Horsewoman, intellectual, teacher, grape grower. Born Oct. 11, 1928, in Naramata, B.C., died Jan. 8, 2013, in Palm Springs, Calif., in an accident, aged 84.
An article in a California newspaper laid out the shocking facts, yet did not come close to telling the story: 84-year-old Harriett Beichman of Naramata, B.C., had been killed by a van while crossing a busy, darkly lit street in Palm Springs.
The image conjured up was that of an elderly woman having sadly lost the ability to manoeuvre through downtown traffic becoming the victim of a tragic accident. The only truth was the tragic accident.
To begin with: the name. Not seeing herself as a Harriett, she had chosen her own name, calling herself Carroll Aikins after her father.
On the day Carroll died, she was preparing to meet an old friend, Pulitzer-prize-winning author Herman Wouk, and had just returned from a long horseback ride in the desert. That wasn’t unusual for her: She loved horses and had spent much of her childhood riding the sun-beaten trails of the Okanagan Valley.
At 21, itching for adventure, she went to New York and found plenty. Getting a job at the British Information Service, she soon met and married Arnold Beichman, a journalist and academic 15 years her senior.
They came from disparate backgrounds, he an American and the son of Ukrainian Jewish immigrants, she a daughter of the Canadian establishment.
She loved telling the story of her two great-great-grandfathers, both members of Sir John A. Macdonald’s cabinet. Of one, Macdonald reportedly said: “I don’t trust him, he drinks too much.” Of the other: “I don’t trust him, he doesn’t drink at all.”
Carroll and Arnold set up an apartment off Central Park and held many fabulous parties where the intelligentsia regularly gathered. It was not long before their two sons, Charles and John, arrived.
Always looking for ways to simplify problems, Carroll dealt with the 1962 bus strike by ferrying Charles around town on the back of her scooter. A photo was captured by a newsman and it went global. A cartoonist for the New Yorker sketched Carroll in Bloomingdales, dressed smartly, and gently resting her boot on the back of her prone, tantrum-throwing two-year-old to prevent him from bolting.
After the years she spent teaching at the acclaimed Brearley School and Milton Academy, she and Arnold returned to Carroll’s family home in later life. There, they were saddened by the death of Arnold’s son from his first marriage and struggled to find a way to deal with the loss. They settled on the idea of turning their property into the family “meeting pool,” a concept borrowed from a favourite children’s novel.
They invited relatives, neighbours and many friends to join them each summer, and everyone came. From England, Japan and all over North America, they gathered for swimming, bonfires, water skiing, fruit picking, horse riding and of course, wine drinking.
To help pay for it all, Carroll worked the property herself. She repaired irrigation and endlessly moved sprinklers, pruned fruit trees, raised bees and grew grapes.
If you are lucky enough to get your hands on a bottle of Kettle Valley Syrah from the Beichman Vineyard, raise a glass to Carroll, a most remarkable woman who is dearly missed by her large extended family.
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