From the minute I learned that When Calls the Heart had been renewed for Season 5, I began imagining the next Hearties Family Reunion. Having been blessed to visit Vancouver for HFR2, and now with the announcement of HFR3, I would like to take you all on a walk with me down memory lane. I want all the Hearties to experience what I did: an overwhelming and all-encompassing knowledge that hope is alive and working in our midst. With that, I bring you my personal narrative of my experiences during HFR2, in hopes that you will begin to understand what makes a Hearties Family Reunion an experience unlike any other….
I slowly, deliberately ticked off the days. 121…120…119…. Now, I am pinched between a tiny airplane window and my traveling companion. My knees bump the seat in front of me. The arch in my back twinges. I have never felt so confined yet so limitless. So many of my hopes rest in the next three days, and the possibilities are infinite. We emerge from the airport to a drizzly Vancouver night. The struggle of luggage and gathering
the rental car is minuscule in light of the largeness of this event, not even a nuisance to dampen the anxious fluttering in my stomach. In just a few hours, I will wake to a rainy and wet morning. I will hug friends I know but have never met. I will share laughter, share stories, share smiles. I will be encouraged and restored to the very core of my being. But for now, I walk in a dream. For now, I fall into bed in the hotel room and try to recover a couple of hours of the sleep I lost from 121 days of restless anticipation.
This is the weekend when 500 fans from around the world converge into one tiny section of North America to share the hope they have found in a most unlikely place: a little fictional town in the Canadian West known as Hope Valley, the focus of Hallmark Channel’s most popular series, When Calls the Heart. Because where #Hearties gather, hope abounds. For this #Heartie, the cup overflows.
Getting to Know You
Morning comes all too early, and yet not early enough. While the bed is comfortably warm and the covers ward off the chilly morning air of the hotel room, this is one morning I will NOT snooze my alarm and slip back to sleep. There is just too much fun waiting in the lobby, so I shower and dress in clothes this California girl usually uses only once a year. My cold-weather wardrobe will see more action this weekend than it has in all the years it has huddled in my closet. My mom readies herself, mentally preparing to traipse after me. After all, she is my When Calls the Heart viewing buddy and the reason I am able to travel all this way.
With sleep still hindering our vision, we make our way down to the lobby and the restaurant. As we walk across the tiled floor of the front entrance, I glance in every direction, trying to make eye contact with as many people as I can. Who is a #Heartie? Who is here for the same reasons I am? Who have I tweeted and retweeted? Who liked my posts on Facebook? Which one is Donna? Debi? Lisa? Which of these faces will be engraved in my memory and become kindred spirits in just three days? That’s what we are, I’ve discovered – kindred spirits connected by the themes of a diamond-in-the-rough. Our show is an enigma that has been compressed by so many hands, and from so many angles, that it sparkles like a light in this dark world.
But in order to sustain this onslaught of hope, love, and friendship, we must eat. We settle in for breakfast with a couple from Anaheim, who we soon discover are #Hearties, just like us. Over breakfast, we begin to share our stories with each other. Our foundation is an affinity for When Calls the Heart, but our friendship develops over the course of the weekend. In fact, we will spend the majority of the weekend in each other’s company, and our experiences are enriched because of it.
After breakfast, we decide to get our souvenir shopping out of the way so we can focus on The Big Event later in the evening. A visit to the RCMP store yields “Mountie Jack” and “Bill Avery” in the form of a stuffed Husky and a stuffed moose, both dressed in the signature red serge. In fact, my two little boys will christen these stuffies “Jack” and “Moose Avery” in fondness for their fictional counterparts. We also visit a favorite haunt of one of our leading ladies, Erin Krakow. Remembering a tweet about Nice Vice Ice Cream, we find the shop and taste-test a few flavors while chatting with the owner. He is so kind and a bit surprised to know that he will have visitors from around the globe within the next few days. Maybe he thinks we are a little bit crazy, requesting ice cream on a wet and cold December morning in downtown Vancouver.
Our shopping out of the way, and after a quick lunch at the local food court, we return to the hotel to get out of the winter clothes and ready for the Opening Ceremonies of this grand event, lovingly referred to by us all as #HFR2. Yes, the hashtag is necessary. Social media brought us together, so that little symbol has made all the difference. The energy in the main conference room is unlike any I have experienced. Imagine walking into
a room of 500 strangers from all walks of life, feeling as though you are at a family reunion, but this reunion is for family you actually like and want to see, and the patriarch of the clan is waiting to greet you personally.
Mr. Brian Bird. Papa Heartie. The Pot-Stirrer. This man is always in demand, but he opens his heart to these fans as though he has all the time in the world. He introduces the first act of the Christmas movie (which we are so privileged to see) as though inviting us into his living room to join him for movie night. I wish I could snap a candid picture of his face as he watches the #Hearties take in these first twenty minutes. We burst out laughing when Rosemary jumps on scene. We gasp in dismay and anticipated angst when Elizabeth reveals her role in organizing the town’s Christmas festivities. We silently encourage Abigail when her role on Town Council is questioned. And as
Jack stumbles on his words when trying to form a question he wants to ask Elizabeth, our hearts melt and begin to beat just a little bit faster. For Brian, it must have be like watching his own children opening their favorite gifts on Christmas morning. For the #Hearties, HFR2 is the best gift we could receive.
Laughing and smiling with all these fans also helps break the ice. Even though we have met on social media and even gathered in small clusters at “Heartie Parties,” it takes a few minutes of falling in love again with our beloved show to get the chatter going. The voices melt together in a symphony of friends coming together and making plans. The undercurrent moving us is that we have an entire weekend to get to know one another and to gather the hope it takes to return to our daily lives and face the world. We exit this evening through wide-open doors, eagerly anticipating the day with the stars of When Calls the Heart.
Before heading back to our room for the remainder of the evening, I simply must share a few words with Brian. The line to greet him is not long, and before I can even sort out my thoughts, I am standing face-to-face with the man of my dreams. Not the romantic dreams, the real ones. Even more than meeting the cast and seeing the set, I have been anticipating the moment when I can tell Brian what his show and his vision mean to me. Not since I was a child, watching Little House on the Prairie, have I felt that someone behind the television camera understood me and who I am at the very core. I want to tell Brian how much of me I see in Elizabeth. I share her anxieties, her restraint, her kindness, her determination, her values, her goals. Finally, I can tell him that seeing this show has awakened hopes in me that have been sitting dormant more than 10 years.
What does this wonderful man do, besides replying with a humble “thank you?” He unknowingly adds fuel to the fire within me by recommending his favorite book on writing. In return, I explain how I am using his blog posts in my classroom and how When Calls the Heart has become a teaching tool.
Later, snuggled under blankets in the hotel room, I download If You Want to Write
by Brenda Ueland. In reading the first few chapters, I get another peek into Brian Bird’s heart and passion for storytelling. I also find more snippets of hope and encouragement for myself and my students. I fall asleep with a contentedness that is foreign due to its rarity.
Part 2 of 4 Coming Soon…