The quaint teashop in the village drew me in through the door. Upon entering, I notice the tidy order to the space. Inside, a peaceful calm exists compared to the bustle of the shoppers outside. Golden canisters, nestling exotic teas, neatly line the aluminum shelves. It is as if they are watchful, standing guard over the quiet room. Sunlight streams through the windows, illuminating the glass vessels and teapots. I am here for a purpose, on a mission to search for a tea memory.
This memory formed from a story that began many years ago. It began like this. At least once or twice a month, my father would gather my sister and I up. It was Saturday, our day to visit Vancouver’s China Town. There was great excitement as we readied for the celebration ahead. We would lift our best dresses from hangers and step into them. Twirling through the kitchen we would spin, our socks leading us through pirouettes and turns. It felt like a party.
My father, handsome in a white short-sleeved shirt, copper toned pants, and brown brogues would lead us to the car.
“Time to get out of town, girls!”
Along the way, he would stop at a candy factory to buy us a bag of Rock Candy. The candy was beautiful to behold and even sweeter to savor, the sugar and crunch divine.
Swinging the car into an alley within the city, my father would inch it along the narrow, darkened lane, shaded by the shops and buildings. Garbage cans lined the edges of the alley. Men in white undershirts with aprons tied at the waist stood and smoked or laughed behind the row of restaurants. A child peeked through an open window, curious about the little girls riding in the long, shiny car. A dog barked. The car would park and rest in a reserved stall located behind a garage.
Scuttling along the street, we would follow our father until we reached the door of a small restaurant. Entering, an ancient man would shuffle over and lead us to a table at the back of the restaurant. This is the same man who would one day hand me a wooden abacus, the very same one that he always used to calculate our bill at the end of the luncheon. I still have it, tucked safely within my grandmother’s china cabinet.
The men would be waiting, seated around the table. We filled the empty spots. My sister and I sat silent and watched the waiters carry platters of exotic food, our senses overwhelmed by the sights and the smells. The men would laugh and drink, catching up on business. Our father would order us ginger ale. We never knew the names of the men. We never spoke except to one another.
A tureen filled with chicken soup arrived, the chicken feet with claws floating in the broth. The men would laugh as my sister and I politely declined to sample. We waited for the rice and sweetened sauce of tomato beef. A waiter would pour us tea. The hot, sweet tea soothed. It was the tea’s unique aroma that arrested me.
As the meal came to its end, I would wait to discover my fortune, tucked away inside a curved, fragile, almond shell. Carefully, I crack the shell and unfurl the thin, white scroll to reveal a truth.
You are an adventurer traveling on the highway of life.
Time passed and the meals in China Town ceased, dining out with my father came to an end. Perhaps I became interested in new events; perhaps my father became involved in other interests. Still the fond memories of being in his presence stay.
The woman in the teashop smiles and asks,
“May I help you find a tea?”
“Could you? Let me describe it to you,” I reply.
“I know the one,” she says and reaches behind her to lift a golden urn from the shelf.
“It is an oolong tea. Iron Goddess Mercy.”
The woman lifts the lid from the urn and offers it to me.
“Inhale,” she says.
I know in an instant that this is the tea of memory, a tea with a fitting name, Iron Goddess Mercy. A name that signifies indefeasible strength infused with kindness, compassion and grace.
Today the rain is relentless in its torrent. Spring is hiding behind the edges of the forest. It is a day for Mercy. I fill the aluminum kettle with water and place it onto the stove’s element awaiting the water’s reluctant boil. I lift the tea tin from the shelf above the stove and open the lid, inhaling the leaves inimitable odor. Next, I place a small amount of the tea into the waiting infuser. Placing the infuser into the teapot, I pour the hot water over the furled and balled leaves.
“Wake up, Mercy,” I whisper. The lid rests upon the teapot; I know to give her time to mix magic.
I pour the tea into a mug and slowly sip the sweet flavor. The rain steadily falls outside the window. Inside, in this moment, I am warm for I have found my tea memory.
When I recall my father I remember is eyes, the long almond shaped lids, their colour and clarity. His eyes were the darkest green, unnatural actually, animal like in their brilliance and sparkle. His hair was raven black, combed straight back from a high forehead. These attributes were his best features along with an attractive expression. He had youthful good looks and boyish charm which others found appealing.
“Never trust a man with a weak chin line,” my mother would later comment. I would have to agree, she would know.
There was a presence about my father when he entered a room. Aware that he possessed beguiling charm, he would captivate the crowd. To say he had presence was an understatement. My mother would sew her clothes from curtains and remnants, my father would have his suits hand measured and stitched by Modernize Tailors in Vancouver’s China Town. Some claim that a great suit can make a man and it certainly was my father’s motto.
“Roy dresses better than the President of the company,” my mother would comment.
