PHOTO: Ben Weaver’s personal treasures include his autograph book with items from fellow students and teachers. (Heather Colpitts/Langley Advance)
Ben Weaver’s British parents sent him off to Grade 1 in short pants.
The memory of the six-year-old not fitting in with his fellow farm kids at Lochiel School in 1946 is still vivid for Weaver, even 70 years later.
Every few months Weaver travels here from Vancouver Island for a reunion of Langley students.
In between visits, he still stays connected with the kids he grew up with, including Bill Merrell.
The two men were in Grade 1 together and have remained lifelong friends, getting together recently at Lochiel, now a heritage building at Campbell Valley Regional Park.
They attended a few different elementary schools around Langley.
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PHOTO: Ben Weaver still has his class photo from 1951 when he attended Lochiel School. (Ben Weaver collection)
Both went to Langley Secondary School at a time when it was for Grades 7 to 13.
“I was on shifts in Grade 12, and that was tough,” Merrell said.
It mean no extracurricular activities because the resources were tied up.
Merrell’s family had moved closer to Aldergrove. His sister went to the newly constructed Aldergrove high school but Merrell stayed in Langley high school.
“You get to know the teachers so well and they get to know you,” Weaver said.
“That wasn’t all good,” Merrell joked. “I spent more hours in detention from smoking in the parking lot.”
Weaver also took up smoking at the time, common for young people.
“I remember getting a package of Sportsman – that’s healthy right?” he thought.
Weaver would not spend his life in rural Langley.
“My mom and dad wanted me to take over the farm and I said ‘I’m not a farmer’,” he said.
Instead he got a job in a bank and spent his entire career in banking and the financial sector.
Merrell became one of the top executives at Finning Tractor.
Their professions took both men to various locales, like many of their classmates.
“We were in there with Grade 1 to Grade 6 and we turned out pretty well,” Merrell said.
The friends say starting out in a one-room school house has served them well in life.
“We’ve had a couple of engineers, we’ve had doctors,” Weaver said.
“And businesspeople,” added Merrell. “A lot of really successful people.”
The kids were a mix of pioneer families and newcomers.
Some of the kids couldn’t speak English when they started school. The newcomers learned about Canadian culture but the English language training wouldn’t pass muster today.
“We went through a different era,” Merrell said. “Daily some kid, a displaced person from Europe, came to the school. On day one, he was matched with another kid in the school. By day three, he was swearing in the schoolyard.”
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PHOTO: Ben Weaver still cherishes many items from his school days. (Heather Colpitts/Langley Advance)
In addition to his memories, Weaver has kept treasured items from his childhood – class photos, report cards for little Benny Weaver (“does not always put in enough effort” from one teacher), an aerial photo of Langley Prairie showing the community before Langley high school was constructed near the airport.
Weaver still has the invitation from Langley Junior-Senior High School graduation.
It dates from May 31, 1957, with its program featuring speeches and contributions from people such as teachers Mr. H. D. Stafford and Mr. R.E. Mountain. Very indicative of its era, the event featured a banquet of fruit juice, cold turkey, cranberry sauce, potato salad, green salad, pickles, celery, olives, rolls, strawberry sundae, cookies, tea and coffee.
Weaver still enjoys flipping through his autograph book from his childhood and reminiscing about the messages it contained.
His Grade 7 teacher Mr. White: “The thing that goes the farthest to making life worthwhile. It costs the least but does the most. It’s just a pleasant smile.”
“The season’s so bright, the sun is full of light, you are just my height and just right,” from a classmate.
Audrey Cee wrote “Love is like an onion, you taste it with delight and then when it’s gone, you wonder whatever made you bite.”
Still, some bit.
Weaver and Merrell remember several classmates who married soon after high school or as young adults.
Some students wed other LSS students.
But before there could be thoughts of love, at one of the boys had come out of his shell.
Weaver remembers elementary school was also where he had to learn to get along with girls.
“We were short of books one day and the teacher said ‘Benny, you’ll have to sit with Ruby.’ I was never so nervous, sitting beside a girl… you’re so self conscious at the time,” said Weaver, who, by the way, has four sisters.
“I never really talked to girls that much. I didn’t know what to talk to the girls about. I could talk to the guys about mufflers and pipes and steering wheels and about the new Fords that were out. But I didn’t know what to talk to girls about. How’s your mufflers?”
By contrast Merrell had an automatic in with the girls – he could dance. As a kid he was cajoled by a teacher to join in the dancing, namely Viennese waltzing, because the group was short of boys.
“I thought how does he have the nerve to dance around with these girls,” Weaver said.
“I hated it at the time,” Merrell said. “But the interesting thing is I can still Viennese waltz.”
Merrell didn’t like school when he started in Grade 1 but the elderly teacher in her 70s retired and a new teacher made all the difference.
They say being in a class of mixed grades had advantages.
“We were learning all the time. I remember being in the room and I looked over, and I was in Grade 3, I guess,” Weaver said
He could see the lesson on different countries being learned by the Grade 3s.
It helped develop his thirst for knowledge.
Children were expected to behave differently in school compared to the classrooms of today.
“The teachers… they were authority figures and you respected them,” Weaver said. “[If the teacher said] ‘Benny, don’t you talk so much’, you listened.”
Merrell added that the teachers inspected the kids each day for clean hands and faces.
Weaver treasures his jaunts from Vancouver Island to Langley to get together with former high school classmates. They sit down together at the restaurant at the Poppy Golf Course quarterly.
Now when the classmates chat or get together, conversation inevitably turns to those no longer alive or who have had significant medical challenges.
“That’s the thing, too, we’re losing them,” he said of his childhood friends.
PHOTO: Ben Weaver and Bill Merrell met in Grade 1 at Lochiel School in the 1940s and have remained lifelong friends. (Heather Colpitts/Langley Advance)
PHOTO below: In addition to a class photo, seperate photos of the girls and boys were taken when Ben Weaver and Bill Merrell were in Grade 1 at Lochiel School. (Ben Weaver collection)