For Father’s Day: A Tale of Two Max’s

Max and dogsMax’s original owner was most apologetic when she found out that my father’s name also happened to be Max.  I assured her, truthfully, that my father would be delighted to have a four-legged namesake.  Maxwell Henry French was renowned for his love of dogs—and for the way he kept acquiring them and sending them home during the years he was working in the USA, much to the irritation of my mother.  My father was one of the citizens who spearheaded the community movement to oppose the introduction of leash laws in Lighthouse Park, and after he died, columnist, Trevor Lautens, expressed regret at the disappearance of the “erudite old gentleman in the pith helmet” from the local scene.

mavAt one time, the French household had four dogs.  The first of these was Maverick, the hell-raiser, who was all-DOG in the days when all-DOG behavior was tolerated.  He chased vehicles, terrorized the mailman, dug holes for his bones halfway to China, fought the male dogs and went AWOL to court the females.  Back then, the neighbours accepted his roving nature, referring to him as “The dog with the flirtatious tail” and chortling at his adventures.  We lived next door to a racing driver who used to beam admiration at the way Maverick, even in his arthritic old age, could accelerate up the driveway when a motorbike went by.

circeMaverick’s old age was enlivened by Circe, the tiny German shepherd pup, who charmed every cargo worker at Vancouver airport when my father had her shipped up from San Francisco the day before my mother was due to leave for England.  Needless to say, my mother was not impressed.  However, I assured her that I could manage in her absence, even though I was serving as house manager for Theatre in the Park that summer, and finally, with a skeptical look in her eye, she left me to it and got on the plane.

cmCirce and Maverick enjoyed their time in Stanley Park.  Circe sat in her puppy cage by the stage door and received adulation from the cast members of My Fair Lady and Oliver as they reported for duty.  Maverick, I simply handed to the usher who was distributing programs, and other than the occasional lunge at a police horse, he managed to behave appropriately.  For a feisty dog, he was remarkably tolerant of Circe.  We put it down to their first meeting.  Circe was only five weeks old and had been taken from her mother too soon.  The moment we got her home from the airport, she walked underneath Maverick, mistook his private parts for the food source her mother had provided, and chowed down with misguided optimism.  They were firm friends ever after.

plMaverick and Circe were augmented two years later by Cerberus and Diana, shepherd pups also shipped up from San Francisco.  By then we also had Lighthouse, the cat named after the park where we had found him.  By now, the neighbours’ standard joke repertoire included anecdotes of how my absent father kept my mother in bondage through pet care and his burgeoning zucchini patch.  My mother, bless her, smiled serenely and carried on.  Therefore, it was typical that it was my mother who stepped up to the mark when, the day after I acquired Max, I needed him to be puppy-sat while I attended a dentist’s appointment.  This, of course, was many years later, by which time, all four dogs in the French household had passed on, so I suspect she was quite happy to have a dog in the family that could be enjoyed and returned, rather like the grandchildren.

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My mother, Olive Maud French, with Maverick

As I was still going to the same dentist I had attended since teenage, my appointment was in Ambleside, so my mother bussed in to meet me, took charge of Max, and walked him along the waterfront while I had my teeth cleaned.  Max, affably, let my mother take the leash and trotted off with her, obviously knowing another pushover when he met one.  Dr. Mielke, watching their retreating backs through his window, informed me that everything was under control.  He added, “He’s a real little box, isn’t he?  Sturdy little guy.”

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Young Max – “The sturdy little guy”

Mum gave Max a very good report when they returned.  Then we drove him out to Kensington Crescent to meet his namesake.  He and Dad took to each other right away.  Dad proceeded to walk him around the crescent and show him to the neighbours.   When we returned to the house for lunch, Dad sat Max at his elbow and snuck him tidbits.  Max accepted the treats and adulation with equanimity, and thus began a blissful relationship—a shared name and mutual admiration.   The shared name was actually very appropriate, since the two also shared Max-like personality traits. They were both alpha males with a temper, both very clever, and both extremely possessive of what was theirs.  Max, the dog, guarded his food ferociously, and Max, the man, was renowned for his thrift and the tight grip he held on his assets.  Both were also subject to delusions of grandeur.  Max, the dog, would take on opponents twice his size; my father thought nothing of challenging big corporations and government bodies.  When asked what the M.H. in M.H. French stood for, he would reply, “Maximilian Hannibal.”  Fittingly, my father’s gravestone carries a quote from my play, Renovations, which refers to his peripatetic nature, along with a dog and a dollar sign.

