Lady, in the country of my coming there will be lush peaches ripe on ev’ry tree. Ev’ry little cloud will glide clear as a magic lantern slide. The golden serpent sun will throw his body like a light lasso about the heart of each dark centre, to fashion flowers of strange splendour. You will fill your panier, lass, with blooms like ornamental glass You will hear their Christmas chime all the glorious summertime.
Colleen Thibaudeau, 1950
Composer John Beckwith set music to “Serenade” and entered it in the 1950 CBC Songwriting Contest. It won a prize and was performed on CBC Radio by Charles Jordan (baritone). “Serenade” was performed by Russell Braun (baritone) at the John Beckwith Songbook concert in March 2021.
Pamela Terry Beckwith, John Beckwith, and Colleen Thibaudeau (1960)
( ( 0 ) ) In this audio clip, soprano Katy Clark performs “Serenade” at Wordsfest November 5, 2023 in London, Ontario.
Note from Susan Reaney: In August 1956, Colleen and her husband James Reaney and their young sons (James (age 3 1/2) and John (age 2)) spent the afternoon with dear friends John and Pamela Beckwith and their children (Robin Jane, Jonathan, and baby Simon) in Toronto. Colleen later wrote the playlet and sent it to Margaret Beckwith, the Beckwith children’s grandmother.
(The photographs are from earlier and later visits with the Beckwiths and from the Reaneys home in Winnipeg.)
A Nau(gh)tical Afternoon
(Authentic Canadian playlet by Colleen Thibaudeau. Dedicated to Mrs. H. Beckwith of Victoria. One performance only of this playlet, Monday August 27, 1956 at 17 Admiral Road, Toronto. All persons mentioned are only too real.)
I hereby acknowledge happily all debts to Gertrude Stein and P. Picasso.
Act I, Scene I
A sort of processional
Enter 2 small red-headed pirate boys, followed by 1 father (J.R.) and 1 mother (C.T.).
Pirate boys: Is this the way? Is this the way? Will there be toys? Will there be toys?
F & M: Yes, right ahead. We hope there’s toys.
Pirate boys: Some toys for boys? Some toys for boys?
F & M: Yes, toys for boys. We hope.
(Gradually fade away.)
Act I, Scene II
John Beckwith discovered leaning into the telephone in his front hall, arranging his CBC programmes.
John: Yes, then slip on that platter, see… no I spelled it B a c h. B as in Beckwith, Then the continuity and after that, two minutes on the… [sees 4 Reaneys at his door] life… Hi, just a sec… the back yard?… then? No never mind ‘a sec’. Continue with that second disc… look, never mind the back yard—who?? O, he won’t walk. Sit down… you know the one… the mass is last [2 Reaneys pass through] you know the one I mean [and 2 Reaneys sit down in the parlour near A Baby Carriage].
Act I, Scene III
F & M: Isn’t he sweet! Something like Robin Jane. And quiet too. Imagine that! What lovely names.
John: Just stay right there.
F & M: The children like the yard – it’s safer, quieter: they’re all wrought up. Today at 8 we docked at Port McNicholl…
Mother: Wonderful trip – sort of rough on Lake Superior as usual. James Stewart told the waiter, his Grandpa could take his teeth out! And one day all through the Dining Room he recited this ditty:
Big bears make a big stink
Little bears make a little stink.
Father: That’s Winnipeg for you. Now that we moved into town there, they meet all sorts of sinister influences. One great menace called Dunnery…
Mother: The times I’ve pulled him out of snowbanks—!
F & M: Yes, up at 6… and off the boat at 8… 3 hours by train… the subway up to your place, then the bus.
Mother: Walking was hardest; we’re getting our landlegs.
F & M: And you? And you? Are the children sleeping? Where is Pam? How do you think the Stratford Players will do at Edinburgh? Are you on holiday, John?
John: Yes, more or less. We didn’t move around too much this summer. “Waiting for Simon”— title for a rightest play. Got up to hear Glenn Gould though—lovely things—but maybe overlong for what he had.
Enter Pam and Joan Trimbell, a neighbour (whom Rs know).
Pam and John: Hello, Hello.
(Offstage chorus of all her friends and relatives) … Slowly and with varying emphasis.
— How does it feel?
O how? O say, O tell, O do
(How are you?)
