John Hoffman

John Hoffman was proud of his backyard grape arbour.

In the 1950s, what was the most fashionable street in Rutland? Naturally, one of them was Ponto Road. 

When my paternal grandparents, John Hoffman (1896-1977) and Mary Schick Hoffman (1907-94), finally sold their dairy farm on Hartman Road in Rutland, they moved to Ponto Road. Their abode had been constructed by one of their sons, my Uncle Ray.

Ray, Aunt Dorothy, their two sons and two daughters resided there. And the house right next door was erected by Uncle Ernie, who lived there with my Aunt Barb, their two sons and a daughter. 

According to his only remaining relatives in Kelowna, Reinhold and Lydia Ponto, the road was named in 1952 after a cousin, Chris Ponto, a gentleman from Forestburg, Alta., who had an orchard in the area from 1952-54.

Early inhabitants of the street say this area once nourished acres of pole beans and vegetables, and when it was built up, it was done in style.

Now when I drive down the road, it’s a mere shadow of what it must have been, but I still see enough of a spark in the well-kept facades and yards that I can visualize it in its heyday. This short thoroughfare has only 28 appealing, mostly 1,000-2,000-square-foot, 2-3 bedroom, stucco and wood houses. The absence of sidewalks gives a charmingly rural feel. Picture windows and detached garages abound.

Alarming to some, the house on the western end stands empty, sporting a sign that predicts an imminent transformation to multi-dwelling housing.

My grandparents’ house, built about 1950, had a zigzag staircase in the back that descended into an explorable cellar, cluttered with bits and pieces from yesteryear. Their neighbours included Ben and Joyce Lee, Ed and Kaye Taylor, the Burnells, Bauers, Woulds, Fahlmans and Kitauros. Saint Theresa’s Church and Louie’s Corner Store, the latter once owned by the Daniel Jaud family, were right down the street on Rutland Road. 

I can still sense the texture of Grandma’s fuzzy, pastel bathroom rug with matching seat cover and her white, crocheted, floral bedspread. 

When Grandpa came out of his garage, full of tools and car parts, he sometimes encountered the two middle-aged ladies next door. When he spoke to them over the fence, I could see Grandma’s ears straining at the kitchen window, trying to keep up with the conversation.

Grandpa was so proud of his backyard grape arbour. Bunches of purple globes dangled overhead, anticipating their journey to his wine vat. 

A carpenter by trade, Grandpa loved working with wood. Once, when I was a teen, we came upon a rickety cane chair. He explained to me, in his crackly, asthmatic voice, step by step, how to re-cane it. It was our most memorable conversation, even if it was a trifle one-sided. 

Grandpa also made fruit bowls out of strips of different woods. In later life, he shaped goblets for the whole family out of beer bottles, carefully smoothing the edges.

Grandma cooked, baked, and gardened, experimenting with the unknown. She made a delectable dish out of young kale leaves.  To this day, when the scent of peonies enters my nostrils, I’m conveyed back, through time and space, to Grandma’s garden. 

Grandma’s kitchen was compact. A barstool, which unfolded into a step stool, was tucked into a cozy corner for Grandpa. From this perch, the pair chatted while she prepared meals with her arthritic hands, and he smoked his best “cee-gar.”

Nosing around the backyard one afternoon, I happened upon an old 1950s car just outside the gate, perhaps a Pontiac or a Mercury. Being curious, I made myself at home behind the wheel.

The buttons and dials didn’t intimidate me because I was positive I couldn’t activate anything without a key. But then I saw something I’d never seen before. On the floor, separate from what I would eventually recognize as a brake, an accelerator and a clutch, my adolescent brain perceived a seemingly neon pedal that said "Starter."

Apparently, my nosiness extended all the way down to my foot, so fortified by the belief that I couldn’t start up this car, I stepped on the pedal. When the vehicle convulsed, my foot came off that pedal at lightning speed and my heart rate almost matched it.

It was nearly as frightful as the time I grabbed hold of the electric fence at the old dairy farm.

Years later, around 1995, after my grandparents had gone to their heavenly reward, my youngest uncle, Dave, was still in residence there. I enjoyed his wittiness — most of the time. During a family reunion in 2002, my husband, our daughter and son-in-law and I came from out-of-town to attend and to visit him.

At the time, as a sideline, Dave was selling magnetic mattresses and asked me if I’d humour him and try one. I acquiesced, so he lugged the beast over to our motel and splayed it out on my bed. The next morning, perhaps from travel, I awoke with a slight headache. As we drove to the reunion lunch at the Mekong Restaurant, with a gleam in his eye, my husband couldn’t resist leaving a note under Uncle Dave’s windshield wiper, deliberately magnifying my malady.

The result was that when Uncle Dave looked out his kitchen window, he was temporarily speechless. As he later relayed it to us, his shocked response was to utter, “Holy smokes, I got a ticket for parking in my own driveway!” 

Eventually, in 2006, dear Uncle Dave went the way of all flesh and succumbed as well. And the house went on to its next life. 

Memories linger though, Grandpa’s bowls and grapes, Grandma’s hollyhocks and peonies. and Uncle Dave’s warm wit.

This article is part of a series, submitted by the Kelowna Branch, Okanagan Historical Society. Additional information is always welcome at P.O Box 22105 Capri P.O., Kelowna, BC, V1Y 9N9.