Friday, September 7, 2012

Such Little Time. Art & Peggy: A Collection of Love Letters

I am currently looking into an ebook version of Such Little Time. More details to come.

I knew that Mom and Dad got engaged after only knowing each other for 4 days. I think I even knew that they had written each other during their engagement.What I didn't know was that my dad had kept all of Mom's letters and that Mom still had a few of Dad's. I didn't find that out about that until after my dad died.

I read them all. I missed my dad and those letters help keep him close and allowed me to get to know more about him.

There's a bitter sweetness in trying to get to know more about your father after he died; on the one hand you're grateful for the chance, on the other you're filled with regret of not taking more time to do it when he was still alive. You're left with more questions than answers, left in longing.

I knew these letters were a treasure, something that could be handed down through the generations, for the grandchildren that were so young when he passed, and the ones that were yet to be born. Maybe even for great-grandchildren, great-great grandchildren, and so one. I took on the task of typing them all out.

Then I thought that they might interest others, too. In a world where love seems robbed of its devotion, loyalty, friendship and strength, reduced to a fleeting and meaningless emotion that flees when difficulties arises, and if you expect more you're a hopeless romantic, a dreamer. I thought some might like to see that love can be very real. That others might like to share in the journey. I talked to my mom, she was okay with it. However, publishers, although taken by the story, didn't feel the letters would draw enough interest. They might be right.

I took the letters and turned them into a book for the immediate family and gave it to them one Christmas.

Loving another human being is one of the most courageous acts, it makes you vulnerable and holds in it the possibility of being hurt with a pain that runs so deep few can honestly talk about it outside of music, fiction and verse; and too stay the course, through thick and thin, is nothing short of heroic. When anyone manages to make that commonly held, and so rarely realized, dream come true, I feel, it's a story worth sharing.

So, now, I want to share the synopsis and forward with you, and we'll take it from there.

Such Little Time
Art & Peggy: A Collection of Love Letters
Why read Art and Peggy’s letters? Who were they to me? Were they famous? A school bus driver/ farmer and a teacher, what? What did they do that was so great besides fall in love?
They stayed in love.
Less then fifty percent of marriages last. Ponder how many of those do so out of habit. Add to that the fact that Art and Peggy got engaged within four days of meeting each other, and that, for the first eight months, they were in a long distance relationship. Those are some pretty step odds.
Now imagine being with someone for forty years and still kissing them goodnight. For them to still be able to make you laugh. For that laugh to still be the sweetest song you’ve ever heard. To be in love with someone from the first moment you see them until their dying breath. And when your lover’s heart, that has beat for you for almost four decades stops, you say,  “ I just didn’t think we’d have such little time together”.
 What was it like in the beginning of the relationship? How did they meet? Were they sure? These letters are the first eight months of just such a relationship. They show the honesty, sacrifice, courage, commitment, and, of course, the love that it takes to stay the course. Sadly the letters also echo the longing that would come almost forty-years later when they were once again torn apart.
 If what they did isn’t considered a remarkable feat worth our admiration, not to mention envy, then perhaps we should re-examine or priorities. But if you do think it worthy then, without further ado, I would like to introduce you to Art and Peggy.

When I first set out to write the introduction to these letters I went to the library to research 1963; the civil rights movement in the States, the election of a new Liberal government in Canada after a non-confidence vote against Diefenbaker’s Conservatives over nuclear weapons. The unrest in the north of Ireland had yet to return to terrorism but the FLQ (Front de Libération du Québec) were active in Quebec. I was going to talk about how the people had faith in being able to change the world and the hope for a better future. Kennedy was in the White House, the Beatles had released their first album, “Please, Please Me.”, Lawrence of Arabia was at the Oscars and Bond at the box office, television was sending its first images by satellite and Martin Luther King was about to make his, “I have a dream speech.” But this story isn’t about that. Its about a simpler dream. One which is shared by everyone and that, it seems, you have to give up on in order to find; once you find it, you have to take a leap of blind faith to have it and give it everything you’ve got to keep it.
It all began, as I’m sure you’ve surmised, in 1963—August to be exact. Peggy Strain was a 35 year old Irish school teacher who had been single for the ten years since her first marriage was annulled—her faith in men being dissolved with her vows. She was on vacation with her mother, Elizabeth. After having just visited Elizabeth’s brother in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, they had come to Prince Edward Country, Ontario to visit Elizabeth’s cousin, Martha, or Mrs. Jarvis as she is referred to with proper respect in the letters. While in Canada, they were staying with Mrs. Jarvis’s son, Jack, his wife Grace, and daughters; Jeanne and Janice. Peggy had been over for visits before and the visits were greatly welcomed, especially by Janice who just loved her “Aunt” Peggy. Janice also very much loved her Uncle Art, her mother’s brother.
Art was a bit of a rogue and at 40 years old, a confirmed bachelor. The youngest in a family of four, he had stayed on the farm to look after his mom, but he did so more out of obligation than a love of the land. His real love was people and he surrounded himself with them constantly and enjoyed the odd drink, for it helped keep the party and conversation flowing. Foot-loose and fancy free as the saying goes, and quite happy to be that way. So when his niece got her mother, Art’s sister Grace, involved in setting him up with some strange Irishwoman that he’d never met, well, he wasn’t too keen. Peggy, she went along with it as much to be a gracious guest as anything.     
There was to be a dance at the Lake-on-the-Mountain hall, which was owned and operated by Art’s older brother Hugh and his wife Bernice. Art’s other brother George and his wife Betty were also going to be there. Grace would bring Peggy and Art would come with his brothers. But Art, having never meet Peggy, decided that she wouldn’t be his ‘type’ and went into town to have a few drinks with the boys.
After a few hours, Peggy was none too amused with this Canadian hospitality. Meanwhile, Art, was getting pretty bored with town and decided to head home. Since Lake-on-the-Mountain was on his way he saw no harm in stopping by—this was when the small town country boy first learned of an Irish temper. He was instantly captivated and though she didn’t show it, so was she. Four days later, they were engaged. The only catch was that she had to go back to Ireland and stay there for eight months before she could return. The extra little wrinkle was that Peggy didn’t own a phone so the only way they could communicate was by letters. They wrote each other faithfully and often. Their obstacles have become our treasures.
This is the story of Art and Peggy. It is a tale of what all stories worth telling are about— love; not just any kind of love, but the kind that starts from the first moment your eyes meet, and lasts until your last breath and beyond. I grew up knowing this story, but never appreciating its wonder, its rarity and the courage that they both had in order to bring it to life. Despite knowing the story, while I read the letters I still found myself wondering what the outcome would be, if they’d get together, if it would last, what was going to happen. And even though there are only seven of the seventy odd letters Art wrote—because of a pact that they both made and that Art, fortunately broke and Peggy only partially held—the story still comes across. It not only shows the love and the longing that they had for each other at the time, but it echoes the longing that would return nearly four decades later when they were once again torn apart.

           The letters not only kept my attention they also kept me calling my fiancée—who was two-hundred kilometres away at the time—and telling her how much I loved her. I hope that you not only enjoy these letters as much as I did, but that you get as much out of them. That you squeeze your loved one’s hand just a little harder or give them an extra good night kiss. Most of all, that you have the courage to do what is the bravest thing anyone one can do, give their love, fully, to another.

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