“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.
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.
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
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.
“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.”
“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.
(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.)