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A Close Encounter with Princess Diana

By August 2, 2017 general, People

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Everywhere you look these days – the media is filled with Princess Diana stories — so hard to believe that it’s the twentieth anniversary of her death.

I remember that day well!  My daughter, Dolly, was 8 at the time.  Her friend Annabelle had slept over the night before and when I got downstairs in the morning, I found the two girls watching what seemed to be a news program on TV.  Well that seemed strange.  I asked the girls what they were watching and they immediately made eye-contact with each other and a funny look passed between them – –  weird vibe going on there.

Then Dolly said to me — “It’s Princess Diana, Mom.  We think she might be dead.”  What ???

I found myself sitting on the couch – eyes glued to the TV screen.  I sat there all day – just watching.  I couldn’t believe it.  Such a powerful life force – struck down – so young – so vibrant – too soon.

Everyone in my family knew that I had a thing about Princess Diana.  Nothing could make me pick up a magazine faster than if Di’s face was on the cover.  In fact, as I went up to bed at the end of the day, I noticed a magazine I had left on the stairs.  It was the most recent issue of Vanity Fair – possibly even the September issue – you know how early those things come out.  And there she was looking up at me from the cover.  And now she was gone.  She would never see September.

I had fallen for Diana right from the start – even before the wedding.  But I was one that could not understand why she wanted to marry him – Charles.  She seemed so sweet and natural and innocent.  No – I did not stay up to watch the wedding — and I was not one of those that just loved the dress —  In fact, I hated the dress.

But I did love everything else about Diana.  I am not ordinarily one of those celebrity worshippers – but there was something different about Diana – I really felt connected to her.  I thought she was the best thing that had ever happened to the Royals.  And I loved her hats!

So it was truly amazing in May of 1986, when I was 8 months pregnant, that I had a close encounter with that magic.

It was really hot that day – and I was hugely pregnant.  I carried that baby high – and all out front.  Most days I felt like a ship in full sail.  It had been hot in Vancouver all that spring and I was growing out of clothes that I could wear to work.

A friend had loaned me her wedding dress.  I know – that always gets a laugh — but she and her husband had gotten married in Europe when he was working overseas and her family did not hold a wedding reception for them until after they returned to Canada.  By that time she was VERY pregnant.  Hence a very expensive, very beautiful, colourful, flowing, maternity-wedding dress.  It was so amazing that I had picked that dress to wear on that fateful day.

My husband and I worked right at Granville and Hastings in Vancouver.  We would park in a lower level of the brand-new Canada Place, down on the water front, and walk from there up the hill to the office.

As I got bigger and bigger that spring and my feet got more and more swollen – my climb up the hill got slower and slower.  At this stage in my pregnancy – Kerry and I would split up after parking.  He would hike up the ramp and head on to work  – leaving me to make my own slow way.   I would take the elevators from the lower parking level to the main lobby of the Pan Pacific Hotel.  Then I could walk straight out the lobby doors at ground level — from there I had only one hill to climb up to Hastings Street.

On this particular day — I rode the elevator, as usual, up to the main lobby level, but when the elevator doors opened I found myself facing a huge crowd of women.  They were all dressed up in their finest clothes and lots of them were wearing fancy hats and some of them held bouquets of flowers!

And they were all staring at me.

They were restrained by a thick gold rope barrier that followed the red carpet that led straight from my feet to the front door of the hotel.

To say I was in shock would be an understatement.  I looked at the red carpet and I looked at the crowd and I tried to figure out how I could possible get myself out of this situation.

Get myself, somehow, over that gold cord and get into the crowd and away from all the eyes that were staring at me.

But at this stage in my pregnancy — there was no way I could climb over anything — and anyway – there was simply no more room behind the gold rope.  The women were elbow to elbow in that lobby – no room for anyone else!

I looked down the length of the red carpet and saw a ‘Mountie’ — in his full red uniform — complete with hat – standing at the end.  You know – a Royal Canadian Mounted Police.  You certainly don’t see that every day in downtown Vancouver.

I thought about stepping back into the elevator and riding back down to the parking level — but the Mountie was signaling to me frantically – “Hurry” he was saying and beckoning – with his hand.  “Hurry – they are coming”.

I was still in some kind of a trance and very embarrassed to have everyone staring at me.  I could hear voices in the crowd saying – “who do you suppose she is?”

And like I said — I was HUGELY pregnant  — (but wearing a beautiful diaphanous summer dress!!)

The Mountie by this time was really frantic.  He continued to urge me down the red carpet.  For some reason I was very reluctant to step on that red carpet — but the Mountie was signalling that it was OK.

