Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Found Foote Photo #5: Cycles

From Margaret Shaw-MacKinnon, Margaret Shaw's daughter:

"Margaret Shaw, our mom, created Cycles while she was in the Penhandler’s writing group, a Winnipeg women’s writers’ criticism group that was founded in 1940 and that ran until 2010.

Cycles was published in The Penhandler’s Almanac in 1988.

The Penhandler’s group at the time consisted of Helen Norrie, Kay Dalton, Bernice Cunnington, Olive Goldie, Isabel Reimer, Anne Fairley, Marjorie MacDonald, Muriel Leeson, Audrey Peterkin, Betty Dyck, Margaret Shaw, Mary Lile Benham, Anita Schmidt, Lillian Downes, Bess Kaplan, Joan Grenon, Margaret Owen, Beatrice Fines, and Dorothy Garbutt.

I look back fondly to the time when Mom was writing the story and sharing her process with me. She was reading Ann Moray’s A Fair Stream of Silver: Love Tales from Celtic Lore (1965) as part of her story-writing inspiration, and she would read me passages that struck her as particularly moving and lyrical. I had completed my MA in English at the U of M and was busy with Ph.D. coursework. Mom had lost Dad, Dr. E.C. Shaw, back in 1980, and several years later when she was writing Cycles, she could still easily write out of that loss.

A bright light for her and for me was that we were constantly in dialogue over writing matters — including her Cycles story inspired by the family photo she cherished that was taken by Lewis Foote and in which she includes him."

* * *

An excerpt from Cycles by Margaret Shaw:

I coast down the little ravine, then up the other side, keeping up the speed now that I'm on the level. I want to see my mother again...and my father, with his good-natured teasing, and dependable kindness.

Past the bridge now, the path splits on the left into the clay-covered 'monkey trails,' which fall sharply down to the edge of the river. On an impulse I turn into one, but misjudge my speed and the slipperiness of the clay, damp in the deep shade, even in this heat.

"Oh!" I yell as the bicycle skids sideways and I fall. Eyes closed, my head is spinning. Then it stops.

Coming back along a hollow passageway, I feel someone patting my hand, as if to waken me.

"Oh!" I cry again. A man, possibly in his late 30s, kneels beside me with a worried expression on his face. He has bright blue eyes, not unlike my own, and is dressed in a plain vest and pants, and a white shirt with a stiffly starched collar. There is something vaguely out-of-date about his clothing.

He smiles, a slightly asymmetrical smile, again like my own.

"You're alright then. That's a relief. You had me worried. I'm afraid you'll be hurting after a fall like that."

"Oh, it doesn't matter."

He smiles encouragingly. "If you're hurting, it matters. But you'll be alright. Time heals, as they say."

He lifts my bicycle and gives me his hand. There is a world of strength in it. As I stand to brush myself off, he says, "You must have come down that path at quite a clip. Whoever taught you how to ride should have taught you how to stop as well."

I can't help smiling. "It's the brakes. I often back-pedal, instead of using my hands."

He is inspecting the hand brakes with interest when a voice calls, "Alistair! We're taking the picture!"

As I turn I see a group of about 20 people, dressed in clothing from the 20s. Laughing and talking, they are arranging themselves for a photograph against a backdrop of trees.

"Are those your friends?"

"Aye, and maybe relatives one day. They're here for a family picture with Lewis Foote, the photographer. That's him with the camera. They want me in the picture but I'm just engaged to one of the daughters - I'm not married yet!"

A craggy-faced man comes out from under the black cover of the tripod, and waves in the direction of the trees.

"I'd better be getting back. You'll be alright now." A statement, yet with a questioning lilt.

"I think so. It's a good thing you came by."

"I wanted let you know that we are here." He indicated with a nod the laughing group on the lawn. An intent look of concern, a smile, and then, "You'll not forget I'm wishing you well."

"No, no," I say. "Thank you."

I don't look at the group again, and their voices still to silence by the time I am at the end of the clay trail and out in the sunshine again.

Back on the main path, I notice the chaotic designs of patches in the asphalt. I walk the bicycle a little farther until the pedal is in the right position for my foot, then ease myself onto the seat and start riding. Gingerly, I test the hand brakes once or twice. Then I pick up speed and feel the fresh air on my face as I head toward home.

Back in the house, I set the keys down on the kitchen counter and start up the stairs to the attic. In a large dust-sprinkled cardboard box, I find a stack of old albums, and open one to a dimly-remembered family group. They have been interrupted at a picnic, as my cousins have baseball bats and a soccer ball in front of them. Smiling, loving faces - aunts and uncles, one after another, Grandma and Grandpa as the heads of the clan, cousins' young faces showing traces of their adult features. Mother with bobbed hair, graceful in her chemise dress and buttoned pumps, calm eyes looking at the camera.

Father isn't there.

I study the photograph for a long time, and then gently close the page and put the book away.

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