The rule of three

Castlegar News bi-weekly columnist and contributor Karen Haviland offers up her latest "Off the Line" column

Is it true that deaths come in threes? If so, then I am going to be crossing my fingers and toes and holding my breath.

About a month ago, my uncle Roy Englund passed away. Many of the Castlegar and area oldtimers might just remember him. Uncle Roy had a twin brother named Ralph who was an archeologist and worked for the University of BC. Ralph also staked some claims near Red Mountain with Johnny Landis, another Castlegar pioneer.

Roy and Ralph were foster brothers to my mother, Rose who was adopted into their family as an infant, and sons to Signe and Johann Emil Englund. The twins, as they were commonly referred to, were born in Trail, but were raised in Castlegar.

When my mother was adopted, it was believed that grandma Englund would never have children of her own. Boy were she and grandpa surprised when not only did she become pregnant, but bore twins.

Unfortunately for my mother and my uncles, their father, my grandfather, passed away at the age of 51 from a massive heart attack and left behind his two sons, age 10 or so, and my mother, who was 10 years older than that.

At that time of her life, my mother was in the service doing whatever Canadian Women’s Army Corps (CWACs) do. So it was left up to my grandmother, a Swedish immigrant to raise two, young rambunctious boys on her own.

With little to no education, grandma went about providing for the twins. Living through the dirty thirties wasn’t easy, and it was harder yet to raise two young boys alone. But grandma did the best she could. She lived in a house across from what is today’s Castlegar Cadet Hall in the home that my grandfather, a master carpenter, built. The first thing grandma did was take in boarders. That helped stretch the few pennies that there were, but there still wasn’t enough and so grandma took in laundry and began cleaning other people’s homes.

Somehow she managed and her two beloved boys learned the value of hard work and sacrifice. When old enough, my Uncle Ralph, who was the oldest of the twins, went to work on the Distant Early Warning Line, commonly known as the DEW line and sent almost every single penny back home to help grandma and to help put his brother Roy through orthopedics school. Roy would eventually become renowned as one of the better orthopedic surgeons in North America.

Ralph also made a name for himself in the university and geological world.

Getting back to the original premise of this column, and just to illustrate how my mind sometimes wanders from one thing to another, I was going to write about the recent passing of my other uncle, Keith Watson, of Fort Frances, Ontario. Uncle Keith was married to my mother’s natural sister, Ellen.

He was truly a treasure and worked hard throughout his life. Uncle Keith came from humble beginnings also and he remained humble his whole life. He knew the value of a penny earned and he knew how to make something from nothing. Best of all, he knew how to make people laugh. Now that’s a talent that is precious above all else.

Just writing about these three great men, my uncles, led me away from contemplating bad things coming in threes and instead led me to consider what it is in the human spirit that enables simple beings to excel despite the greatest challenges life has to offer; to take humble beginnings and turn their lives into exemplary beacons of hope for others.

If I were to carry that theme about things coming in three, maybe I should expand it to include those good things which also come in three.

If so, that would include my uncles Roy, Ralph and Keith.

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