Archive for the ‘Seventies’ category

My Book House

April 19, 2021

My Book House, edited by Olive Beaupré Miller, 12 volumes, 1937; For My Book House, A Parents’ Guide Book, 1948.
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For those of us who are readers, what we read as children is at the core of who we are and the paths we’ve taken.

I have a dim memory of going as a child to second hand bookstores with my father and mother in Washington state searching for books to take with us to the wilds of northern British Columbia.  This was in the early 1960s.  I was 9 or 10 years old.

Their finds included all the volumes of the famed 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica, literature such as Ernest Thompson Seton’s Wild Animals I Have Known, Stephen Crane’s Red Badge of Courage, T.H. White’s The Once and Future King, and the 12-volume set of My Book House, by Olive Beaupré Miller, 1937 edition.  It must have been my mother who insisted on completing the set with the 1948 parents’ guide, since the older grouping didn’t have it.

Inside the front cover of Volume 10

Sixty years on, I still have the My Book House volumes.  It is amazing to hold them – the illustrations are so evocative and bittersweet.  A reminder of a completely different time and place.

The volumes are slender blue books, in this fourth edition, numbered 1 to 12. They very roughly correspond to grade levels in their contents, although the first volume is oriented to much younger children, to be read to them.  Miller was an ardent believer in education for the young, and began these books, originally in a six-volume set in the 1920s, when she found that nobody was providing the graded stories, poems and illustrations she thought important for her daughter and other children.  

Books to grow with

The books were meant to “grow” along with their intended audience.  Early volumes contained nursery rhymes and simple stories and later volumes drew upon Chaucer, Shakespeare and Swift among many other classic writings which Miller adapted.  Sometimes, she wrote the stories herself.  Not only were fables, stories and poetry intended to be read by children, but also to be read by parents to them.  And the illustrations!  The illustrations by well known artists including a book cover by N.C. Wyeth do a wonderful job of creating imaginative space for the stories to dwell in. 

Miller set up a company with her husband to publish these books in Winnetka, Illinois and the first one, In The Nursery, was issued in 1920.  The first six-volume sets were often, as a promotion, enclosed in a small wooden house.  The six were eventually split into 12 thinner books for the benefit of small hands.  An interesting aspect of her publishing company was its staffing predominantly by women, including the sales force.  This was most unusual at a time when women were deemed best suited to staying at home.

The last edition was published in 1971.  Miller had continued to revise her books until her retirement in 1962. She died in Arizona in 1968.

A father’s Grand Adventure

Not only do these books connect me to my childhood and the northern log cabin I grew up in, but in an indirect way to my father.  He died of a stroke a couple of years after he moved his wife and three sons to the pioneering life he imagined and hungered for in the north.  He was only in his mid 40s.  He fought in the Second World War in the Pacific, including Iwo Jima, went to university where he met my mother, and dropped out with her to start a family. He worked for years as an architectural draftsman and trouble-shooting machinist, before embarking, his family in tow, on his Grand Adventure.

These books were part of his design for his family (along with serious advice from my mother, without doubt) as he took us to the Bulkley Valley in British Columbia to live on a section of land without electricity, phones or indoor plumbing.  He changed all our lives, and our futures, in a fundamental way and for the better.  We boys were given, on the outside, the gift of wild spaces, and our interiors were furnished by My Book House and all the other books that made the inside of our small cabin seem like a library.  Even my mother, who at first regretted our departure from the States and its amenities, came to love where we made our home.

So these books mean a lot to me.  I’d like to give just a sampling of their content.

Volume 5, Over the Hills, contained stories about Abraham Lincoln, Jack and the Beanstalk, the boyhood of Robert Fulton, and Wilbur and Orville Wright, among others, drawn from many classic sources. 

I think my favorite from this volume though was “Casey Jones, A Song of the Railroad Men.”  It goes: “Fireman says, ‘Casey, you’re running too fast. You ran the block signal, last station you passed.’…”  Then later: “He turned to his fireman said, ‘Boy, you’d better jump. ‘Cause there’s two locomotives that are going to bump!'”

