Saturday, May 27, 2017

Prosaic Prose, Animals, and French Canadian Genealogy

The white bread world of 1940's Canada.


The UK author, Walter de la Mare was my favourite poet in my childhood because of the poem, Silver, in my fifth grade reader, Wide Open Windows.Wide Open Windows was most every Protestant (or Jewish) Canadian's reader in the fifth grade.

"Slowly, silently, now the moon,
Walks the night in her silver shoon."

I've written about the Canadian Reading Development Series on this blog before. In recent years I've collected all the books in the series. Well, the final 11th grade book I didn't need to buy. I found it in a cupboard at my inlaws' house. It had belonged to my brother-in-law, who is 10 years old than me. It featured coloured plates of Group of Seven paintings.

Yes, this academic series was used across Canada from the 1940's to the 1970's. I used Wide Open Windows in 1964 in an austere school in a brick building in Snowdon in Montreal. (Well, most schools, like prisons, were built for containment and visibility.)

No doubt, I read some of the stories in Wide Open Windows but only remember the poems, because the stories are, well, prosaic. Dull. Even back in elementary school, I enjoyed quality writing:  Dr. DoolitttleThe Black Stallion, and King of the Wind, a brilliantly written  Cinderella story about the first Arabian stallion.

The stories in Wide Open Windows have no oomph, but I suspect they were edited for reading level and to remove anything remotely controversial.

 The stories are mostly boy-centered but featuring a lot of animals to appeal to the girls. They are white-bread and rural.  They are Canada in the 1940's. The copy I have is from 1967, a school in Manitoba.


The first poem in Wide Open Windows is called Canadian-born as in "I'm proud to be Canadian-born." That says it all.

Another poem I remember well is Lone Dog about a mad dog. It made me sad. A poem I don't remember at all is French Pioneers. It is about French Canadians. I am half-French Canadian but this poem didn't have any animals, I guess, so I found it boring.

Today, I've done a great deal of my family tree on Ancestry and Gedmatch, which is not hard to do if you are French Canadian.  Like the people mentioned in the unattributed poem, I come from Normandy, or my genes do.

"They came here, they toiled here,
They broke their hearts afar,
Normandy and Britanny and Paris and Navarre."

Navarre? It should read Poitou, but that doesn't rhyme. Still, my son had Basque in his genes, so maybe...

Back then, in the 1960s', I assumed Walter de la Mare was French. He wasn't. Yesterday, I found someone on Gedmatch with his Dad  in their tree and checked to see if we shared any DNA. We don't. Walter de la Mare is from Kent. My Dad was from Yorkshire.

My father's maternal grandfather, a Primitive Methodist Minister from Northumberland, apparently wrote a book of devotional poems, but it's lost to history.

Anyway, later on my favorite poets were e.e.cummings and W.B. Yeats and Dylan Thomas.  But, I still like Walter de la Mare.