The walls hide such stories - Keith Roulston editorial
The photos of the home on the edge of Brussels of Darwin Ducharme and Beverly Stevenson are so ordinary it’s hard to imagine the desperate drama that played out there recently when the couple was murdered.
Their neighbours and those who knew them – even those of us from the area who didn’t know them personally – are trying to understand how anything could lead to the violent deaths of two people, let alone that his grandson could be accused of the crimes. (Beverly was the daughter of former The Citizen’s Walton correspondent Betty McCall. Darwin was the brother of his late neighbour Oscar who, with his wife Dorothea, mailed The Citizen for years.)
How many times do those of us living in small towns tend to think we’re so similar to our neighbours, then something happens inside the walls of a neighbour’s home that would be a complete shock to us if we knew. Husbands and wives have arguments that might result in violence, or lead to divorce, yet we’re unaware of it unless the windows are open or the couple fights on the porch or yard. (I remember, early in our marriage, living in an apartment that backed onto Toronto’s Cabbagetown when it was still a slum and hearing loud arguments in the days when we kept windows open because we had no air conditioning.)
The story inside the walls of a house can change according to the age of the residents. Young marrieds are still learning to live together. Couples have babies and try to navigate the changes this brings. Children grow and make their own demands for time and attention that may be difficult for parents to meet given the demands of a career. Teenagers are navigating their own sense of worth, which may bring conflict with their parents or siblings.
Children leave the home and parents have to adjust to being on their own again. This may be a relief but for some families it’s also a breaking point as couples realize they have little in common or as partners (particularly men) feel the need to prove they’re still young and have affairs.
If marriages make their way through all those challenges, we still have the maze of old age to navigate. Diseases and life-changing illnesses can alter the story day to day.
The house may be fairly new, with a short story to hide behind its walls, or old like ours, with differing stories of various families from over 100 years.
And those are simply those behind the walls of the ordinary, let alone the extraordinary homes like that of Ducharme and Stevenson and other homes with troubled relationships.
We have, at various times, had happy stories and conflict within the walls of our home – thankfully never as unhappy as the Ducharme/Stevenson house. Still, in nearly 50 years, our home’s walls have held stories that are heart-warming and heart-breaking. Our neighbours probably seldom knew the stories that played out up our long lane and behind our thick, brick walls, just as we didn’t know the joy and heartache within their walls.
Not having known them personally, I didn’t attend the funerals of either Beverly or Darwin but I hope those who did managed to turn each occasion into a true celebration of their lives. They both deserve to be remembered for the accomplishments of their long lives, not misfortune of their final minutes.
Having spent most of 50 years in the newspaper business, I’ve had a chance to cover the good times and the bad, the celebrations and the heart-breaking moments of life. I’ve been involved in helping cover death-dealing accidents and murders as well as happy annual events like fall fairs, the Huron Pioneer Threshers Reunion and the Blyth Festival. Unfortunately, the bad comes with the good.
I learned this early. I was in my first month as editor of The Clinton News-Record in 1970 when a teenager, seeking money, invaded the home of a senior citizen, who had given him odd jobs, and killed the woman. Reluctant to touch such an unpleasant story, especially in the community that had convicted Steven Truscott (falsely, it turned out) a decade earlier, I gave the story the minimum coverage, displeasing my publisher and no doubt many of the paper’s readers who were trying to understand how such a thing could happen in their town.
But such is life in a small town. People in a city can somehow feel detached from a crime that happens in an apartment half a block away but in a small town, we know the people, or know people who know the people.
The people who die, whether from a murder, fire, or in an accident, can seem so much like ourselves. That’s what makes
a small community special – a sense that people down the street share something with us, even if the story behind their walls is different.