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Tell Me About Where You Grew Up

Feb 18, 2014 // By Marcus Brotherton

At GBBC_0027

The Brothertons, c. 1974, in front of our house in the Okanagan Valley. I’m the youngest, with the mop of hair. My dad worked as a camp director then, and he and I are wearing ‘wood cookies’ around our necks–ultra cool pieces of shellacked wood with your name on them. Hey, this was the 1970s, remember.

 

 

I am 6, and we are driving through Chilliwack, Hope, Manning Park.

 

We are moving to a new town because my dad has a new job, and our red 1967 Rambler is crammed with overflow from the U-Haul truck that follows behind.

 

We’ve left our former home near Vancouver, British Columbia, rainy and leafless now in winter, and on the road to the new destination in the southern interior of the province we see high mountains, abundant trees, and long stretches of lonely two-lane highway.

 

We drive through the backwoods towns of Princeton, Hedley, Keremeos—I read each sign on the way as we pass. Names of towns mean little yet—it’s the piles of snow out the car window that have caught my attention. My winters living near Vancouver have yielded none of it yet, but somehow this new realm is blanketed with the glorious stuff.

 

Penticton, Summerland, Peachland. Westbank, at last, almost to Kelowna, and when the car stops in the driveway of our new place to live, snow is all around. With boyhood joy I fling myself into the frosty mantle in the front yard.

 

It’s almost dark outside, with drifts to my knees, and I can see hints of color in the broken sky across the lake above Okanagan Mountain Park. Although I don’t know it yet, in this place I will grow up.

 

1.  Did you move there, or were you born there?

 

Summer comes quickly this first year in the Okanagan and I am behind a boat on Shuswap Lake. We are renting a cabin for a weekend in Canoe, a woodsy town just up-lake from Salmon Arm.

 

The waterskis on my feet seem to go every direction except parallel, but I am determined. Dad gives the signal and I am up, 20 tries later, bent at the waist in every wrong position but out of the water. I am flying, soaring, the rope handle clenched in my grasp. What is this new place that gives such opportunity? I will not let go. I am water skiing for the first time; all around me are hills of golden green, and the wake behind the boat arcs toward me like a giant capital V.

 

My new home is wilder than I imagined. There are skunks outside our back door in the warm summer evenings. We wrap thin sheets of aluminum around the base of our fruit trees so beavers don’t gnaw them down and carry them away. Ducks and wild geese run across our lawn, and sometimes I hear coyotes at night in the hills.

 

There are no freeways or skyscrapers like there were in Vancouver. In the tiny post office in Westbank, they know my mother’s name almost at once. What other wonders will this new home hold?

 

The Okanagan Valley is an orchard region. Everything grows here. Apples. Peaches. Apricots. Pears. Acres of vineyards stretch in every direction. I pick cherries one week with my mom when I am 8 and make $10. The ladder is heavy, and the warm June air is so tempting I spend hours running between rows of trees instead of picking. The orchardist is a friend of my father’s, and I know he adds buckets to my count out of kindness.

 

Later I land a paper route, and walk or bike three miles each evening to deliver the Kelowna Daily Courier through the heat, rain, wind, or snow. On summer evenings I go from tent to RV in the campground down our road selling spare newspapers. More than once I am asked by tourists if I actually live here all year long. This Okanagan Valley is considered vacation country, I realize: this is Hawaii and Cancun, and folks can’t believe the luck of people who call this valley home.

 

2.  What did you do for fun, school, hobbies?

 

I am in the first class of students who move into a new school called Hudson Road Elementary. My mother is impressed with its name. She likes schools to be named after significant compass points or national heroes, and is pleased with such rich poetry to surround her children.

 

In school, we take field trips to the Research Center in Summerland with its extensive gardens, to the Kelowna Community Theater to see clowns and singers, and to the Kelowna Museum with its rounded gray front.

 

Our school lockers are crammed with crazy carpets, parkas, and snow boots in winter, and every recess and lunch is spent sledding on the hill in front of school.

