Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Village of Many Hats: Final Excerpt

 Here is the final excerpt from the book, which includes a good number of the generous New Denverines who bid for roles in the book, auctioned off by my good friend and former Mayor of New Denver, Gary Wright. Strangely enough, a community-minded Mayor appears in the village of Silverado, a patient fellow by the name of Dewey Wright.... no relation, I'm sure! I am also happy to say that the launch of The Village of Many Hats will take place in the Bosun Hall in New Denver on Saturday, May 26th from 3:30-5 pm. All ages are welcome and there will be a special presentation to the brave souls who have offered their names to this book, which is dedicated to the good citizens of all ages in New Denver and Silverton. Admission is free and fun is guaranteed!
Likewise, Arrowvale Farm in Port Alberni will be sponsoring a reading beneath a giant maple tree (if fine weather; a barn or someplace dry if not!) on Saturday, June 2nd in the afternoon as well. Check out my website or Facebook for further details of these and other readings as they are confirmed. 
 Ms. Freeman and Madame D’Oiseaux taught people to make lanterns during the second week of December. We made them out of plastic milk jugs, tuna fish cans, willow branches and all kinds of paper and candles.   
          We met at the park just before dark on New Year’s Eve and lit our homemade lanterns. We formed a long line to make a parade of bobbing lights. One lantern was a big salmon with pale orange rice paper and three lights inside. Mine was a bright yellow sun face on one side and a full silver moon on the other side. Mom brought her dad’s old brass mining lamp all shined up and gleaming, to honor the days when Silverado had lots of silver mines in the mountains.
Our parade went past the Friendship Gardens on the lakeshore and then to the Silverado Seniors Lodge. All the nurses and patients were waving at us from their windows. We saw our very sick neighbor, Grant Golightly, waving from his wheelchair with his white hair shining like a halo. We all stopped and waved and waved at him and bobbed our lanterns at him some more.
The snow fell in fluffy clumps as big as loonies, so thick and fast it felt we were all inside a big snow globe. It was pitch dark by the time we got back to the park where two giant bonfires were blazing.   
          Teenagers sold hot chocolate and soup from the park’s log kitchen to raise money for their teen centre, with Ms. Harlock helping them out, as usual. A team of big white horses pulled a sleigh to give people sleigh rides around the park. Ms. Fox organized a snow obstacle course for dogs to jump through. The yellow dog smiled and floated over all the jumps with ease. Ms. Gardiner was in charge of snowball bocce. Dr. Barber supervised the snow sculptures and the nearby maple tree where a group of kids whacked at a polar bear piƱata. People danced in the snow near the bleachers with music blasting from the speakers. Mom and I walked around the whole park while the snow fell softly, changing from fluffy clumps as the night air cooled to big silver diamonds from the sky.
Lars Goodman, the Fire Chief, and Serge Bonhomme, the RCMP
officer, strolled around chatting with people. Mr. Hanks used the microphone to let people know when different events were starting and when the sleigh was ready to take on new passengers.
          Everywhere there were people, young, and old and in between, wearing parkas, felt pack boots, mukluks, tuques and hats.
Dozens and dozens of people were wearing Madame D’Oiseaux’ hats on their heads at the New Year’s Party: Paperboy hats with their brims tilted just so to suit each person wearing one. Deerstalker hats like Sherlock Holmes liked to wear but on this snowy night, everyone had their earflaps tied down for the sake of warm ears. And Shepherd Bonnets with wide brims to keep the snow away. They were a big favourite of those wearing glasses.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Village of Many Hats: Fifth Excerpt

