Ribbons and Curls Stories

Wendy


All dressed in mourning, the woman yells at the six-year-old. Four weeks later she regrets it as she receives this letter.

This particular story shows that often we are so caught up in ourselves that we don't even realize that people around us are still suffering. But one little girl opened this woman's eyes: 

She was six years old the first time that I met her on the beach near my house. I always drive to this beach, which is about three miles away, when everything seems too much for me and the world seems to be falling apart around me. The girl was building a sandcastle or something similar, and happened to look up, her eyes as blue as the sea.

"Hello," she said. I answered with a nod, not really in the mood to bother with a small child. "I'm building." she said. "I see that. What is it?" I asked, not caring. "Oh, I don't know. I just like the feel of sand," she replied. That sounds good, I thought, and slipped off my shoes. A sandpiper glided by. "That's a joy" the child said. "My mama says that sandpipers come to bring us joy." The bird went gliding down the beach. "Goodbye joy, hello pain" I muttered to myself, and turned to walk on. I was depressed; my life seemed completely out of balance. "What's your name?" This girl just wouldn't give up. 

"Ruth. I am Ruth Petersen," I said.

"I'm Wendy. .. I'm six."

"Hello Wendy," I replied.

She giggled: "You're funny."

In spite of all of my gloom, I laughed too, and walked on. Her musical giggle followed me.

"Come again, Mrs. P," she called. "Then we can have another happy day."

The following days and weeks were filled with stress and commitments: Boy Scouts, parent-teacher meetings, and my sick mother. One morning the sun was shining as I took my hands out of the washing up water. "I need a sandpiper," I said to myself and picked up my jacket. The ever-changing smell of the sea awaited me. There was a cool breeze, but I carried on, trying to recapture the serenity and inner happiness that I needed. I had completely forgotten the child and was startled when she appeared.

"Hello! Do you want to play?" she asked.

"What did you have in mind?" I asked with a twinge of annoyance.

"I don't know. You choose!"

"What about charades?" I asked sarcastically. 

She burst with laughter: "I don't know what that is!"

"Then how about we just walk," I suggested. I noticed how beautiful her little face was. "Where do you live?" I asked.

"Over there." She pointed towards a row of summer houses.

Strange, I thought, in winter. "Where do you go to school?"

"I don't go to school. Mum says that we're on vacation." She continued to chatter the entire time we strolled along the beach, but my mind was on other things. When I left to go home, Wendy said that it had been a happy day. Feeling surprisingly better, I smiled at her and agreed.

Three weeks later I rushed to the beach in a state of panic. I was not in the mood to even greet Wendy. I thought that I could see her mother on the veranda and felt like telling her to keep her child at home. "Look, if you don't mind," I said crossly when Wendy came over to me, "I'd rather be alone today." She seemed unusually pale and out of breath. "Why?" she asked.

I turned to her and shouted: "Because my mother died!" and thought, my god, why am I saying this to a little child?

"Oh", she said. "Then this is a bad day."

"Yes", I answered, "and so was yesterday and the day before and, oh, go away!"

"Did it hurt?" she inquired.

"Did what hurt?" I was exasperated with her, and with myself. 

"When she died?"

"Of course it hurt!!!" I snapped, not understanding in my grief, and left.

About a month later, when I went to the beach, she wasn't there. I felt guilty, ashamed, and had to admit that I missed her. So I gathered up my courage and went up to the summer house after my walk and knocked on the door. A drawn-looking young woman with honey-colored hair answered the door. "Hello," I said, "I'm Ruth Peterson. I missed your little girl today and was wondering where she is." 

"Oh, of course, Mrs. Peterson, please come in. Wendy spoke of you often. I'm afraid I allowed her to bother you. If she was ever a nuisance, please, accept my apologies."

"Not at all, she's a delightful child", I said, suddenly realizing that I really meant it. "Where is she?"

"Wendy died last week, Mrs Peterson. She had leukemia. Maybe she didn't tell you."

I was dumbstruck and groped for a chair. The wind was knocked out of me.

"She loved this beach, so when she asked to come here, we couldn't say no. She seemed so much better here and had a lot of what she called "happy days". The last few weeks however, she declined rapidly..." her voice faltered. "She left something for you... if I can just find it. Would you wait a moment while I look?"

