Monthly Archives: February 2011

another novel excerpt: the birthday

if you’re wondering why i hardly blog these days, it’s because i’m pretty serious about finishing my novel by the end of the year. it’s a long labour of love but i know it’ll get done! here is another excerpt. it’s the plantation owner’s daughter’s 9th birthday, a huge party. her name it elise. the festivities are drawing to a close and …

only in the evening there was another moment that stood out. somehow mama cass, bessie and a few others managed to drag elise away from the festivities. somehow? it was the marita, the governess, who finally did it, she dragged elise away from it all, and it was a good thing because elise, once again, was getting tired. too many adults! too many people who knew about everything – books, clothes, money, horses, what have you. not enough stories, not enough songs. it was with songs that they dragged her away. she heard the humming in the distance, the melody, the drums and banjos and looked up and the governess smiled at her and said, come on. she excused herself and elise to the parents under a pretense or other, who cares which one, and took elise with her to the hedge, into the dark. a little ways they had to move through the shadows; it had become night an hour or so ago, the grasshoppers were chirping loudly, and the scent of everything – the grasses, the earth, the blooming jasmine rose powerfully through the night air. the deeper into the dark the two rushed, the louder the music became. they made a turn, and suddenly they stood in front of dora’s cottage.

“here she is!” someone exclaimed.

there was loud clapping and the music stopped.

she was in the slaves’ quarters.

“miss elise! here you are!” mama cass was beside herself, her voice high and breathless. elise had never seen mama cass anywhere but in the big house; in fact, it had never occurred to her that she might abide anywhere but there, traveling from kitchen to cellar to breakfast room to the herb garden right outside the kitchen. mama cass gestured wildly and moved her eyes and eyebrows about like a horse scared silly –

“five years served i, under master guy,
in the land of virginny-o
which made me for to know sorrow, grief and woe,
when that i was weary, weary, weary-o ….”

dora’s strong, clear voice permeated the night. after the first two verses, the banjo chimed in. a couple of fiddles joined, the light of the little fires burning in front of each cottage shining up into the players. moving up and down, the fiddling arms threw big shadows, in rhythm with tapping feet and clapping hands. then the song stopped, and everyone suddenly had a little bouquet in their hands that they threw up in the air with a big whoop.

“lady elise! long live our lady elise!” they shouted.

“i don’t LIKE it when you call me lady,” exclaimed elise, without complaint in her voice, though – everyone had heard it a hundred times, and they just laughed.

“what should we call you then?” piped up ellie.

“yes, what should we call you? buttercup? lady doll? miss jones patterson?”

“no, no!” she laughed.

“lady rosebud?”

“princess redhair?”

“our lady of the crinkledress?”

“oh, you people are so silly,” she exclaimed, laughing, into the mirth all around. “i like crinkledress. without the lady.”

“i don’t think mr jones patterson would like it if we called you crinkledress,” said bessie.

“but it’s true! my dress is always crinkled and crumpled. i don’t LIKE wearing dresses! i want to wear pants! this dress is beautiful, that’s true,” she looked down on her lovely cloud of white and silver and lilac, “but can you imagine how difficult it was to ride in it? i had to ask jacqueline to make me a special petticoat.”

“you do look adorable in it, adorable,” said jacqueline. there was pride in her voice, and more than pride – love. “and you should have seen your mother, the way she looked at you.”

“anyway, lady – er, miss elise -” said mama cass –

“oh, for tonight, just for now, don’t call me miss!”

“alright then, er, um, elise – we have a few little trinkets for you.”

and the gift giving began again. someone had made a doll out of old cotton dresses and horse hair. someone else had drawn a painting with charcoal. a little apron arrived, made from cotton cloth, adorned with a tiny little silk ribbon. a loaf of honey bread, a coronet of dried flowers – everyone had made something for her.

elise was in tears, couldn’t see anymore all the treasures offered to her. some of the people she didn’t even know by name and yet they had gone to the trouble and expense to make something for her. each piece was crafted with love and care, each piece looked different. look at this little drum here, carved out of a gourd, with those black and red snakes curling in on each other everywhere, and the beautifully knotted string to carry it! even cortez had a friendly smile on his face when he brought her a small illustrated book of psalms.

they fed her dried fruit and buttered mash and a delicious tea – no doubt one of jacqueline’s. the music and singing played on, mingled with the night air, the crickets chirping and the laughter, played with the crackling fire and the smells of good food and flames licking on the grass.

finally marita approached her, whispered, “i think it’s time to go back.”

“no!” elise whispered back urgently, “i like it here! i don’t want to go back! those people are boring!”

marita had anticipated that. “but you told me that you haven’t looked at joe’s gift yet. it’s in your room. let’s go back, say good-bye to the guests, and then you can go to bed and open joe’s gift.”