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Hugh loved to call out, “Max, Come!” when my father came to visit.

My husband loved the fact that his father-in-law shared a name with our dog.  Hugh took great delight in calling, “Max, come! or Max, sit!” when my father came to visit.  Dad took all this cheerfully.  Anything to do with Max, the dog, was borne with good humour.  My father’s birthday’s always included a card from Max with appropriate wording such as:

Unlike his namesake, Little Max does not pay any income tax,
But still we doubt if Herr Mulroney, wants chew toys laced with baloney.

Max was forgiven a multitude of sins, such as the time he chewed up the rose bush we had bought for Mother’s Day.  He was always a welcome visitor in Nana and Gamma’s house, and his tail wagged ferociously whenever they came to visit us.  Every trip to West Van would begin with my father and I meeting in Lighthouse Park and walking Max around the ten-minute trail.  The two Maxes had a bond that was really special.  I still get choked up when I remember our first visit to the house on Kensington after my father had died.  Max spent the entire time looking in all the rooms, searching for his namesake.  But that was at the end of the relationship.  That first trip to West Vancouver was the beginning, and there were wonderful years of walks and congenial visits ahead.  Max and his namesake were off to a great start.

Max
Max
Max
Max

 

An excerpt from Strings Attached: The Story of Max, the Ho Hum Husky

Thoughts from a Sidelined-as-a-Senior Lady of Shalott .

Oil painting by John William Waterhouse 1888

I can’t decide whether Tennyson or Orwell best reflects my mood at the moment, but both writers certainly resonate, now that living through a screen is the safest way to connect with the outside world. Tennyson’s Lady of Shalott, of course, wasn’t even able to look out of her window without sacrificing her life, but when she said, “I am half sick of shadows,” she certainly reflected the way so many of us feel, given that we’re unable to visit, hug and engage with the people we love. In my case, it’s not Sir Lancelot that tempts me to defy the curse, it’s our adorable seventeen-month-old granddaughter who is growing and developing apace, but the feeling is definitely the same.

However, when our television set daily brings Big Brother and a parade of solemn faces from government and health officialdom, telling us how the War on the Virus is going and what we have to do in order to comply and assist in the battle, George Orwell comes to mind. The sad reality is that, whether reminiscent of a Victorian poem or a twentieth century novel, the curse, threat, or whatever we call it is out there and our behaviour is bound by external forces over which we have little, if any, control.

My husband and I never really felt that we were old until this terrible pandemic hit and we were informed that people over sixty-five had to stay at home. Hugh and I always tended to be ‘get out there and join in’ sort of people, so being side-lined is a novel (pardon the pun) experience. Watching from our isolation, it’s sad to see so many hopes and dreams dashed, and sad to realize the danger the brave people in the front lines are having to face on a daily basis. I’m sure many, like us, feel angry at times at the disruption to so many lives and the realization that things will not simply bounce back to where they were in pre-pandemic days. There’s also a natural desire to point fingers and lay blame—this should have been done faster; that should have been obvious much sooner—but at some point, we need to figure out how we became so vulnerable and what changes should be made for a safer future.

Lots of questions come to mind. Have we  been negligent in critical areas? Has the terrible impact on senior homes been the result of hiring part-time caregivers (with no benefits) who have to work in more than one place to make a living wage? Have we made international travel too easily accessible and should we be prepared to accept more rigorous quarantine requirements to ensure that people do not carry communicable diseases between countries? Should some products and services be manufactured within our own country to ensure we never face the alarming shortfall of critical supplies that has occurred with the current pandemic? Are we going to continue buying products from countries where human rights are ignored and working conditions are such that we would consider them unacceptable? If so, are we prepared to continue looking the other way so we can continue to get cheap goods, or will we be prepared to pay more for the same items made by our own citizens working for a decent wage?

