I was twelve when I met my cousin Winnie in Seattle. She was also twelve.
My parents and younger sister and I travelled from Estevan, Saskatchewan, to visit my mother’s sister and family there. We crossed the American border into North Dakota and then spanned Montana, Idaho and Washington State.
That trip covered 900 miles, and on today’s roads takes about 18 hours. But we travelled 1937 roads. And we made the trip in a 1929 deep maroon Model A Ford, the frame of which had been damaged in an accident before my father bought it. When he learned of the damage it was too late. The car was ours.
The car performed acceptably up to 35 miles per hour but driven faster than that it began to shake and vibrate in protest.
So, the four of us chugged along at 35 miles an hour across the vastness of the West and through the grandeur of its mountains. I particularly remember going through the Blewett Pass. Its many curves would not have permitted speeds to rise above 35 miles per hour.
In Seattle we found our relatives — Big Winnie, my mother’s sister; then Edna, her daughter and Little Winnie, my second cousin.
Big Winnie was only 4’ 10” tall, but the adjective “big” reflected her status as the matron of her family. Little Winnie got that name when she was small, but at 12 Little Winnie was already taller than Big Winnie.
Having never met before, at first there was a usual shyness, but children have an instinct for “strangers who are family.” I remember the pleasure at getting acquainted with a new cousin.
I recall only one conversation between Little Winnie and me. We were alone, swinging gently on the front porch swing when I asked, “What are you going to be when you grow up?” Without hesitation she said, “I’m going to be a writer.”
I replied, also without hesitation, “I’m going to be a writer too.” I don’t know where that came from. To my recollection I had never previously had such a thought. I don’t remember my response as competitive or teasing. Little Winnie had simply planted a fresh idea in my head and I warmed to it instantly.
Our family chugged all the way back to Saskatchewan in the wounded Model A and soon after arriving home, it was time for school. I was going into grade six.
Miss Walden was a new teacher, young and very motivating. She soon had us doing other things besides “school work”, such as doing drills in place to the music of a scratchy gramophone and coming to the school on Saturday mornings to sand and re-varnish our desks.
She even had us writing stories or poems for possible publication. At the time, the Regina Leader had a page on Saturdays for children’s compositions sent in from children among its readership. Miss Walden was faithful in encouraging us to write and she sent some of our efforts to the paper.
I remember one piece I got published, inspired by what was going on at our house, I wrote a half-fanciful Mark Twain sort of story about spring house cleaning. The first sentence began, “I entered the house to be accosted by the smell of calcimine.” Back then walls were often refreshed with a whitewash called calcimine.
I remember that my Mother worried that some readers might read my distortions as a true account. She didn’t like the fabrication of my pulling fishing gear from under my bed and pitching it out the window.
I don’t know whether Little Winnie became a writer. I know I began writing in earnest at the outset of my ministry — not only sermons, but articles, booklets, even books — and here I am in my ninety-first year still writing, by the grace of God.