LIFE AFTER WESTERN
In 1974, Lillian retired from full time teaching. Of course, all that did was to provide her with more time to spend on the classes she enjoyed the most. After the school moved to Weyburn, her whole approach to teaching her classes had changed. Because there were more teachers, she taught fewer classes for longer periods of time. Instead of fifteen minute classes in which she quickly stated the facts, with little opportunity to do anything else, she tried hard to make her classes not only informational, but interesting as well
She continued with two semesters of Canadian history each year, plus, in addition to that, she continued to teach art history to the college students for another eight years. It was in January of 1983, for the first time in fifty three years, that Lillian was not standing in front of a class of students. It was a major shift in her life, but it was neither unexpected nor unwelcome. She had been preparing for this change for a long time.
.She always believed that if a teacher was excited about her class, the students would be too. And certainly there are scores of you out there who can testify to that! With fewer classes to prepare for after her retirement, she was able to fine tune those favourites of hers even more. Those of us who were privileged to study art history during those last years know very well how fortunate we were!
Her final retirement from teaching came at Christmas, 1982. She wasn't tired of teaching, but the University of Regina requirements were changing. She would have had to take several more courses herself to upgrade her qualifications, and she just didn't have the energy to do that. By this time she was engrossed in a number of other activities and that had a bearing on her decision as well.
BIBLE CORRESPONDENCE COURSES
Her life since retirement has been both full and interesting. It was while she was still teaching part time that she got involved in Bible correspondence course teaching. It started in 1979, when Clinton Brazle brought her the names of three students, one in Jamaica and two in Ghana. From those three, she gradually worked up to over nine hundred different students, some taking as many as eleven or twelve courses. Some have been exceptional students, while others have completed only two or three courses.
Her record keeping was somewhat haphazard at first, but she soon realized she needed to keep systematic records. She has enjoyed doing this for many years now, but in recent years the numbers are down because postage has become so very expensive in Ghana and Nigeria. The one week every month that she used to spend working on her Bible correspondence courses has shrunk to about two days a month, and while it saddens her that so many of her students have not been able to continue, she is relieved that her load has been reduced. It was a major part of her life for fifteen years after her retirement, but she still had other things she wanted to do.
During her fifteen years of working with Bible correspondence school students, she received various requests from students requesting things for themselves, but Savor Johanes, a young man twenty-six years old, was different. He was a civil servant in Khandu, Ghana who had successfully completed eight courses. When he wrote telling her of his wish to become a Christian, she put him in touch with Christians in his area and made the arrangements for him to be baptized.
Some time later, he wrote to her again, telling her about a young woman who attended the same congregation he did. She was crippled, and he wrote, "I feel pity for her any time she crawl to church. Wheelchairs are very expensive in the country here and moreover the government orders those items from overseas with hard foreign exchange which is difficult for private individuals to buy." He and others in the congregation wondered if there was anything she could do to help this woman get a wheelchair. He ended his letter by saying, "May the Lord bless you. Hoping to hear favourable reply from you on this cripple matter."
She was quite touched by his heartfelt appeal and decided to do what she could. She subsequently submitted an article to Sister Triangle, a Christian women's magazine, telling about the young woman and asking for donations to buy the wheelchair. The response was excellent, but when she got the money she had another problem; the technicalities of where to buy the chair and how to send it so that the young lady would be sure to receive it!
She finally decided to appeal to the White's Ferry Road Church of Christ in West Monroe, Louisiana, because she knew they were involved in helping the needy throughout the world. She was relieved when they offered to buy the wheelchair and ship it with a large container of goods they were sending to Ghana. They told her in fact, that if she had tried to do it as an individual, it was probable the woman would never have received the wheelchair.
It took many months for the chair to reach Olivia Agboka, but when it finally arrived it literally transformed her life. It enabled her to go to the city and attend a training school. Lillian received two letters of appreciation for her efforts, one from the chief of Khandu and a very grateful one from Savor Johanes. He told her that Olivia had also written and sent a picture of herself, but it never reached Lillian, something, evidently, not too unusual with the postal service in Ghana.
