Whiling Away A Yukon Winter

“Yes” Jocelyn said.  “I’d love to visit the Yukon in the dead of winter!”

A fellow islander, Jocelyn originally came from England.  A trip to the Northern cold wouldn’t be a complete shock.  After all, she and her husband had experienced several Canadian winters from Quebec through to British Columbia.

Jocelyn’s husband and I worked for a large Canadian financial firm.  When I was transferred to London, Ontario from the Canadian West, he kindly invited me for Sunday dinner.  It became a habit as Jocelyn and he, with their five children, became my Other Family.  In fact, when they left London, I followed them to the small West Coast Island, on which we all now live.

To make a living, I contracted with School Districts,  taking me to various locations throughout British Columbia.

Celtic Knot

Celtic Knot

In the mid-1980s, I was asked to rescue a School District in the most Northerly corner of the Province, I was thrilled.  When I announced it to Jocelyn, she confirmed she would join me for a visit.

Her enthusiastic response thrilled me.  Since my Northern contract included a new double-wide mobile home with three bedrooms, two bathrooms and a Maintenance Manager next door to made sure Southern women adapted appropriately, I knew our only job was to enjoy ourselves.  What a way to thank this long-time friend who’d fed me countless delicious Sunday dinners.

Jocelyn epitomized the kind of wife I would never be.  Being a topnotch homemaker, she combined fun, domesticity and motherhood. Her meals, often created on a limited budget, provided some of the healthiest eating I’d known.  Plus, she managed any craft the children wanted to explore.  She championed their gifts through to their adulthood by spotting artistic talent and helping it grow.  Now parents themselves, these “kids” still demonstrate many of the gifts Jocelyn nurtured.

Celtic Knot

Celtic Knot

Jocelyn’s passion was sewing quilts.  A purist, she refused to make quilts with a sewing machine.  Every one of her many quilts are hand stitched. Each one was unique, personal and exquisite.  I told her I needed one, too. I promised to make an order once I knew what I wanted.  She asked a few questions and helped me realize I wanted an ivory or off-white quilt with only a raised or embossed pattern on it.  I envisioned a subtle work of art, but I needed some time to make extra funds before officially ordering it.

Finally, the time was right to have Jocelyn come for her Northern visit.  Her plane landed in Watson Lake, Yukon, on a winter’s night in December, 1987 with temperatures hovering around -30 degrees F.  I had explained where she could find the bus bound for Cassiar – the mining town where the School District office and my home were located.  The trip meant a bus ride – two hours south of Watson Lake, Yukon.  It seemed strange to not meet her at the airport.  However, in the North, a drive at night, alone along a practically uninhabited stretch of road, without a car radio or the yet-to-be-invented cell phone, would be foolhardy and dangerous.

“When you step off the plane,” I said, “as you walk towards the airport building, watch you don’t bump into the ice crystals hanging in the air from your breath!”  She laughed.  I said, “Seriously…you won’t be used to the cold air.  Breathe through your nose, not your mouth.  You have to protect your lungs.”

I told her later how I had discovered the wolf pelts around the hood of my raccoon coat spared me from walking to work with an ice pack on my face.  Warm, moist breath through wool scarves meant frost collected to form icicles immediately.  I would draw the wolf fur across my mouth and, miraculously, no icicles formed.  Snuggled inside my raccoon coat, I’d power-walk over snow that squeaked with every step.  The lower the temperature, the higher the pitch and the faster I walked.

Around midnight on that December night, I watched Jocelyn’s bus round the corner and come toward the Recreation Center where we all waited.  We had abandoned our vehicles, engines still running, to chat and visit in the warm building.  Streetlights obliterated much of the spectacular starry night.  The clouds had almost cleared and the snow had stopped.  I had hoped Jocelyn would arrive in the midst of blue, green, yellow Northern Lights.  I wanted to show her how to make them dance by clapping our hands or whistling.

