Book Review: Remember Me As You Pass By

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Remember Me As You Pass By: Stories from Prairie Graveyards

Written by Nancy Millar

Remembering that we all die has the power to put our small discomforts and minor disputes automatically into perspective. The fact of death is the truest thing I know. And nothing drives the truth of mortality home like a stroll through a peaceful cemetery on a sunny summer day. Each of the folks represented by those bronze plates, concrete markers, and granite headstones experienced their own small discomforts and minor disputes. This was called “life.”

One day a couple years back, I noticed through the large glass window in our front door that something was hanging from the exterior door handle. There was a note with the book, Remember Me As You Pass By: Stories from Prairie Graveyards. It read: “I was doing some house cleaning, found this and thought of you.”

Remember Me Image

I was very touched by the gift but apparently not touched enough to read it until recently when provided the quiet by the coronavirus pandemic. I’m so glad I took the time to open up this paper copy and to savour its contents. This is an extraordinarily well-written and well-researched book. Besides knowing how to write and how to unearth some great stories, Nancy Millar is also pretty funny!

She writes about the “real” Sam McGee, a customer at the Canadian Bank of Commerce in Whitehorse, Yukon, where the fledgling poet, Robert Service, worked as a teller, and how Sam brought a bag of his own ashes home during a return trip to the North.

“When he visited Whitehorse at the end of the prospecting trip, he discovered that his old cabin there had been spruced-up as a tourist attraction and one of the items being offered for sale in the gift shop was “Genuine Sam McGee ashes.” Not only had he died, according to the tourist bureau of Whitehorse, but he had been such a massive man that his ashes would apparently supply tourist demand for some time.”

I also enjoyed how Nancy Millar describes Canmore, Alberta:

“Canmore is a pleasant mountain town on the edge of Banff National Park. Part of it wants to be big and rich like Switzerland; part of it wants to be small and modest like Canmore.”

There are a few really good chuckles in this read and they are placed alongside heartbreaking tales of tragedy that brought tears to my eyes for people long dead who I never knew. In the introduction, the author tells of a young couple who homesteaded in the early 1920s in the Innisfail, Alberta area. To earn money to help get them established, the husband went to work in Innisfail for a few months, leaving his newly-pregnant bride at home. He never did return. When his work at the brick plant in town was done, he started out on the twenty-mile journey on foot. He was robbed and killed along the way, his body left in a ditch.

“When the police found him in the spring, after the snow had melted and revealed his body, they rode out to tell his wife. But she had died too, in childbirth. Her twin babies were dead beside her.”

This book isn’t only about death and cemeteries. Instead, the graveyards and grave markers serve as jumping off places for Nancy Millar’s explorations of Canadian prairie history. It’s also a book that makes me want to explore prairie cemeteries even more than I have prior to reading Remember Me as You Pass By. At the end of the book, Nancy Millar includes a practical section called “How to Explore a Graveyard.” Handy! She reminds us to visit respectfully and to close gates. Then she goes into more detail for those readers interested in doing further exploration and maybe conducting some research.

If you love Canadian prairie history, old places, and colourful stories, then you will thoroughly enjoy this 1994 publication.

 Then think as soft and slow we tread

Among the solitary dead

Time was, like us, they life possessed

And time shall be when we shall rest.

~ from the Calgary grave marker of George Park

 

Book Review: A Good Man Is Hard to Find, and Other Stories

A Good Man is Hard to Find

When 2020 dawned, I didn’t make New Year’s resolutions. Instead I promised that I would nurture some positive habits and choose some activities that would improve my life in small ways. One of the small changes I promised myself was to read at least one of Flannery O’Connor’s works.

Years ago I loved reading Thomas Wolfe and William Faulkner and Mark Twain. They took me right to the edge of the mighty Mississippi and there I sat listening to the river boat’s whistle blow. They all showed me the darker places in the human spirit and flavoured their words with the hope that maybe, just maybe, our species can rise above our basest nature. This is the quality I was hoping to find in O’Connor. She did not disappoint.

Listen to me read this review:

A decade ago I was fortunate to visit Savannah, Georgia, and a trolley tour took us right by the childhood home of Southern Gothic writer Flannery O’Connor. In 1938, when O’Connor was a teenager, her family, mother Regina (Cline) and father Edward, moved from Savannah to Andalusia Farm near Milledgeville, GA. Mary Flannery O’Connor was the couple’s only child.

When Mary was fifteen her father died of systemic lupus erythematosus, more commonly known as lupus. This same disease would afflict Mary at the age of 27 and finally end her life at 39 years old.

