Finding Hope

I had a hard time mak­ing ends meet when I first moved to the Comox Valley. It was 1988, the eco­nomy was slug­gish, my unem­ploy­ment insur­ance bene­fits had run out and I was dip­ping into my mea­ger sav­ings. I applied for many jobs but no one was hir­ing.

As often hap­pens, I found the solu­tion to my prob­lem in a book. To alle­vi­ate her fin­an­cial woes, the heroine in the nov­el I was read­ing took in laun­dry and iron­ing. A domest­ic god­dess I am not, but after cast­ing around for some skill to mar­ket, I decided to take in typ­ing.

My first cli­ent was 70-year old Hope Spencer. A writer in her own right, she had yet to con­quer the basics of her new com­puter. So I became her typ­ist in the inter­im.

But Hope became more than just a cli­ent. She knew the own­er of Blue Heron Books in Comox and sug­ges­ted I con­tact her regard­ing a part-time job. She also knew a pub­lish­er that might be inter­ested in a book I was work­ing on.

And she invited me to some of her parties. It seemed like Hope knew every­one and soon I began mak­ing con­nec­tions in my new home town.  

As it happened, both Hope and I belonged to the Periodical Writers Association of Canada. Since I found it dif­fi­cult to attend PWAC meet­ings and social events in Victoria, she sug­ges­ted we hold inform­al meet­ings at her place. Hope provided tea, cof­fee and the use of her huge round table, which she said facil­it­ated dis­cus­sion.

And she was right — the brown bag lunches were lively and stim­u­lat­ing with writers of every genre talk­ing about what they were work­ing on and ask­ing for and giv­ing advice. At times, PWAC mem­bers from Victoria made the trek up island to camp in Hope’s orch­ard, cook din­ner togeth­er and talk about the writ­ing life.

In later years, ill health cur­tailed Hope’s activ­it­ies but not her interest or sup­port. Whenever she heard about a new book I was work­ing on, she’d call to give me leads I might oth­er­wise miss.

Once, she invited Rick and me to stop by after a late after­noon book sign­ing at Blue Heron Books. When we arrived she served a vari­ety of old cheeses, crack­ers, a choice of $80 bottles of sherry and — ever frugal — leftover Christmas cake from the year before. It was an unusu­al com­bin­a­tion of tastes that, in typ­ic­al Hope fash­ion, proved deli­cious.

In addi­tion to mor­al sup­port, Hope often pur­chased my books as gifts for friends and fam­ily. Once she asked me to come over and sign one before she mailed it. She greeted Rick and me at the door wear­ing a turban and col­our­ful Chinese robe.  

Hope believed col­our was an essen­tial part of life.

The book’s in this room some­where,” she announced, return­ing to her phone con­ver­sa­tion. Hope organ­ized the mater­i­al goods in her life by put­ting them in piles. We found the book under the sixth one.

Hope died a little over a week ago at age 91. Her Comox church ser­vice was packed with people from all walks of life includ­ing mem­bers of the Unitarian Church and the New Democratic Party. There were also writers from as far away as Victoria and Quadra Island.  

After the ser­vice there was a party at Hope’s house. She would have loved it – a diverse group of people jammed into the small space, eat­ing, drink­ing the last of her homemade cham­pagne and talk­ing non­stop.  

Wherever Hope went, she brought her zest for life and spe­cial gift for con­nect­ing with people. Although no longer phys­ic­ally in this world, the leg­acy of her gen­er­ous spir­it lives on in the many lives she touched. I will miss her.

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2 Responses to Finding Hope

  1. I will miss Hope, too!

    How lucky you were, Paula, to have lived so close to her.

    I wish I could have been at the memori­al. But alas … Manitoba is so very far away.

    I will always remem­ber the won­der­ful hos­pit­al­ity Hope exten­ded me when I stayed with her for sev­er­al days a few years ago (right after her fall.)

    Visit my blog & see a pic of her that I took dur­ing the vis­it here:

    Best wishes,

  2. Katherine Gibson says:

    Lovely trib­ute Paula.
    Katherine Gibson

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