In this, the fifth excerpt  from The Village of Many Hats (ISBN: 978-0-88982-284-9, March 2012:$9.95), Gina has begun her work as a milliner's apprentice and all-round helper at Madame D'Oiseaux' gift shop in Silverado. Although I love hats, most of my small collection are meant for a cold and snowy winter climate, not the downpours or gale force winds of my lighthouse life! What I didn't realize until this story was well underway, was that my Welsh grandmother, Caroline Thomas, was a milliner's apprentice herself until she married my coal-mining grandfather, Stanley Woodward, and began raising a family of eight children in the village of Ton Pentre in the Rhondda Valley in South Wales. In this photo, she is nineteen years of age. The curl in the middle of her forehead is quite fetching!
We had tea made from lavender, rose petals, lemon balm and hibiscus in real china tea-cups with matching saucers. We spent the last half hour of the day looking at Madame’s Paperboy Hat pattern and a big pile of second-hand clothes. We sorted them into smaller piles by colour and then by thicker and thinner fabrics. Then she said something that made my ears perk up.
          “These fabrics must all look good together and bring out the best in each other,” said Madame. “For instance, this grey tweed vest was worn by Professor Stan, beloved by his students after spending forty years teaching. He had a lovely baritone voice and sang in our village choir. Did you meet him, Gina?”
“Not really,” I said. “I knew who he was because he rode his bicycle everywhere but I didn’t know him well enough except to wave and say hello.”
Madame smiled. “He never stopped writing essays and books or thinking about the bigger world all around us. He had a wonderful sense of humour even though he held very strong opinions about what was right and wrong.”
           She held up a black wool dress. “This fine dress belonged to Beverly Sandon.  Bev was a very shy person but a good-hearted, brave woman who stepped in to help when another couple could not cope with their life. She looked after their three children after raising four of her own. She also quietly worked behind the scenes at our Lodge as an unpaid volunteer. She worked in the same way for the Community Club and for several other groups. Unlike Professor Stan, Bev was too shy to speak up in public about what mattered to her. But her kind actions showed us what she valued most in Silverado.”
She put the black wool beside Professor Stan’s grey tweed vest and looked at me.
“Finally, we need to give a touch of something youthful and joyous and creative to this hat. That’s why I’ve picked this gorgeous red dragon satin lining, from Koko Alamo’s kimono. It will brighten up anyone who is getting too dreary and serious, see?”
          She showed me all three materials placed beside each other. They did look perfect together. I don’t know what made me do it but I reached into the button box beside us. I picked out a gold button that looked like a seashell.
          “Perfect, oh, perfect!” Madame said and patted me on the cheek. “That’s from the vest once worn by Katrina Carpenter. She, like Koko, has energy to spare. She has the gift of getting all sorts of people to sort things out and work together on good ideas. I’ll put her button right on top! Merci bien, Gina!”
          I had that glowing feeling again, inside and out.
“Madame? Can you help me make a special hat for Sara, a kind of get-well hat maybe? With the right ingredients, you know?”
My mind was bouncing around trying to make sense. I wanted to make a hat, not muffins! But I liked the way Madame talked about each of the fabrics and the people who had worn them and why they were special people so I just had to blurt out the words that came to me first.
“Why, yes, of course we can do that. That will be our project first thing on Thursday. You’ve put in a good two hours of work today!”
 I ran home, racing the dark.
          I was already looking forward to Thursday.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Village of Many Hats: Fourth Excerpt

The thing about living in a village is that there aren't enough "experts" to do all the jobs that need to be done. So people of all ages volunteer to make sure summer recreation programs are launched or the seniors are feted with dinners in the Hall. Others sing in choirs and create live theatre to amuse hundreds of fellow residents and newcomers (agog, the latter come away, raving about what they've just seen in this tiny place in the middle of nowhere... oh, if we've heard that once we've heard it dozens of times!) 
Still, we take these sorts of kudos with a gracious curtsy and a block of salt. Why are rural residents so often portrayed in books and movies as gothic, limited creatures, other than the fact it comforts and/or titillates the more urbane populace? Give me strength!
It's precisely because we just do things, create things, make things happen that we're good at it. We don't plop ourselves down passively to consume whatever someone else says will make our brows perk higher up our foreheads. But we also turn out for touring artists and certainly our own entertainers in numbers that are gratifying to all concerned. Does it matter that the Alberta Ballet are performing on the gym floor of a Nakusp school? No, we'd turn out to see them dance on an ice floe if that's what we had for a level surface. 
Those with the energy and interest wear many hats or responsibilities and although every volunteer has to perfect the art of saying "No" or risk having their lifeblood drained by seven days of meetings and practical tasks and chauffeuring and phone tree duties, I think it is safe to generalize that the more one contributes to village life, the sweeter it is to live there. Children notice these things and sooner or later, they emulate the involved adults and lead adventurous lives of their own, knowing how to give back along the way.
Here's #4.