Following her father’s death in 1941, Mary and her mother stayed on the farm at Milledgeville. There, Mary attended Georgia State College for Women (GSCW) where she edited Corinthian, the college’s literary quarterly. It was during this time that Mary’s talent became obvious. She wrote fiction, essays, and sometimes poetry which she contributed to this publication.

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Andalusia Farm, Milledgeville, from: http://www.exploregeorgia.org

At GSCW, Mary majored in the social sciences and took several English courses besides. Her classmates remember her as being very shy. When Mary completed her studies at GSCW, she received a scholarship to study journalism at the State University of Iowa. After Mary’s first term in that program, she asked Paul Engle, the head of the Writers’ Workshop at the university, if he would allow her to enter the creative writing program. From there, O’Connor went on to establish herself as a strong voice in American literature.

Whenever I’m asked why Southern writers particularly have a penchant for writing about freaks, I say it is because we are still able to recognize one.
― Flannery O’Connor

Flannery O’Connor was a delicious surprise to me. Her writing is dark and her characters, twisted. She spices up plotlines with dashes of sudden violence and pinches of unexpected humour.

I started with Wise Blood, O’Connor’s 1952 novel. It is strange in the best way, filled with creepy people that exist on the social fringes and stare for uncomfortably long periods of time at normal life as it passes them by. It’s this gothic quality that has me in suspense and keeps me reading on. Everyone and every situation in which O’Connor’s creations find themselves feels so tenuous, so tightly stretched that I’m just waiting for something to snap. And snap it will. I got halfway through a digital copy of Wise Blood before a paper book arrived for me from the Edmonton Public Library.

A Good Man Is Hard to Find, and Other Stories is a collection of O’Connor’s short stories published in May, 1955 by Harcourt, Brace and Company. I set down my tablet, picked up that book, and began turning those good old paper pages.

Flannery
Flannery O’Connor

A few years ago when I first opened up Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, I recall feeling like his work was a literary vitamin, something I should swallow not because I’d like it but because ingesting it would be good for me. Admittedly, I felt mildly the same way about Flannery O’Connor’s writing.

Imagine my delight when she took me on a wild ride with men who steal women’s glass eyes and wooden legs; with outlaws who shoot children and women just to get them to shut up; and people who kill out of fear but lacking a real reason to be afraid.

No, O’Connor doesn’t reveal the best in folks. Instead she shines a light on all our human pettiness, prejudice, neuroticism, and racism. Somehow, though, hope of redemption is there in her work, a theme as silent and as strong as the Mississippi’s undertow. Grace is offered to her misguided and profoundly-isolated characters if they would only choose to accept it. Mostly, they don’t.


An excerpt from A Good Man Is Hard to Find

Here I am reading an excerpt from the title story of O’Connor’s A Good Man Is Hard to Find, and Other Stories. The story begins with a bickering family in the living room of their home preparing to leave for a short vacation. The grandmother is telling the family about The Misfit, an outlaw she’s just read about in the newspaper and how he’s on the loose in the area. The children’s father, Bailey, is grouchy and his wife is quiet and seems disengaged. The children are complaining and disrespectful.

The grandmother doesn’t want to leave the family cat alone for three days because she is afraid he would miss her too much and not be safe in the house alone. She smuggles the cat in a basket that sits with her in the backseat. All is well with this arrangement until it isn’t.

“Jesus was the only One that ever raised the dead,” The Mistfit continued, “and He shouldn’t have done it. He thown everything off balance. If He did what He said, then it’s nothing for you to do but thow away everything and follow Him, and if He didn’t, then it’s nothing for you to do but enjoy the few minutes you got left the best way you can by killing somebody or burning down his house or doing some other meanness to him. No pleasure but meanness.”

– The Misfit, A Good Man Is Hard to Find, and Other Stories

I start reading the story after the family has been on the road for a while. They’ve already stopped at a restaurant for lunch and are continuing their journey when the grandmother remembers a plantation she used to visit as a girl. She convinces her son to turn back a ways and head down the dirt road where she is certain the house still stands. Before they reach their destination, the grandmother realizes that the house she recalls was not in Georgia but in Tennessee.

Listen to me read this excerpt:


I wanted to include a little bit about my mother’s experience with an autoimmune disease that’s related to lupus. This personal information didn’t suit the book review format and so I created a page here where you can read that story.

Take care and thanks for visiting.

~ Lori

“Faith is what someone knows to be true, whether they believe it or not.”
~ Flannery O’Connor

Misplaced Identity

Wallace Stegner House
The Wallace Stegner House where I got to stay for two weeks one summer long ago.