My father had aspirations of becoming a President of a company and reputation was everything. He studied the look of success, choosing the basics of style for the era of the 1960’s and 70’s. Suits made from the deepest navy blue cloth, burnished browns, or charcoal slate were his choice of fabrics. He was slim and of regular height, the careful lines of tailoring made him look taller, the hand stitched jackets fitted to his strong frame, padded through the shoulders.
The pants were straight, pleated, and hung perfectly from his waist. It was my father’s shoes that I admired, his brogues. I would watch him as he slowly twisted the lid off the tin of shoe polish, gently pushing the soft cloth into the polish and applying it to the leather, the polish sliding across the top, back, and sides of the brogue. After a bit, he would take out a clean cloth and polish the shoes to a brilliant gleam. It became my job to polish and shine his shoes placing them on the mat beside the basement door.
In his closet hung wool fabrics for winter and lighter mixed blends for summer. Sometimes, I would enter his bedroom and open the closet door. The suits would be neatly lined up, colour blocked, hanging in wait from wooden hangers. The blends and the tweeds beckoned touch; there was a luxurious depth to them. The distinct scent of cigar drifted away from the clothing.
When my father began to vanish, he’d take items of clothing piece by piece as if they were evaporating. Was he trying to trick us into thinking that he was still present? Perhaps he was momentarily off course, his compass a suit in the cupboard, a direction finder for when he found his way back home. I would realize he had finally left when opening the cupboard, it would be empty, the biting scent of cigar, gone.
Spring’s First Kiss
It is a glorious morning! Tip toeing to the window I behold the splendor that awaits discovery outside the walls of this house. Looking up towards the heavens, I behold a sky, awash in shades of blue grey. A thin, long, after thought of a cloud stretched from here to there, as if with arms outstretched, much like a child’s posture of delight when the first flakes fall. Today is a joyous announcement, a celebration of nature designed by the heavens above for the earth below.
“Winter is over! Welcome spring’s first kiss!”
For spring is shyly peeking from behind the corner of this winter world. The vernal
this gravitational pull, turning and tilting earth’s equator into place, almost ready to face the sun’s light.
We wait patiently for the sunbeam’s rays to warm us and gently whisper, “grow” to the curled up seedlings and the tender sprouts that sleep beneath a blanketed soil. These coaxing whispers from the season urge all new beginnings to show off their emerging beauty to a forgetful world.
The twittering birds alight upon the feeder to discover a feast of seeds and suet. Their joyful choir, the sing-song notes sent dancing forth through my open window. The simple melodies urge us to follow the joyous lyrics.
It is a time for all life to bravely step forth into this wondrous world. Behold the beauty that enchants us captured by spring’s first kiss.
We sit together at the table and that is enough for us. She holds her tattered blanket to her cheek. The kitchen is cold, winter clings to the world outside the window. Quiet surrounds the space as we imagine our day together. It is a blank slate; there are no pressing commitments to keep. It is ours to unfold and explore as we choose.
First, waffles for breakfast! Canadian Maple Syrup drizzled over the squares, the sweet taste, divine! Glasses of orange juice to wash down the warm, soft, syrupy mixture, black coffee for me. Blueberries fill a bowl. We exchange a glance and smile. Our quiet, morning world is perfect.
She tells me this story.
“Last night I prayed for snow, so much that I would have to stay with you.”
I tell her that I prayed for snow too. So much that I could keep her! We would ignore the responsibilities of the coming days for just a brief while.
The flakes tumble-down from the heavens above as if to answer our prayers. She gazes out the window and beholds the magical sight, nature’s winter encore. The snowflakes dance and twirl bespoke for one so innocent, so full of belief and dreams.
Bedecked in a cozy striped knit scarf and furry mittens, she twirls on the grass, arms outstretched to hug the gift scattered down from the heavens. Snowflakes kiss her cheeks, land upon her small mittened hand. An image of a tiny ballerina in an opened jewel box comes to mind. Enchanted, she spins to a fairy’s beat. For a brief time, nature will oblige. Winter’s charms and the gentle one play together. A little snowman sits under the Maple Tree, a reminder of the moments spent within this fantasy snow globe.
We warm up inside the house and watch the snowflakes fall.
“Snowflakes are so beautiful,” she sighs.
“I wish they could fall forever.”
I awake in the middle of the night to the light shining through the window. The pitch black sky of deepest dark provides the perfect backdrop, showcasing a brilliant full moon. Suspended, round, luminous, the heavy moon of white light, hangs weightless in the moments between dusk and dawn. The song, Moon River, comes to mind. The beautiful lyrics lull me back to sleep.
Here is a piece that I wrote awhile ago for a competition; it didn’t win. It was a piece that just seemed to flow from the letters on the keyboard. I hope that you enjoy it!
