It was suggested by Robyn Read that one of the things an author could do to prepare for publication was to write a long bio as well as the necessary short one. I started to have some fun with that, and will surely cut this one back. But here’s what I have so far. It brings me to seventeen years old as an ersatz back-to-the-lander:
August 20, 1954 I arrived in Winnipeg Manitoba – greeted by three siblings, a sister five years old, and two brothers, six and seven years old
1956: moved to Toronto (Bayview Gardens)
1959: moved to Baie d’Urfe, near Montreal
1962: moved to Pierrefonds, outside of Montreal
1963: moved to London, Ontario – to a farm where my brother could have his horses
– mother raised miniature poodles, one brother was a cowboy, the other brother was a rock star, sister was a fashion model, father was the branch manager of Fruehauf Trailers and I was Emma Peele. I wrote poetry in the closet over the basement stairs
We had thirteen cats, mostly sired by Mandrake, that scrappy torn-up tom whose eyes clouded as he purred his sandpaper purr and kneaded my chest
I rode with my brother, Gordy.
My ankle was sprained after I was dragged all over the backyard by my right foot that was hung up in the stirrup of Thundercloud. He’d been so docile when Gordy sat me on his back in the stable.
I had a concussion from my face colliding with the paddock fence. Thundercloud had stumbled, and I panicked, releasing the reins and covering my eyes, screaming as he raced around the paddock and stopped right at the rails. I didn’t.
When I was eleven, Johnny B. Goode went for a run with me on his back, jumped the creek and stopped. I didn’t. I landed on one elbow and one hand, and sported two casts for the first six weeks of summer that year.
My parents sold our land and home to buy a chunk of property half a mile down the road. They built a sleek new kennel for my mother’s dogs. She began to breed standard poodles and take in boarders. My siblings all had cars and sweethearts. My mother slept with the dogs to keep them safe. My father sometimes slept with her at the kennel and sometimes at the farmhouse. When I got home from school I phoned her to tell her I was home.
My sister married her sweetheart, now a rookie OPP officer. they moved to Guelph and I moved in to the new red brick house behind the kennel. My first job was cleaning dog shit and feeding dogs and cats.
My horsey brother flunked grade eleven, so he was sent to St. Andrews boarding school, where my father was an “old boy”. I wanted to go to boarding school. Mom said I might be able to go to Havergal College. I never did.
I went to NYC on a four day school trip, and met a guy with long black hair in an art gallery in the village. My roommate and I hid him in the closet at curfew time when the chaperone came to check in. The Moody Blues were in rooms right around the corner from ours. We “popped in” to say hi, even though all we knew was that they were cute guys with suede bellbottoms who spoke with English accents. We smoked up with them until they had to get ready for their Filmore East gig. Nice guys. We told them we were sixteen. We weren’t.
The summer I turned sixteen I went on an exchange program to Quebec City, where I stayed with a nice family whose father was in the juvenile department of the local police. Maman went through my drawers at night and the teenage son took me aside to assure me that I could trust him with the truth that I smoked le marijuana. I couldn’t. And I didn’t. The girl I stayed with wasn’t allowed to return to Ontario with me because I was too mature. Even though it was she not I who drank too much at a party and wound up with half her clothes on the floor and her makeup smeared.
For my sixteenth birthday, I received the old family car – a gray beast of a thing – 1963 Chrysler Imperial with a push button gearshift and a rectangular steering wheel.
The following summer I was to au pair in Quebec for a business associate of my father’s. It fell through but I went anyway, alone, to write my novel in a garret on the old city. At the train station I was met by a jittery Monsieur LaChasseure, who said, oolala, a hundred times before dropping me off at my pension. I spent three weeks writing in my room, eating baguettes and La Vache Qui Ris cheese. A caleche driver took me on a tour of the city, promising me a evening of dancing at Le Circle Electrique, but instead he threw his clothes at me in his room, saying I only wanted nice things and money. I walked for three hours in that strange neighbourhood, always trying to go up – to the old city – until I found my street. I met Peter Kindree, a tall bronze-skinned, green-eyed young man with sun in his hair. He got that scar in jail, he told me. He was moving after the summer from Prescott to Ottawa.
I quit school in grade eleven because I wanted to write. A meeting with the principal and my parents convinced me to go half-days. Since I liked to write in the afternoons then, I took four classes in the morning, and could leave at lunch. Usually, I pulled out of the school parking lot with a batch of teenagers to go hang out in Victoria park downtown. Research. Guitars and cigarettes, lying on the grass, being peaceful.
I started hanging out at Smales Pace Coffee House, a wonderfully cozy place that offered up the likes of Bruce Cockburn, Perth County Conspiracy, Doug MacArthur, Willie P. Bennet, Stan Rogers, and dozens of other songwriters, poets and musicians. I became friends with a band of people planning to head west to break ground and start a commune. I wanted to join them so badly. I did.
One snowy night in February 1972, I packed my bags and tucked my cat, Silly Bugger under my arm and met Bob Smale by the edge of the road. I`d called him because my mother had flipped her lid. Bob took me to Funk Farm in Coldstream, owned by Doug MacArthur. Frank Wheeler, Doug and Gord Lowe lived in that sweet little house at the time, and they let me and Silly Bugger stay there.
I crashed in friends’ apartments all over southern Ontario until I landed at my sister’s home in Guelph, where I worked sewing underwear elastic together in a clothing factory, until it was time to head west.
Spring 1972… Slocan Valley in the Kootenay Mountains: I lived on an old Dukabour homestead at the edge of a valley that sweeps across to the Slocan River. Five of us lived there, hauling water from a spring down the hill and cooking on a wood stove – Steve, a draft dodger with a bleeding ulcer, Susie who played guitar and sang with a pretty voice, (I became Susy Sunshine, then just Sunshine, to differentiate between us.) myself and Bob and Jim Smale. We began to break ground for a massive garden.