Saturday, February 18, 2006

tumbling into sunday

Some days when I get weary of writing and bored of hearing the sound of my own voice, the best thing is to read someone else. And so this week I pulled The Book of Small from my bookshelf.

I was first introduced to Small on a ferry from Vancouver to Victoria. It was browsing through the on-board gift store that I first came across this memoir of Emily Carr’s. (Yes, Emily Carr the artist, known for her paintings of the Indians and artifacts of the British Columbia west coast and Queen Charlottes Islands.)

She’s authored seven books in all, most of them memoir, written toward the end of her life when she could no longer see well enough to paint. The first one, Klee Wyck, is about her travels and the people she met up-coast. It won the Governor General’s Award.

The Book of Small, though, is memories of her earliest childhood in Victoria. The book jacket of my 1966 edition explains:

“Who was Small? She was the embodiment of Emily Carr’s childhood – a phantom child. In this collection of vignettes, the reader sees life in Victoria B.C. at the end of the last century, as observed by a little girl of intense imagination – delightful and memorable storytelling.”

That it is indeed. Here is the first page of the book – and a perfect read for a Saturday:

All our Sundays were exactly alike. They began on Saturday night after Bong the Chinaboy had washed up and gone away, after our toys, dolls and books, all but The Peep of Day and Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, had been stored away in drawers and boxes till Monday, and every Bible and prayer-book in the house was puffing itself out, looking more important every minute.

Then the clothes-horse came galloping into the kitchen and straddled round the stove inviting our clean clothes to mount and be aired. The enormous wooden tub that looked half coffin and half baby-bath was set in the middle of the kitchen floor with a rag mat for dripping on laid close beside it. The great iron soup pot, the copper wash-boiler and several kettles covered the top of the stove, and big sister Dede filled them by working the kitchen pump-handle furiously. It was a sad old pump and always groaned several times before it poured. Dede got the brown windsor soap, heated the towels and put on a thick white apron with a bib. Mother unbuttoned us and by that time the pots and kettles were steaming.

Dede scrubbed hard. If you wriggled, the flat of the long-handled tin dipper came down spankety on your skin.

As soon as each child was bathed Dede took it pick-a-back and rushed it upstairs through the cold house. We were allowed to say our prayers kneeling in bed on Saturday night, steamy, brown-windsory prayers – then we cuddled down and tumbled very comfortably into Sunday.


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