How does it feel to be a mother,
3 little children
One’s a girl. Yes, the first one
Is definitely a girl.
Her name is Robin Jane.
A pretty name.
And then the second?
Another girl?? NO!
NO! Definitely not.
The second is a boy called Jonathan.
I’ve forgotten. So have I.
But his godfather Jamie and his grandmother Beckwith will know.
And the third I know.
So do I.
So do I.
Just three weeks to-day.
So they say.
Sleeps like a top. Isn’t that lovely.
Simon Francis. Isn’t that lovely.
Sensible name. Isn’t that lovely.
And the mother?
Mother of three.
How does it feel to be a mother of 3?
Act I, Scene IV
Pamela: Hello, I will get them up.
Robin Jane [she was already up; historical error] and Jonathan.
Jonathan is huge.
Wait till you see him.
[John: Wait till you lift him.]
Pam: And then we will have tea.
Pirate boys: And then we will have tea.
Are there any more toys?
Are there any more toys?
We’ve worn out these toys.
(Pamela, two pirate boys Exit into house.)
End of Act I
Act II, Scene 1
[Enter Pamela wearing pink sweater, blue skirt carrying huge tray with tea. Followed by Robin in turquoise Vyella frock, carrying small tray of lemonade. Followed by Jonathan in blue Dutch boy overalls bearing a dolly.]
Pirate boys: Is that Jonathan?
Is he tough?
End of Act II
Act III, Scene 1
Reaneys leave in a taxi.
(S.F. and Pamela offstage with bottle, assisted by R.J.)
F & M: Goodbye. Goodbye.
And thanks so much. For everything.
We’re off to Stratford for a while.
Until we find a house.
Jamie’s father should be there already. Came ahead by train.
Father: Well, I’ll see you soon.
Yes, I’ll be down to get a house.
John: Yes, let us know.
You could stay next door perhaps. To be one year in Toronto will be interesting–at least.
2 pirates (muffled): We want more toys.
More cars. Where were the trucks, the other trucks and cars?
Mother: I’m haunted by one thing. Your mother, John—Her holly gift and that Stupendous Christmas card
We really loved.
I never really wrote to thank—
John: She’d understand—
Mother: but on the farm, there’s time.
I’ll write and tell her how well you all look and that we saw young Simon briefly—how pretty Robin Jane is, her complexion, and Jonathan a pet.
Father: Well, Union Station, please.
F, M & 2 p.b.: Good bye. Goodbye
And thanks for all you’ve done.
End of Act III
Father [on telephone to his mother]:
Well September 11th, and it’s signed, the lease, more than we want to pay, but garage to rent etc. and a furnished place is sensible for a year’s leave of absence. For one year on a PhD.
Now come October 1st, we can move down to 14 Montague St. Toronto, Ontario.
Thank you Robin McGrath of Stone Cold Press for publishing a chapbook version of A Nau(gh)tical Afternoon in 2010 (ISBN 978-0-9866750-2-7) — like the original, a labour of love.
The Reaneys and Beckwiths enjoyed future summer visits together with their children. Here are pictures of the pirate children’s visit to Tobermoray and Flower Pot Island in 1962:
‘Going to be one hot summer for sure,’ said Uncle Willie who had set his heart on growing watermelons in a cindery patch at the very end of his Garden.
‘No one is going to look there for them.’ He told no one but us, planted them at night. Joyce and I biked sweatily out to our first job, tenderly
moved translucent baby cabbages, made little hats for them, carried water endlessly and longed for the promised crisp bite, the crisp juices
reviving, ‘turning us into real people’, he said. We were just at that turning point, thirteen years old; we dreamed of the watermelon promise.
He said they were ‘coming along nicely’, green taut, bulging over the hillside, as yet undiscovered by the boys. September came.
The boys came. One Saturday morning we saw yellowing leaves only and every watermelon gone. Yet the anticipation of the melon miracle
seemed to have turned us, Joyce and I, into ‘real people’. And we pondered this, purposely noisy with our milkshakes, solacing ourselves with second best.
Colleen Thibaudeau, 1989
“Watermelon Summer” is from The Artemesia Book (1991), available from Brick Books.
Long after the Watermelon Summer, Colleen and Joyce remained friends and Joyce grew up to be a talented artist. She once made a “bon voyage” cake (complete with arc de triomphe!) when Colleen left to teach in France.
