Back in Kelowna, the next afternoon, I meet someone who will change my life forever.
Jessie has gone off with some guy as usual, leaving me to sit in the park.
A tall guy approaches me and sits down on the grass near me. He shrugs off the army green backpack and sets it down.
He has brown wavy hair, short, unlike the current long hair style for men, and a mustache. He wears glasses, brown framed ones that have been taped up on the side. I love his smile the minute he introduces himself. I like his accent, which I soon learn is a Kansas drawl. He tells me his name is Brad and that he is just a country boy from Kansas, touring the country. Then he says that as soon as he saw me, he told the friend with whom he was hitch hiking “There’s the girl I’m going to marry.”
That is it. I fall in love. What a suave and debonair way to introduce himself. I am intrigued. This is the first guy to mention marriage to me. If I go with him, I am guaranteed to be safe from potential rape and murder. This guy will take good care of me, I am certain. He seems so open and happy.
Jessie comes back from one of her forays away with some guy, and I see her jealousy for the first time. She glares when I introduce Brad. She takes me aside.
“You don’t know anything about this guy. What are you thinking?”
I could point out to her that she keeps taking off with strange guys all the time, and that the last few nights have been dangerous for both of us, as we spend that time on the beach with boys we have just met, but I don’t. I tried to avoid confrontation as always.
“I’m sorry, Jessie, but I am leaving with Brad.”
“So what am I supposed to do?” she asks.
“You could find work picking fruit,” I say, and I don’t mean it in a nasty way, but that is how she takes it. She watches me and Brad leave.
As evening comes, he and I walk with some other people to an old house, where everyone in the group is going to stay. He takes my hand and I am swept away by his care and concern.
And so I lose my virginity that night. We have sex, and while I’ve read about it in books at my sister Doreen’s, it is nothing like I imagined. As we lay beside each other, I whisper, “That was my first time.”
“It was? Oh, wow.” Brad gives me a hug. He kisses me and promises right then and there that he will marry me. It is my biggest dream come true. We cuddle together in Brad’s sleeping bag and I fall asleep.
In the morning, we walk upstairs to the kitchen and Brad has coffee. I didn’t drink coffee or tea, because it is against my religion.
After that, we hike to the park. We sit with the same group of people, and talk. Brad is outgoing and talks away to some of the others. I admire his easy going manner and wish that I wasn’t so shy.
A few people panhandle on the street, and along the paths in the park. We collect enough money for cheap wine and bread and bologna. Everyone shares in the goods, although I refuse to drink the wine. The girl with the guitar starts to play and we sing along.
We meet up with a guy who sells acid (LSD) and mescaline. He is about my height, and wears an Australian bush hat. He is dressed in a denim vest and shorts. He and Brad get talking and exchange where they are from. It turns out that Duffy is from Hamilton, Ontario, which is my birth place.
We walk the streets of town, panhandling. Who should I run into but Brad – the “first” Brad? He looks at Brad and then back at me.
“Are you still interested in work?” he asks.
“No, not anymore.”
He nods and walks away.
I am not sorry. I don’t feel that I owe Brad anything. And since he too has had sex with Jessie, the thought of working for him is rather distasteful.
I am beginning to really dislike Jessie. Maybe not her, but her promiscuity.
Later in the day, we walk across the floating bridge, and up into the hills. The stars are bright above us. Someone wants to start a campfire, but they are prevented by cooler heads, as it is pointed out that not only might the cops see the fire and come to investigate, but it is too dry on the hillside for a fire. People form small groups, and talk. Brad and I are joined by a few others, and Brad chatters away while I hang back, quiet and shy. There is a discussion about the rattlesnakes that lurk in the hills, which scares me. I am too young, though, to worry about the danger. Nothing bad will happen to us.
There are falling stars, from the Perseid’s shower, which occurs every year in early August. We watch the show in awe, voices dropping off as the stars fall. Brad scores some weed, and he smokes it. He offers it to me, and I tried it, just a little. My conscience bothers me, but his urging wins out. It is kind of alright. It makes me feel relaxed. No more anxiety that night.
Long after the voices quiet and people fall asleep, Brad and I have sex. This time I really enjoy it. Brad is a thoughtful and caring lover. As I fall asleep, I wonder at my good luck in the two of us finding each other.
We spend a couple of days like this, in the park in the sunshine, music and panhandling and night time in the hills.
We meet Rob, Dustin and Gary, three guys who are from Red Deer. We comment on how small the world is, when I say I am from Lacombe.
Brad said, “I think we should move on. I’d like to see more of Canada. Will you come with me?” he asks, his head turned a bit towards me, long eyelashes half hiding his brown eyes. There are crinkles at the corners of his eyes as he grins at me, dimples prominent.
“Of course I will,” I say. Whatever else would I have chosen to do? This boy has rescued me from danger – spending the nights with strangers all alone and vulnerable – and he talks of marriage, just as I have hoped someone would. I have found my perfect man. I love his jokes and his general sense of humor. He says he loves my Canadian accent. He and I gather up my belongings, and he puts them into his large army green backpack. I leave my empty suitcase abandoned in the Kelowna park.
