18 October 74
It was so good hearing you on the phone today; and I am glad we had a good talk, too. When I was talking to Helen last night, she really spoke with pride and affection of you. How nice that mother and son in law get along as well as you both do; that is a rare event in a marriage. So, when you called, I had some idea that things were going well for you.
Please don’t feel guilty about not seeing me and about Judi’s trip to England. I was genuinely glad that she has been able to take advantage of such a rare opportunity. And I was also glad that you were coping well without her. Your marriage seems to be improving with the passage of each year, doesn’t it? But that’s the way marriages are supposed to go. When the Proctors were here, Crystal said when she saw Derek’s picture, how like his father he is. How come all the women in your life are so proud of you? Well…
I’ll be glad to get your letter. Right now, I’m going to put down as many of the facts of your background as I can remember.
Joseph George Miller, D.D. — graduate of Knox College 1906? or thereabouts, standing first in his final year and gold medalist of his theology class. Married — after a 12-year engagement — his teenage sweetheart, (I’m sorry, I can’t remember her first name, but I believe it was “Margaret”) MacMillan; both with families originally living in Greenbank; both families whose origins are in Scotland.
Dr. Miller also had a brother, a Dr. W.G. Miller, also a minister, with the United Church of Canada. J.G. Miller had a sister, a Mrs. Sutherland, connected in some way I believe with James Sutherland Thomson, deceased, former Moderator of the United Church of Canada. Mrs Miller was an accomplished musician in piano and organ.
They had two sons and three daughters, the youngest daughter Helen was an infant, when Mrs Miller dies of cancer (discovered while she was pregnant with Helen).
James Ewart Miller, born in 1910, the eldest son and hopefully his father’s pride and joy. He, J.E., wanted at one time to be a doctor but left the University of Toronto in his second arts year for more exciting involvement with the arts of poetry and drama. He had great hopes of making it in the arts but in Canada, especially during the Depression, there was no future in this kind of thing. When W.W.II broke out, he joined the Army, became a Company Sargeant-Major and remained in Germany for a year after the war to work on the Canadian Army newspaper for troops in Europe.
J.E. was slightly over six feet in height with very dark hair, and brown eyes. He was a good-looking man who resembled his mother in appearance. He was also a highly-gifted man. For a while he worked in a bank — this was before I met him — in order to keep body and soul together and to afford him some cash as a director of plays. As a director he had a great deal of insight but was not firm enough with his actors. He had some inclination that way himself but was so distinctly different from the ordinary sophisticate that he never seemed to fit anywhere.
When I met him, I had been separated from Edmund Vaughan Stewart of Riviere-du-Loup, Quebec (his father was president of the Temiscouata railway, a Quebec-Maritimes railway owned by directors in England) for about two years. Vaughan was in Washington, D.C. in the pentagon there as part of the Canadian contingent during the Cold War years. Ours was an on-gain, off-again marriage; mostly off because we married while we were both at the Royal Military College in Kingston, and we were both in Military Intelligence there; and it seemed the right thing to do at the time. He was completely bilingual.
J.E. Miller — your father — did his greatest poetic work in his translations from the French to English. He also inherited his mother’s musical ability; although he never took many lessons in his life, he could sit down at an organ and play, perfectly, any work by ear. If I remember correctly, Sir Ernest MacMillan had this extraordinary gift as well; so I suppose this was a MacMillan characteristic. You have inherited this gift, too — to wit, your guitar playing.
When you were born, I got in contact with Vaughan and asked him for a divorce. He had wanted me to go back with him when he learned of my pregnancy — he knew, also that you were not his. But, foolishly or otherwise, I refused; still hoping, I suppose that Jem would marry me once I had my divorce. So anyway, Vaughan was a gentleman and gave me the divorce I asked for. Jem was too realistic to be persuaded to marry me; I don’t think he ever got married. At the time, our affair seemed to be the “great affair” of the century but that always seems to be the idea with people who are engaged in such a relationship even though outsiders don’t consider it so.
