Letter: An Offer of Employment in 1928

Written on Wednesday, December 5, 1928

She didn’t take it. Or maybe she did? I’m actually not sure.

5.12.28.

Dear Miss Hodder.

about the passage I may inform you. We are going in the middle of Jan. with the german ship, “Saarland” via Suez. If you are willing to take care of 2 children, really only the baby of 9 month, the other child being 4 already, I offer you first class cabin for it. Do you like children and have you any experience? If you are still interested call at my house. from 2-5 o’clock you may call anytime, otherwise I am absent, shopping etc. or you write before, than I shall be at home.

We are Germans.

Fran Strehlow

No 9 Tchinotani
Suma

Taking the tram no 2, 3 or 4 to the terminus and than a risha, they know us all at the Suma station.

Letters: Finding a New Home in 1945

Written on Wednesday, July 18, 1945

A rather important set of letters, these. Key characters from later in the narrative appear, though briefly.

Will is using his leave from the air force to search out a new home in the Okanagan for the whole family to move to from Pense Saskatchewan. Interesting details:

  • The “Embris” are of course the “Embrees”, old family friends. When I was young, we had an honourary Grandma Embree from that same family, and there are still one or two visits a year between our families, despite my parents’ generation of Embrees moving up north (Vanderhoof).
  • Picking cherries in July.
  • Building materials are in short supply but are being released for houses for “returning men”.
  • The “experimental farm” is, of course, the Summerland Research Station (as it was known when I was young) or the Summerland Research and Development Centre. This is a major fruit growing research centre in western Canada. Most notably, the Spartan apple was developed there and introduced to the world in 1936.

Trout Creek
Filling Station
July 18/45
11:30 am

Dear Kid:

Excuse paper but forgot to bring writing paper. My train was late getting in. 45 minutes. So I missed the 1st bus, but Mr. Freisen was at the station + we went up to the house and he phoned one of the congregation – a car salesman + he drove us out to this place + we met the man he spoke of. He’s an elderly christian and works at the experimental station. He has a ranch where he lives + two acres where he intends building a smaller house where eventually he may live. However he intends to build but has been unable to get material so far but thinks if we lived there that the material could be had as they are releasing it for house for returning men. There’s a two room shack on the experimental station but he doesn’t know if he could get them to rent it, but is going to try. There are no lights or water but the creek runs right by + is clear + OK for washing + there’s drinking water a short distance away. People use to live in it he said. There is also a large house where his wife’s grandmother lives but it belongs to the estate + the will hasn’t been settled yet, but he’s going to enquire about it. or part of it. Mr. Freisen says its one of the best committees + quite a lot of christians – four square + pentecostal + he knows no better for the boys. There’s lots of work. I asked about work at the experimental farm + he said there would likely be work but he would advise waking (?) out as the pay is better. Freisen figures that they will find something in time for you to move out by school time. I think we’ll let Langley Prairie go unless you think you want to go there first. I think these men will keep looking until they find something as they are anxious to have christians there. I called to see another christian – pentecostal family while waiting my bus for Kelowna – people by the name of McNutt + they are sure keen on us coming. They cam there a year last spring from Calgary + say its the best they’ve seen also they wouldn’t go back. They have a small ranch + are doing fine + have a couple of their family attending Bible School. I met a daughter who goes to Saskatoon Bible School + knows the girls. They have a boy about 15 + so have the Embris – the folk who would build the house. Let me know what you think by mail + also I’ll talk it over more fully when I see you at Calgary. Its the place where that soldier got on the bus. Its sure too bad we didn’t look around there that day instead of going to Summerland. I’m at the Kelowna CPR station. I have no stamps here, but managed to make a bus. The weather is lovely not hot like the other time we were here although the sun is shining. It rained slightly last night. Mrs. McNutt picks cherries all morning. Hope you are not too disappointed but I believe something will come of this. If I were out I could start working on that house as soon as they got its material. must close as the train is in. will write again as soon as I get to Calgary.

Love

Will

 

Sicamous BC
July 18, 8:30pm

Dearest Kid:-

You will likely have had my wire by now + before you get this will have received my hurried letter. I had no stamps + no time to get any so had to mail it without, so hope it arrived OK. Hope you aren’t too dissappointed. Personally I’m really sick at heart tonight to think my two weeks leave has gone + still nothing definite and no chance of more leave to look around. I’m also real homesick for you + sick to think how you will feel about the whole thing. If you should run into anything before coming home + feel like renting, just use your own judgement. I’ve got to where I don’t know what to advise. As I said in my letter Freisen thinks something will turn up. Actually I guess its lack of faith on my part. God knows we want His best and His will is best. We have tried to find a place. I wish we were together so that we could talk it over, but I guess I’m too much of a home guy. I sure wish we were able to have our home somewhere. Try to take some holiday before going home. Hope you are not too tired. I am quite tired tonight + shall be glad to get back to camp to get some sleep. I have to wait here till about 1100 oclock. The trains going West are awfully crowded so no doubt those going East will be also. The mosquitos are awful. Will see you on your way through Calgary, I sure love you kid + wish I could do something about a house. Heaps + heaps of love

Will

Letter: The Destruction of Kobe, Japan in 1938

Written on Thursday, July 7, 1938

Holy cats! Would you like some dramatic historical events in this blog, rather than just incredibly personal uneventful correspondence? Then you have come to the right entry!

