There is something about the middle of February that has many thinking about love.
It can take many forms; love can be fleeting, it can hurt, but in the best circumstances, it is enduring.
For Bill and Betsy Van Eldik, their love has lasted since the pair – now in their 80s – were teenagers in the Dutch city of Arnhem.
They have known each other since the couple first started in school, but Betsy was not so fond of her future husband then.
“At first she wanted nothing to do with me,” Bill said with a smile in the living room of Baillie House long-term care home in Maple Ridge, where the husband and wife now live together.
“It’s been since kindergarten that I remember him,” Betsy added.
“And I didn’t like him when he was little. He was too noisy. But I changed my mind when I was about 15 or 16. I just grew attracted to him, and a lot of things he liked, I started to like, too.”
As Betsy was a little slow to make her feelings known, her mother took it upon herself to play cupid.
“I was sitting in the kitchen at their home one time, talking to her mother, and she said, ‘Bill, Betsy is crazy about you, you know?’”
The pair courted by going on walks through the city and if he was lucky, Bill would get a kiss at Betsy’s door. The relationship faced its greatest challenge when Bill decided to move to Canada in 1953.
He recalls almost every detail of the day he got on the plane in Amsterdam, including the call letters of the aircraft – PHTLW – and the type of plane it was – a DC-4.
“Betsy – before I left – wrote me a nice letter,” he said, remembering the exchange fondly.
“She told me, don’t read the letter until the plane has taken off.”
Bill flew to Montreal and from there travelled by rail to Vancouver. The following years were difficult without his friends, family and of course, Betsy.
The letter would prove to be a balm when times were tough.
“I kept it very carefully because once in a while I would read it,” he said. “Especially when I felt a little bit down-in-the-dumps.”
The pick-me-up was simple but meaningful to the new Canadian.
“Betsy said in that letter, ‘Bill, perhaps when you read this you’re flying high above the Atlantic somewhere. You’re going to face a very difficult time. You will miss me but I want you to know that I would rather raise a family in Canada than in Holland,” ’ Bill said.
By 1955, the wait would prove worth it. His wife-to-be followed the same route as he did and arrived on Feb. 6, 1955.
Betsy said she will never forget the greeting she received.
“He was very excited,” she remembered.
“He had gone to a bachelor party the night before, and he had got quite drunk, so there was quite a bit of excitement because we hadn’t seen each other for two years.”
They were married within the month, and have kids and grand-kids and great-grand kids over the course of their lives.
It was to one of their kids that Bill would write a poem as an 18th birthday present describing his journey to Canada. He can still recite the verse from memory …
The time must come for every child to leave his home and see the world and so it was with me;
At age 19, not quite a man and yet a child no more;
I was impatient and ambitious, eager to explore;
The stories that were told in that year of 1953, of golden opportunities in lands across the sea;
The brilliant April sun was gone and soon it turned to rain;
I stood with other passengers about to board the plane;
How vivid still the memory of, though it’s been many years, my mother bravely spent managing a smile despite her tears;
My father, how he pressed my hands, his voice in which I caught a husky tremor, as he said, good bye son, go with god;
And soon the clouds of Holland’s grey and melancholy sky were under us, the scene below is hidden from the eye;
All have forgotten their farewells, no time now to be sad;
Our future lies in Canada, we have to look ahead;
Ecstatically we talk about this strange new land that seems to hold so many promises in answer to our dreams;
Two years go by with little more than work and eat and sleep;
I learned a language, find a job and tried to earn my keep;
And although times are difficult and employment hard to find at last I’m reunited with a girl I left behind.