Anyway, the Baden-Powells who have always been great friends, gave me moral support but tried to tell me gently to forget about marrying Jem, since it was obvious to them he had no wish to do so. The thing that bothered him was that he had got me “into trouble” and he once told me that had I been the promiscuous type he would have disappeared utterly.
Anyway, you and I went through some pretty difficult times but I was determined to keep you since my own background was so hazy and you were the only person I could honestly call a true relative. What’s more, you were my son and I hadn’t the courage to give you up to someone who would not love you as I did. I never regretted my decision.
When Ruskin came along, Jem and I were still friends. He had moved to Sudbury to work in the nickel mines there; something that took real guts. You were eight months old when he decided to make something of his life and settle down to regular work. To work in the mines was not his idea of the ideal way to earn his living. It was hard work and working underground gave him nightmares; but he stuck to it. The last time I saw him was in 1954, several months before I met Rus. I wrote and told him I was getting married again and he sent me a silver candelabra, which I still have and use.
Where Jem is now, I have no idea. He would be 64 on December 29th this year. He was a man who kept to himself (why do I get mixed up with this type, anyway?) He had high hopes and ideals; he was always connected with the church one way or another. I met him at Timothy Eaton Memorial Church in the choir there; where, incidentally, I was to meet Rus too. Jem was a member of the former Mendelssohn Choir which at one time worked with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. He sang bass. When you were still a boy, you had one of the sweetest boy soprano voices I’ve ever heard. I had hopes that you would take up piano and voice but you had other ideas, preferring, like your father to explore all this in your own way.
Jem was a patient man but his feelings ran very deep. I never blamed him in any way for not wanting to marry me. I think he admired me. Once, when he saw you, he said “well, he’s a boy; life’s going to be tough for him; I only hope he’s inherited your capabilities of making a go of things.”
In his own way, he was pleased to know he had a son. I was pleased to see that you had inherited so much of your father’s gifts; and some of his temperament. Both of you took life quite seriously; both of you wanted to find your place in the scheme of things; both of you had ambition to be someone in this country. In your case, you will probably realize this ambition.
As for my background: I think I told you before that I was the youngest of six children. My father was 60 and my mother 40 when I was born. I suspect she died in childbirth, since I was adopted so early. Although I don’t know my pre-adoption surname, I do know that the family lived in or around Orillia; that it too was Presbyterian in background, and in all probability, my inherited nationality is Scotch-Irish (Northern Ireland). Jan, my doctor, once asked me what country my family was from and offhandedly, although I hadn’t really considered it all that much, I replied, “oh, probably Scotch-Irish” at which he exclaimed “Aha, I thought you were Irish”. He then went on to explain that I looked Irish but I think, I may look it but there’s something else that isn’t Irish in me but what, I don’t know. Anyway, the Irish are no slouches at speaking and writing English as a rundown on the number of writers will indicate when one looks at Irish history.
If one goes back far enough in history, one will discover that many Vikings in the 9th century and even earlier, settled in Ireland, as well as Scotland, and England. So, for all we know, we were originally Danish or Norwegian. That sort of levels everything out doesn’t it? Tell Derek I think he’s a true Viking.
Looking back on my life, I think that while money, because of its scarcity, was important to me, it never was more important than other things I held far more dearly, such as honour, integrity, hard work, talent, intelligence, and courage to face what looked like impossible odds, or the horrible facts. Also, I’ve spent a lifetime growing up to become the kind of person who may not have much in the way of wealth but so much richer than most people in the development of character and culture. As Jan says of me, I’m an odd bird for a Canadian.
Well, darling, I’ve given you some of the background. Needless to say I’m very proud of you and of myself for having stuck to my guns when it would have been so easy to make a compromise. I love you and one day, we’ll have a chance to talk together just you and I, for a while. With all my love,