Posts Tagged ‘Vintage’

land below the wind agnes newton keith

The edition pictured is the more recent reissue of the book. My own paperback copy is too tattered to share; I do need to replace it, as it’s one to keep and re-read.

Land Below the Wind by Agnes Newton Keith ~ 1939. This edition: MacFadden, 1964. Paperback. 270 pages.

My rating: 9/10

I do enjoy an interesting memoir, and, having read several of Agnes Newton Keith’s later accounts of an eventful life, namely Three Came Home (a description of Agnes Keith’s three years in a Japanese prison camp in Borneo with her husband and young son, 1942-45) and Bare Feet in the Palace (everyday and political doings in the Philippines, where her husband worked for the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, 1953-56), I have long been on the lookout for her first literary accomplishment, this worldwide bestseller, Land Below the Wind.

I was particularly interested in this memoir because Agnes Keith credits it with helping save her son’s life while in the prison camp in Borneo. The book had been translated into Japanese prior to the war, and the commandant of the camp had read it and greatly enjoyed it, apparently appreciating Agnes Keith’s favourable descriptions of the Asian world. He would occasionally call Agnes into his office and chat with her on things literary, rewarding her with treats for young George – a biscuit, a banana, and on at least one occasion medical supplies normally unavailable to the internees. For this she was labelled a “collaborator” by some of her fellow internees; In Three Came Home, Keith justifies her conciliatory attitude to the Japanese officers as doing the best she could to ensure the survival of her child. So I was rather curious as to what the appeal of Land Below the Wind was, to see what chord it might have struck which was strong enough to influence a prison camp overseer some years later.

Land Below the Wind is indeed a most readable and a happily positive book, a description of Agnes’ introduction to life as the wife of a British civil servant in then-North Borneo (now known as Sabah) in the 1930s, when that country, “seven days by steamer from Singapore and Hong Kong”, was a British Protectorate, and Harry Keith its Conservator of Forests and Director of Agriculture, a position he had already held for ten years when he brought his new American wife out to the tropics with him. After four years living and travelling in North Borneo, one of only twenty or so European women attached to the seventy or so European men in the North Borneo Civil Service (men were not permitted to marry until they had served eight years in their posting, which accounts for the disparity in numbers of the sexes) Agnes published this book, and it became an immediate bestseller, after winning the coveted Atlantic Monthly $5000 Prize for Best Non-Fiction book published in 1939.

The book is entrancing, certainly because of the descriptions of the local residents, the tropical surroundings, the native flora and fauna, and also for its gentle mocking of the delicate social structure built up around the Protectorate bureaucrats and their spouses and unspoken rules of etiquette.

In Sandakan there is a game played with visiting cards. Every married woman has a small card box with her name lettered on it, planted at the entrance to her garden path. Spiders and lizards live in this box and in the wet season a very small snake, so care must be taken in opening the door not to snap off the end of the lizard’s tail or flatten the snake in the hinge. At intervals, among the lizard’s droppings, if you remember to open the box, various cards will appear. These you scrutinize, forget about, and some days later find under the ash tray. You then disinter your own and husband’s cards, stealthily approach the friend’s card box, and offer a return sacrifice to his lizards. The rule as to who drops the first card is as mystifying and inexplicable as the use of a subjunctive clause, and I have never really understood either of them. The rule has something to do with the sex, length of domicile, and matrimonial alliances of the parties involved, but the whole thing is best enjoyed if regarded as a game. The really important rule is to remember that when calling on the person you should not meet him in the flesh.

Sometimes newcomers do not understand about this game, or play it with a different set of rules in the outer world from which they come. this creates an impasse in social relations, for not until the first round of cards can people meet in person. The impasse continues until someone quietly hands the newcomer a printed slip containing the laws of the Medes, the Persians, and the Game of Cards.

North Borneo in the 1930s was a very active place, with lots going on, and constant coming and going both throughout the countryside and to the various islands, and frequent contact with the “outside” world, but there was still enough “first contact” type experience within living memory to give the Europeans the thrill of realizing that their immediate predecessors, instead of being matter-of-factly greeted by the natives as just another lot of government officials, might well have perished under mysterious and tragic circumstances. This was, after all, a country where head-hunters had stalked the hills only a generation ago. People still occasionally disappeared without a trace, and there were corners of the jungle not yet penetrated by Europeans, where traditional culture presumably survived in isolated pockets.

Agnes Newton Keith plays down the Noble White Man and Backwards-and-Possibly-Scary Native scenario, except where to make a point about White Man’s attitudes (good and bad) and fundamental dependence on the good nature of their Native co-workers, fellow officials, and yes, servants and jungle guides and local shopkeepers and business owners. For its era, an even-minded account of life in a relatively newly colonized land, of course from the point of view of one of the colonizers.

An enjoyable book, and though I could easily go on, I will stop here. Agnes Newton Keith was an interesting woman and an accomplished writer, and I enjoy reading her for her sense of humour, readiness to criticize herself when she pulls a real bloomer, and for her deep appreciation and vibrant descriptions of the places she finds herself occupying, whether North Borneo government villa or prison camp grass hut. Good stuff.

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war stories gregory clarkWar Stories by Gregory Clark ~ 1964. This edition: Ryerson Press, 1968. Softcover. ISBN: 0-7700-6027-7. 171 pages.

My rating: 8/10

Born in 1892 in Toronto, Ontario, Gregory Clark was of perfect age to fight in the Great War, heading to Europe in 1916, at the age of twenty-four. Clark entered the fray as a lieutenant, and exited a major. In the trenches and out of them – Clark received the Military Cross for “conspicuous gallantry” at Vimy Ridge – the young man remembered what he had witnessed, the horror and the gallantry and the moments of respite and delight, to be shared later with his audience of newspaper readers as he took up journalism in the post-war years.

Too old to take active part in World War II, Gregory Clark none the less went overseas once again and pushed his way into the thick of the action, fulfilling a role as a front-line war correspondent, and receiving an Order of the British Empire for his services. Again, his experiences found their way into his short, chatty periodical articles published in the following decades. Clark’s son Murray was killed in action in 1944 while serving with the Regina Rifles, but there is no mention of that personal loss here in War Stories; Clark keeps that particular emotion well buried.

War Stories contains a selection of thirty-eight anecdotes, three to five pages in length, about a wide array of Gregory Clark’s personal experiences. Though the tone throughout  is upbeat and frequently humorous – War Stories won the Leacock award for humour in 1965, which rather surprises me, for funny as these anecdotes sometimes are, there is a sombre tone always present – Clark makes it very clear what his opinions are as to the brutality of what the soldiers and civilians went through.