The Kobe flood in 1938 makes Wikipedia’s list of deadliest floods, and had a reported death toll of 933. Here’s a Chicago Tribune article from 1938 about the flood which lists a preliminary dead/injured/missing toll of 861.

Just a few comments on things that jumped out at me:

  • Terrific really used to mean something different than it does today. Nothing that happens in this story is terrific in the modern sense, but the word is used a lot in the letter for things that inspire terror or are incredibly powerful. Much like the evolution of awesome, I would guess.
  • This is a very personal narrative. It’s her specific story of living through this disaster and she only occasionally comments on its effects on others. It’s hard to know if she is just reserved about the devastation and death as experienced by others, or if it indeed doesn’t quite feel real to her. She definitely comments more on what “foreigners” (by which she means “foreigners to Japan”) are experiencing and their losses than she does about the experience of the Japanese people she is undoubtedly surrounded by. Sometimes she seems downright callous about that suffering to my modern ear.
  • She says she did not look to see if the gentlemen not wearing pants were wearing undies. I kind of think she did, but that’s not actually my point, which is that she uses “pants” for trousers and “undies” for underwear, despite being British. Is the use of “pants” for underwear in England a modern thing?
  • I admit to some confusion as to the cause of the disaster. At one early point in the letter she says there was a rumour it was the reservoir giving way, then indicates that this was somehow good because it meant she was okay, then says that it wasn’t the reservoir, then later in the letter talks about other reservoirs that might still give way. Was it the/a reservoir? I have no idea from a first reading of this letter. But this Time Magazine article from 1938 says that it was the reservoir.

This letter is typewritten on five pages. Floss says she’s making several copies at once to send to all the people she needs to put in the know, so when she has a specific message to Gwyneth and Will she adds it in handwriting. I have noted these handwritten sections with italics in my transcription.

c/o F. Owston & Co. Ltd.,
Rooms 304 & 305,
Crescent Building,
72 Kyo-nachi,
Kobe – Japan.
Thursday – 7th July, 1938.

Dear Everybody:

My dear G: Many thanks for letter just received. Will reply later. Love to all. Floss. Pleased to hear that Will was able to make use of the shirts.

First of all, I am trying to make seven copies of this letter so that I can send one each to Nell, Auntie Beat & Bella, in addition the three regular copies and Canada, for I know you will all want to hear how I’ve come through this awful catastrophe in Kobe. But first let me explain to Mum that it has been utterly impossible to get the draft off – I’ll see what I can do tomorrow and send it right away – do so hope you’re not waiting for the cash.

Well, to begin with:

It started to rain here on Sunday night – Monday was terrible, as also was Monday night. When I got home on Monday evening I noticed a crack running the length of my house (or garden) and called Hill in to see it – he assured me it was O.K. (Hill, for the information of those of you who don’t know is the Manager of this Company and lives next door). It did not seem any worse at 4 o’clock on Tuesday morning – needless to say I had had a wakeful night for my garden overlooks a garden belonging to a doctor, in the centre of which there is a tremendous pond – which is about twenty feet below my place. At 6.30 a.m. I was lying in bed with a tea tray beside me when I imagined I heard a “thud” – I waited a second or two and then “crash” and my place fairly shook. I rushed out of my bedroom to the verandah (and I must admit I screamed) to find my garden sliding into the pond below – in one place there is only a foot of earth between the edge and the house. I had a quick bath and got dressed quickly for I was terrified that the house would go as the rain was still pouring down and the earth gradually moving down the pond. At that time I felt I was, perhaps, more unfortunate than many others. The wall holding up my garden was built of stones and, like most of the walls here, they have no – or little – outlet for water to drain after heavy rains – hence the water just forces the wall out. That’s what happened in my case.