I love rereading my own posts sometimes to see what has changed in my life and what has stayed the same. I wrote this post last April, so not that long ago. I feel much more like writing now than I did then, but I am still label-less. Sometimes friends or family members introduce me, casually mentioning that I’m a writer. They have the best intentions, of course, and likely think it’s interesting. It has been interesting at times. Mostly though, being described as a writer or author or any one thing makes me just a bit uncomfortable. I suspect that’s something that will never change.

I hope you have a very happy Friday and a lovely weekend! ~ Lori

Different things matter to me now. I realized this when I opened up this old scrapbook full of articles about me and emails congratulating me for winning awards, and for almost winning awards. The article was great, so I cut it out carefully and scanned it so I could share it with you, dear reader.

Listen to me read this here:

Back in 2005, the summer after I bought Grandma’s house but wasn’t yet living here, I was awarded a two-week stay in the Wallace Stegner House in breathtakingly-beautiful Eastend, Saskatchewan. (Arguably it’s the east end of nowhere but, as I mentioned, it’s an astonishingly lovely bit of nowhere.) The Wallace Stegner House is a retreat for artists of all genres. Poets, sculptors, novelists, painters, and playwrights apply to stay in this house and some lucky ones are granted the opportunity.

stegner_150-53fd9cc7e0c2817e5842c16de494867cdca6c7f3-s6-c30
Wallace Stegner, from quotesgram.com

Wallace Stegner was born in 1909 and died in 1993 at the age of 84. He won several awards for his writing including the Pulitzer Prize in 1972 and the National Book Award in 1977. In his autobiography, Wolf Willow, Mr. Stegner tells about the childhood years he spent in Eastend, Saskatchewan. While growing up, he also lived in Great Falls, Montana and Salt Lake City, Utah.

The best thing about this article is that it’s an interview with me conducted by me! I’d forgotten I’d done this. The folks who support and manage the artist retreat, and keep it full of interesting residents, wanted to somehow promote my stay. Being a newspaper columnist at the time, I offered to do a write-up about myself. I thought it was more engaging to write it interview style than as a bio piece. I laughed out loud when I found this old article this morning that was full of me talking to myself. Not so different than many of the days I spend hanging around the house by myself lately…

As I flipped through that old scrapbook, I remembered how important becoming a writer had been to me. The scribbles and comments, the letters and emails that filled those 40X30 cm. pages told of a young woman who was striving to establish her dream identity. More than anything, I wanted to be a writer. More than anything, I craved a solid, successful identity.

LoriWallaceStegnerHouse

 

This morning, this obvious desire that I used have to become a certain “someone” surprised me a little. I mean, I recall wanting it, that badge for myself, that title. What I can’t quite pin down is when I lost track of that identity. When did I un-label myself? When did I lose my writer identity? Somewhere along the line, I simply stopped caring about being a writer.

People change. Sometimes change happens overnight and sometimes it happens over years. For me, the need to establish and maintain my writerly identity faded gradually, so gradually, in fact, that I never really noticed it happening. I don’t miss it, that leaky little life raft that my ego clung to, that fragile identity which now I seem to have misplaced. I think I’ll be just fine without it.

If you liked what you read here, please feel free to share it to your own social media networks. That would be great. Please also consider following me right here on WordPress or through your email account. Thanks for reading and I’ll see you back here next time. ~ Lori

“Yesterday’s over my shoulder, so I can’t look back for too long.” – Jimmy Buffett

 

The Joy of Publishing

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Me flogging the books I’ve published.

Wow. I’ve just had a most-rewarding experience.

I’ve been fortunate to publish three of my own books. I worked with book designers, e-book producers, editors, and printers. I learned how to get ISBNs and how to get catalogue in publication information.  By the time I published three books, I’d learned a lot.

When I was finished with my own publishing, I helped individuals to write and record their own family stories. These were published less formally for the family and friends of my clients to enjoy.

Listen to me read this post:

And now I’ve just completed editing and publishing a book for a client. While doing this project, I realized how much I love this work! In my various roles as a teacher and community volunteer, I always knew I enjoyed pulling projects together and overseeing the details to make everything run as smoothly as possible. This publishing project allowed me use to all my organizing skills and all that I’d learned in publishing my own works.

 

The most satisfying end came to me this morning in the form of a thank you letter from my client Wendy. Here it is below.

I hope you all have a good weekend, as peaceful and/or productive as you want it to be!

Cheers,

~ Lori

Wendy's Books CoverDear Lori,

I wanted to take a moment to thank you for making my long-held dream come true.

When I first came to you, I had a vision in my mind.  I wanted to create a little book.  I knew what I wanted it to say, how I wanted the pages to feel and how I wanted to images to look.  I knew how I wanted people to be able to hold it and open it and use it.  I knew what I wanted but I had no idea how to make it happen.

