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A Novel Inspired by the Life of L.M. Montgomery
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  She couldn’t breathe. Sweat pooled under the weight of her long hair, soaking her lace collar. The thin gold ring she always wore on her right hand strangled her swelling index finger. She tried twisting it, but it was stuck.
   “Stop fidgeting, Maud,” her grandmother whispered as she discreetly nudged Maud’s grandfather, who was dozing through Reverend Archibald’s sermon on the prodigal son. Grandfather grunted awake. “Honestly, I’m surprised at the both of you. This is no way for a Macneill to behave in church.” Grandfather sat straighter, and Maud cleared her throat so she wouldn’t laugh.
   Of course the heat did not fuss Grandma Macneill. Just like the black net that hid her graying hair, she was able to hide her emo- tions: an ability Grandma was always reminding Maud she sorely lacked. Grandma said Maud was too sensitive, wearing her feelings on the surface like the red sand on the Island shore. And Grandma was most likely right. She was right about everything.
   Maud muttered an apology, taking a quick look back at the rest of the congregation at Cavendish’s Presbyterian Church from their pew, always second from the front on the left-hand side. The Clarks, Simpsons, and Macneills were all present, as they were every Sunday, to give thanks—and also to take note of who was present, who was absent, and who was caught sleeping during the reverend’s sermon. Maud loved to think about how she might describe them if she put them in one of her stories.
   They were most definitely watching her—particularly the clan matriarchs, Mrs. Elvira Simpson and Mrs. Matilda Clark. Maud had seen them stare at her when she had followed her grandpar- ents into church that morning.
   Maud knew what they were thinking. Hadn’t she left Cavendish rather suddenly over some business with that schoolteacher Miss “Izzie” Robinson six months ago? It was certainly no surprise the flighty, overly sensitive (and frankly queer) child of the dearly departed Clara Macneill and her irresponsible husband, Hugh John Montgomery, would act that way. There was no escaping it; it was in her blood.
   It was true that Maud had left six months ago to live with her Aunt Emily and Uncle John Malcolm Montgomery in Malpeque and then with her Aunt Annie and Uncle John Campbell in Park Corner. What wasn’t true were the particular circumstances people believed—and there was nothing she could do about it.
   Now Maud was back with her Grandma and Grandfather Macneill, her mother’s parents, on their farm in Cavendish, Prince Edward Island, a small village of about forty families, on the North Shore, where everyone knew everyone’s business. She had spent the summer with her merry Campbell cousins, but now was back to Grandma’s lectures, uncomfortable dresses, and a new school year with a new teacher.
   Maud stared ahead at a straw hat of lush summer flowers sit- ting on top of a mound of curly blond hair. Underneath it was her best friend, Mollie, who had the privilege of sitting in her par- ents’ pew in the front row with the new teacher. Miss Gordon appeared to be listening attentively to the reverend’s sermon. She had just arrived in Cavendish that week, after the last teacher, Miss Robinson, had finally left during the summer. Maud hoped she would get a chance to prove herself to the new teacher. Even though her grandfather had strong feelings about women teachers (“another confounded female teacher,” Maud had heard him mutter as they passed Miss Gordon on the way into the church that morning), a teacher still held an important place in the com- munity: people respected your opinion—something Maud had learned the hard way earlier that year.
   Mollie turned her head discreetly to catch Maud’s eye and, in her typical overdramatic fashion, mimed fanning herself. Maud returned the action with an overly dramatic grin, earning a firm tsk from her grandmother. Maud stifled a giggle and gazed out the window, which overlooked the slope of the western hill, and tried to imagine a cool breeze blowing through the chapel, clearing away the judgment. She longed to run down to the red sandy shore, strip off her stockings—she didn’t even want to think about what was happening to her poor black stockings—and jump into the Gulf. The air was as stifling as what awaited her when she got home: an afternoon of reading the Bible in quiet contemplation and the arrival of her mother’s brother, Uncle John Franklin, and his family for supper—although at least her cousin Lu would be there.
   Maud turned her attention to the front. She had no idea what Reverend Archibald was talking about; her thoughts drifted back to what Mollie had said before church—that she had news. Mollie always had the best news.
   Resisting the urge to tap her best friend on the shoulder, Maud quickly looked over at her cousin Pensie, sitting in the pew across the aisle. At sixteen, Pensie could wear her wavy auburn hair in the latest fashion on top of her head, and she sported fringe bangs that accentuated her long chin and big brown eyes. Alas, being only fourteen, Maud wasn’t allowed to put her hair up, and she was forced to live under the weight of it. Thankfully, Grandma had allowed her to tie it in two little ribbons clipped behind her head so it was off her face.
   At long last, the service came to an end. Had her grandmother not been there, Maud would have pushed through the congrega- tion and raced down the stairs, where there was space to breathe. As it was Sunday—and Grandma was there—Maud walked with what she hoped was graceful civility, as befitted a child of the Macneill clan, to the cemetery in front of the church, manag- ing to find the welcome shade of a tree while she waited for her friends . . . and Mollie’s news.
   Maud leaned her head against the coarse bark and closed her eyes, trying to shut out the murmurs of people filing their way out of the church, but she couldn’t help but overhear the talk around her.
   “I heard she had hysterics in the schoolyard,” Mrs. Simpson said. “That’s what my daughter Mamie told me.”
   Of course Mamie would tell her mother some falsehood. She was one of the girls that followed Maud’s nemesis, Clemmie Macneill.
   “I’m not surprised, given . . . everything,” Mrs. Clark said. “I hope that new school teacher knows how to handle an emotional child like Maud Montgomery.”
   “It’s the Montgomery side, I’m sure,” Mrs. Simpson said.
   Maud scraped at the tree. How dare they speak about Father when he wasn’t here to defend himself! She was both a Montgomery and a Macneill, which was why she would not lower herself by marching over to those women and telling them to mind their own business. No. She would pretend to ignore them.
   “You certainly got out quickly,” a familiar voice said.
   Maud opened her eyes and sighed. “That heat was unbearable, Pensie. I couldn’t stand it any longer.”

