Atlantic Canadians make Christmas ‘miracles’ happen
DESIREE ANSTEY SPECIAL TO SALTWIRE NETWORK
When the world seems dark and hopeless amid the ongoing COVID19 pandemic and we could use a little more cheer, there are countless acts of goodness, kindness, and heroism taking place right here. From buying those in need Christmas trees and gift cards, covering the costs of a hotel for a family in mourning, rescuing dogs, to even saving a young life, these Atlantic Canadians share their experiences of unexpected, incredible acts of kindness by selfless strangers. Melissa Vail remembers every Christmas being magical with her family in Souris, P.E.I., despite having no money. “I grew up in a single-parent household. My dad passed away when I was almost six. For reasons I will never know, my mother was unable to return to work, so she raised her three kids the best she could on government assistance.” Vail’s mother struggled to put food on the table and pay the household bills, but Christmas was always magical. “After the Souris Christmas Parade, we would go to the Co-Op and pick out the most enormous and luscious fir tree we could find. Our Christmas tree never cost us a cent thanks to the generosity of Tommy McCormack, who gave it to us in memory of our dad,” Vail recalls. “We couldn’t even afford a proper tree stand, so every Christmas, our mom would place the tree in the mop bucket in the corner of the living room, and using a shoestring, she would nail it to the wall.” Festive music would float from the radio and fill the home with joy while the family decorated the tree with chipped and scratched glass ornaments. “And then, on Christmas morning, we would wake up to presents piled high under the tree. We felt like the luckiest kids in the world.” Looking back, says Vail, they were happy childhood memories thanks to local organizations that included the Salvation Army, the Lions Club, and the generosity of strangers. In 2015, Vail’s mother died of metastasized breast cancer. She was only 54. To honour her memory and help heal, Vail keeps the Christmas tree tradition alive. “Sometimes we need someone to lend a hand and help us out of the hole, I guess. Someone to say I see you. I know that you need a little help. Let me help you,” she says. “It can be hard to ask for help.” The goodwill incentive of purchasing a tree and gift cards for a deserving family has grown with the pandemic, says Vail, who herself lives “paycheque to paycheque.” “But it doesn’t need to take a lot of money to help someone,” adds Vail, who makes the effort with the help of her husband. The couple works in a pharmacy and sees firsthand the struggles many people deal with, such as homelessness and addiction. “I think lots of people think that they can't help or maybe they don't know how to help,” says Vail. "There should be more services available to those who find themselves in difficult situations because we’re all human, and you never know what curveball life can throw at you.” Vail hopes that others will join in and spread the Christmas cheer. STRANDED TRAVELLERS Former Corner Brook, NL resident, JudyLynn Clarke, experienced a remarkable act of kindness a few years ago that is clear in her mind as if it happened yesterday. “My mother’s name was Shirley, but everyone called her ‘Shirl.’ After Halloween, she caught the flu and, as a result, suffered from a heart attack and died,” explains Clarke, with heaviness. “My daughter and I had attended her funeral in Toronto, and we planned, with our two pomeranian dogs, to catch the train back to Montreal where we lived at the time. But due to traffic, we missed the train.” The pair were broke, troubled, and sitting on a bench at the train station with winter temperatures dipping to well below freezing. Then something Clarke describes as a “miracle” happened. “My daughter sat with the dogs at the red cap light. Also on the bench was a lady from Brantford, Ontario. She talked to my daughter because she was crying. The stranger learned of our situation and then — out of the blue — offered to pay for a room for us at the Fairmont Royal York hotel (in Toronto).” Clarke, her young daughter, and their two dogs spent the night in a five-star hotel, thanks to the stranger’s kindness. “The lady was at Union Station a day early to pick up her ticket for the next day. I cried about what she did for us. I never expected it. It was such a relief not to sit out in the cold,” says Clarke. “Behind my back, this same lady gave my daughter $20 to buy us supper. This lady knew what it was to lose someone special as she had lost her daughter to cancer earlier that year.” Clarke reassured her daughter on the way home that everything would work out. “For every question my daughter had, I’d say, ‘the Lord will provide,’ and I think I proved that point.” But, when the pair returned home, Clarke learned her mother’s sister “Lottie” had died of cancer — coincidentally that same night they missed the train and met the stranger. ICY RESCUE Joyce Froude, of Brownsdale, N.L., has a lot to be grateful for every time she sees her husband, Lloyd, and adult daughter Tammy. The two almost lost their lives in a terrifying accident. “We are from Trinity Bay, but Lloyd was teaching in the tiny community of Westport, White Bay, when this happened,” Froude says, painting the picture leading up to the event. “After school, my husband decided to ride on his Skidoo from Westport to Purbeck’s Cove with Tammy while waiting for supper. Men were hauling their wood in trucks over the frozen bay (White Bay), and others were out on the ice, so they thought it was safe.” As Lloyd and Tammy were riding along, the snowmobile broke through the ice. “Lloyd grabbed a pan of ice and turned to look for Tammy. But, he saw the Skidoo was going down with our daughter still on it. So, he grabbed and caught her by the hood of her jacket,” says Froude. “He managed to slide her onto a large pan of floating ice. But Lloyd was a big man, and he could not get on to the solid ice because it kept breaking.” A stranger named Reuban Gale saw Lloyd’s snowmobile crash through the ice and into the ocean and immediately gathered a group to help, making their way across the ice. With shirts tied into a rope, the men hauled Lloyd and Tammy out of the freezing water. “After, Ben and Margaret Stuckless gave them warm clothes because they were suffering from hypothermia. I will never forget the people from Purbeck’s Cove. It’s like the saying; there are no strangers, just friends we haven’t met yet.” WILLING TO HELP Strangers came to the rescue during a windstorm for dog walker Kristy Wager from Halifax. “I was walking a group of six dogs in Point Pleasant Park when a tree branch fell right behind us, the leaves brushing my back. It scared all of us,” Wager recalls. “The dogs bolted down the trail. As I ran after them, a group of runners caught up and offered to help find the dogs. We each took a trail and agreed to meet at a spot. I just happened to pick the trails the dogs took, and they all stuck together. I am still so grateful those runners came to the rescue.” Wager says the kindness of those strangers is a constant reminder that even when the world seems “bleak amid COVID-19,” goodness still exists — and it can be contagious.