Nora LeFurgey Campbell: A Friend Like Fire

Candles in the dark.

Photo by Mike Labrum on Unsplash

Friendship, like natural beauty and books, was one of the joys of L.M. Montgomery’s life. Fictional friendships like Anne and Diana’s, Pat and Bess’s, Emily and Ilse’s grew out of real-life friendships with her cousin Penzie, childhood friends Nate Lockhart, Will and Laura Pritchard, and later, her cousin Frede Campbell. In the winter of 1903, as she tried to navigate her aging grandmother’s stormy moods, family troubles, loneliness, and uncertainty, one friendship warmed the icy days. She had Nora.

Montgomery wrote about that winter in April 1903: “dark moods,” frustrations with her grandmother’s rigid rules, and anger over the injustice of her Uncle John and his sons (who had inherited the house they lived in and wanted her grandmother to move out so her cousin Prescott could have it) (Selected Journals I 286-87). But Nora LeFurgey, who was teaching school in Cavendish that year, became her roommate and companion in January. 

Nora was “a positive God-send” when Montgomery met her in the fall of 1902 (Selected Journals I 283). Her intelligence, love for literature, and sense of humor suited Montgomery “exactly” (283). As Mary Henley Rubio puts it, “Nora possessed a strong and irrepressibly positive life force, and she energized those around her – just what Maud needed” (Gift of Wings 111).

In the pages of her journal, where she recorded her tears and dreams, Montgomery slipped a different diary, one that she and Nora wrote together, one “of the burlesque order” (Selected Journals I 287). She said “we set out to make it just as laughable as possible. I think we have succeeded.” This diary is full of laughter, teasing accusations (“I didn’t take your yellow garter!”), details of their social lives and the souvenirs they “scrounged” from them, and mocking each other about young men. Jennifer H. Litster has an entire chapter on this co-diary in The Intimate Life of L.M. Montgomery.

Nora was a candle in that long, dark winter – part of what I think was a winter period in Montgomery’s life, 13 years in which she was single and lived with her grandmother. A few years later, Nora married Edmund Ernest Campbell in 1911, left the Island, and didn’t see Montgomery for 24 years.

And then they met again, in September 1928.

They had both suffered. Montgomery was anguished by the destruction of World War I, the death of her best friend, Frede, and a madness that convinced her husband he was “damned to hell.” Nora lost one son at birth and a daughter to polio. In 1929, she lost a third son to a canoeing accident and had only one, Ebbie, left. But the Nora we meet in the pages of Montgomery’s journal reacted to her hardships differently than Montgomery. Rubio calls her “unfailingly upbeat” and “as vital a life-force as ever” (382). Montgomery said that the “relief” of having a friend like Nora was “tremendous . . . I feel as if I had been smothered and were now drinking in great gulps of clear gay mountain air” (Selected Journals III 378).

Mary Beth Cavert researched “voices” or people described in Montgomery’s diaries, including Nora’s. Through interviews with Nora’s family, she found that Nora never complained about her sufferings, but “most often assumed the position of adviser and was a tower of strength in times of trouble” (114).

After her sufferings, Nora still had a spirit of hearthfire joy, the ability to laugh and listen to her friend’s troubles. She never showed envy or intimidation at L.M. Montgomery’s successful writing career (she had been world famous since 1908) even though Nora herself wrote a novel she was never able to publish (Cavert 107).

In middle age, they had times of fun and laughter as sweet as when they were single young adults together. In 1933, when Nora came for a visit, Montgomery wrote to her literary correspondent G.B. MacMillian: “Every night we went on a voyage to some magic shore beyond the world’s rim.” After supper, they walked miles under a “harvest moon” as “every particle of our middle aged care and worry seemed to be wiped out of our minds and souls as if by magic.” They walked in silence or talked, discussing “every subject on earth…When we had exhausted earth we adventured the heavens, to the remotest secrets of ‘island universes.’” They had adventures that left them “drunken with laughter.” (My Dear Mr. M 164-66)

Radiance of joy…when I read about Nora in Rubio’s The Gift of Wings, she became one of my heroes. She isn’t famous for a public legacy of writing books or political success. But she weathered pain and loss and disappointment without letting them drown her.

I have had friends like Nora. In high school, a girl in my class and I and shared fantasy books and laughter at field hockey practices. At summer camp, a girl with sunshine in her soul helped me remain cheerful even when we hauled heavy cots up the steep hills on hot days. In college, one of my friends and I didn’t like dancing, so we would dress up for the galas, attend just long enough to collect plates of brownies, chocolate chip cookies, and cheesecake bites, and then smuggle them back to our dorm to watch TV.

A friend who has that kind of joyful strength, an inextinguishable light, is rare. I hope I can tell stories that people enjoy as much as they enjoy Montgomery’s. But as an individual and a friend, I want a spirit like Nora’s, a fire that never dies out.

Works Cited

Cavert, Mary Beth. “Nora, Maud, and Isobel: Summon Voices in Diaries and Memories.” The Intimate Life of L.M. Montgomery, edited by Irene Gammel, University of Toronto Press, 2005, pp. 88-105.