Mrs. Trott Mouse
black in the greyed-out time
Mrs. Trott Mouse
greyed-out in the blackness
go to sleep little prisoners
just go to sleep
No bad dreams now
Ne pensez qu’à vos amours
No bad dreams now
Des belles toujours
Big clear moonlight
Big clear moonlight
A shadow’s passing over
it’s gone black as an oven
A shadow’s passing over
Suddenly it’s morning.
Mrs. Trott Mouse
rose in the blue rays
Mrs. Trott Mouse
get up sleepyheads.
Colleen Thibaudeau, 1973
((( o ))) In this audio clip from 1997, Colleen Thibaudeau describes how she created her “transliteration” of Paul Verlaine’s “Impression fausse”:
Thank you Peggy Roffey for reuniting the long lost copy of Premier livre de poésie with Colleen’s family and sharing the 1997 interview with Colleen Thibaudeau at “Voicing Colleen”.
From the Biographie des poètes, page 89:
VERLAINE (Paul) (1844-1896). C’est un des premiers grands poètes formés par l’école symboliste. Son oeuvre sincère, émouvante, est avant tout une musique et correspond bien au but des symbolistes qui était d’évoquer sensations et sentiments.
In this poem, Colleen Thibaudeau recalls a temporary job she had at the University of Toronto library in 1948 and an early encounter with the poet Margaret Avison (1918-2007), who worked at the order desk.
Came back from searching dental periodicals in the Russian translated into German stacks, Office was feathered over with soft acquisitions and Our Boss was pondering the Great Seal prior to attack on new Books. I asked for a change of task. ‘Four o’clock. Not a good time to start fresh. Try Boston. Try the French …’ Suddenly Margaret, at her desk, looking no different said, ‘Tether: end of.’ No word more, passed solitary angel out the gothic door.
Well, yes: Go up: go down. Try Boston. Work to rule. Came back from searching dental periodicals in the Russian translated into German stacks. Our Boss cooed ‘Migraine weather’ put away till tomorrow the Great Seal. Going home I passed through Chinatown and bought one of those pink folded-up flowers that once in water pulses like a throat, then skipped to ailing Maggie’s doorstep, Whistled something delightful to the tune of: ‘And particularly delightful is the story of the little old man who rode all over Moscow free because no one could change his hundred rouble note.’
Colleen Thibaudeau, 1978
More about Colleen Thibaudeau’s friendship wth Margaret Avison
An admirer of Avison and her poetry, Thibaudeau began work on her MA thesis on “Recent Canadian Poetry” later that fall. They became further acquainted when Northrop Frye took them out to lunch, and as he notes in his diary, “… I think Margaret & she really took to each other.” [See The Diaries of Northrop Frye 1942-1955, Volume 8, 1949 Mar. 28; this is the lunch Thibaudeau describes in the Biographical Sketch from 1979.]
Yes we are that too: we are everything who feel it. Everything that has meaning has the same meaning as angels: these hoverers and whirrers: occupied with us. Men may be in the parkgrass sleeping: or be he who sits in his shirtsleeves every blessed Sunday: rasping away at his child who is catching some sunshine: from the sticky cloud hanging over the Laura Secord factory: and teetering on the pales of the green iron fence: higher up than the briary bushes. I pass and make no sound: but the silver and whirr of my bicycle going round: but must see them who don’t see: get their fit, man and child: let this elastic moment stretch out in me: till that point where they are inside and invisible. It is not to afterward eat a candy: picket that factory: nor to go by again and see that rickety child on the fence. When the band of the moment breaks there will come angelic recurrence.
Our grateful thanks to translator Patricia Godbout, who created this French version of Colleen Thibaudeau’s poem for Ellipse magazine in 1990.