 

I am 12 and buy a dirt bike, and an older friend takes me riding across the trestles on the Kettle Valley Railway. Years later the trestles burn during weeks of a firestorm that sweeps across British Columbia, but right now I am one of the fortunate ones. I ride across the jutting timbers, front forks shaking with every gap. Here is an engineering marvel still alive from 1915, and the views from the trestle tops stretch for miles.

 

The trails of Mt. Boucherie become another favorite motorbike riding area. I know each dip and rut long before thousands of luxury homes are built on this mountain. I don’t fault developers or new homebuyers. Who wouldn’t want this scenery at his window?

 

Mt. Boucherie is sagebrush and Pine country, and from the top of a peak that once housed Uncle Ben’s Winery I can see as far away as Rattlesnake Island—the tiny atoll across from Peachland.

 

One day a girl in grade 10 laments out loud: “There’s nothing to do around here,” but I don’t know what she’s talking about. At 15 I buy snow skis, and discover the great beginner slopes of Last Mountain nearby, and then three world-class resorts in three directions, each within an hour of my house—Big White, Apex Alpine, and Silver Star.

 

This is interior snow, dry and light, and the movement on skis is buoyant and uncomplicated. Years later I live in Bellingham, Washington, and ski at Mt. Baker. The snow on the coastal mountains is soggy and weighted in comparison; skiing in rain is commonplace at Mt. Baker, and more than once I stop on a run and reverie Okanagan powder.

 

There’s an indoor ice-skating rink at my high school and sometimes at lunch we watch hockey teams practice.

 

Across the street from my house is Green Bay, which freezes over most winters, and I play pond hockey with the guys in the neighborhood.

 

I play rugby for several years in fall, and girls my age play field hockey. I never think twice that our Canadian high school has no football team.

 

Summer again, and I am in a Laser sailing boat, a straight-shooting speed racer with a molded hull. When the boat tips, standing on the centerboard will right the boat, and water flows out. Capsizing poses little fear in a Laser, and sailing in the strongest squalls soon becomes my goal.

 

My best friend takes a break from his summer job at an amusement park called Old MacDonald’s Farm to go sailing with me, and the wind pummels us in gusts.

 

We can gauge each blast as it whips across the lake toward us—seen as dark ripples on top of waves. We time the hits exactly and hike out further on the side of the sailboat when gusts come, feet hooked loosely in straps—the friend and I stretched so close to the water we can look upside down.

 

3.  How has the rest of your life so far been affected by where you grew up?

 

I finish grade 12 and work a construction job in the first few months after I graduate. We build the inside of the new Sears renovation at Orchard Park shopping mall. I’m the lowest grunt on the crew but come home after 12-hour days of shoveling concrete to go windsurfing on the lake. Another friend works nights that summer at Gorman’s Mill. We both make money, but know it’s time.

 

College comes that fall and many of us leave. I spend years in Portland, Oregon, then on to graduate school in Los Angeles. In southern California I have palm trees and In’ N’ Out Burger and take my books to the beach in November, but somehow I feel as if I’m always just visiting.

 

After university I see the world—Kenya, Greece, Egypt, Haiti, Mexico, England and all across the States. Once on a plane trip back from Israel I cross both the Swiss Alps and the Canadian Rockies during the same flight and see from an eagle’s eye how Canada rivals any of the world’s natural majesties.

 

Years pass and I’m 45 now and have been gone from the Okanagan for 27 years. Together with my wife and children we travel about twice each year to my parents’ house near Kelowna. A new highway has come through and the drive inland is different now, higher in altitude but shorter in length. I realize as we stop before Merritt, there are fewer places to meander through.

 

On highway 97-C we travel up and down long swift hills in the darkening sky. This is timber county, here on the Connector, as the locals call it, so much of it looks the same—but suddenly here’s the overhead animal crossing, here’s the tourist center at the outskirts of Westbank. The clouds clear. It’s almost as if the air lightens.

 

And we’re here again. Wrapped in memory, cloaked with longing—this Okanagan valley.