Litster, Jennifer H. “The ‘Secret’ Diary of Maud Montgomery, Aged 28 1/4.” The Intimate Life of L.M. Montgomery, edited by Irene Gammel, University of Toronto Press, 2005, pp. 106-126.

Montgomery, L.M. My Dear Mr. M: Letters to G.B. MacMillan from L.M. Montgomery. Edited by Francis W.P. Bolger and Elizabeth Epperly, Oxford UP, 1992.

—. The Selected Journals of L.M. Montgomery: Volume I: 1910-1921. Edited by Mary Rubio and Elizabeth Waterston, Oxford UP, 1985.

—. The Selected Journals of L.M. Montgomery: Volume II: 1910-1921. Edited by Mary Rubio and Elizabeth Waterston, Oxford UP, 1987.

Rubio, Mary Henley. Lucy Maud Montgomery: The Gift of Wings. Anchor Canada, 2010.

Songs of Summer: Yearning for Purpose and Community

In L.M. Montgomery’s Emily of New Moon, Emily’s gruff teacher shuffles through her poetry with a critical eye and sarcastic asides. “Ode to Winter – the seasons are a sort of disease all young poets must have, it seems,” he remarks.

If delight in the seasons is a disease, I’m not sure I want to recover. The music of spring, summer, autumn, and winter fascinates me. When I was younger and obsessed with summer, I felt the year was a great wheel that reached its joyous climax in midsummer before turning back down to autumn.

I’m only two and a half years out of school, and I still analyze each year separately. Each summer since college has brought its own blessings, challenges, and questions of yearning.

How Yo You Fully Live? Yearning for Purpose

The first summer after college, I had just gotten my first job. Every day, I thanked God that I found work that used my writing skills – but sitting alone in a cubicle in a dead-silent office all day was hard. I was lonely and bored.

Is this what real life is like? I asked myself. Did all my teachers in school inspire me to change the world and follow my heart just so I could tap away at a computer for the rest of my life?

One weekend, I went with some friends to a lake house in the mountains. We slathered on cool-smelling sunscreen and played catch in the blue shallows under the hot July sun. After a while, I sat on the warm wooden dock to listen to my friends talk and watch the others laugh and splash in the game.

How do you fully live in this world? I kept pondering. Is this how you do it – work a boring job all week so you can have fun on the weekends? 

For all the life principles Sunday School and my parents taught me, I couldn’t figure it out. How does God want us to balance pleasure and pain? Should we (American Christians, in my case) try to make money to donate to good causes and enjoy, or become foreign missionaries and live on beans? Should we pursue work that’s interesting, noble, or lucrative?

I couldn’t answer these questions under the hot July sun, or through that long year. In retrospect, I think God was teaching me to seek Him, not just a lifestyle or a calling that was labeled and packaged with a bow. The words of Ravi Zacharias helped with my questions about pleasure and pain:

Anything that refreshes you without distracting or diminishing or destroying your final goal is a legitimate pleasure.

“How do we fully live?” is a question to ask every day, not just once. However, if my final goal is to glorify God, I should enjoy pleasure that refreshes me on the way and persevere through pain. But my gaze needs to stay firmly on Him.

How Can I Participate in Community? Yearning for Fellowship

My second summer out of college was possibly the happiest of my life (though that summer after kindergarten with the slip n’ slide was pretty great). I had just changed jobs and now had kind, thoughtful coworkers who I could actually see and talk to, interesting work, and a gorgeous New England town of cobblestone streets and a blue harbor to explore.

In this new place and new commute, I ached to invest in friendships and meaningful work. How do you participate in community? I wondered, especially toward the end of last summer. Outside of the microcosmic bubble-worlds of high school and college, how do you build relationships and find good causes to join in? After some research and seeking, I found a Christ-centered, vibrant church and joined a small group and a ministry.

Those two weekly church events were torches through that fall and dark, cold winter. Some nights, I arrived breathless and feeling as though burning frost was eating away my skin. Some nights, swan’s-feather snow and icy highways kept me at home. But the nights I could go were feasts of fellowship: warm, encouraging, funny, and fascinating. 

My small group read through the Book of Acts and watched the drama of the fledgling Church unfold, marveling at Peter’s new wisdom in the Spirit, of Paul’s perseverance for the church. The ministry group centered on carrying the light of grace and hope into some of the darkest places I know of.

How do you participate in community? is a question is one to ask in every season of life, not just once, but I began to discover that loving friendships and worthwhile work (especially ministry) go together. Striving side by side is the best way to find the intimacy of understanding and trust – easier and more lasting than building relationships on conversation alone.

This Summer

This summer is slipping past like a dream, and it’s different from the last two: I don’t know that there’s a central question yet, other than how can I find joy in a season of waiting? 

Even as I worry about every unknown, I remember how lovingly God has shepherded me through post-graduate life. I need to learn again the simple trust of abiding. And, in the meantime, attend to my summer adventure bucket list before these golden days are gone.

