I barely knew her, Mrs. Winifred H. But she was special to our family and she taught me a lot without ever knowing that she had any influence on me whatsoever. She passed away before I finished high school, and we inherited a few of her things. One of those "things" is her ancient portable Corona typewriter. It's in my "work" bookcase, with all my important documents, some important trinkets of my travels, and a few of my research books.
Another one of those things we inherited is the table upon which I'm typing on my sturdy HP laptop, which is 100 years of technology ahead of that old , gracious Corona. It's a 50 inch round, Empire Era Sapele (ribbon mahogany) dining table, with a thick centre post, and four smaller corner posts, and a footrest. It's a bit of a collector's item. I sent of photo of it to Antiques Roadshow US and they went a bit squirrely over it. I'm thrilled that the table that Winifred used as she hosted and fed people, in her giant Victorian rooming house in Vancouver, is now part of my storytelling career.
Mrs. H started life in a small town in Ontario. Newboro, surprisingly enough, is mere miles from where our friends M&M live! I had no idea until I read one of the letters that came with the typewriter. I've kept these letters for years, but never read the ones from 1892, which were written in frail cursive. Let's just say that while I can read cursive, this letter was written on mourning paper, and describes the last days of a man who I think is Winnifred's father, but I'm not entirely sure. But the letters are still fascinating, and heartbreaking.
Anyway, so why do I call her Winifred, The Brave?
Well, the first hint is the typed letter was written in 1918.
Miss Winnie packed up a steamer trunk (yes, I have that, too), snuck out of Newboro, made it to Toronto, then made it to (I think) Montreal, jumped a ship, and sailed to Africa to become a missionary.
But wait, what was happening in 1918?
At the time, they called it "The War to end all wars".
Even though the Armistice would come that November, World War One was still ravaging the planet, and the shipping lanes were prime targets. But her calling was stronger than her fear, and her faith was stronger than anything that could hold her back, including the very real possibility of going down with the ship during a sea battle.
Read these, and try and keep it together.
These letters were typed on "my" Corona, left in the house, and discovered by her parents after she was long gone.
Can you imagine their emotions? Their daughter, who was probably less than 25 years old, had run away from home to cross the world and serve somewhere in Africa.
As you can see in the letter, she had a vague idea of what she was getting herself in for. But I doubt, with everything in me, that she had any idea of the life ahead of her.
Here's to you, Winifred, for being braver than the doubt, stronger than the fear, and more faithful than the naysayers ever thought you were capable of.
I wish that I'd been brave enough, when we first met, to ask you a few questions. But I was a kid, and had no comprehension of who was serving me chocolate covered raisins and smiling at me like we shared a secret.
Maybe we did. Maybe you saw a fellow adventurer. A painfully shy girl who had no idea that one day she'd grow up and defy what was expected of 50-somethings, and go on far-flung adventures to remote places, and climb fences and walk through graveyards in search of the truth.
Rest easy with Jesus, Winifred.