Even Sara’s room felt strange and empty. No croaky little voice calling out hellos to me while I was running up the stairs. Nobody wanting to know everything, absolutely everything that was happening in Silverado today. What, no leaves falling from the big playground tree? How about the maple tree on the corner by the bookstore? Is that big yellow dog behind the old garage still scaring kids walking to school?
I fed her neon tetras, mollies and guppies. I watched them all darting around the tank, through the sunken pirate ship and the floating reeds. Catzilla, the suckermouth catfish, chugged slowly along the bottom, slurping up algae and old fish food. That’s his job in the tank. He keeps getting bigger so the yucky diet must suit him just fine. He’s actually a Golden Oto suckermouth catfish which sounds a lot more handsome than he looks with his patchy skin, half-asleep eyes and those rubbery lips always glued to the aquarium glass.
          Dad comes home tired but happy from building new houses or fixing old houses. Now he’s working with Big Mike, adding the sunroom to Captain Hennessey’s little house in the Orchard. He likes being a Village Councillor too, especially working on the village campground and the park and summer recreation programs and being responsible for the Hall…but now is the worst possible time for more bad things to happen. That’s why Dad is so sad about it.
I straightened up. I’d soon be earning sixteen dollars a week. I didn’t need to buy myself a hat. I’d learn how to make hats out of recycled clothes, like Madame did. My wages could be a big help now. I could buy food for my family, or at least food for the fish and Mister Tibbs.
          We all have to think good thoughts for Sara’s operation. That’s what Ms. Harlock said to Dad and me just last night when she brought dinner over.
“Just keep thinking positive thoughts,” she’d said, serving up
two plates for us, loaded with roast turkey. She added sage stuffing, mashed potatoes, baked yams, cranberry sauce, Waldorf salad, regular steamed peas and carrots and my absolute favorite, Brussels sprouts. I realized that Thanksgiving had gotten lost in our lives because Mom and Sara weren’t here, for the first time ever.       
“It’s a well-known fact that those who look on the bright side tend to pull through the tough times,” said Ms. Harlock.
          “Words to live by, that’s for sure,” Dad agreed, giving me a sideways grin.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Village of Many Hats: Third Excerpt

Children and adults notice different things and organize what they know into different categories of logic or usefulness, I think. Children listen to stories about how someone was found, dead or alive, human or animal, after a heroic or futile struggle for survival. These stories or the actual sights (a dead heifer  with her first calf protruding because nobody competent found her in time to pull the calf out and save both lives, a pet dog accused of nipping a visiting child and shot, an outhouse where an old bachelor was found, keeled over with his overalls in an undignified heap around his ankles) lodged themselves into this child's imagination and there they were nourished, or there they festered in a malignant fashion until brought out into the light of a better day.
In a village like New Denver or a farming community like the one I grew up in, people notice things. We see that an elderly neighbour's chimney has a plume of woodsmoke rising on a -28 C. day and we drive on. We stop and make sure that neighbour has not been injured or has not woken up at all if there is no sign of smoke. Nowadays, we can wear a personal alarm system to notify a nearby person of serious trouble.
If someone has a child battling a critical illness in a small community, the family, friends, schoolchildren and teachers, or just people whose vehicles may be familiar but who have never met the family in crisis, band together and fund-raise to help with the costs of one or both parents taking time off work, getting to a hospital hundreds of kilometres away or purchasing specialized medical equipment like wheelchairs, or making ramps for the home, and so on. Similarly, rural hospice volunteers are, in my opinion, absolutely magnificent human beings as they help an entire family or an isolated individual ease their way to passing with dignity and their worldly affairs in order. 
"If there is anything I can do, just call..." Well, no, that rote remark, well-meant but kind of useless, really, is just not specific enough! 
Think food, shelter, clothing, medicine, and companionship. Offer to walk the pet dogs and look after the cats and the goldfish. Take the garbage to the dump and deal with the recycling. Shovel the snow off the roof. Change the winter tires. Shovel or snow-plow the driveway. Feed the cattle and horses and do other farm chores, organized amongst a group of responsible neighbours if need be. Take care of the kids for the weekend if possible. 
Give away all of your home-canned peaches because it's the only food the person can bear to swallow and it reminds him of the ones his mother made sixty years ago.
Look after each other. We all live in some form of village, after all.

