‘Ghost of the South­ern Cross’

The Compass - - EDITORIAL - Bur­ton James Bur­ton K. Janes lives in Bay Roberts. His col­umn ap­pears in The Compass ev­ery week. He can be reached at bur­tonj@nfld.net.

The dis­ap­pear­ance of the South­ern Cross and its 174 seal­ers dur­ing the March 1914 voy­age to the ice­fields con­tin­ues to cap­ture the imag­i­na­tion of his­to­ri­ans and nov­el­ists alike.

The most re­cent of­fer­ing, Nel­lie P. Strow­bridge’s “Ghost of the South­ern Cross,” is a work of cre­ative non-fic­tion in­spired by true events.

“I stayed true to the way of life,” Nel­lie ex­plains in an email to me.

Born in Hibb’s Cove, Port de Grave, she now lives in Pasadena. She is one of the prov­ince’s most pro­lific and en­gag­ing au­thors.

Nel­lie de­scribes her lat­est book as “a story of love, loss and sur­vival, with courage and hope.”

While no­body sur­vived the sink­ing of the ves­sel, there were, she notes, “sur­vivors of the loss of the seal­ers ... There was no clo­sure for the rel­a­tives and sweet­hearts of men lost at sea, only dis­trac­tions about a mys­tery they knew would never be solved.”

The tale she weaves re­volves around two child­hood friends, El­iz­a­beth and Maggie, who are in­ex­tri­ca­bly joined by their love for one man lost on the South­ern Cross, Jamie, a brother to one and a groom-to-be of the other.

As Nel­lie puts it, their “lives took dif­fer­ent paths, one, per­haps, no more tragic than the other.”

El­iz­a­beth finds so­lace in the new faith that Pen­te­costal mis­sion­ers bring to Hibb’s Cove, while Maggie spends time sor­row­ing with Jamie’s in­creas­ingly ec­cen­tric fa­ther.

Nel­lie takes as her start­ing point chil­dren on a beach, where most out­port chil­dren, my­self in­cluded, spent much time.

“The chil­dren branch out to make their own lives,” she writes, “only to be brought to­gether by this tragedy.”

She al­ter­nates be­tween the in­no­cence and col­lec­tive griev­ing of chil­dren.

“Losses and se­crets will de­fine their lives and their con­nec­tions. Love sto­ries shat­tered, be­reaved lovers cop­ing with find­ing op­ti­mism. Se­crets made – some kept, some told.”

Women dream about life’s finer things. A young woman hides a dark se­cret. A paint­ing be­comes a con­nec­tion to an­other ves­sel, the ill-fated Ti­tanic.

Nel­lie has her own con­nec­tion with the story, fo­cus­ing on her grand­mother, El­iz­a­beth, and the pseudony­mous Maggie, El­iz­a­beth’s brother’s sweet­heart.

“Who can mea­sure the pain of los­ing a sweet­heart to the pain of los­ing one’s chil­dren, though both women lost chil­dren in dif­fer­ent ways?” Nel­lie asks rhetor­i­cally.

She wrote her book as the re­sult of sev­eral trig­gers, in­clud­ing images of peo­ple she had been told about, in­clud­ing her grea­tun­cle James Ma­ley, and her great­grand­mother Mary Jane Bussey, among oth­ers.

She re­calls her grand­fa­ther Ja­cob “rais­ing his hands in church be­liev­ing that if Je­sus could calm the seas of Galilee, he could keep him safe in the storms of his life.”

Dr. Pritchitt op­er­ated on chil­dren’s ton­sils on a ta­ble in her Un­cle Ge­orge’s house.

“I found this hard to be­lieve,” she con­fesses, “but it was true.”

As a for­mer Pen­te­costal pas­tor of 30 years’ stand­ing, I am es­pe­cially in­ter­ested in her de­pic­tion of Alice Gar­ri­gus and her Bethesda Mission in St. John’s.

Un­der Book Club Dis­cus­sion ques­tions, Nel­lie asks, “How do you see the Pen­te­costal faith as hav­ing evolved since it be­gan in New­found­land un­der Alice Belle Gar­ri­gus at a time when at­tire, jew­elry, and hair­style played more of a role in its moral val­ues?” Ouch!

Then there’s the phe­nom­e­non of glos­so­lalia, tongues speak­ing, so prom­i­nent in pi­o­neer Pen­te­costal cir­cles.

As Nel­lie says, “The gift of un­known tongues frees one from the con­straints of lan­guage, al­low­ing the heart to speak to God who un­der­stands all sound.”

Nel­lie is amazed at “how much you can learn from the past by tak­ing notes over the years, ac­cu­mu­la­tion of knowl­edge about peo­ple.”

Writ­ing comes as sec­ond na­ture to her.

She loved writ­ing the book. Of course, she hopes read­ers will en­joy it, as well.

“I like to bring some philo­soph­i­cal truths to my writ­ings,” she states. “When I write, I want read­ers to think of some­thing they never thought of be­fore, or to val­i­date some­thing they did think about but couldn’t find the words to ex­press it.”

Per­haps read­ers will re­late to both the tragedies and tri­umphs her char­ac­ters ex­pe­ri­enced.

She also hopes to in­spire oth- ers with “a thought they can use to bet­ter han­dle their sit­u­a­tion or that of some­one they know.”

Her story may even “bring op­ti­mism and faith where there is a fal­ter­ing in hope.”

She be­lieves all of us are “part of the tree of life; we, the branches, die and are re­newed in our chil­dren and their chil­dren. What we leave be­hind is our tes­ta­ment to the world. We leave mem­o­ries of us and hope for their fu­ture.”

“Ghost of the South­ern Cross” is pub­lished by Flanker Press of St. John’s.

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