At the top of my road – about sixty yards away – there is a very wide river bed, and when I left for the office – after I had instructed the servants to stand by – I found this almost to the top and rushing down to the sea at about thirty miles an hour – if that overflowed I knew I’d not see my home again as mine is the bottom house and the road is down hill. But on my way into town I began to realize how small were my worries compared with some poor devils. Dozens of small houses were already submerged – all the roads leading towards the sea from the hills were like rivers. I arrived in town about 9.15 a.m. and tried to settle down to work. About 10 o’clock one of our Japanese came running into me and told me to look out of my window – what I saw was like a bank of water just about to enter Kyo-machi. Kyomachi is the widest street in Kobe, about 70 ft. wide. In about fifteen minutes the road was three feet under water and was rushing past at about twenty miles an hour – in less than half an hour lumps of wood came floating down and we couldn’t imagine what had happened. Well, I sat at the window all day – as did other people, but perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself by telling you this already. Soon along came futons and tatamis (for you who don’t understand Japanese this means the mats which cover Japanese floors and big thick covers they use on their beds)- that told a story! It was terrific! Furniture of all description came rushing past – high trees, and I even saw (and it still is outside the office the water not being strong enough now to carry it away) the whole roof of a fair sized Japanese house. Then we heard that one of the reservoirs had burst its banks, and so I felt that my place would be O.K. It was later confirmed that it was not the reservoir! Well, here we all were – couldn’t get out for something to eat and it looked as though we’d have to spend the night in the office. However, the rain stopped about noon and at 5 o’clock we decided we’d have to make an attempt. I borrowed a pair of tennis shoes from a lad in the office, took off my stockings and tucked up my skirts. It was rather humerous, although so serious, for there were very sedate foreign gentlemen wading through the water minus their pants – I saw several in just their shirts – maybe they had undies on – I didn’t try to find out! With the aid of Hill I got as far as Ikuta-mae corner and there the water was just a whirlpool – we made it, and got as far as Daimaru’s corner, which was just as bad (every street down town was a deep river). We thought we might get up the Tor road, but no, that was bad and so we made our way to Dick Brun’s road. Worked our way to Motomachi Govt. R’ly, but found that trains were running only as far as Sannomiya, and as there were thousands of people there we decided to join in the walk along the tracks. (all overhead). Couldn’t get any further – no Hankyu or Hanshin running and so the only thing to do was to try and get up to a boarding house in town. We started off for Yamamoto dori thinking it would be o.k., but lo and behold it was bad on the hill – worse than down town in some places. It took us a heck of a time to get up to Nakayamate-dori, and when there it looked impossible to cross. Well, I waded into the water up to my waist, and with the aid of Hill and three Japs – also there was a big rope across to aid people – I managed to cling to the rope and get across, although at times my feet were taken from under me with the force of hte water. There were trams and motor cars along this road almost buried in sand – one car had been lifted completely from the tracks and run alongside a house. When we got up topside it was terrible – houses washed away and debris everywhere. The house that Dorothy and Blue had just vacated was half washed away. I had an awful job getting to Mrs. Kovalsky’s. She had a marvelous escape, for the German Club at the corner saved her place. Walking down from her place later, to the office, we were walking on the level with roof tops – the sand had just piled up. The only damage Mrs. K. had was her garden wall had crashed – like my own. I had been wading through water for hours it seemed, and when I got there I had nothing to change into and so had to borrow a kimono and sit in that all evening. Quite a refugee!

Next morning Hill managed to get down to my house after a lot of trouble. When he got to Sumiyoshi he found that there were upteen houses down just before getting to our place, and so expected to find our houses washed away also. However, a miracel (sic) had happened and the river bed at the top of our road, instead of being a raging torrent, was quite dry!! What must have happened was a land slide further up the hill which blocked the river and divided it into two streams – rivers I should say – one going to our right (Sumiyoshi) and the other to our left (Ogi) for both places are practically wiped out. Our houses were just as we had left them in the morning.

Kano-cho got it worse than anywhere, apparently. All the houses along the sides are burried (sic) up past the second floor – that is, the houses that haven’t been swept away. It looks just like a river-bed – the stones, large and small, all piled up on teh sides with the water rushing – practically as bad as ever although the catastrophe occurred three days ago.- It makes ones heart ache to see all these poor people trying to dig away the sand and much from their houses. They are marvelous – born to calamity I suppose. This morning, before breakfast, I went to the corner where the trams turned round for Nunobiki – it was just like a desert – people camping everywhere – everything flat. That triangle where Honda the Dry-cleaner was is all washed away, with boulders weighing two and three tons – one, they say, weigh ten tons – all over the place. You’ll understand what it must be like when I tell you that the silt is as high as the overhead tram wires – in fact, I was walking with them about around my legs. When the water first broke it came down Kano-cho at the height of twenty feet, and at Sannomiya crossing (that was) – now the Hankyu and Hanshin tram entrances it was nine feet deep. I had arrived at the Hanshin only thirty minutes before this trouble came – had I been coming out then my number would have been up, because they say the water rushed down the Hanshin underground and took everything with it. The Hanshin entrance (or one of them) faces in the direction the water came and has a very wide entrance. I watched Taki-nichi crossing from this building – it was like one collossal whirlpool. There must be thousands of people burried. On Tuesday bodies were floating down with the debris. And yet they say the other side of Kobe (Minasogawa) is worse – I can’t see how it is possible. Up the road that leads to Mrs. K’s. we walk on a level with the roof tops – various shops that had just one storey are completely burried. Quite a number of foreigners have been killed. I believe the boarding house that Hilda and Freddie Vears were in was badly smashed, and while we were at dinner last night Mrs. Kovalsky receive da message saying that they are just arrived at her other boarding house to see if they could get a room – poor little devils! I guess they lost everything. The house behind them collapsed killing a number of people and smashing in to the boarding house – they are lucky to be alive!

The water is sitll rushing down – and last night it began to rain and we all got wind up for we heard that there is still another reservoir that might go behind the Kobe Station – Arima-machi way. They reckon it would be worse than the Nunobiki one. But it wouldn’t affect us much, thank goodness. Anyhow, the sun is shining again and everything is O.K. so far.

There is, of course, a shortage of water – cannot get a bath of any description, and it is hard to get sufficient drinking water, although so far we are managing fairly well. Food, too, is getting short, and the shops are beginning to charge more – who can blame the poor devils anyway. The water problem is serious, of course. And what makes it worse is that it has gotten terribly hot – there is not a spot of water in the office.

Two weeks since I wrote this + still no water! Smells terrible heat terrific!

