If you take from the earth, you give back to it. And what you take, you make use of.
I grew up in a small community in the Fraser Canyon called Boston Bar. People say, “Don’t blink your eyes or you’ll miss it.” So I headed to Vancouver in the ‘70s to look for work and some different scenery and got a job at a logger’s agency. They sent me out to a camp where I worked 30 days on, 10 days off. Work was hard there.
They fed you good, the pay was good, but it was very dangerous. One guy had a log roll over him. He stood up and tried to say something, but he just collapsed. The log crushed his chest and, just like that, he was gone.
Then machinery started taking over for labourers, and I was in search of other employment. Where I grew up, our traditional ways taught me it was always important to give back to the earth what you take from it. I saw that they needed tree planters and I thought it was a good way for me to give back to the land. I worked for a year at that job, eight hours a day, five days a week, planting many, many trees.
I also wanted to make use of what i took out of the land so I enrolled in carpentry at Cariboo College, and then worked in Kamloops for two years. But again, small town work was short, so again I found myself in Vancouver, where I worked as a carpenter for 25 years. I helped build many apartments and residential houses. But it could also be dangerous.
One day on the job, I was carrying a big I-beam and stepped in a pothole I didn’t see. I tripped. My leg went “Snap! Crackle! Pop!” and my shin bone was sticking out. In all, I got five pins in my ankle, one in my shin, bolts in my knees and one in my femur. I couldn’t work anymore.
When you become used to working hard and good money coming in and then find yourself unemployed, depression sets in. So i started drinking. From there I went from Single Room Occupancy (SRO) hotel rooms to the streets.
I drank every day with a group of friends, and that can take a toll on you. One day I realized this wasn’t only hurting me, but my family too. I wanted to quit. I told my friends I was going to quit, and they gave me their full support.
Instead of trying to push the bottle on me, they gave me words of encouragement: “Right on, bro,” they said. “Keep it up.” That’s what kept me reaching for my goal. These are true friends. Now I find myself on a different path: healthy, happy, focused and more energetic.
I’ve been through a lot. Sometimes I didn’t know if I was going to make it. But through words of wisdom, the elders taught me the greatest gift is giving. It’s something I’ll always remember. I like giving back to my family, friends and my community, may it be through writing, volunteering, selling Megaphone and Hope in Shadows or just helping the guy on the street.
Now I have a purpose and it’s a great feeling to know I’m doing something for myself and for others.
Peter Thompson sells Megaphone in downtown Vancouver at Robson and Howe six days a week. His piece "Past 'n Present" is featured in Megaphone's 2012 Voices of the Street literary anthology. Click here to read Peter sharing his thoughts about the writing and storytelling process.