A Project Completed (proclaimed with great jubilation!)

Done! Finished! The church history I began writing in October of 2012 (was it really that long ago?) is finally complete. Well, more or less. The illustrated narrative has been printed, but there are accompanying heritage albums that will be ongoing as I attempt to keep an up-to-date photographic record of the life and ministry of our congregation.

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I’ve always been interested in our family’s genealogy, but I admit as a more general study, history is not one of my strengths. My original plan was only to update an existing historical document and augment it with photographs, but as the mounds of resource material grew, so did my passion for the task.

Authors of historical fiction would probably confirm that research can take longer to do than the actual writing. When it came to this non-fiction project, however, that part was a surprise to me. I knew where to look for the facts. There were also previous, albeit condensed, histories to access for material. Still, I encountered time-consuming roadblocks — there were inconsistent ‘facts’, incompatible dates, and conflicting memories!

My goal was to be as accurate as possible and document significant data in a bibliography, so I started by gathering all the information I could find, looking first at our national church archives and the local historical society’s records. Unfortunately there was very little to be found in either place, but bit by bit, details were unearthed.

It would have been smarter to first read up on how to write a history, but when I was finally ready to start writing, I had the notion that I wanted to begin with a brief section on the earliest roots of the Presbyterian Church in Canada, then go on to chronologically document the beginning of Presbyterian work in our area, because there was a distinctive history there. Both also provided the underpinnings for our current congregation. After the fact, I’m learning I did some things right — I had a plan before I began, and unknowingly chose a recognized format.

  • “The Time-line: Another visually effective method (again, less writing-intensive although every bit as research-intensive), facts are organized chronologically along a time-line. The number of sequential time-line entries per page will depend upon the number of corresponding photographs available to highlight key moments.”*

Writing a history isn’t quite like composing a memoir, but there are certain similarities. Unless one wants to end up with a sawdust-dry account of facts that will put readers to sleep, one needs to glean the interesting tidbits that bring personality to the account.

  • “History writing should not simply be a rehash of old stories told a hundred times before. This is where primary sources–original letters, diaries, and other documents–become your best asset. Look for interesting details that earlier writers haven’t emphasized… Odd facts such as these add zest to your narrative and are remembered by your readers long after most of the names and dates have faded from their minds.” **

There are some things I would do differently if I were starting again, and if the resulting document were to be published for public distribution. One would be to change the size of the book to a more typical 6″ x 9″ format. But there was no support or funding for a professionally published book. (In fact, although it didn’t end up being true, it was originally thought most copies would be ordered as a PDF file on a CD.) So the most inexpensive format was the only way to go.

That project is complete. Now it’s time to get started on the next one.

Have you ever tackled a memoir, history or biography?

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(UPDATE: I’m awestruck to discover this modest publication has been awarded the P.C.C. national Committee on History’s congregational book prize for 2015!)

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(Haney Presbyterian Church today)

(Haney Presbyterian Church today)

* People and Steeples:
Writing Church Histories
by Wendy Hobday Haugh

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**Making Your Future Out of the Past
by Sean McLachlan

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Writing a Memoir: or, down the line, who will care how I live my life?

Our daughters’ weddings were beautiful occasions, and traditional in many aspects but unconventional in their relative simplicity.  The girls dubbed them ‘casually elegant’. There were the usual lovely long white gowns, bridal bouquets, and receptions, but not a lot of fuss or elaborate preparations. (Our son’s wedding was more formal but we didn’t have a lot to do with its planning.)

As I compose this post it is well after 2:30 a.m. The house has become quiet. We’re housing the spillover of family that is gathering for a granddaughter’s wedding. Two of the three families who will be staying with us through the weekend are here and have settled in for the night; the third will arrive later today. In addition to sharing in the marriage of two special people, there is the precious time of being together with all the family and friends (170 of them!) who will gather to celebrate the milestone. Being together brings present joy and provides memories to treasure.

X TeacupsOne afternoon last week we were rummaging through boxes of items from the basement, unwrapping pieces of vintage china and crystal to use at the reception. Each piece brought memories of long-ago times when they had adorned the tables of other generations now gone. Stories were shared as each fragile piece was carefully washed and dried. I commented that our memory is a wonderful thing… a God-given blessing… but something that often we take for granted.

X Crystal

We don’t expect to forget the important events that make up our lifetimes, but our minds age along with our bodies and there is no guarantee that in later years we’ll always be able to remember details that we’d like to pass along to younger family members.

Like the Royal Crown Derby tea set that belonged to an aunt who died over forty years ago, and had come to us with the admonition that she would like it to remain in the family to be passed down through future generations of the Garvins.