I looked forward to the North exposing all its beauty to my friend.

Jocelyn descended from the bus with her usual warm smile.  After hugs and chatter, we scooped her luggage, dashed for my Bronco and headed for home.

I had to work each day, but knew I didn’t have to worry about Jocelyn entertaining herself.  She loved walking and, though the town was small, there were points of interest worth exploring – a tiny dress shop, a curling club, a pub, churches with thrift shops and home businesses like a weaver’s studio.  I told her, “If you run out of things to do, go to the Cookery.  It’s the only big, comfortable dining facility in town.  You can sit for hours and talk with people.  A new face means new stories so you won’t be without company.”

As a response, Jocelyn announced she was going to sew my quilt. I was thrilled.  She had packed the materials

Celtic Knot

Celtic Knot

and supplies needed to sew her work of art – all in one ivory tone – with a yet-to-be-determined embossed pattern.

Jocelyn said, “Since you have Celtic blood, I brought something that may help you decide.”  She handed me an exquisite soft-covered book – “The Holy Book of Kells”.  I was thrilled with the idea.  It contained elaborate drawings of spirals and Celtic knots at the beginning of each chapter.  Each one held aspects of such creativity, I simply couldn’t decide.

“Jocelyn…”

“Did you pick one?”

“No, I can’t.”

“Don’t you like them?”

“Like them?  I love them all!  I can’t pick just one!”

“Then I’ll do all of them.  That’s great.  I won’t get bored!”

I couldn’t believe my ears.  What a gesture.  What friendship.  “What on earth can I be doing for you while you sit here stitching during evenings?”  I asked.

“Read to me.”

“Really?”

“Have you got a book we’d both enjoy?”

“I just picked one up recently.  It’s “The Ladies of Missalonghi” by Colleen McCullough.  She wrote “The Thornbirds”.  Remember?  It was about the Aussie woman falling in love with a Catholic Priest.”

“Perfect.  Read that one to me.”

“Okay.  Jeesh…an author with an Irish name.  Could it be any more fitting?”

As the December snows swirled and drifted against our cosy house and temperatures plummeted to inhuman lows, Jocelyn and I fulfilled a contract with each other that is now etched on my heart and soul for eternity.

Jocelyn’s gesture contained a brand of domesticity I had not experienced before or since.  To have someone create a work of art containing the insights and tenderness of deep friendship was supreme abundance.  But to have the opportunity to read aloud to her, in the midst and milieu of materials, thread, needles, thimbles, and antique lace, seemed more bonus than duty.  This delicate story about other women, set in a far-away country in much earlier times, portrayed Australian women who likely did, as a matter of routine, exactly what we were doing.

As Jocelyn stitched, I would  stop reading, feigning a sniffle, to swallow a lump of awe.  The expressions of joy, contentment and humour on the face of my friend were absorbed and placed indelibly in my heart.

It’s as though it happened yesterday.

My quilt made by Jocelyn.  Guest bedroom - with pads where Duc-le-Chat  likes to sleep.

My quilt made by Jocelyn. Guest bedroom – with pads where Duc-le-Chat likes to sleep.

Close-up of her stitches and the antique lace she added.

Close-up of her stitches and the antique lace she added.

Corner showing the care she took to help the quilt drape well.

Corner showing the care she took to help the quilt drape well.

This shot gave better light to see the embossing.

This shot gave better light to see the embossing.

Since the Holy Book had one less chapter than we needed, Jocelyn did a monogram.

Since the Holy Book had one less chapter than we needed, Jocelyn did a monogram.

(NOTE:  All Celtic Knots came from Wikipedia.  In my attempts to have the light show the embossed patterns, I had to work with peculiar angles. However, the quilt is now on record.)

