September 21, Saturday afternoon, Ban Righ Hall
I'll begin your orientation here by telling you about Ban Righ. How to describe
it to you! When we drove up grandly to a side door in the taxi last night,
ie after dark, the street lights under the maples along University Avenue
made them seem to glow of themselves, scarlet and orange. Ban Righ rose
above the lawn and trees like a medieval castle in grey limestone with narrow
windows (still dark for the most part), large oak doors, and ivy spread
over the walls to the top. Inside was a very little old lady at a desk,
a common room with a fireplace and a Degas print, more sitting rooms, a
vast, echoing cafeteria, and an enormous bulletin board full of regulations
and notices of extra-curricular activities.
My room is on the top floor, a floor with only about twelve inhabitants
and one telephone, one ironing room, one very large bathroom and a dimly
lit carpeted hallway.
The room itself is painted a stark cloister white, with oldish brown
furniture, a brown-doored closet, a desk with a goose lamp and a very good
desk chair, and a tall narrow bookcase. My window has the dorm's prize view,
a wide-angle shot of University Avenue and the many-acre park beyond it.
I am nearly above the front door, and so can watch all comings and goings.
Last night another girl who was rattling around on second floor went for
a walk with me. Two blocks took us to the lake, very dark, very quiet and
stealthy on the rocks below us. We can see the lights on the other side
from here because the lake has narrowed to form the "Thousand Islands"
entrance to the St Lawrence River [actually it was an island, I think].
The streets bordering the lake walk are grassed and flowered to form a long
of park which I can imagine would be a very popular lovers' lane. The
leaves are indescribably beautiful.
Now I smell supper, and as I've eaten nothing but one chocolate candy
since yesterday's CNR dinner, I believe I'll go make use of some of the
enormous board and room charges I'm paying. $590.00.
September 22 1963
Could you file these letters for me in a ring binder or something? I
haven't time to duplicate it all for my journal so will depend on this as
a record, hence the holes on the sides. This has been none too chatty, but
it is all I can manage to keep up on the informational stuff - we can chat
later when less is happening.
Oh these leaves! These trees! These yellows and reds and tans and blacks
and greens! These stone towers and casement windows and awesome entrance
halls! And classes tomorrow too! And red shoes! And the cleaning lady who
sweeps my floor and tugs my rug straight every morning!
We have an exceptionally good psychology professor, Mr Campbell, whose
Scottish accent is just light enough and educated enough to be charming.
The cadence of his speech is particularly interesting, being a fluctuation
from very light to sudden emphasis. Also, he strides about continually,
almost like a cat tho, very quietly. This is an example of the way he talks:
"The TEXTS you will need (step) are LISTED on the sheet (step) I handed
you in the beginning of the class (turn, step) and I should LIKE you to
READ them in the ORDER I've indicated (step) BEGINNING with the book (step)
by ROSS." This gives his speech a headlong, breathless quality that
is difficult to ignore, and because the intervals between emphasized words
are so quiet, he keeps the full attention of us all. So far.
Sept 29, Sunday
A stormy, windy, rainy, tempermental day in Kingston. Rather a day for
nostalgia, especially after writing seven letters and three postcards and
thinking of this summer. Wrote Grandma and Grandpa, both sets. Aren't you
pleased? No, really, this summer was awfully good for getting to know them
as people and as part of this phenomenon called 'family'.
Down the hall a knot of girls are sitting on the carpet around a banjo
and singing sad ballads. As if we aren't a little grey around the heart
already - but they sound actually quite nice.
Some mundanities: Judy could you send me a money order for what is in
your account that belongs in mine please? I shall probably need it as I'm
a little low and should have some dental work done and take out some hospital
insurance in case. And when/if you send my blouses do you suppose you could
throw in one of the Mexican pottery jugs - I need a pencil stand and toe-cover-holder.
How did the pictures turn out? I want copies please if they aren't too bad,
and even if they are.
I've been having a peculiar sensation of standing at the edge of something,
whether of a precipice or of a magic door I don't know.
Have you heard about my Music 1 class yet? It is held in the living-room-like
atmosphere of the library music room, and to make it seem even more of a
social afternoon, there are only about thirteen of us, four fellows and
nine girls. Our professor is a tall fairly old Britisher with a husky low
voice, potentially warm, and a face that much resembles Harold Macmillan's.
I know I'm going to like him a great deal. What he proposes to do in the
class is to listen and listen and listen to music until we get some glimmer
of an 'understanding' (which is not an understanding of form at all)
of the music. Also we want to look at the evolution of music a bit, and
the structure of the various types and variations. Our professor, whose
name I don't know yet, spent most of the first class sitting in an armchair
in front of us, speaking very informally. Before he began he smiled a wisp-smile
and said "Now don't take notes please: this isn't going to be note-worthy."
Isn't he nice?
From somewhere in Kingston cathedral bells are tolling in the rain, both
eerie and moving. Kingston has the most beautiful churches I've seen, so
many of them, set back on huge lawns, made of the traditional grey stone,
most of them with tall Gothic towers rather than spires. On a Sunday morning
all the bells ring out across campus: it's breath-taking.
How am I really? A little lonesome so far: making friends too quickly
is not appealing or a good idea. In the meanwhile, I miss Frank rather acutely
at times, Mr Mann, Peter, the Windrims, the Grandparents even, and Paul,
Rudy, Judy, Father, you.
And until I became caught up in the books and classes I was a little
lost, a little desolate, a little rootless. But these things - philosophy,
psychology, music, English - are home.
It is very late.
Tuesday October 1
It is called Dinner with the Dean. It is something which happens to every
freshman at least twice in the first year at Queen's. It is a very awesome
thing, remembered with trepidation, anticipated qualmingly.
Hi! That was just me having some fun with last night's semi-ordeal. Do
you want to hear what really happened?
Our floor, together with several other girls was formally invited to
eat our evening meal (at dinner) at the Dean's table. This is Mrs Bryce's
way of learning to know all of the new 'little ones,' and is a tradition
with all the rite and ceremony of a coronation.
One first puts on one's very best dress and one's highest sophisticatedest
heels and one's most expensivest jewellery, and then one marches tremblingly
(if it is possible to march tremblingly - it must be) downstairs to the
Dean's office where one is scrutinized and named. Evidently Mrs Bryce, who
is the paradoxical combination of efficiency and feminine gracefulness,
spends hours before these 'ceremonies' in studying photos of us and attaching
the blobs of faces to the corresponding blobs of names.
After she has correctly named us one by one, last names too, and astonished
us deeply enough, we trot behind her in straggly pairs to the dining room.
The moment she enters, everyone in the dining room rises and stands foolishly
with her napkin clutched against her knees to keep it from sliding off entirely.
We file into seats somewhere along the semicircular table, with Mrs Bryce
at the head and some of us on both sides, both adjacent to and opposite
to this formidable female Arthur at her round table.
There is a salad plate beside our places - nothing else. (Salad = half
a canned pear on a skimpy sheet of lettice with a tortured mass of whipped
cream on top.) Is this all of dinner? We aren't that lucky! Two little maids
in white uniform appear carrying bowls of food. The Dean serves out the
monsterous slabs of baked ham, then hands the plate (white china with a
Queen's crest in gold) to the girl next to her who adds a potato, then to
the girl across the table who adds a coblet of corn. Then the plates are
passed on down the table until at last we all have one. All this takes ages.
During all this time the Dean is making polite chatter to those of us she
can conversation-spear without stretching (so to speak), being careful to
talk to each only a very short time and then going on to another one.
Finally she picks up her fork and begins on the ham. All down the row
heads swivel to see which fork it is that she has picked up and then swivel
back, all together, to contemplate their own row of forks. Between main
course and dessert there is a recuperatory pause of about fifteen minutes
- more ceremonial chatter - while the maids clear plates away and bring
out the dessert. Voila! Small banana splits. Even the Dean lights up.
Eventually, eventually, she rises, motions to us, and leads us out. Then,
at the door of her office, she shakes our hands in turn, being careful to
mention our names to prove that she can do it again, and says a gracious
"I was so pleased with the little talk I had with you, good night"
accompanied by a very regal touch of a surprisingly soft hand as we pass
toward the stairs.
Surely this must be Wednesday, yes it is.
Last night was oooooo. It was the first Interfaculty Choir rehearsal,
for one thing. We meet in the Music House, another ramshackly brick 'ediface'
(no other word is suitable) there should be a period at the end of that
but I forgot it. Anyway, the wonderful Dr George who is the warm Macmillan
looking music professor I mentioned before, is our director and accompanist.
