THE story is a romance told in a series of letters, written when people still wrote letters, between a beautiful, upper class Canadian girl and a young writer who chanced upon her at a cram school for rich layabouts and immediately was captivated. The woman was Penny Elizabeth Peace—only daughter of T. Eaton Co. executive, Gordon H. Peace and his wife Elizabeth—who lived in the exclusive neighbourhood of Ardwold Gate in Toronto. The person she is writing to is me, Frank Hilliard, then a young man originally attracted to her boyfriend, Charlie Shields, before I realized he had found a lost soul in the body of a goddess.
The letters I’m transcribing here have travelled overseas and across Canada for more than 50 years. They have been lugged up stairs, down to basements, into and out of moving vans and still they’re as fresh, heart wrenching, and passionate as the day they were written.
Penny Peace, subsequently Hilliard, subsequently Lawson, subsequently James is dead now—she died age 75 on December 31, 2016—but nothing of this romance, this relationship, is known to the public. I mean to change that; to make her life, as it really was, live on, on this website, and subsequently in two books: Love and Longing, the collected letters of Penny Elizabeth Peace, 1960 – 1965, and my autobiography, tentatively titled, More than Enough.
The reason there are two books is because, the first concentrates on Penny and the way she thought about me, while the second puts this love affair, this marriage, this divorce in the context of my own life. When you know the whole story, I don’t come off looking half so good as I do here.
The first letters are polite, friendly, affectionate but restrained. As the years go by, and as I travel from Kelowna, to England, then Africa, then Ontario, then B.C and then, again, England they become more passionate, more demanding, more giving and forgiving. Writers often try to capture the essence of love and longing—lightning in a bottle—and fail.
These letters succeed: they are the gateway to a woman’s heart, her dreams, her fears, her hopes. Those hopes could have been realized—briefly were realized—but there was a third party to this drama who appears, and disappears, and appears again. That is a subject for another book, and another writer. This, however, is the Penny who existed in her heart, and mine, for eight years and two months.
These are her dreams before they were swept away in a tsunami of tears, fears, alcohol and drugs. What caused the change, who caused the change, is the mystery I hope to reveal.
Her son-in-law describes Penny as a successful woman who overcame her demons and triumphed in a career as an addiction councillor. I’m glad he has that to hold on to. I have a different story because I was there when the flame went out, and when I tried to relight it, and when it died a second time.
Why dredge this up now? Because this was the wonderful woman I knew, courted, married, loved and lost, and I’m really, really happy I can share her with you.