——

elise was so exhausted when she finally made it to her room. it had still taken an hour for her to extricate herself from the guests; endless goodbyes and wellwishes jumbled all together before her tired eyes. in her room, marita helped her undress. what a lovely, lovely feeling to be rid of all the heavy clothes and to finally fall into the pillows dressed in fresh linen that smelled faintly of citronella and cloves.

clutched in her hand was the gift joe had given her. the leather felt warm and soft in her hands, almost like a little animal. the white cotton string stood out against it, looked so – white. clean. fresh. like stars. lying there in the pillows, elise held it up, turned it around, held it under the light from the three candles in her candleholder by the bed. she wanted to savour the moment of unwrapping it. oh, but she was so tired …

“here, i’ll untie the knots for you,” whispered marita and gently removed the package from the girl’s hands.

wrapped in the blue leather was another little package, wrapped in embroidered cloth. wrapped in that lay a small brown leather pouch, made of leather just as soft as the other. a long string held the little pouch, to hang it around one’s neck, just like the indians do. inside the pouch elise found a smooth, smooth, smooth stone with an indentation the size of a thumb. the leather felt so soft … the stone so smooth …..

“a worry stone for you,” she heard joe’s voice whisper somewhere in the room. “good night, crinkledress.”

and then she was asleep.

at hycroft

i am here at hycroft, the lovely, lovely 100-year-old home of the university women’s club of vancouver. my friend MJ ankenmann had invited some vancouver bloggers to join her in the unveiling of a painting in honour of the many 100-year events that will happen here in 2011.

just now i interviewed donalda falconer, who leads the club’s choir, the hycroft singer. they present a wide repertoire, from early music to broadway to jazz. they sing in many different venues and configurations. “we always have a good time and are good friends,” says donalda. recently at the last “christmas at hycroft” (a venerable vancouver christmas event), the choir did a flashmob. the public was milling about, with the choir mixed in and suddenly they erupted into in dulce jubilo. it was a lot of fun!

on friday march 18 there will be a festival of choirs, a women’s choir festival in the ballroom. so far three choirs are scheduled to sing, the hycroft singers, the lyric singers, and higher ground from north vancouver. doors open at 7, refreshments are available, the music starts at 7:30. tickets are $15 for members, $20 for the public – phone the office! there is limited space. the number is 604 731 4661.

i asked donalda to tell me why i should join the club. “there is such a variety of people and things going on. the interest groups are amazing. you can get really serious or not, you can do a little bit or a lot of it, the camaraderie is wonderful. when i first joined, i loved the variety of the members. a variety of age and interest. and that’s one of the big points of this club.”

another person i interviewed was kathy barford, a fountain of knowledge about hycroft. “there is something very enduring about this house,” she says. there is an effort to continuously make it closer to what it might have been when it was first built and lived in (and partied in! the ballroom and bar downstairs are huge!). during WWII, the house was converted to a veteran’s hospital. the beautiful, very large formal living room in which we are sitting right now was hospital green during the war and the floor battleship linoleum. afterwards, when the place was restored to its old splendour, the members couldn’t get any men to strip the linoleum, so they did it themselves. just imagine all these well-educated women way back in the 60s and 70s on their knees, stripping the floor!

cathy took art history in university, and loves hycroft because “it is just overall beautifully designed, the proportions, the scale of it, it’s all so well done, all the way through. sadly, this is a rare thing.” thomas hooper was the architect. his older brother became provincial architect in manitoba (hm, i wonder what a provincial architect is?) thomas hooper came here in 1886, just as vancouver was founded. he built many schools and churches in vancouver and victoria, e.g. the vancouver public library, the addition to the vancouver art gallery, and the winch building. he also did the provincial court houses in vernon and revelstoke. mccarter, who built the marine building, trained with him.

cathy looks after the volunteers at hycroft. right now she is putting together a lecture series about the history, heritage and antiques at hycroft. she is also part of the house committee, which replaces all the work a butler or major-domo would have usually done. “really,” she says, “we have a cooperative between members and staff.”

so, why should i join this club? “it’s interesting and there is fellowship and a beautiful house, advocacy on behalf of women’s issues and a great place to hang out.”

finally, i asked MJ a few questions. when MJ lived in toronto, there was a university women’s club but she never got around to joining it. when she got here, she saw the building and thought this would be an interesting place to belong to. when she first visited, she was immediately drawn to it. there are women of all ages. “one of my best friends is 87.” she doesn’t have that sort of multigenerational family connection here. it’s a real sisterhood, an older version of the sorority but without the politics. “we do some good work with advocacy. right now we’re working on a paper about prostitution. we are against legalisation and are involved with the canadian federation of university women; this way we are able to put forth a position. we do take a stand on things.”

why should i join? it’s a great place to meet and be surrounded by women who have ideas, who are creative who want to enjoy life. there is a wide variety of things to do, educational and fun, “we play poker and drink wine, and play bridge and drink tea.” there is also a connection to history, one because of the house and vancouver’s history, and we’re preserving some of this. there is also the history of the club in the house. when we bought it in 1962, women were not allowed to legally hold a mortgage on their own. they had to raise the money and buy the house outright. and they did that. rather than having a man co-sign it, they said, we’re going to do this. there are members from all over the world. it’s a great place to come to meet people.

validation therapy

many years ago, i learned a little about validation therapy but i keep forgetting about it. it is a form of therapy that works with very old people, especially people with severe alzheimer’s. of course, the types of therapy that work in these situations always have something in it that can be very powerful in other types of therapy, as well. today, my friend barbara posted a video about it. can you watch it without crying?