(from an interview of Marguerite, February 2014)
Marguerite moved to Abbotsford in 1991, from Barriere, BC., where she farmed by herself after her children had left home.
Now 92, she walks with a cane, and her eyesight was recently compromised when she over-extended herself at Aqua Fit. She knows her time on earth isn’t much longer, but oh, her spirit! It’s strong as ever!
She graduated from nursing school in Saskatchewan in 1944. Worked in some of BC’s roughest places. Places that pale Abbotsford’s wrong-side-of-the-tracks world. She’s been there, too. With Them. The homeless. The addicts. The female sex trade workers. She walked with the women. Mostly around Jubilee Park, behind the library, past the tennis court, up the alley [formerly “Crack Alley”, behind the Warm Zone], towards the church. Bought them coffee or a sandwich at the 7 Eleven.
The names and how many, she no longer remembers. A few have left that life, but “I don’t think they recognize me. If you have had the strength and courage and the will to overcome…are moving onto a new life…I say: put it in the ground and bury it. Past is past.”
“I like the street,” she says. “I was just going along…at the right moment. I’d say, ‘You look as if you need a pair of socks. May I walk with you? Shall we sit here? I have a few oranges; would you like an orange?’
They were so tired. I’d say, ‘I’ll sit beside you. I’ll take all your valuables. I’ll watch them. Just lay down for a few minutes. Come on. You need it. You’re played out. I will not touch you. I won’t let anyone touch you. I’m going to be like an angel sitting over you, so all is safe.’
Sometimes they would. Maybe ten minutes. They’d jump up and away they went. I’d say, ‘You need more; if you want more, I’m with you.’ I think they felt…as if they have betrayed themselves.
“In hindsight? You do what you do at the moment. …In my own way, I sort of steered them a little bit towards what it’s all about…I’d stop and say ‘you are loved, you are truly loved, not just by me, there’s someone bigger than you looking out for you. May I say a prayer for us both?’ And if she agreed, I’d say, ‘God, please take care of both of us.’ I didn’t want them to think they were special, just the leavings in a cup. We’re all in this together.”
NOTE: Marguerite and I met at a volunteer appreciation event on January 21, hosted by the Women’s Resource Society of the Fraser Valley. She was the oldest person in the room, and was sitting by herself afterwards, so I wandered over to where she sat, and asked what led her to be at this event, and she said. “I walk the streets.” Then she told me some of her story, and I visited her in her home several weeks later, and she told me more of her story. It’s far too long to include all of it here, and deserves to be a chapter in a book about some of the most amazing people I’ve met in my wanderings as elsiewhere.
The chapter title for Marguerite’s story is “Just a closer walk with Thee.” Which is a favorite hymn of Marguerite’s. I’ve listened to that song repeatedly since meeting Marguerite, who, by the way, asked that I NOT saint her. “You’re not a saint, Marguerite,” I replied. “You are a role model.”
Did I mention that Margeurite has never been afraid during her wanderings among Abbotsford’s homeless? “I don’t carry cash,” she said. “And this” — she pointed at her gray hair — “I think this protects me too. They all treat me like I’m their long-lost mother.”
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