Last night's beginnings were a long Irish ballad in semi-cantata form called
"Praudrig [Phaudrig] Crohoore," and a tender Elizabethan hymn
with breath-taking harmonies. But what I was aching for all evening was
a real tenor - I thought very wistfully of Mr Mann and Pierre singing down
the hallways at school last year. But we had not one reasonable tenor and
not one better than reasonable bass. But the songs themselves carried the
rehearsal and I walked out afterwards into the witchy first night of October
in a bit of a witchy rapture. A night! Absolutely empty sky very far away
and pale, yellow trees glowing in the streetlamp light, a luminosity around
the Grant Hall belltower that hinted of a moon behind it, dry leaves swirling
and skipping with only the smallest rasp of a sound when they touch the
sidewalk, a pretty blond girl in a collegiate trench coat and sneakers scuffing
along ahead of me.
Saturday October 5
Today was an important day for Queen's: the university idolizes football,
and today our Gaels routed the Toronto Blues, long-time arch-enemies. I
didn't go to the game, but heard it: bellowing commentators, the skirling
bagpipes, the two bands, the cheering crowds from both Toronto and Kingston.
After the game the campus was overrun by couples on their way to after-game
dances and banquets.
What are you doing at home, two time-zones earlier? Let me guess - the
record player is on, either a quartet or the Emperor. Paul has finished
calf-feedings and is reading in a living room chair. Judy would be piano-practicing
if the record player wasn't on, but is studying instead. Rudy is sitting
on the floor with a magazine wishing he had something to do. Father is sitting
on the 'sofa,' sprawling rather, with a far-away plotting look. Mom's beside
him with a far-away reading and dreaming look. This is Sunday evening, by
the way, 10:30 pm.
I tripped off to church this morning in a very large velvet hat, red
with my red suit and beige coat and red gloves (the extra finery donated).
The hat is a large derby-mushroom crossbreed, a marvel. And I shall have
to buy myself a hat too - idiotic things! Idiotic females! Church this morning
was mass in the cathedral, because my music class is studying mass music
and I wanted to see for myself - and the music is beautiful; the Sexsmith
choir, Judy, is no indication. The end of the sheet and of my noisy hour
Now, about Thomas A Hathaway. The minute he walked into English class
the boy next to me whispered "He must be a genius." He looked
like one: tall and very thin, nearsighted with round wire-rimmed glasses,
rather anxious blue eyes, a detached absent-minded expression, wearing thick-soled
shoes and tweedy sports jacket with leather elbow-patches and definitely
non-dress (looks like a type of khaki) trousers. He carries a big briefcase
with him everywhere, haunts the library, and seems a stereotype shy intellectual.
Fascinating! By luck (not guile, honest) I sat next to him in philosophy
this morning and got to know him a bit - he's an English major who wants
eventually to teach high school, rather courtly, altogether approachable.
This is somebody I'd like to land for a friend, but it may take some manoeuvering.
(But subtle of course.)
With November exams looming, with two enormous essays to be written,
with a minute-pinching schedule to be slavishly followed ...
We are still having summer weather, really hot in the afternoons, and
often warm even at night. And all day the dry brown leaves whirl down, so
that the lawns are all thickly covered now.
If you are interested in what we are up to, in English we are studying
Middle English: Chaucer's Canterbury Tales and Ben Johnson's play
Volpone, both written in English that has to be translated into American
before we can understand it. We have an 1800 word essay due on an abstract
analysis of the satiric function of one of the Volpone characters. Ycheaah!
In psychology we are studying scientific experimental method in connection
with modern techniques and have another great long essay to write on this.
Dr Dugal Campbell is a dear! And he is a family friend of the Sloanes, so
I can find a few morsels of information about him - he is Scottish, educated
in a Quaker school, psychologically trained in the London University school
of psychology that Dr Sloane attended as well. Likes to sail but is rather
clumsy at it - and that would be typical of him. I wish you could see him
bound into the classroom and fly straight to the window to get a gale started
circulating around the sleepy students! And his most elf-like expression
when he begs to be allowed to escape the barage of questions and go on with
his lecture, "Please, could I get back to that later?"
In music we have gone on to dissect various types of music, and I find
to my distress that I cannot usually detect a change of key.
In French we are concurrently taking, in effect, four courses - a grammar
course, a French civilization and culture course, a vocabulary course, and
an auditory-oral course. With this I have to study elementary university
French grammar by myself - wow!
In philosophy we are still trudging (raggedly) through Plato's Republic.
It's actually a very good and sensible course, this philosophy 1. If I pass
everything fairly well I'm thinking of switching my second minor to philosophy
rather than French.
A wee short note from Grandfather Epp - he talks about rain and the grapevine
and Willie Reimers. It is good to know that all of this is still there,
as it was, even if my new environment knows nothing of it. I still often
catch my breath and think, "This is university. You are really here."
And at times when I am deep in a book or close on the heels of an idea,
the thought that this, incredibly, is to be my life for the next long stretch
of years is too good to be true.
A rather interesting evening last night. (Oo where am I today? Any idjot
would be smart enough to avoid saying "evening last night.") I
sat beside Tom this morning, or rather he sat beside me in
philosophy lectures and bumped into my elbow several times - that may be
why I'm a bit garbled ... just kidding!
At last our sultry false summer has been blown away by a suitable-to-October
cold wind, exhilerating but noisy: it sets all the windows on the floor
chattering at night.
Rumor has it that the kitchen puts saltpetre in our milk, but this doesn't
seem to have the effect it is supposed to have, ie bovinizing us. The men's
residences discovered what was happening to their milk and after a great
row over it have been drinking nothing but carton milk.
Friday October 25
I have just come in from a very interesting psychology class where we
worried about whether the mind is an entity or a concept. Mr Campbell was
bemused about the fact that we are worried about it. He says "I know
you've thought for a long time that you have one, and I'm sure that you've
become rather attached to it. But you can't think of it as really being
there. It is a concept you have to explain your cognizant behavioral processes,
just as molecules are a concept to explain the behaviour of matter. But
nobody has ever seen a molecule and nobody has ever seen a mind. It isn't
really there: it is only the idea we use to explain ourselves." So
there was a vigorous battle.
I realized just this afternoon what I miss most about this residence
life: solitude. Strange that I should remember last winter in Sexsmith as
one of the best times in my life when it was also one of the most alone
times. Loneliness adds a distinctive sharpness to everyday experiences that
seems blunted by too much human companionship, especially when it is a rather
casual type of companionship.
The campus is beautiful at night, now with a skimming of cloud across
the moon, dormitory windows alight behind the ivy, couples and loners walking
in the park or sitting on the steps of Ban Righ saying goodnight, stark
branches, rasping leaves, echoing footsteps, and always the knowledge that
it is Queen's, one of the best and most highly regarded universities in
Canada, and special because it is my university. And it is, now. The first
month was a limbo of half-heaven, half-hell, where-do-we-really-fit-in.
But it is nearly November and Queen's is our university.
This might be a time to talk to you about your cryptic little "Sabbath
day" note, Mother. I really don't think you need to be worried about
these little excursions into the forbidden, because after only one month
I've discovered that:
- a. alcohol tastes dreadful, and I certainly don't need it anyway -
spirits high enough without it
- b. social dancing bores me and I'm clumsy at it
And as I'm never in the least tempted to smoke or to neck as social recreation
I'm clear of all the vices right from the beginning and won't have to waste
any time wondering what I'm missing. I think actual dislike is a better
and surer basis for avoiding something than having been told by someone
that it was wrong, don't you?
Something peculiar about residence life that is noticeable after a while
is the passionlessness of it all - rising, feeding, studying, feeding, classes,
feeding, studying, sleeping. We wash our faces. Iron things. Brush our teeth
five times a day; really! Other things are all done for us, food gathering,
floor washing, all the grubby bits of living fade away until we may begin
to feel that living is merely a state of aquiescence. The EXAMS are telling
us differently though, and so do exciting things like trees and the lake
and art gallery and the children we babysit.
Olivia and I sat talking tonight, with faces hard, voices angry, resentment
even against each other, about our deteriorating selves. She leaned back
in her chair with her legs stretched from under her brief slip, either knitting
or smoking. Face blurred and pinched. Hair nondescript. Eyes red. Pink fingernails
moving - long blue sweater, smoke rising and fuzzing out in front of her
face. It was in the midst of angry, slow, deliberate statements from our
searching and resentment that I said "... but I do love it." She
laughed. "So do I."
Exciting tonight was a textural pattern of light and shadow formed by
tiny reflecting rain puddles in the worn rock of the Ban Righ front steps.
I went out with my camera in the dark to try a long exposure shot, but it
is not likely to turn out. It is things like that that make me ache for
proper equipment - tripods, sensitive film, light meter, photofloods, dark
room apparatus. Someday I would like to become a good photographer.
What is this passion for recording things?
November 17 Sunday
Stillness, solitude - where? Pure dedication, limestone purpose unaware
of fluttering petty ivy - where?
In a day, what is there? Going downstairs for breakfast sometimes with
others and in a pre-breakfast haze of chattering irrelevances. Fluctuating
self-disgust with thought of the weeks of work undone and undoing. Tooth-brushing.