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30 thoughts on “Whiling Away A Yukon Winter

    • It seems hard to believe – the town where we shared this memory no longer exists. Cassiar was a mining town. When the mine shut down, it was obligated to eliminate all buildings, structures, etc., and return the land to Nature. Many of the people who lived there (some even born there) still grieve over it’s disappearance.

  1. Wow, what a spectacular work of art/love. It is a beautiful quilt, I can imagine how happy Duc-La-Chat loves stretching out on it. Lucky for you he honors your system to deal with him!

    I am also have a quilt made my the loving hands of a dear friend. It’s a crazy quilt made with some of the left over materials of other gifts she’d made for me. She did use a machine for part of it, but it’s mostly hand work. But we were miles apart from each other as she made it. Your story is lovely.

    • There’s something very special about a friend making a quilt. Doesn’t matter whether we pay for it or not…just think of all that went in with the stitches. Perhaps the USA also has people making quilts for cancer patients. In Canada, there’s been thousands sewn and sent to people who need the warmth, comfort and care that a homemade quilt gives. One of my friends who survived colon cancer was like Linus and his Blanket when he was gifted! I think that quilt was the far and above all other gifts he’s ever received.

    • Yes, she is an artist. One of the sad parts about getting older is not being able to use hands, eyes, feet etc. in the same way for the pleasure of accomplishing our passions. Jocelyn’s had to curtail some of her skills and activities, but she’s become a faithful at aquafit.

  2. Isn’t blogging wonderful where you can record moments and things indelibly etched on your heart and in your mind? Gorgeous quilt! I loved every detail of this.
    I couldn’t believe the outpouring of crocheted blankets when the girls were born. I saved each one and passed them on to both grandsons, even the pink one.

    • Blogs truly are great for storing memories. And for healing! While writing this post yesterday, I appreciated going back to that peaceful time. It was cathartic – my little cat has been very ill for days so I’ve been sad. It must have helped him, too…after 3 days of not eating, causing me to eyedrop water into him, he walked to his bowl this morning and devoured two chicken thighs that I quickly nuked.

  3. I love this story, Amy, for lots of reasons ~ your description of the Yukon winter, the northern Lights, the community in which you lived and your bond of love and friendship with Jocelyn. I’m not a quilter, I don’t even sew but I love making crochet blankets for friends and family. One of the drawbacks, as I sit snuggled up, under the piece I’m working on, is the silence. I’ve tried listening to ‘talking’ books ~ but that doesn’t always work for me; the accent and intonation of the reader can irritate and I miss bits if I’m counting or concentrating. I would love, love, love to have a friend keep me company and read to me, so that we could share the creative process and be able to discuss the book. Your quilt is stunningly beautiful ~ how talented your dear friend is. Thank you so much for sharing these words and pictures! :)

    • I know what you mean, Jacqueline. Some people write with music playing. I need silence. Even a radio in the background will distract and become an irritant. There is a group of writers who blogged about changes in their creative process resulting from different types of music.

      We didn’t use the term back “then”, but Jocelyn must have been a great multi-tasker. She had to keep all layers of activity in line with 5 children and a husband.

      Yes, the reader has to know how to read! That’s a must. (I’m amazed at how many people ignore punctuation. Also some writing is difficult to read.) The beauty of friends reading aloud is being able to stop and discuss a concept, a turn of phrase or a character.

  4. What a lovely post, Amy.

    You have related of that time that both of you spent together as if it was yesterday. Quite clearly, you have cherished and frequently remembered that time spent with a friend all those decades back That is indeed being blessed.

    So what is it really that made that time so special for you? Was it in the comfort that both of you felt in each other’s company? Was it in the sheer act of “giving” and doing something selflessly? Or was it in the act of receiving with no strings attached ?

    Shakti

    • Jocelyn just reminded me the other day about a Thanksgiving Dinner incident that I’d completely forgotten. So one person’s “moment” may not be different for another. The details are crystal clear when it’s one of my moments. However, throughout my life, we five siblings can have raucous disagreement over details of our youth. It’s amazing how each remember and declare different details. Who’s right? Does it matter? For me, the important part is the feeling.

