In Search of Better Stories

Farewell to one of the Better Ones

At 101, Big Arve finally slipped his earthly moorings. I was the only one in our large family who shared his name, so I was little Arve to him. I loved him. We all did. I was a sponge whenever he was around. When he spoke, I listened. I’m glad I did. He was one of the better humans in our world.

Big Arve’s influences are stamped all over my life. Below are five of the major ones:

  • I want to be a storyteller like Big Arve was: When my son Darve and I came to his 100th birthday, he was in fine storytelling form! For two whole hours nonstop, he told us about riding the rails during the great depression. He told us of his athletic prowess as a youngster. I tried to envision my grandpa winning bronze in a pole-vaulting competition in his younger years! He told the stories of his exploits during World War 2: jumping into the rear cockpit with a young hotshot pilot and coming a few inches away from sure death racing it over the prairies. Stories are how we as humans truly connect. It’s how we reach each other. There was non better at it than Big Arve, and I want to be like that.
  • I want to be a man of faith like Big Arve was: His faith journey got off to a rough start. (This is an excerpt from a book I’m writing about Grandpa’s most extraordinary adventures, I plucked this true story from his memoirs) See the full story here.

(Writing from Big Arve’s perspective as a five-year-old)

During this time, I noticed that religion started to play a more predominant role for my mom. I didn’t really know what was going on, only that I had to wear uncomfortable clothes on weekends and that my mom would spit on her hands to try to smooth out my wild hair as we entered a church building. Once inside, I was forced to sit on uncomfortable benches for what seemed like hours at a time while someone talked or shouted to us about things I didn’t understand.

That’s why this church day down at the river was so much better than any church I had ever experienced. I dived into the bull-rushes while the singing was going on. No one even seemed to notice. I had managed to catch three frogs during the sermon. This was my kind of church!

A giant frog croaked loudly nearby. Silently, I cupped my hands and crouched, readying myself to catch the big one, but just then, I happened to look up. To my shock, I saw my mom being led by the hand into the river. This was strange. My mom wasn’t a swimmer, but yet this man led her out deeper and deeper into the water. The frog jumped. I didn’t even notice. What in the world were they doing to my mother?

There she stood, chest-deep. The man that led her out looked to be talking sternly to her. I didn’t like this one bit; something wasn’t right. I crept closer to the edge of the water to get a better look. Then to my horror, he clasped his hand over over my mom’s mouth and plunged her entirely under the water. He was trying to drown my mom! I screamed and jumped into the water. I felt helpless since I didn’t know how to swim, but I had to do something.
The crowd witnessing my mom’s murder reached out to me; they tried to explain that I had nothing to worry about, they kept shushing me. “Baptism,” “Baptism,” they said over and over again. But I had no idea what that word meant. I was inconsolable until my mom was safely out of the water and away from the evil man who was trying to kill her. My mom had a lot of explaining to do on the way home from river church that day.

Years later, when Grandpa understood a little more, he came face to face with a decision. Should he become a follower of Jesus or not? This was not something to be entered into lightly. The travelling evangelical preacher had thundered his message, and now he was making the urgent call “Come forward! Repent and believe” — “Nope,” said Grandpa to his young bride. We are going to go home and talk about this.

They did, and the Jesus story of divine love captured their hearts. They knelt down and put their hope in this better story, and for the rest of their lives, it was their primary shaping influence. Life is hard, but the best way through, Grandpa discovered, was to have something to believe in, and redemptive love is the best thing any of us can believe in.

  • I want to be a faithful husband like Big Arve was: Young Arve’s dad died when he was three. Consequently, he bounced around a lot from town to town, and he didn’t have great role models. One time a close friend of Big Arve’s future wife, who was not a fan of “Stub Wilkinson,” as he was called, quipped.

“Nobody raised Arve; he just grew up,” and then she added, “Emma, if you marry Arve, he will never bring home the bacon; you will have to do all the work.”

Discouraged, Emma said to Arve later that day.

“Forget about me, Arve; this isn’t going to work.”

To which Big Arve immediately responded.

“Forget you? I can’t forget you. I won’t even try!”

One night not long into their courtship, the words slipped out:

“I love you, Emma.”

To which Emma responded with silence

And so it was for the next four months. Every time they went on a date, Big Arve finished their time together with

“I love you, Emma.”

And every time, her response was the same — silence.

But big Arve wouldn’t give up.

Then one night after Arve’s customary “I love you, Emma,” she said haltingly replied

“I am afraid I love you too!”

Arve treated Emma’s love as something sacred, and for 79 years, he cultivated that love. He also silenced that early critic. He worked faithfully on the railroad for 43 years, bringing home enough bacon to raise seven kids.

I want to be like that.

  • I want to be a helper like Big Arve was. My mom and dad’s marriage had disintegrated, and my dad had run out of places to stay. Grandpa rescued my dad, my brother, and me off the streets of Calgary, sheltered us, and then tried to help do what he could to salvage the marriage.

When Big Arve came to my ordination, he helped. When he came to my wedding, he helped. He would help through prayer, fasting, email, or phone calls when the distance was too great between us. When I was young, he came to Winnipeg for visits, but he always came to help! I remember conversations with him and trips to the bank. He was trying to help me understand money and budgets. Years later, as I was falling in love with Mistin, he bought me a book about sex so I would have a clue — He just wanted to help.

Even these last couple of years though he was suffering, he would call me. He wanted to make sure I was ok. If I were going to have a mid-life crisis, he would try to help me through it. I want to be like that.

  • I want to live in the grip of grace like Big Arve did: He would tell you he was no perfect person. He had his regrets. One, in particular, was the difficult relationship he had with my Dad — David — If Big Arve had been home more, if he had been more patient if he hadn’t lost his temper, then maybe things would have been different. Big Arve could have let those misgivings about past failures haunt him. But that’s not what he did. Instead, he entrusted himself to the grace of a loving God. This enabled him to rise from a failure, dust himself off, and do better next time. This is what gave him the ability to smile and laugh and enjoy all of life’s gifts; even when all was not as it should be, he lived in the grip of God’s grace. I want to be like that.

Farewell, my friend. You lived well, and your influences live on in me.

Much love,

Little Arve.

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4 Responses

  1. Let’s all turn into learners of Big Arve, dreaming as he had about living and living grandly.

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