Previous chapter [“The proposal,” November 1]: Oyster farming was booming in Okeover Arm and Desolation Sound, and Cougar Nancy’s family homestead boasted the most fertile beaches in the inlet, which was a good thing, since Cougar Nancy wasn’t allowed to work at the local oyster processing plant after attacking a few of her co-workers on the job. And then, the unexpected: Nancy Crowther received a proposal for marriage.
Even though Cougar Nancy was growing ever wary of the attention her cougar-hunting ways brought her - emotions that occasionally resulted in the odd blowup and knockdown fight - she still maintained trusted friendships with her co-workers at the Powell River Company Store. They’d attend movies at the Patricia Theatre with Nancy, and would often persuade her to go with them to the square dances.
Square dances were a big deal in Powell River, a tradition many pioneers brought with them from England. The dances were always a major social occasion, held at the gleaming Dwight Hall near the mill, or down the road at the Lund community hall.
Groups of eight dancers would square off, and as the band started up and the caller shouted out the moves, the dancers would rotate.
Cougar Nancy was at first a wallflower at the square dances, but was soon dragged into the fray by her co-workers. As she joined in, a smile would peak out on Nancy’s stern face and soon her broad face would beam with joy. It wasn’t long before she had all the square dance steps down.
At one dance, on every fourth turn, a local fellow named Harry Neave would smile, make plenty of eye contact with shy Nancy, and squeeze her calloused hands every so slightly, but the caller would shout out a rotation and away Nancy went to her next partner. This dancing courtship continued over a period of several dances until finally, Harry Neave managed to strike up a relationship with Nancy.
Harry didn’t waste any time. He popped the question soon after they met. The engagement was short, just long enough for her neighbours out in Okeover Inlet to raise a few eyebrows when Nancy’s parents informed them that Cougar Nancy, now nearly 40 years old, was set to marry.
After a quick civil ceremony, Cougar Nancy Crowther became Mrs. Harry Neave. The newlyweds hopped onto a seaplane and took off for a honeymoon at a fishing lodge in Desolation Sound.
Upon return, Nancy, now a married housewife, quit her job and lived in nice, tidy little house near Grief Point, while her husband worked at the mill. But soon, Nancy, a true woman of the bush, began to feel like a caged animal in that house, and felt her husband was a selfish man.
“Why is it an accepted thing that fairness in marriage is not practiced?” Nancy wrote in her journal. “Going into this marriage, I was totally unprepared for what was to come. I had been very strictly brought up to believe that one shared one’s belongings and didn’t keep everything or as much as possible for one’s self,” she wrote.
What drove Nancy mad was that her new husband insisted on keeping two separate gardens, one for her, and one for him.
When Nancy’s parents gave them three bags of manure, Nancy’s husband used two and a half bags for his garden, leaving Nancy with half a bag. As you can imagine, that did not sit well with her. She blew up, and Harry didn’t know what hit him .
“I can only say that if I am still married to my husband at this time next year, I will not touch the garden. He can do the entire thing himself and see how he likes it,” Nancy wrote.
The garden dustup was an indicator that the marriage would be sadly short-lived, a relationship some people in town called a “disaster” from the start. Some said that Harry Neave was looking for a nurse with a purse, but instead got a very strong-willed wilderness woman with a rifle.
And that rifle stayed close at hand, even in town. Neighbours who heard about Cougar Nancy moving to Powell River would often seek her help if their livestock or pets were being threatened or killed by cougars. But some townies didn’t know anything about Nancy, and were often surprised to wake up in the morning to find a pack of barking dogs and a woman with a rifle moving across their backyard.
“Cheerio!” Cougar Nancy would call out. “Keep your pets inside, cougar on the loose, came through here just a few moments ago!”
Neighbours would grab their cats and slam the door.
Then, with the entrance of the 1960s, Nancy’s life would swing upside down one more time, for heartbreaking reasons. Mrs. Harry Neave of Powell River would soon revert back to Cougar Nancy Crowther of Okeover Inlet, this time for good.
That’s in the next chapter of the Cougar Lady Chronicles.
Grant Lawrence is an award-winning author and a CBC personality who considers Powell River and Desolation Sound his second home. Portions of the Cougar Lady Chronicles originally appeared in Lawrence ’s book Adventures in Solitude and on CBC Radio. Anyone with stories or photos they would like to share of Nancy Crowther are welcome to email firstname.lastname@example.org.