“Moon River, wider than a mile,” the lulling lyrics creeping into the silent spaces between air. It was these lyrics that the woman heard first, before she saw the light. The full moon, suspended in a blackened, starlit sky, bright beams casting wide swathes of luminescence and sparkle onto the earth below, illuminating the dimmed room, bespoke to an object of beauty, tucked safely on a shelf many years ago, once upon a time. This object of beauty, empty, now long forgotten, left over, from a time long ago, so far away. It was the brilliance of the moon’s light, cast through the window that caught the woman’s attention and cast a spell over her thoughts. La Luna.
The shimmering rays of moonlight, like an enchantress, spotlighting upon an object once so carefully placed upon a shelf, by this same woman. The woman gently lifted the moon shell from the shelf, Lunatia lewisii, a species of large sea-snail, found on the West Coast of Vancouver Island. Fingers slipping along the smooth, pale brown surface, tips following the rounding whorl, a circular path leading to a deeper, secret hideaway, home. Once upon a time, a child, thrilled at the wonderings, the possibilities allowed by imagination, of having one’s own protective hide away to pull oneself into, tucked in, safe, rocked to sleep by the tides and the moon’s lullaby. Magical, the moon and the shell possessed a quiet power that captivated and mesmerized the woman. La Luna. Remember. The moon shone down and smiled.
The woman recalls the fairy tale summers of her youth; the times spent exploring the western shores of Vancouver Island, the sparkling sand, warm and soft upon the soles of her feet. The ebb and flow of the Pacific Ocean, powerful, rocking, pushing and pulling her in to its depths and depositing her back to the safety of the sandy shore. The gravitational powers of the moon, coaxing the tides to bring bountiful treasure to delight the child. The moon shell was a gift, rolled on a wave, to settle at the feet of one so young. La Luna.
The woman thought it strange that as we are pulled closer to the moon, we resist the pull, attempting to fix ourselves firmly onto the earth. Not yet, are the whispered words. The moon shell cradled gently in the woman’s hands, mesmerizing her thoughts. Memories. The moon shone down and smiled.
This was a glorious world where nature’s beauty was free to explore through wonder and by innocent touch. There was a darker side to nature and the child would learn to respect the pull of the tides and discover that the beautiful shell housed an elusive creature, a predator, feeding on mollusks. One so beautiful, yet so monstrous. The child learned to recognize the clues of the moon snail’s elusive presence, from the rubbery sand collars, to the perfectly round holes drilled by the radula tongue, visible on a shell’s surface. The child coveted these drilled shells, beautifully, tragically, flawed, as she carefully collected and strung them together with string or kelp, forming mermaid necklaces to adorn her neck. A memory of two innocent children sitting in an abandoned rowboat, beached upon the sand. Oh, the places they sailed and the treasures they unearthed. Two drifters, off to see the world. The children fell under the spell of the moon, their laughter echoing forth. La Luna. The moon shone down and smiled.
Time would alter these two children. Navigating their way through days of heartbreak and joy, their lives were lived and lessons learned. Pushed and pulled by the moon’s powerful gravitational tug, they would briefly lose their way, falling off course, only to be set back upon a solid shore, for they were under the spell of the moon. This spell, mixed with the raging power of a centrifugal force, a force with the power to disrupt the tenuous balance between chaos and calm. The power of the moon’s force and the motion of the seas pushed and pulled, rocking the children safely back to the shore, the place they knew as home. It began as a journey of hope and promise. It will end in peace, understanding, and forgiveness. Hold on to the memories. La Luna. The moon shone down and smiled.
Precious days, bittersweet moments in time, opportunities to build upon their dreams, all chances or pre determined destinies bequeathed from a universe’s musings or plan? Yet, the woman knew that dreams are elusive, too. “Dream maker, heart breaker.” Over time, the magic fades. The moon snail’s shell, securely cupped within the woman’s hands, held a secret. Listen. The woman raised the moon shell to her ear and heard the sounds of the sea, the roar of the waves far, far away, the gentle break of their passion, as they silenced, tousled gently upon the sand. We’re after the same rainbow’s end. La Luna. The moon shone down and smiled.
Perhaps, there is a heavenly mixture conjured by a universal hand. A force more powerful than the free will of men, a ribbon of life that twirls and spins from each of us, connecting us through blood lines, friendships, and circumstance. Pushed and pulled together, torn apart within fleeting slices of time. We are rocked, pushed, and pulled by the tides of the moon, tossed about, in many directions, until we come to rest gently upon the shore. We travel the lands, until finally returning to our shelter, our home. In the quiet of the night, as the moonbeams shine down, we are rocked to dreams and sleep. La Luna. The moon shone down and smiled.
For it is about wonder. The wonder begins when a child’s sweet touch lifts a found shell from the damp ocean floor, when the moonbeams that brighten the blackest of nights, shine down upon us, and when the lullabies of love, sing for us. We forget. It is about love. As the shell connects to the sea, a life connects to another, and so it goes, an age-old story, throughout time. Open your hearts, universal souls. We are more alike than different. Find your way back home. La Luna. The moon shone down and smiled.