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The Life of Harry Jerome, World's Fastest Man
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This is a story I've wanted to write for over fifty years, ever since the early 1960s when I first saw Harry Jerome run. At the time I was engaged to Trinidadian Carlos Charles who was a sprinter at UBC so, of course, I went to all the track meets. And that's where I met Harry. At that first track meet, although my memory may be faulty, I remember Carlos beating Harry in the 100 yards and the 200.

But it soon became clear that this 'kid' from North Van was no ordinary runner. Harry was a serious runner. He was in it to win. And soon, win he did, race after race. Not only was he winning, but he did it with what seemed to be a completely effortless stride. We were amazed that he wasn't even winded at the end of his races. That young fellow had determination. He had drive. Sometimes, he struck us as being quiet, shy, reserved. Not 'one of the guys' like his good friend, Paul Winn, who was also part of the track community. Paul always had a joke to tell and a big hearty laugh.

At the time, I wondered about Harry. He hadn't come from the West Indies as had many young people in track. Where was he from? What was his background? Where did he get that drive, that determination? What had brought him to the point of becoming one of the fastest runners in Canada? In the world?

I met his sister, Valerie, around that time. She was a young teen also enthusiastic about track. Both she and Harry were with the Vancouver Striders track team coached by John Minichiello.

Carlos and I were married in 1961 and he left the track scene behind. But we both continued to follow Harry's story with great interest as he went from triumph to defeat, then back to triumph again. Carlos and I raised four children, all of whom were keen about track and field and joined the local track club, the Jericho Jaguars. I have always felt that their devotion to track helped pull them through the teenage years. During those years at track events, we occasionally bumped into both Harry and Valerie, and of course, John Minichiello.

A couple of years ago, it hit me that although there was a magnificent bronze statue of Harry in Stanley Park to commemorate his achievements, as well as a large Harry Jerome Sports Complex in North Vancouver, some people, especially young people, didn't even know who Harry Jerome was. There were no books for children about this great Canadian hero. None. In fact, there are very few books for children about any Afro-Canadians.

My children, my grandchildren, needed a book about this Canadian hero.

I met with Valerie who generously shared with me stories about their childhood. I also met with Paul Winn who said that he still misses Harry every day, even though it's been thirty-five years since Harry died. John Minichiello gave me a detailed account of coaching this gifted athlete.

I'm interested in the connection between what people go through as children and who they become as adults. I thought about the sheer persistence it took Harry, so terribly injured, and then maligned as a runner by the press, and still having the strength to train so hard that he won a gold medal in the British Empire Games in Jamaica. That achievement would never have been possible if he hadn't already conquered huge obstacles and setbacks in childhood. Most people would have simply given up. But not our Harry. He was drawing upon a reservoir of enormous inner strength and fortitude many of us could never imagine.

I believe passionately that all children need to see role models in their lives so they can picture themselves as successful adults someday in whatever way of life they choose. I've written this book especially for my own children and grandchildren so they can catch a glimpse of themselves as Canadians in the history of this multicultural country.

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Landmark Roses

Landmark Roses

Canadian Historical Brides
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