I nodded stupidly and my mind raced, searching for something, anything, to say to this lovely young woman. She handed me a smeared envelope with Mrs. P printed in bold, childish letters. Inside was a drawing in bright crayon colors: a yellow beach, a blue sea, and a brown bird. Underneath was carefully written:

"A sandpiper, to bring you joy"

Tears welled in my eyes, and my heart, which had almost forgotten how to love, burst wide open. I took Wendy's mother in my arms. "I'm so sorry, I'm sorry, I'm so sorry" I muttered over and over, and we wept together. 

The special picture is now framed and hangs in my study. Six words - one for every year of her life - that tell me of harmony, courage, and unconditional love. A gift from a girl with sea blue eyes and hair the color of sand - a little girl who gave me the gift of love.  

57 Cents
A sobbing little girl stood near a small church from which she had been turned away because it "was too crowded." "I can't go to Sunday School," she sobbed to the pastor as he walked by. Seeing her shabby, unkempt appearance, the pastor guessed the reason and, taking her by the hand, took her inside and found a place for her in the Sunday school class. 

The child was so happy that they found room for her, that she went to bed that night thinking of the children who have no place to worship Jesus. Some two years later, this child lay dead in one of the poor tenement buildings and the parents called for the kindhearted pastor, who had befriended their daughter, to handle the final arrangements.

As her poor little body was being moved, a worn and crumpled purse was found which seemed to have been rummaged from some trash dump. Inside was found 57 cents and a note scribbled in childish handwriting which read, "This is to help build the little church bigger so more children can go to Sunday School. For two years she had saved for this offering of love. 

When the pastor tearfully read that note, he knew instantly what he would do. Carrying this note and the cracked, red pocketbook to the pulpit, he told the story of her unselfish love and devotion. He challenged his deacons to get busy and raise enough money for the larger building. But the story does not end there! A newspaper learned of the story and published it. It was read by a Realtor who offered them a parcel of land worth many thousands. 

When told that the church could not pay so much, he offered it for 57 cents. Church members made large donations. Checks came from far and wide. Within five years the little girl's gift had increased to $250,000.00--a huge sum for that time (near the turn of the century). Her unselfish love had paid large dividend. 

When you are in the city of Philadelphia, look up Temple Baptist Church, with a seating capacity of 3,300 and Temple University, where hundreds of students are trained. Have a look, too, at the Good Samaritan Hospital and at a Sunday School building which houses hundreds of Sunday Schoolers, so that no child in the area will ever need to be left outside during Sunday school time. 

In one of the rooms of this building may be seen the picture of the sweet face of the little girl whose 57 cents, so sacrificially saved, made such remarkable history. Alongside of it is a portrait of her kind pastor, Dr. Russel H. Conwell, author of the book, "Acres of Diamonds". A true story, which goes to show WHAT GOD, CAN DO WITH 57 cents.
The Doll

I was walking around in a Big Bazaar store shopping, when I saw a Cashier talking to a boy couldn't have been more than 5 or 6 years old..

The Cashier said, 'I'm sorry, but you don't have enough money to buy this doll. Then the little boy turned to the cashier and asked: are you sure I don't have enough money?''

The cashier counted his cash once again and replied: ''You know that you don't have enough money to buy the doll, my dear.'' The little boy was still holding the doll in his hand.
Finally, I walked toward him and I asked him who he wished to give this doll to. 'It's the doll that my sister loved most and wanted so much . I wanted to Gift her for her BIRTHDAY.
I have to give the doll to my mommy so that she can give it to my sister when she goes there.' His eyes were so sad while saying this. 'My Sister has gone to be with God.. Daddy says that Mommy is going to see God very soon too, so I thought that she could take the doll with her to give it to my sister...''
My heart nearly stopped. The little boy looked up at me and said: 'I told daddy to tell mommy not to go yet. I need her to wait until I come back from the mall.' Then he showed me a very nice photo of him where he was laughing. He then told me 'I want mommy to take my picture with her so my sister won't forget me.' 'I love my mommy and I wish she doesn't have to leave me, but daddy says that she has to go to be with my little sister.' Then he looked again at the doll with sad eyes, very quietly..
I quickly reached for my wallet and said to the boy. 'Suppose we check again, just in case you do have enough money for the doll?''


