Spring’s slow arrival this year made March more difficult than usual to navigate. But navigate I must, and with the help of Nadine Nembhard of Restore Physiotherapy, and Dr. Sandra Lohman of InterUrban Chiropractic Clinic, in managing the crippling pain in my legs and hips, I am currently walking 3k and more in relative comfort. The ‘Turbo-inhaler’ Doctor P. Manhas prescribed did the trick, controlling my six-week-long gagging bronchial issues in time for my cataract/lens replacement surgery this month. Things are looking up – pun intended.
Because she has so much to say, Granny’s Blog has gotten most of my writing attention lately and in fairness, escaping into her world has helped keep me sane. Stay tuned for her next post.
That said, I am wiped and have decided to take a spring break, however I will post a few photos that make me happy.
With the pending removal of the ancient oil tank submerged in our front yard, we’ve cleared out several shrubs but spring bulbs offer sprinkles of colour:
Because of their hardiness, off-season bloom-time, and handsome foliage, Hellebores rate high on my list of favourites and probably 8 or 9 of them grace my garden.
For year’s we’ve used our Magnolia to measure spring’s progress. 2023 is definitely slow.
Last month I commented on not knowing how long Flint would be with us. His time was shorter than I could guess and we lost him on February 3rd to kidney disease and old age. Seventeen is a long life, even for a little dog and I want to celebrate him and the joy he brought into our lives. This month’s post is Flint forward.
THOSE EARS – THAT FACE –
Flint at approximately 1.5 years old. Right after he leapt into our lives. Who could resist?
BEST TOY-BUSTER AROUND
FLINT DIDN’T NEED SANTA TO CONVINCE HIM
Every year, he delved right into the spirit and was awesome at gift opening. Not so much at cleaning up though.
HITTING THE HIGH NOTES
It took me a little while to understand that Flint used yawning as a tension release – he yawned less and less every year.
A snow-diver all the way – the deeper the better and the snow brushed right off his luxurious coat.
Thankfully it only happened one more time before he learned to be a bit leery of movement in the night.
A great traveller, near or far, Flint’s favourite escapes were to Long Beach in Tofino where he loved to run like the wind, free as a bird. We’d hoped to make one more trip with him, but it was not to be.
TWO OF MY FAVOURITE PHOTOS WITH FLINT – WHAT YOU CAN’T TELL, IS HE’S REALLY BEGGING TO RIDE SHOTGUN.
A LITTLE DOG CAN SEE SO MUCH MORE FROM UP OFF THE FLOOR
I MISS OUR FIERY LITTLE BUNDLE OF FUR. AND NOTICE HIS ABSENCE IN THE PLACES HE ISN’T: curled on his mat in the kitchen, sleeping beside the bed at night, demanding his supper and his nightly treat, or bouncing with happiness at the door when we arrive home, but am forever grateful to have had him in my life.
I came close to skipping a post for this crazy month of January, but moving forward is key this year and I can’t let a bit of chaos (eye surgery, physiotherapy, and the horrible cold virus (not COVID) running through our household) hold me back after already taking strong steps in the right direction.
At the beginning of the month, I joined the Forever Writers Club, founded by rock star Chelene Knight. My goal is to maximize my writing time and productivity while focussing on self-care to reduce my self-inflicted stress. I’m off to a good start.
And what a thrill it was when Granny’s Blog went live on the 20th. Her first post was well received and rest assured, she has a lot more to say. I love the way she keeps me busy.
Another project that will take me into April is SFU’s Continuing Studies course ‘Fiction for the Weekend Student’, instructed by Caroline Adderson. I am excited that we are using Alice Munro’s book Runaway to explore her style. I’ve been a fan of Alice’s work for longer than I care to say. The purpose of taking the course is to look at my novel from a different perspective and fine tune it to publishing quality.
Flint will be a main focus of my posts for the next while. He turns 17 on the 12th of February and every day I wonder how long he will be around. He stole my heart long before springing into our lives when he was 1½ years old and making himself (and us) at home from the get-go.
Young Flint’s early days – Spunky doesn’t come close to describing his personality.
Flint January 2023 – pushing 17. Still a handsome force with a mind of his own.
I managed a rough sketch of Flint this month. Hopefully I’ll do better in February. No promises though.
December is always a crazy month but this year Grant and I managed a brief escape to Toronto. He attended a conference. I walked and worked on my writing – specifically helping Granny find her blogging groove. (More on Granny later.) After the conference, we allowed ourselves time to visit and dine with family and friends, and relax a bit before returning home to Christmas chaos. And bone-chilling, back-breaking cold and snow. I am forever grateful to have a roof over my head, the ability to prepare a hot meal, and a warm bed to sleep in.
Perhaps it was the weather, or maybe the trip’s distraction, but somehow I managed to contain my inner Grinch a bit better this year. Until it came time to make turkey soup. In this moment, I don’t ever want to lay eyes on a turkey carcass again. And now with the New Year countdown imminent, I’m ready to step into 2023.
The first two months of the new year find me fortunate to have two cataract surgeries scheduled. I find myself trying to picture life without contact lenses after fifty-two-and-a-half years. Extreme myopia has been my nemesis since fourth grade and sheer vanity drove me to purchase my first pair of contacts at the age of seventeen. But now, they’re simply facts-of-my-life.
… Imagine being able to see …
This post brings to a close my 2022 Website Challenge. Despite July’s mere nod-to-a-post and November’s short-cut sketch, I’ll give myself a passing grade on the self-imposed task. So far, my 2023 vision for this web page remains blurry beyond my certainty that it will be different. Maybe in small ways. Maybe in significant ones. I’ll figure it out as I go. What I do know for sure is that I’m in the process of building a brand new second page to share my great grandmother’s story.
Which brings me back to Granny. I couldn’t be more thrilled to finally share my world with her and did promise you an introductory post prior to her blogs that will begin in January. Fortunately, I managed to catch her pondering my request:
THIS MONTH’S PHOTO:
We had enough snow in December to warrant two photos:
Whether you call them snow-cakes, snow-hats or whatever strikes your fancy, the heavy wet flakes touched our yard with magic.
Our front yard fell victim to drifting winds. I do love the upside-down cone caps in the foreground though.
THIS MONTH’S SKETCH:
This month, another grand-dog crossed the rainbow bridge. Sweet little Jazmine, Boston Terrier breed, lived in Calgary. Despite the increased attention her brother Gary now receives, I know he feels her absence and misses her terribly.
Thank you Jazmine, for putting up with your Grand-Dogma in the spring. Neither of us knew it would be our final visit, but it was a good one, wasn’t it?
THIS MONTH’S READING LIST:
At the beginning of every month my intentions are sincere for completing a record number of books. Even mid-way, I remain undeterred. But in the last week without fail, I find myself scrambling to finish the one that will make my count respectable.
And so I ask: Does posting my list simply give me a count or does it push me to read more than I would otherwise? Maybe it’s time to reinvent my challenge. Over the next month, what if I reactivate my Good Reads page and go from there? No promises … yet.
Books I did finish (for a modest total of 43 in 2022):
It was a quiet month. Not that I didn’t keep busy but for a change, outside demands did not overwhelm. The highlight for me was celebrating Remembrance Day outdoors at the cenotaph.
I’ve missed the mass gathering. As far as I can recall, prior to COVID Grant and I have not skipped any since we moved to New Westminster in 1996, except for the year we were on Vancouver Island visiting family and attended the Courtney commemorations. Two isolated years of dressing up and standing at attention in front of the television may have had the same intent but lacked a level of satisfaction. Like it was just too comfortable.