Rokko – where Mum used to live – has got it very badly – the water came down there with terrifice force and took everything with it. A number of foreigners lost their lives there. The Oishi river (another place where Mum used to live) is the worst of all and is doing terrific damage – that is my biggest obstacle in getting to my house. It is not much good trying to explain – you could NEVER imagine what this is like. To me it is worse than the Yokohama earthquake, but has not affected so many homes, of course. Some foreigner must have lost a nice home, for I saw furniture and a lovely Tientsin rug floating down when I went up the hill the first night.

I’m wondering what sort of report you got at home – I was hoping that you’d think the same as before – that these things are always exagerated – that’s the best thing for you to think until you get this letter – but this couldn’t possibly be exagerated. I was going to send you a telegram, but thought that you’d understand no news is good news. In fact, I couldn’t possible get down town to send a telegram off until today.

The Tor Hotel is badly smashed – trees just smashed into the back of it and the hotel’s first floor was completely under water and everybody had to get out.

When I say that the whole of Kobe is – or was – under water with the exception of a few roads up the hill you’ll know what it was like. I will cut some pictures out of the paper – when we get one – and send to Mum.

I won’t stop for more now as my brain is all muddled – will finish this after I’ve tried to get to my house this evening.

Friday Morning/

Well, here I am again folks, but I haven’t much more to tell you.

I managed to get to my house last evening after walking through water, taxi-ing, bussing, training and walking again. I found everything Ok.K. – Amah returned with her kiddie well and safe – and the first thing I did was to have a nice hot bath which had just been made. The earth had fallen away just a little more, but the house appears to be safe unless we have more torrential rains.

Oishi-gawa is terrible – I could never have imagined it. The river now, instead of rushing under the Kokudo bridge goes over the top at terrific speed – a temporary bridge has been made. I must certainly hand it out to the Japanese – they are wonderful in the case of a catastrophe. My amah tells me that when she crossed it on Tuesday afternoon she saw no less than five bodies pulled out one after another. The Kokudo (Kobe-Osaka Highway) is in a terrible mess. At Sumiyoshi one part is just “flat” as a result of the river that runs by my place having left its bed and spread in the two directions. There was a just a low wall on one side of my house that stopped it from coming into my place – but, of course, I am higher up. The houses down below me were flooded to the top storey. It seems that this river – even parted in two – was strong enough to lay everything flat on both sides of my place, for Ogi is well under water and houses all washed away. My Amah tells me that at 11 o’clock A.M. the river was almost over its banks and she felt everything was up – at 11.50 it was dry and houss on either side being washed away. I am enclosing a picture of the Kokudo at Sumiyoshi, which is straight up from my house on the river bridge – you’ll get some idea how the water must have rushed over the top of the bridge.

Last night it started to pour down again about 1 o’clock (I should have said this morning) and kept on till nearly 4 o’clock – I could hear men shouting instructions to each other and I can tell you I got not sleep for I was really scared. At 3 o’clock I got up and had a look at the water coming down the road, it was higher. However, it keeps starting and stopping, and all I hope is that it will not come down too hard for I have told the Amah I’ll go home tonight as she doesn’t like being alone. I’m not particularly keen, but she has stood by most of the time – in fact, during the most serious period and so I feel I must return. As I say, unless we get any more heavy rains we are perfectly safe. Should it rain really hard I’ll lock up the house, come into town and tell the girl to go home to her folk. But somehow I think we’re better off in Uozaki for we have at least plenty of well water. Lights are now on, but gas is off. It’ll be quite two or three months before they get thigns anywhere near back to normal is the general opinion.

Tuesday, 12th July, 1938.

Hello Everybody:

Sorry I couldn’t finish this on Friday – neither had I the chance on Saturday or yesterday – or perhaps I’d better say I may have been able to find time but hadn’t the inclination.

I returned to my house on Saturday afternoon. Later I went up the river bed to Sumiyoshigawa (about ten minutes walk from my house) and what I saw was terrible. The Highway was just strewn with boulders – some as large as a room, weighing, so people say, twenty and thirty tons. There are thousands, and thousands, and thousands – honestly, this is not a little big exagerated – how on earth the water could have brought them down from the hills is beyond imagination. Trees, too, with all their branches and bark stripped off, were everywhere – hugh (sic) pine trees you’d think mountains couldn’t possibly move. Everything was just flat – I happen to know this part particularly well, for it is my favourite walk on Saturday afternoons and Sundays – I used to walk right up the river bed to Mikage valley and back through Mikage. Just beyond the Hankyu railway – which is completely washed out in this section, the river bed was deep. There were some lovely modern foreign houses built up here. One in particular used to fascinate me for it has such lovely grounds attached to it. Well, although that place was at least sixty feet above the river bed, it has badly suffered – for the sand and boulders are on a level with the garden – I know, I walked around it. Honestly, it would make your heart ache. Sumiyoshi, I think I can honestly say, is the worst I’ve seen so far. And to think that had the bridges not stopped those boulders I’d have been one of the sufferers. The river now, instead of running past my house, has two outlets, one through the village just to my right and the other just to my left – we happen to be just in the triangle. Ogi, from my place, and which was very thickly populated, looks like a desert.

We are still without water, which makes it very inconvenient, especially at the office. Fortunately at home I have a well, although something has gone wrong with the electric motor and all the water has to be brought along in buckets. On Saturday I tried to get some tinned salmon, but found the few shops I enquired at completely out. However, I guess that soon stocks of both eats and drinks will be replenished.