These stories laud the bravery (and the frequent giddy foolishness) of the farm boys and office clerks and travelling salesmen who find themselves caught up in circumstances beyond their most vivid nightmares, fated to kill and, frequently, be horribly maimed, and wastefully killed, merely because of the circumstance of the time of their birth. Something I noticed is that there is not much sympathy shown here for the soldiers of the “other side”; Clark’s thoughts are ever for his own, and he was reportedly a fiercely protective officer of the men under his charge.

All is not muck and death and destruction though. Interludes of inactivity brought forth pranks and hi-jinks, while there were times of repose behind the lines, time for memorable meals and quiet conversation, and musings on what was going to come after, if there was going to be an after.

An appropriate book for this Remembrance Day weekend, this time of sober reflection. Clark reports the realities, but he persists as well in highlighting the lighter moments, the bits of sanity in a world of war.

A good read.

And a much more eloquent review of this book, well worth a click-over, may be found at Canus Humorous.

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I’m still playing a bit of catch-up with reviews of books I’ve read throughout the year, and didn’t write about right away, but which I want to talk about before I tuck them away. Tonight I’m going to zip off some short reviews of some short easy books, the kind one can read quickly through in a few hours. Lit-light, for those times when you need something undemandingly different from your own possibly bothersome real world.

my sister eileen ruth mckenney 001My Sister Eileen by Ruth McKenney ~ 1938.

This edition: Pocket Books, 1942. Paperback. 142 pages.

My rating: 7.5/10

This frothy memoir was found among the stacks and stacks of vintage Pocket Books at Kelowna’s Pulp Fiction/Robbie Rare Books. The author was new to me, but a bit of internet research showed that she was a well-known journalist in the 1930s, 40s and 50s, with a sideline in humorous memoir, novel and travel writing. This very book, My Sister Eileen, as much about Ruth as it about her younger sister, is a an absolutely charming autobiographical account of growing up in Indiana and then Ohio, and of the two sisters going off to try their luck in New York City. The memoir caught the attention of the public, and it brought its author popular success, being made first into a Broadway play, then into a movie, and finally, in 1953,  into a very successful – 500 + performances – musical, Wonderful Town, starring Rosalind Russell, with music by Leonard Bernstein. A long way from Ohio, oh yes indeed.

I’m not much for laughing out loud while reading, but Ruth McKenney triggered more than a few giggles, as she and Eileen adventure together through their young girlhood, watching much-too-adult movies from behind the brims of their hats, failing dismally at piano and elocution lessons, being traumatized by summer camp, learning how not to swim with the Red Cross, and having a life-altering encounter with Noel Coward. A French pen pal brings romance into Ruth’s life, or so she supposes. She’s not quite sure because no one can translate his handwriting. First jobs give much scope for both girls broadening their horizons, and while Ruth does well for herself on the staff of a newspaper – printer’s devil at fourteen and onward and upward from there – Eileen struggles with the finer points of waiting tables at a posh tea room. Dreadfully dire beaux, a rather more happy (though short) encounter with Randolph Churchill, in America on a lecture tour, and a shipful of Brazilian future-admirals bring romance in the sisters’ lives.

My only complaint is that this sparkling little book is much too short. But there appear to be others, continuing the story, which I may well be searching out, though they are in much shorter supply than this bestselling first installment.

In later years Ruth McKenney’s life was to take a tragic turn. Her beloved sister was killed in an automobile accident only four days before the stage play inspired by her opened on Broadway, and on Ruth’s 44th birthday her husband committed suicide. She stopped writing, and faded into obscurity. A 2003 interview with Ruth’s daughter, Eileen Bransten, was published in the The New York Times, and gives a brief but lovingly poignant character portrait of this talented and ultimately unlucky woman.

nurse is a neighbour joanna jonesNurse is a Neighbour by Joanna Jones ~ 1958.

This edition: Penguin, 1961. Paperback. 159 pages.

My rating: 5.5/10.

Crossing the pond to England, we hear from a rural district nurse, Joanna Jones, who tells of her work with a wryly sarcastic tone more than a little reminiscent of Monica Dickens at her most scathing. While not up to Dickens’ stellar level for this type of memoir, the writing here is competent enough to make this a smooth and easy read, and the details of Nurse Joanna’s life prompt us to forgive her frequently critical comments of all those around her.

Joanna has taken over her posting from a long-time Nurse Merrick, who is now well into her eighties, but still active and alert and very much keeping an eye on her young replacement. Nurse Merrick is not beyond giving some good advice when she thinks it needed, and Joanna tries to bear this in good grace, though it obviously rankles just a little now and again. Joanna also brings along to her cottage her elderly mother who is suffering from what seems to possibly be Alzheimer’s Disease (though the term is never used, I’m supposing that it was not in common usage in the 1950s), a progressive dementia which complicates Joanna’s life immensely, though she appears to cope with grace, humour, and much patience.

A very short, very anecdotal memoir, and an interesting glimpse into the state of British health care just as the National Health Program was being implemented; the protests of doctors and not a few patients as to the unwarranted interference of The State into the state of their medical care is rather familiar what with the United States’ “Obamacare” making the news these days.

Nurse is a Neighbour is quite readable, but I thought it was just missing that elusive special appeal which would make it a must-read. Joanna Jones wrote a second book of memoirs, Nurse on the District, and her books were the basis of a now-forgotten 1963 comedy film, Nurse on Wheels. Neither calls out to me for urgent investigation.

So if I wouldn’t go so far as to recommend this book as worthy of seeking out, I will repeat that it was a pleasant short read for a cold autumn afternoon’s tea break, in to warm up after digging in the garden and raking leaves.

the enchanted places christopher milne 001The Enchanted Places by Christopher Milne ~ 1974.

This edition: Penguin, 1976. Paperback. ISBN: 0-14-003449-8. 183 pages.

My rating: 7/10.

I completely missed Winnie-the-Pooh in my own childhood; I can’t recall even being aware of such a character, though I’m sure A.A. Milne’s classic was readily available even in our rural British Columbia ranching community. Early childhood reading consisted mostly of a vast quantities of fairy tales, and of course the ubiquitous Little Golden Books. Beatrix Potter was just barely represented by a single non-Warne edition which consisted of Potter’s immortal text, but someone else’s dreadfully inadequate illustrations. I loved that one for the story alone – oh, brave, foolish Peter! –  and even today could probably reel off the entire thing from memory. But definitely no Pooh, in any way, shape or form.