This year, the turnout was impressive in front of New Westminster’s City Hall (who knew there were so many beautiful dogs in this city!), the weather was sunny, and I’m happy we got to include our twin grand-babies and their mother in our ritual November 11th post-cenotaph lunch. This year, we went to Boathouse Restaurant at the quay.
Throughout the month, I did spend a fair bit of time planning my writing projects for 2023. The novel I birthed from my 2013 TWS experience begs for attention. Not one of my approximately 20 pitches to agents and editors failed. All but one asked me to submit a sample but none picked it up. That agent was intrigued and referred me to a colleague she felt would be more suited to it.
So, I know two things: my topic is relevant, and I can prepare a convincing pitch.
I’ve left the novel incubating for a few years while I completed my memoir, a most illuminating process. In January, I plan to resurrect my fiction manuscript, implement feedback from the publishing industry and some insight I gained while writing non-fiction, and tweak the story. Give it the care it deserves.
Another writing project has nagged at me since long before my novel was even a twinkle in my eye: My great-grandmother’s story. Granny, (Agnes Rankin Watson) was a strong, resilient woman who died the year I was born. All my life, every anecdote I heard of her filled my imagination and once the box of her documents came into my possession, her story became an overfilled balloon ready to burst. Now, it’s time to act and all fall I’ve been wrestling with how to share the story of a woman I have never met.
Sharing her narrative should be fun rather than all consuming, so I’ve decided to try something different. In January, I will give her a page on this website and let her tell her own story in short snippets – or blog-posts. If she omits details, over exaggerates, or raises questions for readers, they can voice their concerns in the comment section and Granny (with my help) will do her best to alleviate them.
The format will be fluid and will adapt as we go. Wish me luck …
***Watch for an introductory post from Granny next month.
THIS MONTH’S PHOTO:
I’m happy to announce that my room of my own is now usable though I’ve not quite settled in. The door may not be hinged yet but I do have a table, stool, Granny’s comfy antique rocking chair, and lots of good lighting. I’m fine tuning as I go.
(Note the little flower pot on the windowsill – compliments of Grant)
AN EXTRA PHOTO THIS MONTH:
FIRST BIG SNOWFALL
I wanted to share this picture showing the front of our house on a main thoroughfare that had traffic creeping along well into the night. Sometime after 3:00 am it cleared. Trust me, I watched.
THIS MONTH’S SKETCH:
I hate to admit that I fell short in the sketch department this month. I did attempt one mid-month of a Blue Heron but the results were more than dismal. Instead, I’m sharing an old drawing, one that feels relevant right now.
THIS MONTH’S READING LIST:
I was aiming for four or five but only managed to complete three. (Pats self on back anyway).
Arthur Conan Doyle – The Hound of the Baskervilles (1902)
From a weather perspective, October has been amazing. Both good and bad. Despite the Lower Mainland’s dire need for rain (arrived at last), the cool sunny days energized me through daily tedium and rewrites towards SiWC.
I have attended Surrey International Writer’s Conference several times pre-COVID to pitch my work, join workshops, and bask in the dynamic writers’ energy. This year, volunteering at the post-COVID hybrid event gave me a slightly different experience but in a good way. The contagious enthusiasm and sense of community, shared purpose and support felt no different but in the roles of set-up, announcing a masterclass and monitoring workshops, I gained perspective and appreciation for the many, many people needed and the work involved in pulling together such a diverse event and am honoured to have been part of it.
One benefit of volunteering is being assigned to monitor specific sessions. In the five sessions I attended, only one of which I chose myself because it fit into my break, I came back with some level of inspiration from every single one of them. (Yes, I brought a pen and notebook)
– KC Dyer’s dynamic master class: The Beginner’s Top Thirty spoke to some of my publishing fears.
– Robin Stevenson’s workshop on Co-Writing – Creative Collaboration refreshed my perspective on point of view in my own work, specifically my novel waiting for a re write.
– And Friday’s Panel: Handling Serious Subjects in Books For Kids spoke directly to that same novel.
– Shari Green’s Words From Battered Hearts encouraged me to continue exploring poetry as a genre to blend with narrative.
– The gem I chose to fill my break stands out for me mainly in that Crystal Hunt’s workshop: Personality-Based Book Marketing involves de-cluttering your web page or blog post. So far, I’ve donemy best to fulfill my 2022 challenge of reactivating my web page with specific criteria but have found myself wondering “To what end?” or “Who cares?” Hunt says rather than random blogging, creating specific content to draw interested followers will help promote me as a writer. So for the remainder of the year, I’ll continue to meet my 2022 challenge while figuring out what exactly I want to share with the world and re-jig the space for 2023. Hmmm …
If you have any thoughts, please share in the comment section.
THIS MONTH’S SKETCH:
October 2nd was a sad day in our house. We said goodbye to our geriatric Boston terrier grand-dog, Drexl (age 12). This handsome pup put up a good fight after losing his sight two years ago, sidestepping his way through Flint’s alpha dog not-in-my-face personality. My son swaddled the dog’s limp body in a blanket; on their way out to the car, I stroked Drexl’s face and reassured him he was a good boy and would be missed. His fatigued face told me he knew it was time.
THIS MONTH’S PHOTO:
Slow and steady, my Room of My Own now has sunshine yellow paint and a Plexiglas window. Tomorrow I choose the trim colour and continue plans to move in.
Every year, September offers me a fresh outlook tinged with a nostalgic touch of back-to-school happiness. Yes. I was the eager kid who began back-to-school planning the first week of August and had first day excitement a full week ahead. Now, it makes me happy seeing kids walking by our house on their way to school, filling their days with a sense of community, structure, and active learning.
That said, my month has been anything but orderly. Scattered with an assortment of doctor appointments, struggling with a new piece of writing, exploring the possibility of a new writing group, keeping up with queries to publishers, meeting with friends, and general life-commitments, the days are a blur.
Except of course Sunday, September 25th. For several years I’ve had the privilege of being part of Word Vancouver by offering feedback to writers through SFU’s TWS, and this year was no exception. After two years of COVID isolation and online consults, being in the presence of real people, communicating face-to-face, felt liberating. I left energized by the power of community.
THIS MONTH’S PHOTO:
Our house is full and some days simply grounding myself can be a struggle. Enter Grant, the best partner a person could imagine, cordoning off a corner of his garoffice, installing studs, wallboard, and wiring, to create a room for me. Of my own. An escape with space and light for my easel and paints, my whiteboard, a table and comfy chair, and silence. #lookingforward #forevergrateful
THIS MONTH’S SKETCH:
Hey There, Kitty Cat.
Last month I said I’d stop drawing cats and stick to watching videos of them but apparently I misjudged my level of obsession. Allergies may prevent me from adopting a cat into my physical world, and the availability of entertaining videos may be endless, but I can’t resist trying to capture feline beauty in simple strokes of charcoal. One day I’ll find the magic.
THIS MONTH’S READING LIST:
I believe this month’s book list brings me to a tally of 31 completed works so far this year.
Despite seeming endless, this year’s season of oppressive heat has flown by and I can’t help wonder where it went. I don’t want to use my Multiple Sclerosis as an excuse for personal shortcomings so rarely discuss the disease but hot weather is not its friend – or mine. Twenty-six degrees Celsius and higher exhausts my energy tank, fills my veins with liquid lead, and complicates every effort to achieve what I consider an acceptable level of chores and tasks. So August frustrates me.
