In his story The Old Man, Richard Wallace weaves a tale about a man pondering the end of his life at the end of his life, just as he falls in love.
It’s a tale the Armstrong writer describes as more “truth than fiction,” but in this case, the story is not autobiographical.
Dressed in a T-shirt showing the image of South American revolutionist Che Guevara, there’s no doubting Wallace still has a lot of life still to live, and his own story is as fascinating as the characters contained in his stories.
About to see three of his chapbooks published, with a book signing at Nadine’s Fine Art and Frames Saturday, the affable retiree and former Maritimer has worked many occupations.
But it’s the career he held twice, as a member of the RCMP, that is the most surprising, considering Wallace’s choice of T-shirt (which he says he purchased on a visit to Cuba.)
“When I was younger, I went from being a conservative to that of supporting social change,” he explained. “There was such a transitional period of culture from ‘62 when I started with the RCMP to 1972. I compare it to John Wayne and G.I. Joe sharing a duplex with Jane Fonda and Cheech and Chong.”
Raised in a rural community near New Ross, N.S., where his education came from a one-room school house, Wallace first joined the RCMP at the age of 19, moving west where he was stationed briefly in Kelowna.
“I stayed with the RCMP for 13 years and made it up to corporal. After that I thought a change of lifestyle would be appropriate and so I tried farming,” he said.
In 1976, he arrived in Armstrong with his wife and family to farm, but as many who have farmed know, working the land can often be frugal.
“After that it was an endless cycle of building fences, slaughtering cattle, installing vinyl siding and driving a forklift,” said Wallace.
In 1988 and at the age of 44, Wallace returned to the RCMP when the police called out to its former members to rejoin the force.
He ended up working two years on the street beat and four years as court liaison while stationed in Coquitlam.
“I remember being called to a bar for an altercation and I was wrestling the culprit to get into the car, when he said ‘aren’t you a little old to be a police officer?’ I said, ‘yes I am. Now get in the car,’” recalled Wallace.
“You see how human error affects the type of work the RCMP have to do… I also had to deal with a lot of tragedy, telling people their loves one are gone.”
During all his time as an officer, and the time before and in between, Wallace wrote. His stories emanated from his experiences, but did not reflect his life to the exact.
“I was always writing about how I think and feel. I also used to make up songs when I was younger,” he said. “I try not to use my direct experiences in my writing. I think the hardships you go through shouldn’t be fodder for a book to make money. It just doesn’t seem right.”
The three short stories Wallace has just published came from writing he did 30 years ago.
Besides The Old Man, The Trickle is about complacency and the loss of innocence, while the other story, Stack-a-Hots, is about a corporate guy, but he could be from any walk of life, said Wallace.
“Two years ago, I decided to do something with the material and see where and if it fit, or if I was wasting my time or merit,” he said, adding in jest, “I got old, so I was not afraid of criticism anymore.”
A meeting with editor Louise Wallace (no relation) of Salmon Arm’s Shuswap Press sent the wheels in motion.
“Louise has been incredibly helpful in building my confidence and readyship,” said Wallace.
Nadine Wilson, an artist, instructor and proprietor of the downtown Vernon art gallery and fine arts supply store that bears her name, has also provided valuable support, including a venue for the books’ release.
The book signing with Wallace takes place Saturday from 1 to 5 p.m. at Nadine’s, 3101-31st Ave., downtown Vernon.