 

This place I once knew as home.

 

 

Question: tell me about where you grew up.

 

  • Andrew Burgoyne

    I was born in 1978 in Orange County, California. When I was 1 my family moved to northern Illinois, outside of Chicago. My dad had a job there with Coldwell Banker, but he always longed to go back to California. We had no family in the Midwest. My brother was born in Illinois. My earliest memories are waiting for the school bus in the snow, toes and cheeks pinched by Jack Frost’s icy fingers.
    Then, when I was in first grade, we moved back to Southern California. We were again surrounded by extended family: grandparents, aunts, uncles. I was a suburb kid. I played inside, and I played in the backyard, not the neighborhood, or anywhere else really.
    Before I started sixth grade we moved to Folsom, California, where gold was first discovered in the California Gold Rush. My dad had a new job with Aerojet, and my mom wanted to be closer to her parents who lived in the Sacramento suburbs as well.
    In Folsom, I attended middle school and high school. I had many good friends in high school, but I was still a suburb city in that fast growing suburbia. Then, my junior year, I joined the cross country team. I came to love the freedom and beauty of long runs along the American River.
    I left for 4 years at Occidental College in Los Angeles, something within me was yearning to go back, to return to something unknown in southern California. I also wanted to test myself, as a young man of 18, against the big city of Los Angeles, one of the country’s biggest. Yet, it was also a safe distance, an 8 hour drive or less, from the family home in Folsom, where my parents still live to this day.
    At Occidental, I made many lifelong friends and earned a Philosophy degree. Then, I set out for soemthing totally different. Armed with my philosophy degree, a white collar upbringing and an affinity for the suburbs, I joined the Americorps program. I spent 1 year on construction sites doing housing rehab in inner city Jackson, Mississippi. This was the detour I never saw coming, but it also “put hair on my chest” as the saying goes.
    After toughing out my one year commitment, I ended up in Milwaukee (returning to the snowy Midwest I had sworn to never return to). I obtained a law degree from Marquette University (Go Golden Eagles!) and married a native Wisconsin girl.
    Now, nine years out of law school, I am an Assistant DA and a father of four. I am very glad for my children that they can grow up surrounded by extended family: my wife’s parents, brothers, and sisters. (Did I mention she’s one of 8 kids?!) I have also fallen in love with Lake Michigan’s coast lines, the north woods, and Wisconsin’s humble down home feel. Milwaukee and Chicago offer enough arts, culture, and professional sports to satisfy those cravings, too.
    Yet, every now and then, I still long to see the Pacific Ocean and the Sierra Nevadas. Home is a funny concept that way!
    (Thanks for your website and the opportunity to tell my story here.)

    • Marcus

      Andrew, great thoughts, and thanks for sharing in detail. It’s always amazing to hear about readers, who they are and where they’ve been. I felt the same way as you when I moved to L.A. for a season. Thanks again.

  • Eric M Roberts

    “Home” is a powerful part of who we become. I had a thought to write about this same subject a few months ago: http://ericmroberts.com/2011/07/wasatch/

    • Marcus

      Thanks Eric. Good stuff.

  • Heidi Wallenborn

    Wonderful story, Marcus. I lived so many places during my young years. Lake Chelan, not too far as the crow flies from Okanagan, shaped my love of things you described for four years of my youth. From there to Taft, California where I graduated from high school. What a contrast. Like you, I felt like a visitor. Washington state is home. it always has been, no matter how far away I’ve roamed. Love reading your work again, buddy.

    • Marcus

      Thanks Heidi, always good to hear from you. I’ve been to Lake Chelan a few times, beautiful area.