Solitude, strong spirit - where?
But in the chattering irrelevancies there is sometimes a cool, still,
gong-sound of human communication. Wesley's eyes clear and earnest as he
says "I like to show people that I love them. And I think sex will
be a wonderful experience because it will be my best way of showing my love."
Norman with his young middle-aged face reciting Hopkins in the cold dark
with his breath diagraming in the air the vitality of words.
My picnic alone on the pebbles of the beach yesterday as I huddled along
the lake-walk and the waves smashed into froth on the rocks.
What am I finding about myself? More than ever, that I must be self-sufficient
to survive. That my own integrity is indespensible to me, in order that
I may have something on which to rely. That my inviolate and separate self
is what must be most carefully guarded; it is my home, and only from it
can I venture surely into warmth of external relationships.
That I have a capacity for, and an intense desire for, purpose. That
without working for a difficult and important goal, I am dissatisfied.
That my capacity for joy is activated by things I can do by myself: listen
to Bach, sit at the lakeside, walk corridors in the park, read poetry. But
that communication is yet a passion to me: that I look for it in these things
I do alone: in Bach, in Elinor Wylie, in my own intense self-awareness.
That in milling with the 'steaming herd' I lose my love of people, my
love at all, and my awareness. That my reaction is mechanical. Where is
my love? Who do I love here? Is there anyone? No. And I grieve that I do
But I do not know many things. Is loneliness larger than solitude? Will
my pettynesses corrupt entirely my capacity for purpose?
November 18, Monday
There is a wonderfully heavy spring-like rain this morning and I've been
mooning out the window letting it drip on my hands with all the enjoyment
of someone who had just discovered rain. Very early this morning we had
our first really violent storm with splashes of lightning and bellows of
thunder and an inevitable high excitement.
Yesterday's shocking news about the assassination of the president had
surprising repercussions all over campus. The first to be noticed was a
clumping effect. Little groups of people left their radios to go to classes
just after the news came, and on all the street corners they met others
- "Have you heard?" "I don't believe it." The reaction
immediately following disbelief was one of fright. Kennedy was a figurehead
and a hero: heroes aren't supposed to be vulnerable. And "Why, why?"
"How? It can't happen to someone like him."
My friend Marion from New York was particularly hard-hit. "The United
States never meant anything to me before he was president, but he was a
real man, and he personified the country to me," she said. I think
this is the root-reason for the daze that it put everyone here into.
And when I went downtown later in the evening, everyone was talking about
it. "A terrible thing" said the bus driver. "I think this
will touch off a lot more assassinations," said the grocer. A woman
in the store was crying. A bland sheep-like face on the television set mumbled
clichés, comments from the local ministers of all faiths. And the
papers today are lurid with such headlines as "Mrs Kennedy places a
last kiss on the lips of her dead husband."
On the television set earlier in the afternoon, just after Kennedy's
death had been confirmed, the commentator had merely stood and said "The
president is dead. The president is dead," with tears running down
I've never told you, I don't think, about our Little Ladies. They are
the desk-sitters at the residence doors who watch all comings and goings-away,
make sure everybody signs out in the late leave book, and read romantic
novels with their feet in prim black shoes up on small green hassocks in
between. As soon as dusk falls they wander about shutting curtains and turning
on lamps. They all look remarkably alike, tiny, whitehaired, fragile, completely
uninvolved in the boisterous life bounding past their desks in shapely co-ed
bodies all day long. Uninvolved is exactly the right word, for they seem
to smile a very slightly benevolent smile that is completely without focus
or feeling. Their conversation is dusty, without spark or shinyness or real
warmth, just a kind of fuzz. These Lavendar Ladies (they look as though
any other scent on them would be ridiculous and vulgar) are almost an institution.
Nobody sees them when passing those tidy desks. Those who say hello say
it as to a fixture. What are the Ladies, why are they working here, what
do they think in their wise old minds when they see us rushing toward classes
- toward life - with such impetuosity? What do they know that we don't?
The lake becomes more and more a haven from frustration and ennui; a
walk to the end of University Avenue, a run across the chem. building's
lawn and down half a sloping street edged by decrepit old houses and a country-like
grocery store, and across another street, voilà. An expanse of water
to the horizon with a line of trees emerging just at the world's end. The
trees are growing on the twelve-mile-long Wolfe Island. Each wave appears
from nowhere just before striking shore, curving up and magnifying the lake
bottom for just one mysterious moment before tipping over and crumbling.
I'm continually amazed that there are not more people walking along it,
for usually I am there alone.
The television room today was full of girls, with delivery men stopping
by occasionally. Everyone was watching President Kennedy's funeral, and
very impressive it was. The long procession of marching men, horses, and
black limosines moving very slowly through the Washington streets toward
the cathedral; the chason or horse-drawn 'buggy' in jet black, drawn
by seven white horses and carrying the flag-draped coffin; the spirited
black riderless horse straining at its lead behind the president's flag,
symbolizing the unspent energy that America has lost with Kennedy - a magnificent
horse; Mrs Kennedy with a black veil around her face and a child on each
hand, stumbling up the steps to the cathedral; the visiting dignitaries
marching behind her in no particular file, anonymous in effect. It was valuable
to be able to look up from the television screen and see all the intent,
much alive faces of the girls all around.
We have a peach of a cleaning lady whose name is Mrs Cox. She's a big,
meaty Irishwoman, comes puffing up the stairs, "Good mornin', and it
is a lovely mornin' isn't it." While we are down at breakfast, wastepaper
cans are emptied, everything dusted off, the rug straightened, and the floor
whisked clean. On Wednesday mornings she sneaks a clean sheet and pillow
case under our pillows. This is done with a conspiratorial glance up and
down the hall: it is illegal, because we are not to get them before Thursday,
but if she gives them to us early we don't need to wait for her before making
our beds next morning.
Tuesday 26 November
Three days ago, no, two, our psychology class Dr Campbell had a rampage.
He was in brilliant humour, doing snarling take-offs on television commercials
and fattening us up generally for the slaughter that we weren't expecting.
Then, wham, he cut us down, chopped us fine, minced us, about our
last experiment report, holding up examples and running verbal daggers through
A funny thing about Queen's University is the all-out-of-proportion number
of people whose fingernails are bitten down to nearly the roots. About fifty
percent of my music class, and it has only two freshmen! But, granted, that
music class does have reason to bite its fingernails. Just as an example,
Paul, the brilliant medical student, got HICs in all his courses but music
last year - and that one he failed. Anybody can fail! Especially people
with perfect pitch, especially people who know something about it. We are
While I was studying in an empty classroom today two upperclassmen came
in, talking about the English 2A course that I'm taking. It became obvious
that they were among those assigned to correct papers for the last essay
we handed in. While pretending to clear up my books, my ears stirred under
my hair, standing out at right angles to my head. Said one, "Who is
this Tom Hathaway?" The other, "I corrected one of his essays,
he's the brilliant freshman type - you know, lots of ideas but no background.
He said that Donne's poetry is negligible!" "A good paper?"
"Oh, brilliant, but he'll get a B." "Yeah, after four years
he'll be moulded."
The Christmas examinations are more than two weeks away, but the panic
is well upon us. It is impossible to feel any amount of security. What I
would say is the largest difference between university and high school is
that the huge volume of work in university never allows you to feel at all
a master of your work, you just skim high spots - there is no time for more.
Frustrating. But you do learn more!
You speak of never having had to rely on yourself totally in decisions
- but who do you think is the backbone of our family, who keeps it together?
We all know that you are and do. Whose interest in books started us into
the routes to a better way of life? Yours. And who made us aware of music?
And whose principles of loyalty (not as theory but as everyday living) are
valuable to us now? Who made the decision to fight for a unity in
our family even at such impossible odds? - To allow us so much independence,
even as very young children in even the vital matters of our New Dresses
(weren't you embarrassed sometimes to have me seen in the clothes I designed
and you faithfully worked out to our instructions?). And who, for all those
years and years of aloneness and poverty saved scraps and engineered special
surprises and glued us together, all this with no one to complain to? If
you think I'm the one who's fighting against the wind - look back a bit
and see who really taught me. All right?
Saturday November 30
As a last fling before the serious work of exam-stuffing I went to International
House last night at about 10:30, after studying. It was an extremely good
party - ie my favorite people were there (including Jim and Ghazali) and
there was a man-girl ratio of about 3-1. This is unfortunate in some ways,
because in the middle of an avid discussion on what Canada should be doing
for India one is hailed and hauled away, but it is gratifying to be in demand,
even if only because there is no one else!
It had been raining when I arrived, heavily and very wetly. But when
we left at midnight-plus, a miracle of sorts. It had begun to snow, very
large wet flakes, clinging to the trees and sifting down through the light
around the street lamp. Ghazali (with his gallant moustache aperk) stood
for a long while and looked. This was his first snow.
