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Thursday, November 29, 2012

No red barn, no maple tree

Today I met Eric Lorenzen, that remarkable physics teacher at Trenton High School, who was behind the alchemy which brought into being the Purdy library at Al's old school, Trenton High School (fortunately for today's students, it's a different building).

I contacted Eric a while back. I wanted to know if 134 Front Street, Al's childhood home, was still standing. It's gone. But Eric, as is his wont, was aware that the plain old house was vulnerable, and had been watching this space.

Eric took photos, preserving a memory of the last three residences in this area of Front Street. He even came back after the demolition team left, and collected a few old red clay bricks. One's now in a showcase at THS along with an impressive collection of Purdy memorabilia and signed books.

Today 134 Front is an empty lot just south of the parking lot for the new LCBO. Al might have had something to say about that.

134 Front Street, Trenton (middle house)
But even without the old brick building, the house exists still in Al's work. Trenton features prominently in Purdy's autobiography Reaching for the Beaufort Sea and is a main character in A Splinter in the Heart, a novel of growing up in gritty 1920's Trenton, that parallels Purdy's own life. Campbell Monuments, the blacksmith shop, Reddick's Sash and Door, the creosote streaked river and an alarming number of places associated with childhood mischief live on in Al's writing.

Sincere thanks to Eric for the use of his photos - his thought to record the building was a most prescient one. His photos of the Quinte Hotel, burned recently have also become 'keepers'. He's still trying to figure out how to obtain a relic of that storied watering hole.

An expression used often by my parents suggests itself. "Al Purdy will never be dead as long as Eric Lorenzen lives." With so many places associated with the poet living only in photos, we turn to folks like Eric Lorenzen and the staff at THS to help us link the work and life of this Al Purdy with the landscape around us.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

"Eleanor was a Ross"

Eleanor (Ross) Purdy, Al's mom
In this UEL country of deep roots it is no surprise to find entanglements. As even friendly dogs exchange sniffs to establish identity and catch up on the news, so local folk like to settle their family links first-off. Seeking the known; the common bonds, experiences, values, memories. Establishing the connection. Then they can move on...and just be.

No "OMG!" cocktail party discoveries for them. No wild public excitement in discovering those 6 degrees of separation.

Insular small county, isolated for generations until well past the 1950's. George Bowering's 1970 description of Prince Edward County and Belleville was as accurate as it was unflattering. (I'll quote it for you when I receive my Abebooks copy)

As I grew up, I got tired of hearing that phrase "Oh, yes, she was a ...." as women nattered about who was related to whom. As I get older, of course, wanting to pull out and examine the handiwork of generations, mourning the lost women who kept the history, I find comfort in those conversations that start with "she was a ...." and self-consciously join in.

That is why, as I looked at old photos with Eurithe Purdy ("get the names on the back" Jean urged) I was curious to know the ways in which we might be connected via that A-frame story.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012


This church spire rises above a small Ontario village.
Unlike many village church spires dating from the c.19, someone is still maintaining the place well.
Nice Gothic window. Someone's painted not long ago. Nicely clad steeple.
But though I am a student of old buildings, and hungry for the details that tell their story, I didn't go closer.
Didn't take photos. Didn't consult my favourite local history books to find out the who/when/how.

Because all I needed to do was to see that church steeple, across this body of water, to hear this:

"Across Roblin Lake, two shores away
they are sheathing the church spire
with new metal. Someone hangs in the sky 
over there from a piece of rope
hammering and fitting God's belly-scratcher."*

I do this a lot. Search for resonance, as I call it. Connections. Listen for old voices. The way it was, how  folks thought and dreamed. Old places, old photographs take me time-travelling (and I find many of you there too). Mom raised me to listen for "the stories that house could tell".

Jean Baird, 'she who makes things happen' suggested I might like to create a 'literary tour of Al Purdy country', finding the links between Al (and Eurithe, and the writing) and the local area - Trenton, Belleville and the country north of it, Prince Edward County. Hmm, let me think about that, got a nanosecond? And the local resource for this local girl? None other than the indomitable Eurithe Purdy.

* Wilderness Gothic (Wild Grape Wine,1968)

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Sit down and "have a read"

In a flagrant example of "I've already told you that"
and to cut corners as I populate this new blog
I would like to invite you, gentle reader, to visit me at 'ancestralroofs', my on line history of architecture journal.

The month of November has been Purdy month for me
for a score of good reasons which will become more clear to me
as time goes by.

I wrote these three letters to Al - "Love Ya, Al"Can Lit Kilroy,
and Flowers for Al, and I would like to share them with you.

Roblin's Mills school 1848

Sometimes things that are meant to happen, still take a long time to materialize.

Such was the case today, when I finally got a PEC library card. My brother, who works as I.T. Coordinator for the library system, mentioned it some time ago. Several times, in actual fact. I certainly do wear out my welcome occasionally at the Archives. Should at least join up!

ancient sash windows-free WiFi
 As a warm group of A-framers left the cold shores of Roblin Lake late this morning, I took the opportunity to stop at the Ameliasburgh library - first time I'd found it open - got my library card, and borrowed a Purdy novel I had not read.

And got warm...for not only was the librarian endearing, but the little old Roblin's Mills school-house was just toasty.

Just the spot to spend some time over photos of Al I had not seen, and to wonder at the OOC medal and other honours. How must our reprobate poet have felt about all that fuss?

And because this little tribute to Al Purdy blog is not ancestralroofs, I am under no obligation to say much about this little building. Except to say bravo to PEC for designating this 1848 stone/stucco school-house - and keeping these very old sash windows!

High School Poetry class

Today I entered Al and Eurithe Purdy's A-frame on the shore of Roblin Lake. As I do in anyone's home, I wandered to the bookshelf.

The first book that caught my eye, because of the familiar bumblebee colours, was this one - Poems to Remember. When I got home, I pulled my own copy off the shelf. It was a high school textbook, from my Grade 10 year many lifetimes ago.

I checked. Nope. No Al Purdy poems between those black and yellow covers. The front promises to take the reader away to enchanted places with knights and ladies, and medieval castles. Right. Al wouldn't have wanted to be there anyway.

Funny, some Prince Edward County kids might have appreciated a PEC poet*. Cariboo Horses came out in 1965. My buddy Larry knew.

Another first, on this bookshelf visit, was meeting face to face with warm and committed A-frame people I had only previously communicated with by email or phone. One of these folks was Michele, a local high school English and drama teacher who has been for years, the enormously dedicated guardian of the A-frame. A practical as well as literary type, she brings her Purdy Society students here for writing workshops, and for yard cleanup bees prior to the annual Purdy Day April 21.

Michele, a believer in coincidences like I, was delighted to discover a violet still blooming under the bare apple tree on this mid-November day. Perhaps it honours new energy and next steps, and the enormous committment of so many people to A-frame Trust's goals for the Purdy property.

*In fairness, looking back, I must say I had the best English teacher in the world, Mrs. Ross. Coincidentally, her daughter Ronnie, another dear friend I see too seldom, is visiting this weekend from Vancouver. The occasion is the scattering of her mother's ashes, on the farm of one of the boys. There's a connection to Al here too. One day perhaps we'll share it.