 Moon River~ composed by- Henry Mancini
Lyrics Written by- Johnny Mercer
There is an ocean between us, an ocean of words left unspoken. The waters, deep, dark, and murky, swallowing the whispers. Did you hear the crashing waves beat upon the shore; they brought forth rage.
There is an ocean between us, an ocean of regrets. Appreciate, there will never be closure, never any reasons given that will end searching, ease the heart ache, calm the spirit. Perhaps, you heard the waves as they gently rocked a heart?
There is an ocean between us; tears will continue to flow. For that is what happens when betrayal is sent spinning forth onto a universe. A price is paid; you were willing to pay it. Listen in the wind as the gulls cry out to the heavens above.
There is an ocean between us; I forgave you from the start. May you never feel the pain brought about by your actions. May you come to forget your part in the messiness of a life. When you look upon the residue, may you feel no shame. Look onto the surface of the ocean; like a mirror, you see your reflection shining forth the truth.
There is an ocean between us; the tides pull back and forth depositing treasures upon the shores. Hearts break; love is blind. To every life there will come a time to reflect upon one’s legacy. Look upon the sand, you will find my gift to you. It will come in the form of a heart-shaped stone. Pick it up. Treasure it. It is all you will ever have to remind you of what you lost.
A late night eating cake and laughing with the “girls” had left me rather sleepy this afternoon. The biting cold and the brilliant sunshine were competing for attention. Rake the wayward leaves or warm up in front of the fireplace and let the beams of light stream through the windows? I chose the latter!
Curling under the thick blanket, drifting to dreams, the knock at the door surprised me~ the son.
“What’s for dinner, Mom?”
“Left over sushi, veggies, and white wine. Oh, and cake.”
The son rifled through the pantry until he found a box of Annie’s macaroni and cheese, chili flakes, and hot sauce. At ease in the kitchen, this young man can cook up a macaroni feast! Pots clattering, grater and cheese, fridge door, opening and closing. A symphony to my ears.
Thirty minutes later we are sharing a simple meal, seated together at the table, laughing and chatting about the events of the week. Time is fleeting.
“Gotta go, Mom. I’m heading out.”
“Wish you could stay.”
“I know, but, gotta go.”
Sitting in the silence, I remember the little boy with the big bowl of macaroni and cheese. Some days a dinosaur headpiece greeted me, other times, he’d run into the kitchen, covered in scotch tape and bird feathers~
“I want to fly, mom!”
The little boy did fly through life. The days of childhood seemed never-ending, yet time flew by. If I had known then, what I know now. That once upon a time, long ago, there was a pivotal moment, a heart beat.
In that moment, the briefest beat between child and man, I would be rocking a son to sleep, reading the last story from the favourite book, gently tucking in the ratty, blue blanket. Had I known that last moment, I would never have put the little boy down.
Often in flight, I take a few photographs to capture the airborne moments and the sheer magnificence from above. There is a certain peace, a zen like calm, bewitching, as I gaze between the layers of cloud and view the vanishing, chaotic world below. Quietly and peacefully, we climb through endless puffy clouds, some thick with layers, dark and grey, others white and wispy. Dream like moments, as we fly, suspended between the spaces of earth and heaven.
The highest point of the skyline above me, an inky shade. An artist’s palette of ombre, from darkest to lightest blue, forms the painting I behold. Charles Lutyen’s child like cherubs forming posies while lounging on clouds.
Dare to dream? Could innocent cherubs frolic among these clouds, watching the human race below? Beyond the darkest brush stroke of inky sky, are cherubs guarding Paradise, everlasting?
“For official purposes, these children do not exist.”
― Robert Muchamore
How can one not believe in angelic beings, miracles, or a Power beyond, while suspended within such a glorious space? A glimpse of Limbo and the promise of glories even further upwards.
Until we land. Humanity comes into view. Passengers pushing past others to alight the plane. People scurrying from one gate to another, others attempting to find their way home.
Still, for a few brief hours, I sat, enchanted within a calm and beautiful space, full of wonder.
I read the obituary of an acquaintance, gone too soon. This man was an unsung hero in his community, a man who spent most of a lifetime saving and helping others. Invincible. His legacy notes stated that he wanted most to be remembered as a good husband and father to his children. How fortunate the world was to have known him, how fortunate his family to have experienced his enduring love.
This post goes out to all the fathers and mothers, grandparents, siblings, and relatives. Care more for each other. It’s never too late to mend the family fences, if that is what you truly want to have happen.
Whether you are 5 or 50, you are always a “child”within the context of the parent. Second spouses, partners, remember this and choose words and actions carefully. Show some compassion.
