Mom, Dad Nina and I

Over the past few years, people may have wondered where I've been as the website became dormant. I regret to tell you that I had to attend to a family emergency; from 2006 until 2012, I lost my family, my parents and sister, to cancer. A few less immediate family members also battled cancer but fortunately they survived.

As time and their illnesses progressed, I was forced to take time away from my teaching work and the website in order to be with my family and support them. Towards the end, I found myself spending all of my time with them and having no time for anything outside of caring for them. I hope that the supporters of this website will understand, now that the website is back and running normally.

I would like you to know something of my family, as I have known them. They were all popular and well respected members of their communities, and their deaths came as a shock not only to myself and my aunts, uncles and cousins, but also to their friends, co-workers and even those who only knew them casually. They will not only be missed, but remembered, for a long, long time.

mom snowshoeing in the mountains east of Powell River

Doreen Kenmuir
June 11th, 1939 - May 31st, 2006
{click on the photos to see the photos full-sized}

My mother was a quiet woman, reserved, but that was always her strength in life. She never sought fame or even recognition for her abilities. But, those of us who knew her, quietly enjoyed her many talents and gifts, which she would gladly share with anyone who asked. Her only request in life was to keep her family close to her in spirit, no matter where we were or what we were doing. Although I have lived and taught in China since 2001, I was able to return to Canada briefly to be with her while she received medical treatment.

She never cared much for the Internet, at least not in the beginning, but it was during the three years that I lived and taught in South Korea that she began to use email to write letters back and forth. It was the small details in life that interested her. Did I have a favourite or especially interesting student? What made that particular student unique? How did I wash my clothes? Was I learning to cook Korean food? Those sorts of things. For her life wasn't grandiose, it was the day to day things, the sounds and smells that became the memories we would take with us. They were the lessons she taught my sister and I, that helped us to become more considerate of the people around us, and to become better people ourselves.

My mother was also an incredible cook. I have always enjoyed a good meal and have eaten in restaurants around the world (well, at least in Asia and North America, I'm slowly working on the rest of the planet), but I have yet to discover any restaurant that could match one of my mother's home cooked meals. I don't think any restaurant could possibly top them. She was devoted to healthy eating, a result of my having been born asthmatic and quite sick, but never allowed any meal she prepared to be bland or boring. It was from her that I developed an appetite for fine dining.

dad playing through, while the deer watch; can you spot the deer?
tired of waiting, I'm gonna try and chip over the deer
Dad feeding a squirrel, Willingdon Beach Trail, Powell River

Perhaps my fondest memory is of my mother as photographer. I often commented that she should have her work published but she would not consider it; all of our family and her friends recognized how talented she was, and that was enough for her, all the recognition she wanted, no more and no less. I have in the past posted some of her work to my website; the photos you see here on this page were all taken by her. I suppose it comes as no surprise that they are of everyone else and that she appears in only a few of them, but that was her way. The only desire she had was to have photographs of the people and places that were important to her, photos to back up her memories that she could look back on in life. In the end, the things that she valued in life became our values as well, and her collection of work was the legacy that she left us, to help us to maintain those values and memories.

Sunset on Texada island, if I'm not mistaken
Closeup of a wild flower
Haslam lake & the surrounding mountains

My mother wasn't much of an athlete in the traditional sense, but in her quest for good health, she was an avid hiker and cyclist. She never liked to compete but believed strongly in the importance of contributing and leaving a situation better than the way she found it. It was through her that our entire family came to value hiking and enjoying the outdoors. My father and my mother belonged to a group of dedicated local hikers and were often called upon to research and lead the weekly hikes to different locations. My parents were also avid kayakers and spent many holidays kayaking through lakes all over British Columbia.

Winter hiking
kayaking on Haslam lake
mom, hiking on Texada Island

Shortly after my mother's death, I learned that my sister had developed breast cancer. She was a strong woman and survived her cancer the first time. Then in the fall of 2009, my father developed cancer and I returned to Canada to help my sister to care for him.

Bill ("Billy Goat") Kenmuir August 1st, 1936 - November 9th, 2010
{click on the photos to see the photos full-sized}

dad & mom, enjoying spaghetti cooked over an open fire

Dad and mom on an early vacation

My father was as loud as my mother was quiet and was not reluctant to speak his mind. On a few occasions, this was even a good thing. But people loved him because he was always true to his nature; they understood him, knew what to expect and appreciated his honesty. My father also loved to tell stories, and his favourites (and mine) were the stories of his childhood and his brother, Jack (my uncle, Jack Kenmuir, also passed away from cancer in the early 1990's, shortly after retiring from his job in the local pulp and paper mill; it was from his death I decided not to wait for retirement to travel and see the world, something he had planned to do after he retired).

My father was born in the middle of the Great Depression, when life and survival were simple matters requiring simple solutions. Like most people in Powell River in the 1930's and 1940's, his family did whatever work they could find and survived by making or growing the things they needed, rather than by buying everything. His father owned a simple, two storey house, with a workshop in the basement and a small garden and animal pen behind the the house next to a small wooded area. Bill and Jack, when not busy doing chores, would sometimes amuse themselves by riding the pigs and goat like a horse; this was only slightly less fun than jumping off and making it out of the pen before the pigs or goat managed to turn around and catch them (considering that they were still alive when I came to be, I'm guessing that the pigs and goat never did manage to catch them). This was how he became known as "Billy Goat" Kenmuir; he would always end this story by describing how his father would come home and demand to know who had upset the goat.