I remedied that with my own children, of course, but Pooh never really took hold. Grilling them just now as to early childhood favourites, they mentioned Richard Scarry, the Dr. Seuss books, Beatrix Potter (hurray!) and, my daughter’s absolute favourite for a long, long period of her toddlerhood, The Poky Little Puppy. They do remember Pooh, but not with anything like dedicated fondness. Interesting.

Oh well, moving on, then. I myself do remember the Christopher Robin stories from that time of endless reading aloud, and I definitely appreciated the world of the Hundred Acre Wood, so when this memoir by the real Christopher Robin crossed my path, I read it with genuine curiousity.

In this slender volume (I found out later it is but the first of three, the following ones being The Path Through the Trees and The Hollow on the Hill, taking Christopher Milne into his adult years) the memoirist seeks to provide a sort of

…(C)ompanion to the Pooh books. In the first chapters I have attempted a picture of the Milne family life, the family life that both inspired and was subsequently inspired by the books…

For it is very evident from reading Christopher’s reminiscences that his life was indeed greatly influenced by his becoming a very well-known public figure indeed. His parents sought to shelter him from much of the publicity which his fictional counterpart attracted, but Christopher tells of his uneasy awareness that the fatherly gaze was often a bit too analytical for comfort, and then there was that rather awkward provision of new toys with an eye to story development possibilities…

The early half of the book was very much concerned with descriptions of the physical places which inspired the Pooh stories, and I must say that my interest faltered here and there, not being a true-blue devotee, but as Christopher (the real Christopher) grows up and begins to venture out into the broader world, the narrative becomes much more interesting, in an introspective, self-examining sort of way.

A.A. Milne, from Christopher’s restrained yet gently fond description of his father, seems to have been a man with a certain amount of reserve, a certain at-a-distance quality with his young child. He expressed his interest and attention through his writing rather than with much hands-on attention, and one gets the idea that Christopher in later years was very aware of how this had formed his own rather buttoned-up personality. An alone and one would think an occasionally lonely child, was young Christopher. And vaguely troubling is his mother’s insistence on the long locks and feminine attire; she was sorely disappointed that he had not been born a girl, reports Milne, and he muses about her motivations and their effect on his acceptance by his young peers.

I finished this memoir feeling just a little melancholy for that long-ago child’s sake, though it is comforting to see that he did manage to move on and break away from the heavy-though-benevolent burden of his past. I will be looking for the next two memoirs, to find out, in best story-telling tradition, “what happened next.” And, for my upcoming Century of Books, I intend to revisit Pooh himself, with his real-life owner’s story in mind.

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with powder on my nose billie burkeWith Powder on My Nose by Billie Burke ~ 1959. This edition: Coward-McCann, 1959. Second Printing. Adorable pen-and-ink illustrations by Mercia Vasiliu. Hardcover. 249 pages.

My rating: 5/10

Query: If I bought this frothy vintage memoir/feminine advice manual on a whim, does that automatically make it whimsical?

The hardcover books at one of my occasional used book sources – for you locals, Quesnel’s Family Thrift Shop, on Front Street right across from the walking bridge and beside the old Hudson’s Bay building – were on sale at a lovely 75% off, so I naturally indulged myself and collected a small stack of them, including this fluffy thing. I’d browsed it before, but always put it back; I am a bit sorry to say that that instinct was right on target. It was a pleasant diversion, but not one I wold have missed if I had missed it, if you know what I mean.

I originally rated this book at a conservative 4. On second thoughts, I’m upping it to 5. It had its moments, and those were very good. Some genuine gems among the lavish stage jewelry here. Enough so that I will be keeping an eye open for Miss Burke’s 1949 memoir, With a Feather on My Nose. (But I’m not going to a whole lot of trouble to track it down. If it shows up for a few dollars, I will happily snag it. But not going to mortgage the farm to finance it. I haven’t even checked it out on ABE; for all I know it may be cheap and abundant, or, conversely, rare and expensive.)

I must confess that I had no idea who Billie Burke was before I read the flyleaf, where I discovered that she was (in 1959) an elderly actress, and also the widow of the flamboyant Florenz Ziegfeld of, of course, Ziegfeld Follies fame. After finishing the book, I did my usual and put a query into Google, whence I immediately discovered that Miss Burke is very well known indeed, having played Glinda the Good alongside Judy Garland’s Dorothy in MGM’s stunningly successful 1939 musical, The Wizard of Oz.

Born in 1884 (according to Wikipedia; the memoir claims 1886) to American parents then living in England, Billie Burke followed in her comedic-actor (more accurately, a “singing clown with Barnum & Bailey and in Europe”) father’s footsteps and starred in her first Broadway play in 1907, and her first silent movie in 1916. Cast as a fluffy-headed romantic type (“spoony ladies with bird-foolish voices; skitter-wits!”) throughout most of her exceedingly long career (which ended in 1960), Miss Burke had a tremendously faithful following, and indeed worked closely with many of the theatrical and literary greats of her era, including, among numerous others, Will Rogers, Eddy Cantor, and Somerset Maugham (whom Miss Burke confesses she cherished a long-lasting though unspoken romantic crush on). The memoir is stuffed full of famous names, and quite understandably so, considering Miss Burke’s stellar career. (I am quite embarrassed that I’ve never knowingly heard of her; but as Hollywood and Broadway are not my natural forté, all I can say is that I shall meekly continue to live and learn.)

So, the book. It’s memoir-ish, but mostly it’s an advice manual. Billie Burke, a matronly seventy-five at the time of its publishing, had LOTS of advice to share. Her co-writer, Cameron Shipp, accomplished ghost and co writer to various other celebrities, claims in the last chapter (How to Write a Book with Billie Burke) that he merely assembled Miss Burke’s copious notes and transcribed her enthusiastic monologues. He states that much more was left out than included in With Powder on My Nose; one can well believe it, and I wondered if a third memoir was perhaps being hinted at, though one never materialized.

The chapter titles give a hint of the broad range of topics discussed with fervent opinionism by Miss Burke.

With Powder on My Nose – a brief overview of Billie Burke’s career, with some reference to her happy-but-complex marriage to showgirl-surrounded Florenz Ziegfeld.

