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A Sense of Vocation

by Helen Hunley

Page 1  |  

From prairie to the woods: young Helen Hunley and the mingling of poetry and nature.In the past, several acquaintances have suggested that I should write down some of the events which have both shaped and enriched my life. A more formal request received caused me to give serious consideration to recording events and influences which led me into an active and rewarding political career. How does one begin to extract just one portion from a life which has been busy with carving a living, and rich beyond any measure with sharing meagre available time with treasured friends?

As I begin this task, I am sitting at my kitchen table watching my very busy bird feeder. An immature rose-breasted grosbeak eyes me suspiciously while pine siskins indulge themselves on the seeds. In a nearby mountain ash tree chickadees and other species fly about waiting their turn at the feast. I am, of necessity, being somewhat introspective, and even, now out from my tumbling thoughts comes the realization that four things have always been equally important to me - nature, poetry, friendship and community service.

The intermingling of poetry and nature began early in my life, when, as a youngster, I rode across the prairie on horseback to school and thrilled to the song of a meadowlark perched on a nearby fence post or rejoiced at glimpsing a bluebird. In the early 1930s, along with my parents and four siblings I moved from the prairies to a primitive house in the woods northwest of Rocky Mountain House. My older sister was a qualified school teacher, but she was unemployed at that time. She undertook to provide us with “home schooling.” To suggest that this was private schooling would indeed be a misnomer. To qualify for my Grade 8 diploma, I was required to attend a regular school from Easter to the end of the school year. This meant each school day I would make the solitary trek, four miles each way, to the Crimson Lake School. My mother was concerned that we “prairie kids” might be nervous to find ourselves surrounded by dense forest. Her apprehension was unfounded, and I happily trudged through the woods reciting poetry and gazing at the beautiful mountains occasionally visible through openings in the woods and from hilltops. One poem that I remember to this day but I don’t remember the poet’s name:

I meant to do my work today
But a brown bird sang in the apple tree
The butterflies fluttered their shining wings
And all the world was a-calling me!

In 1936 I entered Rocky Mountain House High School, and since we still lived far from town, arrangements were made for me to work at the local telephone agent’s residence in exchange for room and board. It was there that I learned to be a telephone operator and was launched on one of my several careers. By 1939, when WWII was declared, I had successfully completed Grade 12. Without my parents’ knowledge I volunteered for service with the Red Cross but was not accepted. Meantime a job opportunity occurred where my experience stood me in good stead. I worked as a telephone operator in the offices of Carstairs, Acme and Calgary until I was old enough to enlist in the Canadian Women’s Army Corps. Service in the military, especially when I was posted to wartime England, was to me as valuable and enlightening as a university education.

Finally the war was over and another decision had to be made. University was now a possibility, through Re-establishment Credit. The idea was tempting but for some reason, which I still don’t clearly understand, I opted to move to the farm where my widowed mother lived alone. A year of hard work was good for my physical and spiritual development but certainly didn’t offer a very promising future. When mother decided to move to town in 1947 I accompanied her and once again the door of opportunity opened for me. The local International harvester dealer offered me a job as bookkeeper, and as it turned out, “general factotum.” I soon became a partsman (probably now it would be referred to as a parts person) and a salesperson of machinery, vehicles and general insurance.

Life was busy but interesting. It was easy to get involved in the community life of Rocky Mountain House. Various organizations sought my assistance, such as the Wolf Cubs, Coal Branch, and the Canadian Red Cross. It seemed to me, and it still does, that we owe rent for the space we occupy on Earth and that rent is paid by public service. Besides, it was a wonderful way to be involved with different people and make new friends. Following the death of my employer, his beneficiary made it possible for me to purchase the business, and I stepped through another door to become the only woman franchised farm equipment dealer in the province. It is important to note that then, as later, it was usually men who encouraged me to accept new challenges.

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