It doesn’t matter the circumstances of the event, events soften and fade from memory. Children forgive. They wait for your footsteps to return. They wait for your hand and they wait for you to tell them eye to eye, face to face~ I will always love you. Five simple words, yet so often, missing in the moments of greatest need. Your family needs you even when they pretend that they don’t. Find them, tell them, show that you care.
What matters are the unanswered questions left hanging, the pauses, the silence. The waiting for the other to make the first move. The words, “I love you,” spoken, yet, the actions so out of sync. The beats in a day that are punctuated by the question, Did you love me?
Here’s the catch~ you have to want to reach out, accept accountability, and through your actions show love, or the fence will remain broken. It is never enough to profess love; you must be willing to show love through actions. You must be brave and stand up for right. As a father, mother, second partner, you don’t pick who is in or out of your family circle. Reach out and help the healing process begin. The circle, broken, can be connected. Invincible.
When you choose to leave your family home for another relationship, spouse, or just to be free of responsibility, be ready to accept the consequences of your actions. It may take a lifetime to right the wrong, heal the hurt, forgive the other. Begin to heal. Your children matter, always. Seek them out, send a note, resend it, if need be. Never stop telling them through your actions and your words, that you love them.
It’s never about the money and the “things,” for when it all shakes out and your time on this earth is over, it will be about your legacy. Did you love them? Were you willing to stand up for them? Did you show love through thoughtful actions? In the quiet of the night, can family members confidently state, I was loved.
What will your legacy be? To be able to have stated, He was a good father, she was a good mother. Caring actions that create a legacy of love to live on through the hearts and in the minds of your family. No matter the circumstance.
Your children will take this gift, treasure it, and through their loving actions, the gift will live on throughout the years. Once the seeds are planted, they will grow.
If the fence around your family has fallen, focus from this minute on, toward building it back up.
The previous story began with “Grace” and her granddaughter “Lily” discussing the family ancestry. We were introduced to the character of Grace, her parents, and grandmother, Alice. Part One is filed under the heading, The Story. Please note that this is a “draft.” Enjoy!
Grace’s grandmother, Alice was a reserved woman, set apart from others, by her own choosing. Underneath an aloof facade were secrets kept close to the heart. We didn’t speak much about family, Lily. It just wasn’t done, wasn’t considered polite for the time. As Alice would comment, “One never airs one’s dirty linen.” Private matters were kept private though Grace always sat silently, listening for the hints of dirty linen. However, one did not ask for more information, wishing now, that she had asked Alice to share about herself, wondering was she happy once upon a time? A picture tucked behind glass, inside a pocket watch portrays a young Alice, reluctant smile, head turned toward a man, Charles, her grandfather.
A book of poetry, carefully chosen and scrapped from editions of the Vancouver Sun, suggests a profound sadness clung to Alice’s soul. There were hints of disappointment and loss. Why did Alice refuse to visit the family home? Certainly, never a public woman, Alice remained secluded, not understandable by everyone in the family. Excepting Alice’s sisters. The sisters formed a coven wreath that encircled her. What happened between Alice and her son, my father? The slightest trace of a wince visible upon her face whenever his name was mentioned. “He’s not my son,” were Alice’s crisp words. What do you mean? Grace mused, for she would never ask, what do you mean by that comment? Later, curiosity and unanswered questions, leading to a search of ancestry records for snippets of information. Bits and bobs, as Alice would say. Sleuthing the past for understanding and missing pieces. What did she hope to find? Some of the people, events, and moments, remembered, especially the lowered voices when her name was spoken.
The family had a point. Who shuns family, particularly a grandchild? For Grace’s initial visits with her grandmother ended when she was seven. What happened, Lily asked? I have no clue! They just ended. Perhaps she lost track of time. We always say, later. We never do. That is, until many years later when one afternoon in early winter, I accidentally crossed paths with my grandmother in a local shopping mall.
Grace recalled that afternoon in the mall, until Lily’s questioning brought her back to the present conversation. “Why was Alice called English Alice,” Lily questioned.
My mother named my grandmother, English Alice or Alice from England. I believe it was in jest as my mother found Alice to be unusual, a simple woman who longed to be posh, a woman who put on airs. Alice clung to the image of a fine lady, hair tossed in the fashionable style of the day. Marcel waves, a proper dress, gloves, hat, adorned with jewelry fit for a high tea. Alice presented well, on the surface. Although born in the north of England, my grandmother spoke Queen’s English, the latter which she used effectively, the tight, quick sounds of her words, used to make an arrow sharp point. Alice had a voice that was pure musicality to the ears. There was a pleasant pitch, variations of length, quiet endings to a phrase. As a child, Grace loved to sit at the table and listen to her grandmother’s speech.