The Trouble with Women – Billie Burke takes issue with the way women are negatively portrayed in the popular press, and then takes a few feeble swings at the budding feminists she has come across. The trouble referred to is the way that women are trying to – in the author’s opinion – step into men’s shoes. In her opinion, the same can be accomplished by using one’s natural femininity to get one’s way. In her personal experience, and all.

I always said the right things about love and marriage when I was on the stage. That was because I said what good playwrights wrote for me to say. I often said the wrong things to my husband…

Kitchen, Bedroom and Bath – Men love good food, but they love sex more. Always get up early and put your makeup on and do your hair. If he strays, really consider the implications before setting out ultimatums. Forgiveness without reproach can save your marriage. (One suspects that Billie frequently put this into practice herself; Ziegfeld was surrounded by luscious feminine temptation in the shape – pun intended – of the Ziegfeld showgirls, and by all reports continually indulged.) Bathing, preferably with lavish oils and soul-soothing bubbles is one of the secrets of staying attractive – lots and often is the rule here. (I like that last one!)

With a Possum on My Head – Mothers-in-law – how to get along with them; how to be one. Some rather good advice here, mostly along the lines of “Shut up and smile” and “A marriage concerns two people only – don’t butt in”.

Why I Never Married Again – Widowhood. A strong recommendation to remarry if possible; a poignant defense of why she herself didn’t. One of the more serious chapters; authentically heartfelt.

If You Want to Be an Actress… – Advice to those contemplating a similar career. Work and study hard; have a fall-back plan; don’t go to Hollywood. Some very good advice in this chapter, reading from my perspective as a performing arts parent, and perfectly applicable today.

Let’s Face It – Advice on hair and make-up. Take care of yourself, girls, and look at those wrinkles in a strong light, and above all accept your age. (But don’t give in to it!) Don’t dye your hair. The stage is one thing, real life another. Use moisturizer. Don’t plaster your foundation on. Etcetera. Billie Burke looks pretty darned good in all the pictures I’ve seen, not noticeably face-lifted as far as I can tell, so if this (make-up) is your thing, probably worth reading. Over my head, I confess!

How to Steal Up to Ten Dollars and Other Good Advice – Men like to view women as disorganized in general and careless about money in particular. Take advantage of this and pick his pockets and feel free to lie about expenditures. What he doesn’t know won’t hurt him. Etcetera. And other hints on husband taming. The battle between the sexes explained at its vintage best! A bit dated, this chapter. <ahem>

Clothes – and the Shape You’re In – Dressing to accentuate/hide your figure. Dress for your lifestyle; have fun with it; always wear comfortable shoes. There’s no excuse for being flabby, even if you’re not the gal you used to be. Eat a healthy diet. Don’t skip breakfast. Avoid alcohol, or indulge in moderation only. Don’t smoke. TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF!!! Etcetera. (This harks back slightly to the “put your make-up on before your spouse wakes” up advice, but is actually very applicable to everyone, male or female, in any era.)

My Best Advice – a very short chapter, which advises avoiding going to friends and family in a dilemma, as they will tell you what you want to hear. Go to an expert, and then FOLLOW that advice.

Easy Exercise – How to exercise without effort. (Hmmm…) Detailed advice on specific routines. Stand up STRAIGHT, ladies. The importance of posture and presentation.

They – Men, of course. This chapter could be easily expanded into a modern-day bestseller on how to keep “him” happy, in line with other such retro advice manuals. A revealing peek inside Miss Burke’s very feminine mind.

Something Good to Eat – Recipes. From the mouth-watering (“Stuffed Eggplant”) to the sybaritic (“Shrimp Newburg”) to the prosaic (“Whole Wheat Bread”). An enthusiastic promotion of organically grown vegetables; a definite fixation on organ meats (brains, sweetbreads, kidneys, heart, liver), plus a recommendation for gelatin drinks (?).

Going Steady – A bemused chapter on the present day (1959) predilection of the young for “going steady”. Billie Burke thinks they’re missing out on a whole lot of fun…

Dear Mrs. Post: Is It All Right to Be Polite to a Child? – How to talk (politely) to children. Some marvelous advice in this chapter, absolutely timeless.

Un-Birthdays – It’s perfectly fine to lie about your age! (Says Billie.)

When To Tell Your Age – Except, of course, when applying for your Social Security benefits. Billie encourages you to get out there and take advantage of the program. An interesting vignette of a time when such income insurance programs were just coming into their own.

Out of My Head – A short compilation of Billie’s snippets of advice and observation. Examples:

Go to church. You may believe nothing. But at least once a week you can join, if only in silent communication, a lot of hopeful people trying to learn good will.


There’s a lot of nonsense written about how money won’t buy happiness. Well, I’ve had a lot of money and a lot of unhappiness at the same time. And I’ve been poor and happy. But the most fun of all was being happy and having money.

So there you have it. A mildly diverting trip down a career film star’s memory lane. Absolutely dated, so read on with a forgiving smile.

Curious? Here’s an interesting link which will tell you more about the author:

Billie Burke – The Real Glinda

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the family nobody wanted doss 1 001The Family Nobody Wanted by Helen Doss ~ 1954. This edition: Little, Brown & Company, 23rd printing. Hardcover. 267 pages.

My rating: 6/10

Well, this was an interesting read, and I’m still trying to decide what my personal reactions really are.

On the surface it is a simple feel-good memoir about a young childless couple adopting twelve children in the 1940s and 1950s, but there are deeper currents to the tale, especially from a half-century later perspective. In particular, there is a damning sub-text of racial intolerance which is very much a part of why and how this family came together.

I didn’t yearn for a career, or maids, or a fur coat, or a trip to Europe. All in the world I wanted was a happy, normal little family. Perhaps, if God could arrange it, Carl and I could have a boy first, and after that, a little girl.

God didn’t arrange it.

In fact, as our doctor regretfully informed us, Carl and I couldn’t have any children of our own. No children, no sticky fingerprints on the woodwork, no childish tears and laughter, no small beds in the other bedroom. Just barren, empty years, stretching aimlessly into a lonely future…

So Helen’s husband Carl, driven to distraction by his wife’s continual bemoaning of her barren future, suggests that they adopt a baby. Helen loves the idea, and the two optimistically prepare a room and trot off to the nearest orphanage, where they learn that it isn’t quite as simple as all that. Most of the babies in the orphanage were simply not available, being only in temporary care, or waiting for relations to take them in, and the adoption agencies which are the next resort are not particularly helpful either. Helen and Carl are informed that waiting lists are years long, and that each baby must match its potential parents perfectly in ethnic makeup and family background. And of course the parents must be financially stable, as well as sterling characters in all other aspects.

