Appeared in the North Shore News – December 23, 2011
I sat down to write about the greatest gift I’ve ever received. But, like a river in flood that carves a new channel, it became about my mother.
What follows being an entirely self-indulgent reminiscence, and this being the season of gift-giving, I will try to atone for its sins by distributing its proceeds to local charities. The Harvest Project and Family Services of the North Shore come to mind.
But – the gift. My mother, Bertha Irene George, grew up in smalltown Manitoba and had a Grade 10 education. Born in 1908 in the dawn of movies, which she adored, her own reading was monopolized by Photoplay, Modern Screen and Modern Romances – evil literature hidden under a sofa cushion where I was sure to find them. But, though my brother Gary and I were to scratch out a living as the fable-writers called newspapermen, our mother was incomparably the best story-teller. She made a fairy tale of her home town, Morden, and too late I realized that under her openhearted, child-like joy with life’s tiniest diversions and comic scenes was a gift for concealing disappointment.
But that’s a topic for another day that will never come. Back to that gift. One day she took me to the library, and afterwards, descending the imposing stone balustrade (it was a Carnegie), I stopped and stared at my new card, excited. I knew, as children know before they know, that it would open locks.
If I stand on my tippytoes and reach way, way up to the top shelf, like the child I have never outgrown, I can pull down my earliest remembered books: Animal stories by Thornton W. Burgess. I wrote to his Springfield, Mass., home; he sent an autographed picture and hand-written note, and I was sure an author was the most glamorous person on earth, announced by a flourish of trumpets, petals strewn in his path, his name whispered with awe when he entered a cafe. The bitterness of rejection, the publisher’s harsh contract, never occurred.
Next was Ernest Thompson Seton, the last paragraph of his wolf story, Lobo, King of Currumpaw, memorized tramping around the living-room carpet. The bulky Animals of the World was my Christmas present, age eight, in 1942, and around then P.A. Taverner’s Birds of Canada, never surpassed in magisterial depth and tart opinion. Some time in those days an anchor-weight Underwood appeared on the dining room table. Mother’s doing? One day, alone, I cautiously approached it as if it were a trap. So it was. My fingers were caught and have not yet been released.
I began reviewing books at age 11 or 12 – a canny book editor in my home town, Rhys Crossan, deciding that if you want a boys’ book reviewed you should send for a boy to do it. My memory is that all my reviews rigidly began: “This is a book about . . .” My mother typed my handwritten words for submission to the editor and doubtless improved them.
She was a booster, but never specifically spoke pop-psychology words about encouraging writing, reading or anything else. She wouldn’t have got that out of Photoplay. Parenting and other paid experts hadn’t been invented yet, thank God. My father, a Canadian Press teletype operator and mechanic, said even less. Maybe both thought I’d grow out of it, like little boys who announce they’re going to be firemen.
Accidentally I slowly created a malignant cornucopia of books, five bookcases within my sight, three more plus 13 unwieldy stacks in my bedroom, books on my bed, books crawling up the steps to my office (and newspapers and magazines that want to be books when they grow up). I was recently invited by former North Vancouver councillor Barbara Perrault to speak to the North Shore University Women’s Club, and was presented with a book. I gave gracious thanks, but drew a loud, knowing laugh when I stated candidly that my wife would rather that I came home with another woman than with another book.
I blame mother. Who, I trust, is reading Photoplay, Somewhere.
. . .
An un-Christmasy item, but I’m obliged to report: I ran into Mike Smith five days after he was installed as West Vancouver mayor, and already he’d let go predecessor Pam GoldsmithJones’s personal assistant – never having had even a secretary in his business career. This avowed budgetcutting mayor, you might say, talks turkey.
. . .
I warmly apologize to B.C. Conservative party leader John Cummins for misunderstanding and misquoting him in my last column on his electoral prospects. But let him clarify it:
“What I said was that, given the poll numbers, if an election were held now, the best the (New Democrats) could do was a minority government, but that if trends continue, and I fully expect that to be the case, we would win the next (2013) election.”
My apologies to Cummins and to readers.
© Trevor Lautens, 2011