September 15, 1997
I've not received a lot of fan mail over the years. Oh, I can hear you saying, "Fan mail? Fan mail? She expects FAN mail for this weekly bleating and moaning about her deplorable and mournful existence?" And your point is well-taken. What do I expect after I've taken away your reasonably good mood and left you with a feeling of inexplicable sadness, simply because I have been able to cope with neither my excess body hair nor the re-construction of every major traffic lane leading in and out of the city? Congratulations on a job well done? Thank you a bunch, Ellen, I really need that? I don't think so.
I should have said that I've not received much mail over the years and don't really expect any. Except once, when I begged for help in the homemade yogurt department. And truly believed that someone would write and tell me what I was doing wrong. After several weeks of vainly watching the mail, I got abusive, and wrote:
"I'm really disappointed in you guys out there. Now, I don't expect a lot from people. I accept them as they are, applauding and singing rousing madrigals of merriment when they occasionally soar to high levels of achievement. When the odd one sinks to new and unprecedented lows, I try to think positively and attempt to rationalize the unrational behaviour. I also try to bring cheer to the cheerless, hope to the hopeless, help to the helpless, and a bottle of excellent wine when I am invited to dinner. In return, I ask little: a kind word, no cracks about my new diet, a small portion of the Dao Reserva (l963).
"But, Dear Hearts and Gentle People, when my cry of despair goes up and I plead for succor and assistance...well, somehow, I just thought that someone would come to my aid; would stand to be counted and say, 'Yes, I know why your yogurt has the look and taste of jellied aspirin and this is what you have to do to rectify the foul stuff...'"
Now, that one got results. Mail poured in from all over the world and before long, we had yogurt 'setting up' in every corner of the Old Barn. Sue Murray, from Tagish, said that she would have written earlier but decided that "she'll probably end up with more recipes than the Yukon Government has department heads." Ha! Little did she know!
Helga Modamed, of Haines Junction, gave me an old family recipe and accorded me the respect that has been sadly lacking in my life, by calling me Mrs. Davignon. And Isabelle Pringle wrote from Carcross, injecting a note of caution. "I can't send you a recipe but here are at least six good and valid reasons why anyone eating the foul stuff could conceivably expect to expire by the age of 35 from either posne- cratic cirrhosis of the pephlinger duct, or acute acid indigestion, whichever comes first!"
Come to think on it, though, those weren't the only letters I've received. During a career that has spanned some 26 years, I have had a couple of honest-to-Pete fan letters like this one that came in response to a column in which I had expressed an intense desire for a close encounter with a UFO.
I'd written: "Desirous of nocturnal adventure, I peer into the night, seeking little green men and their flying machines. And as I walk along, I practice my greeting. 'Hi there,' I say. 'How's the trip been, so far? Come, have coffee and a cinnamon bun.'"
A week later, I received a card from Mary Reddock, depicting a flying saucer set down on earth and as several mongrels relieve themseves on it's landing pins, one green, bug-eyed visitor is saying into a mike: "Earthlings are now attacking our landing supports...repeat... Earthlings are now..."
Inside the card, Mary had written, "Dear Ellen, Thought you might like to know that the real reason those little green men won't land. Too bad you and your cinnamon buns didn't get there first." Then she went on to say that she loved my column but "as you probably get a lot of fan mail, I'll keep this short...." (!)
Why do I get the feeling that I should have ensured that Sue and Mary get together? They could have started the only 2-member fan club in the world.
Actually, there could have been another member. Early on, when I wrote for the Whitehorse Star, I shared column space with an interest- ing old fellow named Archie Gillespie. A skinny, wizened little guy with rheumy eyes, he'd been a newspaperman for over 50 years and had forgotten more than most of us have ever learned about the business. Demon rum had made inroads into his health and intellect, but when he was sober and working under a deadline, Arch could still paint sharp, clear verbal pictures.
My sister, Jo, was living in town then, singing with Ron Shortt's band in the Bamboo Room. On her night's off, she liked to make the rounds of the town's watering holes, checking on the competition, so to speak, and shmoozing with other entertainers. "Come with me tonight," she inveigled. "I'll introduce you to some neat people." One of the neat people sitting in with the band during their break, was Archie Gillespie.
"So you're Ellen Davignon," he said, when Jo introduced us. "I've been reading your stuff and I like it." He patted the chair beside him. "C'mere and park yourself."
A few nights later, Tiny Kitchen stopped by the Lodge, bringing me greetings from "an old boyfriend." Seems he'd stopped at Rainbow Room to have a snort and to swap a few yarns with his cronies. "A-yuh," he grunted, "you made quite a hit with old Arch, t'other night." He smiled and winked, handing me a letter. "Likes big broads, he says."
Blushing furiously, I opened the envelope and read:
"When the shades of day are over and the sunset turns to gold
I think of the girl (sic) who writes so big, so noisy and so bold
And I'll always think - in my stupid way-
On the path I should pursue
Cause in my dreams and in my schemes,
There's always a girl like you."
It was signed: With love, Arch.
That was pretty heady stuff for a rank amateur in both life AND the newspaper business, although Phil was somewhat less than amused by my my first, and only, billet-doux. Of course, he'd never met Archie, either.
Archie's poem was not the love letter that Phil believed it was. Nor was it even a "fan" letter, in the actual sense of the word. But believe me, to an unsophisticated young writer who was still strug-gling with a terrible shyness and lack of self-confidence, it more than did until the right thing came along!