October 02, 2014 - 12:38 PM
CHILCOTIN – Fantasizing about a hot coffee and a fresh piece of cake is normal for any soldier mowing down rations on three hours of sleep. Fulfilling the craving in the middle of an army training camp is something else entirely – but not impossible thanks to Bud and Jean Barlow, a retired couple living a short distance from the action.
Yes, there’s tea, coffee, biscuits and good conversation 20 minutes away from the Chilcotin shooting range. The invitation is open and no one is turned away. Many high-ranking officers (enough to fill three guest books) visited the retired forester and telephone operator living rustically in the wilderness.
The tradition started shortly after the land was purchased. Officers and engineers started chatting with the couple and eventually the visits became regular. Now, stopping in for tea is standard protocol for soldiers.
"We just kind of made it a habit of stopping by and seeing how they're doing," Lieutenant Chris Newman says. "(It's like) going to visit your grandparents or something."
The pair, thinking of their boys and girls, ask visitors to say a hello to their regulars, some of whom make the drive up for a visit on civilian time.
Soldiers need their fix filled so bad, the lengths of which they’ll go to are impressive. Jean recalls two helicopters landing in her backyard before a group of men showed up at her cabin door to ask for tea. For her, it's no problem to slide quilted placemats over the immaculate wooden table. The only problem lands on the visitor: choosing the right treat from the serving tray.
“It’s the first time someone literally dropped in,” she said.
The Department of National Defence purchased the land surrounding the small house 45-minutes from Williams Lake where the two remain as homesteaders. At first glance living off-the grid with no power or phone service seems like it would be a lonely venture, but each have interests to stay busy. Basking in the warmth of a propane stove, Jean takes care of the baking which has permanently perfumed the home. Constantly readying her supply of sweets she churns out peanut butter cookies, lemon meringue pies, enough to feed whoever comes her way. When stock runs low, soldiers will think nothing of bringing Jean dozens of baking supplies to restock. After all, the ration-supplied brownies cannot compare to home-cooking.
Bud, on the other hand, keeps trigger-happy with his makeshift shooting range. The guns he doesn’t use or are too precious to fire hang on the wall, some are a hundred years old. The extensive collection is clearly Bud’s prize.
“Our wedding pictures were delayed a year because of a machine gun (purchase),” Jean says with a smirk. The soft poke from Jean spurs a laugh from Bud.
His cheeky sense of humour, mainly used to entertain guests, motivated Bud to borrow a coat and feign as the camp’s visiting general.
“Everyone called me sir. It was nice,” Bud says with a laugh.
Neither have a military background. Jean says in their youth, she and Bud were cadets. It's clear the passion for the forces grows each year spent in the Chilcotin; on the first night of the exercise, the couple was up at 2 a.m. to watch soliders drive by.
The tribute is reciprocated by the Rangers. Beyond the baking supplies, appreciation certificates, badges and tokens are regularly gifted to the couple. Jean points a perfectly manicured nail to her museum wall and shows off frayed patches soldiers ripped from uniforms to hand off as a gift.
The visitors are not always human; Jean says she and Bud always face some form of wildlife. Her favourite was the family of foxes who always stopped by her front door. She can’t stand the thought of skunks. She tells Newman and Master Corporal John Cumming of the time she encountered a trapped badger in the garbage can.
Bears, moose and wolves will make the odd appearance but in the couple's eyes, everyone’s still a visitor.
Life at the cabin offers more comforts than camping outdoors, but Bud and Jean take a soldier's attitude to pastoral living.
“You have to be ready for anything,” Jean says.
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News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2014