Dad was 22 when he asked mom to marry him. Wait. That might not be right. I don't think he ever did ask.
“Look” he said as she hopped into his car.
“What is it?” mom asked.
“New radio - a transistor. Got it for free at the jewellery store." He went on and on about the radio. He was thrilled; it was like having Johnny Cash and Hank Snow in his shirt pocket.
"Look in the glove box. There’s something for you in there.”
She found the ring, put it on and was engaged.
Ahhh. The romance. The poetry. The emotion.
Setting aside his ‘cool’ image for ten minutes, he professed once and for all that he was indeed a Christian when he got baptized and joined Fraserview MB Church in 1958. Then he sold his prized possession, his status symbol, his 'thing that made him feel like a king' - his car. He was going to be a responsible family man.
He got a Karma Ghia.
A year later, on August 22, 1959 he married 19 year old Hilda Jean Neumann (daughter of Henry and Katherina.) They honeymooned in Winkler and visited the Chateau Heppner.
“All I remember about my honeymoon was watching Mrs. Heppner prepare meals all day for the farm hands. Oh, and the grasshoppers. Millions of them” mom said.
Dad broke his arm in 1960. While in a cast, on Worker’s Compensation, he took a long hard look at his life. He decided he no longer wanted to work for an employer and get paid by the hour. He wanted to work for himself, with the possibility of unlimited earnings. Stepping away from the security of being an employee, and with my mom’s support and assistance, dad became “Pete the Arborite Man.”
Armed with that third grade education, self confidence, a strong work ethic, a love for earning money, and an uncanny ability to sniff contact cement all day ...he taught himself how to lay plastic laminate. Dozens of cabinet shops and builders in the greater Vancouver area came to respect him as a talented tradesman.
In June 1961, I (Jane Marlene) was born. My brother Jim (James Donald) joined the family in May 1963 and my sister Jule (Julie Rene’) completed our family in March 1966. Oh, yes, so cute… Janie, Jimmy, Julie…
We kids were loved. Totally, completely, unconditionally. Our parents believed in us, trusted us. We grew up knowing they were immensely proud of us. “That’s my kid!” was dad’s common boast.
It was important for dad to earn money. He enjoyed work. Commonly, he would come home at supper time, covered in a fine layer of sawdust, smelling of contact cement and cheerfully inquire, “how’s my pussycat?,” while giving my mom a squeeze. Sometimes he would mention, with pride, how much he’d earned that day…
“Did a renovation this afternoon. Homeowners were there, so I had to go slow. Made five hundred bucks…”
The man made buckets of money. Yet every summer, he’d pull out his two dollar Army and Navy runners and give them another coat of white spray paint.
Economics, by Pete Klassen: work hard, save for a rainy day, be generous with your family, and don’t throw anything out.
He has lived out that financial philosophy every single day of his life. He is still an arborite man, continues to save for that rainy day, his family has been blessed over and over again by his generosity and he has two barns full of stuff someone might need someday.
Dad is a creative person, with a passion for Victorian homes. In 1987, he built a four story grey and white heritage-styled home for my mom. It was located on the front corner of their 25 acre “farm” in Surrey. (Ironically, twenty years after leaving Heppner’s farm, he became a gentleman farmer himself.) Billie’s Country, mom’s gift and craft store, opened that summer and by the end of the year, received an award for “Excellence in Design”. Dad made a point of talking about Billie’s whenever he could:
“I did countertops in a house in White Rock today” dad might say.
“Oh, yeah?” mom said.
“Uh huh. I noticed all the stuff she had, and I asked her if she knew of Billie’s.”
“Yep. She said she takes classes there all the time. Her and her friends love to shop there. I told her it was my wife’s store…”
1987 was also the year dad’s name got changed. He became “Bups.”
“Which one is he?” he asked anxiously.
“That one? He’s beautiful. I love him. Hey, that’s my grandson in there. The good looking one…” he chatted with other hospital visitors.
Later, amazed at the depth of feeling he had for his newest family member, he said, “I loved him the second I saw him. I’d been waiting for him for months.”
When dad became a grandfather, his world changed. As his family grew, his heart grew as well. He welcomed each grandchild into the family with love. He made a point of establishing a personal relationship with each grandchild.
“What do you think?” he asks me with a grin on his face.
“Dad! That’s a lollipop. He’s only 8 weeks old!”
“I know, but he loves it. Look at him smile. I wanted to be the first to give him one.”
Dad and mom were the hippest parents. In the 70’s dad grew his hair long and got it permed. Mom wore white go-go boots with mini skirts. They threw awesome family parties at the farm every summer, took us on memorable holidays to Palm Springs, spent countless weekends camping …
But they are even cooler grandparents.
“Is he ready?” dad asks.
“Are you sure you can handle this?" I say.
“No problem. You got everything packed?”
“Yeah. There’s an extra bottle in case you need it and two changes of clothes. He’ll probably spit up.”
“OK. I’ll have him back in a few hours.”
My dad is taking 3 week old Max (my second son) and 7 week old Zac (my sister’s son) out to Abbotsford. He’s ‘showing them off'’ to his mom. And we let him. Because he was capable. From the minute his grandkids entered our family, they were “his”. He fed, changed, carried, held, hugged, played, and loved all of them.
A few weeks later, the phone rang.
“Jane, are you up?”
“Dad’s had a heart attack He’s in the hospital. It’s serious.”