Carl and Helen are sure their characters are good, but the money thing is definitely an issue, and the waiting list situation seems cruelly stressful. So they set aside their ideas of forming a family and instead decide to pursue other interests. Both enroll in college, Helen to study literature and writing, and Carl to pursue a long-held dream to become a Methodist minister. And then, miraculously, one more attempt at adoption through an agency results in a beautiful blue-eyed baby boy. Helen is ecstatic; Carl more reserved. They can barely feed themselves, so this new addition is a challenge in more ways than one.

Young Donny thrives and grows, and all is well for a while, until Helen starts to brood over the loneliness of the only child. “If only he could have a little sister…” But another child is an impossibility, declares everyone they contact. “Just be happy you managed to get the one.” Unless, of course, they would consider a mixed race child. Lots of those were languishing in adoptive limbo, and, three years after Donny’s adoption, Filipino-Chinese-English-French Laura joins the family. And, only two months later, frail and sickly Susan, undesirable because of her weak constitution and a tumorous red birthmark on her face.

Helen is still thrilled, though she finds three children something of a challenge, but all three thrive, and Helen starts thinking again. Maybe just one more, a brother for Donny…

Eventually, with increasingly strident resistance from Carl, Helen collects a round dozen of children, six boys and six girls. She writes about the family’s experiences, and the tragedy of mixed race children being seen as undesirable by families otherwise desperate to adopt a baby; even though the Filipino, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Malayan, Burmese, Spanish, French and American Indian children she and Carl eventually acquire are accepted by family and neighbours, a constant refrain is “As least they aren’t Negro!” Carl and Helen do attempt to adopt a part-black child from a German orphanage, child of black American GI father and a German mother, but the transaction is strangled by red tape; their families and friends are loudly vocal in their relief, and one of the most passionate chapters in the book strongly condemns this attitude, and addresses the degrees of racism inherent in American society, and its effect on innocent children along with its part in much greater societal ills.

Helen and Carl come across as truly sincere in their attitudes that colour means nothing, and that human is human; Helen starts writing articles about their “United Nations” family, and the Dosses catch popular attention, being interviewed, photographed and featured on radio and television, as a kind of shining example of American acceptance and tolerance, though in reality the very existence of their family group has come about through blatant American racial discrimination. These are, after all, the children that nobody wanted.

the family nobody wanted helen doss 2 001

The book ends only twelve years after that first baby, Donny, is adopted, and the tone is happily optimistic, but there are undertones that perhaps all may not be so well in future. Carl is a reluctant participant in the continual enlargement of the Doss family, though he is very willing to tout its benefits for interviewers; Helen persists in collecting children in the face of Carl’s outright “No more” plea, time and time again. The news that the Doss marriage ends in divorce in 1966, twelve years after the publishing of this bestselling book, comes as no surprise, though it is sad; one hopes that the children – some at that time well into adulthood, one must admit –  weathered their family breakup with a minimum of trauma, though one doubts that would completely be the case.

Knowing several cross-culturally adopted children who now, as adults, are seeking diligently to reconnect with their birth parents’ heritage, I wonder what happened to those twelve children as they grew up, and what they each personally made of their inclusion in this unique family, and of the publicity which their parents’ outspoken willingness to discuss their adoptive choices attracted.

I do think, both from the tone of Helen Doss’s memoir, and from other reports on the Doss family I read on the internet, that their intentions were, once they started adopting, only the best. And, also, I do tend to think that children deserve a loving family versus being institutionalized, and that if the only fit possible is cross-cultural, so be it. If it were more widely accepted (as it wasn’t in the 1940s and 1950s) then at least the “novelty factor” would not be such an issue.

I’ve tagged this post with a “religion” designation, because it is also very apparent that Helen and Carl Doss were motivated in a great part by their Christian faith. Carl Doss is quoted as saying that

…The whole idea of Christianity is radical (a)nd the whole idea of democracy is radical.  Think how really it is to say that all men are created equal, and that all men are brothers – and that the individual is important!

Conflicted as Carl seems to be by his wife’s acquisition of child after child, once they are brought into the family he apparently embraces his fatherhood fully, being as full of latent paternal affection as he is of “radical” Christian ideals.

A thought-provoking memoir, and, as I said, a bit uncomfortable to consider more deeply, given that a whole lot must have been left out. Though I was interested and pleased to see that Helen Doss was very frank about her own motivations of needing children to “complete” her idea of true womanly fulfillment; the ideal of a happy, multi-racial family group seemed to develop as her circumstances changed.

I did my usual look-around the web, and was interested to see how highly this book was rated on Goodreads; a large number of people apparently read and loved it in their school years; the reviews are by and large quite glowing.

It is very readable, and provides a truly fascinating (though superficial) glimpse into the mid-20th Century’s social dilemmas and attitudes towards both adoption and racial and interracial societal division lines. It is also frequently very funny; Helen Doss’s anecdotes of her children’s doing are downright adorable, and well targeted at the sentimental readers who have obviously embraced it as a “sweet tale”. It is a sweet tale; it is also an indictment of the bitter evils of racial discrimination; and a strong advocate of true Christian behaviour; and a revealing portrait of a marriage not without deep personal conflicts, despite its publically positive façade.

For more on the Doss family, these links will be good starting points.

Helen Doss – Obituary

Adoption Topics – The Family Nobody Wanted

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fast fast fast relief pierre berton 1Fast Fast Fast Relief by Pierre Berton ~ 1962. This edition: McClelland and Stewart, 1962. Hardcover. 185 pages.

My rating: 7.5/10

Pierre Berton, Canadian popular historian extraordinaire, began his career as a prolific and well-regarded newspaper columnist. After reading and enjoying an earlier collection of his newspaper articles, 1959’s Just Add Water and Stir , I was happy to acquire a similar 1962 collection. It has lived up to expectation, in providing a widely varied, and, for the most part, smoothly readable collection of serious essays, biographical sketches, social commentary, and satirical fabrications.

Highlights of the collection to me were a series of short, completely serious, “current affairs” articles highlighting social injustices, a number of lyrical essays describing the joys of country life, and a rather goofy collection of humorous short-short stories, extra-heavy on the satire. Of these last, The Waiting Room (Wesbrook Frayme, car racing ace, dies in a crash, gets to Heaven and is shocked to find out that his widow has married twice again; his wife and her other two spouses all appear to confound Wesbrook’s assumptions about his marriage and his wife’s mourning process) and Shakespeare Revises a Play (the Bard of Avon has his work worked over in a most Hollywood-like manner; in his first draft of Hamlet, Ophelia is thirty-two, and the ending involves lovers wandering off hand-in-hand into the sunset; the producer and director have other ideas), are particularly delightful.

