In 1839, in his play about Cardinal Richelieu, Edward Bulwer-Lytton wrote that the pen is mightier than the sword. In the play, this famous quote applied to using words to gather support for a cause, as opposed to fighting with weapons. I believe it can also apply to being able to write through times of intense sorrow.
But what happens when the writer holding the pen cannot find the words to describe the indescribable? Does that allow the sword to win? No, it does not!
Being a writer, I am rarely at a loss for words, but today I find I cannot adequately describe the atrocious tragedy that happened to our family and to the entire community of Victoria, British Columbia, on Christmas day. The story has been widely reported by the media so I won't expound on it here.
I was reluctant to write this blog, other than to add that the mother of the two little girls who were murdered by their father was like a daughter to us, and when her own parents died, my husband and I were honored to act as surrogate grandparents to her beautiful daughters.
But no one wants to be reminded of the deaths of two innocent children. So, instead, I have searched my heart to try to find another side to this tragedy and our own insurmountable grief. Once again, I have resorted to the written word.
By doing so, I have discovered that on the opposite side of evil, there is incredible good. I have become more aware of the kindness of people. I have realized that none of us is alone in this world. I have known the comfort of hugs and prayers and the warmth of people who truly care. I have seen the strength of the human spirit, which is so much stronger than the evil in men's hearts.
Although we are angry about a tragedy that should never have happened, we also have hope for a peaceful but vastly changed tomorrow. As the shock lessens, we will recall only the happy memories of two sweet angels who died far too soon but will remain in our hearts forever.
The path through grief is different for everyone. Some find it in solitude. Some need to be surrounded by others. Some find it by walking in the wilderness and discovering the beauty of nature. And some, like me, find it in writing and expressing my feelings that way.
It will be a long journey ahead for us all, but I'm thankful that today I found the strength to write this Blog because it has proved to me that the pen is indeed far mightier than the sword. The pen will always win. It is a much more effective tool than direct violence.
To my mind, there are just four gifts of Christmas that we need: peace, freedom, good health, and love. Without those things, there is no meaning to life or to Christmas.
In recent times, we have perhaps become somewhat jaded about the Christmas season. People are much more materialistic than they used to be, so much so that we often forget what is really important.
As I live in Victoria on the west coast of British Columbia in Canada, I decided to take a trip back into the past and see what Christmas was like here over 100 years ago. Have things changed and, if so, how far have we come from the days of those old-fashioned Christmases? One of the best places to visit to find the true meaning of Christmas long ago in Victoria is Helmcken House, the home of Dr. James Helmcken, the Fort doctor, who was much beloved by his patients.
It was definitely a simpler time then. The main “business” center of Victoria over 100 years ago was on Government Street, bounded by Fort, Douglas and Yates Streets. There were no large department stores. Government Street boasted mainly dry goods stores and a few toy shops, which always delighted the children.
Most people apparently did their shopping on Christmas Eve, not weeks or even months ahead of the big day! On Christmas Eve they also could admire the decorations and greet their friends to offer the “compliments of the Season.”
Going further back into the 1860s, the main butcher in town was also the first mayor of Victoria, Thomas Harris, who loved to wander the town at Christmas talking (and oft times arguing a political point) with people.
Harris was a well-known character, and as Victoria's first mayor, he made quite an impression on people because of his enormous size. At the first council meeting, he apparently sat down and promptly broke a chair.
Later, a butcher shop called Messrs. Goodacre and Danley stood at the corner of Government and Johnson Streets. The shop always held an annual fat beef show at Christmas when evergreens and holly hung next to sides and quarters of grain-fed beef. An 18- to 20-pound roast of prime beef was favorite Christmas day fare in those days, but there were also the traditional turkeys, geese and little suckling pigs (usually with an apple in the mouth).
In the 1880s, if the weather obliged, Christmas Eve in old Victoria often ended with a sleigh ride into the countryside of Cadboro Bay, Oak Bay or Fairfield, with the horses' harness bells jingling as they traveled through the snow. Such simple pleasures.
Of course, admittedly, the population was much smaller then and with fewer stores, there was far less commercialism. I often think it would be nice to bring back those days when people seemed to appreciate the four gifts of Christmas much more. They certainly enjoyed the peace of this area and the freedom of living here; and if they had good health and love in their lives, that was all they needed.
So, with a little less commercialism and a little more true human spirit, miracles can happen even today. Merry Christmas to all and . . . to all a good night. See you in 2018.
The above picture shows some fish wives in Scotland during the 19th century. Today, if the word "fish wife" is used, it usually means a woman who is both loud and obnoxious. But the name "fish wife" originally referred to women whose husbands were lost at sea. These widows had to find a way to earn a living to support their families. Their only means of livelihood was to gather the herring fish scraps left on the beach from the catches and then sell them to the farmers inland. It was a very hard life.
