Wally Churchill’s dad used to say, “If it’s too tough for everyone else, it’s just right for me.”
Not surprising that his son grew up to withstand all sorts of adversity with humour and dignity, including the total destruction of his Chase home and all his possessions last Thursday during a fire at the Whispering Pines trailer park.
The 82-year-old musician is well known in Chase for his warmth, generosity, hugs, sense of humour and laughter.
But these days, Churchill finds himself crying all the time. Not because of the loss of his home, but in reaction to the kindness the people of Chase have shown him.
“I go to church on Sunday and this special lady in a wheelchair I give a hug to every week — I’m known as the hugger — she gives me an envelope. I thought it was a card or something. Well it was two $50 bills,” said Churchill, choking on tears.
At about 5:30 p.m. Thursday, park residents reported hearing an explosion then a blaze tearing through two trailers.
Chase Fire Chief Brent Chamberlain initially thought the source to be a shed behind Churchill’s trailer, but on Monday he said investigators believe it began in Churchill’s kitchen.
But the cause will remain a mystery.
“When you have fires in trailers, it’s so hard to determine what the cause is, so they just figure it’s undetermined,” said Chamberlain.
The investigation is now closed, said Chamberlain, but the good news is Churchill and his neighbour Thelma Portier were insured.
Churchill has spoken to Portier once since the fire when the pair saw each other at the emergency social services victims’ unit. She was distraught over losing all her photos, he said.
Portier is now believed to be staying with her son in Kamloops. Attempts to reach her were unsuccessful.
Trailer Park manager Brian Desjardin said it’ll take about three weeks for the mess to be cleaned up.
Now Churchill’s biggest challenge is to remember everything he owned for the insurance claim.
“I’m getting so much help in that regard, remembering everything I had,” he said.
A man of many interests, Churchill owned an estimated $10,000 worth of guitars, extensive fishing gear, an aluminum boat that melted, four vehicles, two sheds full of tools, a generator, ladders, a snowblower, a rototiller, hunting rifles, a washer and dryer, furniture, an entertainment unit and much more.
Losing his belongings was a shock, he said, but what really broke his heart was losing his tomato plants because it connects him to people.
“I can’t give away tomatoes this year,” he said, again fighting tears.
For decades Churchill has enjoyed giving to others, and now, he said he’s on the receiving end.
“In a small town, there are always people wanting to help,” he said. “It’s such a nice feeling when you’re not getting anything in return. Now I’m getting it all big time.”
Rather than an organized fundraiser, people have simply walked up to him on the street and handed him money, offered him pots and pans (which he gratefully accepts), filled his cupboard in his new residence at the Shuswap Illahee Lodge, and even given him a pair of pants.
“They fit great,” he said.