In 1970 our family moved to the Greata Ranch between Summerland and Peachland.At the time there were fruit trees growing on the banks overlooking Okanagan Lake.We had apples ,pears, plums,apricots and cherries,including 2 marishino cherry trees ! The fields below Highway 97 were used mostly for tomatoes and corn.
Since my stepfather Otto was at a job in Penticton then,the task of irrigating the orchards and working the fields was mine.I must have turned 18 and was going to Summerland Senior Secondary School. I was involved in after school theatre productions with tanya ryga then,and was a frequent visitor at playwright george ryga's house where we often rehearsed.I got to know ryga's macrobiotic meals there,and had fun with his boys Sergei and Campbell.One became a music teacher,the other a well know Canadian musician.The latest i heard from tanya she was a theatre teacher in Calgary+Lethbridge Alberta.
We lived in an odd two storey bunk house on Greata which must have been used for workers in days past.I slept upstairs with my brother,my sisters and parents downstairs.The upstairs had a dozen old metal beds,and one old cabinet style AM radio which i attached meters of wire to.My hobby nights was to listen to AM stations as far away as California and mid USA and send verification reports to the stations,who then sent back reception cards.The whole house,which i was ashamed of, was heated by a wood stove in winter.But when i hitchhiked home from school,i would get folks to drop me at the neighbouring house,which was a more modern one.
But the place was beautiful,especially in the Summer when we took a trail down to the lake and went swimming,diving off the docks of an old packing house down there.This packing house was in mint condition,cool inside on the hottest days.There were still piles of labels and boxes left, so it must have been used to pack fruit before transporting it out across the lake.In 1972 i used the trail to train myself for middle distance track competition.I had some success at regional meets the years before in 1,500 and 3,000m races,but in '72 i won the Valley Comp. in 3,000m (in rain in Penticton).I went on to win the Interior Title in Kelowna that year,placing 2nd in 1,500m. My rival was a kid called Weber,who was a touch faster at 1,500m. At the provincial Final that year i had to bow out of race because of an ankle injury playing soccer a few days before the Finals.
There was an old D2 Caterpillar on the ranch which we used to plow fields,pull old trees out of orchard and clear the entrance road in Winter.An old iron grater served as a plow.One man had to work that,while the other drove the Cat. I very nearly lost this Cat into the lake on two occasions.Once the diesel fumes caused me to nod off while driving up to north orchard in Summer.I ended up driving off a ledge onto a bank where the machine fortunately stalled.The other time i was chained to a log around a tree right at the border of a steep cliff in Winter . I was alone and got off to study how best to free myself without losing the Cat,whose treads grip well when you go forward,but on snow slide sideways with no traction.I decided to try gunning full power and spin to the left .That worked, but i was like one meter away from losing it.
Students Council President/Music and Theatre
In 1971 i ran for Students Council Pres with a smart girl called Darlene McBain (later a lawyer in Kamloops).We won and Darlene became Secretary.We brought in some good bands for School Dances and got music on the school speakers mornings.Notable was a protest meeting against US nuclear testing on Amchitka Island that year!The whole school marched to a park where we had speakers lined up to voice their dissent. As SCP i was allowed to visit any classroom during day,a priviledge i used.
Entering the school mornings through the auditorium there was a man called Jim Grinder on the piano improvising jazz. Jim was an amazing guy,who produced THE BOYFRIEND in 1971 and Gilbert+Sullivan's MIKADO in 1972.I played a lead role,Nanki Poo,tanya played Katisha,Andy Impett played Koko.We three did various theatre plays in those 2 years including THE BALD SOPRANO and THE TRICYCLE .
I was also winning some Public Speaking Contests then,but lost the Provincial Final to a charming girl who wooed the audience with Robby Burns quotes.Still, at the Graduation ceremony i came off stage with 3 or 4 huge trophies for Public Speaking and Track achievements.
Meanwhile back at the ranch Otto had hired a heap of Hippies to help with the apple harvest.They lived in a packing house which had living quarters.This quite impressed me,since i always thought of him as a conservative man.He also hired a barefoot man from the Coast called Smitty to drive a tactor he had bought.After a few weeks however Smitty forgot to set the foot brake while loading and the tractor started rolling.Smitty leaped for the wheel but landed under a wheel which rumbled over him.The tractor banged into a tree and was damaged.Smitty was Ok.Once again Otto impressed me because he kept Smitty on and had the tractor repaired!
Otto H Sameit had equestrian contacts in Washington and Alaska.He was a popular instructor and flew to Alaska several times to give courses. In Washington he was friends with the Nansons,Spencers Arabians and the Newtons-all equestrian people.I enjoyed going to horse shows back then where Otto was either riding or acting as a judge!
When Otto was away the entire place was my duty.Changing irrigation pipes often 3 times a day was a task.There was an old metal flume which brought water down from above Peachland which often needed cleaning.Sometimes a big Bull Snake(harmless) would slide down the pipe towards me when i was draining the water.There were Mule Deer in the small valleys looking to drink from the lake.There were eagles sometimes on the trees overlooking lake.In the winter of '72 i took part in a BC Fitness Program (also to train for my track events) and ran to school along the Highway mornings.Sometimes there would be mule deer running along below highway.
Our graduation party was a bash-my classmates got me soundly drunk and i suffered the next day! I will never forget my sweet Mother rushing my graduation jacket down the waiting line.She had just finished it.Mom was a seamstress.
A family called The Pollards arrived that Summer to take lessons.The second oldest was a blond kid called Sean,and we hit it off right away.Almost like a charmed entrance to my new adult life,these brothers lured me away to Balfour (by Nelson) where i lived with and worked on the family delivery business.
The GREATA RANCH was sold later and the new owners created GREATA RANCH ESTATE WINERY which is still being renovated today (Feb 2015)
The beauty of the lake is always with me.
The orchards at harvest time.
Those were some momentos of my graduating years . rjmendera