Prov 17:22

A merry heart doeth good like a medicine... - Proverbs 17:22

Friday, November 25, 2022

From Ashes to Promises

Last summer, I told you about a novel I titled From the Ashes, how it won the 2022 Braun Book Award, and how Word Alive Press would publish it before the end of the year. I’m happy to tell you the end of the year is rapidly approaching, and my 200 author copies are supposed to arrive today.

Except nowhere will they say, “From the Ashes.”

Although that name would have fit—you’ll understand why when you read it—one quick search on Amazon will show you the title has been used many times. Book titles cannot be copyrighted, but I wondered at the wisdom of using such a common one. My publishers wondered, too. They suggested Lilly’s Promise, named for the main character in the historical portion of this split-time story.

I could live with Lilly’s Promise. I checked Amazon for other books with the same title. I found one, but Lilly was spelled with only one L. Plus, the other Lily’s Promise is nonfiction. I mentioned it to my publishing team and they agreed it shouldn’t be a problem, for those reasons. Plus, they thought perhaps the other book may prove obscure. We settled on Lilly’s Promise and kept moving forward.

In mid-August, I stepped into Chapters Book Store in Winnipeg. You know how they always display the hottest current books right inside the door? Well, guess where my gaze landed? Lily’s Promise. The nonfiction story with one L. I simply had to buy a copy.

Written by Lily Ebert and her great-grandson, Dov Forman (only 17 when the book released), Lily’s Promise is sub-titled Holding on to Hope through Auschwitz and Beyond—A Story for All Generations. Lily’s story is a life-affirming intergenerational memoir and an unforgettable tale of resilience and resistance. On Yom Kippur, 1944, fighting to stay alive as a prisoner in Auschwitz, Lily made a promise. She would survive and tell the world her story, for everyone who couldn’t.

Nearly 80 years would pass before Lily could keep her promise. For decades, no one talked about the horrific events that occurred in those Nazi concentration camps. “The Holocaust not only killed the people who died during the war, more people than the mind can take in, but also killed something in everybody who lived through it,” Lily says. “It meant that survivors could never lead normal lives and neither could their children, as I eventually came to realize. Maybe the next generation was even affected too.”

Not until the 1980s did Holocaust support groups begin to form—a safe place where survivors could gather to talk, or not talk, as they needed. One element they quickly realized held great importance was the food shared at their gatherings. For those forced to live on nearly nothing for so long, the freedom to select their own food and fill their plates can provide healing and rich comfort.

The book also chronicles Lily’s return visit to Auschwitz and her opportunities to speak to young people about her experiences. When Dov, a social media content creator, offered to help Lily tell her story, she knew that at 96 years of age, it was time to keep her promise. Harper-Collins agreed to publish the book. The foreword was written by the Patron of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, HRH The Prince of Wales, now King Charles III. I highly recommend the book. 

Two books, same title. I recommend both.

My own Lilly’s Promise does not have a foreword written by a prince or a king or anyone, for that matter. But it’s a good story and I hope you’ll check it out. Click the book cover (top, right) to buy online. Local friends, here are the details of my upcoming launch event:


Friday, November 18, 2022

Full Circle

I’ll never forget one November day in 1995. Grubby and exhausted from hours of cleaning other people’s houses, I stopped in at Red River College’s local campus to pick up my husband who was teaching an Accounting course there. He had recently lost his right arm in a farming accident, throwing our family into turmoil. I wondered what challenges this new life might press upon us. Would I be expected to increase my earnings to help support the family? How could I? After ten years of cleaning, I felt unqualified for anything else. The world around me had become computer-dependent while I lagged behind with my mop and dustpan.

While I waited in the hallway, the manager of the center, Irene Adams, breezed by.

“Hi, Terrie. Come see me before you leave. About some work.”

I watched her disappear into her office. Forget it, I thought. I am not interested in adding one more cleaning job to my list, especially one the size of this place. Please don’t make me do this, God.

