Posts Tagged ‘easy to talk to’

Tom Burns One Tough Hombre

Thursday, November 30th, 2023


Tom was born in the old Victorian hospital in Kaslo on December 27, 1949. The late 1940’s featured some very hard winters and 1949 was one. Rough enough to freeze both Okanagan and Kootenay Lakes. We no longer see such winters in BC .The last one was 53 years ago. We lived in Ainsworth the winter Tom was born. I think it was spring before he came home. Mom, Betty Olsen and I went to get him. He was very premature two pounds and change. The nuns kept him in a chick incubator until he was healthy enough to come home. I remember Mom and Betty laying him out on the dining room table and fawning over him. He was so small and we all realized it was a miracle he was here. His doctor told mother not to have high hopes for Tommy. Aside from surviving birth and early development he was born with cerebral palsy. CP is a group of disorders that affect movement muscle tone and balance. There is no cure victorian.jpg The old Victorian Hospital in Kaslo.

After Ainsworth, we moved to Hillsdale, California for awhile when Nid was still very young. I don’t remember much except that the apartments covered a huge area and that one of the first malls was built nearby


Tom, Mom and Kath at Hilllsdale.

We went back to Nelson in the early 1950’s where Tom thrived. He, Kath and I went to St. Joseph’s school. Tom and I would sometimes cut class to go on walkabouts. A favourite target was Hood’s bakery near the bottom end of Stanley Street. We hiked down from Latimer by taking the trail from Cottonwood Canyon, past the Hatchery , then up to Kootenay Street where we carried on to Hoods. There were dozens of fresh loaves arranged on drying racks near the street. Tom and I would hollow out a couple of ends and fill them with peanut butter and strawberry jam. We then headed down to the hobo jungle at the mouth of Cottonwood Creek where we devoured the bounty with the help of the bums. The hobos told us wild tales of riding the rails all across North America where they were hard pressed to dodge the railroad cops. They said the bulls were quite dangerous and one guy relayed how he was dispatched one winter night on the frozen prairie where he was clubbed then tossed out to skid on his face until he skidded to a stop minus some skin.

After a great stint in Nelson, we moved to Hillsdale, CA. It was an ugly place and Tommy was very young. I doubt if h ever remembered very much.

California developers built a huge mall nearby that turned into a demolition derby. People were not used to parking in close quarters. They opened their car doors into the sides of adjacent vehicles until they got used to the new style of parking.

We were soon on the road again. This time it was the Nelson shuttle. We lived at 1002 Kootenay Street a small non-descript house that still stands. Dad and Grandpa added a bedroom for Nid (my nickname for Tom) and I. and the house survived the big highway upheaval of the 1970’s that took out some really fine places but our little hovel still sits there looking exactly like it did in the 1950’s


Our travels were not over. The parents announced that we were headed to California again. Dad was starting a lighting company where the streets were paved with gold. I was disappointed to leave but Mom was ecstatic and started singing California Here I Come before we left Nelson. We got a motel in Spokane and mother got herself several quarts of Lucky Lager beer to celebrate. We settled in a San Diego suburb called Pacific Beach, which was a great spot. We lived in a small apartment above a lovely California beach that stretched for miles.

Tom, Kath, Sue and I went down to the beach at first light to watch old men with metal detectors search the beach for watches, rings and coins. They found a surprising amount. Sometimes we would go down to Belmont Park for the rides. Other times we would go out on the pier to hang out or fish. We caught small fish, croakers and shiner perch. Once I hooked a small halibut and another time we saw a large manta ray leap free and fall back into the gleaming sea. Pacific Beach was a great place.

Our stint in Paradise was soon over however. We trekked north to the Bay Area and Sunnyvale. It was then a small agricultural community but just edging into the high tech era which would increase the population from about 5000 to 150,000 in a few years. It went from fields and orchards to malls, subdivisions and car dealerships seemingly overnight. It shocked me to see such a productive valley just flushed away without protest. It was hard to believe. In those days, Californians thought land use planning was a communist conspiracy or worse so the demise of the Santa Clara Valley was not a surprise.

Tom hardly noticed. He was busy playing Little League baseball, Pop Warner football or whatever was going on the streets. He was just a happy go lucky boy, glad to be playing sports and laughing all the way.

After a couple of years, we moved a few miles west to Los Altos a beautiful town at the edge of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Tom and Sue went to Homestead Elementary School while Kath was at Fremont High and I was at Foothill College. We had a big house with oak trees and Stevens Creek in the backyard.

