Posts Tagged ‘short memoir’

A Seven Treasures post by Janis McCallen

The Seven Treasures series is back by popular demand, with this guest post by Janis McCallen.

As a young girl, JANIS MCCALLEN began writing about her life in small diaries — the kind with a little brass lock and key. At eleven she wrote her first novel on a Royal portable typewriter set up on a card table in the basement. In her teens, she wrote angst-filled poetry, and she has continued to write ever since.

Currently Janis writes poetry, short fiction, and memoir. Both her poetry and prose have been published. During the warmer months, she can be found in her writing studio tucked at the back of her garden. She is the Membership Coordinator for the Writers’ Community of York Region and a member of the Writers’ Community of Durham Region. Together with Elaine Jackson, Janis co-facilitates day-long Writing from the Centre yoga and writing retreats. Every other week, she pens a writing-related blog post on the Writing from the Centre website.


My sister and I waited several months after my mother’s death before we could bring ourselves to sort through her cedar chest. There we found it, wrapped in brown paper: her wedding dress. It is cream-coloured satin, gathered at the bodice, with a full skirt and a long row of satin-covered buttons down the back. The Second World War had delayed my parents’ marriage and the ceremony took place in October 1946.

Sixty-one years later, on a sunny June day in 2007, I wore that dress when I married my longtime partner, Tom, in our garden. With a few minor alterations, it fit perfectly. Although my mom had passed away the previous year, as I walked down the garden path and under the honeysuckle arbour, I felt she was with me in spirit. She probably smiled to see her gown in the spotlight one more time.


As a child I loved kindergarten — especially the art-making part. I recall the satisfying squishiness of the clay that my pudgy fingers teased into shapes. And I remember the smooth satiny feel of paint as I spread it with my fingers over waxy paper and watched patterns emerge. A painted wooden robin is one of the few pieces of my early artwork that survived. It’s made from wood scraps I glued together, fastened to a spool, then painted. It reminds me that my five-year-old Inner Artist is still alive, and that I need to let her out to play more often.


My husband surprised me with a gift of this hand-painted porcelain brooch when we attended the Augusta Heritage Festival’s music camp in Elkins, West Virginia, over fifteen years ago. A guitar, banjo, and mountain dulcimer adorn its luminescent surface. For many years during our summer vacations, we attended such gatherings in the U.S., where we studied and played Southern Appalachian music.

Music is still a part of our lives. And the sounds that surrounded us during those heartfelt weeks come back to me whenever I wear this brooch. I hear guitar, banjo, mountain dulcimer, autoharp, fiddle, and stand-up bass along with the haunting sounds of southern singing. I also hear the teary farewells that were shared at the end of each meaningful camp experience.


3. Photo of my GrandparentsThis photograph of my grandparents was taken in the backyard of their home in downtown Toronto in 1911. My grandfather, with his impish Yorkshire grin, looks so proud of his family: his wife Elizabeth and their children, Greta and baby Norman. Six more children would follow, including my mother in 1917.

I wish I could step into the photograph and talk with my grandmother about the unusual circumstances of her early life. In the late 1880s, she and her older brother were placed in an orphanage in Leeds, after their mother died and their father couldn’t keep them. They were sent to Canada, along with about 100,000 other “home children,” through the British Child Immigration Scheme. My grandmother was placed on a farm outside Stouffville, Ontario. I “found” her in a copy of the 1891 census in that town’s library. Her age: 10; her occupation: domestic servant.

So far I have been able to piece together only fragments, but I’m now embarking on more research so that I can write my grandmother’s story.


6. Hand-painted Buddha DSC02269AOur image of the Buddha — just 12 centimetres square — was painted for my husband and me by a young Tibetan monk named Tseten Dorji, who lived in Kathmandu, Nepal. We began sponsoring him in the late 1990s and our monthly contributions both supported his religious and art education in a local monastery and assisted his parents. His family had seven children and lived on what Tseten’s mother could earn selling religious trinkets at a local market. His father was ill and unable to work.

We corresponded with the family over a four-year period, and have a scrapbook filled with letters and artwork we received. Through them we learned about daily life, religious life, school, holidays and celebrations, local plants and animals, and the political instability within Nepal, including the regular violent actions of rebels. After Tseten’s father’s health improved, our support was no longer needed, and eventually we lost touch. When I look at this framed picture Tseten painted for us I wonder what he is doing now, and if he is still in the monastery creating beautiful art.


A delicate strand of cultured pearls is stored in its original blue velvet Birks jewellery box. My mother’s best friend, my “Aunt” Gloria, began putting pearls away for me at Birks when I was born. On my sixteenth birthday she presented me with this box wrapped in silver paper. I can still feel the coolness of her fingers and the happy chill that ran up my spine as she placed the pearls around my neck and fastened the silver clasp. I ran to the dresser mirror in my parents’ bedroom to admire them. I felt so grown up.

