I'm back, with a project I never thought I'd embark on. But then it was suggested I try at the correspondence between Gil, Jo and John. At the time, I had no intention of doing this. But then I was ambushed by six-odd handwritten pages and found it aligned neatly with a wish to skip-change my way through the years of the children in Pieces of Lives and Love, Laughter, Tenderness, so changed my mind.

Expect much reference to both texts, and I'll try and go light on theology where I can. I will certainly glance off of the medical; you know me and how I'm not a doctor.

The characters remain, as ever, L.M. Montgomery's, and any I have conjured are inspired by her. With love to all and any of you who have followed me to this unlikely place. I don't know what you'll make of it, but look forward to finding out.

Alinya


Martyrs' Manse,
Kingsport,
June, 1923

John,

It was wonderful to have caught you and Rosemary so recently – and for such an occasion. Phil and I were attempting to parse the last time we all sat down together, and she makes it Christmas, 1920. I am no mathematician, so defer to her, but equally, I feel that cannot be right. Was it so long ago you argued for Coverdale over the Authorised version? (We are still on the Authorised. No one at Patterson street would recognize anything else, though I take your point as to translation.)

We have been keeping an eye, as asked, on all at Larkrise, but find there is almost no need; Phil and I never come by but the Carlisles are there with the children, or else Shirley and Mara. Oftener still we run across both at once. Phil says this just as well, as both parties are vastly superior in domestic sciences to herself. I have tried to point out that this is not what matters, but she reminds me that that is only true when you have not had to eat half-done shepherd's pie for a fortnight. She tells me her former Patty's Place conspirators will vouch for this. You might run it by Anne for veracity.

Nevertheless, it is no great inconvenience, as with Sam and Jake swallowed by Halifax and the others as yet without children, we are rather starved for the usual tumble of them and attendant antics. I find little Christopher and Dog Tuesday fill the gap admirably. (I suppose Faith told you how they overturned the shelf housing the hymnals at Martyrs' on Sunday last?)

More recently, Phil and Faith have been plotting christening details. I had previously supposed Mara and Judith Carlisle would take these over, but forgot the staunchness of your daughter's theology. It is Presbytery approved to every article, and so will be the sandwiches served at the Agape after the event. She doesn't wear it on her sleeve but is a perpetual reminder to me to remember to pray in secret every now and again.

Phil liking an occasion to host, they are now discussing cucumber versus dill as an accoutrement to salmon in those same sandwiches. Rather, Phil is. Faith is nodding graciously. I suspect she's more invested in the baptism – though when I hint so to Phil, our children – such as continue at home with us – gently roll their eyes. In any event, my living room coffee table is currently burried in edible greenery and it has seasoned the room accordingly. I keep wandering in by mistake, smelling the tang of the dill and thinking we're hosting a Food Ministry evening I failed to make due notice of. I'd mind, except that it is so obviously making an entertaining diversion for your daughter and hers. (Helen, by the by, is in favour of dill. She has got hold of a stand and has been sucking on it this last quarter hour.)

As we're speaking of her, where did Faith and Jem take 'Helen' from? I've heard all sorts of guesses but thought you might know.

You'll be up for the service, of course – will you do the honours?

Love to you and yours. May you, as ever, be well, do good work, and keep in touch.*

Jo


New Manse,
Glen St Mary,
June, 1923

Jo,

Thank you, I will. And thank you again, for as I once observed to Rosemary, what kitchens are to her, churches are to you and I. I shall do my best to treat yours with all due reverence.

I had supposed Helen took her name from Jem's grandmother on the Blythe side. Is that not the case?

You surprise me not at all about Faith. You know my sentiments on pre-Synod treatment of children in its theology.** My own grew up with it as tabletime conversation. And the Glen wonders how they came by their opinions! If she seems set on carrying off this baptism at the earliest convenience, you know the reason.

