roses in december

Roads twisted through the crumpled Appalachian landscape of West Virginia before disappearing up forgotten valleys or dead-ending at some open pit…

Roads twisted through the crumpled Appalachian landscape of West Virginia before disappearing up forgotten valleys or dead-ending at some open pit coal mine.

Buckeye Hollow wasn’t even on a road.

To get there you had to ford the river or cross it on a narrow swinging footbridge. Then you hiked up into it along an old cart track.

People lived up in Buckeye Hollow by choice and necessity. In the hills and hollows of West Virginia poverty has been endemic for generations.

Coal oil lamps still provided lighting and a woodstove the heat. Land, though, could be had reasonably.

You could build a simple house, have a garden and get the wood you needed from the surrounding hillsides.

The lucky found jobs in the nearby town of Hurricane.

Some earned enough cash to survive by travelling out on a seasonal round of tree planting or fruit picking.

I came down to help a friend out who had chosen to ‘homestead’ in Buckeye Hollow.

Clearing brush and preparing about a half-hectare of land for a garden plot occupied most of my time beyond the daily chores of pumping water and bucking up wood for the cook stove.

I met a quiet young woman during my stay in Buckeye Hollow.

She walked with a heavy limp but never let her handicap get in the way of doing her work. Slowly as the days went by I would learn her story.

Without a car she, like others, depended on the generosity of people who had vehicles.

Occasionally she had to chance hitchhiking to get where she needed to go.

On one trip the male driver threatened to sexually assault her.

She resisted and threw herself out of the moving pickup. Her leg was badly broken.

She would endure the consequences of that wound for the rest of her life.

Whether or not her psychological scars ever disappeared was and is another question for her and the many women whom are victims of violence every year.

The White Ribbon Campaign’s Canadian website (www.whiteribbon.com) notes the disturbing statistic that “51 per cent of Canadian women over the age of 16 will still experience an act of physical or sexual violence in their lifetime.”

The White Ribbon Campaign offers Yukon males each year at this time the opportunity to visibly signal their “pledge to never commit, condone, or remain silent about violence against women” by wearing a white ribbon until December 6th.

This was, of course, the day, now 18 years ago, on which 14 young women students of the École Polytechnique in Montreal were murdered.

This Sunday marks the 27th anniversary of the kidnap, rape and murder of Ita Ford, Maura Clark, Dorothy Kasel and Jean Donavon outside San Salvador in the then war-torn Central American country of El Salvador.

For the soldiers who committed that atrocity these women by just being advocates for the poor had become the enemy.

In Montreal, by merely seeking an engineering education, those women became targets.

The author James M. Barrie once said: “God gave us memory so that we might have roses in December.” We need to remember these women, their deaths, every year.

 In doing so, we must annually renew our commitment personally and together as Yukoners to end violence against women.

They are our roses in December.

Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse.