Sometimes it is painful for me to read my father's words, especially when he writes about dreams he didn't fulfill. His year in Lansdowne House allowed him to paint, and paint he did, like I never saw him before or after. He and my mother both loved to paint, but they rarely had time to indulge in their artistry. The responsibility of raising five children, continuing their own educations, and the demands of their careers crowded out most of their personal time. I am always humbled by the sacrifices they made to realize their dream of sending all five of us to Acadia where they had met in a Paul Jones dance.
On Thursday, June 22, 1961 My father wrote to his mother:
I hope that the six pictures that I am sending you don't cause you too much trouble. I sent them to you mainly because I wanted you to see what I have been doing in the painting line. I want you to do something for me, Mother. I want you to enter these six pictures, and the one of the church that I gave to you, in the art competition at Old Home Week. You can find out how you go about entering the pictures in the exhibition.
Perhaps I am conceited, but I want to enter them all. I just want to find out how they stack up against the work of other amateur painters. Perhaps I won't win any prizes, although I think The Nine Spruce Trees should win a first in any exhibition of amateur paintings. I don't expect you to hang them in your living room, for I know that you won't have the room. Besides I wouldn't want you to have to take down all your own pictures to make room for mine. It would be different, if I was sending them to you to keep, but I am not. I will want them all back in the fall, as soon as I am settled in Sioux Lookout. I am going to continue painting, and when I have a selection of good paintings, I am going to see if I can interest any commercial outlet in handling some for sale on a commission basis. What I said about another picture for your birthday still goes. I will paint you one at Sioux Lookout. If there is one in this group that particularly appeals to you, and it isn't already promised to Sara or Roy, let me know, and I would consider giving it to you, although I'd rather paint you another because these are all sort of a matched set from Lansdowne House.
Besides, as I said before, I am anxious to build up an accumulation of paintings, in case I ever do get a chance to sell some. I would stand a better chance if I had a large selection. Please let me know immediately what condition they arrived in, and also let me know what you and the rest of the family think about them. I guess I will have almost a little one man show of paintings from Lansdowne House, eh?
I haven't had any school in my school for the last two days, because the electricians have been in wiring the school. They finished today at noon, and I was going to have school at one thirty, but on my way over, I upset the cotton pickin' canoe. This is the second time I have done this since I came up here, but at least the water was much warmer today. I have acquired a reputation as a damned poor canoe driver. The Indians all line up to see what difficulties I am going to get into next. I don't know what happened today, for the water was dead calm. I guess I just put too much weight on the paddle, one swish, and I was swimming.
This is the strip of water Dad crossed to get to and from his school.
(Note the bush plane at the Hudson's Bay Company dock.)
Well, I must sign off now and get a letter off to my deserted family on the Indian reservation. Oh well, I will be with them in another eight days. In fact, one week from tonight I'll be out in Nakina catching the train for Sioux Lookout. I wish that I could be on the Island sometime this summer, but I guess that this will be impossible. This move to Sioux Lookout will be quite expensive, and I won't have too much to spare for gadding around. I will have to buy quite a bit of new clothes for myself, as my old ones have just about had it Now that I have a job of this nature, I will be expected to dress quite well. Poor Sally, I'll have to get lots of clothes for her also. She has nothing but rags, and it will be important to have my wife well dressed also. I am not, however, going to go hog wild or anything like that. I am just going to buy what is absolutely necessary.
Be sure and write me as soon as you receive the pictures. I guess you may as well send your letters in care of General Delivery, Sioux Lookout, till I get a definite address in Sioux Lookout. Don't send anymore to Lansdowne House. No, the answer to this letter please send to General Delivery, Nakina, and then all future letters to General Delivery, Sioux Lookout. Bye Now, Love, Don.
Looking Toward the Father's Island
Dad canoed back and forth across the water at least twice a day.
A bush plane is pulled into the beach on the island.
My father continued to paint for a few more years, but then the responsibilities of his teaching and administrative career consumed too much of his energy and time. Sometimes I feel heartsick at the thought that when my father retired he was so sick from emphysema and a missing lung that he couldn't take up painting again. Other times I take comfort in my memories of the pleasure he had when he did paint. Whenever he painted, my father had an audience. Roy and I watched keenly, looking over his hunched shoulders as he whistled tunelessly and sketched on his canvas with a soft charcoal pencil or applied paint from his palette with broad strokes or fine, sure touches. As Dad squeezed squiggles of paint onto his palette, he would tell us their exotic names: burnt umber, ultramarine blue, zinc white, and cadmium yellow. Out of six or seven blobs of color Dad could mix an array of colors, and he always warned us against using too much white when mixing colors. He would add a little linseed oil to bind the paint or a dribble of turpentine to thin it, and he was off and running. Dad talked to us about line and perspective and showed us the secrets of light and shadow, answering our pesky questions until his patience ran out and he shooed us away.
Whatever my busy mother was doing, she would interrupt frequently to evaluate my father's progress and to encourage him. My younger sisters Donnie and Barbie stood back a little, Donnie peeking shyly at Dad's canvas, and Barbie watching Dad's brush strokes with a discerning eye. As for toddling Bertie, we kept her well away from Dad and his painting. The blobs of glorious color and the little tin pots of linseed oil and turpentine enticed her tiny fingers, a disaster waiting to happen if she succeeded in reaching Dad's palette. I have many incredible memories of time spent with my father, but surely watching him paint are some of the best.
Notes: 1. Paul Jones Dance: This a mixer dance that has several variations. In Nova Scotia the women would form an inner circle facing out, and the men would form an outer circle facing in. When the music
started, the men would circle in one direction, and the women in the opposite. When the music stopped, each man and woman facing each other would dance together, until the music stopped
and the circles formed anew. 2. Letter of June 22nd: I've included a few details from a similar letter my father wrote to his mother on June 17th. 3. Old Home Week:
Old Home Week has been celebrated in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, since 1888.
It includes livestock shows, handicraft and produce displays, a midway carnival, and harness
4. The Nine Spruce Trees: I wish I knew where this painting ended up. Dad was very fond of it. 5. Dad's Other Dunking: TLL: The Inevitable Happens.
6. The Indian Reservation: Dad was referring to Two Point, Lac Seul where we were staying in a log cabin belonging to
the Garrick family.
7. The Island: Prince Edward Island
For Map Lovers Like Me:
Location of Lansdowne House, Nakina, and Sioux Lookout
It's the first Wednesday of the month: the day when members of the Insecure Writer's Support Group share their writing struggles and writing successes and offer their encouragement and support to fellow writers.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Every month the IWSG poses a question that members can answer with advice, insight, a personal experience, or a story in their IWSG posts. Or, the question can inspire members if they aren't sure what to write about on IWSG Day. Remember the question is optional. This month's featured question is: What's harder for you to come up with, book titles or character names?
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Typically I have written nonfiction, so naming characters has not been an issue for me. However titles have had me guzzling coffee and chomping on crystalized ginger and chocolate long into the night as I write a piece and search for the right title. The odd time I have written fiction, naming my characters has proven easier than searching for the title.
Whenever I think about writing character names and titles, I think about one of my favorite novels that I read in 1962: Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind.
Wikipedia The movie was coming to Sioux Lookout's one theatre screen, and my mother suggested that I read the book before she and I went to see the movie ~ a challenging undertaking for a twelve-year-old girl. I have never forgotten the engrossing story of the American Civil War and the Reconstruction Era, set in Georgia, a time and location unfamiliar to me as a young Canadian in northern Canada. But it wasn't the war and reconstruction that captivated me; it was the unforgettable characters and what they endured to survive as their world and way of life was destroyed. And of course, Scarlett, Ashley, and Rhett. It is often said that "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet." But I'm not so sure. Pansy O'Hara just doesn't fit the passionate, willful, and unconventional Scarlett of Gone with the Wind.
And "Tomorrow is Another Day" as the title? I wonder if the novel would have done as well with such a milquetoast title. Is it any wonder that writers sometimes struggle to find the perfect character name and title? I don't have a method for writing either. I play around with words and names until something clicks, like messing with fossils fragments on a lab table as you search to find pieces that fit together, and suddenly there is that gratifying click, not a sound but a feeling, in the meshing of two fragments, when you've found a match.
On a completely different topic, have you read the 2018 IWSG Anthology Tick Tock: A Stitch in Crime?
I found it great fun to read from two perspectives. First, it's a delight to read the works of fellow IWSG members I know and to discover new IWSG authors whom I haven't read before, and second, it's intriguing to see eleven writers create such different mysteries with a common thread of time. I'll be rereading the anthology more than once. Happy writing in June!
The train conductor who molested me was a bad person. But fortunately for me, most of the people that I have encountered in my life have been good. I have never forgotten the people I met in Lansdowne House, Ojibwa or white. They were exceptionally caring and generous to my family and me. It's not so much that they were better than other people; there are good people everywhere all over the world. It's more that our tiny village was located in a remote and challenging wilderness, and everyone had to help one another in order to survive. I didn't go around thinking that I was in danger or could easily die; but even as a young girl, I realized that our remoteness and the challenges of our environment made us more vulnerable, and a situation that would be difficult on the Outside could quickly become life threatening in Lansdowne House. People needed and relied on each other, and that made them closer. They all understood the value of a good friend.
On Tuesday, June 20, 1961 My father wrote to our extended family:
Hi There Folks: First of all, I want to apologize for this week's edition being late. Our whole life was disrupted over the previous weekend, and I am now, and have been for exactly one week, a bachelor again. The Forestry Department needed the house, and just gave us two days notice to vacate. I know now what it feels like to be evicted. I also know now why the Forestry Department was so kind to allow us to live in the shack rent free. Since we were not paying any rent, they didn't have to abide by the law which requires that you give tenants one month's notice. It was quite a job getting them out by 6 p.m. Monday, June 12. I didn't know where they could go or anything. Luckily Mike was going to Sioux Lookout, and he said he would line up a place for us and wire us if he was successful in finding one. Well, the first thing Monday morning, I received a wire from Mike to say he had gotten accommodation for us, so I shipped the family to Sioux Lookout. The next thing I received was a wire from Sara from Sioux Lookout saying there was no place in Sioux Lookout and that Mike was taking her to Lac Seul.
A Sight and Sound That Will Forever Mean Lac Seul to Me
Where in the Hell was Lac Seul? I finally found out that Lac Seul was an Indian Reservation 40 miles in the bush from Sioux Lookout, but that's all I could find out till Mike came back in today. I was nearly frantic with worry, not knowing just what Sara and the children were into. I finally got two letters from Sara today, delivered by Mike, and I also got the lowdown from Mike himself. Judging from Mike and the letters, they are as happy as clams. They are living in a nice cottage which belongs to Anne's parents. Anne's mother is Indian, and her father is white, and they live on the reservation. They have a lovely beach to play on, and all Anne's brothers and sisters' children to play with.
All in all, they are well off, although Sara is worried about bears which are numerous in the area. Mike says there is nothing worry about though. He says that the bears are more worried about Sara than she is about the bears. Besides, I'll be out in another two weeks and will be able to find a house in Sioux Lookout and will be able to bring them out with me. On account of all the foregoing excitement and worry, I didn't feel up to writing you this last weekend. My letters are liable to be sketchy from now till I get out, for I will be awfully busy winding up the school for the year. As in all other schools that I have taught in, there is a terrific amount of red tape and paperwork. I think there is even more than usual, since it is a government school. In case you should be interested in writing to her, here is her address:
Sara might have already given you another address that will reach her, but this is the address that Mike gave to me. Incidentally, talking about Mike, he just became the proud father of a nine pound baby boy. He is quite pleased about the whole thing. Mike is a fine friend. Not many people would have gone to the trouble he did to find us a place to live, especially considering that Anne was due to go to the hospital at any moment. He is really a wonderful person and so is Anne. Well now, don't worry. I'll have them off the reservation and in civilization as soon as the school year is over. There is nothing to worry about, and certainly nothing to be gained by worry. I'll keep you all informed and let you know all future developments as soon as they develop. I have to sign off now and get at my school work. Bye now, all my love, Don
We take so much for granted today, like safety, communication, and the expectation that life will roll along without undue hardship. It's hard to imagine that my mother and we five kids vanished into the bush, and that my anxious father didn't hear anything for a week and couldn't find out much about where we had gone. All he could do was count on the reliability of a fine friend.
