Sharing Our Stories

You all know my obsession with reading the obituary pages in our local newspaper. Both my daughter Maureen and I read them avidly, poring over the photos and descriptions, later phoning each other to discuss someone’s amazing life or how the family worded the more humorous ones. Sometimes the obituaries written by the deceased (pre death of course) are the best. As it was the other day when I opened the Times Colonist Obituary section to see a photo of a lovely looking woman with the ocean and islands in the background with the first sentence reading. “I am a Pisces, have been fortunate to always live by the sea and to see water.”

That could be me! I am a Pisces and have always lived close to the water. But this obituary belonged to a Fay Pettapiece, who was born February 21 1931, and died May 31 2024. I met Fay last year in Oak Bay at the Windsor Pavilion at my book presentation for the Oak Bay Heritage Society. Following my talk, Fay, who was carrying a large cloth bag, walked up to the podium to speak to me, she was a hard to believe ninety-two, quick and funny, confirming my belief that we writers can go on forever. To my surprise she pulled her recently published memoir from her bag, saying, “I brought a copy of my book for you.”

by Fay Pettapiece

“Oh dear,” I blurted, “I just bought your memoir from Ivy’s Book Shop today so I won’t need it but thank you so much.”

I immediately regretted my words. I couldn’t have been ruder if I had tried. Later when she lined up for me to sign my book Growing Up Weird: A memoir of an Oak Bay childhood (we were selling my books at another table and I didn’t notice her buying one), I was so flustered I forgot to apologize for not accepting her gift. I would have given her a copy of my book. But I assured myself that we would meet again and we would laugh about my gaucheness.

In her book The Years Between: My Experiences in British Columbia Reflecting a Century of Change, Fay Pettapiece writes about her early years in East Vancouver, later moving to an off-the-grid acreage south of Nanaimo where she walked four miles to school each day through thick brush, eventually becoming a dietician, marrying a dentist, living an adventurous life and finally moving to Victoria to waterfront property on Beach Drive. I meant to contact her so we could talk about writing memoir and growing old. I wondered what she thought of my book. But I let it slide, and it was with great sadness that I read that she had died, just a year later.

Writing a memoir takes courage, often leaving the author exposed and vulnerable, but a well written story such as Fay Pettapiece’s or even a roughly written memoir, is usually a gem. The writing style is part of the charm and the intimate glimpse into other lives and times adds another level. Historians love these home-grown tales and haunt the used bookstores where they often turn up after an estate sale. This is where I have picked up my little finds, invariably self published, written by ordinary people who write from their heart. And when I can, I get in touch with the author and tell them how I enjoyed their stories. Interestingly, the writer is frequently an older woman, so my softly worn female friends, get that pen out and start writing!

The following books are delightful. However, with the exception of Pat Lines, I have not been able to thank any of these women for writing their memoirs:

The Milk Lady- Memories of a Farmers Wife by Patricia Lines. Signed copy printed 1992. Pat Lines was a lovely woman. She frequented the Duncan Post Office where I worked at the time she was writing her book.

Duncan 50 Years Ago by Peggy Saunders-no date but she refers to “before the depression” and includes memories of Duncan’s old Chinatown.

Between Tzouhalem and Prevost-As I Remember Duncan by Muriel Jarvis Ackinclose (1920’s and 1930’s) Detailed anecdotes of growing up in the Cowichan Valley. Published 2000

And so They Came to Cowichan by Margaret W. Bishop. Memoir of her Evans and McLay families who arrived around the 1860’s. First published 1975. Reprint 2007

The Warm Land -The Story of a Valley and the People Who Live in it, by E. Blanche Norcross. Published 1959

Often, we mean to call a friend or reach out to someone who has touched us in some way or who has made a difference and we don’t do it, and then it’s too late. That is my regret with the lovely Fay Pettapiece. From now on I am going to reach out and tell someone they are beautiful, or say they make this world a better place. Or tell them they’ve written a darn good book!

If you enjoyed this and are curious about more content from an Island Crone, please subscribe from my web page/blog sidebar. I promise to post at least once a month and sometimes more. But not often enough to bore.