X RCDerby

Or like the silver bowl with its latticed insert that used to hold nodding blooms of roses from my husband’s parents’ garden … from the very rose bed that a gathering of church young people danced around at a party one summer evening, beating a circular pathway into the grass of the manse’s backyard.

X Silver

We write memoirs for various reasons. Sometimes we want to share remembered antics and anecdotes publicly because we’re storytellers. Sometimes we simply want them recorded as personal recollections, a heritage for our families. We might not think anyone in future generations will care about what seem like insignificant happenings in our lives, or about the eccentricities of dearly departed relatives.(Where DOES that term come from??? Why are they ‘dear’ when they depart???) But my own experience has been one of regret that I didn’t sit down with my parents and grandparents to record some of the stories I’d vaguely overheard in fragments of conversations but later couldn’t recall. Those stories went to the grave with them and are now lost forever. I don’t want my life’s memories to suffer the same fate. Maybe nobody down the Garvin line will care, but if they don’t, they won’t be compelled to read my words. If they DO care, they will be extremely grateful that I took the time to record them for their benefit.

Such stories are part of who we are, and therefore part of the heritage that belongs to future generations. They nourish the roots which will enrich their lives.

Have you written any kind of memoir, autobiography or journal? If so, is it published? What are your intentions for it?

X Pitcher

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“For whatever was written in former days
was written for our instruction,
that through endurance and
through the encouragement of the Scriptures
we might have hope.”

[Romans 15:4]

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Piano whispers from an unknown history

Ghost-like memories of piano playing — years of scales, discords and sweet harmony from ivory keys — are hidden somewhere in the history of this old Chickering Victorian Square Grand Piano. No longer are visitors encouraged to play a tune on it. With its wires strung horizontally from left to right, rather than from front to back, its soft, subdued tones (listen) would be unlike what is produced by today’s pianos. But this one sits unused, silently overseeing the comings and goings of patrons in the lobby of a unique log building in BC’s south Cariboo.

Chickering Piano Keys-1

Jonas Chickering was the first piano builder in the United States, established in 1823. The Chickering brothers were known for building some of the finest pianos in history. This piano bears the Chickering name in gold lettering, but not in a style of text born by any other Chickering antique pianos that my research has unearthed, so I can’t vouch for its authenticity.

Chickering piano-1

(Click photo for larger view)

At one time a faded sign on it proclaimed, “circa 1883”, (or maybe it was 1853) but the sign has been gone for a while. Square grands existed from 1823 until the end of the 1880s. They began to lose favour when uprights became more popular, and were pretty well obsolete by 1900.

In the mid-1800s this one probably would have sold for between $800-$1200, the cost of a small house. One restoration site I visited offered fully restored Chickering square grands at prices from $30,000 to $50,000. I can’t afford one. Drat!

This particular piano sits against a wall, surrounded and topped by an accumulation of other collectibles from assorted eras. I wish I could rescue it! I’m not a great pianist or even a collector of antiques, but I want to clear everything off it, gently dust the keys and lower its lid against further insult.

I want to hear my daughters play it, or perhaps our church pianist — someone who understands all the emotion a piano can express and would appreciate its uniqueness and its place in musical history.

But I left it untouched… left with only photographs, and a longing to know its story.

Do you own a piano or another musical instrument? If it could talk, what story would it tell of its time in your household?

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“Praise the LORD!
Praise God in his sanctuary;
praise him in his mighty heavens!
Praise him for his mighty deeds;
praise him according to his excellent greatness!
Praise him with trumpet sound;
praise him with lute and harp!
Praise him with tambourine and dance;
praise him with strings and pipe!
Praise him with sounding cymbals;
praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
Let everything that has breath
praise the LORD!

Praise the LORD!” 

[Psalm 150:1-6]

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Cruising takes on a different meaning…

A little reprieve from cruise photos… sort of. Yesterday it was cruising of a different kind as hubby, son and grandson drove our two vintage vehicles to a large car show. ‘Old Car Sunday in the Park‘ is a Father’s Day tradition in our area and is “one of the largest shows of vintage, antique & collector vehicles on display in Western Canada.” Last year more than 1,340 vehicles participated. This year there were only 534 due to the threat of bad weather (which never materialized), but it was as much fun as ever! The organizers’ motto is, “If you love it, bring it!”  and it’s evident that a lot of people love their old cars, whether rusted or restored, classic or custom.

Our Vintage Vehicles

Our guys don’t claim to be ‘collectors’ — both the 1930 Ford Model A and the 1946 Willys CJ2A Jeep were acquired quite unexpectedly, thanks to the kindness and generosity of family and friends. But they both bring much delight to our men who appreciate their enduring heritage and enjoy tinkering with them.