The first gift you gave me on this project was acceptance.  You supported me emotionally as I took the leap to present my idea to the world.  You gave me confidence and encouraged me.  Thank you.

The second gift you gave me was peace of mind.  I was intimidated by my lack of knowledge.  I didn’t even know where to start.  You took over and handled all the details.  You managed the editing, the formatting and the printing.  You even helped steer me in the right direction about the binding.   You worked out details of things that I wouldn’t have even known to ask about.  You completely took the stress away for me.  Thank you.

The third gift was the book itself.  When I held the copy in my hands for the first time, I cried.  It was everything I imagined.  You have no idea what you have done for me.  Without you, this book would still just be a dream.  Thank you.

I look forward to your guidance in the future as we make electronic and audio versions available.

With deepest appreciation,            

Wendy Olson-Lepchuk

Wendy Headshot
Wendy Olson-Lepchuk, Author and Clinical Hypnotherapist

If you want to know more about Wendy and her work, please visit her website.

Misplaced Identity

Wallace Stegner House
The Wallace Stegner House where I got to stay for two weeks one summer long ago.

I love rereading my own posts sometimes to see what has changed in my life and what has stayed the same. I wrote this post last April, so not that long ago. I feel much more like writing now than I did then, but I am still label-less. Sometimes friends or family members introduce me, casually mentioning that I’m a writer. They have the best intentions, of course, and likely think it’s interesting. It has been interesting at times. Mostly though, being described as a writer or author or any one thing makes me just a bit uncomfortable. I suspect that’s something that will never change.

I hope you have a very happy Friday and a lovely weekend! ~ Lori

Different things matter to me now. I realized this when I opened up this old scrapbook full of articles about me and emails congratulating me for winning awards, and for almost winning awards. The article was great, so I cut it out carefully and scanned it so I could share it with you, dear reader.

Listen to me read this here:

Back in 2005, the summer after I bought Grandma’s house but wasn’t yet living here, I was awarded a two-week stay in the Wallace Stegner House in breathtakingly-beautiful Eastend, Saskatchewan. (Arguably it’s the east end of nowhere but, as I mentioned, it’s an astonishingly lovely bit of nowhere.) The Wallace Stegner House is a retreat for artists of all genres. Poets, sculptors, novelists, painters, and playwrights apply to stay in this house and some lucky ones are granted the opportunity.

stegner_150-53fd9cc7e0c2817e5842c16de494867cdca6c7f3-s6-c30
Wallace Stegner, from quotesgram.com

Wallace Stegner was born in 1909 and died in 1993 at the age of 84. He won several awards for his writing including the Pulitzer Prize in 1972 and the National Book Award in 1977. In his autobiography, Wolf Willow, Mr. Stegner tells about the childhood years he spent in Eastend, Saskatchewan. While growing up, he also lived in Great Falls, Montana and Salt Lake City, Utah.

The best thing about this article is that it’s an interview with me conducted by me! I’d forgotten I’d done this. The folks who support and manage the artist retreat, and keep it full of interesting residents, wanted to somehow promote my stay. Being a newspaper columnist at the time, I offered to do a write-up about myself. I thought it was more engaging to write it interview style than as a bio piece. I laughed out loud when I found this old article this morning that was full of me talking to myself. Not so different than many of the days I spend hanging around the house by myself lately…

As I flipped through that old scrapbook, I remembered how important becoming a writer had been to me. The scribbles and comments, the letters and emails that filled those 40X30 cm. pages told of a young woman who was striving to establish her dream identity. More than anything, I wanted to be a writer. More than anything, I craved a solid, successful identity.

LoriWallaceStegnerHouse

 

This morning, this obvious desire that I used have to become a certain “someone” surprised me a little. I mean, I recall wanting it, that badge for myself, that title. What I can’t quite pin down is when I lost track of that identity. When did I un-label myself? When did I lose my writer identity? Somewhere along the line, I simply stopped caring about being a writer.

People change. Sometimes change happens overnight and sometimes it happens over years. For me, the need to establish and maintain my writerly identity faded gradually, so gradually, in fact, that I never really noticed it happening. I don’t miss it, that leaky little life raft that my ego clung to, that fragile identity which now I seem to have misplaced. I think I’ll be just fine without it.

If you liked what you read here, please feel free to share it to your own social media networks. That would be great. Please also consider following me right here on WordPress or through your email account. Thanks for reading and I’ll see you back here next time. ~ Lori

“Yesterday’s over my shoulder, so I can’t look back for too long.” – Jimmy Buffett