Cannot understand why I’ve not received any word from Vi, for we’ve received official mail from Tokyo dated 9th – Saturday. I did not get Vi’s last week’s letter. I sent a message through both Tokyo and Yokohama assuring her I was O.K. – however, I did expect to receive some word from her. Maybe, though, her mail has been held up and so I musn’t complain.

Well, guess this is all for now – my fondest love to you all.

Affectionately, Floss

P.S. Had a terrific thunder storm yesterday afternoon and although no place seemed to be in danger the storm washed away a number of bridges, including the one at Oishigawa. The roads were in a heck of a mess and I’m afraid I ruined a pair of shoes trying to pick my way through the water and mud. Got a bus from Sannomiya to Wakinohama, walked to Nishihada and got a hanshin tram from there. They say it will be like digging a new subway at Sannomiya Hanshin station for it is piled high with sand and debris – may take months. It is still raining hard – seems the nyubai doesn’t intend to finish yet!!

Letter: Reunions, Kisses, and the Weirdness of 1920s Consent in 1929

Written on Wednesday, June 26, 1929

This is another letter that leaves me feeling weirdly and awkwardly protective of Gwyneth. But presumably this is what she wanted from the man she loved. Presumably, this is a letter showcasing at least some of the qualities that she found attractive in him. The paragraph about the expected kiss is also a bit weird. There’s no reason to believe that she would resist kissing him (though they haven’t seen each other in months, and anyone might feel slightly shy at first in those circumstances), but it’s made clear that resistance is uncool. Even if she wants to kiss him, which she probably very much does, it’s still somehow framed in this weird slightly coercive way.

Pense, Sask
June 26th
1929.

My dearest Gwyneth,

This should reach you about the day before you leave + I thought that even if I wrote on Sunday I had better write one and be sure to catch you before you left so as to cheer you up. Just imagine sweetheart, two weeks from the time you get this, (and) we shall be together again. I hardly dare think too much about it as I get all excited.

Your good letter of the 11th came yesterday and of course made me all the more excited. By the way little girl, what is it that you should tell me, that is worrying you? You say that you don’t know what on earth to do about it, so why not tell me and get it off your chest. I may not be able to help you, and yet I may, and in any case, I believe we should be frank with one another as we expect to be man and wife. In any case don’t worry over whatever it is, + if you don’t care to write it down then tell me after you come out. Remember dear heart I love you learly and want to do everything to make you as happy as possible and after we are married let us both try to remember to give and take. You say too that at times you get a little bit frightened when you think what marriage really means + what a huge responsibility it is, but I hardly think that we should be frightened, sweetheart. Truly it is one of the greatest blessings given us by God if we follow Him. I realize that we should understand the responsibility we have, also the wonderful privilege and holiness of it. God institute it in the beginning, + He knew what was best for man. I realize with you that it is up to both parties to make marriage a success, + I believe if we will both help the other that it should not be so difficult. I also strongly believe that where Christ is given his rightful place in teh home that there should be unity. Cheer up little woman. I believe we should be able to make as good a success of married life as most people, and a good deal better than lots.

I’ve been trying to clean up Andy’s house. Its awfully dirty, + I’m afraid I wont’ be able to make a very good thing of it. One thing, it will be clean when I’m through, even though it doesn’t look very good. One thing its so small that you won’t have so very much house work. Perhaps some day we’ll be able to build us a home + then we’ll have it as we like it.

I heard from Mr. Thornton today + he says that he hates to disappoint us, but he has had to cancel his Canadian trip this year on account of his heart. He has had had another heart attack and has to rest off. The doctor told him that his blood pressure was so low that it was too low to live; but he says he is gradually gaining.

He says too that he doesn’t know if he would be allowed to perform the ceremony here in Canada.

I still think sweetheart that it would be best for us to get married shortly after you arrive, but we’ll see how you feel about it when you get here. If we should, it will be about a month more + we will either be married or be seriously thinking about it. I can hardly imagine it, it seems too good to be true.

Now look after yourself sweetheart + be careful. Don’t forget to send me a telegram and state when you expect to reach Regina. Do you think you’ll recognize me at the station? Anyhow I have your picture + will do my best to make myself known,don’t yell if I try to carry you off. Remember the big kiss you’ve promised me for so long too and don’t try to get out of it. In any case there’ll be lots of chances on teh way home if we come by car, so I’ll try not to be too greedy all at once. I expect Vi will be at the station, so we’ll have to behave to a certain extent, but can make up for it later.

Now I must close, as its an hour after my usual bedtime and I’ll be all in tomorrow, so goodnight sweetheart o’ mine, take good care of yourself + keep looking up. May the Lord richly bless, protect and keep you in safety + satisfy the longings of your heart. With heaps of love + kisses till we meet in Regina,

Ever your own

Will

Letter: The End of Dancing in 1926

Written on Wednesday, August 25, 1926

I’ll be honest, I find this letter hard to read. I guess this is where this blog gets a little personal, because I can’t pretend to be dispassionate about this. These are my grandparents, who admittedly I never really knew.

My grandfather, Will, died when I was less than a year old, and my grandmother, Gwyneth, died when I was just two, although she had been in residential care due to dementia caused by an iatrogenic brain injury related to her bleeding disorder.

