Friday, June 6, 2014

Such Little Time: A Collection of Love Letters

This is a personal project that has gone through many stages to get to this point. As a writer, as with many jobs in the arts, only the most fortunate (and funded) get to do it full time. Since I discovered and began working with the original love letters I've worked as an usher/bartender at the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts, an office PA on Resident Evil: Apocalypse; I became a member of the Directors Guild of Canada (after getting the necessary signatures and completing their training course), and worked as a director's/producer's assistant on Confessions of an American Bride.
I received a grant, for Just Jfrom the Toronto Arts Council; was accepted, as a writer, into Ontario's Self-Employment Benefits Program, which gave me both business training and the time to complete and submit two novels, (Chill and Just J) which were published by Orca Book Publishers. With the books being published I was then able to join the Irish Writers' Union and the Writers' Union of Canada (allowing me the opportunity to do manuscript evaluations). I've had a screenplay optioned by friend and filmmaker Ed Gass-Donnelly; an audio play produced by Festival Players; worked as a writer-in-residence for six semesters with Now Hear This!'s S.W.A.T. (Students, Writer's And Teachers) program; completed Second City's improvisation program (which has been helpful for both writing and presenting); was named poet laureate for Small Pond Arts annual Stick Festival, and worked for Rosehall Run winery (if you'd like to see, and even try, some recipes I wrote for their blog click here.)
While doing that (there's more, and I'm still working at multiple places, but I think that's enough to give you a sense of the time that has past), I was always creating and being a part of other people's creative endeavors. But, these letters were never far from my mind and always in my heart.  All things in their own time, they say, and the ebook version of these love letters couldn't have come into being at a more perfect time—what would have been Mom and Dad's 50th wedding anniversary.
The books journey began 11 years ago after my dad died. 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 until after his passing.
I read them all. I missed my dad and these 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 too young when he passed, and the ones that were yet to be born. Maybe even for great-grandchildren, great-great grandchildren, and so on. 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 dreamerI thought some people might like to see that a lasting love can be very real, and 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.
So, I took the letters and turned them into a book for the immediate family and gave it to them on Christmas in 2008. It might have ended there but the letters wouldn't leave me alone.
Loving another human being is a courageous act, 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; to 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 through their efforts, courage and devotion, I feel, it's a story worth sharing. Though, I'm aware that my opinion isn't, exactly, unbiased. It's my mom and dad, after-all, without their love I wouldn't have life. That's a big debt to pay. 
The audience might not be wide enough to interest a traditional publisher, but that doesn't matter. The letter's could still mean something to a few feeling hearts. 

So, I posted them on my blog and got some very positive feed back. Then the idea of an ebook came up. I pondered the notion, thought about making it available to a wider readership and how Mom, now 86, would get to see them published. Also, whenever I work on the letters I feel Dad closer to me, as I often do when I work in the barnyard.
Dad died less than a month after Mom and his 39th wedding anniversary. Today, June 6th, 2014 would have been their 50th. To mark the occasion the letters are being released as an ebook.
Mom found out on Mother's Day that her and Dad are now authors. There were tears shed. She has now pressed the button to make it official, making their letter's available to the world. Below you'll find the synopsis, forward and a letter from Peggy and one from Art. You can purchase the full book through Amazon. If there is interest it will be coming available in other formats. If not, well, some stories just need to be told. Love stories especially, because the world needs more of them.
 Such Little Time:
A Collection of Love Letters
 “The beginning of love is the will to let those we love be perfectly themselves.”
— Thomas Merton
“Love consists of this: two solitudes that meet, protect and greet each other. ”
— Rainer Maria Rilke

When I set out to write the introduction to these letters I went to the library to research 1963: the civil rights movement in the United States, the election of a new Liberal government in Canada after a non-confidence vote against Diefenbaker’s Conservatives over nuclear weapons, the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) had yet to form in Northern Ireland, but the FLQ (Front de libération du Québec) were active in Quebec.
I was going to talk about how people had faith in being able to change the world and 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, Bond was at the box office, television was sending its first images by satellite and Martin Luther King made his I have a dream speech.
But, this story isn’t about that. This story is about a simpler dream. A dream 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 began, as I’m sure you’ve surmised, in 1963—August to be exact. Peggy Strain was a 35 year-old Irish schoolteacher who had been single for the ten years since her first marriage was annulled—her faith in men had been dissolved with her vows.
She was on vacation with her mother, Elizabeth (Lily). After having visited Lily’s brother, Bill, his wife, Florrie, and their family, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, they went to Prince Edward Country, Ontario, to visit Lily’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 those 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. 

Art was foot-loose and fancy free, as the saying goes, and he was 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. And 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 oldest brother, George, and his wife, Betty, were also going to be there. Grace would bring Peggy. 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 got engaged.
The catch was that Peggy 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 through letters. They wrote each other faithfully and often. Their obstacles became our treasures.