Writing has always been a significant activity in Lillian's life. From her early diaries to her voluminous letters, to her histories of the summer Bible schools and of Radville/Western Christian College, she always found time to write. One of the exciting things for her about retirement was that it gave her more time to write. And write she did!
In 1981, she was a significant member of the group who dreamed of a Christian woman's magazine and made that dream a reality. Until 1988, she looked after subscriptions and circulation, another time- consuming job. Sister Triangle continues to flourish and grow and Lillian continues to write thought provoking articles.
In 1986, she wrote the history of the church of Christ in Weyburn.
In 1990, she wrote the history of the hamlet of North Weyburn, from its days as an air force training centre during World War II to the present.
Also in 1990, she completed her update of the history of Western Christian College - from 1970, where she had concluded Radburn's Memoirs, to the school's leaving Weyburn for Dauphin in 1989.
1990 was a prolific year for her. It was during that year that she also edited a book that coordinated the family history of her grandparents, Ole and Maren Torkelson and their descendants. She had thirty six first cousins living at that time, who all got copies of that book. It contains the stories of between four and five hundred descendants.
In 1993, she helped coordinate the writing of Trailblazers of the Chalkboard, the stories of the superannuated teachers of the Weyburn area. She wrote the stories of many of the teachers already deceased, as well as for many not well enough to write their own biographies - a total of about forty stories. This project occupied much of her time for about eighteen months.
Since then, she has been engaged in writing the pioneer stories of her parents and stepfather. She spent much of the winter of 1994 preparing copies of this volume to give to her two sisters and many nieces and nephews as a Christmas gift.
Retirement has also given her more time to spend on other activities. She was the Executive Secretary for the WCC Alumni Association for many years, and she still is very interested and involved in Alumni activities, as well as in Women's Service Club activities.
Ever since her retirement, she has been an energetic force in the Superannuated Teachers Association in Weyburn. She has worked hard on a variety of different committees, including the writing of the constitution. In 1993, at a ceremony in Saskatoon, she was honoured for her contributions to the association with the presentation of the prestigious Provincial Lifetime Membership.
Lillian joined the University Women's Club when she first moved to Weyburn in 1957, because she wanted some association with people in town as well as on the campus at North Weyburn. She still enjoys much pleasant fellowship there and while she doesn't always agree with positions taken by the national office of the club, she is happy that the Weyburn club is more in line with her values.
Lillian's love of travel and of experiencing new things and new places hasn't diminished as she's grown older; it has only intensified. Retirement has simply given her more time to satisfy her curiosity about God's world and the people in it. Some of her most ambitious excursions have taken place since she retired. One of the significant reasons she has been able to do that is her amazingly good health and physical condition. This she attributes to her daily exercising and walking.
Since she broke her hip in 1981, she has walked at least a half hour a day, even in bad weather. She has osteoporosis, and since exercise helps some to strengthen those bones, she also does a minimum of one half hour of strengthening exercises. She got the exercise program from a physiotherapist and she's grateful that it keeps her limber and increases her stamina.
In 1986, she, along with Clarice Mooney, Ennis Foulkes and Daisy Arnold went to the World's Fair in Vancouver. This was the second world's fair she'd been to. She had so admired Montreal's Expo in 1967 she was eager to go to another. While they were there in Vancouver, they visited the Australian pavilion and it impressed them all. As they sat watching a spectacular video showing the wonders of Australia, that tried to entice everyone to visit the Brisbane World's Fair in 1988, Lillian turned to Clarice and said, "Well, I guess that's one world's fair we won't be going to." But of course they did, two years later, when they were both seventy-eight years old!
