Robert Barron Citizen
The saying “Youth is wasted on the young” holds a lot of weight, particularly with the seniors among us who have had time to reflect on their long lives.
Personally, I certainly didn’t appreciate the value of good health when I was younger, nor did I recognize the fact that stupid decisions that I made would have dire consequences at points further down the road.
But, the years pass and I’m now, unfortunately, on a first-name basis with my family doctor due to my increasingly frequent visits.
I also find myself at times looking back over where I’ve been and things I have done, and wonder what I would do differently if I was young again and had the chance to make different decisions.
The Citizen’s editorial board decided to explore this concept and I made my way to the Sherwood House retirement home in Duncan to talk to some seniors about their lives and changes they would make, if they could. Specifically, I asked them if they had a chance to go back in time to when they were 20 years old, what advice would they give their young selves? Some of the answers gave me plenty to think about.
Cliff Sellars, 88
Sellars, who is from Duncan, worked numerous jobs in his working life, from pumping gas to slinging wood in local sawmills to working as a janitor/engineer in a high school. He said the main piece of advice he would give his 20-year-old self would be to land one good, steady job and keep it, rather than jumping from one place to another.
“I had a good life, I just needed a steady job and I would have been more secure than I was,” Sellars said. “Jobs were easier to find in those days, so I should have worked harder to find one good one earlier.”
June Wyman, 82
Wyman is originally from England and began her working life as a fabric designer before turning to teaching as a career.
Wyman said she believes she “acted rashly” in her youth in regards to many of the decisions she made and, if she had a chance to visit herself when she was 20, would advise to “think before you act.”
“I mean that in regards to relationships, careers and all other aspects of my life,” she said. “I’d also encourage myself, and any other girl at the time, to make sure you get an education as an anchor in your life because so many different things can happen to you.”
Alvin Snow, 90
Snow grew up in Alberta where he worked as a farmer and then as a mechanic before he retired approximately 30 years ago.
He said that if he had the chance to advise his younger self, he’d probably tell him to go on to post-secondary school and become either an architect or an engineer.
“The Second World War was still on when I was in Grade 12, so all the good teachers were away fighting and I was stuck with a hopeless teacher and didn’t get good marks,” Snow said.
“I could have gone back and repeated the grade and then gone on to higher education, but there was too much work to do around the farm, so I never had the chance.”
Mary Milino, 90
Milino grew up in Newfoundland and moved to Vancouver Island with her husband.
She spent much of her life raising her eight children and, while she has done some travelling in her time, she said she would tell her younger self to travel as much as she can.
“I always loved to travel because you can learn a lot about the world first hand and meet all kinds of interesting people,” Milino said.
“But raising eight kids is a full-time career and I didn’t do as much travelling as I would have liked.
“I travelled around Europe, but I still would have liked to see Australia and many parts of Asia.”
Tony Aquino, 87
Aquino grew up in Italy and moved to Canada in 1955 with his wife and three children. He worked at the Crofton pulp mill for most of his working life as a machinist, millwright and mechanical supervisor.
He said if he had a chance to meet himself when he was 20, he would tell the young Aquino to “run away” from Italy before he had to commit to 26 months of mandatory military service.
“That pretty much stopped my life in its tracks for more than two years, and we weren’t even paid for that service,” Aquino said. “I could have accomplished a lot in that time if I had the opportunity.”
• Elli Boray, 82
Boray was born in Romania and lived all over Europe and Canada before deciding to settle in the Cowichan Valley with her husband and three children.
She said if she was to visit herself when she was 20, she would tell herself to “live for the moment.”
“I lived through the [Second World War] in Europe and I’ve seen a lot of death and destruction and survived,” Boray said.
“If there’s one thing I’ve learned is that life is precious, but finite, so I’d say to live now and live passionately because you don’t know how much time you have left.”
• Albin Falt, 93
Falt moved to Cowichan Bay with his family in 1948 and went on to study mechanical engineering at the University of B.C.
But he left the program before he completed it because his work in log processing and running a tugboat began demanding all of his time.
“I had a complete and happy life, with a wife and four children and good work,” Falt said. “But I often wish I had the opportunity to finish my mechanical engineering program. I probably would have had a different and even better life, with more money and opportunities.”
Julia Douglas, 88
Douglas grew up in Ontario, where she spent her entire working career with Bell Canada.
When she retired in the 1970s, she worked as a volunteer with mentally challenged children.
Asked what advice she would giver her younger self, Douglas said she’s always been “quite content” and couldn’t think of anything that she would change.
“I’ve travelled Europe, had a family and pretty much did everything that I wanted to do with my life,” Douglas said. “I’ve always been a positive thinker. I didn’t think I had much of a choice but to be a positive person or it could have ruined my life.”
Obie Olson, 92
Olson drove a city bus in Calgary for 30 years before he retired and moved to the Cowichan Valley.
He said he regrets the fact that he has never had children, and he would tell his younger self to make sure he had some while he still had the opportunity.
“I also think I should have become a fireman because I like the work they do and there are a lot more opportunities for career advancement than being a bus driver. I would also tell myself to do more travelling.”
Dorothy Schadt, 89
Schadt was a travelling musician and had been to almost all parts of the world performing by the time she retired.
“I’m happy with the life I led, and I just can’t think of a thing that I would change if I had the chance,” she said with a shrug. “I’ve been all over, seen many things and I think my younger self would be happy with the person I’ve become.”
James Reed, 90
Reed spent almost his entire life in the Cowichan Valley, where he put in more than 50 years working at the Crofton pulp mill. He also spent part of the Second World War sailing on corvettes that were part of the dangerous North Atlantic convoy system that brought critical supplies to Great Britain.
“I was always happy with what I was doing, and I made good money working at the mill,” he said.
“My father came from England and settled in this area in 1907 where he worked on a farm at first. My one regret is that I never asked my father why he came here and if there was one thing I’d wish for, it is to go back and ask him that, just to satisfy my curiosity.”