  • Kirby White

    I was born in a small Iowa town, 1000 people, give or take. Youngest of six children. Hardworking father,; strong, faithfilled mother. All sixties and most of seventies. nobody moved in, but graduates moved out, if you were not related to farming. Idyllic, my folks knew what I did BEFORE I got home to tell them. Dad managed the local lumber yard. Mom managed the six kids.
    If I wanted to spend time with dad, I would have to go on odd jobs with him after the lumber yard closed or on sundays after delivering 200 sunday papers ,365 days/year for 25 years.
    I worked at the local grocery store for an ex-marine who owned the store on the G-I bill, after the KoreanWar. Learned after the first day to NOT ASK, what to do next.
    My first mentor, loved and respected the man. Miss him.
    Shattered innocence in July 1973, someone shot/killed town marshall. Woke up to my mother crying.
    Life was never same . Traveled short distances for ball games, and entertainment. No money, but had plenty of what I needed. great high school years. Knew what came after. Didn”t want to leave. But out of the nest must fly.
    Fly i did. Too fast. Kept dying for this, and that. Stopped dying when our 19 yr. old daughter was killed by wrong-way drunk driver freshman year of college, 2007.
    THEN started living. living like my mother taught me. Like that small town taught me; S. L.O.W. DOWN, what’s your hurry? Icould go on.
    I can’t begin to tell you how much my upbringing affected me and that small town.

    • Marcus

      Kirby, thanks for your comments. So sorry to hear about your daughter. Thanks again for your thoughts. –MB

  • Kirby White

    By the way, I just LOVE your posts.

  • Ralph Hanline

    I was born in Charlotte, NC on Feb. 02, 1944, Groundgog Day. I learned much later that the Ground-hog did see his shadow. Fast forward to early Jan. 1962, a 17 year old senior at Harding High School, still living in Charlotte. My Buddy and I laid out of High School the first Monday of the New Year to walk up to the Federal Court House to join the Navy on the delayed entry program. The idea was to join now, and then leave for boot camp after graduation. Both our Dad’s were Navy Veterans, so the Die was cast, or so we thouhgt. Up town Charlotte was about a five mile walk, so we decided to stop and rest at the Pool Hall for a while. Three hours later we strolled into the Navy Recruiters Office, finding the Chief out to lunch till 13:00. About 15 minutes later, we heard someone coming up the stairs behind us, but we knew it wasn’t the Navy Chief. What is was, was the Marine Gunny from down stairs, looking for the Chief. We told him the Chief was not due back for a while, and that we were waiting for him to join the Navy. He walked over and looked us over, up and down, and did about everything but feel our musels. He promptly told us it was a good thing we were joing the Navy. I had to ask why? He said, ” You Boys just arn’t Marine Material.” Well, we showed him, and spent the next four years, four months on active duty in the Marine Corps, No regrets, Semper Fi till I Die. I was a Machine Gunner in Hawaii, M-3-4, for my first two years, and durning Vietnam, I was a Military Police Officer. Upon completing my Tour of Duty, I moved to Chicago to be with and Marry an young Italian Girl I had met in Waikiee, Hi. two years eariler. After she and I got Married, I applied for and was hired as a Police Officer on Chicago’s North Shore. Did 21 years there, returned to Charlotte (Alone) and opened a Private Investigations Office and did that for 23 years. Retired and moved to Jekyll Island, GA, where I reunited with my Summer of 59 Sweetheart. We bought and lived on a 42 foot Houseboat “The Busted Flush” for a little over five years. We sold the Boat and moved up to Kings Mountain, NC, where I’m still living. My Summer of 59 Sweetheart is now AWOL, living out in Gulf Port, Miss., by her Daughter. I still have 44 year old Boy and Girl Twins living in Chicago, and loving it. I’m still here in the Foot Hills of NC, and very active in two Marine Corps Leagues, where I spend a lot of my free time. I just turned 70 in Feb. of this year and love it. And that’s that. Ralph Hanline, “Once a Marine, always a Marine.”

