Flying With Amelia : Chapter 5

September 23, 1934

Dear Mr. Penner,

I am writing in response to your advertisement in the Yarmouth Herald for a pen pal. You requested a woman, and I guess I fit the bill.

If we are to be pen pals, then it seems important that we strike the right tone, and that it be an honest one. And so I will pledge, Mr. Penner, to be as honest and forthright as I can be if you will promise the same. Honesty is the least we can give one another in these times, generally speaking, and quite often it is probably the most. Although things are for sure a little better here than they are for you there, where I hear the farms are dust if they’re not grasshoppers. I’ve seen the newsreels at the movies, and I’ll tell you, I won’t complain about the weather. Can’t buy a new pair of shoes, but at least there’s always a fish in the pot.

But see, I’m nattering on, which is what my friend Sally says is my very worst trait. Sally works at the desk right next to mine at the Herald, which is how I saw your notice, right away before it was even printed, because I have become right good at reading backwards and in reverse. In fact, at our last Christmas party at the newspaper we had a contest to see who could read our publisher’s editorial for the next edition (which of course, was still set in its lead type, and so reversed) the fastest, and without stumbling, which I can tell you was hilarious. I won, which tells you I have one talent, at least.

And what else do you know about me? Well, if you’ve skipped to the bottom of this page (and I suppose you might have. I would have) you know my name is Peggy McGraw. And you know that I read the papers and watch the newsreels and that I have a good idea what’s going on in the world, not like some. I hope you do, too, Mr. Penner, because correspondence can be such a lot of fun when you really get to discuss things.

I await, with anticipation, your reply.

Peggy A. McGraw

Yarmouth, Nova Scotia


October 1, 1934


Dear Miss McGraw,

I can’t begin to tell you how delighted I was to get your letter. You sound like a very charming and very intelligent young lady. Of course, you didn’t give me your age, although I noticed you asked mine, and since I am responding to your letter I suppose you could take that as agreement to your plea for forthrightness, and so I will tell you that I’m 27 years old, and unmarried. And in keeping with that promise, I will also tell you that I am unfortunately unemployed, my position as a schoolteacher here in Ernfold having ended when they shut down the school, because so many families have now moved into the city or just left Saskatchewan altogether. I taught just four children for the month of September, all of them the Moresland children, and when they left… well, it was a sad day, watching the backs of them as they left the schoolhouse and walk down the lane, the smallest, Maisie, without even shoes on her feet. I walked past their place last week after they had left. They didn’t even take the time to board it up, just walked away, a dishtowel still hanging on the line. And now I am writing this in my landlady’s house, the Ministry of Education having paid my room and board three months in advance and so in my spare time I am teaching my landlady, Mrs. Wolyniak, to read while I apply for teaching positions elsewhere, when I know there are none.

I should tell you why I decided to send my advertisement to a Nova Scotia newspaper, because I’m sure you are wondering. Of course it was because of the shipment of potatoes, turnips, carrots and salted fish that came by rail, a monumental kindness from your province to mine, and that left not one dry eye in the community hall where the bounty was distributed.

Can you tell me, how does one cook salt cod? Mrs. Wolyniak tried soaking it in water and even a bit of milk, but we can’t be cooking it right because it remains dry and salty and not very palatable, even to the very hungry.

How happy I am that you’re interested in current affairs. I’m anxious to find out what you think of Mr. Bennett’s chances for re-election. With this man Hitler becoming altogether too powerful (although some say he’s all bluster, no bite), it seems to me that a strong leader is very important, but more than that, it seems to me he has only a year to get us out of this mess or suffer the consequences.

I look forward to your reply.

Cordially yours,

Martin Charles Penner

October 24, 1934


Dear Mr. Penner,

You asked my age. I am 22 years old. I live in a rooming house with my own room, and all the tenants are girls working in offices. Last year I lived in an old house on Main Street, and there everyone but me worked in the fish plant, and the smell was some rank, let me tell you. Speaking of which, you asked about the salt fish, and so I will write some recipes on the back of this letter. The Fish’n Brewis is a Newfoundland recipe that’s been in my family just about forever, since my grandfather came from there.

Sometimes when I get up and go to work I think: maybe today something new will happen. All day we can hear the blast of ships’ horns and they are all going somewhere. But I am sick of the smell of salt water and the fog that curls my hair every which way and I long to go somewhere where the January wind doesn’t blow right through you and out the other side. I am some tired of Yarmouth, and that’s the truth. I wonder, Mr. Penner, do you long for the bite of the sea air, out there in all that dust? It seems as if we are never content where we are, but always wanting to be somewhere else.

If I could be anyone I would be Amelia Earhart. What courage, to fly across the Atlantic, from Newfoundland all the way to Ireland! And then she doesn’t stop there, but conquers the Pacific as well. My word. Next she’s planning to fly around the whole world and where will I be? In Yarmouth Nova Scotia, reading the news in reverse.

Martin Penner joins a relief camp and then the On to Ottawa March, all the while continuing his correspondence with Peggy as their friendship deepens, and Peggy decides to meet him on Parliament Hill. But the On to Ottawa Men never make it to Ottawa, and Martin’s future is as ill-fated as Amelia’s, leaving Peggy McGraw to move forward into her own future—just as the narrative does, brining the reader into a new century.

It’s that theme of hope, despite hardship, that characterizes the novel Flying with Amelia, and I hope you’ll enjoy it.

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