Tag Archive | History

A foray into the confession genre

Years ago I took an adult ‘Writing for Publication’ class. Attending weekly required the


She taught us about all the genres

juggling of work, family, pets, etc. so it was sometimes difficult to complete assignments. Frances Rockwell, our delightfully wacky teacher, usually understood. She taught us about all the genres available to writers.

With little free time, my reading was selective. I enjoyed, as I still do, history, classics, biographies, and novels. I once tried reading six romances with the idea of writing some, but decided if you can’t read it, you can’t write it.

One assignment was to write a piece for the ‘Confession’ market. I didn’t bother. This time, for some reason, Rockwell chose to ask me, as I left with a whole group of women, why I hadn’t turned it in. Why did she pick on me???


I had to open my big mouth

Had I not been so young and stupid, I’d have apologized and said I hadn’t had time. She would have accepted that. That wasn’t what I did. Oh, no! I had to open my big mouth! (Maybe I needed a lesson I’d never forget.) Instead of being wise, I chose to be a smart-ass.

‘I’m not interested in writing that kind of crap.’ I announced. Oh, oh. That did it!

teacher scolds. jpg

You’re not interested?

‘You’re not interested? Indeed, if there is anyone in this class who could bend a little, it’s you. NICE ladies don’t write interesting stuff. It would do you in particular good to climb down from your pedestal. It would do you good to write a Confession piece.’

I goofed

embarrassed, humiliated

I deserved it, but why didn’t the floor open up and swallow me at that moment? I would have been happy to have breathed my last breath if only it would. I was embarrassed, humiliated — and humbled. Right there In front of everyone I had been properly cut down. Demolished.

I’m sure that wasn’t the last time I allowed a thoughtless, stupid comment to pass my lips, but I’ve never forgotten it. I sheepishly crawled back to class the next week and completed the course.


It was long before computers

You know I’m too neurotic to forget something like that, so years later, when I finally had some time to write, what was the first thing I worked on? Right. I did that darned assignment and sent it off to ‘True Story’ in New York.

Lo and behold, our telephone rang while we were breakfasting weeks later. They wanted it! They paid me $250. (The most I’d ever been paid for anything at the time.)

Susan, a very clever teenager, looked up over her Cheerios. She had no idea what it was I’d sold. (I hadn’t told anyone about it.)

‘Can I read it?’ She asked. How could I say no? She’d think that strange so I got it for her and she read.

‘I can’t believe my mother wrote this,’ she almost stuttered, and again ‘I can’t believe my mother wrote this!’ Susan, usually so verbal, was almost speechless.

True Story

The actual issue I was published in

Afterwards, I sent a published copy to Mrs. Rockwell, with a note saying I’d finally done the assignment she had dressed me down for, and that I was sure she would find it satisfactory — since I’d sold it.

Her response was a total surprise. Not being as neurotic as I am, she didn’t recall the incident. However, she wrote if she had done so, it was because she felt I was someone especially talented enough to make it. Interesting, I hadn’t realized that.

Well, the ‘Confessions’ genre is long gone. Young people today have no need to read about it — they’re busy doing it themselves. And no. I didn’t choose to write another.








Hudson’s Bay Company and — Tsar Nicholas????

Muriel Susan

Daughter Susan and me, you can blame her for this blog

I’m not a shopper. I have no patience and particularly hate trying on clothes. I also don’t like large department stores — haven’t a clue where things are and too often can’t find someone to ask. Our Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) is one such store. I avoid it if I can. They once had a huge sign on the outside of their downtown location declaring ‘Shopping is good’. I didn’t approve. The statement is debatable, but that’s a whole other story.

Our bodies have to be clothed, so it becomes necessary now and then to shop.

summer pants at HBC

found a new pair of these at HBC

That means going to larger stores for me. I’m short. I need a petite. Most smaller stores don’t carry petites, so I went to HBC for my recent summer clothing requirements. Who’d have imagined what I read about them later?


HBC didn’t only buy and sell furs

I’m a history buff. Of course I knew HBC, as one of the oldest businesses in existence, would have a long history. However in reading ‘The Secret Plot To Save The Tsar’ by Shay McNeale, I learned the company had been involved in far more than just buying and selling furs.

The book says HBC was contracted to construct a residence in Murmansk, in northern Russia, to be used as a safe house for Tsar Nicholas II and his family pending a hopeful rescue by the Allies in 1917. It was believed/hoped this might even lead to the Tsar’s eventual return to power. And it was HBC’s Henry Armitstead (1877-1956) who headed the project.

During World War One, (1914-1918) HBC operated as purchasing agents for France, Russia, Romania as well as others. The firm had headquarters in London. They were able to claim the house was being built for use by employees, but it was paid for by the British Admiralty and constructed under the auspices of the British Secret Service. (Armitstead’s boss, C.V. Sale, was head of HBC at the time.)

As during most revolutions, in the Russia of 1917, factions jostled for power. Bolsheviks, Czechs, the White Army, Reds, Cossacks, Caucasians, and others manoeuvred, used extortion, blackmail, ransoms, bribes and double-dealing to gain control of the country during the civil war. Agents and double agents infiltrated the various factions, often changing identities and names, other countries utilized a multi-tracked policy of espionage. It was a real, live ‘cloak and dagger’ whodunnit with murders and disappearances a common occurrence. Lenin was a master at the game. He accepted huge bribes from all sides — and was the guy who trained Stalin — only too well.

Family II

Tsar Nicholas II and family

King George V and first cousin Tsar Nicholas, often called twins

First cousins: Tsar Nicholas and King George V ‘The Twins’

What is the truth? Did the Tsar and his family actually survive? To this day some think so. Some don’t. The Tsar was closely related to many other European Royals. His first cousin, King George V of England, and he looked so much alike they were often called ‘The Twins’ and easily mistaken for each other.

