As You Wave Me Goodbye
May 15, 2005
Under a ‘Teslin News" banner in the November 27, 1967
issue of the Whitehorse Star, I wrote: "Spring is Sprung! And winter had
hardly set foot in the door."
Worlds did not collide. The Yukon River continued to flow,
unchallenged, to the Bering Sea. The Star did not have to run extra copies to
fill a sudden demand. And I still had to stumble out the next morning at 6 o’clock
to turn on the grill in the drafty kitchen of the old Johnson’s Crossing Lodge
and get ready for the breakfast crowd, none of whom would realize their bacon
and eggs was being prepared by a Published Writer.
My first column, a short piece about the installation of
officers for the newly established Teslin Women’s Institute and the problems
of making curling ice under the unseasonably warm conditions, was written at the
behest of the Whitehorse Star looking for community news. When no one else
express an interest in writing the once-in-a-while report, I volunteered. I
lived at Johnson’s Crossing, 30 miles north of Teslin, but what the heck?
"Phone me the news," I said. "I’ll bash it into shape and mail
‘er in. How tough can that be?" Tougher than I thought, obviously,
because those early columns were pretty bad. The news was less than
earth-shaking; the segues, rough; the style, arch, and bordering on the silly.
But bad as I was, in the good old Yukon tradition of allowing one to sink or
swim - and paying me 10 cents a column inch while I floundered - they encouraged
me to continue until I finally developed, if not a powerful breaststroke, at
least a pretty decent dog paddle.
I reported Teslin gossip on a more or less regular basis for
the next five years, stopped to add Keeley Adam to our ever-expanding family
and, in the interim, decided I’d was tired of writing about bonspiels and
other people’s babies. In 1974, when the editor of the Yukon News, contacted
me about writing a column of my own choosing, I am somewhat ashamed to tell you
that loyalty to the nice people at the Star, who had persevered with my early
efforts, did not figure into my reply.
"Yes!" I told her. "I’d love to write about
the turbulence of a family-run business on the Alaska Highway. Any constraints
as to content?" In her reply, Pat Living wrote: "…I’ll accept
whatever you consider news; much of it will be light, I expect. To start, you
will be paid at the column inch rate of 30 cents. We send cheques monthly and I’d
like to have a column from you every other week, unless you feel that would be
With a fine disregard for the word "news" I
submitted my first piece, which they entitled, at my suggestion, Lives of Quiet
Desperation, and subtitled it, News from Points South. After three columns, they
bowed to the inevitable, that the "n-word," as such, would forever be
non-germane to my offerings, and dropped the subtitle. For the next 30 years,
the only change in the headings of my columns was to the surname of my byline:
usually it appeared as Davignon; occasionally, it turned up as D’Avignon . But
Davignon, or D’Avignon, it was the same ditsy, desperate dame who, a couple of
times every month, laid bare her soul and her life for public scrutiny.
Nothing was sacred. Tourists, government inspectors, and
school administrators all took their lumps. Elections, local and national, and
their impact on the even tenor of our ways, were discussed with sniggering
disrespect; Pipeline hearings and community developments, with scorn and
indignation – who did they think they were, putting a 5-mile pipeline corridor
right through our back forty, not to mention the cottage lot subdivision being
considered smack dab around our old swimming hole? I still wrote about bonspiels
and the weather; of grayling fishing down and the Riffle and the arrival of the
first swans at the Narrows but the day-to-day doings of the good people of
Teslin no longer piqued my columnistic notice.
Instead, I reported - with some chagrin that I’d missed it
- on the "big blue sparkin’ thing" that Bert Goodvin saw pass over
our valley "going like sixty!" and turned out to be a piece of a
Soviet space platform, and on the no-show of the manufactured northern lights
that CBC newsman, Peter Novak, assured us would be visible at precisely 11:43 on
a frigid January night, if we’d care to take a look. I cared. And stood there
on the JC bridge, in the minus-30 degree temperature, with a 30 mile-an-hour
wind ruffling her corrugated blue flesh, staring at the southern horizon until
my eyeballs froze and my rosy-red kneecaps seized up. Then I sat on the
snow-encrusted bridge abutment until other portions of my anatomy glaciated, and
watched some more before calling it a night.
That little escapade received about 20 scathing inches in the
January ‘91 News and did irreparable damage to Peter’s and my chumship, to
say nothing of the grievous harm done to my posterior.
I wrote of hunters and huntees, the Anik B satellite TV test
program, and space ships. The shenanigans at the Yukon Legislature caught flak
from time to time and the Sourdough Rendezvous got equal time and attention. I
wrote about the seasons, the world situation, Earth day, and the price of tea in
China. But mostly, I wrote about me and mine: diapers, dogs and diets; kids,
husbands and in-laws; migraine and menopause. I wrote of spring preparations, of
scrubbing and painting the old barn and ‘boiling the stove" and laying in
the first of the 7 tons of flour I would bake up into bread and buns and
pastries during the short tourist season.
I told all, in great and gory detail, about my long-suffering
family, a sort of catharsis of humour that probably saved our marriage and our
business, as well as the life of at least one child who probably should have
been eaten when his bones were still soft. It was, and is, the self-indulgent
babbling of a woman who trod the knife-edge of daffiness, but in doing so, often
struck a chord with many of her readers and they wrote and told her so. Their
empathy encouraged the madness and enabled it to continue for all these years.
Writing does not come easily to me. As I’ve often
mentioned, my columns are not dashed off in one single orgy of inspiration.
Rather, they tend to drizzle out, word by bloody word, until I finally run out
of gas, about three minutes before the deadline, and send it off, still stewing
and fretting over that so- important last line. This lack of ease and
spontaneity flavoured the love-hate relationship I’ve had with Lives and
sometimes it required outside force to make me sit to it. One day I rose from my
rump-spring recliner and felt this terrible pain in my temple. Grabbing my head,
I groaned, long and piteously. My daughter, Lise, did not even look up from her
book. "Just get over there and DO it!" she said harshly. Meekly, I
walked to my typewriter and rolled a fresh sheet of paper into the platen.
Instantly, the pain was gone. Easy, it never was. Therapeutic? No doubt about
And today, I bring you my last bit of desperation.
My camper is loaded, I’ve laid in a supply of bug spray and
sun block, and tomorrow, I’m off for parts unknown on a holiday that has been
anticipated for my entire lifetime. Of course, I hadn’t planned for it to be
just me and my dog. Initially, it was going to be Phil and me. Then it was Phil
and me and the kids. Too soon, as the kids grew, I envisioned Phil and me and
whatever kids were still home and wanted to come. After all the kids set out,
ready or not, out to seek their own fortunes, we sold the lodge and once again
it was just going to be Phil and me. Now, it’s just me. And Gib. I may go
broke buying gas but I’m off to see the world, at last, and better late than
I know that my life will continue to be desperate. After all,
there are some things in this old world that that do remain constant. And from
time to time, when the pain in my temple gets too egregious, I will sit down and
share it with you, the old adage of misery loving company, standing us all in
Thanks to my great kids for being there for me every step of
the way and for always forgiving me the liberties I took at their expense.
Thanks to the Whitehorse Star for their patience. Thanks to the Yukon News
allowing me a forum for my desperation life. Thanks to Chris, Sherry and the
staff at Mac’s Fireweed for their friendship and a brand-new work arena.
And finally, thanks to all my readers for the therapy, for
the kind words and cheering cards, for the odd letter that took exception and
set me straight, and for the 37 recipes on the subject of making an edible
Wish me luck as you wave me goodbye…
Love and kisses, Ellen