Tuesday, November 24, 2009

JUST A CHANGE OF COLOUR 3rd installment


Flo: At Radnor Forges, perhaps.

Well, I meditated, asking for some overnight inspiration for Flo in the City, my story based on the Tighsolas letters, and went to bed working the the next scene:

The last paragraph I wrote in the blog....was "Then why was that all she could think about, these days."

Just a change of colour.

At surface, a simple little phrase. At once delightful and depressing. Delightful in that it was a bit of nonsense, wordplay. Depressing in that it made you think of things, of the future.

And it had been all Flora could think about for almost 24 hours.

Yesterday, just before supper, Margaret had asked Flora and cousin Mae W. to walk downtown to pick up the evening mail.

Margaret was puzzling over what to pack for her trip in two days. And she was distrcted by some, other, more work-a-day worries.

She was hoping, well praying, for a letter from Herb. Were she to arrive at Three Rivers with no news from her only son, Norman, her husband, would likely spend most of their time together complaining about Herb's lack of responsibility, instead of focusing on the matter at hand, which was daughter Edith wasting her best years teaching in a bleak and lonely backwater.

And she was so weary of hearing her husband ask:
"Why does Herb not write? and saying " I hope he hasn't picked up any bad habits." By bad habits he meant drinking and gambling.

Out on the street, the girls spotted next door neighbour Eleanor D.walking ahead and quickly caught her up.

Ethel was off to Eugenie Hudon's millinery shop, with a a picture of a fashionable Merry Widow hat to show her from the Pictorial Review. The headpiece she coveted was a big black felt shape swathed in organdy and festooned with purple feathers.

With her long nose and pinched features, Eleanor wasn't nearly pretty enough to wear such a glamorous hat, Flora thought, as her friend waved the fat magazine across her line of sight. (Flora went over sister Edith's rule: The trimmings on a hat should complement the facial features and complexion, not drown them out, or put them to shame by contrast.)

So Flora remarked: "Oh, you'll be a real trend setter if you wear that hat in Richmond." Which was true enough.

At the tall brick post office, built high up off the road to escape the Main Street floods each spring, Flora and May picked up the Nicholson mail, a letter from Norman at "end of steel" in La Tuque and another from Mae's sister, Annie, in Lynn Massachusetts. c/o of Margaret Nicholson. Tighsolas. No letter from brother Herb. (Well, that was hardly a surprise.)

Mae couldn't wait to open her letter. She plunked her rear end right down on a cold concrete step of the Post Office building, tore the envelope open and started reading:

Dear Mae,

"It must be very lonely for Auntie Margaret now, with all her family, except Flora, away. I was wondering the other day if you gave Flora her ribbon. I have not heard and you never mentioned it, but perhaps she has been very busy."

Mae half-glanced at Flora. The ribbon is question, a cerise flannel dress ribbon with satin face, about 2 inches wide and 10 inches long, had indeed been passed to Flora a month before, but Flora was very bad at letter writing.

Mae continued reading: "How are you getting on in school? What are you thinking of following up, teaching? I think that would be well. Isn't Edith a brick for sticking with her country school so bravely? She must like it. Do you play tennis yet? I am going to Cliftondale tonight for dinner and to spend the evening at a friend's. I knew them before they were married. Her name was Ethel Green, but now is a White. They are very nice and have a lovely home. Write me when you have time. And tell Flora I would like to hear from her. Give my love to Aunt Maggie and Flora,
Your loving sister, Annie."


So, Ethel Green has married a man named White, Mae said to Flora and Eleanor, who had returned in a hurry from Hudon's so her scare crow face was flushed. Just a change of colour, I guess. Mae grinned and she shrugged her small, fine shoulders.

Flora imagined the kind of lovely home a newlywed couple in Lynn Massachusetts might have - and, to her surprise, a fuzzy fireball of fear and anxiety -or was it envy - began to well up inside of her, starting in her stomach then spreading, like the froth of over-boiled milk, to her chest, neck, face and fingers.

Up on College Street, around the corner from home, she hardly noticed her little cousin, Stanley H., brandishing a rake at them from the front lawn of his parent's grand Queen Anne style abode and whooping gleefully: En garde, you frail womenfolk."

That's because Ethel and Mae were spending the entire walk home lamenting the 'lack of local colour' in Richmond. Or pretending to. No Greens or Blacks or Greys or Whites to marry. Just Popes and Ewings, and Lysters.

Just a change of colour!

Easy for those two to joke about it.

Mae, who was tiny like Flora, was also decidedly ornamental, almost doll-like in appearance, with wide open eyes, a sweet, sunny smile and a supple, symmetrical figure. Eleanor, well, she was rich. But she, Flora Sophia Nicholson was neither pretty nor rich - and, to top it off, she was failing at school.


Anyway, as I outline this (for I don't have any 'rhythm' this morning,) I check of something that has been at the back of my mind. In a letter NOT posted on Tighsolas from 1908 from Christie Gymer (Flo's aunt) to Margaret, I recall a line where she asks, "Did you see the Prince? I know how much you admire the Royals."

This is sarcastic, I think. But what about the Prince? Was he at Quebec in 1908? Yes, he was, for Quebec's Tercentenary, in July. And July is when Margaret actually went to Quebec and La Tuque. In my story I have her going in June so that I can start with Flo writing an exam.

Now, I have to change things, I have to have Margaret going to Radnor Forges to see Edith.. and meeting Norman there. And I have to read up on that Tercentary and dig out that letter from Christie. Margaret did not describe the grand event in letters home in July. This man would be King of England in just two years.

A few years ago, when I was tracking down information about Edith's great love who died in a fire in Cornwall in 1910, I visited McGill to read Gazette on microfilm, and that edition had a supplement all about the Coronation.