I have very slight memories of going walking with her in my orange sweater. In my memory she feels kindly, and I am comfortable with her, but that’s all that I have to connect me in a real sense. Nonetheless, I have always felt a special connection with this woman. My father’s stories about her always made me want to know more about her, to connect with her in some way. That’s always a bit difficult when the person you want to connect with is dead.

This was probably helped by how often, when I was young, people would tell me how much I resembled her, not so much in my physical appearance (though our faces have similarities), but in the way we acted and moved and spoke. I’ll be honest here and say that I do feel a rather inappropriate level of possessiveness and protectiveness for her.

By the same token, I’ve often felt rather disconnected from Will. I have no specific personal memories of him at all, and in the stories my father told about him, he always seemed a rather distant character, not as relatable for me.

And so it’s hard to read this letter from Will to Gwyneth. It’s hard because all his kindly benevolent condescension grates on me. Every time it appears I want to leap up to shield her from it. It starts with the talk of the unknown transgression at the Boat House. As an atheist, and especially as a formerly christian atheist, his advice to give all of her concerns and temptations to God and his assurance that this will bring her more joy than the activities she is tempted to do is particularly difficult to swallow. At the time he was working essentially as a missionary at the Japan Self Help Bible School in Kaibara, and was himself a recent convert with all the zeal appropriate to that, so it’s all quite understandable, but as a person who specifically struggled with the experience of faith and god’s grace (I didn’t feel it despite wanting to desperately, but sometimes pretended I did when it seemed that this would make the adults around me happier/less concerned), it all rings rather hollow.

Eventually a few things are revealed. First, her letters may not exist in the world at all because he destroyed them, to reassure her that should be candid with him (this is unfortunate, from my prying curious perspective), and second that the transgression at the Boat House is related to dancing.

It’s important to know that Gwyneth had been dancing for years. She started young, performed as a dancer on stage (evidence to follow in a postcard), and continued to dance once she arrived in Japan. Her diary mentions lessons weekly or twice weekly. Dancing was a critically important part of her life. But with her conversion to a particularly repressive form of christianity it was suddenly verboten.

My father had told me that growing up he was not permitted to go to movies or attend dances because of their faith, but I guess I hadn’t put together what this would have meant for Gwyneth, dancer.

Kaibara,
Tamba
Aug 25th
1926

Dear Gwyneth:-

Thank you for your letter which arrived this morning. I would have liked to have written then, but did not have the time, so decided to wait until this evening when I would have time.

Many thanks about the pillow slips. I will bring hte measurements on Friday. That is if I do not forget. I’m a terrible person at forgetting things. By the way, before I forget it, I am enclosing a couple of cards with your little brother’s name in Japanese. Tell him to see if he can write it.

Now for more important things. I am sorry Gwyn you are feeling so bad, but listen girl I’m not going to condemn you, for I have no right to seeing I have done things just as bad myself. But Gwyneth tell the Lord Jesus what you write me. Tell him what happened at the Boat House and how you feel, also how you find it hard to give up all these things.

I believe he is speaking to you now. Oh don’t give in but come to Him, for girl you’ll never be happy I know, unless you do.

And Gwyneth when He does give you joy, don’t be ashamed to tell others. You will find that there is joy in that alone. I don’t mean to say you have to ram religion down everybody’s throat, but people will begin to ask you what’s the matter with you, especially if you don’t mix with them like you used to (for you will find that the old things don’t have any pull like they used to) and then tell them. I’m praying for you Gwyn girl, so don’t give in. God wants to bless you.

Don’t worry about those walks. I enjoyed them more tha you I’m sure, and am looking forward to many more.

You don’t need to tell the folk I wrote, unless you wish to. Your letters to me no one shall ever see. Just a minute while I burn it. There it is gone, so you need not worry about that any more. No one will ever know what you wrote.

Dwight came back just as I was going to begin this letter and told me it was a very slow party they had at the B.H. He didn’t say any thing about you at the B.H.

I wish he wouldn’t go there. He knows the people who go there have nothing in common with him. But it isn’t for me to judge.

Well goodnight Gwyneth. Don’t forget what I wrote.

Tell him your whole heart girl and you will never regret it. Speak to Him as though you were speaking to your friend. That’s what prayer is. There’s nothing difficult to it. You didn’t say if you had gone to Him. If you haven’t then Gwyn please do, for girl you cannot give up dancing or any other things in your own strength, but if you will go to God and tell Him you cannot resist the temptation and ask Him to help you, He will help you. Ask Him to take away the desire for these things. Tell Him how unhappy you are and how useless it seems to live, just as you told me and ask Him for Christ’s sake to save and help you, and Gwyn old girl, if He doesn’t undertake and give you a real joy in living and help you out of all your troubles, why, I don’t know Him.

Now listen Gwyneth don’t give up, but do as I’ve just written, for girl it isn’t only a question of now, its a question of your eternal salvation. Doubtless God speaks to all at some time or other, and girl I shall be down on Friday I expect in time for supper. There won’t be time for you to write again before then, but you can tell me, if you care to, when I see you.

I hope you won’t mind me writing like I have. But I just had to, and I was glad you wrote me.

Now must close as its getting late and I want to post this at the station before going to bed so that you will get it tomorrow.

Yours as ever,

Will.