So I walked towards him and believe me – it was not a fast walk – once again- hugely pregnant – swollen feet – shuffling really – in my pretty leather flip flops.  I hadn’t been able to get my feet into any of my shoes for quite a while now.

And the Mountie kept hissing — “Hurry – hurry – they are coming!!!!”.

When I got next to him, he just pulled me in beside him and told me to “Stand there.”  As I looked back down the red carpet — where I had just walked moments before – the elevator doors opened — and there stood Charles and Diana.

I couldn’t believe my eyes.  She was even more charismatic and beautiful in person than I could ever have imagined.

And she was heading my way !!!!!

Then they walked down the red carpet (my red carpet) – right past the Mountie and then right in front of me.  I mean literally inches in front of me.  They both looked at me and smiled – Charles nodded his head and maybe he thought – “I wonder who she is?  And why is she with that Mountie?” 

Then they were gone out the door — and as I found out later – on their way to attend the opening ceremonies for Expo 86.  What an incredible stroke of luck for me.  I couldn’t have timed that better if I had known.

The only bad part in my mind, was the fact that Charles was walking on my side of the red carpet.  So I was closer to him than to her. (But still — only inches away from Diana !!!!)

After they were gone, I headed on up the hill to work.  When I got there – everyone was so relieved – they had been ready to send out a search party for me.  When they asked what had kept me so long I just told them I had stopped to see Chuck and Di!!!!

I am still wondering about the poor security guy who had neglected to post someone in the parking levels of the hotel or to shut off access to that route.  I guess things were a little more relaxed in those days — and anyway it was just an embarrassed pregnant woman who crashed the party!

We miss you Diana.

 

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Coming to Canada — Immigrant Stories Number #1 — Herb

By July 29, 2017 People

Over the years I have acquired a collection of stories that I call “Coming to Canada Stories” they are stories told to me by new immigrants, about the route that led them to our shores.

When I was growing up almost everyone I knew had been born in Canada … and most of their parents had been as well.  And if they were like me – then their grandparents and great-grandparents were also born in Canada.

Then when I entered into my late teens and twenties I started to meet people who were new to Canada.  They were from Hong Kong, or the Caribbean or even Great Britain and I got to know some of their stories.

But the most interesting man with the most interesting story was Herb.   I worked with Herb at one of my earliest jobs.  He was a great mentor and a character I will never forget.

The first impression of Herb was that he was one of the biggest men I had ever seen.  I don’t remember him ever admitting his actual height but he must have been 6’7″.  He had very broad shoulders, a large head and the biggest feet I had ever seen.

I remember walking into his office one day to catch him with his feet on his desk.  I was looking straight at the soles of his shoes and all I could think to say was, “are those a couple of row boats on your desk, Herb?”  Herb laughed and confessed that he wore size 15, quadruple E shoes, and that he had to go all the way to Toronto to buy them.

Herb and I worked together for about four years and over the course of that time I heard his story in bits and pieces.  Herb loved Canada and he would tell us that Canada was the best country in the world because he started off in this country in jail in Halifax and within a few years he was working at the most top secret facility in the country.

Of course I was shocked to hear that Herb had ever been in jail.  He was just not that kind of guy. He was warm hearted, and caring, and he had the greatest sense of dry-humour.  And now — because I asked — he told his story.

He was born in  Estonia but had been working in Germany for some length of time during the second world war.  That in itself was fascinating to me and I wanted to know all about Germany during the was.  What was it like.  Herb told me that he had to make the Nazi salute and yell, “Heil Hitler” all the time.  He said everyone had to do it.

He was concerned that the salute was a brain-washing technique – so every time he had to make the salute –  he would say a silly little rhyme to himself.  I don’t remember it exactly but something like “willy, willy, willy, Hitler is a silly“.  He said that it kept him from forgetting who he really was.

At the end of the war the Soviets had taken over all the countries to the east, so he could no longer go home, and he did not want to stay in Germany.  He now had no country, no home, no passport, no papers.

He managed to make his way to Sweden and then ended up stowing away on a ship so that he could leave Sweden.  Now he was stuck on the ship — same old problem — no papers, no passport, no way to get off.  He ended up working on the ship for a couple of years.  He finally jumped ship just to get off.  That is how he ended up in Halifax — where he was promptly arrested and thrown in jail.

When the authorities figured out that there was no place to send him, as the country he had been born in no longer existed – they invited him to become a resident of Canada.

He had been some sort of engineer in Europe, but like many immigrants I have talked to who could not provide proper credentials for their education, he was just a technologist when I knew him.  But within a few years of his arrival in Canada, he was working at the Chalk River nuclear plant.   That was at a time when most people in Canada did not even know it existed.

I miss you Herb — you really were a memorable personality!!!

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