I felt tempted to sneak out, but Irene caught me and called me into her office. To my surprise, it wasn’t a cleaner she sought but an evening clerk. Someone to handle the office from regular quitting time until evening classes began. The work would be cyclical and varied. The pay exceeded what I currently made. If I wanted, I could even take classes free of charge as long as they related to my position.

I spent the next four years at that job. The rusty hinges of my office skills received oiling as I got up to speed with computers. I took several courses toward an Office Administration certificate—all free of charge. My life’s trajectory had changed.

The leg-up Irene offered me that day enabled me to accept my next position at my church for ten years, followed by another decade at city hall before retiring in 2019. Recently, in one of those delicious twists, Red River College invited me back. Not as a janitor. Not as an office clerk. But as an instructor of Creative Writing, based on my seven published books and twelve years of writing this column—goals I could never have accomplished without those computer skills gained way back when.

Photo courtesy L. Driedger

I accepted the challenge, wondering how I could stretch what I’ve learned into eight 3-hour sessions. By the time we had three of those classes under our belts, I found myself trying to figure out what I must leave for a future course! I’m learning along with my students, and I hope I’m helping them “turn on the tap” as we increase our daily word counts each week. I trust they are gaining confidence and polishing skills. And I really hope they’re having as much fun as I am. In another interesting twist, one of my students is Red River’s evening office clerk—the job I held all those years ago.

Through it all, I appreciate so much more how God leads and provides through the hills and valleys of life. And how following that lead can sometimes take us full circle in the most astonishing and delightful ways.

Psalm 37:23-24: “The Lord directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives. Though they stumble, they will never fall, for the Lord holds them by the hand.”

Friday, November 11, 2022

Memorable Manitobans

For my Remembrance Day post, I researched a few memorable Manitobans with ties to Portage la Prairie who also served in the military. You can find several on the Manitoba Historical Society’s website. I chose three. How many of these names are familiar to you?

Sidney Arthur “Sid” Walmsley

Born in Winnipeg around 1924, Sid Walmsley was raised in London, England. During World War II, he served in the British Army. After returning to Canada, he attended United College and became an ordained minister of the United Church of Canada. He served in parishes throughout rural Manitoba until becoming chaplain at MDC in Portage. There, he received awards for his teaching, curriculum development, and editing of an international journal on mental development. He also served as a member of the Royal Society of Health.

An avid thespian, Sid was a founding member of both the Virden Dramatic Society and the Prairie Players of Portage la Prairie, and cofounder, with his wife Dorothy, of Candlelight Productions. He received two Canadian playwrighting awards, served on the Board of Directors of the Canada Arts Council, and taught theatre courses. He helped form the Portage Arts Council in 1977. In recognition of his community service, he received the Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal.

Sid Walmsley died in Portage la Prairie on October 28, 2003. Friends remember him as a passionate man who inspired those around him.

Ian A. MacKenzie

Born in 1923 at Fort William (now Thunder Bay), Ontario, Ian MacKenzie came to Portage la Prairie during World War II as a member of the Royal Canadian Air Force. Following his military discharge in 1946, he returned to Portage and joined Wilford Vopni in ownership of the Graphic Liberal Printing Company, publishers of the Portage Daily Graphic and Portage Leader. They later purchased the MacGregor Herald and Neepawa Press. In 1970, Ian purchased full interest in Vopni Press Limited and served as president and publisher until 1989. He also served as president of the Canadian Weekly Newspapers Association and of the Manitoba Community Newspapers Association. Ian was also the well-loved Mayor of Portage la Prairie from 1999 until 2005.

Ian MacKenzie died in Portage la Prairie on December 30, 2014. Those who knew him remember him as a gentleman and a gifted, gracious speaker.

George Perry Armstrong

Born in Carman, Manitoba on January 30, 1885, George Armstrong received his education from the University of Manitoba, graduating with a medical degree in 1911. He practiced in Alberta for four years before joining the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CAMC) in 1915. He transferred to the RAMC in England and was attached to the 15th Royal Scots (34th Division) as Medical Officer. After serving at the Somme in 1916, he was awarded the military cross, then served in Mesopotamia.