There are a lot more questions that need to be asked. I certainly don’t know the answers, but I am sure we can’t wait for this to pass and assume that things will be the same afterwards. I try not to dwell too much on the fact that the world has become a darker and more frightening place, or that the road to recovery will be long. Now, I simply hope that there are no other catastrophes waiting in the wings, for there is always the danger that one crisis triggers other problems. However, Hugh and I try to be optimistic, since that is the best way to cope and move forward. We are so grateful for those who are out there in the front lines, helping those who are ill and keeping the supply chains moving. They truly are the heroes of the hour, and if nothing else, this crisis has underlined who the truly essential people are in our society. Here’s hoping that when we make it through to better and safer times, they will continue to be valued as much then as they are now.

Second production of Shadow of Murder coming soon.

The Morton family suffered a tragedy when their daughter was the victim of a serial killer. Two decades later members of the family gather at the Marshlands Hunting Lodge, where unbeknown to them, two people are present who are connected to the earlier crime. A storm causes landslides that render the access road impassable, and before long, another murder takes place.

 

Vancouver Island’s Portal Players will be presenting Elizabeth Elwood’s Shadow of Murder, Friday and Saturday evenings at Port Alberni’s Capitol Theatre from February 21 to March 14. Directed by Jacqollyne Keath, this will be the second production of the murder mystery play, which is set in an isolated hunting lodge in a mountainous area of British Columbia. An entertaining thriller with lots of twists and turns, Shadow of Murder received high praise at its New Westminster premiere in 2011 and promises to provide another exciting evening of theatre with this fine new production.

Remembering Charlie and Emma

mOn Remembrance Day, I have many people to remember, not only family members who served in the armed forces, but also a number of wonderful friends, long since passed on, that I knew during my years as a volunteer at the George Derby War Veterans’ hospital.  However, the one that always comes first to mind is Charles Field, the grandfather I never met, and with him, Emma Field, the grandmother he left behind.

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Allen & Hanburys – around since the 1800s
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A gift for Emma – The Bell Charlie brought back from France when he had leave.

Charles Field was the batman to Captain Hanbury, a member of the family who had started the Allen & Hanbury pharmaceutical company.  The story, as my mother told it, was that the two became good friends, and that the captain always told Charlie that if they both came through, he would see him right after the war.  The two men survived together throughout the four years of the War.  However, during the final Allied offensive in November 1918, both were fatally shot by a sniper towards the end of the battle.

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Emma Hawker Field (Pem) – my Nana

My grandmother, Emma Field, or Pem, as the family called her, was deeply grieved over the loss of her Charlie, who was reputed to be a real sweetheart, but like most war widows, she had to struggle on alone.  She got a job in a factory, and my mother and uncle became latchkey children.  She was also the oldest of five children herself, and in spite of her widowhood, ended up assuming responsibility for helping her siblings and caring for elderly parents.

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Max and Olive’s wedding

Many years and another World War later, my Nan continued to support the family.  My father, who was in the Merchant Navy, married my mother in 1943, so they lived with Nan throughout the war.  When my mother was expecting my brother, she complained that she had not known what was more dangerous:  Hitler’s bombs or Nan hurling her under the table whenever the sirens went off.   My mother also used to relish the tale of how Nan had kept an ‘emergency’ bottle of brandy all through the war, refusing all requests from those who wanted to sample it, only to have it stolen by a burglar who broke in after it was all over.

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Mum and Nan between the Wars

Our family continued to live with Nan after the war, a situation she had not invited, but had simply put up with in order to help my parents.  I remember her as a rather formidable lady who liked her Guinness, had strict rules about not annoying her in her rooms, but who also took my brother and myself on lots of interesting outings.   Then, in 1957, my father whisked us away to Canada, and she lost the company of her only grandchildren, though she continued to send us our British comics and write to us during the remainder of her life.

1It was only after I’d grown up that I started to appreciate how much heartache she had endured, and how tough she was to maintain her resilient get-on-with-it spirit, no matter what was happening around her.  Needless to say, I was delighted when a few years ago, an aunt passed on to me copies of a batch of letters that had been written by ‘Pem’ to her cousin in Australia.   I was especially fascinated to see that one of these was dated 1941.  Some of this is printed below:  It’s a picture of Wartime England from the middle-aged widow’s perspective.  Sorry I never got to meet you, Charlie Field, but you’d have been proud of the lady you left behind.

