The People Over the Hill.

Growing up as a preteen in the Eastern townships of Quebec in the 1950’s, I usually did not pay much attention to local story telling. It just did not interest me. I had adventures to keep me busy. However, this story is different. We had a connection. It would be easy to say that this story was not singularly sourced, but rather the voices of many over the years.

Now, the hill referred to in this story isn’t really a hill, but a mountain, in the Laurentians, I believe it was called Sugarloaf. As it turned out, most of the mountains were referred to in this manner, at least by the locals.

The family, which this tale is about were the Joneses. They didn’t always live over the hill, but in my village in a house that was next to ours. We could not be called neighbours at that time as we did not move until much later.Most of the time that house sat empty.  It was a house similar in build and layout to ours, except with bullet holes in the walls. And that is where all similarities end.

When I first heard about this family, I was 8 or 9. Most of the stories told about them was when they lived in that house, long before I was born. Apparently, so the story goes, they had a bit of a bad reputation, at least he did. Coupled with that, the house was haunted.

The husband, well, he had a number of bad habits. Brandishing a gun in front of his family, or anybody else who was foolish enough to be there. The other, a constant brew in his grip. As I said earlier, the house was allegedly home to many spirits, and he was ready for them. Gun in one hand, beer in the other.

At this time, as I am told, they were a family of 5.  Never knew his name, or I have just forgotten. Her name was Iola Jones and their oldest daughter was Iona, and that is all I can recall. As I said, when we moved into town in the late 40’s, they were long gone. Over the hill, with 27 children, as the story goes. “Contraceptives” were in short supply then. Of course, there was always Aspirin. (don’t ask me how that works, though I understand position is important). I assume, being God fearing people, they obviously took to heart the command “go forth and multiply”.

But I digress. The story gets a little muddled at this point. As I remember it, he, his wife, pregnant, and two older boys, were hunting in the woods. Oh yes, there was also a case of beer. He told Iola and one of his sons to go into the bush and try to scare game in his direction. The story goes that there was movement in the bush and he fired. Now, I’m thinking most people would wait and not fire until what caused the movement showed itself. Sober people, that is.

The family lost a mother and brother that day.

The other brother, almost a man, tried to wrestle the gun from his father. In the ensuing scuffle a shot was fired, and the boy saw that he had wounded his dad, and that there was way too much blood. Once he figured that his mom and brother were dead, he ran off, not to be located until many years later.

The father’s body was never found. The locals tell it that he died from his wounds, on the mountain, and the animals finished him off.

The story nearly ends there. I did have one more involvement with that house. One day, a new family moved in so my uncle and I went over to give them a hand. I saw bullet holes in the walls. Their last name was Jones.


It rained again last night. That is to be expected though, being here as we are on the West Coast of British Columbia, just long enough to pay no attention to it. It did not bring any threat, just puddles. Since moving to this new part of town, some of the roads are finished, some are not. And this is where the puddles come into play. Our part of the development was where one phase ended; and the next phase was just ruffed in. The pavement ended in front of our house. The rest of the road, well, you could use it, but the construction traffic rendered it pretty rough, leaving behind ruts and potholes. Hence the puddles.

As we finished breakfast, I noticed that the rained had just about stopped. Still too wet, my wife and I took our coffees out to the enclosed porch and watched the sun push the clouds away. That’s when I noticed Charley. Charley is our neighbours boy from across the road. I think he found the biggest puddle, and he was having a great time running through and jumping into it. Good for him that he had his rubber boots on, the thing was, that was all he was wearing.

Charley was different, and special. But not without his problems and unique needs. My wife and I and a few of the neighbours, were familiar with these needs, having lived beside them for a while. Charley and his Mom and Dad moved into town about the same time we did. In fact, they were one of our first neighbours. We noticed right away that there was something different with Charley. It was not unusual for him to be found trying to hide in his front yard, generally the result of a confrontation that could be heard by all. After a period of raised voices, resistance to his mother’s pleas, tears, on both sides, usually followed by a hug, he would be persuaded to go back inside. We would give a sigh of relief and resume our usual activities. Support not required.

With his Dad being in the armed forces, and stationed in Esquimalt, he was not always around to help when this happened. But we were, and our presence seemed to be all that was needed to ensure that no harm came to anyone. Now, to put things into perspective, Charley is a full blown teenager, and if you did not know about him, you would think that he was not too different from any other 16 year old. We were all friends with Charley. Maybe better put, he was friends with all of us. It was common place for him to show up at your door, with all his clothes on, and sometimes at mealtime, sit down at the table just like an invited guest, and partake of what was being offered. He was like that. He was always welcome. I sometimes wandered what meant more to him, the meal or the company. Though he was not likely to say much. And when he was finished, he would leave as quietly and mysteriously as he arrived. After a while we started referring to him as the mayor of Beatty Street. I think he liked that.

