‘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.
The sea gone girl is all at sea Stockings rolled below the knee, Careless slung the dishtowel hung Cat got its parting scatscatscat,– For her the very breeze of a Marine Was signal for abandoning.
The screendoor bangs, the little street Is window-wide a-buzz with her retreat: She makes it to the sad hotel Is keel-hauled by the firebell pull In lobby; then she rises to the tropic Islands rolling home in beer and frolic.
Others have that bleached hair, part ‘done’ Part rendered just uncombable by wind & sun, Others wear fishnet gowns in this and other towns, Have nails like Turner sunsets going down, Knuckles that are wrinkled as a fishwife’s bum, Have voices stored in shells that make a deepsea hum.
But who else has three captive princesses Mild-mannered, magical, wearing middy dresses? The six-year-old has her bath drawn ready, The seven-year-old holds the coffee-pot steady, & the eight-year-old draws the net of her nightdress over her head And casts the sea gone mother into bed.
Colleen Thibaudeau, 1957
“Sea Gone Girl” can be found in The Artemesia Book (1991), available from Brick Books.
((( o ))) Listen to Peggy Roffey read the poem here.
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:
“The Dieppe Gardens Poems” is one of Colleen Thibaudeau‘s poems from The Martha Landscapes (1984), available from Brick Books.
The Dieppe Gardens Poems
Eugene and Peter read their poems
about Dieppe Gardens, Windsor,
a September evening, here in London.
Dieppe Gardens, it’s not a park where I’ve walked,
but I remember the news of it coming — Dieppe — it came over the fences,
(field by field, farm by farm): “bad news from home.”
Someone called and we would leave off hoeing,
go to the fence, and there, crying or trying not to cry,
a Windsor girl asking us to pass bad news along
though all the lists not in… We threw ourselves at the ground,
and that day passed, (half-hope half-fear) as if just striving
might somehow balance out the half-knowing.
A time of drought: the fine dust caked our hair; our cracked
hands, blunt fingers scrabbled to put right
a bent plant; all was more bitter-precious on that day.
Evening came; on the gravel we walked barefoot, asking,
(field by field, farm by farm), could we use the phone,
but nothing changed: only “bad news from home”
day halved slowly into night. Your words,
Peter and Eugene, go active into memories long stilled,
and I am filled with wonder for the walkers there
in Dieppe Gardens now.
Colleen Thibaudeau, 1984
Note from Susan Reaney: In the poem, Colleen Thibaudeau recalls her own war-time experience working as a volunteer farm labourer for the Ontario Farm Service Force in August 1942 near Windsor, Ontario. The Dieppe Gardens in Windsor, Ontario are named in memory of the many members of the Essex-Kent Scottish Regiment who lost their lives during the World War II landing at Dieppe, France on August 19, 1942.
Colleen Thibaudeau was a graduate student of Marshall McLuhan‘s at the University of Toronto in 1948-1949. Colleen remembers Professor McLuhan in this excerpt from an article by journalist James Stewart Reaney:
“I remember him from ’48, ’49 when I was in his M.A. class. Although ’49 wasn’t over yet, he bravely suggested the topic to me: Canadian poetry of 1949,” mom says. Later McLuhan would become famous for saying such things as: “Tomorrow is our permanent address.”
Back in 1948-1949, he was already using a similar approach. Mom calls it: “Writing about it before it’s taken place – almost.”
The thesis flourished as mom encountered such Canadian poets and creators as A.M. Klein, P.K. Page and Earle Birney. With his Cambridge ties, McLuhan also helped by introducing my mom to British critics like Queenie Leavis.
“When you get into the world of the ’49ers,’ you’ve left behind the pastoral world of earlier Canadian poetry, not entirely, but it’s going,” mom says.
Inwhich I Put On My Mother’s Old Thé Dansant Dress
“Yes,” said Janos, “you can put on a costume!”
So I go for a favourite, my mother’s old thé dansant dress
(black georgette and hand-made lace). When I was a child
I looked through snowy windows, seeing her leave
for “Tea For Two.” Leaves whirled, the hem dragged
in the mud when granddaughters sortied out for Hallowe’en;
and then I rescued, laundered, aired, and pressed
(black georgette and hand-made lace). Now it’s a humid Sunday
in the scorching summer of ’88. Jamie retreats to the doorway.
Janos, taking the photos, says, “Nearly done now.”
I think, my whole life-span is in this dress.
And, as I strew these words,
rose petals are falling from the matching hat she made.
Colleen Thibaudeau, 1988
( ( ( o ) ) ) Listen to Jean McKay read the poemhere.