Chapter 5
          I kicked my running shoes off in the porch and flicked on the lights as I ran into the hallway. I looked into the living room on the left and the kitchen to the right.
The note on the fridge was a full sheet of paper with writing so big and red that I couldn’t fail to notice it.
Dear Gina,
Dad and Sara and I are driving to the airport. He’ll be back home by suppertime. Sara and I are hoping to get on the last flight to Vancouver. Dad will tell you all about it. Ms. Harlock is bringing dinner over for you. Please feed Mister Tibbs and the fish. I’ll call tonight. Love you, be good, Mom xoxoxoxo
          Someone knocked at the front door and a voice called out, “You-hoo! Gina? You-hoo!”
          But I read the note written in thick, red felt pen on the fridge for the second time and tried to understand how everything could have happened so fast. Just this morning, Mom was trying to phone our doctor in Silverado and now, boom, they’re all gone.
          “In the kitchen, Ms. Harlock, come in!”
I read the note a third time, trying to find a P.S. or some missing words. The sea rushed into my ears and my heart thumped like running shoes in the dryer.
          Ms. Harlock bustled into the kitchen, holding a tray covered with a blue and white cloth. She set it down on the table and pulled off her bright red oven mitts. Her mouth kept moving and she must have been saying something to me. I shook my head really hard to shake out the ocean surf plugging up my ears. Ms. Harlock’s mouth stopped moving. She was looking at me with her eyebrows raised up high. I took a big, deep breath.
“Sorry, Ms. Harlock, I’m just trying to figure out….”
          “Of course you are, dear! But don’t you worry no-never-mind about any of it. She’s in the very best hands and we are all saying prayers for your family. There now!” she said, puffing and blowing the way she does. “Gina, dear, here’s a little something for you and your father tonight.”
          She whisked away the tea-towel to reveal two plates covered with metal warmers. My mouth watered.
          “I hope you’ll like this lasagna, Gina,” she said. “Go wash up now. Do you prefer tea or milk?”
          “Milk please,” I said, though I was pleased to be asked about tea. Mom makes us both a pot of mint tea sometimes but I only drink mine when it’s warm, not hot, with lots of honey in it.
           Ms. Harlock runs the Welcome Wagon and Silverado Community Newsletter. She's the perfect person for it, being such a good cook and loving to bustle around and help out wherever she can. If she was a bird, she'd be a mother robin, plump and busy. Her bright green eyes are always on the look-out for tired and hungry people driving moving trucks into Silverado. But most of the trucks are moving out, not moving in, these days.