On September 1, 1988, Lillian and her faithful travelling companion, Clarice, set off first for Hawaii, then Papua New Guinea and finally Australia. They were gone for a month and a day, and, needless to say, every one of those days was crammed with activity. They were in Hawaii briefly, but long enough for them to attend a church service which they very much enjoyed, take a circle tour of Oahu and buy some muumuus to wear in the southern pacific heat.
Papua New Guinea
Papua New Guinea was Lillian's first experience in a totally different culture. Everything was new including the food. They went to a mumu, (a typical New Guinea feast, not to be confused with a Hawaiian muumuu - a dress!) It was a lamb dish. The lamb was cooked in coconut milk; then sweet potatoes, long green beans, pumpkin greens, yams, corn, flowers of the wild sugar cane and cooking bananas were added - and finally, the whole mixture was roasted.
Lillian and Clarice were the guests of Jim and Bessie McGeachy, whom they had known during their time in Weyburn. They lived in a mission compound in Port Moresby that was surrounded by a tall fence. If they all left the compound the gate was kept locked and guarded. It surprised her that they had to be so careful to protect themselves. The first night they were there they listened to three hundred and fifty children in school uniforms sing ever so beautifully at an open air music festival. But on the tickets it stated, "Armed guards will be present."! She observed them, high up above where the audience was seated in the open air amphitheatre. She never did see any trouble requiring action from the guards. Apparently it was quite safe on the streets during the day, but potentially dangerous after dark.
It also surprised her that, when she went with Bessie to visit the hospital one day, an armed guard was sitting in the corridor of the hospital. She described that hospital in her diary:
The walls of the hospital were covered in wild, garish pictures, bigger than life sizes of men and women engaged in various activities. For example, there was a woman smoking a cigarette, a man running, and on the door of the men's bathroom there was a picture of a bare-breasted woman nursing a baby. The floors were cement and there was a security guard at the each corner. Each ward was a detached building, joined by open air walkways. Patients had to supply their own food and bedding. It was all very different, but there were good doctors, and good nursing care.
New Guinea fascinated Lillian. Because it is only six degrees from the equator it is extremely hot there. She bought a sleeveless dress to wear and went without stockings, something her cold northern blood would never allow her to do back home in Canada. The people were friendly and they looked healthy, possibly because of the abundance of vegetables available due to the three crops harvested every year.
Of course she wanted to walk. But she discovered it was not considered proper for a lady to walk about unescorted. So she and six year old Kenneth McGeachy went on excursions downtown together. He was a fine escort! On one of those trips she bought a very interesting and colourful hand made dress and was quite amazed that it cost only six dollars. She couldn't help wondering, though, how much the person who made it received for her work.
Education is different there, as well. The government schools for the nationals were terribly overcrowded and somewhat substandard in quality, so a system of private international schools has developed. Lillian visited two of them - modern, up-to-date schools that reminded her of the best equipped schools here in Canada. Not surprisingly, tuition at these schools is very high. The students are both white skins and black skins as they refer to themselves. The black children who attend these schools are from middle and upper class homes.
She did a lot of sightseeing while she was there, and was particularly intrigued by the university and the parliament buildings. She wasn't terribly impressed with the beauty of the university buildings, but it did have a well-stocked library and a display of New Guinea paintings that reminded her of some of our fine native Canadian artists.
The parliament building, however, was new and very beautiful; the cornerstone was laid in 1981. The shape of the building is that of a flying bird, symbolic of the bird of paradise, the emblem of New Guinea. There are multicoloured paintings on the outside of the entrance and just inside, in the foyer, there is an immense carved wooden statue, similar to the North American totem pole. The walls of the foyer are completely covered with paintings by the best artists of Papua New Guinea. Very impressive indeed.
Church services there were unlike anything they were accustomed to, but certainly meaningful and enjoyable. In Port Moresby, the church building was one large, enclosed worship room, separate from the classrooms . The classrooms, however, were open air spaces with a roof over the top and benches to sit on. Lillian found them very pleasant because the air was able to circulate, making the heat more bearable. She was pleased to be asked to give lessons to the women, with the help of an interpreter, on two different occasions.
