Sandra Johnston (right) and Daisy Walls are promoting a book about the senior’s life.

Tales of friendship, inspiration shared

Life’s work of Daisy Walls detailed in memoir

It was two years ago in April – a brilliantly sunny day – when Sandra C. Johnston first walked into Daisy’s Treasure Trove.

A psychotherapist, somatic movement therapist and writer from Ontario, Johnston admits she was at a crossroads in her life when she discovered the now-defunct thrift store on Victoria Avenue in White Rock.

Her father had recently died, and the combination of a complicated process of grieving and the physical, mental and emotional exhaustion she felt from her work had driven her westward in a search for personal renewal.

She went into the store because she was working for people who had started a healing centre, but didn’t have change for parking – all she had on her was $5, she recalled.

Proprietor Daisy Walls, at the time 90 years old, and still the genius and nerve centre of the store, responded with typically forthright action. She wrote a note on a heart-shaped piece of paper for Johnston to place on her car’s dashboard – explaining that she had paid for her parking outside the store.

It was the beginning of a friendship, as recounted in her creative non-fiction work A Journey With Daisy: Belonging is a Blessing, that blossomed as Johnston returned to the store, first as a customer, then as a volunteer assistant to Walls.

The book – published late last year – gives some of Walls’ early history, from her birth in Czar, Alta. in 1918 as well as other snippets of her years running the store.

But A Journey With Daisy also emerges, through Johnston’s sensitive blend of prose and poetry, as an inspirational memoir about the search for self and the nature of feminine nurturing, as well as the possibilities of inter-generational exchange.

At the time they first met, Walls – now 93 – was already legendary in White Rock for her series of waterfront-area thrift stores full of intriguing and unexpected finds, her lively knack for promotion and her almost psychic ability to act as a matchmaker between customers and her carefully assembled selection of treasures.

Longtime residents knew the story behind the story – that whatever the venue, the store was the key component of a long-established project, The Modern Service Centre for the Handicapped, a registered society that for years had given both a refuge and a purpose for those facing physical, emotional, social and mental challenges.

Sometimes people were assigned to Walls. Sometimes they were put to work in the store as a condition of a community service sentence. Sometimes they discovered the store by themselves and recognized that it, in some way or another,  fulfilled a need in their lives.

A Journey With Daisy captures Walls’ style – and both the fondness and the firmness with which she approached her official and unofficial charges.

There was a rightness to their meeting, Johnston and Walls agreed, during a recent visit to the Peace Arch News to promote the book.

“It was kind of dream timing,” Johnston said, both for herself and Walls, who was forced to close the store a year ago due to her landlords’ plans to redevelop the property.

“All my customers had said to me ‘you need to have a book’,” Walls said.

“They told me there’ll be a day when you’re not around, and you’ll need to have something to let people know what you’ve done in the last 38 years.”

For Johnston, volunteering at the store, and later writing about the wonderfully varied cast of characters that were part of Daisy’s daily life provided a focus that helped her over a tough patch in her own life.

“The first day I walked into Daisy’s store I had committed to going to work for the wellness centre,” she said.

“It didn’t bode well for me, but I had enough faith to know that something else would come.”

The sad note is that the book is a memorial for a White Rock landmark that is no more.

But even the closing of the store was something that Walls met with typically fierce pride.

“Every one of the people I worked with got jobs,” she said. “I made sure of that. But it wasn’t difficult – every thrift store in White Rock needed people.”

“You trained them well,” said Johnston.

“I sure did,” Walls agreed.

But, inevitably, there have been frustrations since she closed the store, Walls admits.

“I still work with people,” she said, noting the Modern Service Centre continues to exist as a registered society.

“But I haven’t been top story, health-wise. I’m just getting over eye surgery. If I felt as good as I looked I’d feel great. When they say to you ‘you’re going into your golden years,’ don’t believe it. There’s nothing golden about them.

“It’s a battle to stay and a battle to die. But what do you want to do, die or live? There’s nothing wrong with my brain. I feel like I need something to do.”

But in the interim, Walls is more than ready to promote and champion the book, which she has done with personal appearances and signings at bookstores.

“I think this is a book everybody needs to read – and they need to read it two or three times,” she said. “They can’t gather up all the depth with one reading.”

Published through iUniverse, the book is available through www.iuniverse.com and also from local bookstores, including Indigo Books at Grandview Corners.

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