As far as my writing goes, I’m not currently generating anything new. Instead, re-purposing bits I’ve removed in the editing process of my memoir into short pieces, playing with both fiction and non-fiction, keeps me busy seeking possibilities. There was a reason I created them in the first place, so I just need to find them a home. And I remain optimistic as I continue submitting queries for my manuscript to publishers.
I am pretty pleased with myself for creating my very first Power Point Video. Mid-month, with a little help from my grandson, Brody, I compiled a series of photos of Grant and me from the last thirty years to provide background for our vow renewal celebration on the 19th. “The Hunter” by Jennifer Warnes was the finishing touch and when you read my memoir “Behind the Wheel”, you’ll understand the song’s relevance.
On the 27th we met our two-year-old twin grand-babies for the first time. Now that their family has relocated to the Lower Mainland I look forward to fun times getting to know the sweet bundles of energy.
So, despite my heat-imposed sloth’s pace, I have kept busy and am grateful that August has flown.
THIS MONTH’S SKETCH:
The cat I drew is kind of okay and I was going to use it but came across a photo of my ninety-one-year old father-in-law’s birthday last June. The composition of him surrounded by his granddaughter and two of his great-grandchildren, all eager to see the colourful card in his hands, makes me very happy. So it won this time.
(Maybe I’ll stick to cat videos and stop trying to draw the poor animals.)
THIS MONTH’S PHOTOGRAPH:
This ancient awning outside the front window of our 72 year old house is one of the tools we use to control the summer heat. That and strategic timing of open/closed windows and electric fan placement. We do what we can but I hope this is the last time in 2022 we will need to have the canopy open.
THIS MONTH’S READING LIST
… might look impressive but only because it includes July:
While I love June’s long daylight hours, I can’t help feeling a tiny bit sad at the Summer Solstice signaling their ultimate shrinking. I’ll feel quite different this time in December though.
This month has had its share of challenges with me bringing COVID home from my Calgary visit. My guess is I picked it up at the airport or on the flight because no one I was in contact with while there has had symptoms. (Or admits to it anyway.) For the most part, it felt like a bad head cold with a touch of flu. The worst bit was the sensation of razor blades jammed in my throat for three days. Good old Advil helped me bypass enough discomfort to keep up on my chores and other commitments.
And one of those commitments was the Vancouver Manuscript Intensive windup reading, Saturday the 18th. What an excellent exercise in editing it is to prepare a three minute manuscript segment! And I was most excited to have the opportunity to read my work in public. It’s been far too long.
Thanks to everyone in this year’s cohort who shared snippets of their stories at the VMI online event. From the program’s start, I knew I was in good company but – WOW – every piece was brilliant in its own way. Thanks to Elee Kraljii Gardiner and Rachel Rose for welcoming us all and for their smooth facilitation of the season. And thank you to my mentor, Mark Winston, for helping me navigate the road to memoir completion.
THIS MONTH’S PHOTOGRAPH
The weeds got away on me this year and my granddaughter, Aubrey, is helping me in the garden Saturday mornings to get caught up. During our recent attack on the noxious trespassers under the grand Magnolia, we uncovered this cheerful cluster of tangerine coloured lilies tucked next to a Hosta ‘Spilt Milk’.
THIS MONTH’S SKETCH
My sweet, friendly, handsome, grand-dog, Marty, turned thirteen this month and I couldn’t resist sketching him all harnessed up.
From the photo, I can’t tell if he’s just back from a walk or waiting to head out, but either way, he looks regal and content to this Grand-dogma.
Because I’m away from my familiar, this month’s post is short.
May has been a whirlwind of life. After finally establishing a plan to research, prepare, and submit to publishers that might be a possible fit for me and my manuscript, the days have flown by and my long-planned Calgary family visit is upon me. So here I sit, reunited, among fans of the Battle of Alberta NHL playoff aftermath, some like-minded, some not-so-much, happy my team is moving forward. Maybe Canada can win back the cup this year. Go Oilers!
THIS MONTH’S PHOTOGRAPH:
A Brief Bit of Brilliance on a Rainy May Morning
Full Moon Japanese Maple (Acer shirasawanum f. aureum) Not sure but I think this is the correct genus, species, and cultivar for this lime-green glory accented by my favourite Hino-Crimson Azalea.
Let Sleeping Dogs Lie
Wise words. Jazmine and Gary get a rare visit from Granddogma this month.
READING LIST: Also short this month.
It’s not that I’ve read less. I just began more, and completed fewer works:
April has had its fair share of rain this year, but right now with sunshine warming the air and the soil, early bulbs and perennials colour the garden and offer hope for a COVID-free world. (That last bit would be my inner Pollyanna voice.)
30 years ago, on the 26th of April, my sister Jane, died of brain cancer at the age of 42. In the memoir I began five years ago to mark 25 years without her, she factors prominently as my confidant and muse. While a sense of catharsis may accompany the overdue completion of my manuscript, the loss I feel for her remains.
For me, the business part of writing (aka: the road to publishing) is dull and daunting. Tedious enough to make me ask myself “Why bother?” A journey with so many forks, U-turns and dead ends, is enough to test anyone’s drive to succeed.
My biggest problem though, is the anxiety caused by my entrenched mindset to get the work done. Writing and creating are the fun parts and having been raised under the mantra: work before play, I don’t feel dabbling in a new writing project permissible until I’ve got all my publishing ducks organized. It was too much; I needed help.
Many thanks for my Nourishment Call with Chelene Knight who showed me tools to break down and sort the madness impeding my progress and left me feeling more grounded and assured. And to my weekly writing-sprint friend, Andrew. Our chat took me three steps closer to confidence and recognizing the big picture needs of my manuscript.
Now that I’ve taken time to identify the source of my frustration, I’ll spend the early part of May weaving a plan of measured step towards my publishing goal and pepper it with enough fun-framed windows to tease me forward and make me smile.
An early perennial whose bold, bronze foliage provides a flattering backdrop to pink tulips (done), golden Hakone grass (still too small to see) and in this case, a litter of once velvety, now disintegrating Magnolia blossoms. Oh, and the eager Hosta peeking out in the foreground. My garden never stops changing.
I’ve discovered that keeping track of the books I complete has me not only more conscious of my reading habits, but reading more. Not sure if that’s good or bad …
While I welcome the spring-ahead-time-change, the days can’t get long-enough, fast-enough for me. Maybe I need to spend my summers in the Arctic and my winters in the Antarctic. Who doesn’t love a good warm sweater? And this month, like any other, has had its share of ups and downs.
The biggest ‘down’ was the sudden illness of our sweet dog, Flint. We feared we were losing him and our trip to the vet was inconclusive, but over two weeks of coaxing food and water into him and carrying his limp body in-and-out, up-and-down, wherever it needed to be, he has regained most of his energy but lost strength in his left side. We suspect stroke, but can only guess. Sixteen is a long life for a little dog and with this set-back, we treasure every remaining minute he has so he deserves a photo this month.
I had two big ‘up’ moments in March… The first was the release of Resonance, Essays on the Craft and Life of Writing, edited by Andrew Chesham and Laura Farina. I am thrilled my essay, Stepping Into Perspective, is part of this inspiring collection.
After completing the last chapter of my memoir and writing the epilogue that terrified me, I sent the draft off to my VMI mentor Mark Winston. His feedback was my second ‘up’ moment. Not only was his response speedy, but most encouraging. And in fact a wee bit overwhelming:
“…my comments are on the manuscript … but as I suspected, this is a very complete and working-well draft. That is, it’s crossed that magic line from a hopeful early draft to . . . a book! Congratulations!”
