A Book of Kells recalls the lives and unearths the egos of John Kell and Kathleen Ward who meet in 1917 when he is a Canadian sailor stationed in Portsmouth, England. Her father, a Methodist Sunday School teacher, brings him home for tea. Kathleen's sister writes to Jack until she gets married in 1924 and Kathleen takes up the correspondence. Meanwhile, Jack has been getting an education and has spent a year evangelizing the Swampy Cree to whom he plans to return for another five years. When he gets Kathleen's letter it is like manna from heaven. He proposes awkwardly and she asks him to come over for another look. But, when he does, she smashes him at tennis and banishes him to his far northern post. However, they agree to give themselves a year to reconsider. Seventy-two letters get through, even though the native reserve is cut off from civilization for six months of the year. They marry in 1927 and she goes up to Oxford House, Manitoba, by canoe along the old fur trade route. Nine months later, in mid-winter, she treks for five days by horse-drawn cariole to find a place to give birth. When I enter the picture during the Great Depression, a stressed-out minister's wife and three little girls are crammed into a duplex on a working-class street in Toronto. We're working our hearts out as little "examples," trying to help Father. In later years, I discovered an emotional toll to pay. I couldn't sit through a church service without breaking into unrestrained weeping. My teen-age and college years were near-suicidal. What seemed to be the fundamental problem was that I had been trained to put away my ego in favor of redeeming my soul. Still, religion was a great strength, protecting our family from tendencies towards alcoholism and mental illness. I struggle desperately to avoid the pitfall of black sheep, which seemed inevitable for the youngest of three "perfect" minister's daughters. The name of this family voyage recalls the famous ninth-century illuminated gospel manuscript, The Book of Kells.
About the Author
Born on a farm on the northern fringe of Toronto, I got a degree in English Language & Literature and married my Varsity heart throb. Early employment was at the Toronto Telegram, Maclean-Hunter and freelancing for the Globe & Mail, Toronto Star, Montreal Star and Montreal Gazette. My most fun jobs were as professional public relations secretary first of the Montreal YMCA and then of the Toronto YMCA, and as a program organizer of CBC-TV's first live nationally televised conference The Real World of Woman (1961). Following a move to Canada's capital region, I became editor/co-owner of the weekly newspaper in my home town of Aylmer, QC and had the busiest, best career of a lifetime. Upon discovering the keepsake box full of love letters, journals and photos my parents left, I published A Book of Kells: Growing Up in an Ego Void. It records my family's lives and my uneasy coming of age as a minister's daughter. Then I wrote Kathleen's Cariole Ride recounting my parents' transatlantic courtship and adventures living on a Cree reserve in the north. At the 2012 Centennial Conference honoring the literary critic, Northrop Frye, I learned that my notes of his lectures would be among those posted on the fryeblog, available for public download. This success brought me back to the day when I dropped out of college for a year and learned shorthand on my very first job, as a receptionist at the 'Tely'.