TALES OF HOCKEY, THE NORTH AND LOVED ONES LOST
Now that Christmas music has been playing in the stores the past couple of months, it’s time to look at a few suggestions for books under the tree.
First off is Saskatchewan Hockey: The Game of Our Lives (Macintyre Purcell; $19.95), edited by Dundurn denizen Allan Safarik. A hockey book?! In Saskatchewan?! In time for Christmas?! What an idea. Well, Safarik has packed this collection full of short stories, essays, poems (full disclosure, a few are mine), and news stories, all wrapped up with an Allen Sapp painting on the cover.
Highlights include Rudy Thauberger’s Goalie, about the intensity and loneliness of committed netminders and how no one knows their fear or pain. It reminded me of Randall Maggs’s excellent poetry collection Night Work: The Sawchuk Poems. These people are a breed apart.
And it wouldn’t be hockey in Saskatchewan without something from the hockey poet himself, Stephen Scriver. My fave is Stanislowski Vs. Grenfell about the night “the world’s foremost violinist/ played in Grenfell” but was shut out by the local hockey game. That’s what happens in a town with “more agriculture/ Than culture, and Art/ Is the guy who runs the Paterson elevator.”
Randy Lundy of Regina writes a harrowing piece called Autumn 1972 in which a 10-year-old First Nations boy living in Flin Flon recalls how in the famous hockey summit of that year, the Canadians lost. What!!! How can anyone tamper with that iconic win? Well, Lundy does, mirroring the devastation in a young boy’s life with a glorious and gut-wrenching metaphor for loss. You’ll want to Google the game to be sure Team Canada actually won.
Then there’s Brenda Zeman’s nice bit of investigative journalism, The Reluctant Black Hawk, about Fred Sasakamoose, “the Indian guy who walked out on the Chicago Black Hawks 30 years ago.” It’s a great story from multiple points of view. Also watch for Robert Currie’s Max Bentley and the Hockey Pants, Bill Boyd’s Bienfait, Saskatchewan, and Don Kerr’s Gordie’s Floral Sky.
On a completely different note is Dear Me: The Widow Letters (Driver Works; $14.95), compiled by Dianne Young. You may think this is bit of a depressing subject for a seasonal book gathering, but then you probably haven’t had to spend your first Christmas alone, your life partner having recently died.
Young, of Martensville and a widow herself, says in her preface to The Widow Letters that it is “an attempt to give a voice” to that one person who knows exactly what it feels like to have recently lost a partner.
So, she asked a number of women, most here in Saskatchewan, what they would write to their recently bereaved selves from the vantage point of a few years after. The results are poignant, but also taut with hardearned lessons about what really counts now that being alone is the reality.
Condensed, the gentle but firm advice is, don’t try to do anything by the books on grief, do what feels right for you. Ask for help for the first time in your life. And one that stood out as it came up several times was, many people have no idea what to say, as we’re totally unacquainted with death in our society, so they either veer away, or they say something completely inappropriate like “he’s in a better place now.” Be prepared to see old friends slide away, but have new ones come into view.
I’ll leave the rest to these important and inspired letters.
As long as there are interesting and intriguing subjects out there, and clever people to notice them, there will always be A-B-C books. Here’s Never Rub Noses with a Narwhal, An Alliterative Arctic ABC Book (Friesenpress; $21.95), by Saskatoon educator Ruth Wellborn and her son Morgan on the colour illustrations.
When it comes to Canada’s north, Wellborn, to quote the immortal Hank Snow, has been everywhere, and she’s got the alliterative poetry to prove it.
Not only does she take us to such places as Hootalinqua with huskies and Ketchikan in a kayak, she also tells us about Isaac’s igaak’s (sunglasses made of bone) and how quviut is “quite a bit cozier than cashmere.” It’s the underfur of a musk-ox.
Besides colourful paintings of fleabane daisies and xanthoria elegans (an orange lichen), Wellborn includes a glossary of peculiarly Arctic words, a map of the entire area she covers, and a couple of pages of facts about the north. So cozy up with a narwhal and learn about alliteration and our north.
Finally, I was hoping to learn more about Uranium City, or mining, or get a broader picture of what it was like to live this far north in the mining boom of the ’60s and ’70s, but 100 Days in Uranium City (Conundrum Press; $18), by Ariane Denomme, is more personal than that. Denomme, a Montreal artist and writer, has taken the stories her father told her of life in a mining camp and turned it into this graphic novel.
A young guy from eastern Canada named Daniel faces the perennial problem of no work, so he follows the tales of big money to Uranium City where men work 100 days in and two weeks out, and on that inhumane but well-paid schedule try to hold on to some semblance of family life. Daniel meets and falls in love with a woman back home and spends his days in camp working, dreaming of home, and drinking. Lots of that.
What Denomme concentrates on, likely because of what her father told her, is hard work — though we don’t get many specifics of what the men do, even in illustration — nights in the bar, and tensions among co-workers and roommates.
It’s not a pretty scene, and Denomme’s pencil illustrations only ensure the grim nature of the work and life.
Now that Uranium City is pretty much a ghost town, I’d have liked to learn a little more about what was going on there when it boomed.