'OK' he said, 'I hope I do have enough.' I added some of my money to his with out him seeing and we started to count it. There was enough for the doll and even some spare money.
The little boy said: 'Thank you God for giving me enough money!'
Then he looked at me and added, 'I asked last night before I went to sleep for God to make sure I had enough money to buy this doll, so that mommy could give It to my sister. He heard me!'' 'I also wanted to have enough money to buy a white rose for my mommy, but I didn't dare to ask God for too much. But He gave me enough to buy the doll and a white rose. My mommy loves white roses.'
I finished my shopping in a totally different state from when I started. I couldn't get the little boy out of my mind.


Then I remembered a local news paper article two days ago, which mentioned a drunk man in a truck, who hit a car occupied by a young woman and a little girl. The little girl died right away, and the mother was left in a critical state. The family had to decide whether to pull the plug on the life-sustaining machine, because the young woman would not be able to recover from the coma. Was this the family of the little boy?
Two days after this encounter with the little boy, I read in the news paper that the young woman had passed away.. I couldn't stop myself as I bought a bunch of white roses and I went to the funeral home where the body of the young woman was exposed for people to see and make last wishes before her burial.
She was there, in her coffin, holding a beautiful white rose in her hand with the photo of the little boy and the doll placed over her chest. I left the place, teary-eyed, feeling that my life had been changed for ever...
The love that the little boy had for his mother and his sister is still, to this day, hard to imagine. And in a fraction of a second, a drunk driver had taken all this away from him.


The Josie Russell Story
Josie in 2006

There are scenes etched in Josie Russell’s mind of rainy afternoons spent at a kitchen table surrounded by glue sticks, scraps of coloured paper and stacks of felt tip pens and crayons. Outside the window of her family’s cottage are the verdant, sodden slopes of the Nantlle Valley in North Wales. Beside her are her mother Lin and little sister Megan; and before them the room is a buzzing factory of creative arts and crafts projects, in varying stages of completion.

These are memories which Josie keeps sacred. For they’re from the first years of her childhood, passed happily in conventional anonymity, before she was indelibly imprinted on the nation’s psyche as the little girl who survived a crime that shocked the world.

Josie was nine when, in July 1996, she became the sole survivor of a frenzied attack in which her 45-year-old mother and six-year-old sister were murdered.


The three were walking home from school in the picturesque village of Chillenden, Kent, when they were attacked by psychopath Michael Stone with a hammer. At first it was assumed Josie had also been killed, but, despite catastrophic injuries, she survived.

Josie became the little girl whose progress everyone in the country followed. The trouble was, Josie hated the attention. So her devoted father, Shaun, took her back to those beloved Welsh mountains to grow up in peace. 

One only has to look at Josie today, 17 years after that awful attack, to see that it was the right decision.

Josie looks the very picture of health and happiness as she tells me how she and her boyfriend are living in that very same cottage where she spent so many happy years.





The three were walking home from school in the picturesque village of Chillenden, Kent, when they were attacked by psychopath Michael Stone with a hammer. At first it was assumed Josie had also been killed, but, despite catastrophic injuries, she survived.

Josie became the little girl whose progress everyone in the country followed. The trouble was, Josie hated the attention. So her devoted father, Shaun, took her back to those beloved Welsh mountains to grow up in peace. 

One only has to look at Josie today, 17 years after that awful attack, to see that it was the right decision.

Josie looks the very picture of health and happiness as she tells me how she and her boyfriend are living in that very same cottage where she spent so many happy years.


A beautiful and confident 26-year-old woman, she is forging a spectacularly successful career as a professional textile artist, and relishing her newfound fame, this time of a much more welcome kind.

Josie’s last four exhibitions of the intricate textile collages she makes of images of Snowdonia have sold out.

She now has an order book containing some 50 new commissions, with at least three requests for new pieces coming in each week. London gallery owners are looking to show her work, which sells for up to £900 a piece. Sparks of interest are even being expressed overseas.
Josie with her mother Lin, her sister Megan and her dog Lucy, pictured a year before the appalling tragedy

‘This is all so exciting and for the first time I want to be famous, because it’s for something new and positive and I’ve made it happen myself,’ she says.

