New West couple celebrates 70th anniversary
Allan and Edna Carlbeck’s love has stood the test of time.
It has endured through more than seven decades of happy times, depressing times and tough times.
It was June 20, 1940 and Allan needed a date for a wiener roast high school grad party at Wasa Lake outside their hometown of Kimberley. The 18-year-old knew his way around the dance floor and he needed someone that could keep up.
That’s when he spotted 16-year-old Edna.
“I saw her coming up the stairs. I thought she was so beautiful. She still is,” says Allan in the Uptown New Westminster condominium the couple shares with their daughter Melanie.
LEFT: Allan as a young man, in Kimberley.
“That’s why I’ve kept him all these years,” says Edna of Allan’s compliment. “Besides, I danced pretty good. Some of those girls couldn’t keep up with those steps.”
Out at the lake Allan struggled to swim to the raft and, says Edna, “I had to go out there and grab him and bring him back to shore.”
“See? I saved you,” she says to Allan.
“I know you did dear,” he replies. “Many times.”
Four days later he was working for Cominco at its zinc and silver mine in Kimberley.
In 1942, Allan joined the air force and after training he was posted to Jericho Beach in Vancouver.
Edna had been working at the Bank of Montreal in Kimberley, but in 1943 she got a job with the bank in Downtown Vancouver.
The romance blossomed.
They’d pick up fish ‘n’ chips for dinner and butterscotch pie for dessert before dancing Saturday nights away at the Alexander Ballroom, The Cave nightclub, the Commodore Ballroom or Happyland on the PNE grounds.
Forging a bond
Finally he popped the question at a café, putting an engagement ring on her finger that he’d bought for $100 while stationed in Medicine Hat the year before.
His proposal came on June 20, 1943, three years to the day of their first date and one year to the day before their wedding,
June 20, 1944. Next Friday, June 20, they will celebrate their 70th anniversary.
It was a big wedding held in Kimberley. Edna’s mother reminded everyone to save their liquor rations so they could have enough booze for the reception.
After it was over they hopped in a friend’s car and headed to Cranbrook to catch the 4 a.m. train back to Vancouver. He was due back on duty with the air force on Monday. Their exit was so quick they didn’t open their wedding presents until two years later. Allan’s sister gave them a set of pots and pans which Edna still uses.
“They were really good ones,” she says.
They lived on Melville Street in Downtown Vancouver in a little one-room apartment with a hotplate until the war was over, and then it was back to Kimberley and Cominco.
In 1950 they were transferred to Trail where they remained until 1981. They had three children: Dianne was born in 1947, Melanie in 1950 and Brent in 1953.
Melanie was a cute little blond baby who was born with spina bifida, a congenital disorder that affects the spine. They didn’t have the resources that exist today to deal with the debilitating birth disorder. But they raised her with love and instilled enough confidence for her to head off to UBC when she graduated from high school. She went on to become a learning assistance/resource teacher in Trail and then Langley.
Through thick and thin
Then in 1964 Allan got hit with bouts of depression.
“She put up with me,” says Allan, 92. “It took years and years for me to pull out of it. When I retired in 1981 I still would get it.”
Despite Allan’s depression, Edna hung in there. She continued to work while she raised three kids and dealt with Melanie’s condition and the operations that went with it.
“You had to cope. Working, that kind of saved me,” says Edna, 90.
“It wasn’t easy for her,” says Allan.
“You do what you have to do,” says Edna. “I didn’t have time to think about it. I was taking up too much time coping.”
Her strict Anglican upbringing wouldn’t allow her to even think of leaving her troubles behind.
“I would never run away,” she says. “That never even entered my mind. I was just too busy trying to make everything work. I was just trying to make everybody happy.
LEFT: Edna as a young woman.
Allan is grateful to his family for helping him through those years.
“They knew there was a problem, but they accepted it for what it was,” he says.
Melanie has had a front-row seat for her parents’ relationship for many of those seven decades. She’s grateful they listened to Dr. O’Donnell who told her parents “one thing you don’t do is hide her away in a closet. You help her as much as you can.”
“They always said you can do whatever you put your mind to,” Melanie says. “They made sure I took driving lessons when I was 18.”
They got her a vehicle with car cushions to boost her tiny frame so she could see over the steering wheel and equipped it with hand controls.
“They were a good team,” says Melanie, who won a provincial Courage to Come Back Award in 2005, a year before she retired.
After Allan retired they moved to the Lower Mainland and when Melanie bought her condo they joined her 20 years ago. They’ve been through a lot, and that’s strengthened their relationship.
Says Allan: “Every night I lean over and touch her and say, ‘I love you.’ ”
“It’s a ritual, but it’s meaningful.”