It was early autumn when Grace’s grandmother, Alice, was born. The pleasant land was awash with orange and bright green from the trees and their turning leaves. Baptized, Alice Sophia Weston, October 3, 1894, the wee daughter of Joseph Hair Weston, a local cabinetmaker and Emma Weston, registered on the birth document as, “housewife.” Emma was Joseph’s second wife, Alice her only child. Alice was the youngest of five Weston girls, beginning with the eldest, the beautiful Priscilla, then, Mary or Molly, as known to her sisters. There was Jane, also know as Jenny or Geordie, Ellen, and the maverick, Elizabeth, who would marry four times. The family lived in a simple, terraced home located at 32 Bond Court, Newcastle on Tyne, England, fashioned in the polite design of the Victorian era.
Newcastle on Tyne, the city where my grandmother lived, is a metropolitan borough, located in North East England. In Alice’s time, it was a bustling borough. Trade centered around wool, coal mining, lumber and ship building. The town of Newcastle on Tyne owed its name to a castle built in 1080 and the borough’s location to the fast flowing Tyne River. The proud residents felt it to be the best looking city due to its neoclassical style of architecture or Tyneside Classical as was often referred to. It was a style derived from classical Greek and Roman architecture with its symmetrical form and Doric columns. Of all the boroughs in England, Newcastle on Tyne was a lovely, picturesque, almost fairy tale like borough for the Weston sisters to reside within.
Joseph Weston had wished for a son, however his wish was not to be. He had hoped for an heir to teach the fine art of wood craftsmanship necessary to attain exquisite pieces of furniture. Instead, fate provided him with five daughters to support. Joseph’s carpentry skills were highly regarded in the town and people of means, sought his time and exquisite furnishings. Wood working was a lucrative craft that allowed Joseph to provide a satisfactory standard of living for his tender wife and sweet daughters. Still, overworked and exhausted, the volume of work left little time in a day to spend with his family. That was unfortunate, as fate would have it that Joseph would have precious little time to spend with his youngest daughter, Alice.
Emma, an amiable woman, with a gentle sweet nature, enjoyed her chatty, curious daughters and taught them well. Daily lessons involved rituals of etiquette, hand sewing, singing, elocution, and handwriting. Alice was a stellar student and at the age of six, patiently learned to read and write at her eldest sister Pricilla’s side. In her heart, Emma worried, as there was something peculiar about the serious one they fondly called, Wee Alice. The child appeared withdrawn, uncomfortable outside the gardens of their home, avoiding the gazes of friendly neighbors, at times, refusing to speak. Alice was too day dreamy, too lost in herself, thought Emma. Perhaps, it is due to the fact that she is the youngest, Emma mused.
The truth was that Alice was a sensitive, serious soul, often lost within herself and uncomfortable in social situations. The young child would find herself gazing through the windows to view the world beyond, imagining the castle in the borough, climbing the stone steps from the riverside to the castle door. Alice wanted to visit it one day, live in it. For Alice was becoming used to a royal touch and felt superior to the common standing of her present situation.
Afternoons were spent walking along Benwell Lane to the gardens of Adelaide Terrace. “Hurry up, wee Alice! Keep up.” The gardens were a delight to the senses and in the spring and summer; the sisters played amongst the flowers, and sought shelter under the magnificent maple trees. There, in the gardens of Adelaide Terrace, Alice and her sisters would explore the park grounds and study the language of flowers, a pastime that Alice eagerly looked forward to each day. “Tell me again, Mama. What is the language of roses?” “Love wee Alice. Roses speak the language of love!” Alice would always choose the prettiest, the reddest of scarlet rose to pick for her mother. When sad, wee Alice would gather up branches of dead leaves and hand them to her mother.
Always protective, Emma would encircle the child in her arms and hold her close to comfort. It was a comfort, as Alice, possessed an overly anxious disposition, was easily frightened and worried while outside, beyond the safety of the walls of home, feigning illness and displaying a gloomy nature when life did not go as planned. Used to the company and protective nature of her older half sisters, the overly dependent and dreamy Alice did not venture forth without the security of the sisters by her side. Alice came to rely on this sisterhood of support.
Theirs was a contented life, and Emma felt fortunate to have food stores in the pantry and an allowance to run the household in a satisfactory fashion. Little did Emma know that a bitter wind was blowing and a chill would descend upon the household at 32 Bond Court. That is, until December 1,1903, when frost sealed the date of her beloved Joseph’s death. At that moment, life changed for the sisters and their mother. Alice was frightened and fretted over her distraught mother. Alice learned that the heart is a fragile beating organ and a piece of her heart stopped beating for a brief second, momentarily frozen, enough to form the beginnings of a scar that would thicken over time. For now Alice knew the beginnings of heartbreak.
The sister’s education plans were put on hold as Emma sought employment to ensure that the necessities such as food, and a roof, remained over the family’s heads. It was not easy and expectations would be lowered. No longer could the sisters wander the lane, frivolously explore the language of flowers, or entertain any thought of finishing school. Priscilla was placed in charge of the younger sisters’ daily care. Fortunately, a lonely widower, Mr. Alistair Edwards, of 5 Adelaide Lane, was in need of a housekeeper. Ever resourceful, Emma would struggle to make ends meet on a meager salary, working as a domestic servant for Mr. Edwards and his son, William.
