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(A story of Donald and Phyllis)
By Michael W Dymond
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2015 Michael W Dymond
All rights reserved.
THE EARLY DAYS
September 17, 1938,
Oxford Group Camp,
How are you? I'll just write a few lines because I haven't much to say.
I just got back from Gananoque and the new bridge across the St Lawrence River, the one that President Roosevelt made the big speech at a little while ago, it's about 7 1/2 miles across – I didn't cross!
I'm looking forward to seeing you again, I sure am missing you.
It was quite cool here last night. We had exercises outside the first thing this morning & then we went for a swim, boy was it cold. I just got through shaving & almost mislaid a piece of my chin. tsk! tsk! tsk!
I hope you haven't been staying home too much and feeling blue, have a good time if you can & don't do anything I wouldn't do?? But I hope that is all through with now, & I'm going to try & make a new start when I get back.
Well Darling so-long for the time, I love you more since I've been away from you & I'll make up for it at the earliest possible moment. My heart is with you even if I can't hold you close to it.
Lots of love
Dec. 14, 1938.
Eastview, Kingston, Ont.
Oxford Group Camp.
Dear Ducky P. U.
There happened to be a typewriter in my cottage and so I am taking advantage of it.
It is raining here and I am a little wet from coming up to the cottage from the hall, about a three minute walk. The hall where we hold our meetings is at the bottom of a hill and mine is no. 13. I have taken the job of seeing that the cottage is kept in good order and everything kept clean and neat.
You have no idea what a wonderful place this is, solely because of the marvelous bunch of fellows that are here. There are sixty-five or seventy here now and we are expecting probably two-hundred or more.
I mailed you a post card at noon but I thought I should write you a letter going into detail.
I am convinced there are a number of things that I must straighten out with you when I get back and I am looking forward to the time.
I hope everyone is getting along fine and that Shirley's situation has been coped with.
We got here safely on Monday. The three of us had headaches when we arrived due to fumes coming from the motor through a hole in the floor. Something went wrong with the starter today, it works but it doesn't connect with the motor – a little push will start it however.
Bob, another fellow, and myself were taken through a sort of a fortified structure near the Military College in Kingston yesterday and it was really interesting to see the weapons that they used to use.
If you want to write to me you can address it to the above heading, and if you don't write I will understand.
The most amazing thing about this camp is the fact that we have here what the whole world wants, the answer to every problem of the world.
I don't seem to be going about the situation in the right way and I am therefore rather disappointed with myself. I am however beginning to get an idea of the outlay.
Well Darling, when I return I will tell you all about everything.
Until then I remain yours with the deepest love.
ABOUT MOM AND DAD
Phyllis was born in Chatham, Ontario, Canada in 1916 and lived with her parents and younger sister, Shirley, at 23 Dover Street, a very modest part of town. Her life was governed by a rather demanding mother who brought to bear with regularity the old country adage that children should be seen and not heard. Beyond home and Mother's daily admonitions of what and what not to do, school and the Church gave Phyllis a welcomed reprieve. This diversion was with mother's support as Church was a very important part of her life.
As a young teen, Phyllis joined and sang in the choir at Christ Church and attended, as often as she could, activities of the AYPA – Anglican Young People's Association – where she met and chummed with a young man named Jimmy McLagan. Through the choir she met Mrs. Dorothy Minnie Dymond, a very charming and elegant English woman. Whether it was through her association with Mrs. Dymond or the AYPA, Phyllis soon met Dorothy's son, Donald, and they, Jimmy, Donald and Phyllis, become fast friends.
Donald was born in Bideford, North Devon, England in 1919. Looking to the future and what appeared to be opportunity in Canada, the family emigrated there in 1928. They first lived in London, Ontario, but soon found their way to Chatham, settling there where Donald finished 'lower school' and was working as a printer's assistant at the Mercury Press.
Donald and Phyllis soon became more than just friends and started going steady. At Christmas, 1939, Phyllis discovered, in a small box at the bottom of a package of coal – it was an old custom to give coal as a Christmas gift to those who were naughty and not nice – an elegant, yet simple engagement ring. Donald had a wonderful sense of humor. The question may have been popped, but never the less, Phyllis and Donald became engaged and plans began in earnest for their future together.CHAPTER 3
THE ENGAGEMENT. CHRISTMAS, 1939
This Christmas, in addition to being when the ring was discovered surreptitiously buried in a package of coal, is the first time that the two families had come together formally for a meal. Beyond Donald and Phyllis, they had little in common. Being from east of London and North Devon proved distant enough for engaging conversation. Rose, coming from a family of nine and used to preparing large meals had, in the spirit of the season, offered their home for this Christmas gathering. Phyllis had actually insisted, saying that the Dymonds couldn't accommodate both families in their small home. Hence Christmas Day of 1939, with all the customary activities of welcoming handshakes and distant kisses and so nice to see you again regards, had begun. It came with proper English tea, biscuits and, fitting the occasion, glasses of wine and sherry, not to mention the sharing of nominal gifts. It was at 23 Dover Street, Phyllis' home, the home of Billy and Rose Jackson where they had dinner in Rose Jackson fashion with all the seasonal trimmings.
