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Train ride to acts of love for Armstrong senior

Arriving in Edmonton with bags full of tobacco, and candy that the soldiers had given her
Joyce Gerein enjoys serving with the Happy Hour Gang and calling bingo several times a week at Heaton Place in Armstrong. (Carrie O’Neill photo)

Carrie O’Neill

Special to The Morning Star

It was a cool day in Winnipeg on Oct. 6, 1934, that Joyce Schmidt would enter this world. Joyce’s birth mom, Eva Marie Harrison, tragically passed away when Joyce was just four years old. Her father, Adam Schmidt worked away, and therefore, Joyce was cared for by her grandmother for a few years before boarding a troop train which would end up being the first of many train rides in her life.

Joyce recalls her earliest memory with tears running down her face: “I remember standing at my mom’s bedside and the doctor was trying to revive her,” whispers Joyce. This memory has woven through the tapestry of her life, but as she tells her story, she claims to begin to feel some peace with it all.

Time would heal Adam’s heart and he soon welcomed a new lady into his life. They would eventually relocate to Edmonton and start a new life together. Joyce was not too fond of this idea and chose to stay behind and remain living with her grandma. At around age seven, Joyce began to wonder what it would be like to live with her father. With a determined spirit, she managed to find the phone number of his employer at the Canadian Packing House, and made the call. Delighted to hear from his daughter, Adam sent money and Joyce soon boarded a troop train where she would ride amongst soldiers returning from the war.

Arriving in Edmonton with bags full of tobacco, and candy that the soldiers had given her, she was met with open arms by her father. Adam chuckled when he saw the bags of goodies and said to Joyce, “I think I will send you back for another load!”

Joyce was in for a bit of an awakening. When they arrived at the family home in Forest Heights, she remembers feeling like she had stepped from a little piece of heaven to a little piece of hell. The house was old and had no bedrooms; there was no running water, only a coal burning stove, and an old outhouse.

“I recall having to climb up a ladder to the attic where everyone slept,” said Joyce. She was used to a warm, larger home with lots of love, and adjusting to this new lifestyle, well, it was very difficult.

With angst in her heart, Joyce really wanted to return to Winnipeg; however, after speaking with her father, she realized she wanted to stay close to her siblings.

Whilst her relationship with her ‘new’ mom being a bit challenging, Joyce would stay busy doing chores and attending school.

“I learned at a young age that I had to learn to accept the things I could not change,” said Joyce.

Little did she know how important that line would become later on in her life. She completed up to grade 11 and then decided it was time for an adventure.

Two of her girlfriends, along with herself, hitchhiked to Vancouver where Joyce’s cousins lived. Thumbs out and smiles on their faces; they received rides by wonderful people who were consistently intrigued when they discovered the trio’s names were Joyce, Shirley, and Marilyn Smith (Joyce’s father chose to use the name Smith to avoid any retaliation during the wartime).

Their journey to Vancouver would not be linear, in fact, there would be some backtracking, however, everywhere they landed, they found themselves welcomed in for a night’s rest and some food in their tummy. “It all worked out wonderfully,” said Joyce.

Before leaving Edmonton, Joyce had frequented the Ukrainian Hall where she would enjoy dancing, which became an important part of her life.

Upon arriving in Vancouver, it wasn’t long before she found the German Hall where she found herself surrounded by soldiers and having a good time dancing the night away.

Cupid struck, and one night in 1951 Joyce would lay eyes on her soon to be husband.

“I think I fell in love at first sight,” she said.

As they had their first dance, she asked the question that she always had asked: “How long have you been over here?”

His reply: “I grew up here ma’am.”

They endured a beautiful courtship and within a year, Adam Gerein and Joyce were married. There were three pregnancies; however, only two children were born: Dave and Dorinda-Anne. The marriage would endure some hardships and on more than one occasion Joyce would pack her bags and hop on a train, one more time.

Her journey amidst the 44 years included many great memories, but also, some difficult times. In Joyce’s later years she found herself leaning on alcohol to help her cope with life. Her path led her to a program that helped save her life. Unity and connection to a higher power has given Joyce a life beyond her wildest dreams.

Adam became ill and ended up in the hospital where Joyce spent each waking moment by his side. Three days prior to his passing Joyce tells a loving story with tears of gratitude: “I would fill a bucket of warm water and put it on my lap. I would then place my husbands’ feet in the soothing bucket of water and I would bathe his feet.” What a sacred act of love.

In the wee hours on the fourth day, the call came in; her darling husband had taken his last breath.

To help cope with her loss, Joyce became a part of a grief support group which met weekly. The group not only provided support, but was also an instrument of connection and relationship. Russell Wakaluk, a widow as well, attended the group and with broken hearts, the two began to walk together through their own grief. Often, it is in the darkest valleys, that light has an opportunity to enter.

Little by little, Joyce and Russell would share space together and before long a friendship grew into a special love.

“You never can replace your husband’s love, but, with an open mind and an open heart, it is it is possible to love again,” shares Joyce.

Russell and Joyce shared 23 years together. Funny enough, the two never married, each kept residence in their own homes, and even took Mondays and Thursdays off from one another.

“It worked for us” chuckles Joyce. “With Russell, I found a happiness I never thought I would find again.”

As fate would have it, Russell took ill and yet again, Joyce found herself at the foot of a hospital bed praying, and bathing the feet of the man she so loved. Russell passed away in her arms and Joyce found herself walking the path of grief one more time. But as they say, if you never love, you will never grieve.

Joyce has been blessed with many friendships, the gift of being a Godmother to sweet Gabriel, a grandmother to four, and looking forward to her first great grandchild.

At the young age of 86, Joyce made a decision to move to Armstrong to be closer to her son.

“In the months prior to her move, she and I connected over the phone many times. When she arrived at Heaton Place, it was as if we knew each other for years,” said Carrie O’Neill at the Heaton Place retirement community.

Joyce settled into her two-bedroom suite and slowly began to adjust to retirement community living. It did not come easy for her, as a matter of fact, her neighbor friends have found themselves talking her off the ledge from wanting to go back to Vancouver, but in time, and with prayer and sharing, Joyce came to that familiar place of “accepting the things I cannot change.”

Now, Joyce is happily involved in our daily activities, including serving with the Happy Hour Gang and calling bingo several times a week and is a part of the Three J’s, a trio of walking buddies.

She shows up with a smile on her face and makes the best of each day. Despite some health challenges, Joyce’s attitude is top notch! Through laughter and connecting with her Heaton family, she now is happy to call Heaton Place home.

The train ride continues for Joyce, and with her attitude she will have many more memories to make while riding the train! It has been a joy watching this amazing lady live life to the fullest, one day at a time!

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The Three J’s walking trio includes Joyce Gerein (left) at Heaton Place in Armstrong. (Carrie O’Neill photo)

Jennifer Smith

About the Author: Jennifer Smith

Vernon has always been my home, and I've been working at The Morning Star since 2004.
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