What’s the appeal of old things? Why do we like old vehicles, vintage clothing, and the ancient history found in books, antiques and museums? I think it has a lot to do with the nostalgia created by these reminders of the lifestyle from a bygone era. We like to believe it was a simpler time, a time when quality and old-fashioned principles were held in higher esteem, and when a hard day’s work created calluses rather than stress. I doubt our forefathers would agree with that analysis, but what else is it? Why do Currier & Ives Christmas card collections remain so popular through the decades? Why do historical and Amish fiction continue to dominate book sales? Why do groups hold such successful car shows every year? I don’t have an answer. Do you?

What’s your opinion? Do you like owning any special reminders of the past?  What do they mean to you?

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A Green Moment in Time (Again)

“Way back in the olden days…” well, back in 2009, anyway, I admitted to being Irish and I shared a bit of the Irish legend and the shenanigans our family occasionally pursues to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. The latter involve things like green-tinted milk and green cream cheese and cucumber sandwiches in school lunch boxes, green oatmeal porridge in the morning and perhaps even green mashed potatoes with green beans at dinner time. I’ve about outgrown that silliness, although on second thought, I made green cupcakes last year.

In honour of the day, I’ve brought back that blog post. I hope you enjoy it. No writing application today, just a Happy St. Patrick’s Day wish for everyone.

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‘Tis St. Patrick’s Day and I admit to wearing green. I could just as appropriately have chosen blue, mind you, as blue was the colour associated with Ireland until the mid-1700s. And non-Catholics might well choose orange. So why does green appear everywhere today?

Legend has it that St. Patrick chose a shamrock to help explain the concept of the Trinity to the pre-Christian Irish people. As the habit of tucking a shamrock into one’s hatband became a common sign of either Irish nationalism or loyalty to the Roman Catholic faith, references to “the wearin’ o’ the green” began popping up. Trust the rest of the world to go overboard with turning all things green on March 17th. Even  the Chicago River is green today.

We do get carried away, in both sacred and secular circles, as we celebrate the feast day of St. Patrick. But it’s a wonderful excuse to share a bit o’ Blarney with friends. However I draw the line at hoisting a pint of green beer or stout. Just thinking about it makes me feel a little green around the gills!

Go n-eírí an bóthar leat.

(May the road rise with you.)

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Doing little and getting behind in everything (aka Multi-tasking)

It’s BC’s newest holiday today — Family Day. I suppose that makes it excusable to take the day off, but truthfully, I wasn’t going to be doing much today anyway. It’s a Monday, after all… my day to tackle whatever appeals to me. I caught up on some necessary correspondence over the weekend and today am back at the history project I mentioned last Friday.

Dr. Alexander Dunn - first Presbyterian minister in BC's Fraser Valley

Dr. Alexander Dunn – first Presbyterian minister in BC’s Fraser Valley

Being “back at it” is misleading. What I’m doing is a little like researching for a novel and never quite getting started on the actual writing. I’m still gathering, sorting, planning and yet not making significant headway towards producing the final album. Digging through fascinating old documents has become an insidious addiction. As I dig, the dust and dirty dishes accumulate. Fortunately the dishes hide in the dishwasher. When we’re almost out of clean ones my hubby hits the switch. (Gotta love modern conveniences and liberated men!)

When I was a working woman I would have said I multitasked quite well. Now that I’m retired I can’t seem to focus on more than one task at a time. If I start more than one, none of them gets finished. I’m resigned to picking just one thing and seeing it through to conclusion. This month’s ‘one thing’ is our church history. St. Valentine’s Day is this week. Last year I baked special goodies for the occasion, but I’m not sure that will happen this time. Depends on how much progress I make on this history thing.

How are you at multitasking? What suffers most when you’re engrossed in a writing/research project?

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Doing Research… and lovin’ it!

History was never my strong subject in school and I’d be embarrassed if you asked me how many history books are on my ‘recently read’ book list. If it’s a story about pioneering in the Yukon or northern BC, I’ve probably read it, but other places don’t usually interest me unless I’ve travelled there and have some personal time invested in the locale. I know, I know… I’m missing a lot.

So last fall I surprised myself by agreeing when I was asked if I would become our church’s historian. It’s not meant to be a big job — a history was compiled seventeen years ago, so the groundwork has been done — but there were no photographs included in it. The request is “to document the many events, milestones and accomplishments … in our ministry to each other and to the community around us,” and to do that, photographs are imperative.

St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church, Haney, BC

St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church and Manse – Haney, BC (circa 1907-1910) *

People have been contributing, I’ve been scrounging, scanning and sifting through everything I’ve collected. And I’m loving it! Who knew dry old church history could be so fascinating?

Those of you who write historical fiction, with all the research it entails, have probably known this all along.

What do you enjoy most (or least) about researching material for your writing?

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* Photo  via Maple Ridge Historical Society archives

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