When bread is not enough

George Rowe

The trip had been planned for months.

It is always exciting going to the East Kootenays and visit with our children and grandchildren in Sparwood and Elkford.

My wife made quilts for our grandchildren and every stitch was made with love and sometimes a tear or two. Scraps of material were being gathered for months and just days before leaving for the trip, the masterpieces were laid out on the floor indicating an adventure of love had now been completed. The thoughts of gifting Nan’s quilts to the grandchildren was exciting indeed.

On the morning of our trip we carefully packaged and packed into the truck lots of homemade bread rolls, many loaves of fresh bread and ‘just out of the oven’ homemade pies. The smell of fresh baked goods was tantalizing. The last food packed into the truck was two cases of fresh homemade raspberry jam. Tarps were carefully placed and well secured so that everything might be protected from the elements.

Our day was going very well. Picked up a few bungee cords, stopped at several small towns and then decided to take a break at Draton Valley. We enjoyed a lovely meal and then booked into a cheap but wonderful hotel. The receptionist was exceptional and our room was five star. We were given clear instructions where we should park the Ford Ranger to avoid having our tarps tampered with and the possibility of ‘stuff’ being taken without permission. My wife was not comfortable with the possibility of theft but the amount of security around the building finally helped her to settle down.

The 5:00 am alarm clock just about frightened me out of my frilly speedos. Where did the night go? Is it tomorrow already? The bed felt so comfortable but the shower was so much better as the hot water cleared my thoughts in preparation for another awesome day. In just a few hours we would be in Red Deer spending money on our grandchild and delivering much appreciated homemade baked goods.

My wife was still tired and trying to get out of bed she fought the pillows and the blankets. Wrapping myself in a robe I kept my distance fearing that I would be a victim of her frustration. She was literally falling apart as she was blindly reaching for teeth, bridges and glasses. “I don’t feel right,” she said. I almost said, “You don’t look the best, either at 5:00 am,” but with many hours of driving ahead of us I simply smiled and kept my mouth sealed shut. She made a strange comment. “I feel that something bad is happening.” I encouraged her to put such thoughts aside in that this was going to be an awesome day. I knew she was deeply troubled by some foreboding feelings that usually came to fruition.

We checked out of the hotel at about 6:30 am. By now our spirits were soaring. Our excitement of travel and seeing our children was a bubbly sensation and nothing, absolutely nothing, would deter us from enjoying the next miles of our travelling adventure.

We are both involved in small talk as we approach our vehicle. The warmth of the sun, the gentle breeze of fresh air with the singing and sights of birds made us feel good. But looking toward the vehicle there was a sudden change of feeling as I was completely caught off guard when my wife went on a torrid rampage that negated all the nice and fuzzy feelings about sunshine, fresh air and singing birds.

“We have been robbed! We have been robbed!” Rushing to the truck she said, “Our water cooler is gone.” I tried to bring some sense of civility to this crushing moment and simply said, “It’s all right sweetheart. It could have been much worse.” Lifting the tarp she said in a high pitched voice, “It is worse! It is much worse! Everything is gone!” Suddenly all the birds had disappeared and the clouds gathered quickly. Missing from the ‘secured’ coolers were homemade bread, fresh bread rolls and all of the pies. We are not happy campers. Rushing back to the hotel lobby we quickly wondered why nothing else went missing—like beautiful homemade blankets. The receptionist was very kind and helpful.

The security cameras showed that shortly after midnight, we were still awake at that time, a man came to the vehicle and opening the cooler he removed bottles of iced tea and water.

Not being able to get everything in his pockets he quickly put the bottles back into the cooler and then ran off with his stuff. He returned a few minutes later and after a struggle he lifted the tarp and began removing rolls, loaves of bread and pies. I am watching all this and was actually in silence for a few minutes while my wife was, as she said, mortified. She used a few choice words like, “I feel violated’, and ‘I am sooooooo angry.” At the moment I understood how my wife was feeling because even baked goods are done with a lot of tender love and care.

As I watched the video I came to the conclusion that this is a homeless and a very hungry man. Much to the displeasure of my wife and to the surprise of the receptionist I shouted into the video, “Take the jam! Take the jam!” I felt my wife’s elbow dig into my ribs and I shouted again with a lot of pleasure, “You can’t have homemade bread and rolls without jam.” Then under my breath I mumbled, “Should have left the guy a knife to properly slice the bread.”

Another elbow into the ribs. Two whole cases of raspberry jam still in the back of the truck while this very hungry and homeless man ran off with his bounty. The incident was reported to the RCMP by the receptionist.

Two hours into our morning trip a call from the RCMP revealed that they knew the gentleman on video and that he was indeed homeless. While my wife was holding the phone I heard the officer ask, “Do you want to press charges?” Without giving my wife an opportunity to respond I shouted into the phone, “Absolutely not! If this man is hungry (not right now because he has twenty pounds of flour in his gut) and homeless then we need to help him, not arrest him.” From Drayton Valley to Red Deer and on to the Elk Valley my wife and I did a lot of reflection. My wife was upset with herself in using the words violated and angry though at the time emotions were a little out of control—as evidenced by my sore ribs. We began to realize that in hindsight we actually fed a homeless person.

Another call from the RCMP informed us that the man was actually brought into the station, questioned and then released. He apologized to the RCMP and said something like, “That lady can sure bake.” To my wife I said, “Now there you go. Another opinion on your baking and it is all good.”

She just smiled. I asked if my wife and I could meet with the gentlemen to offer him some very practical help and give him some sound advice. We were assured that they can and will arrange such a meeting. “Why would you want to help someone who robbed you?” Asked the officer. “Because that’s what we are about,” I said. “We simply love people.”

As I still reflect on this whole situation I realize that many of us take so much for granted. To be homeless and hungry is something that many will never experience but for others it has become rather normal but at the same time a living hell on earth. I can imagine the hungry and the homeless man being gratified by every morsel of food he ingested that night but at the same time disturbed in his spirit because of the way he came into his bounty. When my wife and I have an opportunity to meet this man, and we will, I will make sure I have a bottle of homemade raspberry jam that came right from my back garden.

In the meantime, I am about to have a slice of homemade bread with lots of raspberry jam—and all of this while the sun is still shining.