Agnes Annis, Mother and Missionary

"The generating capacity of a single memory has not been measured."
Robert Kilborn

"My grandmother's hands shaped mine within her own. Together, we put our cupped hands under the tap and brought cool water to my mouth. I hung with my belly against the lip of the sink and her ample body wedged behind me for support. My feet dangled in midair. The comfort of that simple act soothed me and stayed; forever."

Open the pages of the family album, and stories unfold: a very young child left in an orphanage by her father, adopted at 12 and trained as an adult to become a nurse. Her marriage to a Methodist minister takes her to the west of China where she raises a family in an atmosphere of cultural strain and historical drama. Fleeing from China after 12 years of stressful mission work, the Annis family settle into the highly visible life of ministry in the newly formed United Church of Canada. The author, telling this creative non-fiction story of her maternal grandmother, builds on precious photographs, family lore, and memorable moments. The stories are cyclical. Memories feed the present in loops looking back and moving forward. As the story of Agnes Annis evolves, she applies courage and determination as a dutiful wife and a conscientious mother. Throughout, the empty spaces left by her mother, father and sisters remain as broken fragments that will not heal. In the living out of her life, Agnes builds a family unit of her own, providing a rich heritage for her descendents.



'The Overland Limited' from Chungking to Chengtu, Nov. 29th - Dec.9th, 1916

Agnes and Mary in sedan chair

The Yangtse became a chasm from which she could not escape. Cliffs rose suddenly, as unpredictably as nightmares. Agnes felt trapped on a battlefield, in a conflict between rocks rising above the writhing water and hidden boulders beneath. Their little vessel was aimed directly at massive cliffs, in seemingly deliberate threats to smash it to kindling. At the very last instant, when disaster seemed imminent, the captain pulled away into a clear channel of frothing foam, even as the ancient moss dangling from the rock face swept the fear from Agnes's wet hair, Lurching, roaring movement pitched her into Stanley's arms and they both held their child, praying to step on land.

Arriving in Chungking, Agnes and Stanley climbed up the steep stone steps from the ship in the harbour, rocking with an inner motion that refused to end. Following a stopover at the Methodist Agency in Chungking, they stepped up into the sedan chairs of The Overland Limited, a long caravan of cubicles, propelled by the force of men harnessed like donkeys. Agnes's body swayed back and forth within an entirely different pendulum of time.

The patting of the coolie's lightly wrapped feet against the ancient rounded stones echoed travellers from years past. 'Slap-a, pat-a, slap-a, pat-a ...' the cadence went, swaying and rocking as the breathing of the chairmen became raggedly rhythmic. Rice fields bordered her passage, rising and dropping in slashes of water and mud. Wooden irrigation pumps, like giant bicycles, rotated by the efforts of silent pedalling men. Little shrines housed aged wooden images. Agnes's horizon rolled about her, pivoting from her rocking compartment and the animated head of the sweating man at the helm.

Published 2011
The Brucedale Press
Box 2259 Port Elgin,
Ontario N0C 2C0