One Sunday while she was there, they went out to a small village about thirty miles from Port Moresby for worship service. It took a good hour to get there and proved to be a unique experience. She described it in her diary:
The service was held in the home of a man who works in the finance department of the national government and his wife. They live in a house on high cement stilts. Many houses are built that way, high enough that you could park a car under them if you wanted to. The house had five rooms and two verandahs. The living room was rather large but there was no furniture, other than one chair. There were books on two shelves and an expensive looking radio and cassette tape player. Everybody sat on the floor during worship service (except Lillian, Clarice and Mrs. McGeachy Sr., who sat on the lawn chairs Bessie had brought). They had dinner together after the service. All the cooking was done outside in a kettle over a fire and then served inside, again on the floor.
Lillian and Clarice spent twelve very rich days in New Guinea. Everything they encountered was unlike anything they had experienced, and they thoroughly enjoyed that difference. On Friday, September 17, four days before they were to leave for Australia they were fortunate enough to see the Independence Day Parade at Port Moresby. The varieties of native dances were spectacular.
Following the parade, Jim McGeachy took them to the National Wildlife Sanctuary, where they saw many kinds of wildlife never seen in Canada - parrots, eagles, crowned pigeons, wallabies, big lizards, crocodiles, and many others. Clarice was bitten by some kind of insect while they were at the park, and the next day, Saturday, she became ill. Sunday she was no better so Bessie took her to see a doctor. He gave her antibiotics, but by Monday her leg was very red and swollen, sending her back to the doctor for more medication.
They did leave on Tuesday as scheduled, and while Clarice felt some better, her leg bothered her for much of the rest of the trip. She gamely went on all the tours and would walk short distances, but she couldn't manage long walks or standing for any length of time. Lillian says, "She was such a good sport in spite of her sore leg that I'll always remember it."
After all of these adventures in New Guinea, the two almost octogenarians set out to explore Australia. Lillian described a brief summary of the trip, "In Queensland, Australia we went for a spectacular train ride; toured Atherton Tablelands and the dense rain forests; rode in a semi-submarine among the coral reefs; saw a beautiful orchid nursery; saw kangaroos, crocodiles, wombats, kookaburras, emus and parrots and spent one full day at the World's Fair in Brisbane." She says, "My diary is my best souvenir."
She and Clarice had many marvellous experiences in Australia, but the most spectacular of them all was the trip to the Great Barrier Reef. The outer reef, twelve hundred miles long is considered to be one of the wonders of the modern world. The formations of the reefs themselves were like spectacular works of art. Lillian and Clarice went out in one boat, transferring to a semi-submarine that had glass sides when they reached the reef.
This vessel was never entirely under water, but the passengers were down on the lower level, which was fully submerged. The fish completely amazed her! All she had ever seen were the primarily grey fish at home in Saskatchewan, while these were brilliant colours, red, pink and gold, in every shape imaginable.
After the semi-sub trip, they returned to the original boat, where they were treated to an Australian barbecue. Then they took off on another excursion, this time in a glass bottomed boat and again they marvelled at the parade of amazingly coloured fish. All in all, they were at the Great Barrier Reef for about three hours, every minute of that time stimulating.
They also journeyed to the Atherton Tablelands, first by bus, then by train, followed by another bus and finally a cruise on the lake. It was a truly stunning viewing of a great variety of wonders, including an incredible waterfall, spectacular tunnels, vast farmlands and a rain forest. They travelled right up against the rock face, nearly close enough to touch it. They walked four kilometers through the rain forest to a huge crater fifty-six meters below them. The water at the bottom of that crater was another seventy meters deep.
