SHARING OUR STORIES – THE SNOWMOBILE TO STRASSENBAHN SAGA

SHARING OUR STORIES – THE SNOWMOBILE TO STRASSENBAHN SAGA

We send greetings to all our readers, hoping that you have had wonderful Christmas and Hanukkah celebrations and that you will have a happy and peaceful New Year 2017. This year’s celebration has been a cozy one for us, though Ian’s health is fragile, necessitating a lot of sleeping, sometimes into late afternoons. He has to be cajoled (Gayle’s task) to get dressed and participate in some of our celebrations though he didn’t get out for church services, Gayle’s choir concert or the Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s glorious performance of Nutcracker. We did host his Winnipeg family of daughter, son-in-law, two grandchildren and their spouses, plus five great-grandchildren on Christmas Eve, though. Thirteen of us in our small penthouse floor apartment made the choice of the description “cozy” a true reality, but our gathering was nonetheless enjoyable. Chinese takeout and frozen pies made for a festive but easy supper. The adults and one teenager huddled in around our large dining table while the four younger kids enjoyed kneeling around their own festive coffee table. With city lights twinkling below us through our decorated windows on our 17th floor apartment, candlelight inside, festive decorations, goodie bags for all, new pjs for the kids to don, some early presents to exchange and some Christmas carol singing and dancing, we all had a great time. As a long-time percussionist, Gayle has a collection of rhythm instruments that she brought out to enhance the music from our Christmas CDs, so we could all participate in singing and making music.

 

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How enjoyable we find reading through many short stories in a favourite Christmas present: the 2016 “Chicken Soup for the Soul” anthology: The Joy of Christmas: 101 Holiday Tales of Inspiration, Love, and Wonder, compiled by Amy Newmark with a foreword by “Mrs. Nicholas Claus” and highly recommend it for your holiday enrichment. We also love to re-read and recall holiday stories of our own.

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In past years we have shared several holiday stories from Ian on this blog: (Dec. 10, 2012) “Unusual Holiday Flavoured Passages from My Memoir” (including “My Non-Event Christmases of Childhood” and the New Year’s Eve story of his youngest daughter’s premature birth and how her life was saved by a bottle of Scotch whisky) and (Dec. 31, 2012) “Happy Hogmanay! Happy New Year” an excerpt from our yet-to-be-published autobiographical book “Mexican Follies.” Below pictures Ian, Gayle and our poodle Peppy in our motorhome patio in Mexico in December 2004.

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In December 2014 we blogged a spontaneous play that Gayle and her then-4-year-old daughter had originated “The Christmas Story According to Gwynne” complete with Gwynne’s original illustrations.

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This year Gayle wants to share her story of a unique holiday trip she and her late husband Gus Johannesson made in December 1972 from their home in Germany to visit Gayle’s family in North Dakota. She calls it “The Snowmobile to Strassenbahn Saga.” For those who don’t know German, Strassenbahn means “streetcar” or “tram.” Those who read her story will understand why Gayle is reluctant to consider any more extensive travel during the wintertime. Pictured below are Gayle’s family at the time: back row: husband Gus, Gayle, sister Barbara, niece Danelle, mother Grandma Mil, sister Doreen, nephew Todd and brother-in-law Bill; front row: nieces Billi, Lisa and Lori. Missing is brother-in-law Danny who presumably took the photo.

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The Snowmobile to Strassenbahn Saga

Gus and I had moved to Germany in summer 1965 where he began to pursue a doctorate in systematic theology at the University of Heidelberg and work part time as a civilian chaplain with the US military and I worked as a secretary for the Judge Advocate, U. S. Army, Europe and Seventh Army. By 1972, we had already spent seven Christmas/New Year’s holiday seasons in Europe, either with Gus’ aunts, uncles and cousins in Norway or with our friends in Heidelberg and were excited to finally be flying home to the States to spend the holidays with my family members.