March 22, 1941

Dear Alf,

Received your letter today…….  I thought perhaps the mail had gone down.  As you know, Mum passed away the 12th of June.  She had been very ill all winter.  In fact every winter for the last six years she had to stay in her room because of her chest, but the September war was declared, on that same night we had an air raid warning.  We thought we were going to be deluged with bombs, and she never really got over the shock.  . . . .   On Oct. 25th she had a stroke. 

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My Great Grandmother

I nursed her for six months, and she seemed to be getting on nicely.  Then the posters started about the possible invasion, and the doctor advised me to try and get her away.  If it happened, she would not stand the strain.  Her friend Mrs. Coburn had moved from Highbury to Ealing, so I took her there while I looked for a house; I had just got this house and was going up to see her when I had the wire asking me to come.  But she did not know me.  She is buried with Dad at Sutton.   Perhaps it is as well she was taken before things got as bad as they are.  You say the Londoners can take it.  You ought to see what they have taken.  Do you remember where Rose lived?  It is dreadful round there.  Windsor Street’s small houses, not one is standing.  The turning is like a waste land.  Dean Street . . . not a soul is living there.  The homes just smashed up.  In one turning, there are five pianos or parts of them in the debris of the different homes.  Hitler’s military objective, Highbury, got it dreadful this week.  It is appalling the women and children that have been killed.  Also the city has been badly bombed, in some parts just ruins. . . . .  Do you remember the London Hotel at the corner of Tylers Avenue.  That was hit the other week and a lot of civilians killed. 

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Mum as a VAD

My daughter does nursing all night once a week in a shelter in the city.  I do fire watching once a week.  I have a tin hat and a whistle to blow should an incendiary bomb drop in our turning.  We do different turns all through the night starting at 10 pm until 6 am.  . . . . . . . One thing we have to be thankful for is that we have not been really short of food.  We don’t get a lot of meat, but the fat ration is very generous really.  We have plenty of veg, bread and flour and if people spend a bit more time at their stoves, they can make some real good meals.  It means a little more trouble but it is worth it and all helps to win the war, besides helping to keep the nation fit. . . . .   

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The War Widow in the forties.

Rents went up very high after the last war, but food and clothes got very reasonable the last ten years.  Now we are at war again and everything is sky high again, but why worry?  Just live from day to day, get what pleasure you can, and try to be just to all.  I hope this reaches you.  Wishing you and yours all the best.

Pem.

Coming Soon

Watch for “The Chess Room” by Elizabeth Elwood, a new locked-room mystery coming out in the November/December issue of the Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. A stormy day, a diabolical plot and a room filled with eerily silent chessmen who may provide the key to the mystery. EQMM is available online or at any Chapters stores in Canada.

Also, coming up next year, Elwood’s “The Homicidal Understudy” will appear in Malice Domestic’s Mystery Most Theatrical Anthology.

 

Murder, Mayhem and Mistletoe on Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine Blog Site

EQMMI was delighted to be asked to write a post for the Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine blog site – and here it is. Read why mystery stories are a perfect fit for the Festive Season, not to mention some tips for seasonal mystery reading.: https://somethingisgoingtohappen.net/2017/12/13/murder-mayhem-and-mistletoe-by-elizabeth-elwood/

And even better, order the holiday issue of the magazine and read my story: “Ghosts of Christmas Past”

Meet Max, the Ho Hum Husky

If you think Marley was difficult, you should have met Max.  A rescue dog with a difficult past, his antics kept us on our toes, and many people dined out on ‘Max’ stories over the years.  “Max and the Christmas “Light-bulb”, “Max and the Work-sock”, Max and the Fish Guts”, “Max Swims Out to Sea”, “Max Busts out from Backstage”—the list goes on and on.  Needless to say, he was a dog who had adventures.