Élastique, ce moment
Oui, nous sommes aussi cela : nous sommes tout ce qui est sensible. Tout ce qui possède un sens possède celui des anges : qui planent et qui vrombissent : veillent sur nous. Des hommes dorment-ils dans l’herbe du parc : un homme s’assoit-il en bras de chemise tous les dimanches : parle d’une voix grinçante à son enfant qui s’amuse au soleil : perçant le nuage collant au-dessus de l’usine Laura Secord : chancelant sur les pieux de la clôture de fer peinte en vert : bien plus haut que les buissons d’églantier. Je passe sans bruit : mais l’argent mais le vrombissement des roues de ma bicyclette : je dois voir qui ne me voit pas : prendre la mesure de l’homme et de l’enfant : laisser ce moment élastique s’étirer en moi : jusqu’à ce qu’ils soient intérieurs, invisibles. Nul besoin d’aller ensuite manger des friandises : ni de dresser des piquets devant l’usine : ou de repasser par là pour apercevoir l’enfant vaciller sur la clôture. Une fois brisé l’élastique du moment, viendra le retour angélique.
(Traduit par Patricia Godbout, (1990) Ellipse. (44) 99.)
Lights from the Highway sparser, softer now and the Gorst lights gone and their house gone away, just lost rib to new life in dark seas, just dark seven sleepers gone seasabout the foot of our hill, just the foot of the hill and a great cave opening up.
Lights from the glass cupboard !spark! the house dark; And it’s up to the glass cupboard now! It looms at James’ headheight, three paces from the kitchen sink, one from table, length approximately my armspan, crafted by an Albertan who loved the bush, the hills.
The Bay Highway kindles to blue Italian grotto glasses; and green glasses, safe-and-wide as Sweden; and cheap little ruby liqueurs sing; and cocktail Libbys supermart violent and fresh from fists that swung axes, pounded down a territory and rolled Malcolm Lowry into the soundmad surf dazzling no warning…
By an Albertan who loved the bush, the hills, who made this cupboard ark that tends the tides of dream. They light, they guard the house, glow like an icon of Mike Todd, thirty-odd glasses, touched off by random headlights moving toward the Bay.
Colleen Thibaudeau’s short story “Wild Turkeys” draws on her great-aunt Belle’s memories of growing up on a farm in Grey County.
Thibaudeau wrote this “getting-of-wisdom” story in 1946 when she lived with her aunt while studying at the University of Toronto. The story was published in the University College magazine The Undergrad [II (1946-47), pages 22-27]. Thibaudeau mentions how her great-aunt shared stories from her girlhood in an interview from 1979:
Don MacKay: One of the stories that you published in the Undergrad, “Wild Turkeys,” seems to be recollecting the Markdale experience.
Colleen Thibaudeau: Well, see, I lived [while at U of T] with my great aunt. Great Aunt Belle was the second sister of my grandmother Stewart.… It was just a pleasure to live with her because she had a slightly easier way of remembering things. My grandma was fun in many ways, but she was just so hurried and harried all the time that she never told you anything. But Aunt Belle was a more gentle easy-going person. And a couple of times, you see, she’d just begin to go into stories like that. So it was from a couple of things she said to me that I reconstructed or made up that story. She wouldn’t have said more than a couple of little hints. [Excerpted from “Colleen Thibaudeau: A Biographical Sketch”, Brick, Issue 5, Winter 1979, pages 6-11.]
From “Wild Turkeys”: “… In the old days it seemed as if all the mornings were like the first morning of the world, and I could have run forever through the tall grass. Run and not wearied….”
Colleen Thibaudeau wrote The City Underground in 1949 and it was broadcast on CBC Radio. The story was later published in Canadian Short Stories, edited by Robert Weaver and Helen James, Oxford University Press, 1952 (pages 128-135).
I looked up suddenly and the sky was full of them, sky was on fire with them.
Following her directions I find the purple maple walk the mosslog deeper into the bush veer at the rushes test for sinkholes crawl the rabbitdropping undergrowth straighten up and the sky is full of them, sky is on fire with them.
(got the fence up here a long story so it’s beginning to look like Story Book Farm after all after a lot of work also we’ve been laying in crab-apple jelly wild-grape jam wild-cranberry & the like and Arthur was into the chokecherries for the wine also I brandied some wild-plums which I will never do again as you have to pierce each dratted little plum with a needle it’s so nice to be settled in Do come & see us)
The Lake is directly in front of me but High Bush Cranberries swaying muddle up locations: dis mayme: dis turbme: dis locate
years of the instinctive glance for bears over the shoulder I begin picking, shouting out to Burning Lake:
This is only Watergate Year It’s not Year Whole World on Fire Not that Year yet.
Colleen Thibaudeau, 1974
“Getting the High Bush Cranberries” is from The Artemesia Book (1991), available from Brick Books.