Last week, my six-year-old son and I stopped by The Canadian Canoe Museum. I had something to drop off and it was intended to be a quick in and out. I should’ve known better, as what child can resist the tactility of those glorious galleries?
Andrew was under the weather, but his headache didn’t dull his curiosity. He approached Ipie, a friendly-faced volunteer who was working away on a bright red blanket coat amidst one of the exhibits. Ipie welcomed Andrew and soon, they struck up a conversation. Just minutes later, Andrew found himself trying on his favourite, albeit too-big blue capote. As Ipie tied the sash and the scarf, and put up his hood, she explained the function of the fringe and the origin of the beautiful blanket. He was captivated – not only by the information that Ipie was so creatively imparting, but by her own enthusiasm for the experience.
She turned back time, and began role playing with him. Having donned the coat, Andrew would head out into the winter wilderness to begin his work as a trapper. I watched my son’s eyes sparkle and a smile spread across his face, as, transported to another place and time, he pretended to gather wood to build a fire. Next, making himself right at home in the midst of the museum, he tried on the more traditional Hudson’s Bay Company point blanket coat. This one, the perfect size.
Before my eyes, and in what seemed like an instant, the most incredible intergenerational relationship had been born. Despite trying to capture every moment of the experience with my phone, I might as well have been invisible – Ipie and Andrew so focused on each other and the conversation at-hand.
With a scrap of the bright red blanket before her, Ipie quickly crafted for Andrew, a bookmark mouse and soon, he was introducing her to his favourite stuffed animal and best friend Beary. Without missing a beat, Ipie began tracing Beary’s tiny (well worn) body, creating a pattern. It was her intention to make Beary a capote, and proceeded to ask Andrew what colour wool and what colour stitching he would like. Jumping up and down with excitement, Andrew requested a green coat and light blue stitching.
More than an hour after their interaction began, it was time for Andrew to head home, and for Ipie to take a well-deserved coffee break. However, I think these kindred spirits knew full well that they would meet again.
Fast forward four days, and ready and waiting for Andrew at the museum, was a beautifully wrapped package and a hand-written note.
“Dear Andrew – I hope that your headache is gone. I really liked talking to you last Thursday. Here is the capote for your bear. Take care. Yours truly, Ipie Van Der Veen.”
Andrew was over the moon as he unwrapped the gift and with great care, dressed his bear, discussing every element of the coat’s construction. He tells me that Beary is cozy in the coat and that it is “the most wonderful clothing he has had in his whole life.”
Ipie asked for but one thing in return for the capote. She asked that Andrew “pay it forward” and to one day, when he is older, share his talent and his time with another. Ipie’s request, and the time she spent with Andrew has spurred on many conversations as he contemplates every minute of his extraordinary experience. Already, he’s thinking about how he will follow through on Ipie’s request.
For Andrew (and for his mother), Ipie is an incredible inspiration. And I’ve since learned, that Andrew is not alone in the time and attention he received from her. In fact, I understand that these types of “little” contributions are far from uncommon and that it’s with this same sort of passion and purpose that she volunteers twice weekly at the museum.
“Dear Ipie – Thank you for sharing with Andrew, an extraordinary expression of history, and, even more importantly, of humanity. I don’t doubt for a moment, that he learned from you, more than we’ll every know. Happy National Volunteer Week. With sincere gratitude, Alicia Doris.”