A collection worthy of keeping on the night table for dipping into; an ideal guest room book for your fellow Canadian avid readers, especially those appreciative of Berton’s wry, thought-provoking, and occasionally just-plain-silly and boisterous tone.

All in all, over forty short pieces, plus an extensive and most interesting foreword by the author. Comic cartoon-like illustrations by George Feyer are an added touch.

Pure vintage Canadiana, and a good reminder of why Pierre Berton was so highly regarded for so many decades. His more than competent journalistic work brilliantly foretells his subsequent success as a writer of popularly accessible historical books.

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akaval james houston cover 1 001Akavak: An Eskimo Journey by James Houston ~ 1968. This edition: Longmans Canada Limited, 1968. Hardcover. 80 pages.

My rating: 8.5/10

Akavak is a slight but punchy short novel from Canadian artist and writer James Houston. Akavak was Houston’s fourth published fictional work, preceded by the award-winning Tikta’liktak in 1965, as well as The Eagle Mask (1966) and The White Archer (1967). Aimed at a youth readership, Houston’s short juvenile novels garnered high praise for their depictions of pre-European contact  Eskimo (as the Inuit were called at that time) and Indian (First Nations) life. Houston went on to write and illustrate a number of other juvenile adventure novels, most set in contemporary times, as well as several ambitious and well-received adult novels, all set in the North, and frequently featuring strong Inuit and First Nations characters.

In Akavak, a fourteen-year-old Inuit boy (Akavak) is asked to accompany his grandfather on a perilous journey along the coastline in order to fulfill the elderly man’s final wish, to see his beloved brother one more time before it is too late. Warned by his father that though Grandfather is still a master traveller and skilled hunter he occasionally shows flawed judgement due to his great age, Akavak must assess his grandfather’s moods and instructions as the journey proceeds, and find tactful ways to prevent the old man from putting himself and Akavak in danger.

At first the journey goes well, but soon a series of increasingly serious disasters threatens the expedition, and Akavak’s and Grandfather’s very survival; Akavak must finally take the lead and make some difficult decisions. The two ultimately attain their destination, but the ending of the story is bittersweet.

akavak james houston illust 2 001Well depicted details of traditional Inuit skills, as well as a compelling storyline make this novel a good read-alone or read-aloud for primary and intermediate grades, and it will work well as part of a Canadian/Arctic/Inuit Life social studies/humanities unit. The novel is set pre-European-contact (or perhaps in an isolated location); while there is a slightly educational tone to a few of the author’s explanations of customs or habits, the story is very respectful of Inuit culture without over-emphasizing its “exotic” nature to readers not of the North.

James Houston was a talented artist; while not meaning to downplay the vigorous story, I have to say that for me the illustrations are perhaps the best part of this short novel. Simplistic charcoal drawings, they brilliantly capture mood and movement, and are detailed enough to provide a clear picture of the places and people of Houston’s dramatic tale.

akavak james houston illust 1 001The story itself provides not much in the way of surprises; the adventuring pair overcome their frequent setbacks with predictable success. There is a very real sense of the peril that they find themselves in; Houston, though allowing the titular hero to attain his goal in the end, never guarantees a happy ending to any of the incidents he depicts, adding a dash of plausibility to a highly dramatized adventure story.

I would think that ages 8 to 12 or so would enjoy this story as a read-alone; add a few years onto each end of that range if using as a read-aloud. There are no chapter breaks, but I would suggest that it be broken into perhaps three or four sections if reading aloud, though an ambitious and well-seasoned narrator with an attentive audience could probably pull it off in less.

Akavak has been continually reprinted in numerous editions throughout the years, and so should be fairly easy to find in most Canadian library systems, or through the second-hand book trade.

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hello to springtime robert fontaineHello to Springtime: A Personal Memoir by Robert Louis Fontaine ~ 1955. This edition: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1955. Hardcover. 246 pages.

My rating: 8/10

As those of you who have been following my blog for any length of time will know, I have fondness for memoirs, particularly those of never-been-famous “regular people” or now-forgotten public figures. Their personal stories are always fascinating, and, if well-written – as they frequently are –  wonderfully readable for their occasional poignancy and frequent humour. The glimpses back into times gone by and their unique perspectives on historical events are an added attraction. Hello to Springtime is a good example of this particular biographical niche.

Robert Louis Fontaine was a minor celebrity in his time. Born in 1911, he was a working journalist, a best-selling author of short stories and novels, a public speaking humourist, and an occasional actor.

At the tender age of three, Robert Fontaine accompanied his mother and father by train from Massachusetts to Ontario, where his father had been offered the position of conductor and first violinist of an Ottawa vaudeville theatre. From snippets of memory, from looking at old photographs,  and from the accounts of his parents, Robert pieces together a child’s-eye account of the highlights of that trip, and of the years which came after. As his memories solidify, the book progresses into fully formed, detailed anecdotes of the strange and wonderful world of boyhood and adolescence.

Robert tells of his bemused response to the celebration on the streets of Ottawa at the end of the Great War, and of his increasing awareness that life was not simply the ever-present Mama and the away-much-of-the-evening Papa, and listening to the strains of violin practice coming from his father’s room, and playing in the street. It soon broadened to include school, and the usual childhood friends and enemies, as well as beloved and feared teachers, and, inevitably, the maddening but adorable charms of the opposite sex. As well, the Fontaine family was an extended one, and a number of Robert’s relations were French Canadian; visits from various aunts and uncles gave plenty of scope for humorous remembrance in later years.

Just before his final year of junior college, Robert and his family returned to the United States; the increasing popularity of “talking pictures” and the subsequent demise of the vaudeville and music hall phenomenon left his father scrambling for employment; the Canadian days were over.

The author was a strongly opinionated man; he holds forth with vigour on a wide array of topics, from the paradoxical moral standards governing young people and sex, to the evils of compulsory schooling, the complications of organized religion, and the various foolishnesses of civilized society in general. Often didactic in tone, Fontaine’s laying down of the law as he sees it is neatly tempered by his cheerful willingness to poke fun at himself; I was never truly offended by his rather outrageous pronouncements, but found myself frequently (though not invariably) in complete accord.