‘I love that people now hear the name Josie Russell and their first thought could be of me as an artist rather than immediately recalling something that happened so long ago. This is who I am now.
‘It’s time for me to move on, and I hope now that everyone else can too.’

I meet Josie in Conwy, a pretty seaside town in North Wales which is home to her latest exhibition. 
Thankfully, not a trace of the terrible injuries she suffered as a child remains.

Psychopath: The trio were attacked by Michael Stone.

Psychopath: The trio were attacked by Michael Stone. He is pictured yelling as he departs from the Court of Appeal in 2005

Eloquent, intelligent and with her face clean of make-up, Josie is a true natural beauty. Her resemblance to her geologist mother is quite startling. It’s an observation she immediately brushes off with a shrug and a wry smile: ‘A lot of people say that,’ she admits. ‘I don’t really see it myself.’

While Josie might not be able to see her mother in her own reflection, her fiercely proud father Shaun, now 61, most certainly does.

The charming, softly-spoken academic admits he finds it both comforting and heartbreaking: ‘The older Josie gets the more she looks like Lin and the more aspects of her mother’s personality appear in her. This is a bittersweet experience both for Lin’s elderly parents and for me. 

‘I often see in their faces a pang as they observe their own daughter in their granddaughter’s features, and it’s the same for me. Memories suddenly appear from seeing an expression that is her mother all over again. I see Lin’s strength of character in Josie’s own determination to battle through whatever life throws her way. She is more like Lin than I think she will ever realise.’

Josie makes her pictures from material she picks up from charity shops and stitches together on a sewing machine in an art studio, converted from her old childhood bedroom. 

As we walk around her exhibition, visitors make a beeline for her. It seems inconceivable that none realise her past, but there is no mention of it. There was a time when strangers would stop Josie in the street and ask questions about ‘that’ day.



Josie, pictured at a craft fair at Llanbedrog, in May 2010, is now a successful textile artist

Josie, pictured at a craft fair at Llanbedrog, in May 2010, is now a successful textile artist

Josie's last four exhibitions of the intricate textile collages she makes of images of Snowdonia have sold out

Josie's last four exhibitions of the intricate textile collages she makes of images of Snowdonia have sold out

Josie has always refused to discuss Michael Stone, currently serving three life sentences for the two murders and Josie’s attempted murder. Her dogged determination to distance herself from his crimes is a move very much welcomed by her father.

‘She doesn’t want to be thought of as that poor little girl any more,’ he says. ‘And who can blame her? She wants and needs to put all that behind her now — to no longer be defined by her connection to such a notorious crime.

‘That’s not to say that she’s decided to push her memories of Lin and Megan to one side. Far from it. She still laughs over photos of them and likes looking back and remembering them both.’

Josie, pictured in November 2006, makes her pictures from material she picks up from charity shops and stitches together

Josie, pictured in November 2006, makes her pictures from material she picks up from charity shops and stitches together

A year before the attack — in the summer of 2005 — the Russell family sold their Welsh home and moved to Chillenden, to be near Shaun’s new job at the University of Kent, in Canterbury.

Lin, Megan and Josie were walking home from school one sunny afternoon, with their dog Lucy when Stone, a heroin addict and armed robber with a history of mental illness, pounced. 

At first it was assumed Josie had also perished, but then a police offer found a faint pulse. The nation held its collective breath and hoped for a miracle. To the amazement of the doctors treating Josie, we got one.

As soon as Josie was strong enough, the grieving father and daughter returned to their secluded valley.

‘Josie’s old teachers got in touch and said I should bring her home so that they could look after us and help get Josie back on her feet,’ says Shaun. ‘I found a cottage, a stone’s throw from our old house. Tucking ourselves away in the middle of the Welsh mountains, where we would be surrounded by people who cared for us, meant she could heal in a place that held only happy memories.’

Josie’s journey back to health was long, however. Her brain injuries were severe — most badly affected was the area of her brain controlling communication, meaning it was a full year before she began speaking again. 

For a time, Shaun feared his daughter would never lead a normal life yet, with extra help at school, she passed eight GCSEs and graduated with a degree in graphic design from Bangor University.

