Monday, November 15, 2021

Penelope Jane Harris, 1948-2019

It's been an intensely emotional day. I was re-reading an essay I've written, sent out, rewritten, about my best friend when I was 12, in Halifax. Penny was older, with thick black hair and very pale skin; she was an only child, had been adopted. We invented a world together, an island where we were fraternal twin orphans. We kept two diaries, one for our real lives and one for our island selves. 

It's too long a story to tell here; you'll have to read the essay. Only now I have to rewrite it. She moved away and she and I lost touch; when we reconnected by chance 32 years later, I learned that she had been severely abused as a child by her adoptive mother. We began to write to each other again and then lost touch again, in unfortunate circumstances. I've tried through the years to Google her, to no avail. Today for the first time, I Googled Penelope instead of Penny. And what came up instantly was her obituary: Penelope Jane Harris, 1948-2019. She died in Vancouver in August 2019. I was shattered. 

Then what came up was an article in the Prince George news. In April 2019, a woman named Penelope Harris gave two parcels of land to a First Nations community near Prince George. She'd bought them as an investment and never used them, wanted to give the land back to the people who owned it first. She was honoured in the community, given a ceremonial jacket. There are pictures, so I was able to see her, with white hair, but it's her. My Penny. 

This is someone I haven't seen since 1995. But it's her. My best friend when I was twelve. 

She died four months later. 

It's a story I've been working on for years that now has a completely different ending. I called the phone number associated with her name; it's disconnected. She had no family. I want to find someone who knew her, who can tell me about her life. 

And then my friend Antoinette, who sends out poems to her meditation group, emailed a poem I'd sent her by my beloved friend Patsy, who died this year. So both Patsy and Penny were with me all day. 

Yesterday my brother came for dinner with his lovely girlfriend and my gang. It's never easy but it was fine. Tonight two of my friends from university, Suzette and Jessica, came for dinner. Jessica is moving to Montreal next year. 

Flux, my friends. Three things we can be sure of: taxes, death, and flux. 

Here's Patsy's poem:

winter light

deep in november, the sea
holds the light for us

beneath heavy cloud cover
the water’s surface is smooth

as polished pewter, slow waves
with a sheen like rippling silk

a luminosity floods the mind
and lingers through the days

in the long nights, when the air
is clear and sharp with cold

the sea becomes a mirror
for stray stars and a waning moon

as darkness descends
a radiance remains


  1. Replies
    1. It's been a rough year for loss, Theresa, as it has for everyone. I wish I'd had a chance to connect with her again. But it's joy to see the happiness on her face in the pictures.

  2. What a tumultuous time, Beth. I hope it helps to write about it and know others of us feel for you. I love the fact that you found the photo of your friend making that wise and generous donation of land which is never anyone's to keep. Knowing that she'd done it must have made her last days shine.

    1. To see the pleasure on her face in the photos brought me enormous comfort, Susan. The terrible suffering of her childhood scarred her for life, but it looks like she'd found herself, and peace. I only wish I could have known her in the last years.