by Jim Sutherland
Sometimes you meet role models in life under the most innocuous conditions. The role models are not out to change the world, but they lead the kind of lives that are noteworthy because they represent the very best of the human race in a world filled with too many examples of less than exemplary human behavior.
Years ago, I was invited to dinner at the home of Gord and Ann Barker on their acreage just outside of Sylvan Lake. I am friends with their youngest daughter Janice and the basic formula for Janice was pretty simple: I liked to eat and her mom liked to cook, so it was a no-brainer that the two of us should meet at the dinner table.
The Barkers had experienced a shortage of crabapples the previous autumn and I had given them some from my trees with a caveat made in jest that I would get a few jars of jelly for my efforts. I had mentioned to Janice that I had not consumed much crabapple jelly since the passing of my own mother and she had told her mom.
The result was a giant supply of Ann’s crabapple jelly and an open invitation to dinner with the Barker family. Janice assured me that her mother’s cooking was in the same league as her jelly, so it would be a great meal on the table. It was indeed an exceptional dinner and I enjoyed the entire experience with the Barker family. I was immediately very comfortable with Ann and Gord because they were genuinely nice people and I felt right at home with them.
A few years ago, I looked after Janice’s place in Sylvan while she went on vacation. One day her parents showed up and Ann had brought homemade bread and crabapple jelly with her. She “didn’t want to be a bother”, but she wanted to make sure that I got to enjoy some of her homemade magic. Ann was quite ill at the time, but she was much more concerned about me than her.
Attached to the gift was a note that read; “I hope that you enjoy the jelly. I think of your mom every time I eat it. Love Ann”. I still have the note because that brief message said everything about the woman. She had always thought of everybody else before herself and that was her quiet legacy to the world.
Ann knew that a now middle-aged guy who had lost his own mother in his early 30s could benefit from a little mothering, even at my advanced age, and that was her greatest gift to me. It was instinctive in this remarkable woman to know exactly how to reach people and make them feel better about things.
One of the things that did not surprise me was how many people Ann Barker had touched in her life. There was an overflow crowd at the Alliance Community Church in Sylvan Lake for her funeral and every one of us had come to pay our respects to an exceptional human being who had lived a life of compassion and love for all that were fortunate enough to know her. We all just wanted to thank her for the lesson of a well-lived life that happened to include all of us in the mix.