One of the characters in my forthcoming novel, Providence (first in the McBride Chronicles series), is the son of such a woman. He is determined that when he is old enough, he will leave his herring fishing village near Fraserburgh on the northeast coast of Scotland where he was born. He wants to seek his fortune in the New World to make a better life for his mother and younger sisters. Like many others at that time in Scotland, he joins the Hudson's Bay Company and leaves the herring fishing industry behind forever.
I discovered an interesting account of the herring industry at that time written by Dr. J. R. Coull. It is well worth reading.
My second story, although not about fish, also comes from Scotland and is about a small Island on the west coast called the Isle of Eigg (pronounced “egg”). It is one of the most beautiful Hebridean islands, just five miles long and three miles wide. The story of this fascinating place, with a population of just under 100 people, was told recently on the CBS program: 60 Minutes.
You would have to be tough to live on Eigg—so not many people do. They rely mainly on cottage industry crafts and tourism to survive. Tourists visit Eigg because they are intrigued by the characters who live there. If you want to “get away from it all,” this is definitely the place to go.
The only means of transport is the one taxi cab. Otherwise you walk! The weather is bleak, but the scenery is outstanding.
The island is now owned by the Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust, who has managed it since a community buyout in 1997. Eigg Electric, a subsidiary of the Trust, provides the island with electricity.
The story of the hardy folk of Eigg sounds “fishy” but it's true!
Today, like many thousands of people around the world, I am remembering those who lost their lives in past wars.
I have a couple of special war memories from my own past. I was born in England during WWII, and although I can’t remember much of it, I know the value of peace today. My first real memory happened long after the war when my father returned from duty overseas in uniform.
It felt strange to have a man living in the house. Since my birth, we had been a house of mostly women—my mother, my older sister, my aunt, and my grandmother. As I grew older, I loved to hear my dad's tales of his war years, but he seldom wanted to talk about it. I can now understand why. He wanted to try and forget and get on with life in England and enjoy his family being together again.
My next strong memory comes much later. I’ve told this story before because it concerns a visit my husband and I made, together with my cousin and her husband who lived in France, to the Awoingt British Cemetery in Northern France in July 2010. I wrote about that emotional experience in an article for Senior Living Magazine in 2011.
The land, surrounded today by peaceful farm fields, was donated by the French for the cemetery. Many young British and a few German soldiers from WWI are buried there.
We had set out to find the grave of a relative who died at the tender age of 19 just two weeks before Armistice Day in 1918 in WWI. We knew he was buried there. What a waste of a young life, I had thought. But young Eric was a passionate young man who was fighting for something he strongly believed in—to free the world from oppression so that future generations might live in peace.
He had even lied about his age so he could join up. Young men like Eric were beyond brave. Despite their fear, they left home and all that was familiar to them to forge their way through terrible conditions, seeing horrors that no human being should ever have to witness.
I will never forget the moment when we found his grave. It will remain in my heart forever.
We must never forget those young men. If we ever do, or if we minimize their heroism, they will have died in vain. And that must never be allowed to happen.
I'm thrilled to be attending renowned fashion expert Ivan Sayers’s Fashion Show "A Century of Fashion" this coming Sunday in Victoria. I hope to learn a lot AND take some photos.
One of the myths about Victorian women is that they always laced themselves in tight corsets to have fashionable narrow, elongated bodies (remember the image of Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind being laced up by Mamie so that her waistline would measure only 18 inches?)
In reality, most women in that era wore their daily corsets more for necessity, and women rarely "swooned" away. In addition, corsets were not only a fashion statement. They were believed to be good for a healthful posture and to keep internal organs in alignment! The rumor of Victorian women actually having a rib or two removed in order to slim the waistline is simply not true. Thank heaven!
I await Mr. Sayers’s observations.
The fashion show was spectacular. Ivan Sayers did not disappoint. His two-hour talk was full of humor and wonderful stories and details. Sadly, no photographs were allowed.
Mr. Sayers began by “dressing” a model on stage from under slip to elegant Victorian gown, explaining what each item was used for—under slips, bust enhancers, etc.—and how they were worn. For instance, if corsets were laced up in the back, it meant the lady was assisted by a maid. If, on the other hand, she had to dress herself, the corset would lace up the front.
He continued from the turn of the 19th century Victorian costumes through the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. The models showed off their dresses of exceptional material and color while Mr. Sayers explained how fashion through the decades was largely dictated by what was happening in the world.
For example, we experienced loose flapper styles in the 1920s (when everyone was happy and blasé after the war), more practical clothing during WWII, and then in the late 1940s, Christian Dior brought back femininity and the hourglass figure in his “New Look.”
Of course, it wasn’t long before the mini-skirt arrived on the scene, reflecting the free-love, revolutionary decade of the ’60s.
Sayers’s collection (which he has accumulated throughout his life and is still growing) is exceptional. If he has a show in your area, do not miss it. Check out his website for upcoming events in 2018.