The morning is bright and it is already getting hot. We walk out to the highway and stick out our thumbs.
We are picked up by an older white haired man who drives a dark blue Ford pickup truck. It reads, “Handeler’s Orchard” on the cab door. He waits while we pile in and then says, as he starts to drive again, “So where are you two headed this morning?”
“As far as we can go I guess,” says Brad.
The elderly man says, “I envy you two. What a world we live in today. I’d sure have liked to just up and take off like that when I was younger. No job, no responsibilities, just the open road.”
Brad grins over at the man.
“Sure enough, that’s how it is for us.”
“Say, what kinda accent is that you’ve got?”
“I’m a country boy from Kansas, USA.”
“Yup. Where the corn and wheat and sunflowers grow tall and yellow in the sunshine.”
The old man smiles.
“You a draft dodger?”
“Nope. I was honorably discharged, sir.”
The old man nods, pleased by this answer.
The truck travels smoothly along the winding paved roadway of Highway 97, running past the lake, blue as a sapphire in the hot sunshine, and past orchards and houses and small shops. There are fruit stands, some not open yet, as the main harvest would not be for a couple of weeks. At last, the man says this was as far as he can take us, and he pulls over to the shoulder of the road. He points off towards the gravel road that leads to the west and tells us, “That’s where my orchard is at. Out that way. If you two ever decide you want a job picking fruit, I’ll sure give you a chance.”
With that, he is gone up the road and we hold out our thumbs again. The next ride is in a Duster, driven by a younger guy who takes us as far as Vernon, the next largish city north of Kelowna. As Brad and I walk along the street, the sun beats down. I am thirsty. We panhandle, stopping strangers with “Excuse me, do you have any spare change?” And I, more fortunate than Brad, collect enough for a soda for each of us in short order.
This boosts my confidence! I find talking to strangers and begging is not so scary after all!
We come out of the air conditioned corner store and meet a couple of guys, in blue jeans and t-shirts, who tell us, “There’s a youth hostel over at the church on Porter Street. They offer a place to sleep and a breakfast in the mornings.”
“Hey, thanks, man,” says Brad.
We make our way to Porter Street and I admire the small church which is painted a sandstone color, with brown trim. The building attached is about the size of a modest bungalow, and a big sign on the door states that it is a shelter for transients. I can’t believe our luck.
Brad says, “This is a good place to stay. Let’s go in and see if we can get out of the hot sun.”
By this time, it is late afternoon, and the priest who runs the shelter meets us at the door. He wears a collar that indicates his calling. He has a bald head and a big smile as we enter. The room is large, with a doorway leading, we would soon learn, to a kitchen. Down the hallway are rooms for couples, and for women and men respectively.
After Brad and he chat, he takes us to the couples’ room and Brad and I set out the sleeping bag. Brad takes off his back pack and sets it beside the sleeping bag. He shifted his shoulders.
“I’m glad to be rid of that burden,” he tells me. “The weight hurts my back.”
He brings out his map of Canada, and then his US map. Unfolding them both, he points out the little town where he is from, in Kansas, and then we pour over the Canadian map, and plan our route for the next day. As it turns out, we would not leave the following day after all. But that is because we meet a nice couple that evening, and get to talking. The couple, Maxine, age fourteen, and her boyfriend Keith, twenty, have come to B.C. from Alberta. She’s run away with him and her parents don’t know where she is. Along with the rest of the people who amble in by evening, we talk and laugh and have a good time. Maxine is little, short, with long brown hair and brown eyes. Keith is tall and has black hair and his eyes are aqua blue. I have never seen anyone before or since who has such eyes as his.
When it is time for bed, Brad leads me to the couples’ room. We are off to one side, while Maxine and Keith are over on the other. Brad and I lay awake talking softly for a while, and then we make love. I fall asleep with his arms wrapped around me. I notice that Brad sleeps with his glasses on, which I think is a little strange. “I can’t see very well without them. If I keep them on, nobody can sneak up to me,” he says, the next morning when I ask him about it.
It seems an odd thing to say, but what do I know? After all, we are sharing a house with a group of strangers, so maybe Brad is more sensible about the danger than I.
While hostels originated in Europe years before, for the traveler, the youth hostels in Canada are based on the same idea, but for those hitch hikers – hippies – that have a transient lifestyle. There is a network throughout the country, and this hostel in Vernon would be the first of several where we stayed.
It is a pleasant oasis after the heat in summer or cold in winter of being on the road. There is usually some food, and while there were rarely beds, the floor provides ample room for an unrolled sleeping bag.
Brad tells me that he is going to “liberate” me. He will change my old fashioned ideas and ways and make me a free person. I don’t question this. I don’t wonder what he has in mind, or why he wants to take this job on. I don’t stop to wonder why he feels the need to change me. And do I really need changing?
The morning brings toast for breakfast, and coffee for the coffee drinkers. I don’t drink coffee. It is against Seventh-day Adventist beliefs. We leave the shelter and along with Maxine and Keith and few others, we roam the streets. We panhandle enough money to go to the little corner store near the hostel, and buy bologna and bread for sandwiches, which everyone shares. I overcome my initial misgivings about eating meat, and wolf down my share. The food is delicious.