From Stone Orchard: A Collection of Memories by Timothy Findley; copyright 1998 by Pebble Productions Inc.
Publisher: Harper Collins
Source: Personal Collection – Purchased Used
Reason for Reading: It’s Timothy Findley…Enough Said!
Sigh!! I love Timothy Findley…have I mentioned this before? If I could have literally wrapped myself up in this book, I would have; that was the sort of cozy feeling I experienced reading this, the second of Findley’s memoirs. Consider yourself warned and prepare yourself for A. long quotes and B. hearing me gush!!
“People in the community…hadn’t yet heard that I was an aspiring novelist or that Bill was preparing documentary scripts for radio and television. All they knew was, we spent most of our time at home. Hmm. No Visible mean of support – and they pick grapes. The local conclusion was inevitable. When Bill’s fairly strait-laced parents arrived from the West for their first visit, they stopped at the service station to ask for directions. Whitehead and Findley? Oh, you mean the bootleggers! Sure – you go down there and turn left…” From Stone Orchard, page 52.
In 1964, Findley and his partner, fellow writer, William Whitehead purchased a fifty-acre farm at Cannington in rural Ontario. Sought out as a reprieve from the hussle and bussle of Toronto, Stone Orchard, so named for its primary crop, was to become the inspiration for much of Findley’s work. Having called the farm home for over thirty years, Findley wrote this memoir as a farewell tribute to the place and the people that provided the greatest impetus for his writing. Remembrances that will make you smile, cry, and laugh-out-loud, Findley’s memories are filled with a poignancy and love that will warm your heart and replenish your faith in humanity.
Having read so many of Findley’s novels, I found, on every page of this memoir, some reference to a real life person, object or event that was, in some way, mirrored in a Findley novel. Not Wanted on the Voyage, The Piano Man’s Daughter, Pilgrim, they are all here.
“We have…rules about the animals’ names: Rule #1: don’t put them in my novels. Three of our first cat’s initial litter became characters in my first novel, The Last of the Crazy People, and all three had perished before the book was finished. I’ve since wondered if I could hire myself out as a literary hit-man.” From Stone Orchard, page 75.
It was kind of uncanny; before reading this book, I felt I had an understanding of who Findley was and what he was like as a person. We all like to think this about our favourite authors, don’t we? Reading the memoir, though, somehow felt like an affirmation of those feelings. For me, From Stone Orchard was more than the memoir of a revered author; it was more akin to the diary of a dear friend. I was revisiting the details of a life that I knew no other place than in my heart.
The only thing I was shocked to find out was that Findley was something of an animal collector. Were he alive today, he would have been a perfect candidate for Animal Planet’s Animal Hoarders. At one point, he admits to having had thirty cats on the property. The animals, though, are at the heart of the farm; clearly they bring tremendous joy and purpose to Findley’s life and are one of the most compelling forces behind his hunger for life. The animals are also responsible for providing some of funniest memories:
“[On the train] the subject today is the recurring problem of competition between the birds and one of the cats [named Mother] for that precious spread of seeds. It is Bill who first mentions it. ‘Honestly, Tiff, I don’t know what to do. Did you notice? Just as we were about to leave, Mother shat in the bird feeder again.’…We both then lean back to ponder the problem, slowly becoming aware of what is happening around us. Copies of the The Globe and Mail are lowered. Accusing eyes are turned towards us, faces registering a mixture of horror and puzzlement.” From Stone Orchard, pages 77-78.
You don’t need to be a Findley fan to enjoy Stone Orchard. Everyone will get a kick out these thirty years worth of tender and tumultuous times in rural Ontario. For those that are familiar with Findley, however, this memoir will provide an often hilarious insight into the inspirations behind Findley’s best works.