    • Marcus

      Ralph, thanks for the great stories! –MB

  • Mikkibang

    I wish I could write as well as you Marcus ! I read every word with a great smile inside my heart . At times with a tear in my eye I to love our home . So many of the same memories we share of this great place .thank you of that you really made me go back and reflect . Good health to you family my friend and Nabour .mikki bang

    • Marcus

      Mikki, it means a lot to me that you read this and enjoyed it. Thank you. We were truly blessed far beyond what we realized to grow up where we did. All best to you and your family as well.–MB

  • ScottyP

    I’ve become a recent fan of your writings as it seems we have a mutual friend. I have been compelled by your passion to see men be bolder for their faith in Christ and I share that passion with you. So thank you for your dedication!

    I was born in Custer, South Dakota and did not meet my Dad until I was 3 months old as he was stationed in Oxnard, California. He was an air traffic controller in the Navy, honorably discharged in the early 80’s and then continued to work as an air traffic controller for the FAA. We moved around a lot growing up. California, Alabama, Georgia, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Montana, but always ended up back in South Dakota.

    I am a small town, country boy at heart. I still long for the quietness and serenity of the country. I like driving down the street and knowing half the people you run into. It just seems there’s an honestness and friendliness to that demographic of people. So yes, where and how you grow up can definitely shape who you become.

    My dad passed away in 2000 and his dad one month later. Both men were the heroes in my life. My grandpa was also a Navy man who fought in the Pacific in WWII. He could spin the greatest stories.

    Less than two years after my dad passed away I married my lovely bride from Abbotsford, BC. I stole her away back to South Dakota where I finished Paramedic school promising her as soon as I was done we would move back out west.

    We now live in Lynden, Washington and I am familiar with many of the place you allude to. I also had the amazing privilege to meet Lt. Compton on more than one occasion.

    My wife and I have been through some very difficult times over the last couple of years. I have been very humbled and see my own need to be a man of integrity. It has become my passion more than anything else and to see other men rise to the occasion.

    Thank you again for your ministry in writing. I look forward to every blog that comes out. May God bless your gifts for His kingdom.

    • Marcus

      Scotty, thanks for your kind comments. Good to see, all. –MB

  • Ollie Adams

    It’s great reading these stories about the lives of people I’ll likely never meet. These accounts of individuals who may or may not believe they live ordinary lives are interesting and inspiring to me. Thanks to everyone for sharing. This may prompt me to look back on my life from a different point of view. Things happen so fast and change occurs so often that I’ve hardly had time to think about many of the same experiences as those who have posted here.

    Each major move and turn of events certainly has molded the man I’ve become. I look at life as one long played out scene. Each one of these event linked to and affected the outcome of the next yet without writing the end story.

    We moved from northeastern Kentucky to southern Ohio after the death of my grandfather (dad’s father) around 1954; I was about two years old. A family dispute ensued but not over an inheritance. That would have been easily resolved by comparison. We slowly drifted further north into Ohio, always living in small towns or communities. This held true until we landed in Columbus and eventually Cleveland. Most of my boyhood memories and friendships were forged there. Walking the streets of Cleveland with my older brother, his friends and my classmates and friends are among the fondest and strongest memories I have. Watching Roger Maris chase the single season home run record was one privilege I enjoyed. Over they years at home there were a few more moves. This time we returned to small towns finally settling about sixty miles from Cleveland.

    After marrying (a failed effort) we made a short move to Arizona and back to Ohio. Life finally turned good and I met the woman I am still deeply in love with (and we remain married). Together we have raised four sons who do their best to provide for their families and serve the Lord. In this second marriage we’ve all had quite and adventure moving from Ohio to Illinois to Missouri and back to Illinois again. There have been extreme challenges and changes beyond belief all along the way and I believe the best is yet to come.

    Among those changes I am now a preacher who was once an assembly line worker, truck driver, gas station attendant and greenhouse worker just to name a few jobs I’ve had. My wife has changed her career from from waitress to truck-stop cashier to RN with many other jobs along the way. The places I’ve been, people I’ve met and challenges and troubles faced have led me to become the person I am. Thank you Marcus, I appreciate you and this blog and those who comment. May God bless and prosper you. Thanks for listening.

