It was 1964. I had spent 6 years in the Canadian Army and then went to work for Retail Credit Inc in Oshawa Ontario, and was posted to work alone at a sub-office in Cobourg, some 40 miles away from the headquarters. I asked my landlord where I might meet people my age in the local area and was told the golf club and the church choir were my choices.
I chose the choir and set in motion events that would guide my life forever. Being in the choir was deeply inspiring; as our voices reverberated in the empty church. I immersed myself in these rehearsals, a beautiful punctuation point to my otherwise predicable working week.
It was January, 1965, when a radiant women, with snowflakes in her hair arrived through the church doors. The choir master’s wife introduced her as a new teacher to the nearby school. Totally unaware of her attractiveness, Libby Farquhar captured my heart. Before the end of the rehearsal I had asked her if we could have coffee and a chat at a road-house 5 miles away. She agreed, and it became an almost daily meeting, when her schedule at her boarding house and her new job permitted. My landlady knew I was smitten, and so cautioned I would wear out my welcome by seeking to see Libby so often, but I was undeterred. I figured it would be better to wear out my welcome sooner that later!
Libby was a specialist with children with learning difficulties. These young people needed compassion and patience, which she loved to provide.
She was afraid of heights yet trusted me to take her 40 miles to Peterborough, where they bragged about their lift-lock between the Severn and Trent rivers as it was the tallest in the world! I sensed she was determined to show courage. How could I not be inspired by this determination?
As I came to know other people in the community I learned that Libby’s principle was Dr. Davis in our choir. One day our work lives overlapped, and after dealing with a routine personnel inquiry, Dr. Davis eagerly mentioned some news of York University. A new intake of students was open for people who hadn’t completed high school matriculation and he suggested I apply! When I told Libby later that day, she emphatically urged: “Oh Paul. You should do that.” (Wow! I was to hear this several times.) We agreed that it would be life changing.
I sat and passed the reading test, so we moved to Toronto, taking separate rental accommodation. Libby urged me to enrol in two evening courses first giving me enough time to maintain a part-time job in credit and collections. It went well, and Libby suggested that I enrol at University full time in September.
We were married in November that year. Out of step with the times we lived in, Libby was determined to support my University time by continuing to teach full time. Our daughter had other plans and was conceived in late 1966, so by early 67 she had to stop working.
Dr. Neil Agnew, the Director of the York University counselling service, stepped into the breach and offered a student loan, to carry us through and then recruited me as a ‘front-line’ counsellor for Grad students needing support to fulfil their practicum. I accepted the offer, with Libby’s strong support. Gradually the gifts of inspiration were stacking up.
As Libby’s pregnancy advanced I remember her buying a gourmet cook-book and cooking her brother Don and I a sumptuous Thanksgiving dinner. Her pride was beautiful to behold, rising above her family’s opinion that ‘she couldn’t boil water without burning it’.
On another day I came home from University to find Libby shifting lounge furniture. The echoes of older women from my past hinted that the birth was imminent. Those hours were magical. Margaret was born in May 1967.
Libby mentioned she had heard of a house for rent in Maple, 5 miles north of the University, and we moved. Her mother came from 200 miles away to attend to traditional training of the mother, for washing and feeding. Libby’s excitement over these months was wonderful, as she took on the new activities of motherhood, counterpointed with watercolour painting and Quash, a form of acrylic painting. Libby’s family on her mother’s side inherited a connection from the famous painter Turner, in UK and her younger sister was already pursuing an artistic life.
Every minute of those times was an inspiration that my back-woods adolescence had no preparation for. It was like being on another planet, with unexpected newness and change. Fortunately, the university environment was constantly providing me with ways to understand the ‘culture-shock’. However, I would not have had it any other way and it was not over at this point.
Libby discovered a house for sale, and persuaded her father to help with the initial deposit for the purchase. This house was Snowball Corners, and our time in that small white house would set many other momentous events into motions.
It was about then that we decided to adopt another child. Joseph came to us as a great blessing, and made our family complete.
I continued part-time study, with full time counselling work, aided by Libby reading text books into a tape recorder for me to listen to in the car on the way to University each day. It was here, we were to discover an international spiritual community and Libby led the way for our family, as she took on meal preparations for a symposium, and babysitting during ‘class’ activities. Before long we also attended classes.
Libby was always aware of her daily life on an endangered planet and read profusely about endangered species, chemical pollution and other environmental issues. She undoubtedly sowed the seed of activism in her daughter, who went on to pursue a career in the environmental movement. At this time, there were special moments watching Libby picking rose hips for Vitamin C, and little Margaret jogging along beside her.
Libby had a restless spirit that was transmitted to our daughter, who by the time she was six planned to live in the wilderness, regularly packing her survival kit and camping under the tree in our backyard. She even asked for a Swiss army knife as a start to outfitting her new life.
Winters at Snowball Corners also contained plenty of snow and after our children were asleep, Libby and I would use cross-country skis and we enjoyed undulations in neighbouring snow-bound pastures.
From these early memories flow another thirty-five years of wonderful marriage.
Looking back on these and many similar years of such adventures I am filled with such enormous gratitude for the blessing Libby was in our lives. Libby was the gift, instigating gratitude and inspiration.