Dad had a swimming pool installed. Tom dove in right away and hardly left as long as the sun was shining. He became quite the physical specimen adding lots of muscle and co-ordination.

He continued his love of sport, Dad often took him up to The City to watch professional teams. Dad was a football fan so they saw the 49ers which featured Y A Tittle and fans that would rain down whiskey bottles if things were not going well. It was dangerous to sit in the Lower Rows at Kezar. The Giants had good teams in those days with the great sluggers Willie Mc Covey and Orlando Cepeda. We often went up to the Cow Place to watch the Seals of the old Western Hockey League play the Vancouver Canucks or Seattle Totems. There were some great Players in the old WHL. Which was very close to the NHL The great Guyle Fielder played for Seattle. Phil Maloney led the Canucks and the Seals had Orland Kurtenbach, Moe Mantha and Eddie Panagabco. Tom would go down to the players’ bench before the games to get autographs. He listened to all the games he didn’t get to on the radio including those of the San Francisco Warriors where Wilt Chamberlin played.

In Los Altos, we were introduced to pool parties where neighbourhood and church groups would have backyard gatherings with food and a keg of beer.

The parties would flame out in the early evening and the half full kegs would sit outside for awhile. Tom and his rascal friends would find out where the parties were and dispose of the contents of the keg in a secluded area. No one ever caught the boys so they went about their business. Aside from the pool, we often swam in Stevens Creek reservoir which had a spill way that would flow in the spring months when it picked up a coating of filamentous green algae which was very slippery so we slid down the spillway to land in a big pool at the bottom.

In about 1965, the California Dream was over and it was back to Nelson for Tom and Sue. Kath went on to Gonzaga in Spokane while I hustled up to Humboldt State University in the redwoods of Northern California. Tom readapted to life in Nelson and was glad to see his old friends like Ross and Roddy McKay, Dale Jefferies and Dick Murphy. They moved into the old house at Burns Point which was about 100 years old. It was a summer home and not insulated so it as hard to heat in winter. Dad built a new house in 1967. Sister Sue still lives in it. People were starting to live across the lake now that a bridge had replaced the Nelson Ferry and a road had come down almost to the house. The McKays built a house nearby and many street hockey games were played near the end of the road. The Clum boys usually joined in and some real lively games resulted. Summers were consumed by swimming and water skiing at the beach or up at Jorgie’s where there was a store and small marina. Such luminaries as Blake Allen and Steve Ward were also part of Jorgies gang. Tom and the boys also built small forts and cabins in the bush and stocked them with essentials like chips and comics. There were many hikes up to Pulpit Rock and down to Grohman Creek.


Tom was now in high school and enjoyed playing on the` LV Rogers basketball team : The Bombers. He no longer had the option of watching big league sports like the Bay Area teams but we had some great hockey teams nearby in the Western International League. Tom and I watched countless games between the Trail Smoke Eaters, Kimberley Dynamiters and our Nelson Maple Leafs.

When Tom finished at LVR, he Ross and Rod McKay and Jack Carpenter worked for CPR in the East Kootenay. `Big time coal mining was starting up so the boys had lot of work and adventure.

After the CPR days, Tom went to Mt. Royal College in Calgary where he did remarkably well for a boy ‘not to have high hope for’. Then a rougher road came up. Tom transferred to UBC where they would not axcept many of his Mt. Royal courses and credits. Tom was completely unprepared for this and was devastated. He had some good friends in Vancouver so he partied for awhile then managed to graduate as a teacher.

He taught in Burns Lake, Fort St John, Bella Bella and in the Fraser Valley and Kootenays. He started teaching in Asia in the 90’s and had stints in China, Japan and Korea where he would travel when he did not teach. He was especially fond of Thailand and knew its beaches well. When he stayed with me in Lake Cowichan, he was known as Thailand Tom. In the early twenty thousands, Tom scaled back his travels and settled back in Nelson where his health issues began to slow him down big time. Eventually he booked into Mountain Lakes care home. He still got around a bit and enjoyed the friends he made there but his health was still sliding. Parkinson’s disease came into his life as did arthritis to the point where he needed a hip replacement. That was done in the spring of 2021. Tom never fully recovered from the operation and in mid June of 2021, he made his final trip.

Tom was loved in Nelson. Over 300 people posted their condolences on Facebook. Most of them spoke of Tom’s easy smile and how easy he was to talk to