Next? The business part of writing. Yikes!
IMAGES FOR MARCH
This month’s photograph showcases two eye-catching items over our fireplace. The painting, one of a pair, is done by an artist/friend from back in our GardenWorks days, Kimberly Blackstock. Her beautiful work is now making its way to Los Angeles and New York but I especially love how this specimen in our small collection accentuates the colours of the stunning teak clock my husband, Grant, built back in his theatre days. Together the pieces provide a calming visual landing spot when I need to clear my head.
The dog in my sketch this month is unfamiliar to me in every way but I fell in love with his sweet face and was compelled to do my best to recreate his good looks. A satisfying challenge regardless of my marginal success.
This month’s selection of books I completed comes from a wide variety of genres but each was read for its own specific reason …
Despite February’s brevity, the month has felt endless this year. Not that I’m in a hurry for time to pass; there never is enough of that. My problem could lie in the bone-chilling dampness that causes me to crave warmth. (Note, I said warmth, not heat. July and August are another story altogether.)
First on my mind as I post today is the reprehensible threat the Ukrainian people face. I want to express my admiration for their strength and offer my prayers for peace.
My memoir project consumes the bulk of my busy-thinking these days. In late January I received great feedback from my Vancouver Manuscript Intensive mentor Mark Winston. Over Zoom, we discussed ways to cull the narrative from 88,153 words to 75,000 (or less) and the need to shorten some chapters.
So, most afternoons I layer up, log in and search for the superfluous bits. I’m happy to say I’ve exceeded my shaving goal and the manuscript word count currently sits at just over 72,000. And after deleting six entire chapters, that number has gone from a total of 21 to 29.
Hmm. Fewer words, more chapters. Looks like progress to me.
February’s TWS Community Workshop, The Braided Essay, facilitated by Sonja Larsen on Sunday the 27th was amazing. I found it engaging and relevant to my current manuscript and a source of inspiration for future projects. Thank you Sonja.
This month, I struggled to live up to challenge two: one photograph and one sketch, but did squeak them in with a week to spare.
Hellebore are one of my favourite perennials and I have several in my garden but the eager bloomer Ivory Prince is the only variety whose name I can remember. All beautiful, all low maintenance, this elegant specimen braving winter to show off its true colours deserves an early nod of appreciation.
I chose to sketch Flint this month since his birthday is February 12th and he has shared 14.5 of his 16 years with us. While he may have lost most of his hearing, several of his teeth, and some of his strength, he’s still both sweet and salty, and loves his daily treat and his people.
And his people love him.
Number three of my self-imposed challenges, tracking my reading in 2022 can be a scramble. Reading serves different purposes for me and most often I put one book down to immediately pick up another, whether digital or print. This month I found it a small test to recollect the specifics but here goes …
Books in order of completion this year, as of February 28th:
Posing challenges for myself has been a life-long tendency, maybe because I had two older sisters to keep up with. While writing a memoir is one of my biggest undertakings yet, it’s far from complete and the first six months of this year I’m excited to spend in Vancouver Manuscript Intensive under the mentor-ship of Mark Winston, fine tuning it to completion.
But lately I’ve felt remiss in some key aspects of my identity. So, I began 2022 placing a few tasks on my calendar.
One being the reactivation of my website/blog joanneebetzler.ca. After a dormancy of at least three years, my lack of activity can’t be blamed only on COVID inertia. The bigger fault falls on the frustration fed by my inexperience, impatience, fears and life distractions that let me wander off. Those impediments still dog me, but I am determined keep-on keeping-on and overcome what I can. Step-By-Step.
Challenge number two involves a couple of activities I love but am inclined to put at the bottom of my to-do list: taking one photograph and drawing one sketch per month, to post. Just to say I’m here, active and real.
Because I’m so close to the wire for this month, both photo and sketch are rushed and not as well executed as I’d like but they do meet the basic criteria of my mission. And because I’m learning my way around this world of WordPress, I ask forgiveness for my fumbles.
WEEKEND COFFEE CUP PHOTO
Our weekday mugs are much larger than this fine china treasure and not at all delicate. The beverage just as delicious, I promise.
Lame, I know.
SMITTEN KITTEN SKETCH
My plan was to sketch my sister’s cat Lezley, who passed away suddenly last week but found all my efforts unacceptable. With kitty-on-my-brain, I hurriedly chose a random kitty with no emotional attachment to anyone I know.
Not my best work but here it is.
Number three of my self-imposed challenges is to track my reading in 2022. Years ago I counted the books I read, each year trying to outdo myself, a habit long broken. Now, I find myself with numerous books on the go at all times and no idea how many I’ve managed to complete in any given week, month or year. So, with the sole intent of knowing which books I have completed, that by default involves counting, I plan to record them as I finish.
Books in order of completion this year, as of January 31st:
Flabbergasted is what I am. Last time I heard bagpipes I was haverin’ in my droon, stone cold deid. Wally did a braw job piping out Amazing Grace ‘n’ Auld Lang Syne at my funeral but My Bonnie Lassie was just new on th’ radio an’ he didnae ken th’ notes.
There I was minding my business, lamentin’ out loud th’ braw send-off I’d wanted an’ next I ken, th’ very tune I’d wished for was blarin’ in t’ the room. I near fainted. Adjusting t’ all this modern pish can take a toll, that’s for certain.
But I can get this computer runnin’ fine now I’ve told ye’ th’ story of boarding th’ S.S. Numidian:
We near missed our first breakfast on th’ ship. I heard th’ wake-up bell ring at 6:30 but cuidnae open my eyes. It took voices cawin an’ dishes clanging outside our room t’ wake me. Even the bairns didnae want t’ stir. Every table was filled before we started th’ long trek down th’ hall an’ up th’ stairs t’ th’ lavatory; by th’ time we got back, there was but bread an’ prune jam on th’ last two tables remainin’ set. My own tummy was nae settled from the stress of it all so I was content with my hot tea, weak as it was, but th’ weans filled their bellies with bread, washing it down with cups o’ milk the matron brought t’ them. I was grateful I’d thought t’ tuck a few tins filled with cured mutton, oat cakes, some cheese ‘n’ a few blocks o’ mum’s shortbread in t’ my bags. An’ o’ coorse, a crackin’ package o’ tablet fudge.
The ship had stopped in Moville while we were sleepin’ and th’ stewards told us t’ leave th’ community space so they cuid clean up an’ let th’ Irish passengers board. I didnae want t’ spend th’ entire day in our berth so bundled th’ bairns warm an’ followed th’ others t’ th’ deck outdoors.
’Twas a braw day for sunshine, th’ fresh air uplifting after th’ stuffy deck below, but a fierce wind cut through my wrap. In th’ space we were sent, machinery, metal pipes, an’ shafts, cluttered everywhere an’ left few places t’ sit but th’ floor.
Steerage Outside Deck 1911
Photo courtesy of Norway-Heritagewww.norwayheritage.com
Most folk crowded near th’ entry, th’ only wind-sheltered spot, but th’ bairns seemed glad t’ be outside. ’Twas nae long before Jean an Lily joined a game o’ scouk ‘n’ seek with a few other weans. For some reason, Colin wuidnae step further than an arm’s length from me, as though he feared I’d disappear.