This is the story of Art and Peggy. It’s a tale of what all stories worth telling are about: love. Not just any kind of love, but a love which blooms in almost 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 reading 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? 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 didn’t just keep my attention; they also kept me calling my fiancée—who was 200 kilometres away at the time—and telling her how much I loved her.
My own marriage not working out has only made me appreciate this love story all the more. I understand, now, just how much care, work, and mutual devotion a loving marriage takes to survive—and how rare that truly is. 
I hope that you not only enjoy these letters as much as I do, but that you get as much from them—and more. That you squeeze your loved one’s hand just a little harder or give them an extra goodnight kiss. Most of all I hope you find the courage to do what is the bravest thing anyone one can do: give yourself, fully, to another, without losing who you are, while letting them be, fully, who they are—as Dad demanded in one of his letters.

A lasting love isn’t for the fickle or the faint of heart.

     1d Bracken Way
N. Ireland
21 August 1963
Dear Art,
I find it hard to believe that so many miles are separating us when it is such a short time since we were together. How I would just love to be able to call up and hear your voice—you see I miss you already. Yesterday morning in Picton I moved into mother’s bed as I felt cold (thermostat not working again) and when I woke up I felt something touching my back. For one wonderful moment I thought that we were married and that you were there beside me. Art, I do love you so. Ireland doesn’t seem home to me any more because you are not here. It is true when they say home is where the heart is.
We had a very pleasant flight back and other than waking up to eat supper and breakfast I slept most of the way. We were only 8 3/4hours in the air but when we landed at Belfast airport we had to remain on the plane for another hour as Customs and Immigration lounges were so busy. However, even so, we were back at the flat before 8 a.m.  We’ve had breakfast and Mother has gone to lie down as she did not sleep last night at all and very little the previous night.
I can’t remember if I thanked your mother for giving us such a wonderful engagement party. If not will you give her my thanks now.  I will treasure the memories of that important day all my life, together with the happiness I feel. I hope that you feel the same way, too. I wonder when we will be together again? I hope it is soon as I feel I will be impatient with any delay for moments we are apart seem wasted.
I have so many thoughts in my head, but I am finding difficulty in putting them down on paper, so I hope that you understand all that I am trying to say.
The weather here is cool and breezy just as I thought it would be. The sky is overcast and I wouldn’t be surprised if there was some rain. What a change from the beautiful weather we left in Canada.
I will write again at the beginning of next week when I find out the details about how long I’ll have to work. Of course, this doesn’t mean that you are not to write until after you receive my next letter. I am waiting eagerly to hearing from you, so please write very soon. By the way I’m still known here as Mrs. Peggy Strain—but not for long I hope.
All my love forever
Sunday Aug. 25/63
My Darling Peggy,
I received your wonderful letter yesterday morning. I can’t tell you how happy I am to know that nothing has changed. I sometimes think it must have been just a wonderful dream. I guess I’ll not really believe it’s true until I hold you in my arms again. I love you very much and think of you constantly. If you feel as strongly as I do I am wondering how you can concentrate on your school work. My work on the farm requires very little concentration, it’s work I have done so much I can just do it more or less automatically.
Well honey I’m late again as usual. It is 12 o’clock Sunday night. I went church to-night and after church Betty and George and the boys came over. We had a lunch and have been visiting. They just left so I thought I had better write you to-night so I could send it by to-morrow’s mail. I only hope this letter means as much to you as your letter meant to me. I took quite a razzing at church to-night, but I find I rather enjoyed it. Cressy is still recovering from the shock of its No.1 bachelor getting engaged. However, I am sure when they meet you they will understand.
There has been very little going on around here since you left. How I wished last night that you could be here to go to the dance with me, but since you were not I had no desire to go, so I watched television. My darling I am so anxious to know how soon you will be able to come back to me, I miss you so much. I do hope it will be soon. The Cressy people are all very anxious for you to get back too. I don’t know whether they are thinking of our happiness or just want to have a party. There has been no marriage in Cressy for a couple of years and the natives are bubbling with anticipation. Betty got your address from me to-night. She wants to be able to inform you if I misbehave, but you know she doesn’t have to worry about that. Maybe she doesn’t realize the effect a love like ours can have on a wayward bachelor.
Like you Peggy there were many things I wanted to say, but since starting to write I can’t seem to bring them out. However since we both feel the same I guess it’s not necessary because we both know without saying. I do love you very much and Long for your safe return.
I have been trying to make some plans for our future, but I can do nothing without you. Sometimes things work out better if there are not too many plans made in advance, so I am just waiting until you are with me again. The weather has been very nice here lately and I wish you could be here to share it. To-morrow I will be picking tomatoes. I am sure then I will think of a thousand things that I wanted to tell you but right now it is like when we were together, I can only think of how much I love you. When I put the ring on your finger I would love, liked very much to have made a pretty speech and told you what was in my heart but the lump in my throat wouldn’t let me have said much even if I could have thought of it. I am sure you understand Peggy Darling. Well Peggy I guess this will have to do for now. I will try to do better next time.
Write soon. I love you.
P.S. I suppose I’ll have to address this as you instructed but I hate to think of you as Mrs. anybody. Except Mrs. Art Frizzell.
Love and Kisses
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