Once again, the chilling winds of winter would return, this time for Emma, and paid servitude would be short lived. In 1909, six years after the death of her beloved husband, sweet Emma Weston, would pass over, leaving her grieving daughters to fend entirely for them selves. Young Alice had dealt with prior heartache upon her father’s death, however the death of her mother, changed Alice’s heart. A bigger piece of it hardened to the gentle whisperings of life.
Alice began to realize that one must be careful with one’s heart, protect it, learn to switch it off so as not to feel too deeply for another. On. Off. Done. Still, humans aren’t as simple as light switches and the emotional part of Alice’s soul continued to feel the loss of love. The scar thickened.
By 1911, out of necessity, the Weston sisters were all employed throughout the borough of Newcastle. Mary worked as a waitress, Priscilla and Elizabeth, as domestic servants, Ellen, a box maker at the Bullman Paper Factory, Jenny and Alice, as box packers for the same factory. Jenny and Alice had the monotonous job of packing postcards for sale into the cardboard boxes. Alice, now seventeen, studied the whimsical drawings on the postcards and smiled as she read the quips and quotes beneath. Occasionally, she would tuck a postcard into her dress pocket. Once home, Alice would pin the postcard to the wall. Gazing at the cards, Alice would wonder and dream, traveling to the sights depicted, imagining the stories told.
Every morning, on the walk to the factory, Alice would gaze into the millinery shop window admiring the trimmings on display. Where would she go to, what would she do, wearing a hat so fine? Alice knew that she wanted more than the monotony of packing boxes of Bullman postcards, in fact she felt entitled to more. These seeds of change crept into Alice’s mind and lodged there, where they slowly took root, forcing Alice to look for and plan an escape from a place where possibilities and dreams could never come true.
Every Sunday, Alice and her sisters would walk along the shaded Benwell Lane until it became Adelaide Terrace, headed to Saint John’s Cemetery. Evergreen trees lined the cobblestone path and the cottage gardens brightly bloomed. Lily of the Valley and crocuses were glorious in the awakening spring soil and in the quiet of winter the red holly berries were resplendent against the dark green variegated leaves. The seasons rolled out an ever-changing landscape to delight the sisters’ senses.
To Alice, it was always winter now. Once the sisters rounded the Terrace bend, the parsonage would come into view. It was here that the sisters would pass through the wrought iron gate at the entrance and follow the winding path to their parent’s grave. It was located at the end of a tree lined lane, where, to the right of a small lily pond, a humble row of wooden crosses stood tall against the weathering changes brought about by time and the elements. Joseph and Emma were buried together. Two wooden crosses stood side by side and a small bouquet of red roses lay beneath.
The sisters would gather round the cross forming a united circle of hands. Priscilla, always fashionable in a hat adorned with silk flowers, would lead the sisters in prayer, her whispered breath, “Our Father who art in Heaven.” The words of the familiar prayer gripping Alice, “lead us not into temptation,” for Alice held a secret. Alice was being led into temptation, dreaming a plan to leave her sisters far behind in the borough of Newcastle on Tyne.
Alice knew that Priscilla would sob and hysterics would ensue. The amassing postcards would be her link to the sisters, after all, she could write them letters. Shy and fearful wee Alice, had decided that she had grown up and would bravely leave 32 Bond Street, having had nearly enough of the box packing industry. The problem was when and how. Sensing change in her future, Alice steeled herself for the possibilities that it would bring.
The five Weston sisters continued to work and share their pay, managing to keep their beloved home at 32 Bond Court. It is inevitable that time brings change and once again, it brought changes to Bond Court. Elizabeth was the first sister to separate from the sisterhood, having found a suitor and married, leaving the number of Weston girls in the home to four. Priscilla, who continued to work as a domestic servant for Mr. Alistair Edwards, fell in love with William, his son. It was decided that they would marry. Molly, Jenny, Ellen and Alice continued to manage the house, however, it was becoming difficult to make ends meet within the middle class standards of the community.
It was now 1918 and William Edwards had heard of CPR land available to homestead in Canada. Shortly after, William and Priscilla left England, to claim land in the barren, desolate town of Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. Elizabeth would remarry three times within eight years, losing each husband to disease, finally returning to 32 Bond Street, with a child. The sisters were aging, the town’s people referred to them as, The Weston Spinsters. Once again, Alice found herself planning her leave from Newcastle. To Alice, the home at 32 Bond Court had never brought the same comfort since her mother’s death and with Priscilla, in Canada, the remaining sisters had not been able to sustain satisfactory income, housekeeping, and companionship. What were the sisters to do?