**Wendy Harlock won the bid in a lively auctioneering session to become The Hero in this novel. The only category which earned more funds for the New Denver Reading Centre when the five roles were being auctioned off was that of The Villain, brave Francie Oldham! All roles: Hero, Villain, Professional Dog Walker (Heather Fox), Antique & Junque Store Owner (Judi Gardiner), Bird Columnist (Dr. Jamie Barber) and their personalities, actions, physiques, fashion sense and bird-like similarities are entirely fictitious of course!
& as always, material in this blog and any other blog at this address is copyright. Please ask permission to excerpt any material for use in reviews. Post a link to this blog site if you like it, which is a lovely thing to do! Thank you. Caroline Woodward

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Village of Many Hats: Second Excerpt

Wonder of wonders, there is a new store in Silverado! This is always a hopeful sign in any town or village or city block which has fallen on hard times. It's especially exciting for children like Gina, who love to make costumes and whose fingers are drawn to fabrics the way others are drawn to wood or books or horses or ______________ (your choice here.)

(Chapter 4
        Have a look around, Gina,” said Madame D’Oiseaux.
          “Oh,” I said. “You know me?”
          “I know your Mama quite well,” she said. “I used to work in our Silverado Seniors Lodge too, in the kitchen, but I am now retired. I opened my shop here yesterday. So don’t be shy, have a look around.”
          “Thank you, Madame D’Oiseaux,” I said, feeling very grown-up. “You came to our class last year and showed us how to make apple dolls. So I sort of know you, too.”
          Madame D’Oiseaux bobbed her head and smiled at me. She had one of those tanned, smiley faces, with bright brown eyes, a little nose and round, red cheeks. Her hair was the shiniest bright silver, with curls around her face and that thick, silver braid down her back all the way to her waist. She wore a yellow blouse, a patterned blue vest and a dark brown velvety skirt and button-up brown boots. Her feet looked the same size as mine! If she was a bird, she would be a quick, bright hummingbird, not a wren, although brown wrens are cute in their own way too.
          The shop smelled like lavender and roses. I went to a dark red sofa piled high with cushions. Up close, each one looked like a small Persian carpet from Aladdin. The back of each cushion was a different shade of colour: dark chocolate brown, coppery brown, dark green, mint green, pale sky blue, dark navy blue, rose pink and deep burgundy red, like the sofa. The fancy carpet fronts were made of firmer fabric and filled with embroidered flowers and birds.
          “You like them?”
          I drew my hand back quickly.
“Sorry,” I said.
          “Don’t be sorry, not in the slightest! Go ahead and touch them! That is what they are made for, to give comfort as well as pleasure, especially to touch.”
          “I really like those,” I said and pointed at four cushions with robins and bluebirds sitting in tree branches.
          “Thank you!” she said. “Those took a lot of work but I am quite happy with the results.”
          I patted each one very carefully. The burgundy material on the back of the cushions was so soft and thick that my hand almost sank into it. It felt like Grandpa’s shaggy horses in the middle of a cold Cranbrook winter.
          “This is all so nice. My mom would like every single thing in this store,” I said. “And Sara would look so cute in this hat.” I pointed to a dark chocolate and light brown velvet hat with a brass button on top.
          “Bien!” she said, smiling again. “Jackie Woods, someone very brave belonged to that brass button and Beverly Sandon, my dear friend, Bev, a quiet but very courageous lady once wore the dark brown velvet robe with the pockets in light brown. That would be a very good hat for your Sara, yes, indeed. Does your Mama like hats?” 
           “I’ve never seen her wear one except for baseball caps in the summer and a wool tuque when it gets really cold in the winter. But she doesn’t have any hat like these hats,” I said.
I hadn’t seen one that was exactly right for me yet but there was one I looked at more closely with dark pink and green stripes, and bright pink velour earflaps. Thick green ribbon hung from the bottom of each earflap, to tie them up. A shiny pink button sat at the very top of the hat. I could see my mom cross-country skiing in it, in her pink winter coat and green snow pants. Perfect! I tried to find the price tag without making it too obvious.
          “That pink and green hat is from the fall jacket of Ms. Flurry,” said Madame D’Oiseaux. “She is always in a hurry, our bright Ms. Flurry. The velour is from a housecoat Heather Fox donated to the St. Stephen’s Rummage Sale, a kind and cheerful lady. I make a point of going to St. Stephen’s to find good fabrics.”
          “My mom goes there, too,” I said. “That’s where she found this coat for me last year. What do you call good fabrics?”
“I mean 100% wool, linen, cotton, or silk… quite difficult to find these days. Oh, that pink button on top is from Mrs. Kamegaya’s button collection. Such a creative, inspiring person, she was.”
          I wondered if I could ever learn how to make hats like these. Every single one was different! My fingers itched to feel each one, to turn it over and look at the inside as well as the outside. I knew that I wanted to learn how to make hats, with a feeling that was very strong and certain. I drew pictures of clothes and hats all the time, mostly thinking of outfits J. Lee and I might wear for our song and dance routines. I’ve sewed little bags by hand and filled them with dried lavender for putting in clothes drawers. I made them as Christmas and birthday presents for Mom and my grandmas last year. But we don’t have a sewing machine at home and Mom said she was too busy to sew any more, anyway.
          “How much are your hats, Madame? Hats like this one?”
          “Winter hats are sixty-five dollars and summer hats are around fifty dollars, usually. The baby bonnets are ten only, because, well, they are for babies. A little price for a little one.”
          My hopes wafted down to earth like maple leaves from a tree. A real hat would cost me more than a full year’s allowance at one dollar a week. I had the lowest allowance of any kid I knew. Callie got five dollars a week but she had to do real farm chores so that’s understandable. But still…all I ever did was save up enough to buy presents for everybody else in the family with my allowance! Maybe if I had a real job…
          “If you need any help, with your store or your yard, I would be happy to work, Madame D’Oiseaux! I’m nine years old. And a half. I’ll be ten in March. I don’t have a job that pays money, just an allowance, I mean. I do my homework and keep my room clean.” My mouth was up and running before I could stop myself. “I do the supper dishes and I empty the compost, stuff like that. I read to my little sister every day as well, after supper for half an hour at least. She’s really sick,” I blurted out in a big rush.
          “Yes, I know. I remember your Mama having to leave work a lot. It’s very difficult for your family, I’m sure,” said Madame quietly, looking down at her hands.
She was quiet, thinking I guess, while a wooden clock made an old bell kind of sound that echoed around the store. It calmed me down somehow and I looked up at the framed cloth on the wall. It looked really old, not bright white anymore but more like the ivory of piano keys.  The words were embroidered in different colours. They looked like wide blossoms on a tall tree with wide-spreading roots and with more flowers below it and around it.