Somehow on that hectic crazy day of June 12, 1961 my mother, my four siblings, our dachshund Gretchen, and I made it on the overnight train from Nakina to Sioux Lookout, after our hasty flight from Lansdowne House to Nakina.
Unlike when we traveled from Nova Scotia to Ontario in February, we did not have the comfort of a sleeping car with berths. We sat up in the left front of a passenger car, occupying three seats. Barbie and I sat in the very front with no seats facing us or across the aisle from us. Mom and Bertie sat in the seat back to back with Barbie's and mine, with Roy and Donnie in the third seat facing Mom and Bertie. Poor Gretchen was stashed in the baggage car three cars behind us, ensconced in the green toy box she had traveled in from the Maritimes. When the train went around a curve to the left, we could see Gretchen's car well. We wondered how she was faring in her nest of blankets inside the toy box. We were worried because the cover of the box was down, and she was alone in the dark.
The train conductor stopped by periodically to chat with us, and we kids pestered him with worried questions about Gretchen. He assured us that he was personally checking on her and that she was doing fine.
The big excitement was the dining car! We rarely had a chance to eat out, so it was a thrill to go to the dining car and order from a menu. We had cake and ice cream for dessert, because it was our mother's thirty-sixth birthday; but for my mother it was all about a hot cup of coffee and a few minutes to relax.
After dinner we settled down as best we could for the long night on the rocking train. The lights dimmed in our car, and the conversation hushed and gradually ceased. My family, exhausted from the events of the day, dropped off to sleep quickly, but I was wired and restless. Barbie was curled in a little ball under a blanket by the aisle, which left me lots of room to twist and turn on the wide seat. I turned backwards and watched Gretchen's baggage car. I turned forward, laid my head against the cool window, and watched the dark forest fly by, revealed only by the faint light spilling from the train. I moved close to Barbie, leaned my head back on the seat, and stared at the ceiling trying to quiet my racing brain. Images of our abrupt departure, the bumpy flight out, the raging forest fire, and our scramble for the train circled around and around in my mind like hawks riding a thermal.
"You're still awake," said the conductor coming up the aisle from behind me. "Is everything okay?" I nodded yes. He sat on our seat with his back to the window and added, "I just came from the baggage car. Your little doggie is doing well. I let her out for a few minutes and gave her some water. She was really happy to see someone."
"Thank you. She's not used to being in a box." "Would you like to see Gretchen?' he asked. "I bet she'd really like to see you." "But she's in the baggage car. I can't go there." "I'm the conductor. I can take you there." I looked back at the car full of sleeping people. We'd have to tiptoe through two more cars of sleeping people to reach the baggage car. I thought of Gretchen, of how she would jump up joyfully when she saw me, of how good it would be to give her a big hug, and of how her tongue would tickle as she covered my face with licks. It had been a tough day for her too.