T’ this day I dinnae ken th’ reason, but every day women were allotted a cup o’ broth at 11:00 o’clock in th’ morning. A whole hour before th’ dinner bell but I didnae want t’ miss tryin’ something that might settle my roily tummy. When th’ bairns an’ I came inside, a steward stood at the end of one table doling out th’ hot liquid. Poor man was surrounded by throngs o’ folk worrying an’ buzzing over th’ business of settling in t’ their berths. He’d no sooner finished when other workers arrived t’ set th’ tables for dinner. ’Twas so crowded, I cuid nae see how anythin’ got done.
By the time th’ ship set off t’ open waters (an’ I thanked th’ lord they were calm) ’twas nearin’ suppertime. I knew the bairns were hungry. The weak, tepid barley soup with bits of salt pork ‘n’ chopped carrot tossed in had been barely edible at dinner. The bread was fresh ‘n’ guid, but nae plentiful enough t’ fill them up. My own stomach had finally settled an’ my mid-afternoon tea ‘n’ cake was barely enough t’ tide me over.
With so many friesh passengers taken on that morning, the supper bell created a chaos near impossible t’ navigate. No queuing up, just mad dashes t’ th’ tables. ’Twas a contest t’ find enough space for all four o’ us. Thank goodness for wee Colin, squeezin’ in t’ the front an’ claiming a stretch o’ chairs.
But th’ frenzy put Lily beside herself. I cannae say with what – anger, frustration, or simple hunger, but neither Jean nor I cuid calm her sobs. Most times, shushing warm air into her ear an’ smoothin’ her hair cuid settle her tantrums but I knew she was too crabbit for it t’ work. I closed my eyes an’ tried anyway while we waited for the stewards t’ set out th’ food. My body relaxed in t’ the motion of her cries when of a sudden, they stopped an’ I felt a wee chuckle come from her chest. I opened my eyes ‘n’ sprang bolt upright.
Across th’ table sat th’ most sprightly creature I ever laid eyes on. A mere lad for certain, with wide sapphire eyes, coal-black locks curlin’ an’ tumblin’ over his forehead. His milky face, his rosy cheeks ‘n’ mouth fare glowed, an’ a single freckle winked from aside his left eye.
“Mummy.” Colin pulled on my sleeve. “It was in his hand an’ it disappeared. A shilling.”
“Och – A whole shilling disappeared?” I cuidnae take my eyes from the wee stranger. “And what might your name be, laddie?”
“My name is Ion. Spelled th’ right way. I-O-N. Not I-A-N like the eejit Scots. Ion Murphy. That’s me.” He held out his open palm, twisted it about, closed it tight, an’ opened it t’ show a shiny shilling. A dimple formed in th’ left cheek of his smile as th’ entire table laughed an’ clapped. My bairns kept their eyes glued t’ th’ stranger through th’ whole meal an’ o’ course with my own curiosities, I had t’ ask …
“Are you travellin’ alone?” I noted his lean frame an’ th’ worn cuffs ‘n’ elbows of his thin jumper.
“My mam’s lying abed with a headache. She told me to eat without her. My da’s building ships in Nova Scotia, Canada. He’s finally arranged for us to come join him. Before he left he taught me all about building ships and how they work. Now I finally get to be on a real one. Mam isn’t happy about leaving Ireland, but I’ve been waiting two whole years to see Da again. Since I was nine.”
Ion Murphy spoke like he was composing a piece of music. I cuild hae listened t’ th’ wee leprechaun for hours.
Och – an’ th’ lad was wily, too. Meals were nae permitted t’ be taken into the berths an’ as th’ supper clearing began, Colin, Jean ‘n’ Lily left th’ table while I finished th’ last o’ my tea. Ion still had two braw pieces of breid on his plate, a slice o’ beef stashed between them, an’ I saw him eyin’ th’ stewards’ moves. When their backs turned, quick as a whip, he stuffed th’ food under his jumper. He knew I’d spied him an’ read th’ question in my eyes.
“It’s for Mam.” The rosy colour of his cheeks spread t’ his entire face.
“Never mind. I’ll keep wheesht. You’re a guid laddie.” I patted his hand. “Mind ye nae leave any crumbs or droppins’ in yer berth. Yer mam’ll nae thank ye for inviting th’ vermin t’ dinner. An’ make no mistake. They’ll be about.”
Th’ second afternoon, while Jean ‘n’ Lily napped, I sat in th’ community area outside our berth with my cuppa ‘n’ knittin’ a bonny muffler I knew we’d need in Edmonton. Colin wuid nae stop yammerin’ for me ’t take him up on deck. I was guid ‘n’ warm where I was an’ my conscience wuid nae let me leave my post. Th’ bism had me as cross as I’ve ever been, but if Ion didnae show up, his smiling face its own kind o’ freshness.
“Mam is resting and I’m on my way up to check out the ship. As far as they’ll allow me that is. Why don’t you come with me, Colin?” Well, that was it. Colin switched from bism t’ wee puppy an’ followed Ion t’ th’ deck every afternoon after, each time coming back by suppertime with endless stories o’ masts, funnels, beams ‘n’ such.
A few evenings th’ leprechaun was even guid enough t’ distract all three weans with his magic tricks while I took some skivvies ‘n’ things t’ th’ washing room t’ gave them ‘n’ myself, a guid scrub.
Young Ion Murphy bein’ on th’ ship was a godsend, indeed. He’d won Lily over th’ very first day ‘n’ made a point o’ lifting her for a wee spin ’til she laughed every time he saw her. I seldom saw his mam come out o’ their berth except having him guide her on th’ lang walk t’ th’ lavatory. She was a wisp of a thing who ne’er joined him at th’ dining table, though he insisted she was nae seasick. An’ he did often smuggle bites of food t’ her. Th’ laddie was friendly with most everyone on board an had a way of steppin’ up, makin’ himself useful. I cannae say when ’twas decided but sometime mid-sailing, I knew the bonnie green muffler I was knitting wuid be his.
The young Ion was by far the most interesting part of crossing th’ Atlantic so I’ll leave ye there for the time being. Th’ lass is wanting a strong picture of what the trip was like so I’ll be takin’ my time t’ see what I can come up with.
Seems I’m nae th’ only one confused by this blogging business. My great-granddaughter had t’ start and restart this page three or four times before ’twas guid enough t’ get going. An here I was thinkin’ “Th’ lass kens what she’s doin’.”
I suppose like with anything, th’ more she does it, th’ better she’ll get.
Anyway, back t’ my story o’ movin’ t’ Canada …
May 10th, 1911 was a day I ne’er did forget. My body ached wi’ exhaustion an’ I cuid nae decide if I was happy or sad everyone came t’ Perth General Station seein’ us off. Except my eldest brother George havin’ t’ work, Mother, Da, James, both sisters – Louisa ‘n’ Stuart were there. All dressed in our Sunday best ‘n’ weeping as we hugged good-bye. Even Da had t’ pull out his handkerchief an’ dab his eye. After more than a stowed-out year of planning, waiting, and missing my John, all I wanted was t’ get on with it.
Some roof repair happenin’ made the train-shed busier than I expected an’ th’ bairns clustered t’gether, keeping mostly wheesht. No matter the fine weather, I had all three bundled in winter clothes t’ keep warm on th’ ship and t’ lighten our bags. Colin holding tight t’ his toy boat, Jean hugging th’ stuffed terrier Stuart sewed for her, an’ Lily, her faceless ragdoll dragging t’ th’ ground, clutched on t’ her big sister’s hand. Next t’ the crowd an’ masses o’ luggage on th’ platform, they looked like wee hedgehogs hidin’ in the bushes, but their eyes were saucers an’ took in everything.