In 1919, Armstrong came to Portage la Prairie where he went into medical partnership with Dr. Hassard. He served as a member of the British, Canadian, and Manitoba Medical Societies as well as numerous charitable organizations. He died on May 5, 1952, and was buried in Hillside Cemetery. Armstrong Street in Portage la Prairie commemorates him.

Will your name appear on a list of “Memorable Manitobans” one day? Proverbs 22:1 says, “A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.” (NIV)

Friday, November 4, 2022

Steel Magnolias

Robert Harling

Born in 1951 in Dothan, Alabama, Robert Harling moved to New York City to become an actor, auditioning for bit parts in plays and commercials while working as a ticket seller for Broadway shows.

In 1985, Harling’s sister, Susan, died from diabetic complications after the birth of her son and the failure of a family member’s donated kidney. A writer friend encouraged Harling to write it all down to help him come to terms with his feelings. He did, as a short story for his nephew and to better understand his deceased sister. Within ten days, the short story evolved into a play called Steel Magnolias.

The play was produced off-Broadway in 1987 to great acclaim and subsequently translated into seventeen languages. In 1989, the film version of Steel Magnolias released, starring Sally Field, Dolly Parton, Shirley MacLaine, Daryl Hannah, Olympia Dukakis, and Julia Roberts. Harling himself played the role of the minister.

You’ve likely seen either the Oscar-winning movie or the stage version of this story. It explores many themes—the friendships of women, a mother’s love and sacrifice, and more.

The Prairie Players is staging Steel Magnolias this month at the William Glesby Centre. First-time director, Pam Stinson, is enjoying the challenge of bringing the Prairie Players’ first post-Covid production to the stage. Originally set for spring of 2020, the play is finally going ahead with a mostly new, all-female cast. They’re even taking the show on the road and performing in Onanole at the end of November.

Deanne McLeod, a big Dolly Parton fan, is thrilled to portray Truvy. She says, “We intend to give a performance like no other. Prepare to be thoroughly entertained!”

Meghan Carter, new to Prairie Players, portrays Annelle. She says, “I’m really glad I took the leap because I’m enjoying the whole process, from going to rehearsals, researching the setting of the play, and picking out costumes. What I appreciate most about my role is the change Annelle undergoes in that her self-confidence evolves as the plot progresses.”

Laurel Giesbrecht has been with Prairie Players since 2012, last seen in Mary Poppins. “The tight timeline has made this one intense, but Pam is so encouraging,” she says. “I play Clairee Belcher and I’m having an absolute blast with her big heart and sassy comments.”

Alanna Downey plays Shelby. Originally from Wawanesa, this is Alanna’s first production with the Prairie Players since her move here five years ago.

After the last few years of coping with the impact of Covid, Jennifer Lomonico says she felt getting involved with Prairie Players would help with re-establishing connection with others and doing something creative and inspiring. “It’s been a wonderful experience. We have a lot of laughs and a great group of people. I play M’Lynn, who has a mix of funny and serious moments. I was drawn to the role because of M’Lynn’s strength, humor, and emotional vulnerability.”

Long-time Players member Danica Turcotte will portray Ouiser (Weezer), often the most loved character of all.

Stinson says, “I especially wanted to direct Steel Magnolias, the first play I ever saw of Prairie Players back in the nineties at Southport. The experience has been very positive. I have a vision and the cast is making it come true! It’s truly great to be back at the theater after three years. I believe in being active in the community. This is one way for me to participate.”

The show runs November 9, 10, 11, and 12 at the William Glesby Centre. Doors open at 7:00 p.m. Curtain rises at 7:30. Tickets cost $18 and can be purchased in two places: the Prairie Fusion Gift Shop (Mon – Thurs, 10:00-3:00) or MCC Furniture Plus (Tues - Sat, 9:30-4:00). Note: tickets are not available at the Glesby box office. If not sold out, tickets can also be purchased at the door before each show.

I designed the poster as my contribution to the production. ;)