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!

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~ Island Crone by Liz Maxwell Forbes

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