Originally published as a column in the AM News on Friday, June 12, 2015.
We had promised my youngest that we will go visit Barkerville for his birthday this year. Family emergencies got in the way as his day approached and we postponed but not cancelled, so last Sunday saw us on the way to the promised location.
It’s a beautiful drive through the Cariboo, and while every season has its wild surprises, this time of year bears its own with much dignity. Green, so green invites to thoughts of reverence: We are incredibly lucky to be living in a place that can be defined as ‘still wild’ and full of wonder. Total headcount on the drive to Wells from Quesnel: four black bears and five moose, countless ground squirrels. Plus six llamas as we started our drive, all curious, all eager to come closer and make acquaintance.
There is no better way to learn about the world around when you’re a kid. Or travelling with kids, because the world seen through their eyes has a lot of question marks, and far from being a nuisance, they are but gentle nudging about all of that we are due to learn. Also, a child’s point of view adds the kind of perspective that is often overlooked for reasons of political correctness or in order to steer away from any kind of conflict.
As far as learning goes, Barkerville is a world apart in more than one way.
The main street is lined up with buildings that become windows towards a time when things were different. As it goes with then and now, we can expand on the topic of what was better then versus now, and we can appreciate the long way we’ve come in learning to do things better in various areas of social life.
The actors roamed the streets and though we knew they are as much a part of today as we are, we allowed ourselves to be wide-eyed at how they showed us the old times. Billy Barker played croquet with Mr. Wallace while debating the ridiculous rumours of camels being brought to Barkerville.
They removed their hats as soon as I passed by them and said ‘Good day!’ to all four of us, which caused a first surprise smile on the boys’ faces.
We had lunch at a local old style diner and our server couldn’t have been more proper. Dressed in a long skirt and white cotton shirt, she had smiles and great conversation skills and referred to the boys as ‘young gentleman’. They were charmed and remarked on the properness of old days.
During lunch they learned that the place did not have anything made of plastic, not even the OPEN sign, which was instead a slate board written on in chalk. They both looked at me, their faces melted in yet another big smile ‘This is your kind of place, Mom.’
The host who guided us through the house and stories of Joe and Betty Wendel, the boys remarked, had great storytelling skills and clothes that were functional and proper and also elegant. It was mesmerizing, just like the stories about determined Mrs. Wendel who roamed the woods, painted, and who was the first to monitor the wild birds of the area.
‘People were very properly dressed in those times,’ the boys remarked, as an infusion of tight-clad and very short shorts tourists reached the main streets as we were making our way to the nearby stream.
It’s a tough one to even open the conversation on. Present times are rife with debates on sexual harassment and defining acceptable boundaries; we tell kids of ‘stranger danger’ and private space, and that no one is to be getting too close to what we define as private parts. But then they see people wearing the kind of clothing that makes private parts less private and they ask: what about that?
Times have changed, yes. Freedom of expression and choice of public presence need to be redefined as it is rather striking how they defy the very laws of decency we have been relying on in hope to help people abide by certain social boundaries.
On Tuesday we drove back to Kamloops and the CBC Radio News ran a piece on two Canadians who, upon taking naked selfies on a Malaysian sacred mountain are now accused of having angered the gods and thus become the cause of an earthquake that killed 18 and displaced hundreds. Oh. The piece was followed on Wednesday by another about a Kelowna resident who attempted naked sunbathing and is now facing criminal charges. Oh again.
Then versus now suddenly became more real. Was ‘then’ better than ‘now’? The answer is far from clear cut. Women and human rights for one were not exactly top of any political or social agenda, and that is a great achievement, though one may argue that that is not the case all over the world.
If we just look at social demeanour and the way we dress, I’d say we lost a way here and there. Selfie culture, while it brings faces forth, it pushes common sense into the back seat. Social challenges and attempts at feeling ‘liberated’ should involve more than exposing cheeks, be they front or back.
With all that we know of ourselves and our long journey through time over ages, we should be able to come up with less embarrassing ways of putting ourselves out there, both at a personal level and when representing our country, and we should conduct ourselves in ways that will allow our children to remark not just on the decency and charm of the old times, but present times as well.
Because, if we are to be honest with ourselves, their learning today becomes the way they live later. If children remark that the emperor’s new clothes are missing, we should not shrug and look aside but really try and see if the emperor is indeed naked.
That way, we show them that we grow from ages past by learning, rather than go against them in a vain attempts to be rebels without a cause, because the (naked) truth is, there is no lasting glory in that. And long lasting is what drew us to a place like Barkerville in the first place…