I seldom write a letter to the editor of a newspaper, but I — and others — feel my recent Thanksgiving adventure in Brandon warrants a space in the Brandon Sun.
I live in Regina and my relatives in Dauphin invited me to spend Thanksgiving with them. So I took the bus to Dauphin via Yorkton, Sask., with just an hour stop in Yorkton. However, returning to Regina was a different matter — it involved a long stopover in Yorkton. The alternative was to return via Brandon, although it too had a long stopover, arriving in Brandon around suppertime, but not leaving for Regina until 2:40 in the middle of the night. I chose to return via Brandon.
So I left Dauphin on Thanksgiving Day (our big day was the day before) and arrived in Brandon around suppertime. I thus had to put in the time — somewhere — until 2:40 a.m. The bus depot was closed for the night soon after our bus got in. The restaurant adjoining the bus depot was closed for the Thanksgiving holiday. So where to go, what to do?
I decided to head for the YMCA — perhaps it would be open, and I could snooze or read in a chair. So I got some directions at the bus depot and started west along Rosser Avenue.
Rosser Avenue was empty, not a soul on the street, and only the occasional car, and all the shops closed, after all it was Thanksgiving Day.
I finally came to a place that was open — the Crystal Hotel. The name rang a bell immediately — I remember reading of it in the diary/journals of my youngest brother. This was in the 1980s when he was a part-time patient in the Brandon Mental Hospital, which he hated and considered a holding tank. He suffered from schizophrenia, complicated by an addiction to alcohol.
While in Brandon he spent many a day and evening in the bar of the Crystal Hotel, where he wrote and read extensively, accompanied by his beloved beer.
He had been a brilliant scholar, valedictorian at his university, an English teacher at university, an elder in the church, but gradually laid low by his dementia — a tragedy for him and our family. Job-like, he wrestled with God, and wrote extensively in his journals about the meaning of life — or lack thereof. His journals, deeply introspective, represent an in-depth case history of someone battling forlornly with his dementia, and why God was dealing with him as He was.
But he found the pub of the Crystal Hotel in Brandon a sort of refuge. He had become introverted, and withdrawn, and joined in discussions less easily.
Nevertheless, he found acceptance in the pub, people there were friendly, non-judgmental or less judgmental, and he felt relaxed, with his beer, journals, books and cigars. All this leads to a quote from his journal, “There is more Christianity in the pub than there is in the church.” For him the Crystal Hotel represented an oasis amid a world of troubles. For him the pub overcame some of his aloneness.
All this went through my mind as I walked into the Crystal Hotel (my first time) and on into the pub.
It was about 7:30 p.m. and somehow I had to put in time until 2:40 a.m. when my bus to Regina left the depot.
There was only one man in the room, except for a few men at the back playing some game and they left before long. I asked the one man at the table if I could join him and his answer was, “Of course.”
The lone bartender — a most pleasant lady — came at once to our table and asked me if I’d like a coffee. I accepted gladly, wondering why she didn’t ask me if I wanted a beer.
The one man and I chatted until 11:30 when he left. The bartender kept my coffee cup refilled the whole time and chatted with me from time to time. I told her I was putting in time until the 2:40 a.m. bus left for Regina.
The Crystal Hotel bears little resemblance to a modern city hotel. I found that it had just celebrated its 130th anniversary. It must therefore have been one of, if not, the first hotel in Brandon. It was in the downtown core — a small building, with the design and feel of a small-town bar.
The pub was to close at midnight. The bartender, Liz, refused any money for my coffee, and said there was a room upstairs — No. 17 — which I could use until 2 o’clock. She said she’d have the night clerk wake me at 2 o’clock. She also said she’d have the night clerk wake her at home and she’d come over in her car and drive me to the bus depot. My protestations for all this achieved nothing and she would take no money whatsoever.
I snoozed in Room 17 and the night clerk woke me at 2 o’clock. I went down to the hotel entrance and there was Liz with her car. She drove us to the back of the closed bus depot and we waited in her car until the bus arrived.
Naturally I was very touched by all Liz had done for me — a complete stranger with a problem. She did everything so easily and pleasantly. It was also somewhat routine. I found that I wasn’t the first to receive her kindness.
It was a wonderful, spontaneous act of kindness involving a barmaid and a stranger.
I can’t help but wonder where else in Brandon or Regina or wherever, I would have found such kindness — who knows?
It was a strange coincidence that led me that night to the Crystal Hotel, which years ago had been a haven for my brother, and later, a haven for me.
Kindness is where we find it and I found it on a cold Thanksgiving night from a barmaid in the pub of the Crystal Hotel in Brandon. Liz was my Good Samaritan.
Opportunities for random acts of kindness abound — they are everywhere around us. All it takes is initiative and kindness — the results are wonderful both for the one who gives and the one who receives.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition November 9, 2012