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MEMORY LANE: Friends from back home reunite on the North Shore

“Believe it or not, the story starts in 1944,” says Mike Jarvis, while telling a story about friendship and shared history. Go back 75 years to a seaside town in the south of England.
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“Believe it or not, the story starts in 1944,” says Mike Jarvis, while telling a story about friendship and shared history.

Go back 75 years to a seaside town in the south of England. Every morning, Michael, John and Derek Jarvis – four, five and six years of age – would walk to school with Diana Lockitt, herself only a few years older than her charges.

Clutching their gas masks, the little group would set off, walking close to buildings to avoid potential enemy fire, protective barrage balloons floating in the sky above them.

“We were neighbours and our mothers were friends,” Mike continues. “They were in the Worthing Ladies’ Cricket Club after the war – no time for Mum to do that during the war.”

During the war, Diana’s father was in the Home Guard and her mother, Kathleen, was an ARP warden, patrolling the streets of Worthing to ensure that not a crack of light was visible in the night.

The Jarvis family were relative newcomers, evacuated to Worthing in 1939.  Alice Bergen, Irish by birth, trained as a nurse at St. Thomas’ Hospital in London, where she and Reg Jarvis met and married, brought together by their love of ballroom dancing. By the time Mike came along in 1940, Reg was away in the army for the duration, while Alice held the fort at home.

According to her sons, Alice was rather a tartar. “When we heard her feet coming, we scattered and ran. Her temper was renowned,” says John. “Of course, we were three wild boys, highly brattish.”

Case in point: along with machine guns on the rooftops, and barbed wire and barricades at the seashore, and other constant reminders of a country at war, Canadian soldiers were garrisoned at Worthing, and generous guests they were in those days when everything was rationed.

The Jarvis boys were not permitted to speak to strangers, let alone accept gifts. With a diet consisting largely of garden vegetables, powdered milk and eggs, the temptation of sweet treats was irresistible.

John remembers Wrigley’s chewing gum, “which we hadn’t seen before. Even now the smell of peppermint takes me back to those days, and Mum saying, ‘If you swallow that, you’re going to go up like a barrage balloon.’ We were afraid of that, but more afraid of Mum’s wrath and would spit out our gum when she was coming.”

Mike, the youngest Jarvis, has never forgotten his first taste of chocolate: “What was this brown stuff in shiny silver paper?”

Diana remembers her grandfather opening little tin boxes and sharing his hoard of broken pieces of chocolate and a Canadian soldier’s gift of a kilt that her mother made into housecoats for herself and her two daughters.

The war came to an end and Reg Jarvis came home. “Who is that man, Mum?” the boys asked. Reg and Alice opened the first of three nursing homes they operated.

The children grew up and everyone but Derek immigrated to North Vancouver. Diana was first, joining her fiancé, Nigel Williams, in 1953. They raised their family and lived an outdoorsy life, finding time to help establish the Evergreen Squash Club.

John and his wife, Mary, arrived in 1957. Ten years later, Mike and his wife, Caroline, joined them. The brothers established Deeler’s Antiques, growing the business to seven locations in B.C. and Alberta.

Eventually, they went their separate ways. John carried on with Deeler’s and then went into the funeral business while Mike carried on in the furniture business, opening the Brassicles shop in West Vancouver in 1994.

One year later, Diana learned that Mike was on the North Shore. “I went into Brassicles one day and said, ‘Mike,’ and he said, ‘Diana .... Lockitt, right?’”

Diana and the Jarvis brothers established a friendship based on the experiences and community they shared in childhood. They now enjoy life with their offspring, including great grandchildren, and support one another in the joys and challenges life brings.

Derek Jarvis died in 2008. Diana’s husband, Nigel, passed away last year. Mike and Caroline have weathered health issues. John has cared for Mary, his wife of 60 years, as Alzheimer’s disease took over their lives, and visits her twice every day at mealtimes at the care centre which is now her home.

Now an advocate for those whose relatives are living in residential care, John describes one of the care homes his parents operated in Worthing.

“They were actual homes for people, comfortably furnished, also self-sufficient. We had a chicken run and a duck pond – fresh eggs every day – a big greenhouse and vegetable garden, a sun house and flowerbeds.

“Indoors, there were rooms for 14 residents, a medical ward and a surgery. The staff included a Nurse and Nursing Sisters, and orderlies, along with a cook and a gardener, all from Worthing or from Ireland, probably from our mother’s home county. Overseeing all was the Matron, our mother.”

 Thanks to Mike and John Jarvis and Diana Williams, a column that started off as a reunion story became a story about shared culture and experience, and friendship.

 As John says, “We have all travelled many miles from our source, and here we all are.”

Laura Anderson works with and for seniors on the North Shore. Contact her by phone at 778-279-2275 or email her at lander1@shaw.ca.

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