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2-minute reads: Who are the people in our neighbourhood?

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They're the people you might pass by every day. You see them in the grocery store, at the coffee shop, in church and at local events. You may be able to call them by name, but you don't know much about them. They all have a story. SaltWire Network reporters from across Atlantic Canada decided to seek out these ordinary people, have a conversation and tell their stories — in 300 words. Welcome to 2 Minutes With, stories of the extraordinary lives of ordinary people.


Charlotte Benjamin and Sharon Caul

Annapolis Valley twins share a bond beyond DNA

SARA ERICSSON : KINGS COUNTY NEWS

Charlotte Benjamin and Sharon Caul roll forks into napkins as they roll their eyes laughing.

The 60-year-old identical twins have worked together as waitresses in Kentville for nearly three decades, and share everything – their hairdresser, doctor and dentist – along with their job and the deed to a house.

They also share near-identical DNA, fingerprints and birthmarks; so alike at birth they wore different coloured ribbons as markers.

They now live apart, but Benjamin brings Caul a coffee each and every morning to her house on her way to work. They are happy to be so close, and say they cannot imagine life without the other. SARA ERICSSON PHOTO

They haven’t known who is who since their father once mixed the ribbons up, but with two brains that work more like one, it doesn’t seem to matter.

“She could be Charlotte, and I could be Sharon. We’re a two-in-one, and it feels like the same brain,” says Benjamin.

The sisters were raised in Stephenville, N.L., where they attended school with eight other sets of twins. When Caul moved to Nova Scotia in 1982, Benjamin followed in 1984.

They now live apart – Caul in New Minas and Benjamin in Sheffield Mills – but work together and delight customers with antics like dressing the same and switching identities.

The sisters have worked together for nearly three decades as waitresses at Paddy’s Brewpub and Rosie’s Restaurant in Kentville, where they often get conflated for the other. But it’s something they play up and take advantage of to have a little fun. “We always know where the other is, and don’t bump into each other – it’s that twin thing we do,” laughs Benjamin. SARA ERICSSON PHOTO

It’s a game they played in school when they’d switch classes and fool teachers, and one Benjamin used at 14 during a breakup.

“I was peeking through the curtain in the house and sent Sharon out, dressed in my clothes. He didn’t know – he was foolish,” she laughs.

They bring matching outfits on vacation and love being mirror-image. They are so used to this sameness, and being together, that neither of them cannot imagine a life without the other.

“In all our years, we’ve only been apart a total of four years. If anything ever happens to my husband, it will be me and her,” says Benjamin, as Caul’s eyes fill with tears.

“Forever – ever and ever. Life without her, well – there is no life,” says Caul.


Nizar Hussein

Safe and secure in Sackville

KATIE TOWER : SACKVILLE TRIBUNE-POST

He picks her up and settles her into his lap.

She leans back against her dad’s chest, slurping languidly at her bottle.

He snuggles her neck, bringing a smile to her face.

Nizar Hussein and his family are full of joy and gratefulness to be in Canada. KATIE TOWER PHOTO

They are both content. Safe. Secure.

It hasn't always been that way for Nizar Hussein. That is, until three years ago. That's when Canada became his home.

His happiness and exuberance for life are evident on his face. It’s there in the way he lovingly glances at his wife. In the pride bursting from him as he looks at his three young children. And in the way he spiritedly talks about his new job and his life in this quiet, small town.

Sackville.

KATIE TOWER PHOTO

New Brunswick.

Canada.

“Every day we see the changes and every day we are more happy for this life,” Nizar says.

Only when he talks about his life back in Lebanon and Syria does sadness cloud his eyes. The memories of a time he and his wife spent as refugees. Feeling unsafe, always on edge, constrained, hopeless. Barely eking out a life, taking whatever jobs they could find. Then came a newborn son.

A phone call changed his life. The man on the line gave him news he never expected to hear.