Cairns was their home base while they were doing this sightseeing, and took in three all-day tours and one half-day trip while they were there. The day after the trek to the Atherton Tablelands, Lillian and Clarice set out again, this time to Cape Tribulation Park, named, for obvious reasons, by Captain James Cook who had run his ship aground there.
They had gotten well out into the wilderness when the bus broke down. They had to simply sit and wait until another bus could be sent out. The driver had phoned for a replacement bus earlier in the day when he had realized that second gear was gone, but had then proceeded to drive to the mountain peak and then back down to Daintree! Lillian said, "I thought it was a little risky to be climbing mountains in a lame bus." Thankfully, there was a small gift shop there where they could buy soft drinks. Clarice sat with her leg up on a chair as they visited and waited for the new bus.
Nevertheless, it was a exciting day. Lillian describes it, "After lunch we drove up the Alexander Range, a very bumpy, narrow, twisty, dusty ride. In several places it was difficult, almost impossible for cars to pass one another. One had to back up until a spot was found wide enough for passing. Deep gorges on one side made a rather thrilling ride with our lame four-wheel drive bus. At the peak, though, there was a beautiful view, well worth the trip."
One trip they didn't make was to The Outback, the Australian desert. There was a day trip they could have taken, but reluctantly, they decided it would be too strenuous. As much as they would have loved to include that fascinating part of the country in their Australian experience, the fact that it would be an arduous fifteen hour trip and that Clarice was still not completely recovered from the insect bite infection, made the choice clear.
After Cairns, Lillian and Clarice moved on to Brisbane, where their primary goal was to visit the World's Fair, but they also toured the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, the largest koala sanctuary in the world. There are a hundred of the koalas there and Lillian was quite intrigued by the "darling little grey cuddly animals". The kangaroos were very tame, in fact, lazy, with most of them just lying down hardly moving an ear as bus loads of tourists walked among them. She felt quite safe petting one of them.
The Queensland pavilion at the World's Fair was one of the favourites. In fact, if you wanted to get in, there was at least a forty minutes wait, but for Lillian, it was well worth the wait. For Clarice, unfortunately, it was impossible. Her leg was still too painful for her to stand that long. Perhaps some of the reason Lillian enjoyed it so much was that she and Clarice had just come from Queensland where they had had such a good time.
Members of the audience were seated in movable chairs and then transported around through various places picturing Queensland's resources, activities and landscape. They were moved through a short tunnel between each scene. Lillian says, "Riding through the rain forest was very realistic, the crocodiles opening their jaws, kookaburras laughing, cockatoos talking to one another, but all of it mechanical!"
Unhappily, because of her leg, Clarice couldn't stand in the long lines at the Canadian pavilion either. This exhibition was also very popular, considered by many to be one the best. There were two shows Lillian particularly admired. The first was primarily scenery and various activities that made her proud to be a Canadian; the second she found to be both nostalgic and amusing. It showed Canadian lifestyles, and in addition to some wonderful singing, they saw such things as a small child trying to skate, blizzards, football and skiing (and falling!). It reminded her so much of home it brought tears to her eyes.
It was an exhilarating, but admittedly tiring adventure for these two indomitable ladies. She found the people of Australia to be very much like us, but the animals totally different. That trip lingers in her memory. She tells me one minute that her travelling days are probably over, but in the next breath talks about how much she would like to visit the Yukon. What do you think?
Lillian continues to seek a closer walk with God. Retirement has given her more time to spend reading, meditating and praying. Since her retirement she has enjoyed reading through the Bible each year. Each time through it becomes easier; she appreciates it more and she is amazed at the newness of what she reads. For most of her life she read and prayed at night, but now she reads in the morning. She gets more out of it because she's not so sleepy and she also likes the way it starts her day.
Lillian's life is brimful of activity - mental, physical, social and spiritual; her pace tires many of us much younger! She is busy, yet unruffled; mentally searching, yet content; strong and firm in her faith, yet always seeking God's face.
Published in The Old Paths Archive