Reviewed by Gail M. Murray
Gifted storyteller Susan Siddeley has written a memoir you can’t put down. As so often happens in this story – ‘put on the kettle’. Although a Canadian citizen since 1970, Susan immerses the reader in the language and customs of Yorkshire, England of the 1930’s, 1940’s, 1950’s onward. Her stories flow with delicious British expressions such as walk out, donkeys years, tuck into and mouth-watering teas with pork pie, chutney and trifle – think sherry, sponge cake, custard and whipped cream. The reader has no need of a glossary so adept is her skill.
Along with her crisp matter of fact statements there is an underlying pathos that touches the heart. There is love and acceptance without sentimentality.
Susan amazes this reader with her courage as she boards a plane in her early twenties leaving her family in England and setting off alone with two and a half year old Andrew and six week old Edward to fly to the culture shock of Ottawa to begin a new chapter in her life with geologist husband Gordon:
“For the next ten days. In Prince Royal Maternity Hospital, bed rest is the rule…..Six weeks after that, carrying a Moses basket between us, Andrew and I struggle up the steps of a BOAC jet and board a plane to Canada, where Gordon is waiting for us.” (p. 49)
Although she refers to hers as a “transplanted life” (p. 225), her home is with Gordon and her children be it tropical Jamaica, Bolivia, or a vineyard in Chile; her parents, sisters, aunts and uncles are ever present.
Ms. Siddeley’s family is deftly drawn from her quiet, kindly father Clement who loved Zane Gray novels and took her to western movies and riding in a yellow dinghy to her Auntie May, a favourite of mine, who influenced her love of writing and storytelling. Many of us have a mentor in our lives that we realize and appreciate as we mature.
Then there is the complex mother-daughter relationship which touches a chord with this writer. Is it universal that mothers feel the need to be strict to teach us to be strong and face life head on? My own mother who lived through the Great Depression was strict and frugal yet she made me dolls clothes and read aloud to me in bed – nourishing a love of reading. Susan’s mother Mary, the youngest of seven children, and deprived of a mother at a young age, can be sharp “let that be a lesson” (p. 132) yet balances out as we are immediately shown her softer side in Stepping Out.
It is strange what jogs memory and takes us back to a moment with a loved one. In Rediscovering Auntie May, Ms. Siddeley’s poetry and artistry are full force. On a car ride to a small Chilean village we are treated to another glimpse of Auntie May and comparisons to Gabriela Mistral – both strong women – as are all the women depicted in this work.
Susan’s entertaining wit underscores the very real and sometimes hard lives these people lived. Her humorous reflective endings make this reader smile, laugh and think. Her poignant writing will touch your heart as it did mine.
Home First: A Memoir in Voices is published by Winterblue Publishing.