An Okotoks writer’s first book is a trip down memory lane in western Canada — with a significant stop in her relatively new hometown.
“I didn’t begin this intentionally thinking I would write a book,” said Pamela Hayes, who has lived in Okotoks for the past four years. “I was taking a trip down memory lane and as it progressed, I talked to family and friends and read them some of my stories.
“They were very encouraging that I should put it in book form.”
Hayes has written It Is What It Is – One Woman's Wanderings and Wonderings, a collection of stories from her life, using traditional prose as well as poetry.
“I had retired for the second time in February of 2020. We had a trip planned to Greece but that got cancelled because of COVID.” Hayes said. “I had done some journaling, and I spent a lot of time sitting in my dining room and I just started writing with reflections of my hometown, Birch Hills, Saskatchewan (southeast of Prince Albert) in the mid-1950s.”
Her reflections were strengthened by the pandemic.
“The dramatic effect that COVID-19 is having on community – and my realization of how important community is to us all, and what a shock it is to have it removed,” Hayes said. “My stories then became reflective, remembering people, events that have had a profound effect on me.”
The final chapters end with her life in Okotoks. Her husband, Frank Hayes, has deep roots in the community.
“There’s a strong family history here in Okotoks,” Hayes said. “My mother-in-law's grandfather built the Grand Central Hotel and Livery Stable (Alex and Hugh Patterson).
“Patterson Road in Okotoks is named after the family, that is in my book.”
There is also a Hayes Park in Cimarron, which was named after Frank Hayes Sr., Pamela’s father-in-law.
“Great-grandma Hayes, Marjorie Hayes, she and her husband lived outside of Okotoks,” Hayes said. “They then moved to Elma Street. Grandma Hayes opened up her home as a maternity hospital there."
Patterson Road and Hayes Park and the family history are part of It Is What It Is.
“Those are landmarks that are still here,” she said.
A personal landmark for Hayes was making a new friendship — a friend with a fast-working red pen.
She connected with Okotokian Lorna Stuber, a certified editor and former teacher, who worked with Hayes on the book.
“This was daunting,” Hayes said with a laugh. “I hadn’t been a student for a lot of years and when I got that manuscript evaluation (from Stuber), I said: ‘I’m done. This isn’t going to happen.’
“That’s all it was, was red ink.”
(Hayes would autograph Stuber’s copy of It Is What It Is, in red ink.)
The book resonated with Stuber.
“I grew up on a cattle ranch just outside of Hanna,” Stuber said. “So, I could relate to a lot of what she talks about in her stories about Birch Hills, every small town in the prairies has the same feel in terms of community – gathering at the curling rink, the fabric store, the hardware store. Not just businesses but gathering places for people to visit...This book really touches on people’s childhoods, their transitions in life, their connections to family and community.”
Hayes said with the help of Stuber she was able to combine the stories to have a flow – while dates are included at the start of each piece, they are grouped by themes.
Stuber said the book will resonate with many people, particularly women who grew up in rural Canada.
“Women in their 50’s and 60’s who are kind of in that phase of life, would find a lot of themselves in this book if they have grown up in a small town on the prairies,” Stuber said.
The result overwhelmed Stuber.
“It must be the teacher in me,” Stuber said. “When I look at the pieces that Pam gave me in January versus here’s an actual book now that the two of us put together. It is just so rewarding to create something that is going to speak to a lot of people.”
It Is What It Is — One Woman's Wanderings and Wonderings is available at amazon.com and Yooneek Books in Okotoks on McRae Street.