Uxbridge (Or, More Formally) Tuxbridge

Uxbridge (or, as Terry Fallis amended it, since it was a formal dinner, “Tuxbridge”) staged a fine “Book Lover’s Ball” on April 14 in aid of the local Library.

The setting was the local “Wooden Sticks Golf Club,”  a name that spoke to the ancient tradition of golf clubs with hickory handles. I was able to mention that in my ancient Scottish village, I actually grew up playing golf with “wooden stick” clubs, which at the time seemed normal to me. But then, true to my “make things last” Scottish roots, that evening I was wearing the tux that my parents gave me as a 21st birthday present. Dinner jackets don’t change much over 47  years, and nor does my lean shape — nor my respect for my parents’ admonition that if I looked after the tux properly I “should get many years of wear out of it.”

The excellent Terry spoke about his three books (The Best Laid Plans, The High Road, and this fall’s Up and Down, which will prove that he can make readers laugh, and also make them cry) and delighted the audience after the salad course. I did my stuff after the (very fine) chicken course, talking about a few of the authors featured in my book, and telling stories about them.

But the best speaker of the evening  — and by far the best storyteller — was Michael, a local dentist. He spoke about his family’s experience  escaping from Vietnam as “boat people” who were sponsored by kind people in Uxbridge. The local librarian made a special point of always asking him what he was reading, and, like dental patients flossing before an appointment (an interesting professional analogy), he read voraciously, to be always able to answer her question.

When the family was moved away from Uxbridge to downtown Toronto, although his parents both worked two jobs, things were hard for the young family in a tough area. In time their Uxbridge friends contacted them with an offer that would bring them back to Uxbridge, with a down payment on a house supplied by an anonymous benefactor. The family accepted gladly, on one condition: that they learn the name of the benefactor, in order to pay him or her back.

It was the librarian.

Now here was Michael (like his brothers and sisters a successful professional) giving back to the Uxbridge community by providing major sponsorship for this fundraiser for the Uxbridge Library.

Stories really matter, don’t they?

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Storytelling at the Royal Ontario Museum

I was contacted out of the blue by the ROM, asking if I, a storyteller, born in Scotland, could come to their “Celtic Weekend” as a “Scottish Storyteller.” I said that I knew some good Scottish stories, so, yes, could come along and tell them to a mixed audience of kids and parents.

A few days later, they were back with a further inquiry. This was a Celtic weekend, so could I tell Irish and Welsh stories, too. A little research provided good stories, so I said yes, and we were all set for two 40-minute sessions, at 12:00 and at 2:00.

I sat on a throne-like chair in front of a collection of movable stools occupied by a group of kids, who included my grandchildren Lindsay (7) and Alistair (5). When I told the Irish story, about Niall of the Nine Hostages who was “The Slave Woman’s Son,” I prefaced it with a word or two about slaves in different cultures, and unwisely referred to the Haida totem pole in the space just outside our room. I explained that a visit to the Haida Museum in Skidegate reveals that the Haida were sea-raiders who took slaves, which allowed them to have a slave-supported leisure society that could create great poetry and great art, like totem poles.

This was too much for Lindsay, who dragged Jane off to see the nearby pole, from top to bottom, then loudly returned to interrupt my tale-weaving with the words “What did I miss, Grandad?”

For future reference, the Welsh tale was about “The Lady from the Lake” and the Scottish one (where Alistair proudly told his neighbours, “I know this one. I know what happens.”) was “The Good Man Of Ballangeich,” about a king passing secretly among his people, doing mediaeval public opinion surveys in a very informal way.

Just before the second show, Jane and I were roaming around the main floor of the ROM, where an all-woman Celtic band was playing fine traditional music. When they paused to ask for a song from anyone in the audience, Jane asked them if they knew the old Irish song “The Wild Rover.” When they said yes, and invited her to start singing, she demurred, saying, “Not me, him!” and thrust me forward.

So it came about that the main floor resounded to three verses of me singing “The Wild Rover” while the audience joined loudly in the chorus “And it’s no, nay, never (CLAP, CLAP, CLAP, CLAP) No, nay never no more . . .” Etcetera.

And then as I took my bow, still blushing in disbelief, the PA system cut in to announce that “The Celtic Storytelling Session is just about to begin on the fourth floor” and I had to rush off. Believe it or not, some of the audience actually followed me upstairs, for my second storytelling session.

So clearly my resume has to be updated, to include the sacred title “Celtic Storyteller.” I think we’ll leave out the entry about Irish drinking songs.