~ Island Crone by Liz Maxwell Forbes

Ormsby Review

Great Ormsby Review of River Tales – Networking or Just Good Luck?

Here Forbes provides with a near-diary intimacy (seasoned with good humour and minus the angst present in much of anyone’s personal jottings in the moment) a perceptive and well-paced account of an important two-decade period of her life. A reader needn’t have lived in this region of Vancouver Island, let alone hobby-farmed or even homesteaded, to be able to relate overall to her “Cowichan years.” For most of us, this is what life is: a ride through personal growth, relationships, social change, successes, losses, and joys. And that ride takes us down a common channel, one with a combination of meanders, back eddies, tumultuous runs and, if we’re lucky, many long stretches of sweet calm. ~ Georgina Montgomery, Ormsby Review

River Tales coverI’ve always had a knack for gathering people, instantly looking for that connection, that three degrees of separation that delights us when we find it. Some might call it networking; I call it joy in meeting someone who looks interesting, or a little different—someone who could belong to my tribe.

Years ago, when I worked at the post office in Duncan, I frequently came across people who were new in town and I would often blurt out an invitation to a gathering at the river, such as the annual corn roast or a neighbourhood party.

I well remember one such event. There was a young social worker who had recently moved to Duncan, and I sort of befriended him. One day he mentioned that he and his wife were finding it hard to meet people.

“I’m having a pot luck this Saturday. Bring your swim gear and come on out,” I offered. “You’ll meet some people.”

I was standing near this young man as he was loading up his plate with tabbouleh and other semi-vegetarian options, when he stopped, slowly looked over to his wife and exclaimed, “My God Joan, we’ve found the alternative people.”

My ability to instinctively make instant connections has stood me well. When I wrote my first book, Growing Up Weird, I decided to self publish, and happened to meet Patrick O’Connor of First Choice Books at a workshop. There were other printing and self publishing outfits there, all with good reputations, but I was drawn to First Choice Books. I liked Patrick and his information booklet on self-publishing. At First Choice, I was fortunate to be able to work with Felicity Perryman, who, I found out later, was the person who had designed the booklet that influenced my decision to go with First Choice. Beside producing Growing up Weird, Felicity went on to design and do the layout and formatting of my partner’s book, View from the Tower, as well as my second book, River Tales. She also designed and manages my website Osborne Bay Books.

There was another meaningful connection that came along in this writing adventure. In one of the most serendipitous moments in my life, I gained a new friend and the best editor I could ever hope to find. In 2017, Grant and I were on an up-island book tour for View from the Tower, about his days as an air traffic controller in Port Hardy and beyond. I had an appointment to see the book purchasing person at the museum in Sointula on Malcolm Island, and I met Heather Graham, retired, a volunteer at the museum.

Two hours passed in which Heather and I covered almost every aspect of our lives; we were born the same year, both in Victoria, both at the same hospital; our lives took different paths but we connected with a capital C and promised to stay in touch. She only bought one of Grant’s books for the museum, but I acquired a wonderful friend.

A year later Heather asked to see my River Tales manuscript and offered to edit it at no charge.  I couldn’t have been luckier. She kept me focused. She was exactly the person I needed.

My book would never have been as well designed or as well written as it is without the expertise of these two women, Felicity Perryman and Heather Graham.

It was Heather who suggested that I contact Richard Mackie of the highly respected Ormsby Review and offer River Tales for a review.

And again, that was just another connection but look where it led: this brilliant review of River Tales by Georgina Montgomery, another writer and editor.

You may wish to call it networking, but I prefer to call it serendipity.

BC Studies

Review of Growing Up Weird in BC Studies!

Liz Maxwell Forbes
Reviewed by Caroline Duncan

In Growing Up Weird: A Memoir of an Oak Bay Childhood, author Liz Maxwell Forbes provides a very personal account of childhood in a British Columbia community in the 1940s and 1950s. Drawing from her early experiences, Forbes describes a family life disrupted by the Second World War, her parents’ divorce, and her struggles to find independence away from the tensions of home and the expectations of society.

Although at times a disturbing and candid reminder of the vulnerability of childhood, Forbes’s account is punctuated with…

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