By l:15 when 'visiting hours' were over most of the Ban Righ girls had
come in glowing and shaking water from their hair - it was inevitable, really
it was, although it was a bit late, that we had a conference in Marg Spurgeon's
room afterwards, knitting and setting our hair and talking, running to the
window once in a while to exclaim about the snow. (Lying like a fairy tale
on the sloping tower roofs of Ban Righ and sifting into patterns in the
ivy - Hans Christian Anderson.)
And this morning everything is wet and white - even the delivery trucks
passing on the Avenue were completely frosted, like ghost trucks moving
so soundlessly on the snow.
You can tell from all this girlish lyricism that the snow is something
of an event; we know that we'll hate it later, but today it is a stroke
of magic and we are all children.
There is a lone med student in the park across the street playing football
in a floppy straw hat!
At about eleven (Judy won't like that "at about" bit) Olivia
came in and we left my psychology books for a cuppa and a long long talk.
We are friends, I think. She tells me I am a hard-boiled, tough, ivory-tower
isolate. I tell her she is an inconsiderate, self-centered child. But we
like each other enormously - funny isn't it. We talked a long time last
night about Europe. She has been there several times, but wants to go again,
on her own. I can't think of anyone I would rather go with. So if it works
out - and it will, both of us despise dreaming without doing, and we will
do - if not together then seperately. But we will. Signed in blood. She
wants to show me Wales and the Riviera. And we want to do it with just as
little money as possible, camping and hitch-hiking and probably stealing
fruit from orchards. There is something appealing about being dumped into
Europe and knowing that you have to live by your wits entirely. To get lost,
cut loose from past and present, see what you are outside of your society.
Sunday 8 December
I should tell you about the slant-street. It is a very short one, officially
called "Lower University Avenue," but it is too individual to
be called "Lower" anything, and what is more, is hardly an avenue.
Well: it is short, its pavement is cracked crossways in many fine running
lines and it pelts itself downhill into the far grander and busier Stuart
Street. At the top of the street, nearest to the university, is a huge old
hulk of a house with many turrets and bulky juttings and an ugly beard-like
red-brown hedge around it. Next to it, huddled along the slope, are ratty
little houses in a row, tattered curtains, crooked-board fences, stone walls
with provocative doors set high off the street, and at the bottom, a tiny
grocery shop looking out toward the lake.
Ah, and the lake in the rain and the dark. Deserted of course. Covered
with mist, nearby lights looking far away, the foghorn sounding faint as
mist too, far out along the cove; the ludicrously solid sound of the electricity-generating
and heating plant grinding out electric light and radiator warmth for the
university and the hospital (whose lights rise tidily and precisely in rectangular
rows for about seven stories, very close to the lake) at the same time as
the primitive waves soliloquized.
It was too dark to see the waves, but only, regularly, a curly line of
white running along the curved beach and disappearing again immediately.
And a catching-up sound just before another line of white ran. The rain
falling on the houses across the road (old, tall houses with steep roofs,
three stories) made them look haunted, and the lights on the street corners,
isolated. Their reflections, though, reached the trees along the beach and
highlighted the texture of their bark. One tree that I like especially stands
just above the pebbles: it is a young and slight tree, but tough (like me)
and it stands in the midst of a heap of rock with its two trunks bending away
from each other.
What else to remember - the steam rising spookily from the heating plant,
highlighting from the back, white and luminous. The 'pong, pong' of rain
falling on tin roofs along Slant-street, the tweedy-textured sheets of light
reflected from the wet streets, the ropey streams of water carousing into
drains, the eager faces of boys leaving their dates at Adelaide Hall and
running home happily with their collars up.
Hmm, prosaic again. My hair is of course wild and my coat dripping from
a hanger behind the door. Sweet old home. Oh, family, you don't really mind
if you find your letters filling up with all sorts of crappy girlish discriptions?
They are things I want to remember (yes, even the "pong, pong"!),
in case I ever forget that once I was young and Ellie and went to Queen's
and rhapsodized by the lake in the rain.
I persuaded the 'man' to take off my storm window! It is colder without
it, but when it is on we can't lean out of the window, and even worse, it
blurs the view. (I told him that it gave me claustrophobia, and it is true,
altho a little exaggerated.)
Our first exam will be tomorrow, philosophy in the morning and English
later on. Cram, everybody! It would be interesting to do a sociological
study of the effects of pre-exam tension on undergrad girls: hysterics,
overeating, undereating, oversleeping and undersleeping, red eyes in the
morning and bizarre dreams all night. The boys just go out and get drunk.
Girls play practical childish jokes on each other.
Saturday 14 December
Sunday night, oh, very cold. I've been away at the Union all day, studying
psychology in one of the dim bare little study rooms way up under the roof.
For nearly twelve hours, with no dinner and no supper, and you can guess:
an enormous feeling of nobility! A lovely Sunday on campus, with everyone
too busy to appreciate it. [Was cramming the whole of Hebb's The organization
The bare little rooms, though, have a view out over the rooftops and
trees. I always feel as if I am studying in a castle tower somewhere in
Germany years and years ago. That is, when I'm not feeling as though I am
in an old castle-university in Italy, or at Oxford. It is just that the
student life is such a universal thing and so time-spanning. I feel part
of a tradition that has been strong and special throughout all of the civilized
world before, even, the Renaissance. And it is from these universities that,
eventually, most books and inventions and ideas have grown. What a splendid
place to be! That word, 'splendid,' is actually jolly useful. Whenever I
use it I feel guiltily that it must be an affectation, but Jim and his English
friends use it so well that I feel cheated at having been born Canadian
and unable to use it too.
Kingston, January 5, 1964, Sunday night
To begin at the end (the beginning will come later), we arrived back
with Lloyd this afternoon, after traveling all morning through the sunny
Christmas card scenery of northern New York State and the Thousand Islands:
red barns, white-painted old houses, sleigh and ski tracks on the hills,
shining curves of snowbank with lavendar shadows, gnarled tree branches
in the old old oaks grasping at the china-blue faraway sky, a relatively
untraveled road on a lazy sunny Sunday, very beautiful and calm. Much more
later, I promise. Tired!
Monday January 6
Newsflash! Judy, you've put the Epps into newspapers all over Canada.
Enclosed is something one of the girls on the floor found in today's Toronto
Globe and Mail - it is a Canadian Press item, which means that it is relayed
to most every newspaper, which may or may not use it. [Headline "Epps
are apt" describing two sisters getting the same medal for grade nine
Another newsflash - my psychology mark for the midterms was a 93%, and
as I was exiting after class Professor Campbell said "Your paper was
very good, Miss Epp." So far, great, but a skinny boy with glasses
got a 96% (the only other mark in the nineties). That won't do! [The skinny
boy with glasses was Alisdair McLean.]
January 10, Friday
Gloryouse! I was given an A for my psychology essay, in a class where
an A really IS an achievement. Another A in my English essay too. The remark
was "Excellent. You have a fresh, thoroughly readable way of expressing
yourself. However, I would repress tendencies towards the 'poetic'."
New York I - January 1964
From my notes:
Tuesday the 24th:
I took the local bus into the City from New Jersey this morning - it
terminates here at the Port Authority Depot, which is a sort of city in
itself, with stacks of loading ramps for buses and a honeycomb of escalators,
and every sort of service imaginable, including eye-testing and glasses
fitting. A pudgy nice-looking Italian sold me a city map and said "I'll
give it to you without tax," with a grin and a wink at his boss's back.
There are striking, pleasant, attractive faces on the streets: then too
there are warty yellow pickle-faces with bristles of platinum hair wisping
from under their mink hats.
- There is a fruit-seller on a dirty curbside with grapefruit the size
of melons and apples like grapefruit, everything shiny and twice as big
as real. There are myriads of newspaper kiosques as well, selling magazines
and matches and the day's Times. They seem a New York landmark, low, narrow
shacks holding down the street corners, with red faces peering from them
framed by fur collars and plaid mufflers and the stacks of papers. Sometimes
the faces are young and pretty; sometimes they are cross and old; all seem
unreal and not attached to real people because they are without expression.
- Everything is in a filthy slush, the snow like thin porriage half a
foot deep. People along the curbs curse impudent taxis that whirl through
the gruel and splash it up into their faces.
- A dingy building announces that it is the Metropolitan Opera House,
the famous 'Met.' A skyscraper calls itself the McGraw-Hill Publishing House
- home of most of our textbooks!
- The taxis are yellow with red tops, brassy snub-nosed things not at
all like the sophisticated Chevs of other cities.
- A negress in the bus station had her hair dyed a happy yellow.
- A vendor has an ingenious suitcase that he can set on end and wheel
along through the porriage.
- The famous Macy's department store is, it's true, the largest in the
world, but it is very ordinary and is full today of people glued into mobs
shopping for tomorrow. The Santa Claus is a horrible beet-faced skinny
man who growls at the children, threatens their parents, and sneaks off
to "feed my reindeer."