Patience                Kindness                    Fairness                Cheerfulness
Courage                Gratitude                    Diligence             Tolerance
I wasn’t sure about diligence but everything else was a positive thing to think about so it likely was a good idea as well. Whoever spent hours and hours embroidering those words would have plenty of time to think about each one. Maybe that was the point, sort of an old-fashioned way of making you think about stuff as you carefully made it. Sometimes I wanted to live in Silverado’s olden times when kids worked in the stables and rode horses everywhere. They had lots of time to learn how to carve wood and build real things and make clothes way more interesting than T-shirts and jeans.
“Gina, could you work a couple of afternoons a week, Tuesdays and Thursdays? And do little chores like shoveling the sidewalk in the winter on snowy days? Perhaps you could take parcels to the post office for me? I would teach you any kind of sewing you’d like to learn when we weren’t busy with customers. I could pay you eight dollars for two hours. Does that suit you?”
          “Yes!” I nearly yelled. “I would love that, oh, I would!”
“Well, then, I will talk with your Mama about it.”  
          “Au revoir, Madame,” I sang out. “Merci beaucoup!”
          I ran as fast as I could to get home. The streetlights were buzzing and flickering to life because it was nearly dark. But I decided my good news would be worth any scolding for being late.
When I got home, the porch light was on but our truck was gone. I opened the front door.
          “Hello? Anybody home?” I yelled into our dark house.
          Nobody answered me.