Thursday, September 13, 2012

She Stitched, She Waited

At just 17 years of age, Dora knew her own mind. She would marry Charles Gilbert just as soon as he returned from Europe. from that "war to end all wars."

While waiting for Charles' return, Dora stitched and painted. She threaded needles and with each stitch new dreams were born. She applied brown fabric paint, just a little, to the house, blushing a little as she imagined her life there with Charles. She envisioned herself standing at the door, welcoming him home from a day's work with a soft kiss. She brushed on green paint to represent grass, carefully feathering out the edges, and thought of the garden she would create together with Charles. She took special care with the flag, precisely applying paint and thread to honour both Canada and the Home Country, England. With joy she stitched the bright gold tassel on the flag pole, dreaming of the golden future ahead.

Great was her joy on the day of Charles' return in 1917. Such bliss to have his arms once more around her, to feel, under the rough wool army coat, his thin frame. Oh, she was shocked and horrified to learn that he had lost a leg in the fighting and for this reason had been sent home early. But what did a leg matter? She loved him even more and would marry him as soon as decently possible.

"No," said her father. "No daughter of mine will marry a cripple." 

Her brothers added their objections. No amount of pleading on Dora's part could sway them. No reassurances from Charles that he would be able to provide for Dora altered their opinion.

Desolate, Dora said farewell to Charles. They would not marry. She laid her stitchery, intended for a cushion, in the bottom of her trunk, covered in darkness as black as her future now seemed. It lay there for more than 70 years.

Ten years later, Dora married another man, Harold Orr, my husband's grandfather, also against the wishes of her family because he was a labourer and not a land owner. But then, at the age of 27, she was of legal age to do as she pleased. Dora showed the stitchery to her daughter-in-law, my mother-in-law, in 1987, just eleven months before Dora died. When Ruth asked her why she had never finished the cushion, Dora nodded towards the other room where her husband sat, and said, "I never made it for him." 

Ruth framed the piece and wrote the story on the back. I took the (poor) photo this summer, while visiting in Alberta. Ruth had the piece evaluated. The expert told her that many similar pieces were stitched and painted during the First World War, but that few survived the years as they had been used as originally intended, as cushion covers. 


  1. What a poignant story so beautifully told, Lorrie. Whatever happened to the first young man? Does anyone know? (Course, I can see that God had a plan all along and that He redeemed the situation. I'm sure that He did the same for the other young man.)

  2. You told the story beautifully. There are most likely many stories behind old needlework that we see. My friend has launched a cross stitch of a light house for her son graduating from the coast guard in the spring. He gave her a lighthouse charm when he began there three years ago, saying he wanted to be a "lighthouse" there among his classmates. That will have a story. I should suggest she write it on the back.

  3. Sigh, your story could be made into a movie!

  4. A wonderful story and a wonderful piece to have. I am so glad someone thought to chronicle its history and attach it to the artwork work. Lovely post!

  5. What a sad story. But the piece of art is beautiful. A wonderful post.

  6. Wow, Lorrie--this story is so touching and could be turned into a novel or a movie. It is so wonderful your mother-in-law saved this needlework piece and wrote it's story on the back for future generations. I wonder what ever happened to Charles? then again lucky for your husband his grandmother married Harold Orr!

  7. What a treasure to have this stitchery and the story that it represents. I suppose many such stories are lost, never to be known by the families or anyone else. Such a sad tale...and yet, your husband's and children's lives depend on it turning out the way it did! Thank you for sharing this...

  8. Oh this story is so beautiful and heartbreaking. I am so glad it has now been framed.

  9. Heartbreaking. Such strength to move on. I don't think I could.

    It's stories like this that make me grateful to be a woman born after the feminist movement. I fell in love, informed my parents I was getting married, and have had a long wonderful life with my DH. May my daughter do the same.

  10. Oh my what a sad story. I wonder what ever happened to the young man. I hope she was happy with the man she ultimately married. :) Kit

  11. A lovely picture and a poignant story.


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