Volume 8, Flying Sails, featured for me “Gulliver’s Travels to Lilliput” adapted from Jonathan Swift.  The accompanying illustrations are marvelous, of Gulliver tied down by many tiny figures.  This volume also included a couple of stories from the Arabian Nights, “The Adventures of General Tom Thumb,” and Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.”

In Volume 10, From the Tower Window, we have the story of the Children’s Crusade, “The Home-Coming of Odysseus,” legends of the Round Table, the Spanish tale of “The Cid” and what moved me, for some reason, as a teenager, the tragic “Song of Roland.” 

In this last, retold from the Chanson de Roland, Roland heroically blows his horn, Oliphant, at the end of a great battle to call for relief for his men and himself, only to finally die.

In demand for homeschooling

In an interesting twist to the saga of the long out-of-print My Book House, the volumes, in all their many versions, are in demand as part of the homeschooling movement.  The set, as the Parents’ Guide points out, has 2752 pages of graded selections from over fifty different countries with two thousand illustrations, many in full color. They are a valuable resource for any family, homeschooling or not.

Homeschooling as a movement began in the 1970s as a rebellion against the rote regimented learning of the standard classroom, and has spread in many different directions, from the free school perspective to the evangelical.  But to me, My Book House is ideal as an underpinning for any youngster’s education.  I’m grateful that it was part of mine.

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References:

For more information on My Book House, here are some sites of note:

Winnetka Historical Society

Books In Heat: Books As A Passion

Circe Institute

Arthur Chandler

Plumfield and Paideia

TurtleAndRobot.com

Pam Barnhill

Four Guys Living On the Telkwa High Road

March 7, 2020

When I returned to the Bulkley Valley after completing journalism school, it was an act of failure.

I’d sent resumés to so many newspapers across Canada, most of the dailies, from my student room near the University of Western Ontario, in London.  (It’s a great old-style university by the way, which doesn’t get that much recognition.)

But nary a peep in response.  In the early seventies there was a downturn in the economy just as I finished school. I often gave that as my mumbled excuse.

Hudson Bay Mt at SmithersBack I came to the Bulkley Valley in northern British Columbia, with its far-off mountains running up close to loom over the small town of Smithers.  The just-off-Main-Street Hudson Bay Mountain towered, its glacier and ski-runs gleaming in the sun.

My home, the home of my heart, a log cabin where three boys and their widowed mother all grew up, lay 20 miles or so farther east from the Town of Smithers, out past Telkwa and Quick to what we called Deep Creek in those days.

After my disappointment at the lack of clamoring for my services, I returned to the home place.  But all the available work seemed to be in Smithers, so I took a room there.

I found employment as a Child Care Worker at the Ministry of Human Resources or whatever its name was then, for the provincial government.  Child Care Workers were a definite step down from Social Workers’ positions, but that was the best I could do with just a psychology degree (prior to the journalism diploma, don’t you know).

Not quite sure what to do with me, the ministry put me in charge of the town’s teenage drop-in centre.  This was basically a two-room shack at the edge of a park a few blocks from the centre of town.

Provider of life wisdom

Of introverted and easily annoyed character, I was not really the best type to ride herd while distributing life wisdom to boisterous, even out-of-control young bucks.

There were a few girls drifting about, but most who frequented the drop-in were guys.  They were mainly there for the ratty pool table and the rock music emanating from a worn but nicely loud phonograph system.  One of those combo phonograph and AM-FM radio furniture units. The high-decibel band Nazareth was a big favorite.

At 23 years old, I was only seven, eight years older than these kids.  And, like, I’m really mature.  And I was supposed to do what with these juvenile delinquents?

I want to write more about them someday, but I’m trying to get to the Telkwa High Road!

Telkwa High Road 1Let me give you a brief layout.  Highway 16 runs its ribbon of asphalt two-lanes roughly east and west.  West to Prince Rupert.  East to Prince George. In our most frequented part of that road, we’d drive through the rolling terrain of trees and farms and fields, from Quick up over to Telkwa, where the Telkwa and Bulkley Rivers combine, than through that brief dip in the road to Smithers.  If you kept going for quite a few hours, you’d run into Terrace and eventually the sun setting over the port of Prince Rupert.