December 27 (notes)
My adventure today was a ride on the 3rd Avenue bus, a bus that travels
from City Hall at nearly the south end of Manhattan to nearly the north
end of the island. It is the longest urban bus route in the world, two hundred
blocks and over twelve miles one way, taking nearly two hours to traverse.
It slices through the middle of the East Side, laying open a colorful cross-section
of the city. I found it very exciting. Soon after it leaves the City Hall
Wall Street area it enters the Bowery, the skid row area of pawn shops and
frowsy saloons and gutters full of drunks. Here a thin, drooling old man
who must have been about 45 literally crawled onto the bus. He fell into
the front seat and began to sing loudly while the two ladies in the seat
behind him poked each other and moved to another seat. What he was singing
was "I had a dream dear."
The bus passed a corner of Chinatown, then moved into an area of antique
shops, gradually becoming more wealthy and more glittering, windows full
of dusty lamps becoming windows full of chandeliers. The bus became crowded,
the poor old drunk being jostled against a thin-eyebrowed woman in a brocade
coat with black fox cuffs, a redhead with maroon lipstick clinging in anguish
to a post to keep from careening into some gentleman's lap, a haughty young
man looking very anxious as he balanced just over me. The aisle was full
of feet and there really wasn't room for mine - I would dearly love to have
folded their toes in like socks being put away, but they had to stay where
they were and be tripped over by the whole mob.
Folks - as a recess from NY narrative, a bit of a real letter. Your three
letters arrived this morning, I was most pleased for them. Have I told you
about Catherine Egan who shares my mail box? I think so. Yesterday she was
gloating because she got two, and I had none.
My new phys ed schedule is modern dancing, which you needn't worry about
because the fancy name means doing exercises to music - an all-girl class.
Minds at ease?
My financial problems are mended now, thanks to a loan of $275 which
Miss Royce produced out of a hat today - not exactly out of a hat, but:
she simply pushed me into an office and said "Mr Bannister, here is
one of our good students from Alberta who needs some money. I'm backing
her." So the formidible Mr Bannister wrote "backed by Jean Royce"
on a card and said "Pick your money up on Monday morning."
I thought of you today as I wandered about campus in the sun and the
slush in shoes and a sweater. And yesterday it rained, rained, as Olivia
and I stood in the window and watched the water sliding down the slate roof
and choking away down the drain. I ran around campus from class to class
all afternoon smiling at people I don't know.
So today I visited the lake; it is frozen over, smooth to the islands
far across. The sun was at late afternoon and the ice reflected it in a
sheet - skaters were spidery silhoettes. There is a funny island on the
horizon that looks like a palm-treed desert island, just from the shape
of the trees.
Yesterday Olivia and I did some house hunting in the afternoon - have
I told you that we plan to live together? (Good training for me in living
with temperament, good training for her in living with a prude). Afterward
we made paper boats and sent them floating down the rivulets of melted snow
flowing along University Avenue. This funny Oliver is going to be an adventure
to live with. We have dropped into a very peculiar habit of thinking of
my room as 'our room,' mainly because when I am home and in it she usually
The next letter will feature New York again.
The very big problem now is finding a summer job. I am clearly not going
to be coming home, at least not before September, and then only if I make
a fantastic heap of money.
[New York part II]
More dusty pawn shops, thrift stores, lineups outside mission soup kitchens,
musical instruments hanging in headhung dejection in shop windows.
Only a few streets further, money. White marble office buildings, dinner
clubs. The antique shops become more dazzling, gilt furniture and red Ming
vases with their chipped edges inside.
At last our drooling derelict staggered off; a man outside at the bus
stop corner looked at him sadly and said, "How's it going, Skipper?"
He walked away stiffly, like a toy soldier, holding his very thin coat together
where the safety pin had fallen out.
Furs draped over doorways like very tired old animals, a funny store
advertising "things and things and things and things."
And then the area becomes slowly infiltrated with signs in Spanish, "Iglesia"
(church, a mission usually), "Farmacia Latina," "Madame Lora,
Spiritual Advisor: Love, Marriage, Business." This is the beginning
of Spanish Harlem. I fell into conversation with a brown-faced little Spanish
man in a wide-brimmed hat who shared his Spanish newspaper with me.
This is a slum area, lean brick tenaments with gay plants in blue and
green coffee cans sitting on the fire escapes, posters plastered onto grey
walls, a heavy-set cop leaning against a door swinging his stick, a very
old lady powdering her face in a window, a beautiful negro smirking behind
his hotdog stand, a peculiar sharp smell that I cannot place, pink underwear
sagging on a clothesline, a cluttered meatshop window offering chitterlings.
Quick views of the breathtaking Washington Bridge between the walls. Firemen
in rubber coats returning from a fire. A sudden hill sloping steeply down
for a long way, shining mysteriously in reflection of the sunset.
When we had made the complete circuit, my busdriver (a pleasant negro
who had been on that same route for twelve years) bought me a cup of coffee
and told me a bit about the real New York, the city he sees everyday. Impersonal,
December 30: I spent the afternoon exploring. There is a street shaved
off to one side of Manhattan, Nineth Avenue, that slides corners of Greece
into this new American setting - there are butcher shops with whole rabbits
hanging unskinned, upside down in the windows, and piglets with ferns and
a red light bulb in their mouth leering at the passers. Heaps of brilliant
red peppers. Sacks lining the sidewalk full of Columbian coffee beans, cowpeas,
poppy seed, spices, paprika, 'favas'; butcher shops offer squabs and unfeathered
ducks; a small café displays a dirty skillet in its window with red
peppers and onions sizzling sadly in it greasy corners; heaps of fruit carefully
guarded from the kids playing hockey nearby on roller skates; pyramids of
purple cabbage and purple eggplant; raw fish in barrels full of ice; cheeses
hung from ropes in a display window; scrubbed white stomach lining looking
like sponge; barrels full of fire for the outdoor merchants to warm their
hands at; a very black negro smiling mysteriously over his fire; a swarthy
gypsy who gave me a handful of greasy black olives to taste when I bought
an orange; a very old woman leaning in a doorway with a child's sucker in
her mouth; signs like "Couphopaulos Meats" above a doorway; and
the Greek pastry shops!
The Village - to tell you about the village I think I'll describe the
two people I met who seemed an essence of the Village.
There was Curran of Horizon Galleries. I saw his sign above the doorway
of a half-flight of stairs going down into a basement apartment, and followed
it to a door that rang when I opened it and a roomful of paintings. And
a young man with the hopeful signs of a new beard. He had a rather wistful
face, a light voice barely touching down occasionally on an arty accent,
longish hair, a very thin body, a hammer in his hand - I discovered that
he was Curran, painter, actor, and gallery manager. While he showed me his
paintings and those he exhibits for his friends, he brought me a cup of
coffee in a very ladylike white cup - he drank his from an enormous mug.
Those were probably the only cups he had. His gallery was his home as well.
Behind the two little exhibition rooms was a dark kitchen with one sink;
a single grey window looked out onto a courtyard of ashcans and fire escapes.
Because he desperately needs more exhibition space, an abstract was pinned
onto his bathroom door, and the closet where he sleeps (one skimpy pillow,
one sheet) has a metal mobile swinging above it and a telephone at its foot
end. There was a small flight of stairs leading to the upstairs hallway.
This too was piled with canvases and small sculptures. Another very large
painting was propped up in the sink. One of Curran's favorite objects was
an awkward pottery vase, huge and heavy, with a rim of metal half-melted
into the top - a rather hideous but beautifully natural-looking thing.
Curran's friends wandered into the gallery while I was leafing through
pictures. To one of them Curran said, "Have you been eating?"
"Well, not today." "I am - I went to my banker yesterday
and said, 'I think I'll eat this week, rather than pay my rent.' And he
said, 'You'll be sorry' and I said 'I'd rather feel sorrow than hunger.'
So - stay and I'll give you supper."
Somewhere in the tangle of afternoons, mornings and evenings I've told
you about was one that I forgot to put in its proper place. The evening
that Uncle took Auntie and me to the movies. We drove over to Manhattan
in the lights, across the rather wonderful George Washington Bridge whose
two six-lane levels are nearly continuously busy. The movie we decided to
see was an Italian film (subtitled) called "8 1/2" by a famous
"New Wave" producer called Arturo [I know better now] Felinni.
After the movie Uncle took us down Broadway to one of their old student
haunts, a tiny pizza gallery - squashed in on both sides by larger buildings,
so long and narrow looking - with just a counter, a large oven, and two
spindly thin tables, and a pretty daughter flirting with a guest in the
back room. There was one other customer, a garrulous and semi-drunk little
Sicilian woman who made eager semi-understandable jokes with us and was
no end amusing. Meanwhile the pizza making wife shrieked at her, at her
husband, at the daughter in the back. Uncle and Auntie recalled enjoying
a pizza there once to the accompaniment of a pizza-hurling fight between
the woman and her husband, all in perfect unselfconsciousness of both the
customers and the display window.