Perth Railway Station History Scotland
YouTube The Railway 007
All Colin an’ Jean knew beyond, was that we’d be sailing on a grand ship before takin’ another train ride t’ Edmonton where their da was waitin’. Even though I showed them th’ route in my atlas, what they didnae ken was th’ time it’d take – stowed-out eight days crossin’ th’ Atlantic Ocean, an’ a full week travellin’ across a strange country. I wondered if their insides were as fidgety as my own. I cannae begin t’ picture what was goin’ through Lily’s heid.
Perth t’ Glasgow was th’ shortest leg o’ the journey. Nobody loves a crakin’ train ride more than me, but I was grateful my brother James was between house paintin’ jobs an’ offered t’ ride with us that first stretch t’ see we made it t’ the docks.
T’ my relief, all three bairns fell asleep before we were twenty-minutes out an’ I cuid close my eyes for a stretch. Our train was scheduled to arrive in Glasgow minutes before 5:00pm an’ steerage passengers were expected t’ board ship between 8:00 and 10:00 that nicht with th’ boat t’ set sail in the wee hours. Despite the ague creepin’ in t’ my muscles takin’ away my appetite, I was glad t’ settle an’ collect m’self over tea in th’ small restaurant on Oswald Street close by th’ docks. James was gey patient answerin’ Colin’s endless questions; I didnae ken what I’d have done without him
Outside th’ passenger station, the press of my brother’s goodbye-hug warmed my aches an’ I didnae want t’ let go. An’ when I stepped on t’ the bus takin’ passengers t’ th’ dock, I prayed all I needed was a good night’s rest.
Och – that Glasgow dock took away my breath. ’Twas one thing t’ see what appeared t’ be hundreds of ships moored along both banks o’ th’ Clyde but t’ find m’self right down on th’ very platform with crowds of people queuing up, I felt like a tiny herring next t’ a whale waiting t’ swallow us up.
Gettin’ on t’ the boat was a lengthy business. All th’ steerage passengers had t’ queue up in a big room an’ walk like a giant family of ducks past th’ doctor who did nothin’ more than glance o’er us with a quick peek in t’ our own eyes before a steward standing by sent us t’ a space on th’ open deck t’ wait. Full on crowded, with no place t’ rest, an’ th’ chill working its way in t’ my bones, I cuidnae stop checking my documents o’er an o’er t’ be sure I had everything. My stomach was nae goin’ to calm ’til I had my bairns t’ bed ‘n’ asleep.
It felt like hours before they finally directed us t’ a bigger space on deck where we queued again. At th’ front, a steward inspected my documents, tore my ticket, an’ gave me medical cards t’ prove th’ doctor had examined us. “What about my train voucher? My agent, Mr. Ian Brown, said it’d be here.” Fresh knots tied in my tummy t’ think they cuid deny us passage once we arrived in Halifax. “I’m sorry, Madam. Mr. Ian Brown has misinformed you. You will receive your train voucher once you pass inspection in Halifax. Now head over to that table for your berth assignment.”
I felt th’ blood rush t’ my heid as he pointed across th’ room t’ another lang queue where a lanky man, handsome in his fresh uniform, stood behind a small table. By th’ time we reached th’ front, Lily was a deid weight sleepin’ over my shoulder an’ I felt duin t’ drop. The officer told me we’d be in the family section and t’ wait with a group of families in one neuk of the room. A matron wuid be along t’ show us th’ way.’
’Twas a scurry of people eager t’ settle but after finding our berth and searching for th’ water-closet ‘n’ washin’ room t’ clean up th’ weans an’ settle ’em for th’ nicht, I stood in th’ middle of our cramped quarters, my back achin’ ‘n’ my mynd numb. Th’ walls reached neither th’ ceiling nor th’ floor an’ in th’ dull light I tried t’ figure what t’ do next. Th’ ship was still in dock, so my feet were firm t’ th’ floor, my handbags mounded in a neuk. Th’ space was nae much more crowded than we we’d been at home in Perth, but if this was an upgraded version of steerage, I nae wanted t’ see th’ original.
Two narrow metal bunks lined either side of th’ room, each double stacked. Right off I saw that but for th’ four hooks on either side of a fold-down stool an’ tiny mirror attached to th’ back wall between th’ beds where we’d hung our good clothes for th’ rest o’ th’ trip, there was no place t’ put our things.
Jean ‘n’ Lily were fine sharing th’ bottom bed of one bunk. Already they were sleeping, each with their heid at an end and their feet nae meetin’ in th’ middle.
Colin was tryin’ t’ settle on th’ bed above his sisters an’ I cuid nae see stuffin’ myself on t’ th’ low level of the other side. ’T wuid do for storage. Colin sat up rubbin’ his eyes. “I’m cold, Mummy.” “Hold on, luv.” I pulled a woolen shawl from th’ largest bag, cooried it around him an’ kissed his curls. “There ye gang my brave laddie. Crakin’ ’n warm.” I heard Jean cough an’ looked down t’ see she’d shifted t’ curl herself ’round Lily so unpacked two more shawls. As I laid one o’er th’ girls a quiverin’ of the ship come up through th’ soles o’ my shoes. It climbed up my legs into my body an’ I knew we were on our way. With the damp chill workin’ its way into my bones getting’ some sleep seemed best if I wanted t’ have strength by mornin’.
Och – Climbing into a top bunk is nae easy, especially when th’ entire room is movin’. But after banging my elbow an’ both my knees on th’ iron rail I felt th’ straw mattress crackle under my weight. A life preserver is a poor excuse for a pillow, even with a wee cushion covered in cotton ticking to soften it, but it had t’ do. With th’ ship movin’ in a kind of rolling rhythm, I pulled my third shawl over-top th’ malinky blanket and stretched out my legs, willing my aching body t’ relax.
Och – ’twas a memorable trip. Just thinkin’ back that far has me richt out o’ breath. I think I’ll just have myself a crakin’ cup o’ tea and close my eyes for a bit so I can pull together a solid story for ye next time.
I dinnae ken why I get so anxious every time I caber in t’ this thing. It’s nae pernicketie if I follow th’ steps.
Och – what’s this? A crakin’ pot o’ tea an’ hot scones – with clotted cream ‘n’ strawberry jeely? That lass knows me well. I’ll just get m’self settled here…
… A’richt, now. Where did I leave off?
Aye. That lang year planning an’ waiting for our shift t’ Canada…
Every night before bed I’d look at th’ photie of John, dapper an’ braw in his suit. Most times I’d tell him I missed him an’ cuidnae wait t’ be with him again. T’ have our wee family reunited. But on days I struggled with th’ bairns, had a row with Mother, or worked m’self t’ exhaustion, he’d get a solid piece o’ my mynd t’ be sure.
“Ye’d better ken what you’re about way out there in Edmonton, John Campbell. Nothin’ less than a braw warm cottage waitin’ for us ’ll do. I didnae marry ye just for your looks, ye ken. Ye ‘n’ your smooth blether, all your plans and schemes. This is th’ last o’ it, I promise ye that.”
There was so much t’ do, my heid ne’er stopped buzzin’. I spent a guid month or more packing up th’ most household goods I cuid fit in th’ 10 cubic foot crate included in our passage. ‘Tis a braw line between what’s ‘necessary’ an’ ‘too much’. At 4 pence for every cubic foot over, I had t’ be canny.