Bill Bradley is the new neighbour down the street. Nice fellow, volunteer fireman, member of rotary, and plays the bagpipes. Seems he was hosting a BBQ for the band next weekend in his back yard, and he invited all his neighbours, including Charley and his family. I had to really wonder though if they would come. You see, they had this thing about music in their religion. It was not allowed. The same for dancing. But the invite was out there, we would just have to wait and see.

When we wandered into Bill’s back yard, the band was already there. Eight pipers, three drummers, and this guy with a long fancy spear. The way I have seen them toss that thing about, I know now why they put him at the front. I was informed later that it was referred to as a mace. A ceremonial thing and not meant to harm anyone. Several of the pipers were warming up when they realized it would be too loud for people in the rather smallish back yard. Luckily living on the outskirts of town, they had access to a field next to the back yard. Off they went, practised several pieces, and we could still talk and be heard, and enjoy the music.

Then Charley and his family arrived. His father was able to make it and an older sister that we don’t see too often as she was away at college. The guys in the field regrouped, commenced to play a real slow tune, almost a lament that none of us payed much attention to, except Charley. He was half way across the field before most of us new it. The guys were still playing not noticing that they had a singular audience. By this time the rest of the family had walked out to join him; we just watched not really knowing what was going to transpire.

We could tell that Charley was excited with his new found discovery. But what happened next was totally unexpected. Charley was beside himself with excitement. He could not stand still. It was all that mom and dad could do to keep him in check while he danced around one of the pipers and kept pointing at the bagpipe, uttering some sounds, and every now and then pushing on the bladder so that it made a rude honk. We could see that the piper was talking to Charley, but they were too far away to be heard. Whatever was going on got Charley excited as he grabbed his Mom and Dad and pulled them along behind the pipers as they struck up a familiar march tune, and then commenced to march around the field, into the back yard, headed for the street, picking up marchers as they went.

When we got home later that evening, I asked my wife, what exactly did we witness today? Something very special happened out there. I wanted to know more.

Music has been a part of my life since I can remember. As a young boy of 7 or 8, I would sit in front of our flour model radio, ear glued to the huge speaker and take in the Saturday afternoon opera on the CBC. I couldn’t handle the whole offering, probably much to the relief of the old folks, but that is where it all started. Later in life there would be piano lessens, choirs, school bands, and many records, tapes, and CD’s. With the exception of a few categories, all music was welcomed.

Music has that ability to run your emotions from zero to sixty in the blink of an eye. It can instantly flood you with tears, send shivers up and down your spine or send you to la-la land. I know, I have been there.

That thought brings me back to Charley. As I noted earlier, music was not in his home. Music therapy has been employed for many years now, being especially effective in young children. Music therapy is effective for reducing stress, common negative side effects, such as emotional and behavioural problems. And for those involved, it has had very far reaching effects, on both sides of the music.

Charley’s parents did not pursue the option. Music was not allowed in the house. Music was not in the life.

As it happened, Charley’s Father was transferred to Edmonton later that same year. We never saw the family again.

Several years later news filtered back that Charley, sadly, was into drugs, no longer living at home. That was the last bit that we heard about Charley, until one day I ran into a retired army buddy of his Dad’s. I asked him about the family, especially Charley. Charley had committed suicide.




The Plow – A Puzzlement.


As humans, we go about our day to day living with nary a second thought as to what we encounter. Sights and sounds are familiar, real, tangible, common place, validated by their familiarity, hardly questioned. We rely on science to back up our experiences. Sometimes, this is not always so. Sometimes we are thrown a curve. We are caught off guard and baffled by a mystery. Common logic fails us as to an explanation. Those truths that sit comfortably in our brain are blown away; they fail us. The incident that follows falls into that domain.