I trust you have since been and tended to the Food Ministry proper? I keep thinking we ought to start something of that ilk here, and keep getting waylaid. The present culinary endeavour – a mushroom soup and lamb shoulder, to be followed by bread pudding – is being undertaken by Bruce for a Scouts' badge. They have to make three dishes, and I strongly suspect, from the smell, which is creamy on the part of the soup, and mint-savoured on that of the meat, that this badge will owe not a little to his mother. This is not Bruce's fault; it is Rosemary's. See my earlier remark about her kitchen. The last foray I undertook in that quarter, risked for a cup of tea, found Bruce imperfectly mashing potatoes, and with quite as much mash on the counter as in the basin, so I cannot say I altogether blame her.

Even so, I wouldn't have it otherwise. This week's lectionary might render God in the still, small voice, but for my part, I have often had cause to find him in the whirlwind of my children, now scattered so disparately across the country. Bruce with his lumpy mash and enthusiasm for Scouts continues a vital part of the tether that ties me to everyday concerns.

None of that will do for Sunday's sermon, of course. I find the lectionary exceedingly vexing this week – from Elijah at the cave to Legion by way of – as our metric psalmody have it – as pants the hart. Somewhere, I feel sure, there is a thread to tie them together, in the way we crave our God and the places he finds us out in, but I have not quite got there with it yet and should like to before we are joined at table by Akela.

Love and blessings to you and yours – and should any ideas strike you that make sense of this week's whole, do send them hence.

J.M.

P.S. Rosemary has just come in and looking over my shoulder advised me it is altogether more likely that someone took a fancy to 'Helen' reading through Mary Douglas's gift of a name dictionary. As so often happens, I find my opinion shifting into accordance with her guidance. For while we are not at war, there is ever a need for light in the darkness, and she is light twice over, Helen Clare. But do tell me if you arrive at an answer that is less conjecture and more concrete. I should be interested to hear it.


Ingleside,
Glen St Mary
June, 1923

Jo,

You are quite right, re Helen. It was not, after all, my mother's name, though as John never had the luxury of meeting her there is no earthly reason he would know this, and the supposition a natural one.

Mother's name, as you will possibly remember, was Abagail. What you will possibly not know, is that she was 'Miss Abby' to devotees, even after her marriage, and that the devotees were legion. Chiefest of these was my Uncle Dave, who found her to be the little sister he had been cheated of.

As to the question you posed, it was my understanding that Kitty had the naming of Helen. This came about when she heard the others considering possible permutations of 'Catherine' for a girl and rebelled, it not being a name she has ever cared for. Jem being at a loss, and Faith being then much preoccupied with Christopher and the hospital, they gladly handed over the naming to Kitty and Teddy.

I believe, but could be wrong (unlikely though that is) that the choice was inspired by Teddy's reading of Bullfinch's Mythology to the little Carlisles. Helen, of course, would feature prominently there. With any luck she fares rather better than her namesake; I wouldn't wish another war on our children or theirs for anything. Once was quite enough.

We continue well. Anne's Sweetbriar is in full blossom now and the back garden awash in the smell of apple. 'Round the front we are serenaded by the smell of June lilies, which are liable at this rate to take first prize at the church fete greenery stall when entered.

Susan remains indomitable, and my advice to her to work less and rest more goes unheard. Mara could manage her, I think, through sheer persistence if nothing else. But to say it is unlikely that we should get her and Shirley back in the Glen to settle, much less under our roof seems to do disservice to the word 'understatement.' And considering we were not long ago convinced of Scotland keeping them, I am loath to tempt fate by suggesting the idea. Though a letter to Shirley – or possibly a quiet word from you after the Agape some Sunday – about having a gentle word with Susan might not go amiss. She won't listen, but neither will my conscience prick me. (I know it's no good telling you to talk with Mara; only the thickest of skulls would nurse the delusion Sacred Heart had ever relinquished her of a Sunday morning.)

But I cannot complain; they are back, and Kingsport not so far as it once was. I do not altogether understand it, for I had his letters from Bara and they read as home, but I can be glad of the chance now to get to know each other again. I find I had made but a poor start on this before the war where Shirley is concerned.

