My Parents’ Writerly Influences

My Parents’ Writerly Influences

This blog was inspired by Terry Fallis’ post back in April, an example of how “art begets art.” It got me thinking about how my parents influenced my writing.

When I was growing up, after supper Mom and Dad would pour a cup of black tea, pull back their chairs, and read The K-W Record. I seldom saw them read a book, though from time to time Dad would laugh over a collection of “Peanuts” cartoons which one of us likely gave him as a Father’s Day present. (You can only have so many ties; besides, Dad wasn’t a regular churchgoer.)

The only other book I remember my parents reading in my growing up years was a forgotten title written by Vera McNichol, a clairvoyant from the village of Millbank about 15 km from our farm. According to family lore, I loaned the book to someone—Ahem, you know who you are— and it was never returned.

In past posts, I’ve talked about the memoir I’ve written If I Could Remember, I Would about my years caregiving for my mother when she developed Alzheimer’s. In that book, I weave my stories with excerpts of Mom’s writing, including her newspaper columns published in the Listowel Independent.  (btw, my search for a publisher for that memoir continues.)

Now you might assume then that my mother’s writing was a great influence on my own. But it was after I left home that Mom received her high school diploma, took various college courses and a writing course. Her newspaper articles came even later, influenced by Erma Bombeck whose humourous American columns were sent to Mom from a penpal cousin in the U.S.

By the time Mom began writing, I lived 1500 km away and was barely aware of her new talent, in part because she rarely mentioned it. (‘Tooting your own horn’ was not a quality Mom admired.) Those were the days of brief long-distance telephone calls or handwritten letters with paper photographs. Now that I think about it, perhaps those handwritten letters relaying life events with small children were my earliest writing practices.

Mom didn’t read books for herself during my growing up years, though she did later. I don’t recall her reading to me either, but she did read bedtime stories to my younger siblings. And she always shared those Erma Bombeck columns that came in the mail.

Mom was known to remark on my childhood reading habits—“Oh, she’s got her nose buried in a book again.” Or “No wonder you need glasses, you read so much.” Or “Turn out the light and go to sleep.” Yet somehow I sensed she was proud of my reading.

My father’s influence was different than Mom’s. Though he had only Grade 8 education—he would eventually get his Millwright certification from the Ministry of Colleges and Universities—Dad was a storyteller of the oral tradition. He was renowned in the family circle for his tales of childhood hi-jinx—like the time he and his siblings churned butter in the washing machine when Grandma and Grandpa were out shopping—and other teenage pranks.

Dad wasn’t much for writing. He could do it, he just didn’t, much to the lament of my mother who, a time or two, received unsigned birthday and anniversary cards. “You could at least put your name on it,” she justifiably complained. He eventually became more consistent about scrawling his name. But just that—no “love” or “xox”. So rare was a sighting of Dad’s writing that one of my treasured possessions is his scribbled note for broccoli soup.

Though he didn’t write much, Dad had a fantastic memory. You wouldn’t want to play against him at cards. When he passed away at 79 years, he could still recite “The Tale of Sam McGee” which he’d learned in elementary school. I wonder sometimes whether his memory enabled him to be a great oral storyteller or whether storytelling enabled his great memory.

Both my parents are gone now. I think of them often, like when I stumble across Mom’s handwritten comment on a typed recipe or Dad’s scribbled remark on a “Pickles” cartoon hastily mailed me.

Love and miss them both!

P.S. If you love old black and white photos, check out the Photo Supplement to Mom’s autobiography.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Follow Donna