There had always been a little friction between the two families. From a distance, it would appear that family history, about which there was much ado back in merry old England, held little sway in Canada. Who your father was and where he was from did play a major role in the selection of friends and future family members in the upper crust of British society, but not in Canada. In an effort to maintain that aura, a profound sense of pride, misplaced at times in being English and all that is proper, was exuded constantly by Don's mother, Dorothy, in both dress and deportment. However, having immigrated to Canada from England with little but this pride and not having added much to that since arriving, it was a hard pill for the Jacksons to swallow. Never the less, the important people here today were the newly betrothed Donald and Phyllis. Nothing should diminish that, not even a stayed and often aloof, British façade.
Shirley, like the good sister she was, not so happily set the table at mother's direction. With dad in tow like the obedient puppy expressing the occasional, "yes, dear," they placed the right flatware the right way at the side and above each plate after which Shirley poured tomato juice as some toasting was expected. Only the best Blue Willow plates and cornflower glasses would do. The mixed aromas of turkey, ham and Yorkshire pudding saturated the air and affable Rose would soon invite all to share in this season's abundance and blessings.
Billy carefully carved the modest turkey while Phyllis sliced ham at the counter heaping it generously on a platter and placing it on the table. Everyone quickly found their seats. Donald sniffed the air offering loud yummy sounds to the tune of 'Santa Claus is coming to town' at which his mother clucked a stern, "Donald!" He and Phyllis cozied up like love birds on the piano bench, on one side of the table. This is where all future children would sit for birthdays and seasonal repasts. It was what was expected.
Shirley plopped herself down between Phyllis and their dad as Dorothy and Robert filled the chairs directly across from their son and future daughter-in-law. Rose sat in the customary spot of authority opposite end from Billy and quietly motioned in which direction food should be passed. Shirley just shook her head. Conversation slowed as plates were filled, rolls were cut and buttered and all attention focused on the task at hand ... eating and enjoying a wonderful Christmas dinner.
"Would you say grace, Donald?" his mother asked curtly smiling at Rose, "before we eat this lovely meal."
"Yes, mother," Donald said with a grin, putting down a half-eaten roll, "I will," he continued saying, "sorry, mother, this all smells so good, I just couldn't help myself."
"Don't be impertinent, dear, just go ahead." Shirley rolled her eyes.
Everyone bowed their heads as a thankful silence overtook the table. "For what we are about to receive may the Lord make us truly thankful," Donald stated reverently, then resumed his humming rendition of 'Santa Claus is coming to town'.
With that, Robert quickly took his juice glass in hand offering a toast, "To King and Country. After all, Canada is still part of the British Commonwealth and we should rightly recognize and salute its King." After the toast, and just as quickly so not to be upstaged, Rose took up her glass again and proposed a toast to the future of Phyllis and Donald; that it would be filled with love, laughter and the giggles of children and that the war just declared on Germany by Britain and Canada would remain at a great distance and be short lived.
The hungry group replied like eager, yet obedient children, to both toasts quickly downing their juices. The feast then began in earnest.
Donald, ravenous as usual, was first in and always first out like a starving refugee, leaving little, if any for Mr. Manners. Shirley just played with her food. It was customary in the Dymond household to always leave a little on your plate for Mr. Manners. Scraping the last morsel from the plate of a meal well-enjoyed is hardly necessary and could be considered utterly rude, suggesting the host had not provided enough to eat ... an old British mores. We wouldn't want that. Plate heaping and head down, Donald gobbled up every crumb like it was his last after which he sat quietly, but just for a moment. It was his job to eat, Mr. Manners, be damned. He then began to refill his plate.
Shirley, an excited sixteen year old but not at all sure about dinner with the 'snooty Dymond's' as she referred to them, was quietly eager to gaze upon the engagement ring ... a simple, yet elegant setting. On a typesetter's income, much is hoped for but little is expected. Phyllis was enthralled.
"Oh, that is nice sis," Shirley whispered, as she gazed directly at Mrs. Dymond, but not to upset the formality of the meal. Shirley was never good at withholding her gaze or her tongue. However, she did garner a 'children should be seen and not heard' stare from Donald's mother, not unlike she would get daily from Rose, her own mother. Well, the English are the English, she thought.
"Can I try it on, sis?" she whispered, rubbing it with her sleeve.
Quickly looking around the table, Phyllis decided discretion might just be the key here and offered a kiss on the cheek and a, "no, not now, but maybe later," response. That seemed to satisfy Shirley, who resumed poking at her food.
"I really enjoyed Reverend Mess' sermon today," Dorothy said enthusiastically. "He made it abundantly clear that this is the season to be thankful for what we do have and not to think too poorly about those that struggle at this time of the year. There were some new faces in the congregation this morning, I noticed, and it seemed he was aiming his comments at them. I really didn't recognize any of these people ... did you dear?" she asked calmly, looking at Robert.