Postcard: Camping and Fruit Picking in 1967

Written on Saturday, July 8, 1967

That’s the advantage to being a farmer; friends can drop by and you can generally down tools for a short while and visit without any particular consequence. It’s a welcome break if they visit in the middle of the day when it is hottest.

Mr. and Mrs. W. Woodbridge
+ Don.
Trout Creek Road.,Summerland,
B.C.

Dear Woodbridges,

Have just stopped in Yoho Nat. Park for the night. We all enjoyed our afternoon with you yesterday + hope we didn’t delay the picking too much. We made it to a very nice private campsite last night just north of Vernon by 6:45.

Hope to see you again,

Cec + Elisabeth + children

Postcard

Letter: Church, Sweet and Sour Meatballs, Leaving Home in 1954

Written on Monday, July 5, 1954

Don, aged 19, is moving out to Vancouver to work for the summer before starting his studies at UBC in the fall. His brother David (older by five years and likely the David mentioned in the letter) is already there doing his own studies.

I love this letter for what all of the little details:

  • The sweet and sour meatballs, they sure must have made an impression.
  • Sunday school, church, and then evening service too.
  • All of the disorganized wandering around looking for beds to sleep in and places to stay.
  • The line at the end, saying his mother needn’t have worried. Such a universal thing to send to a worrying parent.
  • The Patullo bridge described as a monster (it’s now perhaps the smallest bridge crossing the Fraser, instead of the largest).

2886 W 5th Ave.,
Vancouver 8,
B.C.
July 5, 1954

Dear Mum + Dad.

I arrived in New Westminster with Marge + Willie at about 6 o’clock. We went to Willies house and had supper. Then they took me into Vancouver to the place where Marge had been staying. She phoned the people in Masterton’s house and the lady gave me an address and a phone number but didn’t say what to do with them. the address was Friezens so Marge and Willie took me there. I went in and Friezens said they could put me up so I stayed there for the night. Next day, Sunday, we went to Sunday School (77 present) and church. Then we all went to Eastons for dinner (a jewish recipe for sweet and sour meatballs). It was really good as was supper which we had there too. Pat and Swen Easton brought David home once remember? She used to be Swen Maryat from Keleden. They have a three month old baby boy named Glen. Sunday night we went to church at Bethany again and David arrived at the end of the service so I got my suitcase and went to their place to sleep. It is small but fixed up nicely. The people up above don’t seem very considerate.

I don’t think much of what I’ve seen of Vancouver so far (not very much) but the Patullo bridge is quite a monster. I wouldn’t want to drive in this traffic but it isn’t as bad as people make out.

You shouldn’t have worried mum I was alright!

Your son,

Don

A first letter home

Letter: Atheism, Cycling, Depression in 1929

Written on Wednesday, May 15, 1929

First, a bit of context and explanation. Owen was Gwyneth’s brother. Gwyneth had gone to Japan in 1924 as a governess for a younger cousin. When her Uncle, Aunt, and cousin had returned home to England in 1926 or 1927 she had decided to stay on in Japan, staying with my grandfather’s sisters in my great-grandparents’ home. While living there she met my grandfather and they fell in love and decided to marry and emigrate to Canada. In 1929 he left Japan and went across the Pacific to Canada and she went back to England to see her family one more time before crossing the Atlantic to meet her husband-to-be in Canada. This letter would have been written during that visit in 1929. She thought she likely wouldn’t get another chance to go to England and see her family and she was right. Though she lived until 1981 in Canada, she never returned to England after her 1929 visit.

I love this letter so much! It feels incredibly precious to me. In reading it, you get the feeling that Owen was a person born in the wrong time. He was uncomfortable among his contemporaries, a difficult person. He may have struggled with mental illness (certainly it seems so from his letter, though I had never heard a hint of it from my father). At the least the tone of his letter suggests to me that he struggled with some amount of depression.

I’m fascinated by his anger and his hopeless idealism and his depressive’s ability to turn every possible opportunity into a failure. I’m fascinated by his apparent atheism in a very christian family. Gwyneth herself was on her way to marry a man who had worked as a missionary in Japan, and who constantly exhorted her in letters to put all her trust in God, and others in her family seemed to have been as christian as anyone else was.

And I love his self-deprecating humour and the love he has for his own writing, even as he seems to mock it self-consciously. I love that he wrote this letter to his sister and the things it gently speaks about their relationship with each other. I love the description of 1920s cycling culture and especially the dig at the sneer of the Motorists.

12 First Avenue,
Acton Vale,
London
15-5-29

Dear Gwyneth,

I have suddenly woken up to the fact that today is Wednesday + next week-end is Whitsun, so that in another three days I shall be seeing you. I’ve got the most appalling “wind-up”, but I suppose I shall pull through somehow or other.

I have already told you I am “ye complete failure”. For several years now, with the exception of a short period of temporary insanity from which I am happily recovered, I have been wondering what life is about. That is to say, what do we exist for? The varied and picturesque religious conceptions are entirely beyond my belief. Christianity, for example, is very ingenious, but I cannot believe in it. To imagine one single all-powerful God in place of the dozens that previously existed was a good idea. Unfortunately the “all-powerful” part didn’t seem quite to fit, so they had to invent the Devil. Heaven was conceived as a rather vague but bee-autiful reward for the successful devil-dodger, while Hell was thrown in as an additional incentive for those who looked upon Heaven’s existence as rather shadowy and doubtful. Those obstinate beings who would not “believe” were, of course, utterly beyond consideration so they were just persecuted with as much ferocity as were the Christians themselves before they were sufficiently powerful to protect themselves and to inflict torment on others.