In many ways, 1972 had been a disastrous year for us–mostly because of Gus’ health. He had lost over 30 pounds due to an illness which was finally discovered in July and had already taken four bouts of rectal surgery for abscesses and fistulas, leaving him with a lot of pain and sapped strength, all of which grossly interred with continuing work on his doctoral dissertation. In addition, I had shattered nerves after terrorist bombs had killed three people in the barracks where I worked and our headquarters were plagued with continuing bomb scares and security precautions. Despite Gus not really feeling well, we had been able to get away to Spain in June for a few weeks’ respite touring the Moorish treasures in Grenada and then relaxing at the home of friends on the Mediterranean island of Minorca, sunning, swimming, snorkelling, exploring ocean-side caves and touring quaint fishing villages with Gus doing a lot of napping. However, returning to Germany and our daily routines led to more stress and, for Gus, the string of surgeries. We were really anxious to get away from it all and back to family and a traditional holiday at “home.”

In December, after several days with friends and attending to business in Chicago and Minneapolis, we flew on to North Dakota, spent some time with each of my two sisters and their families and then finally took a bus from Fargo to my mother’s home in New Rockford (middle of the state). We had a few relaxing days alone with Mom before the rest of the family arrived for Christmas. Here’s Mom (Grandma Mil) and Gus on one of our walks.

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It was wonderful for me to bask in the smells and flavours of the traditional Swedish-American Christmas of my childhood. Picking out and decorating the live Christmas tree, stringing coloured lights, putting up the manger scene we had sent Mom from Germany,

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singing melodious carols in English, Swedish and Norwegian, helping Mom to bake spritz cookies, sandbakelse, krumkake, Julekake, pepparkakor, and Swedish almond bars (from my grandmother’s recipe brought from Sweden), buying and wrapping gifts, preparing turkey, ham, Swedish meatballs and even Lutefisk (though I still didn’t like it, but good-old-Gus sure did!).

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Gus and I got away a few times for walks alone. The photo above shows us posing on the frozen James River, not far from Mom’s two-bedroom apartment in a four-plex right across from the church where I had spent so much of my childhood. (I had been shocked when we first moved to Heidelberg to find out that the Neckar River there usually stayed open all winter long, only having frozen up once during the Twentieth Century, right after World War II.)

Once my sisters and their husbands and children had arrived, we were a family of 12. One sister had married a local boy so those five could overnight at his parents’ house just a few blocks away. However, my other sister’s family of four stayed at Mom’s, as did we. She and her husband slept in the living room on the couch bed but their two little ones got to sleep with Grandma Mil. Gus and I, as the “honoured guests from across the Atlantic,” got the guest room. This was fortunate as I had to be the nurse who cleaned his open (rectal) wound several times a day. (Surgery in that area has to heal from the inside out without any stitching.) It was a bit difficult to maintain much privacy, however, especially with five little ones underfoot. We got the biggest laugh of the holiday one evening when our two-year-old niece came out of the bathroom wearing two long “q-tips” (that I’d previously used to probe the wound and thought I had disposed of discreetly), one in each ear!!! (Even now in her late forties, she doesn’t appreciate the humour when reminded of the situation.)

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Other laughter was more pleasant, while unwrapping gifts, joyously sharing the Christmas story, telling the little ones of Jesus’ birth, singing, eating, going to church, playing games, taking walks in the snow, shopping and loving being together. Billi, Lori and Todd even got in some ice skating time. billi-lori-todd-skating-1972How wonderful for me to be at worship services in our home church again, sitting with my sisters and singing all those beautiful carols in three-part harmony as we had always done in the past. We revelled in a sunny, snowy North Dakota winter (coming back to a gray, rainy Heidelberg winter seemed a bit of a drag). With five small grandchildren, three daughters and three sons-in-law under foot for a week, Mom (“Grandma Mil” was then in her late 60s) stood up surprisingly well. Here’s Uncle Gus taking nieces Lisa and Lori for a walk. Our church, First Lutheran Church of New Rockford, is in the background at the left and part of the school I attended through Grade 12 is in the background at right centre.

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After our week together my sisters and their families drove back to their homes further east and we had another couple of days resting at Mom’s. Then came the start of our return trip, which I’ve named the “Snowmobile to Strassenbahn Saga.” The trip started with a wild bus ride in a near-blizzard to Fargo. This is usually a three-hour drive and took about twice that long. We were met by my sister Doreen and driven to her house in Fargo’s twin city of Moorhead, Minnesota.