      Jocelyn is like an older sister so we didn’t have to think much about how to “be” around one another. Having a work of art carefully customized, designed and created specifically for “me” was quite an experience and feeling. For example, Shakti, when your wife sews a shirt for you, she’s been thinking of you in every stitch and seam. Having grown up in a good sized family, the quilt’s making elicited many feelings – throughout the process.

      Making quilts was part of Jocelyn’s livelihood so of course I paid her, but that did not detract from the experience, feelings or outcome one iota. The charge was considerably less than what it would have cost someone else.

  5. Perfect way to while away the hours during the winters. What quilters know is the warmth that comes from putting it all together. Literally and figuratively. And I’m with your friend–what’s the point of hand quilting if you machine pieced? Seems like a no brainer to me, but I know lots of folks that do it. I prefer the lap-full, tyvm. (Cuts down on the heating bill. LOL) And to be read to while you’re quilting–brilliant. Sounds like it was a win/win deal to me, in many many ways.

    The quilt’s pretty, indeed. And that she opted to do all of the patterns …made the quilt just that much more precious.(badddd grammar…..LOL) Bigger blocks, one colour, not a lot of bitty squares to piece together and cut out. LOL I bet she loved the simplicity of your choice. And the result–something she loved doing and something you loved receiving. It don’t get no better than that.

    And…..Yup–we have the ‘Linus Project’ stateside. Wonderful works they do, literally. The world needs more quilts for obvious reasons.
    Just sayin’.

    • So you quilt! No wonder you photograph quilt barns. Jocelyn’s fingers became arthritic so hanging on to that needle became more and more difficult. But her kids and grandkids have plenty of good warmth in stock – in various art forms!

      Jocelyn used a frame at her home, but she managed just fine up North. But that’s the kind of talent she is…she can figure ways to manage any conditions.

      Once I’m caught up here, I’m coming for tea!

    • Are you sending me Jasmine? Good…we’ve got lots of beach to explore together! Love you, Granny…and now you have my curiosity roaring. Two women on my Soul Safari in 2009 returned to Madikwe recently for a second go-around. One of them, the Californian, picked up a rock in the Bat Caves and is sending it to me. The other promised to deliver some red soil. Archeologists will be baffled in years to come!

      You must be off to Cape Town soon. Time for a blog visit/catch-up.

    • Aw…my tender-hearted, traveling-friend Jocelyn. I could see you doing something just like this! Or, maybe you cried over the description of the bone-chillin’ cold? You may miss out on it this year! :D

    • Hi you adorable little Italian sweet-pea blog buddy! If I had a chance to meet you, Kim, I’d have to give you one of the biggest bear hugs imaginable. You know, anyone who loves a sister as deeply as you is EXCELLENT friend material. There’s obvious a whole lotta time and space for love in your life! XO

  6. Beautiful quilt, and as you said, quite a gift of friendship. And I know the kind of cold you’re talking about…we spent two years above the Arctic Circle, working in a small hospital in a bush community. Amazing frontier! ~ Sheila

    • There’s simply nothing like the North. And you were REALLY North! It would be A LOT different going up there without the safety and convenience that come with a work contract!! But people live lives knowing we need each other. Makes for a lot of good. And it teaches us patience and tolerance.

  7. Those times sitting with the dark cold night around you in your little oasis of peace and love and warmth and light sound utterly blissful – sacred even. No wonder they are so bright in your memory Amy… a lovely lovely post..

  8. Your friend made a most beautiful quilt, and the time you spent together is immeasurable, a memory for a lifetime.The Piece Sewers at our church make blankets for the children’s home so that each child will have their own blanket and they get to take it with them when they leave. I have always hand quilted but several years ago just bought a new machine so that I can sew them faster, hand sewing still my favorite though, it is a labor of love

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