“It was a big surprise for me, for my life. And I run in and tell my wife, ‘We go to Canada now’.”

It’s a memory that brings a smile back to his face.

He now had hope. Hope for a better life. Hope for his family. Hope to be safe.

Three years later, that hope still radiates from Nizar.

As he listens to his three-year-old son Fenar tell him about his morning at daycare and he watches his 14-month-old twin daughters play with their toys, his eyes say it all.

He is full of optimism.

They are safe.

Content.

Home.


Diane Wilsack

The guardian angel wears blaze orange

ADAM MACINNIS : THE NEWS

She’s expected to start work at 8:15 every morning.

But Diane Wilsack starts at 7:50 a.m.

“I’ve got kids coming at five minutes to eight, so I’m here.”

Diane Wilsack keeps a careful watch over students and parents crossing the intersection of Albert and MacLean streets in New Glasgow. ADAM MACINNIS PHOTO

Vehicles swoosh past. Rubber hums on asphalt. Inches of space between cars and people.

It’s the intersection of MacLean and Albert Streets in New Glasgow.

Wilsack is the crossing guard.

Sixty kids walk past her each morning heading to New Glasgow Academy; closer to 90 cross at the end of the school day.

Some are in a rush, carrying projects to show a teacher. Some saunter along in no hurry to spend the day in a desk.

Wilsack shows up early and stays until she’s sure that the last parent who has dropped off their child – generally late – has made it safely back across the intersection.

On days it’s icy she brings her own salt and sand and scatters it around. Priority, safety.

“I don’t want the kids to fall.”

Wilsack is well past retirement age. This might be her last year, but it’s hard to leave a job you love.

Twelve years in. First at the intersection of Temperance Street and East River Road. Then Marsh and Temperance. Later at Acadia, then over on the Westside before being switched to Lorne and Albert.

Her current post the busiest spot of them all.

“I see a lot of close calls. I see a lot of fast cars that don’t stop. They’re distracted.”

The don’t always see the stop signs at every corner.

It makes her angry. Sometimes she’s tempted to use her own stop sign to whack the cars that pass by.

“They’re always in a rush.”

Her job is to wake them up and slow them down – to make sure nothing goes wrong.

A guardian angel in a blaze orange vest.


Wade Janes

Conversation flows like morning coffee

ADAM RANDELL : THE CENTRAL VOICE

The morning coffee has been poured. The chatter begins. But Wade Janes is missing from this table.

Steam is rising from his coffee cup. But he’s talking to someone in another corner of the busy Gander coffee shop.

He’s missing out on part of the chatter with his usual coffee buddies: Walt Gill and Les Gregory.

Near daily for the past eight years, Wade Janes meets up with photography friends at a local coffee shop in Gander. What started as a sharing of common interest has transitioned into lifelong friendships. ADAM RANDELL PHOTO

They’ve already analyzed the Gander Flyers season, and how the town has not seen a Herder hockey trophy in 39 years.

Wade eventually wanders over.

The talk is eagles. A favourite topic for these members of the Gander Photography Club.

Photography has been Wade’s passion since he was a teenager, living in Glenburnie, inside Gros Morne National Park.

Started with a 35-mm film camera. Even had his own darkroom once. A camera-toting uncle was his inspiration.

Work life was banking and office equipment. Over three decades since he moved to Gander to work with the Bank of Montreal.

He spent 28 years as a comptroller at an office equipment store.

But the camera gear was always there.

Film. Video. Then digital. Always looking for the perfect shot.

Friendships developed.

Eight years in for these daily coffee catch-ups with fellow photographers.

Sharing tips and ideas.

Opinions on current events.

Catching up on each others’ lives.

Wade had a family dinner with 19 people and helped out a flooded church over the weekend.

Listens as his friends share what they’ve been up to.

Someone quips how the cost of their coffee meet ups is running on par with their mortgage payments.

Wade chuckles.

“I’d rather lose my house than lose my coffee.”