Instead of flying out the next day we had a day’s delay caused by full-blown blizzard conditions which closed down the airport, plus everything else in the twin towns. We were to have flown from Fargo to Minneapolis and then on to Chicago where we were catching our international flight (a military charter airline from Chicago via New York to Frankfurt-am-Main, Germany). Listening to the radio, we learned that there was still a possibility of our getting out of town to meet our plane. The Great Northern railroad had a train plowing its way from Montana and across North Dakota, due in at 1 a.m. The only problem was that we couldn’t get to the depot (in Fargo, about five miles away from my sister’s house in Moorhead). My sister’s car was buried under layers of snow and, anyway, the roads were not passable. Fooling around in the snow in front of their house was about all we could do.

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Absolutely nothing was moving … but snowmobiles. Gus had heard on the radio that emergency snowmobiles were evacuating people. He figured that we qualified for an emergency since we had to meet a “military flight” in Chicago the next day. He called, explained our situation and we were granted clearance from the city police. To my two little nieces’ delight and my terror, we were picked up by two snowmobilers at midnight. Gus and I rode behind one snowmobiler; the other one carried all our luggage. There we went, over the (Red) river, through the woods and over 18 inches of snow, not to mention four to five feet of snowdrifts to Fargo’s train station. I hung on for dear life and had visions of falling off all the way; but we made it, only to have a long delay. The train arrived three hours late, struggling across North Dakota with a snowplow on the engine. I was too flustered by the whole situation to get any photos at the time.

So at 4:00 a.m. we boarded the train. Delay continued to be the motto of the trip, however. We missed our first plane connection from Minneapolis to Chicago and barely squeezed onto the last possible one, making connections at the Chicago Airport five minutes before we were to report in for our charter flight. Luckily, we had friends in Chicago that met us at the airport and got us from the domestic to the international departure area in record time. Had we been on our own, we never would have made it in time. We were delayed an hour getting out of Chicago, had to circle New York for two hours because of fog, were delayed in New York because of waiting for other passengers who were late in coming in from connecting flights, made an unscheduled landing in Shannon, Ireland (we never did hear why) and finally landed in Frankfurt six hours later than scheduled.

Once at the Frankfurt airport, we had to take the subway into the city’s train station, then take the train from Frankfurt to Heidelberg (an hour away) and then the Strassenbahn (streetcar) to our stop on Rohrbacherstrasse and walk a block to our apartment on Turnerstrasse. So – bus to car to snowmobile to train to airplane to another airplane to subway to train to streetcar to foot – and we were finally home. (I think we had just about every mode of transportation but ship and dog sled.) It was time for a long winter’s nap – well, at least two day’s worth – before I had to get back to work and Gus to start cracking the books again … then surgery again. He had 16 surgeries in all over a five-year period before the problem finally resolved itself. I ended my Christmas/New Year’s letter that year with the following: “Neither of us has ever had a great deal of patience, but we’ve had to develop it lately. Once one gets through the inevitable periods of despair and self-pity and gets back to the basic trust in God’s presence and strength, things look better. So, we’re hoping for a year of fulfillment and health – and wish you all the blessings of our Lord for the New Year.”

A MUSICAL WALL DISPLAY

A MUSICAL WALL DISPLAY

Bedroom Music WallA note to retired musicians: Here’s a way to display musical instruments that may have been played for years, are no longer in use but can still be enjoyed. We’ve included longtime bandsman Ian’s antique trumpet and a chanter used for those who want to practice the bagpipe but not make too much noise as well as a number of percussion instruments Gayle used when keeping time with a ukelele band, including a Celtic bodran and tipper, a hand drum, tambourine, a set of maracas, carved wooden spoons and a rainstick. Also included are photos of Ian posing with a trombone he played in a military and Salvation Army band, playing lead trumpet in a Royal Air Force band in the former Suez Canal Zone, of Gayle with her ukelele band and of us singing duets at a Robbie Burns’ party and as the duo “Okanagan’s Mr. Scotland and His Bonnie Lassie.” Displayed nearby are two trophies Ian won in years gone by for singing Scottish songs.