The night before New Years, when Uncle John was with us, we had tickets
for a Broadway play, "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" This particular
play has been running on Broadway for about two years, has received much
good reviewing, and was convenient - so we went to the Billy Rose Theatre,
which I'm sure you've read about. We took the subway downtown from a parking
lot, the four of us mushing through the snow arm-in-arm and then riding
bang-lickety-bang through the tunnels staring at people and commenting about
them. After the play we walked up along Broadway. Beautiful. The lights
along the street, blazing from all the marquees on the most famous theatre
street in the world. The sky was strange colors, luminous oranges and green-purples
between the roofs. Uncle told me it was only the smog, but I think it is
magic. New York style smoggy magic.
That is about all of the New York holiday. Kissed everyone goodbye on
Saturday, arrived back at Ban Righ on Sunday: that beautiful cold gleaming
Sunday that I've told you about.
New York - I've been there! So have you.
I'm sure that I've told you about the lectures I've been going to, by
Dr Muller on individualism. Tonight, as well as Dinner with the Dean, the
meal became Dinner with Dr Muller. And Mrs Muller. And Others. The one girl
in engineering, the one girl in law, several scholarship freshmen and the
Levana executive were at the Thing. After the ceremonial dinner (during
which I gasp rested my elbow inadvertantly on the table several times) there
was a ghastly coffee in the common room before the blazing (I should have
been able to think of another word there, I know) fireplace. The reason
that it was ghastly was that we bravely clustered about the Great Man and
asked him eager questions. He is a fraud, utterly, utterly. Not only does
he not have a scrap of humour or one spark of visible individuality, but
he also has not one original opinion and little intelligence, at least not
any that showed. His lectures were rather lousy too.
Olivia and I had a fight yesterday afternoon. I refused to go for coffee
with her because I had to do some work. I yelled that I had to show some
character sometime. She yelled that, well, was she being a bad influence?
In that case ... I yelled that if I was a dissipated old woman it wasn't
her fault. She yelled that why was I accusing her then, and why didn't I
come for coffee with her. I yelled that I refused to be so easily led. She
yelled that for heavens sake I was not being easily led. I yelled that I
was going to do some French. She yelled that I couldn't walk out
on an argument. I yelled that we were really having a fight I think and
wasn't it fun. She yelled well have coffee with me then so that we can enjoy
it. And I yelled that I was going to do some French and I went. She
yelled over her shoulder that she hated people who walk out on arguments.
As a fight, though, it was rather a flop because we were grinning at each
other during the whole thing and couldn't seem to raise any real anger.
Have I ever told you what she looks like? She's about my height but thinner:
about 120 pounds. She has what she calls a bottom-heavy European figure
which no matter what she calls it is rather good. Her hair is about as dark
as mine, short and usually tousled. Her face is difficult to describe. It
has everything a face needs, you know, forehead, mouth, nose, chin, etc,
but somehow it never looks like a face to me. One never notices it as a
face, just as an intense expression and a pair of Welsh hazel eyes. That
is no help to you I know. Her favorite outfit as I've told you is a skirt
and flats and the blue sweater she knit herself. That and sometimes an accidental
bit of lipstick. Seldom any other makeup. But it isn't that she is unfeminine,
because she is, rather overwhelmingly. She just can't be bothered.
A note of reassurance Mother: I'm rather disappointed that you still
think you have to warn me not to get involved with men. That is a lesson
I've overlearned I'm afraid; if anything you should begin now telling me
to by all means and in all possible speed become as deeply involved as passionately
as possible, so that by the time I'm thirty I'll be reconciled to the idea.
If you really want to know, I'm waiting for a prince. I've seen a few here
- or what look like princes - but I've not met any and surely not been out
with any. And also if you want to know, going out with anyone more than
once makes me restless. And I think that is an emotional handicap. So for
goodness sake don't rub it in.
February 3, Monday
Want to hear about the weekend? Arrived in TO just after dark, and in
straggling through the lower platform of Union Station for the fourth time
in my life, was met by a tiny smiling woman in a large black hat who hugged
Olivia and welcomed me very warmly: Mrs Howell. She grabbed a bag and hurried
us outside to the car, at last, at last, outside the station. In ten Volkswagon
minutes we arrived at the house on Dale Avenue in Rosedale (a very old,
very well-to-do section of Toronto). Barely inside the door, I met Granny,
the seventy-year-old windmill-turbine of the household. Mr Howell was away
studying until dinnertime. He came down just before dinner and I met him
then. He is a fairly large man with a hooked nose, large Welsh eyes like
Olivia's, glasses, dark hair with grey edges around his face, an enormous
sort of dignity, and an air of ignoring anything that displeased him. I
was terrified that I wouldn't think of anything intelligent to say to him
all weekend - as it happened, I didn't have to because he really didn't
expect me to: didn't notice me most of the time, and when he did, was really
The Howell house is a wonderful and exciting thing. It is I-don't-know-how-old,
built long ago in Toronto's early days, and thus has all the wonders of
the age of Rosedale mansions. A fireplace in the living room, another in
the hallway (this one tiny and made of polished red stone), one in the upstairs
drawing room (ie Richard's beloved television room). There are three flights
of stairs, red-carpeted, going up to third floor. The walls are thick, about
eight inches, with the windows deeply recessed, and many of them made of
diamond panes. Also, the windows open outward, swinging way out far enough
for children to jump through and for people to lean out while they daydream.
The dining room is the most wonderful room of all. Painted white, with a
polished wooden floor and polished dark beams across the ceiling, it looks
like a Victorian dining room in a little country house, with the set of
large diamond windows on one end opening onto the back yard with a wide
window seat, a set of high little windows in the sturdy white side walls,
a large Welsh cupboard, a little door in the side just large enough to send
dishes through to the kitchen on the other side, a large and gracious table
- but the miracle of the room is the lamp hanging in the centre above the
table that turns the lighting a mellowed gold color, and seems to send it
out in rays and patterns, mysteriously. And the paintings on the walls are
all done by Mrs Howell.
Wednesday 5 Feb
Have I ever told you about the Ordeal of Entering Ban Righ? At the entrance
there is first a flight of stone steps, then another, then a Portal: a thick
heavy wooden door nearly impossible for us to open; even our dates have
to strain. In the vestibule there is another flight of steps, then another
Portal. Finally the hallway. There sits the lavendar lady at her desk. Say
something pleasant to her, and try to escape before she runs to anecdotes.
But that is not the worst: the Dean's office is along the corridor and the
door is always open - if one is wearing kneesox to dinner, one creeps by
with one's legs tucked up under one's skirt. Finally the stair landing.
A pleasant baking-potato smell. A half-flight of stairs. Window. Turn. Another
half flight. The first floor. Turn. A half-flight, window, turn, half-flight
- so on to a puffing panting collapse at Home.
On the way home on Sunday afternoon, the two Kingston cars were so full
that we were in despair of ever finding a seat and five girls sat all the
way home in the washroom! After a while Sue with her guitar in the washroom
decided to have a hootenany. So we sat in the sinks and on suitcases, about
ten of us including an Engineer and an Artsman (which considerably embarrassed
a little lady who wanted to go to the lavatory).
Further on, Olivia went to sleep and I read while the scene outside darkened.
We were in the last car, in the last seat, so the little observation platform
was directly behind us and two railway men sat and smiled at us from the
seat opposite. We were clicking along beside the lake until it was dark,
and some of the scenery is extremely pretty, with the lake coming almost
to the track sometimes and sometimes far below at the foot of a cliff. There
was a great deal of long stiff dead grass, forlorn looking. The sunset came
in wonderful colors, streaming purples and oranges and dusty reds. The track
rolling away behind us was two bright lines curving into a bit of brilliant
sky, and the lake-sky outside the window turned from violet to a violently
maroon shot with orange. Houses, trees, bits of grass, were reduced to silhoette.
And then it was dark enough so that we could see our faces reflected on
the landscape: we grinned at each other and it was extremely nice to have
I've always felt slightly silly when I go into the sort of description
I've just finished, but now that I've told you that I realize it is a bit
sloppy I can go on unembarrassed: it is one thing to be unwittingly sloppy
and quite another to know you are being sloppy and to go ahead anyway. Sort
of a definate courage about it that way, a form of nobility, don't you think?
Well, all happily rationalized, I continue.