Heading towards Smithers, turn right in downtown Telkwa to get on what we called the Maclure Lake Road.  Maclure or Tyee Lake lies close above Telkwa.

And that’s the start of the Telkwa High Road, so-called because it parallels Highway 16 at an upland altitude, from Telkwa across various Babine Lake Roads and keeping on well past Smithers to the native village of Moricetown, famous for the precariousness of the old-time fishermen spearing salmon from the cliffs of its narrow river canyon.

At one turn along the way, you can head off to Driftwood Canyon and its 50-million year old fossils of redwood and gingko, ichneumon wasps and prehistoric trout and salmon.

Since the High Road ran in the uplands, often the views at sunset or from certain over-the-valley vistas opened onto a magnificence of sky and mountains and weather.

A farm on the High Road

In that year of my discontent as the manager of the drop-in center, I joined three other fellows roughly in my age group as we rented a farm on the Telkwa High Road above Smithers.

We only rented the farmhouse.  The outbuildings and barn were there, but not for our use.

The four of us knew each other from the ministry social circles in town, or from parties, or through my mother who was deep in the social whirl.  Two, Eric and Ron, were social workers.  Rick was a slightly younger guy with long black hair who mostly went to parties, played guitar and tried to charm the ladies.  He was an ingratiating and probably smart young man, doing what he wanted to do, and the other three of us weren’t that picky, we kind of liked him, and we needed somebody to share the rent.

One of the social workers I think had the relationship with the farmer which enabled the rental, and we found ourselves living in this ramshackle farmhouse on a knoll overlooking wide sloping fields of hay.

All four of us seemed to be between girlfriends or in dysfunctional relationships.

I had a broken down car of some kind. I commuted from the farmhouse to the drop-in centre every weekday, a 10-15 minute drive.

Memories

I remember two things the most from our time there.  One was the great parties we managed to have.  I’m not really a party guy, but the four of us worked together to put on these shindigs.  The music was loud and rocking, and that was my department.

R.Watts; Telkwa High Road, Bulkley Valley, Prince George Region, BcAt one of these parties, I remember in late afternoon walking towards the barn with a group of people, smoking a variety of substances.  I remember discussion of cocaine, which at that time in the early seventies was often considered innocuous, its addictive qualities thought to be exaggerations by the anti-marijuana crowd.  There was no cocaine at this party, that I knew about anyway.  But I find its mention interesting because although we lived far, far away from the centers of anything, in a rural place called a High Road, we were still connected to the impact of distant North American culture.

The other prominent memory I have, which still makes me grin at our youth and interests, were the tense team chess sessions the four of us had, while smoking whatever strong weed young Rick came across.

Ripped out of our minds, somehow we could really focus on these games.  In teams of two we debated and bickered with each other about the next move, while giving the other team the gears about the quality of their previous one.  Occasionally we would separate and whisper so our devious plans could not be overheard and then we would return to the table, confident.

We very formally recorded each move under our names and the date.  I wish I had just one of those old game scores.  That would be fun to play over….

Of course, sometimes we didn’t complete the games, distracted by animated discussions or just wanting to chill with the rock music we all liked.  Pink Floyd’s Meddle was often played.

A dream fragment

Oh, there’s one other memory, almost like a dream fragment.  It was a golden summer afternoon, late in our sojourn at the farmhouse, just before I found a job as a reporter/photographer with the town’s weekly newspaper.  I read a book while propped up on the mowed lawn. I listened through speakers brought outdoors to the Beatles’ Abbey Road album.

Eric, the cooler one of the pair of social workers, came and sat outside not far away, and listened too.

My favorite part of the album is the second half of the second half, from “Golden Slumbers” onward.  I put down my book.

Once there was a way to get back homeward
Once there was a way to get back home

Boy, you’re going to carry that weight, carry that weight a long time

And in the middle of the celebrations, I break down

On to the drumming and guitar solos of “The End” which always electrify me and then the song glides quietly onto

The love you take
is equal to the love you make

My companion rose up and against a leg dusted the wide-brimmed hat he always wore.  “That will last.”