Anne sends love, and is enclosing a copy of The Growth of Love for Ruthie by way of a wedding present with her next letter to Phil. I know nothing about it, Bridges coming to me only through Anne, but I gather the sonnets have grown on her over the years. You might also mention that an apple-leaf quilt is promised too, but this late in their existence she does not trust Ruthie's to the post. Tell her from us we are much anticipating the wedding. It's been an age since we saw Mount Holly.

Love ever,

Gilbert

P.S. Anne is of the opinion 'Helen' was the name of Kitty's mother. If she is right – she usually is – that may go further than Bullfinch to explain the choice of name. That being so, can you hazard a guess at 'Clare'? Is it perhaps a grandmother's name on Kitty's side (or indeed, Teddy's)? It is certainly none of ours.

P.P.S. Bruce Meredith did land the badge in question. He was terribly proud of it and ran up to Ingleside expressly with the news. Being somewhat short of milestones to make much of, Susan offered up a Silver and Gold cake by way of celebration. It was as golden and creamy as anyone could wish of a Susan Baker Cake, and little Bruce (who I must stop calling that) quite sensible of the honour. The Ladies Aid will almost certainly miss it Wednesday next.


Martyrs' Manse,
Kingsport,
August 1923

Gil,

I don't know about you, but Phil and I are still humming I Bind Unto Myself Today.. Phil blames her mother, of course. In fairness, it is my understanding that Hetta did, in fact, select the hymnody, as became apparent when Ruthie and Mark had no more idea than anyone else where to turn in the hymnal for Christ Within You after verse 5 of the above. I found it later, should you be interested, as hymn 278, over 100 hymns later. One wonders why they didn't omit the incursion along with the asterisked verses. And you now know why I leave such fine service details to other people. No one loves a committee so well as a Presbyterian, and I am infinitely better at life's more prosaic acts of worship. (See further the mending of St Andrew's chancel roof. Hetta Gordon was scandalised, undoubtable, but the organist and choir very grateful, and that is enough for me.)

The manse, meanwhile, has rediscovered its calling as a nursery. Certainly it does a credible imitation of one, both in scents and bounty. Anne would have words to do justice to the heady combination that is roses, lilies, and nasturtiums; I do not. I did not even realise we were possessed of nasturtiums until Phil vented her displeasure at their continued tenure here on last night's potatoes. In any event, we are sufficiently awash in flowers that no one will need to so much as think about altar trimmings until Advent, at least, by which point it will be moot. This is as well; there is much work to be done in this last gasp of ordinary time towards wintering not only Martyrs here on Patterson street, but also Holy Trinity in Waterford. I venture the St Andrew's chancel roof has set me in good stead.

Ruthie is, of course, tremendously happy, which is the important thing. I worried she wouldn't be, you know, when John's Una left us. They had got close in the way only people that share a grief can do. And then Mark appeared in answer to prayer, and I haven't heard a word from either of them since they left on honeymoon, which is as it should be, if, as Phil says, decidedly unsatisfying.

I keep getting halfway to her room with a joke for her or a petition to help with the Friday Food Ministry at Martyrs', and then remembering she isn't there. Write and tell me you do the same thing, Gil. I don't mind the ribbing from Phil and Naomi on the subject, but I should like the reassurance that I'm not alone in my absentmindedness.

As ever, be well, do good work, and keep in touch.

Jo


New Manse,
Glen St. Mary,
July 1923

Jo

I've just come from a lovely evening Ingleside-way, where the mint is running amok among Susan's beloved Calceolarias. It makes for a pleasant perfume, very evocative of that old favourite, over the hill where spices grow, though I doubt it holds a candle to your present circumstance. Anyway, when not listening to the botanical woes of Susan Baker, and musing on the hymnody best suited to them, I have been soundly caught up on the details of that much-discussed wedding. (About which, I am surprised in St Andrews, Bolingbroke, still being on the old Church Hymnal edition. I should have thought if any parish had the updated one – running I Bind Unto Myself and its interstitial verse together, it was that one.) I understand it is to go down in the annals of Blake history as an event unparalleled. If I haven't already sent them, my heartfelt congratulations. I gather Ruthie made a lovely bride (Anne's exact word was 'radiant'). You must be beyond pleased.