Do I think they survived? No.

And what do the Hudson’s Bay’s records say of all this? Their


HBC Winnipeg — archives

archives are online and fascinating — I spent hours totally intrigued. They say Armitstead was indeed employed by them and was posted in Archangel, on a ‘special trade mission’ during 1917.  Archangel (Arkhangeiska) is located in the north of Russia. Interesting, no?

Queen, Goddess, Seductress…..


Photo by Timothy Stark

I picked up a couple of history books for my 7-year-old grandson Remy, who enjoys reading. I hope he will derive the same pleasure I do from history. The truth is, I’m probably more of a history ‘gossip’ than scholar. The titillating goings-on and/or horrendous happenings one reads about would be considered too far-fetched for any novel. And who could make up stuff like that?

Could Cleopatra have looked like this?

Could Cleopatra have looked like this?

One of the books I got for Remy is about Cleopatra, who has fascinated me for years. She was extremely clever, which helped her survive to adulthood. She was raised in a family which murdered each other when convenient. (Her older sister, Berenice, was killed by her dad, the pharaoh, after she plotted against him.) Cleopatra spoke multiple languages; and was a beautiful young, ruthless woman. She became queen of Egypt; was considered a goddess by her people; and lets face it, the gal was a shameless hussy. At 18 she was married to her 10-year-old brother Ptolemy X111 (to keep things in the family). At 21, she was in danger because of her young brother/husband’s advisors, and fled to Syria.

Bust of Julius Caesar, Art History Museum, Vienna

Bust of Julius Caesar, Art History Museum, Vienna

While Caesar was staying at the palace in Alexandria, Cleopatra pulled a brilliant, impressive stunt. They say she had herself delivered to him wrapped in a blanket. She needed help from the aging Caesar. (The Roman armies had been helpful to her dad.) What to do? Tell him her problems — in bed of course! Caesar was impressed with her chutzpah, her youth and her beauty. The 52 year-old was smitten. She, meanwhile, used whatever ‘charms’ she possessed to obtain the guy’s support. (Could she have possibly learned them from her 10-year-old brother/hubby?) In any case, she got what she wanted. Caesar was only a man after all. His soldiers defeated her enemies while the two of them played at love. Happily for Cleopatra, the pharaoh, her young brother/husband, was drowned in the battle. Things looked better.

Statue of Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt

Statue of Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt

She married another brother, Ptolemy X1V. (All the boys in their family were named Ptolemy — no confusion at the dinner table.) Caesar was madly in love with her and with his army’s support, the ambitious girl could accomplish whatever. When she had Caesar’s child, she named him Ptolemy Caesar after his illustrious father. The little one became known as Caesarion.

Caesar, of course, already had a wife in Rome, but no matter. Cleopatra was a goddess, right? She didn’t have to fret about such things as we mere mortals do. With Caesar now back in Rome, she decided to go there with their child and her teen-aged husband/brother, whom she didn’t trust enough to leave behind. As you can imagine, Caesar’s wife didn’t appreciate her visit, but Cleopatra had no concerns about losing her reputation. She had a grand time of it as a guest in Caesar’s lavish villa. Trouble was brewing, however, and while Cleopatra was busy entertaining the creme de la creme of Roman society, Caesar was murdered. If I were his wife I may have been tempted to do it myself.

Not one to mope, Cleopatra fled back to Alexandria for safety. She had concerns about her current brother/husband’s thirst for power — it must have been genetic. Surprise, surprise! Mysteriously, upon their return home the poor guy suddenly died of poisoning. Cleopatra wasted no time in having her two-year-old son, Caesarion, crowned pharaoh — which left the little lady in charge for years to come. Meanwhile a power struggle was taking place in Rome between Brutus and

Marc Antony

Marc Antony

Cassius on one side, who had plotted Caesar’s murder, and on the other, Antony and Octavian. Cleopatra was asked to provide armies to help both sides. Picking the wrong one could be disastrous. Not wanting to choose the wrong side, she promised to support them both. I told you she was clever.

Antony’s army was victorious. He was angry she hadn’t kept her promise, and he was now a powerful guy. She needed him. What to do? Get him to bed, of course! She visited him in Tarsus in her royal barge, dressed as Aphrodite, Greek goddess of love and beauty. She played all her cards — flattered him, seduced him, and promised him wonders — and delivered. Antony, too, was only human.

Well, Antony also had a wife, Fulvia, in Rome, who advised him that Octavian was trying to take over while Antony was playing house with the sexy Cleopatra — for whom a wife was never a deterrent. He had to return to Rome to fight his former partner-in-arms while Cleopatra gave birth to their twins. In Rome, Antony became a widower and married Octavian’s sister, Octavia. He had made peace with his rival. However, he missed Cleopatra, who must have had something most of us never possessed, and he returned to her. Did he really divorce Octavia? Was it a poor diplomatic move? Meanwhile the lovers had yet another child and before long, Octavian, now Antony’s brother-in-law, declared war against Cleopatra. The lovers fought back but lost. Cleopatra lost her empire.

The story of the dramatic and romantic end to the tragic story is heart-wrenching but I wonder how much of it is really true. It is said Cleopatra died with the help of a poisonous snake, Antony is to have stabbed himself. I tend to think if she gave up it was because she knew she was doomed and not because she believed Antony to have died as they say….

Besides, as a mother, I can’t help but wonder why she didn’t consider the four children she left behind. Guess they meant less to her than her empire. What say you?