On December 27, 2014, a tragedy occurred on a stretch of the Coquihalla Highway between Merritt and Hope, British Columbia. The incident was covered by some of the local papers, making front page news. It seems a transport truck lost control on a snow covered curve, and crossed the median into oncoming traffic. A snow plow, as part of that oncoming traffic swerved to avoid a crash, but ended up going through the guard rail and down a steep embankment to rocks below. Two township employees were killed. The transport truck driver suffered only minor injuries.
Fast forward to this past Christmas. It has become the custom for my wife and I to travel to Kamloops from Vancouver Island to spend this time with her sisters and their family. We left early in the morning, as the six hour trip involves a two hour ferry ride from Vancouver Island to the mainland. At this time of year, travelling the Coquihalla is an exercise in preparation. It requires a full tank of gas, water, snacks, blankets and winter attire. Anything less is asking for trouble and just plain dumb. As it turned out, it was smooth sailing all the way.
A few words about the Coquihalla highway itself. The first section of the highway between Hope and Merritt was opened in 1986, and was the third major highway connecting the British Columbia coast with the interior. Named after the Coquihalla River, it means “Stingy Container” in the language of the Stó:Lō tribe. Rising to 4081 feet above sea level, it is a route filled with both beauty and danger. In winter it can become a bit of a challenge as one is transported from green grass to white out conditions. Vehicles are required to have snow tires, and transports must carry chains. The big yellow signs put it quite bluntly, High Mountain Road, expect sudden weather changes.
The real story of our trip happened on our way back home. It was snowing, not heavily, just enough to keep one alert. Visibility was fair, and didn’t pose a great concern. It was the temperature that posed the problem. At a couple of degrees above freezing, the snow was wet. Great for making a snow man, but a red flag for drivers. Because of the water content of the snow, the slush on the road has the ability to render a vehicle uncontrollable. Which is exactly what happened to the pickup ahead of us, off in the snow bank, going nowhere.
I am not normally a person who stops to assist, not wanting to put myself in danger, but the driver was trying to move snow by kicking at it and that said to me, stop, and help. Also, the driver, an elderly gentleman, was inadequately dressed.for the season. I pulled off the highway, as far as I could, flashers on, making sure that I did not end up in the same situation.
He was grateful that we had stopped, albeit a bit embarrassed by his predicament. He soon revealed that he did not have a snow shovel; and a back condition which greatly restricted his lifting ability. On top of that he said that his wife suffered from anxiety attacks, and he was concerned about leaving her alone in the cab. They appeared to be in their 70’s, and totally ill prepared to handle the situation. My wife then joined us, and I suggested that she keep them company in the cab while I got to work and moved some snow. With that taken care of, I had my first real chance to assess the situation.
It did not take a lot of time to figure out just what I was looking at. A pickup mired in a snow bank, just me with a shovel, and a lot of hard packed snow to move. I grabbed the shovel from our car and started to break up the snow in front of the truck. It was hard work as the snow had compressed to a rock like condition. Now I am not a religious person, and I was not looking to the heavens for divine intervention, but, at that moment a plow making it’s way towards me gave me hope.
A crazy thought went through my head. Stepping out from in front of the pickup, I waved my arms and shovel at them. Slowing to a stop behind the pickup, the fellow riding shotgun rolled down his window. I asked if they could drop their blade as close to the front of the truck as possible, thus clearing the way to get back on the highway. The solution seemed simple enough, but would they? After the two had a quick exchange of words, they agreed to the request. Thinking I might want to post this moment on social media, I took a quick picture of the two and moved back out of the way. They pulled up a bit forward of the pickup, slowly lowered the blade to about six inches of the front, and were on their way, mystically blending in with the rising mist from other vehicles.
With their departure I anticipated that my job should be fairly simple. After poking around for a bit, and hoping that I had moved enough snow to free it, I asked him to give it a try. It was equipped with 4 wheel drive but the back end, being lighter, wanted to pull into the snow bank. Back to more shovelling, and then my weight on the tailgate worked to break them free. Thinking back now, not once did I notice that cars and trucks were travelling by just feet from our position.
With the truck freed, my wife hopped out; I had actually forgot that she was still in there! She got back in our car while I suggested to the husband and his wife that they stop in Hope. I gave him the name of a restaurant just off the highway and said we would meet them there. The snow had eased off by this time, but the roads were still very slushy.
The drive to Hope was uneventful, and my wife told me about their conversation in the cab. As it turned out, the couple in the truck were returning to Maple Ridge from Merritt. They had been attending a funeral for a previous neighbour who had moved to Merritt to be with his children. His wife had passed on, he was lonely and not in the greatest of health, hence the move. This was their second such trip in 4 years. The first one was to attend the funeral of their neighbours son. He had been like a son to them, having looked after him on a number of occasions.
We caught up to their truck just before Hope and followed them to the restaurant. Though popular and always busy, we soon found ourselves settled into a cozy booth. An order for coffee and a light lunch, which they insisted on paying for, was placed. I was pleased to see that his wife looked a little less upset now that the ordeal was over. We had a very pleasant lunch, and conversation flowed easily. It was easy to see the tension melting away.
Realizing that they had not seen the pictures of the plow operators, I hauled out my phone. The looks on their faces told me that something was not right. His wife let out a gasp, paled, and put a hand to her mouth, looking away. Her husband, not moving, just starred at the picture. Once they had settled down somewhat, her husband spoke. It seems that one of the men in the photo was of their neighbours son, Ben, who was killed when the plow he was operating was forced off the road trying to avoid a collision with an on coming semi trailer.
The date, December 27, 2014. Today’s date was December 27, 2018.


Shortly after we got home, and still trying to unravel just what happened, I did some searching through the Merritt Herald. This is, in part, what I found.

It is with great sadness that the family of Benjamin Shappiro, age 38, announce his tragic passing on December 27, 2014 while employed for the county. The father of two children, Adam Shappiro and July-Ann Shappiro. He leaves behind his wife, of 16 years, Roberta. He predeceases his parents, John Shappiro and Mary Shappiro, nee Bech, both of Maple Ridge, British Columbia.