It is not just you who misses them on their going. I say this as Gilbert let slip something along those lines after Anne and Rosemary had wandered away to the shore. Highland Sandy's line, as Gilbert will likely have said to you, was always 'Your house will be seeming very big the day.' Ours certainly does, with only little Bruce left to rattle about in it. Rattle is perhaps the wrong word, as even when he was younger he wasn't much good at making a joyful noise unto anything, and now he's embarked on a mission to read his way through my study (his own volition; he has already won the Scouts' badge in reading), I venture he's got worse at it, not better. Norman Douglas has taken to lecturing him on his failure to get himself into misadventures.

But what I set out to say, before I got diverted onto the reading habits of little Bruce, was that you are not alone. There's nothing like an absence for tearing a rent in the fabric of life. I find our house echoes and re-echoes with them daily. One gets used to it, of course, with exposure, as one does to the noise of a waterfall. Or perhaps it's the house that adapts, more than the person, do you think? I find I still go looking for Jerry to wrangle sermons with, even now, and Rosemary keeps on making up the girls' beds 'just in case' something suddenly brings them to our doorstep. What could possibly bring Una from your Yarmouth Mission School to our Manse overnight I don't know, but the smell of shortbread in the oven, starched, warm and sweet, invariably leads me to conclude she is home again.

I've found as I've gone along though, that they continue to find ways of surprising me with joy. There was Faith's marriage, even if we did get to hear about it by telegram afterwards. And later, little Christopher and Helen – not forgetting Teddy and Kitty, who are quite as much hers as the rest of the children.

Thinking of you, and wishing you every blessing, unexpected and otherwise.

Love and blessings,

J.M.

P.S. I got so far as drafting a circular on Food Ministry to bring before the secretariat the other day. That is, I managed half a draft. Then Bruce came in with a query about a chapter of Bede's Ecclesiastical History and my afternoon evaporated.


Martyrs' Manse,

Kingsport,
September 1923

There's no danger of anyone forgetting Kitty! Phil has a theory that she is single-handedly responsible for the continued existence of our newsletter, and I find I agree. Did I tell you she has undertaken to manage the publication of it, when not improving The Chronicle's front pages? For this she has my everlasting gratitude; it has freed up more of my time to do the visiting rounds, and has allowed me to commit to helping ground the boats for the winter – much needed with Simon Hazelhurst suffering from a bad back. (I remain uncertain, by the by, as to why we have a newsletter; I'm tolerably sure over half the parish can parse only the illustrations, but the Secretariat insist.)

Finally, thank you for your letter of August. It was much-needed balm in Gilead. It's strange, but I find that ever since the war the idea of anything – even the best things – taking my children forever away from me sits ill with me. Phil is the same. She blames the terrible scare Sam gave us at Passchendaele. I'm not sure I have even that excuse, though I certainly won't ever forget the grim days after that telegram came – severely wounded.

The grace of God brought him back, of course, and as often as I recall it, I am reminded how very selfish is the sort of love that would keep them forever close; really I want – Phil and I both want – the world for them. Ellie, I think, does better by him, having now more charge and care of his heart than we do. She knows his demons and the names they answer to, where I am but learning them. On that score, I fear I stand before him – indeed before all my children – as merely human. But if you too are gnawed at by absences then I am in good company, and all is well.

Look for more later; it's prayer meeting this evening, and Holy Trinity is hosting. If I am to keep my appointment reshingling the Carter house and reach Waterford punctually, I fear I must bolt. Wish me luck. And thank you again.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.

Jo


* If you, like me, grew up on The Writers' Almanac of a weekday morning, you will recognise what was Garrison Keillor's sign-off. Consider me reclaiming it to the good through Jo. It seemed too like him not to borrow.

** One of the rather gruesome quirks of Calvinist theology was that we left our unbaptised babies out of Heaven. Cheery thought. As we never got Limbo, this wasn't corrected until the General Synod voted on it in the early 1900s.

I can, if you like, get into the nitty gritty of the hymnals and lectionary I'm working from, but I suspect this may clutter things unduly. Ask and you shall receive though.