My initial mild enjoyment steadily increased as the narrative progressed and I became more and more caught up in Robert Fontaine’s reminiscences of his early youth and teenage years, and in his anecdotes about his family. I turned the last page with gentle regret; I could happily have kept going. An insidiously appealing read, this one.

Robert Louis Fontaine is perhaps best remembered for his connection to a popular 1952 feature film, The Happy Time, based on his 1945 fictionalized memoir of the same title. The Happy Time was made into a successful stage musical in 1968. Incidents in all three versions of The Happy Time are also detailed in Hello to Springtime; the author assures us in the forward that “these are the facts”.

I am also in possession of one of Fontaine’s best selling fictional novels, based on the antics of one of his actual relations, 1953’s My Uncle Louis. This was among my late father’s books, and I recall reading it as a teenager with not much enthusiasm; I remember thinking it rather silly. After my enjoyment of Hello to Springtime, I am now keen to revisit My Uncle Louis with fresh eyes. Perhaps the several decades of life which have gone by since that first reading will bring me to a new appreciation. We shall see.

While I wouldn’t recommend that you immediately run out and search for Hello to Springtime, I would encourage you to give it a whirl if it crosses your path, especially if you, like me, enjoy these glimpses into the past via good-humoured personal memoirs.

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hi, there! gregory clark 001Hi, There! by Gregory Clark ~ 1963. This edition: McGraw Hill-Ryerson, 1968. Softcover. ISBN: 0-7700-6026-9. 228 pages.

My rating: 9/10. There is absolutely nothing to dislike – well, aside from, if one wants to get really nit-picky, the odd era-typical comment, such as Mr. Clark referring to his wife and presumably at least one daughter in a paternally misogynistic way as “my women” – and much to like.

This was one of my father’s books; I remember buying him other Gregory Clark titles as birthday and Father’s Day gifts; I am now wondering just where those might have ended up, as Hi, There! has piqued my interest; I’d happily read more of these pleasant (though possibly just a bit dramatized) memoirs.

These are short, 4 to 5 page, mostly humorous, meticulously well-written anecdotes and essays on various low-key topics, from winter driving (a truly Canadian focus of interest) to neighbourhood feuds to amusing encounters with all sorts of people, including a carload of bank robbers disguised as a wedding party.

Gregory Clark has a stellar backstory as an extremely well-regarded journalist. He was the recipient of both the Order of the British Empire and the Order of Canada for his war reporting, as well as receiving the Stephen Leacock Award for Humour for his collection entitled War Stories.

From The Canadian Journalism Foundation biography:

Greg Clark – Journalist 1892-1977

It was once said that in the years leading into the Second World War, more Canadians would recognize Greg Clark on the street than the prime minister or the movie hero of the day.

During the 1930s, Greg Clark was the most widely read writer in Canada, crafting features for the Star Weekly with cartoonist Jimmie Frise. His popularity continued through the late 1940s and into the early 1960s as a writer and most notably back-page columnist, for Weekend Magazine.

Nineteen books of Greg Clark’s writings, ranging from everyday life to the horrors of war, have been published. His output of stories about real people living real lives was phenomenal.

Craig Ballantyne, editorial director of Weekend Magazine, once described Clark as “a man so Canadian that no other land could possibly have produced him.” [Ernest] Hemingway, in 1920, called him the best writer at the Toronto Star.

Clark entered journalism in 1911 at the Toronto Star, where he worked for 34 years before joining the Montreal Standard, which later developed into Weekend Magazine.

He is often remembered as a columnist, but his feature and column work had been forged by years of front-page reporting. He covered the Moose River mining disaster, royal coronations, papal coronations, the death of FDR, and the founding of the UN, to name a few. He was a [frequently frontline] war correspondent in World War II, after serving in WWI, which he entered as a private and left as a major.

His contributions to journalism are many, but his most important is what his work can show other journalists about storytelling excellence. All Clark’s writings, from columns to hard front-page news, are guides to how journalists should tell stories that interest and inform readers.

His writings are real life with human touches. They have been described as “rapid, full of rhythm, unimpeded by digression.” His work was positive in the darkest situations, while still laying out the full facts and describing reality. This is an approach worth study in a time when the public feels journalism is far too negative…

More glowing biographies are here:

4th Canadian Mounted Rifles – Biography of Capt. Gregory Clark

Gregory Clark. Perhaps now a forgotten author in this new century? Fellow Canadians, remember the name for your used book store explorations; you might be very well pleased to make his acquaintance.

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the road past altamont gabrielle roy 001The Road Past Altamont by Gabrielle Roy ~ 1966. Published in French as La Route d’Altamont. This edition: New Canadian Library, 1976. Translated and with an Introduction by Joyce Marshall. Paperback. ISBN: 0-7710-9229-6. 146 pages.

My rating: 10/10.

It has been a while since I read much of Gabrielle Roy, but my recent discovery of Enchanted Summer reminded me of how much I enjoyed her writing in summers long past. For to me Gabrielle Roy is best read in summer, on those sunny days that invariably follow the solstice; something about her delicacy of expression and lightness of touch belongs to the stillness of summer afternoons, and to times of repose in green shade.

I came to The Road Past Altamont with high hopes; they were met in full. And, too, very personal feelings were stirred by these anecdotes of generations of (mostly) women, and their ways of dealing with the passing of time and the separation of the generations in a very real sense, as my own almost-grown children are poised for their journeys into the wider world, and my own elderly mother for her withdrawal from it.

The Road Past Altamont is an assemblage of four connected, chronologically ordered short stories, or, rather, vignettes. The central character is Christine, youngest daughter of a Manitoban francophone family. Readers of Gabrielle Roy will remember Christine from Street of Riches, in which she is the narrator of a similar collection of vignettes. Christine is an autobiographical character, based on Gabrielle Roy, and Christine’s memories and responses are, one must therefore speculate, Gabrielle’s.

In the first story in The Road Past Altamont, My Almighty Grandmother, six-year-old Christine is sent, at her grandmother’s request, to visit for part of the summer in a rural Manitoba village. Christine is at first sulky and reluctant, informing Grandmother upon arrival that, “I’m going to be bored here…I’m sure of it. It’s written in the sky.” Grandmother takes up the challenge at once, and Christine, though she does frequently succumb to the lassitude of hot summer afternoons, ends up with a strong love and admiration for her still-capable grandmother, who is slowly being relegated to the status of “poor old Mémère” by the rest of her large family of descendants. To Christine’s amazed delight, Grandmother makes her a doll from odds and ends, scraps of cloth, leather and yarn; even weaving a tiny hat. While the two work, Grandmother muses on the ironies of growing old.