One day, a Bullman postcard arrived for Alice. It read,
My Dearest Alice,
My heart is breaking as I miss you so, dear, wee sister. What were we thinking to leave England? William is busy establishing a shop in the town. We were unprepared for the circumstances we find ourselves in. The town is undeveloped; I cannot shop as we did in Newcastle. I keep a garden, however, it must provide for us over the long, harsh and never ending cold winter. I am alone with a young child, as our properties are far and between one another. There is no help to be had. I cannot bear this life without my sisters close at hand. You must come to me. There are many farmers looking for wives. You, Jenny, and Molly would be appropriate choices. Elizabeth can find lodging as a domestic.
Please consider my request. We shall make room. My heart breaks for you, dear Alice. It is time for you to leave Newcastle.
It was decided that the sisters would sell 32 Bond Court and leave Newcastle, England for life in Canada. Jenny, Molly, Ellen and Alice walked their final steps along Adelaide Terrace to Saint John’s Cemetery, pausing to pray over their parent’s gravesite. It was a bittersweet moment for Alice, for in her heart she knew she would never return to England. The winds blew and Alice felt the feather light touch of winter’s chill caress her cheek. Alice adjusted her collar higher, turned her back on the two crosses, and walked away, never to return.
The sisters, Jenny, Molly, Ellen, and Alice, set sail from Liverpool, England on October 3, 1919 aboard the SS Minnedosa, a steam ocean liner built to withstand the rough autumn seas encountered on the journey across the Atlantic. Seasick and heartsick, emotionally, the sister’s hearts were still in England. Alice telegraphed to Priscilla,
October 5, 1919
My Dearest Sister,
We are finding the sailing difficult. The seas are rough and we are all ill, experiencing seasickness effects. We long to disembark and set foot on solid ground! The Captain invited us to join him for dinner this evening. None of us had appetites however we enjoyed the banter and prestige of being seated at the Captain’s table. Such a gentleman.
Sister, we are half way to the end of our ocean journey! We look forward to disembarking in Canada and beginning the final journey to you.
The Weston sisters arrived in Quebec, Canada, on October 10, 1919. The immigration document states that they were to be handed over to the care of their brother-in-law, William Edwards. Alice was relieved to disembark the ship and stand on solid ground although she swore that the ground continued to move and sway for many days after. The CP Railroad transported the sisters through the hills and valleys, finally depositing them in the tiny prairie town of Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. The sisters were ill prepared for the cold, harsh winter nights that were to follow. Alice shivered as she pulled the thin covers over her body. There was a foreboding feeling in the frigid air, a warning that Alice took seriously to heart. Alice knew that she needed to leave Moose Jaw and once again began to plan an escape.
“Grandma, wouldn’t it be hard to leave your parents behind? Grace felt a tightening in her chest. Lily continued, “Even though Alice’s mom and dad are dead! Still it must have been difficult for Alice to leave them alone in the cemetery.” Grace felt the chill of winter upon her skin and resolved to turn up the thermostat. Perhaps I am coming down with something, Grace mused although she knew this wasn’t the reason for her discomfort. I imagine it was heart wrenching, Grace replied.
Grace recalled that sad day when life punched back. It was exactly noon when the car pulled away from the curb. It was not really a surprise as Grace noted furniture disappearing from the basement bedroom, boxes leaving the house during the dark of night, bits and pieces of a life packed up or tossed.
Grace resolved that she would not show emotion or tears and even managed to graciously smile, masterful at the art of concealing emotion, tidying up the unpleasant bits, all the while screaming behind the mask of the face she wore. Then, just as quickly, Grace quickly turned her back, breaking down, tears flowing. It happens quickly; a punch of heartbreak and one is left changed, the heart, a bit scarred, the body, a little more cautious, and distant. Bits and pieces of life’s memories packed away deep inside, suddenly exploding from the soul. One can’t catch all of the bits, blown away forever, the secrets, the neglect, and pretence, are all that remain. Life looks and feels different as you piece the salvaged bits back together, hoping to rediscover the beauty.
This wasn’t the first time that Grace had briefly turned her back on another to protect herself, hide the falling tears. Perhaps, Alice and I are more alike than different, Grace thought. “Be careful,” whispered the winter wind. Alice shared something in common with her granddaughter, Grace. Two women, both knowing heartbreak, both inclined to show a quiet indifference in its presence, to hide their pain behind a mask with a reluctant smile. Pretence. Both frozen in time, waiting. For what, you ask? For the other to step forth.
Lily’s voice brought Grace’s awareness to the moment, “What happened in early winter?” Perhaps, you would say, an act of hope occurred. A chance for renewed hope presented itself or was it a chance encounter on that fateful winter afternoon in a mall? Perhaps there is a pre determined plan sent forth from the heart of the universe upon our birth, a blue print, with a map of events to follow.