And I haven’t nearly enough fingers + toes to count all the wars that have been fought in the name of Christianity. Think, for instance, of the marauding bands of robbers who, under the style of “Crusaders” tried to filch Palestine from the owners.

Wars are now hopelessly out of date (until the next one comes). The modern method is to invent machines to enable one man to do the work of a hundred. Fifty of these men may or may not be absorbed by the increased demand for a cheaper article. The other fifty are thrown on the dole and soundly rated by magistrates and others in similar precarious jobs as work-shies and loafers.

I have frequently walked + cycled through the East End of London. I have done the same through the West End. I have read several of H.G. Wells’ books, and I read a considerable part of both a morning + an evening newspaper every day. It all leaves me utterly fogged. How can a man run a Rolls-Royce and profess Christianity, unless he is a hypocrite? And why have we, at one and the same time, wide-spread unemployment and wide-spread want? While men live in squalor + poverty in the East End, Christians find themselves at liberty to spend millions on their beautiful + extravagant churches and cathedrals. Some foll once brightly informed me that running a Rolls-Royce + building millionaire cathedrals provided employment for some of the unemployed. He seemed quite hurt when I suggested that the same money spent on providing food + clothing for necessitious (sic) people would employ and equal number to far better purpose. I admit I suggested with more force than persuasion, but his so obviously foolish idea made me tired.

These scanty suggestions may give you a hazy idea of my notions of the world. Suppose I follow accepted practice + plunge into business for all I am worth. That’s not much, but it is not obstacle to fortune getting. If I succeed, what can I do? I can let the East End go hang, and spend it on myself, as most Christians do. Only I shouldn’t be a hypocrite, because I do not profess Christianity or any other “anity” (unless it’s insanity!). If my conscience is too strong I can distribute it (the fortune, I mean!) where it is needed. Even the latter apparently laudable life is inherently unsound, however. By building up a fortune, however small or large, I should be assisting to maintain the system which results in such violent extremes, and even by spending all my pickings on others I shall do more harm than I can possibly do good. In fact a life spent trying to do good by making a fortune to give it to the poor is similar to a man on a desert island trying to keep himself alive by eating his own body.

So I wonder what to do. I have no desire, at present, to acquire money for my own benefit. I consider it worse than useless to get it for others. On the other hand, living as I do now I can be no earthly good at all, and my only consolation is that “nothing” is greater than any negative quantity. The only other course I can see is to get all the money I can and then use the power that money can buy to modify the principles that result in the extremes of East End + West End. But such a scheme is nothing less than stupendous and it needs a giant to carry it out. Me a giant? Oh! Heavings! Anyone less than a giant would do more harm than good.

So I’m stymied again.

No. I expect if the future were visible I should see myself carrying on as now for a few years and then suddenly getting lonely, saving like fury, marrying the first bit of fluff I can find who is not downright ugly, and settling down to a nice quiet peaceful hen-pecked suburban life between the works, the back garden, and the ten-year-old Morris Cowley. My dear, it’s just too thrilling to think that even now someone may be taking out on the road for the first time a posh (?) brand new Morris which in the years to come, after many vicissitudes, will fall into my hands to enable my wife and me to regard the vulgar and careless pedestrian and the absolutely intolerable push-bicyclist with that condescending sneer which is the Divine Right of Motorists.

So do all, or nearly all, dreams end. The trouble is that I am still dreaming, and a dreamer has to wake up before he can come to earth to consider mere mundane matters. (Please note the alliteration.)

Anyhow, I am coming to Brighton instead on Saturday evening. We have from Saturday mid-day to Wednesday morning. Quite good, considering everything + the state of the weather. The latter will be perfect. And you can’t catch me out on that, either, whatever it is like. I enjoy the beauty of the rain quite as much as I do the glory of the sun. Many a time (and oft) have I revelled in a downpour as a welcome and refreshing change from seemingly perpetual sun + droubt (sic). Bright October, with her chilly mornings and frosty nights is a beloved harbinger of joyous midwinter runs when a steady “fifteen” brings you to the kindly old inn, that only the cyclist knows of, all aglow and ready for the welcoming handshake of the proprietor. A speedy rinse, and an appetite sharpened by fresh air and exercise too (and so, a healthy appetite) makes short shrift of a supper fit for the Gods. A quiet hour by the flickering fire, and we dream of the days to come – February snows to give the land a fairy-like look that no town-dweller knows of – March winds to blow the butter off your bread, to make you fight for your tea, and then to waft you briskly home again – May showers which wet you through before you can struggle into your cape, + then obligingly cease, bad ‘ceas (sic) to ’em – and the long awaited glory of summer –

You know, the trouble with me is St. Writers’es Dance. Once I start I can’t stop. If only it were readable I could make a fortune + rival Edgar Wallace in quantity as well.

This bilge has taken up two solid hours and three quarters of my time. My time is worth nothing, so you can work out the value of the bilge. And I am half inclined to tear it up and write – Dear Gwyneth, Many thanks for your letter + birthday greetings. Coming Saturday evening. Love to all, Owen