reminisced about the morning she graduated and had 10 friends over, her parents in on the celebration, cooking all the kids breakfast.
Val folded her hands and looked at me, “I wouldn’t have traded my parents for all the money in the world.”
In 1964, Val’s family moved from Ontario to British Columbia.
“We got here and I couldn’t believe there was NO snow on the ground!”
Val’s husband, Graham, passed away in 2016, but I got to ask her about their relationship.
When she was 23, Val was a single woman living in Vancouver who would drive out to Langley once a week to visit her parents. One Saturday while they were having a visit, they told Val they were going to a dance and that she should come too.
“I said sure, I’m up for a dance!”
Remember when I said I could learn a lot from Val. Her laid back and up for anything attitude is an example of that.
Meanwhile, across town, a young single father named Graham was trying to tell his friend he was not up for a night out. He was raising three young boys on his own and on top of that, he was coming down with something and just wanted to rest.
His friend called again, this time threatening, “If you don’t get ready to come out with me then I’m coming over and dressing you myself!!!”
Graham begrudgingly agreed to a quick night out, and as fate would have it, wound up at the same dance as Val.
I was curious what the very first thing she loved about Graham was.
“He was kind. He had a kind heart. That’s not always easy to find in a man.”
I asked who talked to who first?
“Hmm... I can’t remember. I believe it was Graham. He saw me across the room and asked me for a dance.”
A few months after that dance, they lived together.
“One of my neighbours, a real nosy type woman, asked why I would look after those kids even though they weren’t mine. I told her why not?! Someone has to look after those boys, so why not me?!”
Graham and Val married in 1973, and she became a stepmom to Laurence, jack and Max.
Val recalled one morning when 5-year-old Max asked her a question
“He came up to me and says, ‘Will you be my mom?’, I laughed and said, ‘Do you want me to be your mom? And he said yes!”
When I asked Val if her and Graham had any children after getting married she said, “Nope. Three is enough.”
Those three boys have now multiplied.
When I asked Val if she had any grandchildren, she chuckled
“Yes, but.... oh, god, how many do I have?!”
After some quick math, I learned that Val has 13 grandchildren and has recently become a great grandmother to a baby girl, who she hasn’t been able to meet yet, due to COVID.
“I guess I could see her through a window, but... I want to really see her. I want to hold her.”
It will be a beautiful day when that happens.
Val recalled a few different jobs she had. She worked as a receptionist at a dental office, which she enjoyed because she got to meet and talk to a variety of people. She also assisted the dentist with their work when it was particularly busy.
“I wasn’t trained in this, but it was a learn as you go situation!”
She also worked in the fields, cutting cauliflowers and getting them ready to be shipped.
My personal favourite was when she spoke about working installing septic systems in people’s properties.
“Graham had a backhoe, so I would be in the trenches! I laid the tile and some pipes, and I’d climb in and out when I had to.”
I had to laugh as Val was telling me this, since she’s maybe 90 pounds soaking wet, but I also wasn’t surprised. Val is determined and hard working. Something that becomes obvious the more you talk to her.
I asked her if she enjoyed this time of her life.
“Yep! It was a job. Also, it was nice to get fresh air and exercise every day.”
Another thing to add to the Things I Could Learn From Val List. Positive and up for anything attitude!
“You know, one morning Graham approached me and I asked if I wanted to start an Aviary. I told him, ‘Graham, y’know, I haven’t even had my coffee yet, can we talk about this later?”
Val snickered. “As soon as he left for work, I ran to the dictionary and looked up what the hell an aviary is!” 😂
It’s clear from looking through Photos, that Graham and Val’s aviary was one heck of a hobby.
Graham built an area for all the birds to have indoor and outdoor space, and they had between 200-300 birds at any given time.
“Cockatiels, budgies, canaries, finches... but my favourite was the cockatiel, because you could actually teach them to talk!”
(Pictured is one of their friends daughter holding Val’s favourite, a cockatiel named Sesna)
Val even took her birds to shows, where they won several ribbons.
“That was a fun trip. Me and two friends went to the island for the bird show. Everything had to be just right. The back of the cage had to be white, and the sides had to be black. We had fun and got some ribbons out of it. We rushed to catch the ferry, and when we finally made it home, Graham asked me if anything strange happened. I asked , ‘No, why?’ and be laughed and said, ‘because you forgot to take all the birds home!’ “
The judge for the show had called Graham while Val was on her way home. Thankfully he was coming to the mainland the following day, and safely returned the birds.
When I asked her if Graham was annoyed, she laughed, “Not at all! He laughed. Things happen.”
The World: Then & Now
The biggest difference between the world when Val was a child, she supposes, is the kids.
“Their brains are different now”, Val laments
“It’s like screens have re wired them, and I don’t think it’s for the better”
When Val was a child, she made her own fun. If she was bored, the first thing she did was head outside.
“Even if it was cold”, she points out, “we would go out. Climb trees, build snow forts, play in the forest. We found our own fun. You got creative. Other kids would be out too. The whole neighbourhood would play TAG”
Val also reminisced about when she tried her hand at skiing.
“I tried it in the yard, but I hit a tree! Oh, god, we carried so many buckets of water up and down to freeze that hill.”
She recalled loving the community she lived in as a child.
“One mom would be making cookies, another one would be making hot chocolate.”
Val looked out at the front windows and squinted. She ended with saying, “You know, I had a really good childhood.”
Val’s work ethic and positive attitude is a huge testament to her parents and how she was raised. Talking to her inspired me and reminded me that more outdoor time and letting kids just be bored sometimes isn’t a bad thing!
Thank you, Val.