Sometimes a story finds you. It pulls you in. It transports you to another time and place. It helps you remember a moment, a person or an experience.
That’s what happened with Avis Dolphin. I was researching shipwrecks for a non-fiction book. One of the shipwrecks was the Lusitania, the magnificent Cunard ocean liner torpedoed on May 7, 1915 by a German U-boat off the coast of England. As I read about the passengers, I stumbled upon the story of a twelve-year-old girl with the wonderful name of Avis Dolphin. Her story was even more engaging than her name.
She travelled on the Lusitania with two women who worked for her mother. She was lonely and apprehensive about the future. Luckily, Avis met Professor Ian Holbourn. He was a teacher, a writer and a speaker, and he told her stories, took her on walks around the Lusitania and cared about her as if she were one of his own children. He told her that if something were to happen to the ship, he’d be there for her. And he was.
We all hope that in a crisis we’ll find a kind, caring friend like Ian Holbourn. We also hope that if tragedy strikes we’ll find the fortitude and courage to survive. But it’s not easy. It couldn’t have been easy for Avis.
The more I read about her experience, the more her story resonated with me. Like Avis, I sailed across the Atlantic for the first time when I was twelve. Like her, I left New York on a sparkling, clear spring day. And, like her, I travelled to meet relatives I didn’t know in a country I’d never visited. Unlike Avis, I travelled with my Mom.
On our second day at sea, we hit a storm. Chairs slid across the decks. Furniture flew across the cabin. I was violently seasick. My mom hurt her head and a man died of injuries he sustained as the ship tossed and turned.
Luckily, the storm finally subsided. The ship didn’t sink. And when the sea calmed, I explored the ship and made friends. We shared stories and adventures.
Writing about Avis made me remember those days and my fear, apprehension, relief and excitement. But most of all it reminded me how stories and friendships enrich our lives in good times and bad.
About Frieda Wishinsky
Frieda Wishinsky is an award-winning author and teacher with a Master of Science in special education. Her first picture book, Ooonga Boonga, was voted “Pick of the List” by American booksellers, and Each One Special was nominated for a Governor General’s Award. She has written more than forty trade and educational books, and many of them have been translated into French, Danish, Swedish, Dutch, Korean, Spanish and Catalan. Frieda lives with her family in Toronto.