Before her husband had a chance to respond, Donald was quick to add a thought.
"C'mon mum, there are always new faces at this time of year and with a war beginning, everybody is looking for a little help. Even the commonest of souls are encouraged to attend church on Christ's birthday. It seems the thing to do and I believe the reverend was thinking as much of us as he was about new people and the war, I guess."
"Well, perhaps," Dorothy said unpretentiously, "and he did speak wonderfully about the wise men and their trip to the baby Jesus." Quickly changing the subject, Dorothy directed her comments to Phyllis. "How long is it now that you two have been dating?"
"Um," Phyllis said looking at a grinning Donald, "about two years, right Ducky?"
Through a mouth full of turkey, Donald replied, "... yes, about that love"
"Donald!" exclaimed Dorothy, "... not with your mouth full!"
His dad just shook his head then brought up a rather delicate subject.
"I suspect the regimental reserves will be busier and somewhat on the alert since war has now been declared. Would you agree, boy?"
"Yes, father, I do agree. In fact, Billy, Jimmie and I have been talking and we are seriously considering joining the active forces. From what I have heard, the numbers in the active militia far outnumber the full-time army complement. Over the next few months there will likely be many boys joining up, and I guess that's why we've been talking about it."
Phyllis continued to eat as though she didn't hear Donald's comment. But she knew as they had talked. This revelation, however, drew a surprised look from his mother, a look that quickly turned gaunt as her face fell. Robert had served with the RAF in Egypt during WWI. He survived, but her memories of those days of fear and hope suddenly brought back pain since forgotten. Robert was taken aback as well and only because he felt that if his son had given serious thought to serve in the forces, with war now declared, that he would have spoken to him first.
A palpable chill overtook the room that all felt. It is Christmas and a time for the joyous celebration of birth and renewal. The New Year was within reach. Talk of lighter, happier things should be the narrative. The gloom of war and all it brings did not belong at this table. However, it was a menacing reality that would slowly and unavoidably seep into the fiber of the country.
"When did you talk about this with your friends?" asked Robert.
"At the AYPA meeting of last week when we were putting together plans for a New Year's dance it came up. I'm not too sure how confident Jimmie was feeling about the idea, but Billy and I were quite serious. Canada is in because Britain is and we felt that whatever happens we didn't want any part of war to end up on our shores here in Canada. It seems like the right thing to do. Is that wrong thinking dad?"
"No, son, it is not. I just thought we might have spoken before you made any decision."
"Well, it's not for sure, dad, but I think we need to be involved in some way."
"I certainly don't approve, Donald," his mother said. "Do you have to join now? Can't you wait until we are well into the new year and see how the conflict goes. Perhaps it will be brief and there will be no need for you to join. I am sure the army has quite enough soldiers for now and with England involved, maybe there will be no need for Canadian assistance."
"Phyllis, how are you feeling about this?" Donald's mother asked, concerned.
"Mother," Donald said rather sharply, "the army doesn't have enough members, but perhaps we should speak of this later. It is Christmas. Shouldn't we be a little more jovial? I do feel I need to do my duty, however, to do what I can do for our country and it is all volunteer. There is no conscription to the service and I expect lots of boys will be lining up to join over the next few months ... and, yes, mother, I will wait to see how things go into the new year, then make a decision. Billy Mugridge said he thought it may be a little early, as well, to make that decision. I will wait," he concluded, kissing Phyllis on the cheek. "I just got engaged. We won't be rushing anything, right, love?" he finished, kissing Phyllis again on the cheek.
The need to eat the wonderful meal that Rose had prepared overtook the conversation and scraping forks and sighs of satisfaction prevailed.
"Mrs. Blonde was out in her yard earlier, Mom," Shirley said looking to Rose.
"Was she?" Rose asked. "She has been a little under the weather recently. It is good to see her out and about a bit."
"Maybe we should send her over a plate of food later," Shirley added. "She probably doesn't cook much for herself. I don't think you do that much when you are alone all the time ... and sick too."
"Perhaps you should run over a little later, Shirley, and ask." Rose suggested.
"Okay, mom," Shirley replied.
"Phyllis," Rose asked, "will you put the pudding sauce on to heat? I am sure we will be having dessert soon ... and the kettle, too please, for tea?"
Excerpted from Ducky by Michael W Dymond. Copyright © 2015 Michael W Dymond. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
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Table of Contents
The Early Days, 1,
About Mom and Dad, 5,
The Engagement Christmas, 1939, 7,
How it Might Have Been, 26,
The Honeymoon, 37,
Heading to our New Home, 44,
Letters From 1941, 53,
More About Donald and Phyllis, 74,
Letters of 1942, 77,
May, 1943, London, Ontario, Canada, As It Could Have Happened To Phyllis, 114,
Following Is As It Could Have Happened. A Story. 1945, 118,
To England, 126,
The Algonquins, 131,
To The Front, 132,
Life Letters, 179,
About the Author, 181,