Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Guest Post: A Portrait In Courage and Faithful Obedience

By Jennifer Z. Major

The year is 1918, and all across the world, The Great War and the Spanish Flu were killing millions.

You come home to find that your young adult daughter has disappeared, along with her beloved Corona typewriter, and her steamer trunk. You call out for her, but all you find is this letter...

Dear Mother and Father;-

When you read this I will be on the way to Toronto, and please do not mourn for me as one dead but as one who has been called to do a privileged work for the king of kings. I cannot say what I would like to, it is just as well that I cannot. (I) realize that it will be years before I see this home again, and then you may be living in some more suitable and even pleasanter place. There has never been such a heart wrench as this and never will be again, for each succeeding time it get easier to pull up stakes. My thought is not for myself but for the lonely days that you will be called to see, but remember you are sharing in the work of spreading the "Good News" and nothing worthwhile comes easy.

First Page of Mrs. H's Letter
© Jennifer Major

At home I would eventually become a nuisance, at my work I will be fulfilling the purpose for which I was created, and which you are one with me in. I look forward to the days when darkened by African suns with laurels won for the master. I shall spend pleasant days with you both, I know. I feel that you will both be spared to each other for many years, and take it easy. I have one request and that is that you both take time to read the Bible and pray every day for me. My love for you both has not often been apparent, but my heart holds no two others so dear.

I shall be happy in my work and you will be in yours and you will think of me in a different way than if I were unhappily married in some home.

Second Page of Mrs. H's Letter
© Jennifer Major

I would not change palaces tonight with any king. It is indeed a privilege to suffer with the Lord, and loneliness was one of His trials.

Though oceans will roll between (us), we are as near in heart as if I were in Toronto. God has been very good to us and we have been spared many a heart ache that others have had to go through. I will not be in danger that a nurse at the front will have to face before these days are over, and will return to you in His time. I wish I could express the feelings that well up in my heart at this moment, and the gratitude I feel for your kindness, of which I have often been most undeserving.

(I) forgive all that has been unkind as I know you have, and be cheerful for the sake of one that loves you.

Isaiah 41:10

                                                        Your loving daughter, Winifred.

Can you imagine the parents? I'd have fainted. Or worse.

My daughter? Running off to become a missionary during a war and a killer pandemic that was decimating the entire planet?

From this letter, which I corrected a bit for grammar and flow, it appears all was not well between her and her parents. But no matter what, Winifred was as brave as brave gets.

Mrs. H's Corona Typewriter
© Jennifer Major

And yes, Winifred survived her missionary adventures and returned home to Canada. I'm not exactly sure when she returned, but she was very special to my family. Many decades after this letter was written, my dad arrived in Canada and had nowhere to live. Someone gave him the name of an older lady who ran a rooming house in her big Victorian home. He lived there until he married my mother in 1975. She loved my dad like a son, which was a gift, when his own family was on the other side of the world.

She’s long gone, but never forgotten. I have her steamer trunk, and now her typewriter and farewell letter. I also have her bird's eye maple dresser, and her dining room table, at which I am sitting as I type this. I met her when I was younger, when I was too clueless to see beyond her white hair and her age. I wish I'd have known then what a courageous girl she was. She was a ground breaker for many women for whom more was out there, they just had to get from where they were stuck, to there.

Tell me your thoughts on the letter, I'm curious to know what you see between the lines.

The Isaiah verse is..."So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand."


Bio: Jennifer Z. Major is a Vancouver native, now living in Eastern Canada. She and her tree scientist husband have four children. She's crisscrossed the American Southwest and Latin America several times, and hopped, skipped and jumped across Europe, once. She has written two novels based on Navajo history and will soon complete her third. She’s never been arrested, but takes fence-climbing very seriously.


  1. Welcome to the blog! How mysterious that letter is! It sounds like a story worth telling in its' entirety. The tension she refers to in the letter could be the normal angst that comes at a child's adulthood passage; it is often fraught with angst and conflict. It sounds like there were some parental expectations that she did not plan to fulfill. I'd love to hear more of this story. Thanks for posting.

    1. Thank you, and thank you, Jennifer Uhlarik for inviting me!

      No, Winnifred and her parents did not see eye to eye at ALL. They lived on a family farm in Easter Ontario and because she was over 18, they couldn't stop her from doing what she wanted to do, even though she lived at home. I do think she had a suitor they approved of, but who Winnie had no desire to marry.
      According to what she told my dad, she did marry, but her husband had died prior to my dad arriving in Canada in 1964.

  2. You hold a piece of history, certainly. It sounds like her parents had a suitor in mind for her, someone she couldn't abide, perhaps. How fun it would have been to question her. It's funny, a lot of people don't share their own story with the next generation. We should. So much is lost when we don't and they won't ask.

    1. Right?!?!?
      My dad told me that Winnie was the first woman ordained in the Methodist Church in Canada, but as much as I've searched, I can't find any record of that.
      I do know she was faithful until she died, even when dementia stole her away. She had very few living family members who were close to her, only a few great nieces somewhere in Florida who rarely visited but who took great interest in her when my dad was acting as executor of her estate and they were getting her house.

    2. Oops, sorry, a teeny PART of the sale of her her house, the mission got the rest.

  3. What a touching and inspiring story. The fact that you own, and apparently treasure, some of her belongings is really special. Her story brings many questions to mind and conjures up an image of her running away from an undesirable suitor. Having a peak into the life of this courageous young woman and knowing a little about her senior years is a treasure for us all. You keep her memory alive. Question: did she ever marry and have a family? It seems as though she did not but I'm not sure.

    1. She did marry, according to what she told my dad, but even those details seem sketchy since her initials on her steamer trunk are "W.H.", but her *married* name is Higginson.
      Who knows.
      In the late 1970s, my dad was named as her guardian. I don't know all the details, but he'd often get calls that she was wandering her neighbourhood in her nightgown, looking for her cow. Shortly after a few of those calls, we'd go visit her at the big psychiatric hospital, only, he wouldn't let us go inside with him. I didn't realize until much later that he'd had to commit her because she was a danger to herself.
      He was made executor of her will, because she had no one else she trusted. When she passed away, we had to clear out her three story Victorian home in order to sell it because she left it to her former mission agency, but she left the entire contents of her house to my dad. She and her husband never had children, but she adored my dad. He was the son she never had.

  4. Her story would make a wonderful novella or novel.