The crowning piece is the last trumpet Ian still owns. It has been about 12 years since he  gave up playing but Gayle has finally convinced him that he needs to polish up his trumpet, at least for our display. So here he is with a bottle of Brasso and some soft cloths starting on what is going to be a huge task. He found the trumpet years ago in some antique or thrift shop and found out it was made in Winnipeg probably in the early days of the last century. We could hardly see the manufacturer’s etching on the trumpet’s bell but after the initial polishing attempt can read “Premier Williams Winnipeg” and further on down the bell a large number “37”. We’ve heard a few squawks from it so far. Ian’s lip (embouchure) is sorely out of practice! However, we were both pleased that he had awakened an interest in the trumpet again. (Gayle is not going to hold her breath until the trumpet polishing is finished!)

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Ian documents his early years of music making in the Salvation Army and RAF in Scotland, other parts of the UK and in the British military sector of the Suez Canal Zone in Egypt in the early ’50s in his first memoir “From Poverty to Poverty: A Scotsman Encounters Canada.” Gayle is now editing the second memoir “Came to Canada Eh? Continuing a Scottish Immigrant’s Story” where further music making will be documented in Canada. A third memoir, written by both of us entitled “Mexican Follies” tells of the beginnings of our colloboration in music-making and in jointly producing books. Publication plans for that depend on how quickly Gayle gets to the editing. For her, there is never enough time and too many interruptions but little by little she hopes to get to publication again – some day!

Below is an excerpt from “From Poverty to Poverty: A Scotsman Encounters Canada” which tells a comical story about Ian’s attempt to “show off” with his trumpet to his new wife:

The following Saturday night, our dance band was playing at Forres Town Hall. I had been bragging to Mary about the introduction to the song, “Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White,” that I played on trumpet, standing up, before the rest of the band joined in. It consisted of the first three notes, then into a big glissando, using the third valve slowly, to go down and then up to the third note again and then continuing right into the melody when the rest of the band joined me. It was just a copy of what a big-time trumpet player (Maynard Ferguson) of that era did. Everyone thought it was very effective, sounding and looking quite professional. So, there I was saying, “Wait ‘till you hear me play!”

Saturday night came and my Mary was sitting at the side of the hall, close to the band, her eyes firmly fixed on “Lover-Boy.” Then it was time for me to shine. I stood up, the first two notes came out correctly, but I have no idea what happened to the bit where I was supposed to do the fancy stuff. I played absolutely terrible! The rest of the band started all right, but I had to sit down with a very red face—even redder than usual! In front of my Mary, too! You know, I must have played that “intro” at least 40 times previously without fail. (That’s what I get for trying to show off, eh?)

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Ian is playing a cornet in this photo, but about a year or two before his trumpet story above. A cropped version on an RAF photo, ca. 1952.

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Another Campbeltown Story Inspired by James Collett’s Photography

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Thanks again to Photographer James Collett for this terrific picture of Ian’s hometown as seen from Ben Guillion, the mountain pictured in our previous post. We have made the following comments on James Collett’s Photography page where we found this photo:

“Another beautiful view of my hometown, Campbeltown, from Beinn Ghuilean (Ben Guillion mountain). I have a story in my memoir “From Poverty to Poverty: A Scotsman Encounters Canada” which takes place after World War II when I, as a boy, “salvaged” a machine gun from the wreck of an aircraft on Ben Guillion and lugged it to a hiding place in the middle of some whin bushes, much like those shown on this picture. I never was able to find it again (probably just as well.) Here’s the story which happened around 1946:

I think I was about twelve when the following happened. Just to the south of the town, and bordering on it, is Ben Ghuilean (the Gaelic spelling; normally now it is referred to as Ben Gullion. The word “Ben” in Scot’s English means “mountain.”) This is a reasonably-sized mountain. I have already referred to a small airfield five miles from town. This airfield was still used after the war to some extent for training Royal Air Force pilots. One foggy day a two-seater aircraft plunged into the side of that mountain, killing both airmen.

It was quite a climb to the crash site and, needless to say, there were lots of (morbid-minded) townsfolk who just had to make the climb, though they would never have considered doing so at any other time. Apart from the strenuous effort, it was well known that there were adders on the mountain. (Adders are a type of viper, a little over two feet long. The bite of this snake, while it wouldn’t kill you, would make you very ill for some time.) This thought didn’t bother us brave (or stupid) lads, as we spent quite a lot of time on various faces of the mountain. (I had killed an adder some time before and preserved it in alcohol in a glass jar to keep in the house. No one objected at first, but later I had to keep it where we kept our coal.)