    • Marcus

      Thanks Ollie. I like this line of yours, ‘Each major move and turn of events certainly has molded the man I’ve become.’ All best–MB

  • Brent Iseli

    I have chills. I’m not sure if it’s the crisp Okanagan air or your article. Either way, this is a great post. We just drove from Vancouver to Kelowna via the Hope-Princeton. A timely read.

    • Marcus

      Brent, so good to hear from you. –MB

  • Gary Sedgwick

    You continually amaze me with the challenges you present us. I was born and raised in Galesburg, Il, home of 3 famous people. Carl Sandburg, Jim Sundburg(major league catcher now with Texas Rangers, and me, but I am not on the list as my name was omitted. I can remember all 12 years of school and many of my classmates. We have a email list to communicate information to remaining members of class of 53. Galesburg is called the Silver Streaks and I was fortunate to make the basketball team my senior year and that changed my life. I have been employed since I was 9 years old starting with paper routes and different stores and currently in my 54th year of teaching or counseling. The boys in our area grew up playing sports after school, and weekends. Everything was free or very little cost as our complete south side was railroad workers or factories, but great people. My father and grandfather and uncles were railroad and one summer while working to return to college, I was a switchman with my uncle and grandfather. My grandfather always wished that he had kept the list of workers on different engines. I even worked on a steam engine for one shift as the diesel was coming in and everyone wanted the change.
    In 1945 we traveled to Chicago to see friends and saw my first Cubs game at the awesome Wrigley Field. Cubs won 4-2 and were in the World Series but lost to Detroit. The railroad gave my dad free passes to Chicago and I saw approx. 40 games in years after including one of the first series with Jackie Robinson in Chicago. Cubs lost. I never knew the problems was forced to encounter but he looked like a great athlete on the field. Buck Compton would probably support that statement. In the winter we ice skated at a local lake with clamp on skates…great fun with friends and family. Movies were 10 cents for a cowboy show, cartoon and serial. I left for California, Jc and Fresno State, experienced four majors in 1+ 1/2years and discovered teaching. I am in contact with some of my 1959-60 8th grade students. My wife Lynne and I will have 54 years this summer as I met her while working in a service station while attending FSC.
    Gary

    • Marcus

      Gary, thanks for your comments. I’d say Buck would agree with you. :)

  • Scott Taber

    I have been to Kelowna one time in my life. I went there with my youth pastor and some youth to ski Big White and stay with the pastors parents. It was absolutely beautiful there. I didn’t ski ’cause I just don’t have the skills for that stuff (I proved this to myself later in life) but I did hang with a good friend at the pool hall for the day playing pool. It was my 19th birthday. Your story has allowed me to relive that wonderful trip. Thank you so much. By the way I was raised in Custer, Washington. I lived on farm property. I spent countless hours battling evil doers with my trusty sword ( a wooden axe handle) and riding bikes with friends. I explored the run down barn on the property, climbed trees, and simply had an amazing childhood there. I believe everyone should grow up in the country. I spent my childhood attending the church near my house, Sunrise Baptist church. Our church was joined by a young youth pastor that inspired me throughout my high school years. That youth group was one of the finest experiences ever. I cannot remember a time when I didn’t want badly to do anything with them. The pastor was equal parts the older brother I always wanted and idolized and father I wished mine was. Sometimes when I think back I get nostalgic and miss those times. Life was simple but I truly believe those experienced helped to shape my future. I know have an amazing wife of 14 years, 2 amazing children and another on the way. Thank you Marcus for starting this blog and more than that thank you for always teaching me something even when you get frustrated because I and another young rowdy can’t control ourselves during a Thursday night Bible study.

    • Marcus

      Thanks Scott, you absolutely made my day, brother.

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HI, I'M MARCUS BROTHERTON,

the bestselling author or coauthor of more than 25 books. Welcome to my blog. Thoreau pointed out how too many men lead lives of quiet desperation. Their lives are bland and meaningless, or they make choices that trap them in despair and darkness. By contrast, I want to help men lead lives of excellence. Meet here regularly for powerful stories and insight into how to live and lead well.