My aunt was like a whirlwind. She never sat still during her visits, smoked Sportsman cigarettes and left bright red lipstick rings on the butts. And she laughed a lot, throwing her head back and freeing what sounded like musical chimes interspersed with bursts of air. When my aunt was around, my generally sensible mother turned into a teenager. Her voice became high-pitched and her face flushed. Sadly, my aunt developed dementia later in life, and my mom watched her best friend of over seventy years slowly fade beyond her reach. I think of my aunt, so full of life, every time I wear those pearls.


7. My Hiking Knapsack DSC02299AI bought this royal blue knapsack twenty-five years ago as I prepared for a two-week hiking trip in England, and it has accompanied me on countless other trails since that time. Some of its badges are now frayed, and in a few places it’s been lovingly re-stitched.

If the knapsack could talk, it might prefer not to recall exhausting climbs, sudden downpours, heatstroke, sweat, blackflies, and mosquitoes. But I think it would happily share memories of wandering on the rolling moorlands of Yorkshire, amongst black-faced sheep with wild locks. It would surely recall being on a rocky outcrop in Algonquin Park and spotting a moose grazing in a calm pool below. And it would certainly remember standing beneath the ancient red and white pines, two to three hundred years old, in Temagami. My knapsack will gather new stories when my husband and I return to Algonquin Park to hike this September.

Wednesday, August 28th, 2013

“The Pickup Meal”: an essay by Alexandra Risen (published in The Globe and Mail’s “Facts & Arguments”)

The small white truck was parked on the sidewalk of a busy Toronto street. Two wooden bushel baskets of fresh greens sat beside it. An elderly gentleman appeared to be fastening a gap on the industrial chain link fence that surrounded a vacant lot. The lot was overgrown with weeds, the source of his bounty.

Ramps or dandelion greens, I wondered as I drove by, slowing to take a closer look.

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Wednesday, August 14th, 2013

Bound by a Moment: an essay by Dale Synnett-Caron (published in the Globe’s “Facts & Arguments”)

“Recognize anyone?” my cousin asks on Facebook.

I click on a series of photos that chronicle Justin Trudeau’s life, and among them is a shot from 1973. Pierre Elliott Trudeau walks toward the camera, cradling a young Justin under his arm like a football, while at left a uniformed RCMP officer performs a smart salute.

What rivets my attention is the man in the background, following 10 paces behind the then-Prime Minister — a handsome, mustached fellow in a dark suit — unobtrusive yet vigilant….

Read Dale’s entire essay, published in Facts & Arguments, The Globe and Mail (June 13, 2013), here:

A snapshot from my dad’s “Trudeau years” helped me face my grief


Dale headshotDALE SYNNETT-CARON has 20+ years experience managing internal and external communications in both the private and public sector, particularly in the areas of change management and organizational communications. The written word is an integral part of her professional and personal life. In addition to her personal writing, Dale helped to bring her father’s memoirs to fruition — editing and coordinating production of a book on his behalf.

Dale was our yoga instructor, as well as a writing-workshop participant, during Spice Isle Writing & Yoga Retreat, held in Grenada in April of this year.

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Friday, June 14th, 2013

This Story Is Full of Holes, an essay by Kyo Maclear


Garden at Westminster Cathedral, London, created from bomb crater, 1942

Garden at Westminster Cathedral, London, created from bomb crater, 1942


“Those craters, which introduced me to the pain of life, which taught me about the un-solidness of ground, also became a portal to my becoming a writer.”

~ Kyo Maclear


On the eve of my marriage, in August 1998, my father gave me a beautiful lacquer box with a black and white photo inside. It showed my father from behind peering out over a lunar landscape. Written on the back were the words:

This is a very historic photo of a time of horror and happiness. In September 1969 I traveled from Hanoi to the border with the South — the first television correspondent to do so. What I saw no one in the West at first believed, countryside bombed so totally that it looked like the craters of the Moon. When I returned to Hanoi (traveling at night to hide from the bombing), I vowed I’d do a television history of Vietnam some day to “repair” the damage. That same day in Hanoi I received wonderful news that forever altered my life: a telegram from Mummy saying you were on your way!

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Tuesday, March 19th, 2013

On the Air: Voicing My Memoir for CBC Radio’s “The Sunday Edition”

Guest post by Tilya Gallay Helfield

“I kept thinking of the movie The King’s Speech and worried I might develop a stutter. . . .”

I was thrilled when I received the first e-mail from Karen Levine, producer of CBC Radio One’s The Sunday Edition, on November 21st, telling me that there was a lot she liked about the short memoir I had sent her five days earlier.

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Thursday, February 9th, 2012

Mary E. McIntyre Sees Poem & Short Memoir Published

Stouffville-based writer Mary E. McIntyre recently added a short memoir as well as a poem to her growing list of publication credits.

“Ugly Like a Scar,” a poem on the topic of teens in family conflict, appears in Live Lines (2010, Pearson Canada), a grade 9/10 textbook. It shares the book’s pages with poetry by the likes of Margaret Atwood and Dennis Lee.

Read  Mary’s earlier blog post about the thrill of receiving her first copy of Live Lines.

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Thursday, December 2nd, 2010