My uncle, Jack Kenmuir, who died around 1993 from spinal cancer

My dad, in Los Angeles, around the summer of 1976

My father was not an educated man or a bookworm, although he later in life became interested in the novels written by James Michener and in general history. But he was strong willed and focused, and his gift was in his hands. After a few false career starts, he completed his training as an electrician and spent the rest of his working life working for the pulp and paper mill in our hometown. He was also ambitious and proud, and in addition to being an electrician, taught himself how to do a variety of trades, such as woodworking (his father had been a carpenter), plumbing, welding, auto mechanics, masonry and many others. One of our favourite memories (his and mine) was the summer he, I and my uncle Bill McLeod rebuilt my grandmother's house (my mother's mom).

It was a small house but he created a plan that allowed us to rebuild the house while it was still standing (without having to tear it down). This included removing and replacing the center beam, a part of the house's main structure that keeps the house from falling down, and knocking down the brick fireplace which was located in the center of the house. It is to this day the only manual labour job I have ever done which I enjoyed (I had the honour of taking out the chimney with a sledge hammer). When we finished, the house was in better condition than it had been when it was built, and to this day I can't think of anyone we knew who could have planned out and completed this task.

My father, gifted as his hands were, also enjoyed sports and was every bit as competitive as my mom wasn't (they really were a perfect match). My father won numerous trophies as a member of a bowling team that included his friends and co-workers from the mill. I had the opportunity to learn from and bowl with him and his friends; I will never be the bowler that he was but I learned a great deal from him and can still today hold my own in a game of ten pin. He and I also enjoyed playing pool, although my eyesight has long since kept me out of competing in this game; later in life, our entire family took up golf as a family sport. We never became as serious about golf as we had been about bowling, but it was good to have everyone together, including my sister and her husband Joe, enjoying the fresh air and sunshine.

My dad and I, on the Great Wall of China, at Badalung

I suppose I have always been a traveler at heart, even before I began to venture out beyond Canada. When I was younger, it had been my dream to take my grandfather, (also named) John (Henry) Kenmuir back to his native Scotland. I was never able to do that, but I had the chance to treat both of my parents to a trip to South Korea while I was teaching there, and later take two trips with him in and around China. We had planned a third trip but his lung condition and subsequent lung cancer prevented that trip from being realized. It was and will always be a point of personal pride that I had the chance to do this for him, to give something back in return for all of the things that he gave me.

He and I were opposites in many ways (I have always been more like my mother in temperament and belief-system) and this led to more than a few clashes over the years; moving back to Canada in the fall of 2009 to help look after him became a full-time job, something I hadn't anticipated, but my family has always been very close and I could not allow myself to leave my sister to care for our father all by herself. I suppose this is something I learned from him, that sometimes you have to sacrifice the things you want in order to do what is right, to not just think about yourself but to see the bigger picture. When my mother died, it broke my father in ways I could not have imagined; I don't think he ever recovered from her death, and no one should have to go through that alone. I learned from him, both this and many other things; it was the very least I could do for someone who was as important, in a small-town way, as he was.

Nina aged 16 or 17

Nina Rose Arrowsmith (nee Kenmuir)
August 19th, 1959 - July 17, 2012

Nina, age 5 or 6, Emmonds Beach, Powell River, BC, Canada

Nina was born on August 19th, 1959, and for all the years that we grew up together, she never let me forget it. She was as proud as her father and every bit as competitive, and she and I spent our childhoods like most children, competing for attention and havng our share of arguments. But for all the conflicts that we had, she was just as easily the protective older sister. I had been born with asthma; the doctors had told my parents I wouldn't survive (I suppose they didn't know how stubborn we Kenmuirs are) and my sister took it on herself to watch over me, without ever having been asked. In later years we grew from typical competitive siblings to best friends, because no matter how much we agreed or disagreed, we knew that we had each other and it was something that we both would always be able to trust and count on.

Dad, Nina and I on dad's porch

My sister never considered herself artistic or an artist, but she began playing the guitar from an early age (perhaps 9 or 10, the years have blurred the exact dates) and was never shy about performing in public, even when she was nervous. Her friends admired this ability, it was just one of the qualities that made her so popular with people. It was also one of the things that made our family gatherings so enjoyable; she would often join in with two of our uncles who also both play the guitar, and have a mini concert. Nothing fancy or elaborate, or staged, they would just sit and jam, playing some songs and pieces of others, or just learning new songs together.

Nina at one of our family reunions

Nina and mom

She was also a good mother and a good cook, raising two sons on her own before meeting and marrying her second husband, Joe. Our maternal grandmother always raved about my sister's cooking and had one particularly favourite dish (I believe it was curried chicken with cheese) that she would ask for every time she came to dinner. I don't think she ever created any of her own recipes or experimented, but she had a keen eye for choosing recipes that everyone would like and never ever guessed wrong.

Perhaps the fondest memory of her that I will take with me, and others would also agree with this, is the sound of her laughter. It was the sound that defined her and her attitude towards life. Her life wasn't always easy; like everyone else, her life was a combination of highs and lows, but she never let it get her down and always found something positive to hang onto in the most difficult of times, and something to laugh at as well. It was this quality, even more so than all of her talents and abilities, that drew people to her and made her popular and successful.

Nina camping, one of her favourite pastimes

Nina, introducing Canada to the world

Losing my sister so quickly after the deaths of our parents was the hardest blow, and the most painful. But I'd like to think that I learned something from her about what it takes to be strong. She was the strongest of all of us, stronger even than our parents, a combination of our upbringing and her own unique faith. I believe that she is still here with us, whether it is through the memories we have of her or of her strength being passed on to those who were a part of her life, and that in that respect, she will always be here among us.

copyrighted © John Erick Kenmuir 2018

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