We shared a moment, with that music, and then I agreed.

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Rock CDs (and a DVD) I Just Had to Buy

July 26, 2018

Now that I’m retired, music I love is taking up more of my time.  I’m trying to play more, and learn more, in my lower intermediate rock guitar student way.  I’m listening more, especially to bands I neglected in the past (or think the wider culture has neglected).

And I just finished reading This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of A Human Obsession, by Daniel Levitin.  One of the saving graces of human beings as a species is music, in all its forms.  The book describes how humans are hard-wired for music.  We should be grateful for that.

I’ve got shelves of CDs already, and I really don’t need to add to them, but I couldn’t resist buying a few recently.

From Amazon, which has become a major resource, I picked up the first new CD in 20 years from the New Riders of the Purple Sage.  It has songs with lyrics by Robert Hunter, famous for his contributions to the Grateful Dead.  I’ve never had a CD of theirs or even listened (to my knowledge) to the New Riders, although I know they’ve been around for a long time, but the Robert Hunter connection made me want to check them out.

Another from Amazon is Janis Joplin Live at Winterland ’68 with Big Brother and the Holding Co.  This was fairly early in Joplin’s short career, and the band, Big Brother, also shows what it is capable of as one of the original psychedelic outfits.  I love Janis in live performance, the rawness and sheer over-the-top passion – I’m thinking now of the Festival Express DVD where she bowls everyone over with her astonishing performances.

And my third CD from the ubiquitous retailer is the Zombies’ Still Got That Hunger. The Zombies, an English band, are famous for their songs from the 60s like Time of the Season and She’s Not There.  Pretty long in the tooth, these guys, but I want to hear what they sound like now with new material in this CD from 2015.

The Disappearing CD

It’s harder and harder of course to find CDs at any local storefronts in the Greater Vancouver area.  And CDs themselves are apparently slowly on the way out, given the tendency to buy single tunes online or obtain through file-sharing.

But in the little fishing village becoming gentrified that is Steveston (a hamlet within Richmond, BC, home to the Vancouver Airport), there is a small bricks-and-mortar shop called Beatmerchant, where CDs are still sold.

The owner, Frankie Neilson, actually knows a lot about most of the music I love.   He worked in the music industry in the UK with Polydor in the 1970s.  He relocated to Vancouver in the 1990s after spending some time in Toronto.  He started his physical store in 2005.

Wishbone Ash Argus

So from Frankie this week I bought Argus by Wishbone Ash.  I have it on an LP but since I almost never get around to hand-cranking my old Kenwood turntable and listening to any of the old long-plays, I decided to get the CD.  (You probably don’t know about Kenwood’s series of hand-cranked turntables which required considerable strength just to get going, like a Model T….  OK, just kidding.)

Argus was Wishbone Ash’s biggest album and rose to #3 in Britain in 1972.  They were a band playing progressive rock I guess you could say, with folk and classical influences.

Also from Beatmerchant is the 2 CD compilation The Essential Paul Revere & The Raiders. You never hear them now even on so-called classic rock stations, but Paul Revere & The Raiders were big when I was growing up during high school and into the early 1970s.  My brothers and I listened to them a lot on our battery-powered Phillips phonograph (since we didn’t have electricity for many years – not kidding).

Some of their early hits include Kicks and Good Thing.   They were Columbia Records top-selling rock band of 1967.  Later, they shortened their name to The Raiders and had hits with Indian Reservation and Birds of a Feather.

They often liked to wear Revolutionary War costumes….

And finally, Beatmerchant had a DVD I didn’t know existed: Stephen Stills & Manassas – The Lost Broadcasts. Manassas was a band that Stephen Stills formed with some other heavy weights of the time such as Chris Hillman and Al Perkins.  Their primary release was a self-titled 2-disc LP in 1972 (mentioned in this post).  The group only lasted a couple of years, but I’ve been a fan ever since.

This DVD apparently shows the band performing a number of songs on German television.  The YouTube video of It Doesn’t Matter gives you an idea of the band.

So the next step is for me to listen to all this good stuff!

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