Today is December 20. It is raining outside. I can hear
it on the roof. I'm seventeen. Today I've been very briefly in several worlds
- Salinger's Caulfield, Thomas Wolff's Hills Beyond, piquant worlds of people
who write. And again I felt as tho' I should write. But is there in me not
only a wish but a way too, a way of setting words to show the shaded patterns
of what I know to people who read? Maybe it is too soon to tell. But I feel
aware, I feel like a writer.
At the start of this last volume of Still at home
I'm seventeen and about to begin my last year of high school. Because the
school in La Glace stopped at grade eleven the County boarded us elsewhere
for grade 12. Most of the kids in my year went to Grande Prairie High but
I chose Sexsmith School, where David Mann was now the principal.
Part 1 first half of grade 12. Part 2 Christmas.
Part 3 last half of grade 12. Part 4
berry-picking in Clearbrook again. Part 5 cannery work
at York Farm.
Sexsmith is an agricultural town fifteen miles east of
La Glace. In 1962 it had gravelled streets, a railway station, seven grain
elevators, a Catholic school and a public school, a post office, a blacksmith's,
a drugstore, a doctor's office, a number of auto repair shops, a butcher
shop that also served as a grocery store, a hotel with a beer parlor, a
Chinese cafe, a skating rink, a curling rink, a library open only on Tuesday
evenings, four churches (Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, United) and the Prairie
Bible Institute. Population less than a thousand. The public school, a long
building with high school and junior high classrooms on the second floor
and elementary classrooms on the first, was on the north edge of town and
looked across ball diamonds toward grain fields
The ten months living in Mrs Wold's rooming house in Sexsmith
were my first experience of living alone. Mrs Wold was a white-haired Norwegian
widow who worked six days a week looking after her paralyzed son-in-law
and rented out the two upstairs bedrooms in her house on a maple-lined street
near the post office. The other boarder that year was the new grade eight
teacher at Sexsmith School. Mrs Wold was out of the house every day except
Sunday and Hilda would go home to her family on the farm whenever she could,
so it was a quiet house. I needed grades that would win me a full scholarship
and I slaved to get them, but I was also for the first time living in a
town with a library. There was a lot of catching-up to do.
I realized later that Mrs Wold's house had been a midwife's
maternity home from the 1920s into the 1950s, and that all my mother's babies
had been born there, so it turned out that the house where I began to live
as I would from then on - reading alone in a room - was also the house where
I was born.
The journal for this period is a loose collection of papers
some of which are not dated. The handwriting, especially when it is in ballpoint,
is very like my mother's. There are a lot of gaps. I have filled in some
of them with entries from my 5-year diary. Some of the punctuation has been
regularized because there's a limit to how many dashes and exclamation marks
anyone will be willing to take. I've retained enough of the spelling mistakes
to show how young this serious young person still was. I have also transcribed
two of my letters of the time to show how different they are from what I
was writing for myself.
Parts 4 and 5 record another summer working in the Fraser
Valley. Where journal is thin I sometimes transcribe letters to my mother
in Alberta. In part 5 I get notification that I have a scholarship to Queen's
Sexsmith photos from the town website:
elevators, train station and maple trees Carolyn Gaunt, others uncredited
on this site.
Mentioned: Eddie and Effie Ludington; Bob, Jerry and Doris
Windrim; David Mann; Peter Dyck; Dennis Maxwell.