For three-quarters of a century, Avalon and Irvine Thomson have faced life’s challenges together.
On May 29, the Blind Bay couple celebrated their 75th wedding anniversary – an rare feat made possible by having shared a busy, sometimes difficult but, overall, enriching time in each other’s company.
“Not too many make it to that – 75 years and into our nineties and that,” laughs Irvine. “Yeah, it’s been a bit of a challenge, our whole life has been a bit of challenge, but it’s been really rewarding. I wouldn’t change it.”
Avalon credits her marriage’s longevity to a combination of commitment, caring, family and faith.
“When you have faith, you have something to cling onto when the trouble times come and the hard times come, which come to everybody from time to time,” said Avalon, acknowledging she and Irvine have been looking out for one another for most of their lives.
Avalon and Irvine’s journey together began in Nevada, where he worked for a mine and she was employed at a soda shop. It wasn’t long after the two met that they decided to get married.
“It was five months,” said Avalon of their courting period, “That’s kind of a while during war time.”
Avalon was 17 at the time, so Irvine, who’d claimed to be 18, had to ask her mother for permission to wed. At that point, Irvine confessed to being 17.
Nine months into their marriage and seven months expecting, Avalon and Irvine received a visit from the FBI, who wanted to know why he hadn’t been drafted. It was then that Avalon learned her husband was actually one year younger than her. But that surprise didn’t change her mind about him.
“I just looked at him and saw what he did was responsible – a totally responsible person,” said Avalon, explaining Irvine had lied about his age in order to work and support his mother and siblings. “And I thought he is mature for his age, and what can I do, I’m in it now. And I didn’t want to get out of it at that point.”
When he turned 18 (for real), Irvine was drafted and was trained for a land invasion of Japan.
“He came home for a 10-day leave before shipping out, headed for Japan, and the day he came home the atom bomb was dropped,” said Avalon.
“I missed the battle part, which was good for me, and I wasn’t up for shooting someone if I could avoid it,” added Irvine.
After serving in the Philippines, Irvine returned home and the young family wound up moving to L.A. where he studied to become a licensed electrician – a career that, on occasion, would take him to the residences of Hollywood celebrities.
“He did electrical work for Jayne Mansfield… a movie star,” said Avalon. “He wired in her huge, big walk-in closet – the walls were all mirrors, he’s putting elements in there, and she was laying on this big round bed studying something – her parts.”
After reading the book, Grass Beyond the Mountains, by author Richmond P. Hobson, the Thomsons found themselves drawn to the Chilcotin. They bought a little trailer, drove north to B.C. and spent two months exploring the Chilcotin. During this time, the two fell in love with the area.
Upon returning to L.A., Irvine announced the Thomsons would be selling their home to become ranchers in the Chilcotin.
“The only real objection I had was when he told me we’re putting our house on the market in California,” said Avalon. “It was a lovely home and my children were being raised in it. So I sort of balked at that a bit, but when I got into the spirit of the adventure of what was happening, then I was OK. And the boys loved it, our three sons.”
The Thomsons lack of experience quickly earned them the status of “greenhorns” among their fellow ranchers, who were happy to educate their new neighbours from L.A.
“One thing we found out that most of ranching was common sense, and most things you could figure out just through common sense, and also we watched what our rancher friends did, our neighbours, and you could watch what they’re doing and how they’re doing it,” said Avalon.
“The learning experience was tremendous, everything you did had to be learned…,” adds Irvine. “It was a great experience and I feel like I’m an accomplished rancher now. I think I made the grade.”
After building up a successful ranching operation, the Thomsons moved on to their next challenge. They bought a cafe on Nimpo Lake and then built a hotel next to it. They ran that the hotel for 10 years before selling the business and “retiring” on a small acreage near Barriere.
“Well, we didn’t really (retire),” laughed Irvine. “Retiring in our life wasn’t a retirement. We quit making money.”
“They say you don’t retire, you retread for a few more miles,” added Avalon.
Years later, for health reasons the Thomsons relocated to a home in Blind Bay where, at ages 91 and 92, Irvine and Avalon continue to enjoy one another’s company, taking on life’s challenges together.
“At this age… when one or the other of us needs a caregiver, and when it’s me, he’s my caregiver, the best, and when it’s me, I’m his caregiver – not quite as good,” laughs Avalon. “But we care for each other and we look after each other and we help each other and it sort of keeps you close to together.”