LITTLECHAPMax was a husky, shepherd cross with some wolf in the mix, not to mention an Alpha male personality, and we soon discovered that our new pet was more than we could handle.  He wasn’t a big dog—more husky than shepherd, with short, stubby legs and a barrel chest—but he was strong as the proverbial ox.  After our first walk, where I found myself towed behind Max and facing the alternative of either breaking into a sprint or having a dislocated shoulder, I realized that I needed a trainer—a dog trainer, that is, not a personal trainer to improve my running skills.  Fortunately, I found the person I needed in Gary Gibson, who very quickly taught me some techniques to show Max who was boss.  It was so appropriate that Gary and his wife Kathy’s company was named “Canine Corrections”.  The title was a reference to the wonderful dog-training program that Kathy established with the inmates of the women’s prison at the Fraser Foreshore, but it was certainly an appropriate title when it came to training Max.  Gary very quickly established some ground rules that brought my feisty white husky into line, but he also acknowledged that, with Max, there would always be some degree of negotiation.

INLET THEATREGary was the one who told us that Max needed a job, and after a while, we realized we had the perfect role for him within our puppet company. Once the Max marionette was created and became the star of many of our shows, Max became part of the show, waiting backstage during performances, and then joyously coming out to bow or demonstrate his tricks with his puppet after the final curtain. Feisty, he was, but how he loved being part of the show.  As Gary said, many years later, after Max had passed away: “He was more dog than most.”

 

mBecause of his unpredictable nature, Max demanded far more of my time and attention than any other dog I’ve ever owned, but because of this, the two of us became very closely bonded over the years.  I still miss him, and I take pleasure in having his personality live on through my artistic endeavours.  Not only was he the inspiration for Max, the Ho Hum Husky, the lovable star of 14 of our 20 marionette musicals, but he also lives on as MacPuff in my Beary Mysteries Series, even if his appearances there are often as fleeting as the movie cameos of Alfred Hitchcock.

maxI have always wanted to write Max’s story, and I have the perfect title—Strings Attached —which reflects how close we were and the part he played in our marionette company.  However, since my plays and mystery stories bumped this project to the back of the line for several years, the ‘dog blog’ served in the interim to tell the tale of my rescue dog with an attitude, Max, the Ho Hum Husky. Finally, this summer, Max’s project came to the front of the line and I’m now polishing up manuscript that will tell his story in book form. Watch for updates early next year.

 

Murder, Mayhem and Mistletoe!

 

Why is it that crime-writers love to combine the Season of Peace and Goodwill with a juicy murder mystery?  Incongruous themes?  Not really, when you consider how psychologists expound on the subjects of anxiety, tension and depression at Christmas.  The Web abounds with sites that offer tips on how to avoid stress during the festive season.  It’s the time of year when families come together, whether the individual members like each other or not.  There is an expectation that the feuds be buried, or at least suspended, no matter how much resentment might be simmering under the surface.  One is conscious of obligations to others, whether the will is there to follow through.  There are gifts to be purchased, which stretch budgets that may already be out of control.  People who are alone feel lonelier; those who are inundated with relatives feel overwhelmed and exhausted.  Such a lot of smoldering emotions for a crime writer to plunder.

ngAs if the turbulence of family relations was not sufficient to tempt a mystery writer, Christmas also provides a wealth of opportunity for atmospheric settings.  What could be more ‘cozy’ than firelight flickering in the hearth and snow falling outside the window?   What can be more chilling than a black winter night with only the soft beam from a streetlamp lighting footsteps in the snow?  What possibilities for sinister disguise lie in the cross-dressing of a Christmas pantomime?  What great opportunities for the evil-minded are presented at those parties and dinners where food abounds and glasses and plates are often left unattended.  No wonder mystery writers can’t resist creating a Christmas dilemma for their detectives to solve!

rumpChristmas mysteries have been around for a long time.  Charles Dickens certainly knew how to wring drama out of the Christmas season, and what a trend he began.  Sherlock Holmes solved the puzzle of a goose that provided a lot more than Christmas dinner; G.K. Chesterton’s Father Brown recovered “The Flying Stars”, diamonds that disappeared at a Christmas party; Hercule Poirot’s Christmas included a body in a locked room; Ngaio Marsh produced a corpse that was Tied up in Tinsel; and Rumpole has a whole book of Christmas stories.  There are many anthologies too, such as Murder Under the Mistletoe, which features a host of stories by writers such as Margery Allingham, Peter Lovesey and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  Current authors continue the trend.  The detectives in Deborah Crombie’s compelling novel, And Justice There is None, mingle Christmas shopping with the the investigation of a particularly brutal pair of murders; Peter Robinson’s Inspector Banks suffers through a Blue Christmas; and Anne Perry has written an entire series of Christmas novellas, as has M.C. Beaton.  Mary Higgins Clark, with her daughter, Carol, has also produced a set of seasonal mysteries, and following the same trend, Charles Todd put out a similar publication this year.  The list goes on and on.

