Wednesday, March 12, 2014

My Turquoise Years by M.A.C. Farrant

My Turquoise Years
by M.A.C. Farrant
nonfiction 2004
Kindle
finished 2/1/14


As I think back on my childhood school life in the 1950s-1960s, I remember a few kids who weren’t the 'same,' who didn’t live in families like most of those I knew. I didn’t think much about them being 'different,' but at the same time I didn’t hang out with any of them. There was a boy who lived with his grandmother. I never wondered what had happened to his folks. There was another boy who lived with just his father. He was quite odd, and now would be classified as having some kind of mental problem. He committed suicide in later years. And there were two other boys whose home life was a mystery to me, a mystery I didn’t even try to solve.

If I’d been in the same school with M.A.C. Farrant, she would have been one of those kids. Her father was in her life every other weekend, she lived with her aunt and uncle, and her mother wasn’t in the picture. But people didn’t really know the details, just as I didn’t. And maybe this is why.
At school, in those days, your personal history stayed personal. "It’s none of their bloody business," Elsie [the aunt] would say, turning into an unexpected ally whenever teachers asked probing questions like: "Where is your mother?" "Why do you live with your aunt?"
"Tell them nothing," Elsie instructed. "Or tell them: 'My mother’s on a long vacation. I live with my aunt and uncle. My father visits.' "
I recently read a quote from the late Mavis Gallant:
I had a mother who should not have had children, and it’s as simple as that.
These words could easily have been said by M.A.C. Farrant. The word 'strange' barely begins to describe this woman who was a shadowy presence in her daughter’s life. After not hearing from her mother for years, young Marion received a two-months late, wildly inappropriate birthday present in the mail. It was truly startling to the young girl. 
I pulled out a long, purple see-through nightgown that was slit up the front and had black feathers - something Elsie called marabou - attached to the plunging neckline.  … A pair of bikini underpants lay on the turquoise tiled floor. Across the bum, stitched in blue, were the words, "Hi Sexy!"
Marion was thirteen.

The feeling I carry with me about this book is one of humor and joy, not depression, gloom, or sadness. How can that be? Well, because some people really don’t dwell on the negative. They don’t whine, they don’t complain, they just live their lives as they come. Nothing really horrible happened to the author but still her mother was dreadful. Not abusive. Definitely neglectful. But you know, the good thing is that she didn’t raise her. Marion had a really strong family upbringing, with traditions, and different personalities, and events, just like anyone else. There are two years covered in the book, the year she was 13, and then four years later. Her mother shows up, but I’ll let you read the book to find out about those visits, except to say that Marion tells her aunt after the second one:
"All she wanted to talk about was her clothes, … "And show me her dresses and jewelry. It was like visiting a stranger. A boring stranger. A boring stranger who’s selfish. I don’t care if I ever see her again." Elsie nodded. "I’ve always said the only person Nancy’s ever loved is herself. You would have had a tough time living with your mother."… for a long while I’d known what was true. That I’d been lucky to escape Nancy. That I’d done the right thing to keep her at arm’s length, pushed away. That her replacement [Aunt Elsie] was so much better.
My Turquoise Years is not your usual memoir. M.A.C. Farrant is clear-headed and unsentimental about her miserable mother. This is a refreshing attitude, one not often expressed in real life or in memoirs - that sometimes we aren’t dealt the best parents and are better off without them; that other people can love us and support us and bring us up to be good, well-adjusted, happy people.

Oh, and the title comes from the color which was ever-present in North American homes during those years, turquoise. The author grew up in British Columbia.

I loved this book, and want to thank my blogging friend Janice for recommending it to me. I’ve also bought a book of Farrant’s essays which I look forward to reading. I like her voice. I like the person.

M.A.C. Farrant’s Facebook page is here, and there’s a great interview with her here.

Addendum March 15 - I almost feel like I should redo the book report because two commenters thought the book sounded more dismal than it is. I put in two quotes about the mother, but honestly the rest of the book shows the pretty much normal, regular childhood. There was humor and joy. I don't read horrible gloomy memoirs. This was anything but. 

This is my fifth book for the Canadian Book Challenge.

14 comments:

  1. Your post got me thinking having gone to grammar school and high school 58-71, and you are so right. Personal business stayed personal business. I only recall one school mate I was friendly with having a non-traditional family (she had a step-father). And the "slow girl" went to second grade with is even though she probably should have been in a special class.

    This memoir sounds like one I would love. Thanks for reviewing in.

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    1. It's a funny time now because there are the hipaa laws but our data is out there everywhere. People did used to say that's their business a lot in my childhood. Which could be really bad too, in that horrible stuff could go on and people didn't interfere. Just like all else in the world there's good and bad at all times.
      I think you'll really like the book.

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  2. Not for me. The miserable mother bit put me off.

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    1. I put up an addendum. I felt badly that I may have misrepresented the book and done a disservice to the author. :<((

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  3. You say it, Nan: refreshing! It is refreshing to read about (and from) someone who could have just as well been wallowing knee-deep in self-pity for having had such a terrible mother, and used this as an excuse for all kinds of problems in her own life. But she didn't! She was really lucky in that her aunt took her in and cared for her better than her mother ever could have done, and it was good that she did accept all this and not dwell on what could have been and never was.
    The story reminds me a little of a non-fiction book I read some years ago, it was written by a lady whose name escapes me right now... Her mother was ill, and she had to be both her mother's nurse and guardian from pre-school age. Eventually, her mother died, her father set up shop with anoher woman, and that's when the most difficult times began. The author wasn't beaten or sexually abused, but she wasn't made a proper part of the family, either, and eventually left to fend for herself in her early teens.
    I wish I'd remember the name of the book or the author; it left me much impressed, so I really shouldn't have forgotten!

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    1. Sad that the girl put all her time in and then was sorta ditched after her mum died.

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  4. I like that this is not one of those miserable, "I'll never get over it," kind of memoirs. I grew up in the same era, and there were few families I knew that were not "traditional." It would have been difficult to be different in that time period, sounds as if Elsie was a lifesaver. The cover is beautiful.

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    1. It is a really nice cover. My house didn't have the turquoise but I know that other people did. I knew a woman who had her turquoise phone well into the 1980s. Those old phones never died. :<)

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  5. I love memoirs, but this one doesn't sound like my cuppa. Maybe I'm tired of reading about miserable mothers (as Mystica puts it). I've read The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls and Blackbird by Jennifer Lauck and that's enough. I'd rather read a memoir which deals more with friendships or spouses (like Abigail Thomas' Three Dog Life) than this subject matter. Although, now I've read the synopsis on Goodreads and see that the book is set on Vancouver Island! I may have to change my mind and give this one a try. :)

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    1. I put up an addendum. I feel badly that you compared it to the Walls book. NOT like that at all.

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    2. So good to read your addendum. I was actually somewhat surprised that you liked the book as much as you did since I know you don't like gloomy memoirs. :) Definitely going to read this one now!

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    3. thrilled that the addendum made a difference.

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  6. Enjoyed your review, book sounds great - adding to tbr list. Hope your are coping OK with all that snow!

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    1. Oh, I'm a fan of snow so am happy. It melted a lot over the weekend but it's one below zero tonight.

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