No one was allowed anywhere near the crash site until the bodies of the two airmen were removed. People were collecting bits of this and bits of that—stuff that probably went into the rubbish bin (garbage) a few weeks down the road after they had lost interest in the incident. Not so with “yours truly.” I noticed that there were two machine guns, one on each wing, and I set about removing one. What did I want a machine gun for? Maybe I was going to take it to class for “show and tell.” Na, we didn’t have that silly exercise in those days. I really had no idea why I was taking it. I guess it is what the modern kids would call “cool.”

Anyway, I struggled with it for ages and finally got it free. Even today, I still marvel at the fact that I got a machine gun from an aircraft without having a spanner (wrench) or even a pry-bar. I carried the heavy thing down the mountainside on my shoulder to the foothills, where I hid it by throwing it into the middle of some “whin bushes” (furze or gorse). These bushes were evergreen, covered all over with long, sharp dark green needles, standing three or four feet high and at least that across, with nice yellow flowers. (They grow wild in Scotland, but I don’t believe they grow in North America, unless maybe on the east coast.)

I hid the gun because it was still daylight and I didn’t want anyone to see me walking into town with a machine gun over my shoulder. Besides, I had to walk past the police station! I would probably have been arrested (or worse still, maybe even talked about). So, what did I do when it was time to retrieve it? Well, I got hold of some old potato sacks (gunnysacks), my friend Ian McKenzie and his four-wheeled cart, and the two of us headed back up to where I had hidden the gun.

What do you know? It wasn’t there! Did I have the correct bush? “Look over there …. No … try this one … .” There were lots of clumps of bushes. We just about went crazy! I was quite sure that I had taken note of where I had hidden it so that I would find it again. It should still have been there. Well, the two of us searched for ages, all around where I thought it should be, but with no luck. Since the bush was very prickly, I had to get flat on my belly, as low as possible to try to avoid the needles and crawl into the bushes at every place I thought the gun might be. It was awful! We got all scratched and thoroughly disgusted before we decided that it wasn’t there. Remember that during this “carry-on” we little boys were wearing short trousers that came only to our knees.

What I finally figured was that someone had seen me hide the gun and, after I had gone, removed it and took it to the proper authorities. Either that, or I had got really screwed up and there is still a machine gun hidden among some bushes for future archaeologists to find a long time down the road. Anyway, it was a very stupid thing to do and I don’t know what my mother would have said if I had walked into the house carrying a great big machine gun. One thing’s for sure—I would have got a thick ear!

Quoted from “From Poverty to Poverty: A Scotsman Encounters Canada” by Ian Moore-Morrans, copyright © 2012. Friesen Press.

 

Tracing Your Ancestry – Start with an old family photo

In my opinion, Egypt consisted of nothing but a whole lot of dirty sand. I'm looking over the sand dunes, 1951.

In my opinion, Egypt consisted of nothing but a whole lot of dirty sand. I’m looking over the sand dunes, 1951.

How exciting to have strangers check us out online!  It’s even more exciting when they write to us out of the blue, assuming that we might be able to give them some guidance on a subject that drew them to us and that is of interest to them. Ian received such an email this week because he has written in his memoir “From Poverty to Poverty: A Scotsman Encounters Canada,” about his time serving in the British Royal Air Force in pre-Suez Canal Egypt, 1951-1953. We’d like to share some of this correspondence in case others are thinking about searching out their family history and are wondering where they might start.  Luckily, Ian and I both have cousins who have done considerable research on some of our family histories – in both cases, those of our mothers’ families. We are grateful for all the work these cousins have put into answering a lot of questions about our heritage. Here is the gist of this most recent correspondence:

From ‘A.’ in West Kelowna, British Columbia:

“Hi Ian. I just happened upon your site and book title in the beginning of my search for my family history – all generated by finding a 3.5×5″ photo of my Great Grandmother immigrating to Vancouver, Canada from Aberdeen, Scotland in 1925. On the back of the photo, is written that she came (along with her husband and two small children) aboard the Montcalm freighter ship through the Suez Canal.