poI think it’s a great tradition, and one that I’ve been delighted to follow.  I enjoyed concluding my last three books with a Christmas story, each one utilizing a setting that has brought me personal pleasure during the festive season.   My childhood, and my children’s childhood, always included an annual visit to the Christmas pantomime, so it was great fun to write “The Mystery of the Black Widow Twanky”.  My nod to our years of performing as the Elwoodettes Marionettes is reflected in “Christmas Present, Christmas Past”.  My fourth book concludes with “The Mystery of the Christmas Train”, and what a joy it was to write a light-hearted story that could re-create the atmosphere of Stanley Park’s Bright Nights festivities. I’m now working on the sixth book in the series, which will include a story titled “The Feast of Stephen” and most exciting of all, my story “Ghosts of Christmas Past” will appear in the holiday edition of the Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine.

alSo what am I going to do this Christmas?   Our holiday season will include a visit to the Vagabond Players pantomime and a visit to Fort Langley to see the lights. We’re cutting back on the marionette shows, so that means more time for visiting with friends and family, and last, but definitely not least, leisurely time sitting by the Christmas tree and reading the deliciously cozy mystery stories that I put on my Christmas wish list—firelight flickering, snow drifting down outside the window, and the mysteries only within the pages of my book.  A Merry Christmas indeed.

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 From “The Mystery of the Christmas Train”

Richard Beary had one inviolable rule.  Never allow a girl to meet one’s family on a first date.  Nothing spelled death to a potential romance like a premature introduction to a surfeit of boisterous and opinionated Bearys, led by a matriarch whose cozy chats as she assessed the newcomer resembled an interview with the Grand Inquisitor.   Whenever Richard felt it was appropriate to introduce a girlfriend into the family circle, he took care to break her in gently.  No more than one or two Bearys at a time.  Therefore, there was one outing that Richard always attended alone.  Every December, the Beary clan convened en masse for a festive visit to Stanley Park and a ride on the Christmas train, revelled in by senior and junior Bearys alike.  The event was always followed by a late supper at his parents’ home.  Richard enjoyed this annual jaunt, for it provided him with an opportunity to socialize with his nephews and nieces, who seemed to have grown like weeds every time he saw them.  But the train expedition was a solo outing.  Dates were out of the question.

However, one year, temptation appeared in the form of a new neighbour who had moved into his apartment block.  Larissa Swinton would have made the stoutest man weaken.  Her soft blonde hair, delectably alluring lips and pouter-pigeon bosom brought Scarlett Johansson to mind, and her baby-blue eyes held an ocean of promises.  However, her luscious curves were well protected, for the young divorcée, in addition to her mouth-watering attributes, also possessed a ten-year-old son called Billy whose vice-like grip on his mother was as immovable and effective as a medieval chastity belt.  It was obvious that the route to the winsome Larissa’s heart was through her son, for she made it quite plain that she would be delighted to go on a date as long as it was a child-friendly activity and Billy could come too.

Sorely tempted, Richard reminded himself of his rule.   And broke it.

 

Body and Soul wins two CTC awards.

Body&SoulPosterVagabond Player’s production of Body and Soul  was a winner in two categories at the Community Theatre Coalition awards. Elizabeth Elwood and Jacqollyne Keath won for Best Sound Design and Miles Lavkulich won for Best Lighting. Kudos also to Mary Larsen, Miles and Elizabeth for their nominations for Best Set Decoration and Best Significant Achievement. Congratulations to all the CTC winners and nominees, and a special thank you to the wonderful Body and Soul cast, crew and production team that made the project so successful.

 

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Body and Soul director, Elizabeth Elwood, received the award for Best Sound Design.

 

Cast photo

collage copy

 

Set design by Elizabeth Elwood
Set design by Elizabeth Elwood