Things I knew we’d need like clothes, pots, dishes, linens ‘n’ blankets seemed easy enough ’til I saw how much space they took. An’ some things I knew I cuidnae leave behind. Wedding treasures like my silver teapot, fine china cups ‘n’ saucers, brass candle holders, an’ ceramic fireplace dugs. An’ of course, photies o’ my family. What if I forgot what they looked like? But I thought about th’ freezing winters an’ with no idea what I’d find when we got t’ Edmonton, I decided spending an extra 80p was worth puttin’ my mynd at ease.
Finally, thirteen months after John left, ’twas time t’ get Colin home from Lossimouth. With over two weeks o’ travel ahead, I was nae keen on takin’ th’ train t’ get him but I knew a trip t’ Perth wuid be pernicketie for John’s folks, Catherine ‘n’ Colin. Nae just that runnin’ a fishing boat kept John’s da stowed. They’d only travelled there but once since th’ tragedy.
Their own sweet Lily, John’s favourite sister, workin’ as a nursemaid in our very own county just t’ be near us, dyin’ of appendicitis when she was 16. Only five months before Jean was born. An’ John havin’ t’ sign th’ papers arranging t’ send her home near broke him. ’Twas only after our Lily, her namesake, came along that his mum an’ da rode th’ train out t’ Perth.
I feared my in-laws wuid refuse t’ make th’ trip with my wee laddie but t’ my relief, they were happy t’ do it, saying their visit wuid make for a proper family goodbye.
Och – I’d missed my wee Colin. My heart was duin t’ burst when he came runnin’ in so proud t’ show me th’ newspaper clippin’ from almost a year earlier, with th’ listing of passengers arrivin’ in Lossiemouth. Like th’ one I saved from our trip out when he was a baby. “This time they put my name in, Mummy.” Maybe he thought havin’ our names printed like that made us famous.
How I laughed when he reminded me o’ th’ day he’d overheard John an’ his mukkers talking in th’ front room back when that’s all it was. Blather. Colin askin’ me what we’d do with free land. An’ how much free land was there?
He said he didnae want t’ live on a farm with cows, sheep, ‘n’ chickens. That he didnae want t’ feed animals or wash up after ’em. Or wash dead chickens like he’s seen me do with th’ kill from his da’s huntin’ trips – grabbin’ the bird by its feet an’ plunging it in t’ boiling water, plucking out all the feathers an’ slicing it open t’ remove th’ insides. I didnae think he took me seriously when I’d teased him about giving him th’ hackit task. I ken as well as anybody, th’ laddie wuid rather be paintin’ pictures.
The day before we were t’ begin our journey, John’s folks left for home. Everything was packed an’ duin. The bairns ‘n’ me, all four bathed ‘n’ clean, our guid clothes set out. While Jean ‘n’ Lily napped, I eased my nerves by darnin’ holes in Da’s work socks an’ turned my heid t’ Colin runnin’ the bonnie blue boat his papa carved for him along the front-room rug. He’d named his toy S.S. Numidian, identical t’ th’ ship we’d be sailing’ on. Th’ laddie hadn’t stopped talking about the trip an’ seein’ his da again since he arrived back from Lossiemouth.
But right then I needed t’ be certain he knew what t’ do once we left for Canada. “Come ’ere, lad.” I set my mending in th’ basket. “You’re a smart yin but let’s go through it again.” “I ken Mummy. I ken.” He clutched his boat t’ his chest and stood beside my chair. “If a’body asks how old I am, I’m nae seven. I’m six. An’ th’ identicle for Jean. She’s three, nae four. An’ Lily is two, nae three.” “Well done laddie, an’ don’t ye forget it. All in all, ’tis best t’ keep wheesht and nae say anythin’.” I gave him a hug. “It’s a guid thing you and your sisters are all wee like your da. Now go fetch Jean from her nap so I can test her again.”
T’ be sure, Lily was my biggest concern for th’ long trip ahead with no way of explainin’ it t’ her outside a few photies of trains ‘n’ ships. She was just Lily. Sweet ‘n’ funny, with a fiery-hot temper when she wanted somethin’ I cuidnae ken. Maybe ’twas being so close in age, but Jean had a knack – as if she cuid read Lily’s thoughts – an’ made it natural t’ be takin’ care o’ her.
I was nae concerned about Jean. She ‘n’ her brother both understood that claiming Lily was only two would explain her lack o’ speech. We cuidnae risk being turned away from Canada because the lassie was deaf. They’d nae find anythin’ physically defective about my wee girl. She just cuidnae hear.
Earlier in th’ week, when we all four had watched the wagon drive off with our crates, I felt like I’d signed away my life. In the morning it’d be me ‘n’ the weans getting ready for the train t’ Glasgow. My tummy sat heavy, like I’d swallowed a kist of leid weights. Sailing o’er the Atlantic on my own with three bairns was nae something I’d ever pictured for m’self.
I hope I’m nae havering on an’ boring ye with my story, but th’ more I think, the more comes t’ mynd.
Now, I’ve given as guid an answer as anyone’ll get from me for the question “Why did I move t’ Canada?” I see th’ next thing that great granddaughter o’ mine is askin’ is “What was the trip like?” If she wants more than ‘bloody hell’ for an answer, I’ll be givin’ it some thought.
An’ look, there’s my words again. I keep expectin’ t’ see th’ faces I’m talkin’ to on this wee screen instead o’ th’ words I’m sayin’. How am I t’ ken if there’s anyone hearin’ me?
Anyway, I think I left off at passin’ the time an’ getting’ duin t’ move.
Och – this auld rockin’ chair of mine does stir up memories …
Growing up, once I understood th’ concept o’ currency, setting dosh aside was my instinct. I’d saved for my own dowry since before I left school an’ was an expert at putting by every possible penny. How else cuid I have th’ means t’ buy a bonnie dress, a pair o’ gloves or a pretty hat from time t’ time? So, getting ready t’ move countries, I kept most of my pay from doin’ wash. And in those long months of waitin’, John sent dosh when he was able.
I suppose since they’re my folks, I kept thinking Mother ‘n’ Da ran th’ flat, #6 Main Street, but in fact ’twas Stuart’s husband, Hugh, named as head. At least when th’ census folk came by. Nine rooms sounds lairge enough, but with Mr. Millar th’ boarder, Louisa an’ her two bairns moving in after her Edward was taken by pneumonia, an’ now me ‘n’ the weans makin’ it twelve, there was nae a single square foot t’ spare.
Colin sleeping on th’ chesterfield was braw for a week or two, but a stowed-out year was awfully much. I cuidnae picture bein’ separated from my wee man but he was th’ eldest, an’ I made up my mynd ’twas best t’ do as John asked and take him t’ his own folks, th’ Campbell side of th’ family, up t’ Lossiemouth in Drainie.
Stuart ‘n’ Hugh would nae take a cent from me, so I did my best to pay ’em in chores. With both my sisters off t’ work every day, ’twas up t’ Mother ‘n’ me t’ keep th’ house runnin’. Cooking was easy enough, wash ‘n’ mending I was doing for me an’ th’ weans anyway so just took on more, an’ I didnae care for cleanin’ but did what was needed. Gardening out back I didnae take to at all.
On the other hand, wee as she was, Jean was eager t’ spend time working the soil ‘n’ cleaning up plants with her papa when he was home. It helped t’ have Rex out there, followin’ her every step. She’d come inside fair glowing every time.