 “I’m wondering if by chance you could advise or direct on where I might find more information on the Montcalm. Also, where am I able to purchase your book? I would like to be able to put this photo into some sort of context, though I realize she came to Canada 40 years before you did. .…

 “Thank you for your time and I love the photo of you and your wife on your profile page. 🙂

 Sincerely, ‘A.’”

And, here is our answer:

“Dear ‘A.’

“This is Ian’s wife, Gayle answering. Ian is 81 years old and not in the best of health, so I do most of the work on editing his yet-to-be-published books, negotiating with the publishers, publicizing and marketing and also maintain our blog at www.http://ianmooremorrans.com.  You can order any of his books by going to that listed blog and being directed to the proper site for ordering. You could also take a drive north to Vernon to visit us and buy the book from us, signed by the author – your choice. The cost from us is $20 (no postage, if you pick it up). Thanks for your interest.

“What a pleasant surprise your email was! It sounds like the photo you found has opened up a whole new world of discovery of your family history. I’d recommend you google the Library & Archives Canada site and then go to the passenger lists for ships arriving in Vancouver in 1925. They are on microfilm and you can access them right on the internet.      

“For information on travel on the Suez Canal, google something like “travel through the Suez Canal in the 1920s” or even “British travel through Suez Canal to Canada.”

“I think you’d find Ian’s memoir “From Poverty to Poverty: a Scotsman Encounters Canada” quite interesting and maybe enlightening on the period when Britain was controlling the canal. Ian was there while serving in the Royal Air Force from 1950-1953, just before the Suez Crisis when the canal was seized by the Egyptians under Nassar. There, Ian had a unique view of the tensions involved with the Brits controlling the canal in someone else’s country. He also has quite a few photos in the book connected with his time in Egypt – and a few rather wild stories!

“All the best for your research on your family history. Perhaps we will have an opportunity to meet you sometime in the future. Feel free to write again if you wish.

 “Regards, Gayle Moore-Morrans”

 

Now, if you are interested in researching your family story and if you are lucky enough to have access to photos of, letters by or documents concerning those ancestors who might have been immigrants to the country you live in, dig those photos, letters and documents out of their resting places and have a go at the internet. The quest can be quite enlightening, satisfying and addictive. Your local genealogy society is a good source of guidance as well.

SHARING AN AUTHOR INTERVIEW PREPARED FOR “THE AUTHOR SHOW” AUDIO PRESENTATION ON: the authorshow.com

INTERVIEW QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS prepared for THE AUTHORS SHOW, recorded on Thursday, February 14, 2013 and first aired on March 4, 2013.Cover full size

Interviewer: Don McCauley of The Authors Show, an internationally-acclaimed professional book marketing audio program in which selected authors are interviewed.

Interviewee: Ian Moore-Morrans, Scottish-Canadian author of an autobiography entitled: “From Poverty to Poverty: A Scotsman Encounters Canada”

The recorded version is presently being aired for 48 hours (March 4 and 5, 2013). It  will be available on this blog as soon as we receive and upload the MP3 copy. The Authors Show audio version is much shorter and less detailed than these prepared answers; in addition, several of the questions were not asked in the recorded version which very soon can be accessed on-line 24/7 for 12 months. The website is http://theauthorsshow.com. (Access to the audio version of the interview is on the “Non-fiction writers” page.)

I, the interviewee must admit that I became a bit flustered when the interview was taking place and being recorded. Instead of following the carefully prepared answers to the questions which the interviewer had furnished ahead of time, I scrapped my notes and “ad-libbed” the answers. My editor wife, who worked alongside me to formulate the answers and carefully rehearsed me through the scenerio several times beforehand, was a bit disappointed that I didn’t follow the script a bit better. Ah well, listeners will be able to hear my Scottish burr and hopefully understand the sincerity, if not the clarity, in my answers.

Q. Tell us about this book.

A. “From Poverty to Poverty: A Scotsman Encounters Canada” is the first volume of my autobiography. It begins with my childhood in Scotland during the 1930s and ‘40s—years of the Great Depression and World War II. I’m certain that my fatherless family was the poorest one in Campbeltown, a small fishing town in the Scottish Highlands. I describe our level of poverty as “abject” meaning “utter, hopeless, miserable, wretched, dismal and horrible.” Four of us lived in a 10-foot-by-10-foot attic room—Mother, Granny, my older brother and me. Life was a constant struggle to find food and keep ourselves warm. Often there was no money for both food and coal so we had to choose between the two.