You are entirely right, Mother: I am in danger of becoming a snob. It
is particularly easy, living in this community of intelligent, mostly attractive,
many wealthy, and generally self-assured young people, to forget
about REAL people and to think of them as objects rather than people with
real insides. I know very well that this danger is there, and I am glad
you remind me because I do want to keep some contact with the Outside and
I've spent all day today with John Stuart Mill the philosopher, and on
getting to know him a bit better, I find that he does make sense and I tend
to agree with him. I'm continually surprised when I get deep into a subject,
that I actually do enjoy studying so much. It's only when I'm slacking and
studying only in bits, superficially, that I get bored and restless.
My walk last night was memorable: it was after supper and dark, kids
were skating in the park, the houses were lit inside and grinning through
their parlour windows like jackolanterns, and the churches were leaning
up against a perfectly beautiful clear sky with bits of yellow and pink
washed into the dark.
16, Sunday night
It has been such a strange and exciting weekend that I'm not sure it
is Sunday night at all, but I'm told it is.
Just an outline - Friday evening: the first of the seminars - I've told
you about that. Then the fatal mistake of two cups of coffee: that killed
my sleep for the night and threw it into a pauper's grave. By five o'clock
when the caffeine was wearing off, in staggered the prom dolls to change
and rest and straighten up the wrecked hairstyles until they went out again
at six. And by six, there was no point at all in trying to go back to bed
so I wandered downstairs, exploring the kitchen which we are not allowed
inside, by the vague light of a faraway streetlamp and a doubtful moon.
And while I was padding guiltily about behind the ovens, click! A light.
It took all the six a.m. poise I could muster to saunter out of the shadows
and say good morning to the lady who'd come to begin breakfast. She was
a kind soul with a soft heart and a sympathy for the adventurous impulses
of youth, and she showed me the rest of the kitchen: a frothing longnecked
monster of a dishwasher, a complex revolving toaster that can handle about
40-50 slices of toast at one time, a freezer full of fat gallons of ice
I've told you a little about CUCND. Briefly, its tenets are that: we
are opposed to atomic testing; we oppose acquisition of bombs by countries
now emerging as potential nuclear powers; Canada to take initiative independent
of US policy and reject both nuclear arms and the stockpiling of always
more weapons; mere bomb-banning is not enough and must be supplemented by
work toward social justice (eg civil rights bills such as those coming up
in the US now) and a decent standard of living for everyone; the arms race,
a propaganda device which has spent its money only producing far more weapons
than necessary for world annihilation ("overkill") is morally,
economically and in every way WRONG; both Western and Eastern blocs are
to blame for the cold war situation, with the West no less guilty than the
East. This last policy, the one of non-alignment, is one giving the group
a reputation for leftist leanings, which simply is not justified. We believe
that only by stepping outside the squabble will we be able to gain the healthy
perspective that will enable us to use our pressure methods to convince
governments to some form of sanity. You'll notice how naturally I am beginning
to say 'we' in talking of this CUCND: I am thinking of joining the organization
but I am going slowly because I owe it both to the club and to my time to
be intelligently and well-informedly convinced before becoming a member.
The party on Saturday night at Alison [Gordon]'s appartment was memorable.
We walked into the front door of a very old Victorian barn-mansion to find
jazz roaring out of a back apartment in torrents. The main room is large
and square with a high ceiling and a ridge going around the room near the
ceiling: on this ridge, entirely around the room, were set empty wine bottles
of all shapes. In some of them, scattered randomly, were fresh daffodils.
One side of the room was hung with curtains in a rough red burlap. The floor
was wooden, with a threadbare Persian carpet in the middle. A solid and
stone-like wooden table stood in the middle of one side, balanced by a shabby
couch on the other. A magnificent parti-colored cat was fast asleep on top
of the bookcase, someone was digging through their piles of records, others
were perching on broken chairs with only one arm, smoke was settling slowly
to the floor by its own weight, people were drifting to and from the cooler
in the broomcloset-sized kitchen with fresh glasses of beer. I got out a
book, sat down on the register leaning against the burlap (the register
was hot and rather ridgy, the burlap masculinely scratchy!) and watched.
Refreshments were long crusty loaves of French bread and slabs of exotic
bread and a tin of slimy red fish called Coalfish, but actually looking
more like goldfish hacked carefully into bits and dyed red. We took knives
and hacked off chunks of each. And it was good! Gradually the people became
'happier.' There was a table at one end of the room decorated by five tall
candles and a slab of real gravestone with part of the inscription still
visible. When Tom Hathaway arrived after a while, he sat down on the table
leaning back against the gravestone with his ridiculously long legs dangling
and an out-to-lunch expression on his face. Someone walked by, lit a candle,
put it into his hand, and walked on - and Tom was left there with the candlelight
making a halo around his head and a most beautiful look of astonishment.
Someone came along and said to me, "By the way, you have an extremely
bright and attractive face." I said, "Oh, I'm glad that you like
it," and he drifted on. John Cowan, looking for an audience, sat and
told me rather piteously how maddening it was to talk to people who wouldn't
listen, then gave me an autographed copy of See No Evil and told
me what a nice girl I was. While I was digging through the closet looking
for my coat and Paul Simon was encouraging me vaguely by asking if it was
"this pussy cat" one or this "camel" one, Tom came over
and asked if he could protect me from that fresh man. Everyone was delightfully
friendly and rather loveable, wandering about looking forlorn and blissful
at the same time. Everybody sang "We Shall Overcome" (a popular
folksong) and a little later in the evening, "We Are Overcome."
17 February, Monday morning
Olivia has had a frantic weekend too and came in for a while to tell
me about it last night. About eight o'clock last night I saw her blur past.
She called back to me "I'm invited to the Laverty's and I'm three minutes
This is how she told me about it later: "I walked into the door,
they greeted me, I hung my coat upstairs and came downstairs. We watched
television in the living room, the Beatles. Then I looked round and I couldn't
seen anyone else so I said "Am I supposed to be here?" and they
said, 'Well, not really. Not until eight-thirty.' And then I got stuck with
a boy - I was tired out of my mind from this weekend and in no shape to
socialize. So I told him: 'I am not going to make conversation and you had
better not ask me what faculty I'm in. I'd rather sit here in dead silence
for the whole evening.' But after a while he started telling me about his
allergies. He's allergic to toothpaste, to soap, oh, everything. I knew
I was supposed to be sympathetic, but I thought it was terribly funny and
I sat there and roared. And then he told me he was colorblind and I told
him that if he had lived in Germany the Nazis would have killed him. And
then finally when we were going home, I said goodnight to Mr Laverty and
was halfway out the door when Mrs Laverty said "Good night, Olivia."
I was so embarrassed to have forgotten her that I practically threw my arms
around her and said, "Oh, Mrs Laverty, I'm so sorry. Thank you so much,
I loved the brownies." Which was terribly phony because they weren't
brownies to begin with, they were little brown cakes. And I didn't like
them at all. I only had one and she couldn't persuade me to have any more."
21 February Friday morning
To mop up any news that may be untold: my latest English essay was a
coup, another A. Olivia remarks nastily "They're just in the habit
of giving you A's. I bet they don't even read them."
- of a wild windy morning of no sleep.
Last night lying in half-dream with seaweed thoughts thrashing in my
mind and the window thumping faintly from the wind. Until surrealist morning
framed in my window -
Olivia coming in in the dark to smooth my covers and hang up my red shift.
She doesn't hang up her own things. It was touching to see her hanging mine
Lying on the floor, stretched flat with my elbows tight over my face,
shaking with grief. Cathy and Olivia sitting behind me silent, and not hearing
the "goaway, goaway, goaway, goaway" shrilling in my mind.
Flat, with tears sliding down the sides of my face. A feeling of retreat
into a hard black triangle far away in grey nebulous ...
Olivia touching my chest and far away saying "Ellie what is the
mattah? You can tell me. Tell me! Ellie!"
[Earlier] walking home with hard crooked steps - holding hands with Dennis
unfeelingly. Calvin and Olivia behind us.
Moments dancing slow dances with Dennis when there was nothing but the
beat of the music and the sliding beat of our footsteps - his shoulder under
my hand, my shoulder under his. My face along his. The muscles moving under
his skin. His face along my neck. No person, Dennis: a shoulder of comfort
and reassurance of being precious, as I remember Frank -
"I have been faithful to you, Cynara! In my fashion." Standing
to look out the window on the cool dim street. With Dennis looking at me
as tho' I were lovely. Responding with ludicrous earnestness to his gallantries,
and laughing, then, later. Ellen's thin body entire animation and her pretty
narrow feet flashing. The couple in the corner dancing in gay improvisations,
he beautiful and dark, she light and delicate. Tyrone dancing with a girl
in a blue dress, their arms around each other's necks loosely, heads tilted
to talk. Olivia following complex calypso rhythms like a West Indian. Ghazali
smiling and solicitous.
A feeling of isolation and loss; the feeling of being alone at a party.
No contacts established.
And in the dissolving dark of it all this morning, my poetry book (all
loose pages) and Auden -
- Lay your sleeping head my love
- Faithless on my human arm.