Cleats and Lipstick: Community and the Stuff of Life

In the rows of long gray tables in my elementary school cafeteria, the girls sat in groups. The tomboys sat with the boys in T-shirts and shorts. The girly-girls sat in groups of their own in flowery dresses and skirts, their hair tied back in colorful scrunchies, looking at the boys and then at each other, giggling. I sat alone in my corner, looking out at the playground and daydreaming about the Narnia book I just finished.

When my gaze wondered, I frowned at the tomboys, remembering the gracefulness and beauty of Disney princesses and the heroines of my favorite books. (Somehow the athletic grace and beautiful strength of Mulan, Eilonway, Aravis, and other favorite book characters didn’t occur to me). I also frowned at the girly-girls, thinking about all that my mom told me about inner beauty.

Clumsy and awkward in gym class, and paradoxically careless and shy in my appearance, I didn’t feel attracted to either group. I created two false binaries in my mind between sports and femininity, appearance-consciousness and inner beauty: I chose to think that I was too feminine to be a tomboy and too conscious of inner beauty to be a girly-girl.

And I sat alone for years. I drifted in and out of groups in the cafeteria and on the playground. Some years, I found girls to run and play with at recess, but other years I had no one. I watched the girls I saw laughing and talking in groups in the school hallways with envy, and read the weekend fun they displayed in Facebook posts. I played sports myself, field hockey and lacrosse, through high school. Books about deep friendships like the Chronicles of Narnia, the Wrinkle in Time series, and the City of Ember series were my escape, and I thought suffering and hardship would be worth it if I could only have the friendships they portrayed. I yearned for intimacy, sharing, community, but had no idea how to pursue it in real life.

Now that I’ve survived middle and high school and college and entered the working world, I find that the women I work with have the athletic talents of tomboys and the mannerisms of the girly-girls: they love spin class and marathons, their makeup and hair are polished, their clothing is designed and arranged carefully. I’m learning that you need to present yourself well (hair, clothing, makeup) and have healthy, fun things to talk about (hobbies or sports) in order to engage in the life-sharing and communion of experience that is friendship. And I realize now that my elementary-school-self’s scorn for tomboys and girly-girls both was a mistake based on a half-truth.

I thought I was choosing femininity and inner beauty by scorning the sports clothes, the hair styling, the clothes, the makeup. I’m realizing now that the things I scorned were part of the “stuff of life,” the mediums through which girls experienced friendship and fun. In pursuing strength, speed, style, and beauty (good things, though they don’t determine a person’s value), girls formed the bonds I longed for. Complimenting another girl on her outfit affirmed her; practicing drills or running together supported her; borrowing each other’s shoes expressed solidarity and trust; recommending different brands and sharing tips were signs of caring.

The writing class I took last fall taught me that abstract principles like love and kindness are mediated (communicated) through the concrete, physical world. In scorning other girls’ preoccupation with high heels and lipstick, cleats and lacrosse sticks, I thought I was being deep, not shallow: choosing the higher values of character over the shallow priorities of vanity. But my scorn wasn’t humility or wisdom – it was pride and ignorance. Sports and fashion can be beautiful, healthy ways of self-expression and avenues of friendship; a girl can pursue both as well as femininity and inner beauty. In rejecting them completely, I rejected one of the main opportunities to engage in community that my school years offered.

In the stories I want to tell, I need to express abstract truth through physical realities: the “stuff” that makes up other people’s lives. For example:

  • In Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, Cathy extends friendship to Hareton by giving him a book. Later, they plant a garden together.
  • In Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, the girls get ready for balls, skate, and do a hundred other activities together. John Brooke keeps Meg’s glove because he is falling in love with her.
  • In L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables, Anne’s friendships with Diana and other girls fall into a pattern of school, church, and social events like concerts.

Below, I’ve listed some of the physical things and activities that I remember signified the tomboys and the girly-girls. To me, this “stuff” represented worlds I didn’t want to enter, but they could have been conduits for the connections I yearned for.

Tomboy “things”: soccer balls, field hockey sticks, cleats, mouth guards, goggles, gloves, shorts, water bottles, bats

Girly-girl “things”: perfume, hair straighteners, curlers, mascara, foundation, lip gloss, lipstick, concealer, eyeliner, eyeshadow, blush, eyelash curlers, clips, bobby pins, earrings, bracelets, necklaces, tops, sweaters, jeans, heels, boots, scarves

What “stuff” (from work, from hobbies, from leisure time) fills the lives of the people around you? How can connect with someone through the things they own? For example:

  • New homeowners – paint cans, brushes, spackle, couches, chairs, rugs, mirrors, bookcases, books, kitchen supplies, curtains, shovels, rakes, grass seed, sprinkling equipment, garbage cans, leaves, sticks, new plants
  • Chefs – pots, pans, dutch ovens, spatulas, spoons, rare ingredients, spices, condiments, favorite restaurants
  • Musicians – musical instruments, picks, polishes, audio equipment, music sheets
  • Boat building – wood, saw, sanders, stands, shed
  • Pets – beds, brushes, leashes, collars, electronic fences
  • Artwork – canvases, paint, paintbrushes, pastels, charcoal