There was another reason why the move back to Wales worked so well for Shaun and Josie: ‘My wife’s best friend, Primmy, lived next door, and I knew she was someone I could lean on during the inevitably difficult times ahead,’ says Shaun.

In the years that followed, Primmy became a mother figure to Josie. A textile artist herself, she encouraged Josie to experiment with fabrics.

Then, two years ago, the Russell’s original home came up for sale. Using money from a trust fund and compensation, Josie eagerly bought it and is now lovingly renovating it with her boyfriend Iwan Griffith, 26.

The couple met six years ago when Josie was at university. It was several months before he learned about her past from someone else. Explains Shaun: ‘Their relationship was cemented in a very normal way. That was always very important to Josie.’

Josie and Iwan, a fire alarm service engineer for Snowdonia Fire Protection, are spending all their spare time and cash renovating the cottage.

'She doesn't want to be thought of as that poor little girl any more,' her father Shaun has said

'She doesn't want to be thought of as that poor little girl any more,' her father Shaun has said

‘I just love it,’ Josie sighs, as she describes the chaos the place is in at the moment. ‘It’s a work in progress — we’ve got scaffolding up and I’ve got big plans for the garden. I have some lovely memories of living there with Lin and Megan, but they’re very private.’

‘Iwan and I are enjoying making it our home. Like any couple living together for the first time, we want to put our mark on the place,’ she says.

Yet relics from her past remain: in a field behind the house is Rosie, the elderly palomino pony that Lin herself once owned as well as another horse, Folly, that Josie inherited when she bought back the house.

Shaun and Primmy live in their own homes alongside each other. He describes her as ‘his best friend’ and the three of them as ‘a family’.

‘I love that people now hear the name Josie Russell and their first thought could be of me as an artist rather than immediately recalling something that happened so long ago. This is who I am now. It’s time for me to move on, and I hope now that everyone else can too’ 

- Josie Russell

‘Things are lovely right now,’ says Shaun. 'Primmy and I see a lot of each other, but we don’t live together. And we have Josie living next to us in a cottage that is full of so many precious memories. We’re one family spread between three houses. We all feel very lucky. 

‘It’s great to go round and see Josie knocking down walls and making big plans for the place, just as Lin used to do when we lived there.

‘It’s also comforting to know that Josie is using the bedroom that Lin designed for her as her art studio now. It’s a wonderful way for past and present to meet up.’

Josie says that for now she and Iwan have no desire to start a family. ‘I don’t want to get married either,’ she insists. ‘I’m independent, and even if we did marry I wouldn’t even change my name, so what would be the point? It would just mean spending an awful lot of money on a day that wouldn’t alter anything about how Iwan and I feel.’

Hearing Josie’s forthright views, you cannot help thinking of her mother’s own independent, alternative spirit: Josie and Megan were raised to call their parents by their first names, not Mum and Dad.

Her attitude to motherhood is also similar to that of her mother: ‘Lots of my friends have had babies, and I like spending time with them, but I’m not at all broody. Maybe that will change when I get older.

‘Maybe I’ll be like Lin in that respect — she gave everything to her career, which is what I want to do, and then she had Megan and me and focused completely on us. I might want to do the same once I’ve established myself as an artist.’

Josie Russell with her computer at her home in North Wales in 2001

Josie Russell with her computer at her home in North Wales in 2001

It’s this spirit, that burns so brightly in his daughter, that makes Shaun glow with pride: ‘Seeing her now, as she chats to people at her exhibitions, I’m both proud and amazed by what she’s achieved,’ he says. ‘After what she went through you’d forgive her if she’d turned out quiet and anxious, yet she’s the opposite. She’s outgoing and really confident.

‘Josie loves the fact that people genuinely take pleasure from her work, and that they are interested not through sympathy for what she went through but because they recognise she has real talent. Finally people are talking about her because of something wonderful rather than something terrible.

‘Of course, I wish that Lin could see all her little girl has gone on to achieve and how truly happy she is. 

‘And I can’t help but think that seeds for the happiness Josie is experiencing now were planted many years ago, when she sat at our table with Lin and Megan doing those arts and crafts.’

  •  Josie showcases her work at: josierussell.com



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