Sometimes, Da brought home lengths of fabrics from work when there was a flaw in the dye or the weave an’ I’d sew up clothes for m’self an’ th’ weans. Running my hands o’er lengths of brand-new wool ‘n’ crisp linen, breathing in their scent of freshness, filled my heart an’ I cuid see exactly what I’d fashion from ’em. But the stoatin’ silks Da dyed were rare an’ when a length or two o’ that came my way I knew they needed special consideration, so I’d tuck ’em away for later.
Aye, I had lots t’ keep me busy while waiting for th’ time to pass an’ worrying about money in the long stretches between meetin’ th’ immigration agent.
Och, he was a pleasure to my eye, that man, Mr. Ian Brown. With his copper curls ‘n’ hazel eyes, I had t’ keep reminding m’self I wasn’t his only customer. Even his name was music t’ my ear. And he knew exactly what he was about, filling me in on what t’ expect an’ making arrangements t’ secure our passage. I could have sat across his desk for days watching him run his pen in an’ out of his long fingers as he helped me get my heid around the cost in Canadian dosh.
“Since your husband is already settled in Edmonton, $15.00 for steamship passage in steerage is a half-price reuniting rate you and the children are entitled to by the Canadian Government. The ship, being on the older side, has been downgraded to carry only second and third, or steerage-class passengers which helps with the cost as well. It works out to £12.30 for all four of you. The same program, allows you to gain entry with only $10.00 Canadian cash instead of the standard $25.00.”
Image Courtesy of
Hands Across The Sea
I’d heard enough tales t’ make th’ idea of steerage class nae appealing an’ I had doubts what ‘bedding and all necessary utensils provided free’ meant. Half price or not, the trip was still dear but th’ man’s smile sent a warm flutter through my heart. An’ when I asked him if eliminating first class meant that th’ down passengers got t’ come up he chuckled an’ tossed me a wink.
“The rules changed last year to improve conditions, so you’ll have more space and more comfort than before. And your train fare from Perth to Glasgow is 48d for each of you so you’ll need £1.92 for that. The train to Edmonton you’ll get right there in Halifax at the dock. That cost is $7.00 total. Your voucher will come with your Allan Line contract once your passage is paid in full.”
There ’t was. As real as anything in front of me. I swallowed th’ lump pulling my throat closed, an’ tried t’ calm my heart.
“Thank ye, Mr. Brown. I cuidnae have done this without yer help.”
“You’re a brave woman Mrs. Campbell, travelling to a new country with your wee ones. Brings to mind my Emma, storming off to London last year with her sister to support women wanting the vote. Came home with a black eye and a splint on her hand after all that Black Friday nonsense, but that doesn’t stop her from pounding the streets, carrying signs every chance she gets.”
Running off t’ cause a scene an’ have police beat you up ‘n’ break your bones didnae sound brave t’ me at th’ time, but I took his words an’ cooried ’em in a neuk of my brain. I had awfully much else t’ worry over.
Aye, moving was a costly business so I cooried away every cent possible. How else cuid I be prepared – for anythin’.
Och – I see my cheeky girl’s left me a braw bottle o’ gin in the cabinet ‘n’ I cannae ignore the craving now it’s wakened my tastebuds. Forby, I’ve prattled too lang already an’ a wee dram will help me collect my thoughts for next time.
I wonder were she’s put th’ lime. Now – I’ll just press this button …
Since last time, my heid’s been fair muddled for what t’ say next but I woke this morning gey excited t’ be back talking in t’ this microphone. Whoever would’ve thought?
I think I left off at being stowed with three weans an’ nae even considering a move … but I’ll ne’er rid my brain of that New Year’s Day, 1910.
I’ll just say things as they come t’ mynd.
After a long nicht toasting Hogmanay an’ singing Auld Lang Syne ’til my heid was fair t’ burst, by mid-day next, John an’ his pal were deep in t’ their cups again. Both talking muckle about nothing ever changing. Too many people an’ not enough opportunity. Pete raving mad trying t’ sway John on adventure ‘n’ free land shored in Canada.
There I was, cooking up a nice steak bridie for tea n’ having t’ hear ’em go on ‘n’ on. Getting louder ‘n’ louder. Drunken fools! Guid thing th’ weans weren’t in the room. I was fair steaming an’ cuid nae take it.
“John Campbell, yer a stationer’s assistant. Nae a farmer.” I shook my spurtle at ’em both. “You’d nae ken what to do with free land if it bit you in th’ behind. And over th’ Atlantic Ocean no less!”
Aye, dosh was tight. Work scarce for lots o’ folks. But me objecting only fed their enthusiasm, so I took the picture of golden wheat fields, 160 Acres Free it said, tossed it in t’ the stove an’ left them t’ their drunken devices.
Heaven ken what they all got up to every Friday night at auld Christie’s Pub, but’ if John an’ all those mukkers o’ his weren’t in cahoots! First Pete with his pamphlets, pictures, an’ blather o’ immigration agents. Then Robbie, John’s best mate from school who was handy with a hammer an’ had gone ahead to check things oot. He’d got wind o’ a printing business, Douglas Company Ltd., an’ sent word t’ John. Said it was a sure thing. Nae Halifax or another city on the Atlantic coast. Or even a wee distance inland like Montreal or Toronto. But Edmonton, o’ all places. Three-quarters of the way o’er th’ country!
By then, my atlas opened automatically t’ Canada. I knew it by heart but still held my breath. All that land, an’ so far from home, in the cold snowy prairies. But John was determined for something better.
“It’s an opportunity, Aggie. An adventure. Think of th’ space, th’ fresh air for the weans. I’ll find us our own crakin’ house, with trees an’ a garden.” He took photies o’ me ‘n’ th’ bairns t’ carry with him, an’ by April, he was gone, carving us a fresh life.
L to R: Jean, Lily, Colin
1910, Perth, Scotland
I knew passage would be dear so packed up our things an’ moved with the bairns to Mother ‘n’ Da’s. The house was already full with Stuart an’ her guidman living there so th’ girls an’ I crowded into the back room an’ Colin took the chesterfield. They loved being with their Nana ‘n’ Papa, especially Colin who missed his da terribly. Cried himself t’ sleep every night for a week. I missed John something fierce m’self, but my own tears got saved ’til nicht when the weans were asleep an’ the house wheesht.
If I was t’ pay our way an’ still put by any dosh I needed t’ keep taking in laundry. There wasn’t much space t’ work an’ I tried solid t’ keep out of Mum’s way. Except, with all those starched collars ‘n’ cuffs needing space t’ dry, I cuidnae help try her patience. But somehow, we managed to dance around each other an’ keep our swords in their scabbards.
It felt like forever, but John’s first letter came in June with a bit o’ dosh tucked inside. Canadian bills he said I’d need for the trip an’ he’d send more when he cuid. He said he’d found a clean room for himself with a hot meal every night an’ that Edmonton was booming mad. Roads going in and buildings going up faster than he cuid ever imagine. “Pack our things,” he said, an’ book yer passage for next spring. Yer aff t’ love it here but ye don’t want t’ be arriving in th’ winter.”
Next spring? A stowed oot year’s separation. My heart felt lost ‘n’ heavy for a minute but I spied Jean ‘n’ Lily playing with Rex, Da’s spaniel, in the neuk of the cramped bedroom and gave it a thought. Maybe it would work.
An’ give John time enough t’ find the bonny cottage he promised me.
Agnes Rankin Campbell, 1910
I’ve loads t’ mind ‘n’ mull before goin’ on, so I’ll stop for now.
Look at me workin’ a computer all by m’self. Whit else kin this thing do?