My schooling was finished when I turned 14. Around that time my mother married a man from Northern Ireland and our lifestyle became a bit better. We moved from the lowliest of slums to a slightly-less-lowly slum. My teenage years were spent working as a blacksmith’s apprentice, joining the Army Cadets and playing in a Salvation Army band—and sometimes quitting the band because I got tired of not being able to go to movies or dancing.

At age 18, I joined the British Royal Air Force and served as an aircraft engine mechanic and bandsman in Britain and Egypt. My time in Egypt coincided with the first rumblings of the Suez Canal crisis and I was one of those unfortunate enlisted men who was ordered to learn how to make decent drinking water from the inaptly named “Sweet Water Canal”—after the Arab workers who had been treating the water for the entire British military force walked off the job.

After I returned to civilian life as a machinist in Scotland, I married and fathered two daughters. Then, I got itchy feet and considered immigrating to Australia. However, encouraged by two of my wife’s relatives who had earlier immigrated to Canada and misled by an unscrupulous Canadian official, my family and I immigrated to Canada in 1965. A promised job didn’t materialize and, naive me soon found out I’d been told a boldfaced lie about how inexpensive it was to buy a house in Canada. Misadventures in finding and keeping jobs and suitable accommodations lead me to conclude that we had only moved “from poverty to poverty.”

Q. Who did you write this book for?

A. For my descendants, friends and anyone who wanted to know what made me tick. My principle reason for writing my autobiography was that I had met so many people on the Canadian side of the Atlantic whose backgrounds were Scottish, Welsh, Irish or whatever, who had no idea who their grandparents or great-grandparents were, what they did or how they lived. Thus I decided that my descendants, friends and even strangers should get to know me, if they so desired.

Several times I had found myself checking out through a grocery counter and spoken a few words to the clerk. Upon hearing my Scottish “burr,” she would invariably ask me if I was Scottish and then tell me that her grandfather (or grandmother) was Scottish. When I asked her where the grandparent was, she would then tell me the relative was dead. When I inquired where in Scotland they came from, she didn’t know. She didn’t know anything about him or her—and that happened more than once. On arriving home one day from a little bit of grocery shopping, I told my wife, “I’m going to write my life story for my descendants to read—they should know who and what their grandfather did while he was alive.”

Q. Is there a central message in the book?

A. Yes, I think so. I’ve found that it is possible to overcome a negative lifestyle like poverty but, in order to do so, one has to have a lot of grit, perseverance, sometimes luck and even humor to get through it all.

Q.What is the most important idea you share in your book that will add value to the reader’s life?

A. Perhaps it is that one must look for humor in each and every situation. When all else fails, a good laugh and then, determining to pick yourself up and start anew, will help you deal with most things that life throws at you.

Q. If you could compare this book with any book out there we might already be familiar with, which book would it be and why?

A. When I first submitted my manuscript for critique by a few people in my Writer’s Group, several remarked that it reminded them of “Angela’s Ashes” by Frank McCourt. I had not even heard of McCourt’s book at the time so quickly bought a copy. They were certainly right  in that we both had appalling early lives of poverty—he in Ireland and me in Scotland. One could also say that we each, in our unique ways, were able to overcome our impoverished beginnings.

Q. Why did you choose the title “From Poverty to Poverty” for your book?

A. When my story started, I described living in appalling poverty in Scotland. Thirty years later I found myself again in poverty because of the misinformation about the opportunities of immigrating to Canada that I received from a Government of Ontario official in Glasgow. (Yes, by the time we had finally settled in Canada, we had a lot more “possessions” but they sure weren’t paid for! We were in debt up to our eyeballs!) I chose the title “From Poverty to Poverty” as I found it a perfect description for my life’s journey from 1932 until my first years in Canada. There I certainly found myself right back into poverty and, to make matters even harder to overcome, I had added three dependents!

Q. For readers of your book who have not experienced poverty in their lives, what one word do you think they would choose to describe your book?

A. (On the audio recording, Ian used the word “horrendous.”) “Eye-opening.” That’s the word my present wife and editor used after she first read my story before we were married almost 10 years ago. She was not brought up in poverty and was astonished and taken aback by all that I had experienced.