- Time and fevers burn away
- Individual beauty from
- Thoughtful children, and the grave
- Proves the child ephemeral.
- But in my arms till break of day
- Let the living creature lie -
- Mortal, guilty, but to me
- The entirely beautiful.
- Certainty, fidelity
- On the stroke of midnight pass
- Like vibrations of a bell,
- And fashionable madmen raise
- Their pedantic boring cry:
- Every farthing of the cost,
- All the dreaded cards foretell,
- Shall be paid, but from this night
- Not a whisper, not a thought,
- Not a kiss nor look be lost.
- Beauty, midnight, vision dies:
- Let the winds of dawn that blow
- Softly round your sleeping head
- Such a day of sweetness show
- Eye and knocking heart shall bless,
- Find the mortal world enough;
- Noons of dryness see you fed
- By the involuntary powers,
- Nights of insult let you pass
- Watched by every human love.
This morning a smile for the wind and another for the histrionics of
[back to letters]
Two things today:
- I am secretary for the CUCND for next term.
- I have a job.
Most important, I have a job. Here in Kingston. At Sunnyside. I am not
excited primarily about having a job, or about the money (I could make nearly
twice as much a month at the cannery - it is $125 per month plus board and
room), but about the job itself. Listen. Sunnyside is a rambling white Colonial
house about five blocks from here, surrounded by acres of grass and trees.
There are two stone gateposts and a sign that says "Sunnyside."
[Sunnyside Children's Centre] The house: a home for disturbed children taken
from foster homes. There are about fifteen kids between four and eleven
years old, not mentally retarded at all, in fact, most are above average
in intelligence, disturbed in that they have trouble relating to other children
or to adults or both. They stay at Sunnyside for a year or eighteen months
until they are ready for adoption. During their stay they are kept in this
enormous, wonderfully tidy but yet full of kid-stuff house with its dogs
and cats and records and pictures and smothered with all the happiness and
affection and individual treatment possible, and slowly they begin to act
like bright normal kids. I spent last Saturday afternoon and dinner there
as an interview to see how it would be and to have the place look me over.
Tonight they phoned to tell me that I was - bar catastrophe - in. During
the afternoon I met most of the kids, played baseball in the slush, broke
up a few fights, and talked to Miss Detweiler (second boss lady) [psychologist,
clinical director 1954-1967).
She explained that the staff includes a psychologist, a social worker,
so on. All of the staff meets often to discuss the children individually,
and each child is handled according to a special tactic almost military
in character. Some kids get the overwhelming affection bit, some who tend
to be over affectionate are reassured in other ways. All of them are given
the happiest atmosphere the staff can manage and the results are steady
and warming. Do you blame me for feeling very happy about getting on, pay
be hanged? My job will be a sort of glorified baby-sitting: recreation,
getting up and putting to bed, cuddling and cooing and scolding when necessary.
They are very dear kids and I'm looking forward to it all especially. The
whole summer of playing with kids. The job also provides for part-time next
year, so that will be extra money then. And all this is near the campus
and the library for the summer. There are also other college kids working
at Sunnyside full and part time. And Olivia will be in Toronto.
See you post exams.
It is almost impossible to realize that in exactly a month from today
the exams will be over, my first year at university will be over, our Ban
Righ III family will be wind-scattered forever. The summer holidays begin
Last night listened to some of Bach's Easter music on CBC - perhaps you
heard it too?
It is a beautiful, bright Monday - the ice in the lake is clearing out.
People are down promenading along the sidewalk. Everyone is out in summer
We did the Schuman A Minor Concerto in Music a day or two ago - made
me a bit homesick.
A meeting with International House last night at Dr Colbourne's (math
prof very interested in international students) with cocoa and apples and
cakes - met a boy there from Camrose who has worked in Fort St John and
sat jabbering with him excitedly about Beaverlodge sports days and Grande
Prairie softball tournements and so on. And he has seen the La Glace signpost
- it feels uncanny to meet someone who knows where La Glace is, as tho'
someone else had trespassed in a private dream I had or a world I only imagine
Has the wonderfull wild-watery gumbo Peace River Spring arrived yet?
I miss the savagery of our back-pasture torrents here where spring is so
pastel and pretty, but tame. Muddy feet aching from cold and wood boats
stuck in the culvert and a patch of earth under the window along the south
wall with tiny green weeds beginning to grow. Getting stuck in the field
on the way to pick crocuses. Pussy willows. Queer about nostalgia: you miss
even the things, times, places, people, that you didn't enjoy much in the
first place, just because you know there's no going back. Does everyone
feel just a little frightened once in a while, not often, when they realize
they are steaming ahead blindly and happily into a complete dark? Strange
that we are so gay about it; you'd think we'd be more frightened than we
Good Friday morning
Last night after studying Olivia and I were doing personality inventories
from a psychology book. We had to finish a sentence when given a beginning
word like "man," "marriage," "my mother thinks
my father," "I wish." The joke of the evening was the sentence
keyed off by "a friend." Olivia's sentence was "A friend
is somebody you can depend on;" mine, "A friend is an independent
Saturday April 4
There was Easter Sunday. Neither Olivia nor I went to church because
we didn't want to join the hordes of newly hatted twice a year churchgoers.
Instead we ran down to the lake where the ice had just moved out (shards
of it were floating and ground against the rocks) and ran along it leaping
like mountain goats. Olivia is an ideal companion on these abandoned runs
because she feels no embarrassment about being seen and because she is capable
of being so altogether happy. We ran far out across a boggy huge lawn under
giant newly sappy trees and then to the end of a long pier with the wind
howling about us and Sue's radio roaring an oratorio. And this is the funny
part: to this oratorio music we twisted madly, just the two of us on the
end of the pier with some male undergraduate popping his eyes out. Says
Olivia, "I don't know why, but every Easter morning I get terribly
Have I told you about Maureen [Law], my friend who is going to Germany
this summer? She came to university last year on twenty dollars her father
gave her and a promise of a $400 scholarship. She hadn't counted on the
initiation expenses, and her twenty dollars was gone by the end of the first
week. The scholarship didn't come through until Christmas. She couldn't
pay tuition, residence fees, or buy books. She didn't even have toothpaste!
So she went to Miss Royce and said "I haven't any money." Miss
Royce threw up her unperturbable hands and said "Child! Do your parents
know you've come to university without any money?" Maureen, all composure,
"Oh they know about it, but they haven't that much to do about it."
So she got a job in the library and took out the biggest loan in the history
of the university, $650. And paid it back! And copped a $200 prize for the
highest mark in German 1 and another for the highest in English 2. And now
she has a scholarship to Germany. And she is the merriest creature I know!
Monday morning, very early, 5:15 April 6
Woke at three this morning to discover that round and round and round
my wooly mind were floating wisps of deontological intuitionism - this will
never do I thought, took two aspirin and snuggled down to think about Frank.
And somehow, between two and five a.m. I am always thinking I can write
poetry, and lines form in my mind but drift away before I can lash them
to an idea: "Suddenly / In the tumble-colored ...", "Stamp
my imprint on your faces."
Then a crow barked outside and I ran to the window - the sky orange behind
the crooked line of roofs and treetops around the park, the buds on the
trees about my window silhoetted, lake grey and recessive. I sat on the
fire escape for a while with my blue blanket wrapped around, watching a
bird, the blue shadow of a tree seen between the grating of the fire escape,
the water on the roof glittering, the ivy all around me on the wall growing
thick and stubby for spring.
Ban Righ III for the last time.
Hello again family and beloved typewriter.
I begin to work at Sunnyside on Monday night, and will move in tomorrow
so that next letter will be full of my kids.
April 25, Saturday
Still from Ban Righ, for the last time. I'm moving to Sunnyside as soon
as I have this dashed off. All of the rooms are empty. I've said goodbye
to the floor and removed my nametag from the door of 49 and left the curtains
still blowing in the defiantly screenless window.
There were so many mothers and families here today that I wished you
could all have come to see Ban Righ during the exodus, on the last official
day that residence is open. The kitchen staff gave us a royal dinner: turkey
and Bavarian cream for dessert. And everyone is wishing everyone else a
happy summer and we meant it in the case of the kitchen people because they
have been dear friendly cheerful people all year.
The first to arrive and the last to go - and I finished the year exactly
as I began it: with a bath!
All the rooms, all down the hallway, with the furniture piled up. The
telephone booth still full of scribbles: "Cathy, boy, sounds like John,"
"Ellie, Tom Hathaway, phone back," "Olivia, Andy, will call
back," "Nancy, boy, no message, said 'oh, studying again,'"
"Cathy, long distance," "Ellie, boy, no message." Pile
of magazines on the table, but not the Saturday night issue in a thousand
sections that used to be strewn all over the floor when we came in from
a date late on Saturday and sat around on while we gabbed. Freshman year,
room 49 (beautiful room even now when it is bare), telephone booth, g'bye.