“Not too Long Ago: stories of a traditional way of life” by Garry Cranford is a collection of firsthand accounts by ordinary people about their lives. Source material is taped conversations and transcribed interviews.
It’s about what speakers remember most clearly or immediately from when they were children or young adults. And I know what you’re thinking: yes, yes, we’ve seen it all before — many times.
What’s the contribution of this book, then?
In short, it’s not just another book of Newfoundland and Labrador nonfiction full of wistful nostalgia for the “good old days,” or how idyllic life was in rural Newfoundland and Labrador.
There’s a certain amount of fond reminiscence in this book, but the candidness of the speakers is what defines it. Almost invariably, the recollections Cranford gathers here deal with hardship or survival of one sort or another. And, yes, there are stories of storms and shipwrecks and various disasters (a stock in trade for Newfoundland and Labrador writing), but these are all the more interesting because they are firsthand accounts.
In one story, a woman who loved school as a child tells how the local teacher humiliated her into quitting and never going back. Another contributor describes developing love for the wilderness because it provided escape from harassment — for being aboriginal. Accounts of the tsunami in 1929, as it was experienced in various communities, are riveting.
Unlike many books of its type, Cranford’s “Not too Long Ago” does not light-heartedly gloss over hardship. Nor does it try to present people of our province as tough for having endured it as though we represent a special breed of people.
Instead these short biographies (with no outward agenda of simply making us feel good about ourselves) depict in peoples’ exact words realities of life in the first half of the 20th century — what it was like to work, learn, do business, and survive; at that time — in this province.
Darrell Squires is assistant manager of Newfoundland and Labrador Public Libraries, West Newfoundland-Labrador division. You can contact him at: email@example.com or by phone at 634-7333. His column appears every other week.