Have you ever had a word from your past pop into your head? Well I did. It was Blaauwildebeestefontein. I even managed to spell it the first time. Wouldn't it be a lovely word for a game of Trivial Pursuit that focused on literature.
Friend, Donna, you just might know it even if no one else does. It is an imaginary place in your beloved Africa, specifically South Africa.It is a word that I have remembered all these years since studying the novel, Prester John, by John Buchan, in high school.
It was our duty to study this novel because a former Governor General of Canada wrote it from 1935 t0 1940. He died while holding this post. This was back in the day when the Queen's representative was sent from the motherland, Britain. Buchan had been in the foreign service in
South Africa, which is the location of this novel. The choice of the book may not have been on the merits of it as literature but I support the choice since Buchan relished coming to Canada as a challenge to help develop " a distinct Canadian Culture". We really were a cultural wasteland as a colonial outpost of Britain. The Americans were well ahead of us in their literary tradition. I don't know if he had a cultural impact, or not, for it would be 20 years before Canada really began to assert it's own literary tradition. Before WWII it was a different time to the age of my growing up. It was still the age of the British Empire, which is reflected in this book. Well, as usual I have digressed. (One thing about teaching myself to touch type I find I write longer blog entries.) I may need an editor.
My moment of insight did not begin with this wonderful sounding word, which had also impressed the song writer Paul Anka, who at age 15 tried unsuccessfully to write a song using it. In spite of a career in the US this little musical footnote demonstates his Canadian credentiaLs. He is in deed one of us. How different the music for my generation if we had been singing about "Blaauwildebeestefontein" rather that "Diana" as his first great pop song.
Remembering this word got me to thinking (always dangerous) about the fragments of memories from our youth that pop up from time to time and remind us who we are and where we came from. I started making a list.
In high school , besides Prester John, I remember studying Barometer Rising, by Hugh MacLennan, an actual Canadian novelist. Other books I remember fondly are Beautiful Joe, by Margaret Saunders, a Canadian children's novel from the 19th Century, the Anne of Green Gables Stories , by Lucy Maud Mongomery, and of course, several Shakespeare plays. With my parents involved in amateur theatre, I was one the unusual one in my crowd of friends who actually went to the theatre, including seeing a handful of Shakespeare plays. I did have a fovourite children's book, which I gave away years ago to a special young person, and have missed it ever since. It was Gumpy, Son of Spunk, by Arthur C. Bartlett, about a boy and his building of a successful sled dog team. It only seems available now through antique book sellers.
I remember vividly only two American novel. Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. I came to know these because my mother liked them and read both of them to me at least twice and I read them myself. I wonder if parents still read novels to their children, one chapter, or two, every evening until the tale is told? Danial Boone and Davy Crockett I would learn about on TV. I think m y mother also read me Little Women so I was vaguely aware of the fruits of the "Flowering on New England" which I eventual came to read a lot, since my church denomination was the spiritual side of the Transcendentalism of the New England Enlightenment. (Once again, I digress)
There may be others but these seemed to be the limited literary collection that I enjoyed long ago and still recall from time to time. I was not an extensive reader back then. I learned at my mother's knee as she told me all about what she was reading. ( I was a good listener back then)
We laughed a lot in our home. We had a great collection of largely British skit humour on records that we played time and again until we know large parts of the routines by memory. It got so we could just use a phrase form a skit and we would all laugh remembering the whole thing. I still have some of these records but don't seem to be able to get anyone to sit long enough to listen to them. They include several Peter Sellars records, Beyond the Fringe, The Establishment, Fool Britannia, ( several skits spoofing the Profumo Sex Scandal in the British government.) and Harry Lauder ( the famous music hall entertainer.) My comic influence was clearly British. Knowledge of American humours was unavoidable with the advent of TV.
I recently left a reference in a comment I made on Facebook to Albert and the Lion. It just popped into my head. I can remember it well. I think my mother knew it all by heart. That and the Battle of Hastings were the two British humourous poems of that type we enjoyed repeatedly.
Also, I knew something of the words of Dickens. I am not sure if I read him or just soaked him up in the admosphere of our home. It was a tradition in our house every Christmas to read "A Christmas Carol". by Dickens. I can visualize the book now it was a song book of Carols that had Dickens; story in the back. It sat year round in the piano bench with my sister's sheet music.
Among the table games we played as a family while often listening to the radio broadcasts, we played a lot of Scrabble. My mother was good at it BUT my father was clever in his choice of places to put words. He invariable won to everyone's frustration. We had a little ritual with this game which pops out whenever I might have something in a little bag that will make a sound when shaken. We kept the pieces for Scrabble in a paper back and it was my grandmother who first shook the bag before anyone picked replacement tiles (to be fair). She would announce, "And we will shake the bag." I catch myself saying this occasionally still and smiling. . .remembering.
I grew up with little thrift aphorism that are always with me. "A stitch in time, saves nine." A penny saved is a penny earned." "Take care of your pennies and your pounds will take care of themselves." Less traditional were my mother's admonitions to alway treat girls nicely. I have mentioned these before. I don't know why they were so important to her. "You must never ever under any circumstance hit a girl for someday you will be very much stronger than her." And, "You must always treat a girl as you would your sister." ( A little confusing at dating times but I rationalized my way around that.) I grew up to have great respect and affection for women. partly because of what my mother said but more importantly, I had a wonderful mother, a great example. I wonder what was wrong with the mother's whose sons grew up to demean women or worse brualize them. (That sounds a little harsh and judgemental but it is a question that continue to bother me.)
I could go on I suppose. This is just some of the fragments of memories that pop up from time to time and remind me where I came from and who I am.
I would be remise if I did not make one more reference. As a Canadian, I participated in the National Saturday Night ritual: listening to Saturday Night Hockey. Around the radio listening to Foster Hewett dramatically describe the action and later around the TV, not many Saturday night went by without some or all of us listening to the hockey game. You would not find any Canadian of my generation and the generation before and after me who would not recognize the music that indicated it was "Hockey Night in Canada."
Well, I have you have enjoyed me fragments of life past that live with me still. What are some of similar things that have stayed with you?