But I felt uneasy. The baggage car was dark. No light escaped from it. A tiny voice deep inside me was whispering, Do not go back to the baggage car with this man. "I promised Mom I'd look after Barbie. I can't leave her alone," I replied. "Barbie will be just fine. She's sound asleep." He put his hand on my knee and squeezed it. "Think how excited Gretchen would be to see you!" Shocked, I instinctively drew back, scooching closer to Barbie. "You do something nice for me, and I'll do something nice for you. I'll take you to see your little doggie." My throat was paralyzed. I couldn't make a sound. He pushed his hand firmly up my thigh. I couldn't move. I was stunned. I had no idea that a man would do such a thing, especially the conductor who had been so kind to our family and Gretchen. He groped me all over. I could barely breathe. My heart beat so loudly, it whooshed in my ears. Then he grabbed my right hand and forced it down on the hard lump between his legs. I was so horrified that it snapped me into action, and I wrenched my hand away. Anger flared in his blood-flushed face. He leaned forward into mine, breathing heavily, and said, "You say one word to anyone, and I'll hurt your dog." Then he vanished into the connection to the car in front of us. I don't know how long I sat there too terrified to move, so afraid that he would return to our car. All I knew was that I must stay awake, because I couldn't risk that man returning and going after Barbie. I had to protect my sister from that filthy, disgusting man. I pressed against the back of our seat, determined to sit up wide awake, and I realized there was a small gap between Barbie's side of our seat and mine. Furthermore, there was a similar gap in my mother's and Bertie's seat which was back to back with ours. I wriggled my right hand between the gaps and touched my mother's lower back. She was stretched out on her seat sleeping deeply. Then I found her belt and clutched it in my hand. My relief was so strong that tears suddenly gushed down my cheeks. If I could just hold on to my mother's belt, I'd be okay. I'd make it through the night. I sat in the shadowy car with my arm stuck through the seats behind me and clung to that belt like it was a life ring in heaving waves.
I stared at the blank wall facing me, trying to block the appalling memories of what had happened to me. Time crept by, and then I heard soft steps coming up the aisle behind me. I shrank into the back of the seat and clenched my mother's belt even tighter. The sandwich man walked quietly by me, did a double take, stopped, and stared at me. I froze, unable to breathe. I recognized him instantly for he had been up and down our car, selling sandwiches, pop, snacks, and cigarettes several times, but this time he wasn't carrying anything. "Did that old coot bother you?" he asked. Tears welled up in my eyes, but I couldn't speak. "He did, didn't he?" he said through gritted teeth, looking at my arm crammed between the seats. "It's okay to let go. You can let go of your mother's belt." It must have been his realization that I was gripping my mother's belt that stopped him in his tracks. He crouched in front of me and said gently, "Don't worry. I'll make sure he doesn't bother you again. Just let go." I nodded mutely and worked my hand back. My fingers were stiff from clenching so long, and I wriggled them to loosen them up and get rid of the prickles. He stood back up and said, "Why don't you try to get some sleep?" "I can't," I said. "I have to watch Barbie. I can't let him touch Barbie." Tears were flooding down my face. "He won't touch you, and he won't touch your sister. I'll keep my eye on you both. I promise. Now try to sleep."
I did. I fell, bone-weary, into a sound sleep after he came back to check on us and assured me, "Trust me. He's not coming back." I never saw the conductor or the sandwich man again. I didn't say a word to anyone. Gretchen was safe in her green toy box, stretching, yawning, then leaping up to greet us madly wagging her tail when we opened the top of the toy box. And then we were unexpectedly flying to some place called Lac Seul, not staying in a rented home in Sioux Lookout as we had thought. In the weeks and months, and years that followed I'd think back to that night on the train and wonder: How could a conductor molest me in a train car full of people? How could I not make a sound, call for help, wake my mother? And worst of all: They knew. People who worked on the train knew. They knew what the conductor was doing to young girls, but they didn't do anything about it. I didn't blame the sandwich man for not doing more than he did. Even as a young girl, I understood that he was young, needed his job, and the conductor had a lot more power than he did. To this day I am grateful for his compassion in the moment and for how he watched over my sister and me the rest of that night. It was almost two years before I told my mother. I was so ashamed, so mortified, so embarrassed, so disgusted, so afraid that I had done something wrong, so confused and so unbelieving that I hadn't screamed at the top of my lungs and called that bastard out. My mother was aghast: "Why didn't you tell us? We could've done something. We'd have made sure he never touched a child again." We were standing in the kitchen in Sioux Lookout, a bright, sunlit, white kitchen. My mother wrapped her arms around me and gave me such a hug. "You were only eleven, Weesie, such a young girl. It wasn't your fault. You did nothing wrong. Don't ever be afraid to tell me anything, ever again." That night on the train changed me. I didn't know it at the time, but that night I became a runner.