Cups empty. Chairs are pushed back. Time to depart.

Through the door and into the light.

No eagles today, but other photo opportunities await a man who views the world through a camera lens.


Harrison White

The reason for being busy

STEPHEN ROBERTS : THE NORTHERN PEN

Gravel crunches under tires. Harrison White’s pickup truck rolls into his Sandy Cove driveway.

Another busy day for the 77-year-old volunteer.

His attire testifies to some of his commitments.

On his jacket the harbour authority logo. Ball cap sports the Sandy Cove Lions Club emblem.

Harrison White, 77, of Sandy Cove, discusses a 1980s photo of him and his son, Wayne, both receiving their university diplomas. STEPHEN ROBERTS PHOTO

He enters the house, heads for the dining room — an ad hoc meeting space in this Great Northern Peninsula community.

Lots of discussions over tea and coffee here; local citizens, politicians. Sharing ideas.

Today a plate of banana cake and pineapple cake, a pitcher of raspberry punch.

He made it himself; after each slice insists you have another.

The house is empty.

The only sounds from a small television set at low volume in the living room.

Four children grown and moved on.

His wife died 15 years ago.

His life is full of stories from 30 years of teaching.

Photos, documents and awards help tell the tale.

He throws out a math question, just for fun.

After retirement in 1992 he kept busy volunteering; this morning attending to tasks as the president of the local Harbour Authority.

He wonders though if he’d be so busy at his age had tragedy not struck.

Startlingly clear green eyes shift. He breaks eye contact as he talks about his wife, Bernadette.

She died in 2002. Fought cancer for two and a half years. Lost. They were married for 38 years.

It’s the hardest thing he’s ever had to go through.

His voice turns gruff, the weight of emotion.

“I lost a lot of faith.

“I didn’t think it was fair.”

He wonders what he’d be doing if she was still alive; if he’d be spending time with her instead of volunteering.

“I’m lost pretty much all the time.

“Maybe that’s why I’m involved with so many things.”


Dennis Ramsey

Creating something from nothing

KIRK STARRATT : KINGS COUNTY NEWS

It was a hard start to life.

He was orphaned.

Spent his youth in institutions.

Shock, depression and mental health battles — more than his fair share.

Kentville folk artist Dennis Ramsay sits on his front steps with a selection of his recently-created art. KIRK STARRATT PHOTO

Art was his release.

Forty years later, Dennis Ramsey has good days and bad ones. The abuse he once endured is in the past, but still lingers, at the edges of his memory.

It’s a sunny, but chilly, late winter afternoon as the Kentville folk artist sits on his front stoop; his newest paintings propped on the stairs.

Some of them feature prominent figures from popular culture.

Bright colours. Bold strokes. Abstract faces. Social commentary. Stylistically and visually original. A glimpse into Ramsay’s soul.

Price range, $10 and up.

Someone stops and offers him a cup of coffee.

Kentville folk artist Dennis Ramsay with his portrait of Alice Cooper. KIRK STARRATT PHOTO

Ramsay defines his existence as making “something out of nothing.”

He hopes to share his life story soon in the form of a book.

Painting his own picture with words.

Meanwhile, his creative outlet process is from mind to brush to canvas.

He’s inspired by the artwork of Van-Gogh, Picasso, Rembrandt, Maud Lewis and Alex Colville, Ramsay simply wants to create.

“That’s what art is all about,” he said. “That’s where your imagination has to kick in.”

Materials include scraps of wood and house paint, items others have cast aside.

His subject matter depends on his mood or emotion of the day.

To appreciate his work is to appreciate Ramsay.

Self-described as “a starving artist.”

Reaching out through his YouTube channel, he also strives to connect with the world through artistic and political expression and song.

In warmer weather, you’ll find him sitting under a tree in his yard. He prefers to work natural light.

Here he’ll finish seven to nine paintings before laying his brushes to rest for the evening.

Making something out of nothing.

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