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In love for a Rayleigh long time

This is a love story — times two. It’s a story of two young people, one from Germany, the other from Poland, who happened to meet while leaving their respective countries after the Second World War, both bound for Canada.
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This is a love story —  times two.

It’s a story of two young people, one from Germany, the other from Poland, who happened to meet while leaving their respective countries after the Second World War, both bound for Canada.

If Joe Perszon hadn’t headed into a chapel one day, he would never have met sisters Helen, Josephine and Caroline and this story would never have been written.

But, they did meet and Joe was entranced by Caroline, enough that, when they arrived in Canada and went their separate ways, they continued to stay in touch.

Joe headed to B.C., while Caroline stopped in Manitoba, finding a job there.

Finally, Joe, who had found work cutting down trees, sent $250 to Caroline and asked her to come to Kamloops.

“And then, you surprised me,” he said to Caroline while chatting with KTW. “You came out.”

Caroline said it was she who finally popped the question because it was taking Joe too long to do it.

On Jan. 19, 1952, the two were married.

That’s the start of the first love story, one of two immigrants who found each other and then found a life in Canada, raising four children along the way.

The second love story starts in 1958, when the Perszon family moved to Rayleigh.

Back then, Joe said, Rayleigh was open range, farming land, a place where the Perszon kids — two boys and two girls — could run and play and mom and dad knew they were safe.

It was a place with fruit trees and horses and chickens, where water came from a well, alfalfa grew in the fields and Caroline baked, canned and cooked.

“Even though,” Caroline noted, “I didn’t like cooking much.”

There was one road with a metal gate at the end that had to be opened so Joe could drive home.

“There was nothing here,” Joe said. “No school, nothing. The school was built in 1963. Before that, nothing.”

He occasionally saw Mr. Puett, as Joe still calls him, an original homesteader for whom one of Rayleigh’s streets is named.

“He had a house down by the river,” Joe said. “I met him once. He came by in a taxi and he stopped.”

When one house wasn’t big enough, Joe and Caroline built another and watched as more houses rose through the years, more families moving to Rayleigh and calling it home.

While those families came and went, the Perszons stayed and were recognized earlier this month by the city for having lived in Rayleigh longer than anyone else there.

Joe stayed in forestry, getting 50 cents for each tree he brought down.

“But, that time, 50 cents, you could go get a haircut for that, lots of things,” he said.

Eventually, Joe got a job as custodian with the school district, ending up back in the area he had grown to love as he was assigned to Rayleigh elementary.

They stayed in Rayleigh, Caroline said, “because it’s good place to raise children. They cannot get into anything. It’s just a quiet place.”

Joe, 88, and Caroline, 83, aren’t too fond of heading downtown these days — too busy, too many cars and nothing like Rayleigh.

They’re not bothered by the trains lumbering through their neighbourhood or by traffic on nearby Yellowhead Highway.

“We just don’t notice it,” Caroline said.

They still have fruit trees — cherry, apple, plum and pear — but there’s no more canning. They give a lot of the fruit away to neighbours, to seniors’ homes, to the city’s food bank, to places where people will enjoy fresh fruit.

With 11 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren, there’s always someone who would love a fresh apple or pear.

They go for walks through their neighbourhood, sometimes being greeted by a horn honk or a wave by others passing by.

Sometimes, Joe said, they know who it is; other times, it’s someone they don’t know.

During Christmas, a woman rang their doorbell and, when Joe answered it, he was greeted with a box of cookies for him and his wife from a woman he didn’t recognize.

She said she had gone to school with the Perszon kids.

“That’s the real Christmas,” he said. “I don’t know her, but she was a kid in school.”

Joe and Caroline don’t want a lot of fuss made about their longevity in Rayleigh, nor did they want much made out of the length of their marriage.

Their kids took them out for dinner and that was enough.

When it was done, they headed back to their home and to a life they said they would never have changed.

“It’s a marriage,” Caroline said.

Joe agreed.

“Yes, it’s a marriage. I think we’ve had a good life here.”