“That is what life is, if you want to know… a mountain made of housework. It’s a good thing you don’t see it at the outset; if you did you mightn’t risk it, you’d balk. But the mountain only shows itself as you climb it. Not only that, no matter how much housework you do in your life, just as much remains for those who come after you. Life is work that’s never finished. And in spite of that, when you’re shoved into a corner to rest, not knowing what to do with your ten fingers, do you know what happens? Well, you’re bored to death; you may even miss the housework. Can you make anything out of that?”

… She grumbled on so that I dozed, leaning against her knees, my doll in my arms, and saw my grandmother storm into Paradise with a great many things to complain about. In my dream God the Father, with his great beard and stern expression, yielded his place to Grandmother, with her keen, shrewd, far-seeing eyes. From now on it would be she, seated in the clouds, who would take care of the world, set up wise and just laws. Now all would be well for the poor people on earth.

For a long time I was haunted by the idea that it could not possibly be a man who made the world. But perhaps an old woman with extremely capable hands.

In The Old Man and the Child, Christine is a few years older. Grandmother has died, and Christine’s deep unhappiness about losing her is salved by her new acquaintance with an elderly neighbour several streets over from her own. Monsieur Sainte-Hilaire sees Christine fall while walking gingerly on her newest passion, a pair of stilts; he picks her up and dusts her off and sends her on her way buoyed by his admiration for her tenacity and agility. Christine basks in his admiration; the two become close friends. As the hot, hot summer proceeds – one of the hottest and driest in living memory – Monsieur Saint-Hilaire and Christine hatch a plan together, a visit to the great inland ocean, Lake Winnipeg, which Christine has never seen, and which the old man yearns for, having spent much time beside it in his long-ago youth. Against her better judgement, Christine’s mother gives permission for the long day’s excursion.

At length the old man asked me, “Are you happy?”

I was undoubtedly happier than I had ever been before, but, as if it were too great, this unknown joy held me in a state of intense astonishment. I learned later on, of course, that this is the very essence of joy, this astonished delight, this sense of revelation at once so simple, so natural, and yet so great that one doesn’t quite know what to say of it, except, “Ah, so this is it.”

All my preparations had been useless; everything surpassed my expectations, this great sky, half cloudy and half sunlit, this incredible crescent of beach, the water, above all its boundless expanse, which to my land-dweller’s eyes, accustomed to parched horizons, must have seemed somewhat wasteful, trained as we were to hoard water. I could not get over it. Have I, moreover, ever got over it? Does one ever, fundamentally, get over a great lake?

In The Move, Christine is eleven, and has made unlikely friends with Florence, whose father, among his other odd jobs, often works as a mover, driving a team of horses and a huge cart, trundling the sad possessions of the poor of the city from one dismal home to another. At this time the team of horses is itself becoming an anomaly, as technology has largely replaced them with the internal combustion engine. Christine is fascinated by concept of moving house; she has never personally experienced it, other than the temporary removals of holidays and such.

To take one’s furniture and belongings, to abandon a place, close a door behind one forever, say good-by to a neighbourhood, this was an adventure of which I knew nothing; and it was probably the sheer force of my efforts to picture it to myself that made it seem so daring, heroic and exalted in my eyes.

“Aren’t we ever going to move?” I used to ask Maman.

“I certainly hope not,” she would say. “By the grace of God and the long patience of your father, we are solidly established at last. I only hope it is forever.”

She told me that to her no sight in the world could be more heartbreaking, more poignant even, than a house moving.

“For a while,” she said, “it’s as if you were related to the nomads, those poor souls who slip along the surface of existence, putting their roots down nowhere. You no longer have a roof over your head. Yes indeed, for a few hours at least, it’s as if you were drifting on the stream of life.”

Poor Mother! Her objections and comparisons only strengthened my strange hankering. To drift on the stream of life! To be like the nomads! To wander through the world! There was nothing in any of this that did not seem to me like complete felicity.

Since I myself could not move, I wished to be present at someone else’s moving and see what it was all about…

Christine sneaks away early one morning to accompany Florence and her father on one of their jobs; she comes home devastated; it is not the joyful experience she had imagined. Mourning to her mother that the view from the seat of the wagon is not as she had imagined it to be, Maman realizes with dismay that Christine is one of the yearning ones; one who will always be looking for new horizons…

“You too then!” she said. “You too will have the family disease, departure sickness. What a calamity!”

Then, hiding my face against her breast, she began to croon me a sort of song, without melody and almost without words.

“Poor you,” she intoned. “Ah, poor you! What is to become of you!”

It is so much more heart-rending to be the one left than the one leaving, and Maman struggles mightily with the pain of desertion when Christine, now a young woman, breaks it to her that she is about to embark on her long-desired travels, to go to Europe, to explore the greater world. The Road Past Altamont, the last story in the book, is the most delicately poignant, as Christine and Maman drive together across the prairie to visit relatives on the outskirts of the Pembina Hills, the only “mountains” in southern Manitoba. Maman yearns for the hills, but as there is no road into them, she fears she will never walk among them, so when Christine inadvertently take a wrong turn, “just past the village of Altamont”, and ends up in the gentle mountains, her mother’s joy is overwhelming. However, on a return trip, they cannot find the road again, and soon Christine will be gone…

Maman was perhaps close to admitting that she felt herself to be too old to lose me, but there is a time when one can bear to see one’s children go away but after that it is truly as if the last rag of youth were being taken away from us and all the lamps put out. She was too proud to hold me at this price. But how insensitive my lack of assurance made me. I wanted my mother to let me go with a light heart and predict nothing but happy things for me…

Christine goes away, accompanied in her memory by all of the women in her family that came before her, and her mother encourages her in her travels, sharing her own small stories and dreamed-of destinations, which Christine has moved so far beyond. It is only in later years, looking back on that drive together towards the elusive hills, that Christine realizes how gracious her mother was in hiding her own deep pain and in opening her arms wide to let her youngest daughter freely go, unrebuked and encouraged on her way.


A lovely book, and, for me, a timely one. The sensitivity of her observations is surely what has made Gabrielle Roy such a beloved author; her visions hold a lasting appeal, and something of comfort, too, across our varied experiences and all the years between our times.

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