Q. You claim this book is an autobiography. Are all the stories in it true and all the characters taken from real life?

A. Yes, all of the stories are true. They, of course, are filtered through my own eyes and my own experiences so another person may interpret happenings from a different perspective. I’ve told of my own observations, experiences and occasionally things told to me by others or that I learned from school or research. In certain instances, I’ve chosen to change the names of people because I felt it necessary to protect their identity or maintain their privacy.

One prime example is the character I’ve chosen to call “Jock Campbel.” (In Britain, “Jock” is perhaps the most popular nickname for a Scotsman, just as “Mick” is for an Irishman.) As far as I know there never was a Jock Campbel who lived in Campbeltown during my time there or any other time. However, when I was a wee lad and our financial situation at home was even more dire than usual, my mother would occasionally ask me to go to that man and ask him to lend her ten shillings. This was about a dollar and a half, but it had a lot more buying power then than now. But before I would go she always cautioned me to wait until he was on his own. There never was any hesitation from him. Out would come his wallet and a ten-shilling note would be handed to me. As far as I know, my brother was never sent on a similar mission and I never thought to discuss it with him or even ask Mother why. That man was an upstanding member of the community and a married man with children. I never thought much about this strange mission until years later when some things my mother said about the man led me to wonder whether he could have been the man who sired me. I deal with that wondering in the sequel to this book which I call “Came to Canada, Eh?”—not yet published but in the editing process.

Q. You describe your early family life as rather disfunctional with no one showing affection to the others. How has this affected your adult role as husband and father?

A. I know my mother and grandmother cared very much for both my brother and me. We lived on welfare and Mother worked at degrading odd jobs on the sly to get a wee bit extra. She also put our hunger ahead of hers when there was little food to share. But none of us showed or spoke of any affection or caring toward the others. When we were growing up my brother was almost always either ignoring me or beating me up until I got big enough to defend myself.

Perhaps Mother and Granny had never been shown affection and didn’t know how to do so. And if they didn’t know how, my brother and I didn’t have a chance to learn by example. I don’t know where I learned it, maybe showing affection was something that just was innate in me and eventually came out when I had my own wife and children. As an adult I’ve made special efforts to tell my family members that I love and honor them and have always been ready and willing to take care of and help them to the best of my ability. I’m pleased to say that my brother and I were able to enjoy a cordial, though distant, friendship later in life.

Q. What role did your membership in the Salvation Army play in your early life?

A. It taught me how to live a respectable and God-fearing life. It gave me a place where I knew I belonged, was respected and valued (although I rebelled off and on at a lot of restrictions it placed on my choices of entertainment). Most importantly, it gave me an opportunity to learn to sing and play several instruments. Because of that I can truly say that my real avocation in life is music-making.

Q. Who influenced your early life the most and why?

A. A man called Jock McMillan. He was the band leader and music instructor at the Salvation Army in my hometown. Along with two of my pals, including his son, George, Jock taught us to read music and to play instruments. I learned to play the trumpet and trombone and spent a lot of time in my youth playing with the Salvation Army brass band. Then, after I joined the Royal Air Force, I played trumpet in military bands wherever I was stationed. For a period of almost sixty years (in Britain, Egypt and later in Canada) I played in military, dance and concert bands as well as in combos. I’ve continued singing Scottish folk songs for various festivals, parties and competitions even into my eighties, although my voice isn’t anywhere near as good now as it used to be.

Q. What was the greatest single decision in your life that started to lift you out of a life of poverty and how did it do so?

A. Quitting my apprenticeship to a drunken, cruel blacksmith and enlisting in the British Royal Air Force. Overnight I had three decent meals a day, a decent-paying job, a bed with sheets on it, all the decent clothing I needed and future prospects. Plus that, I could continue to play in a band and had money left over to send home to my mother to help her out a wee bit.

Q. I understand you use humor in your writing. How does this connect with the tragic circumstances of poverty?

A. Poverty is bad enough. If you can find anything humorous in whatever day-to-day happenings you encounter, then you should celebrate those things. Laughter can elevate you from the depressed hole of poverty – at least a wee bit. If you really look, there are comical aspects to a lot of things, even those that are essentially negative.

Q. What is your favorite humorous story in your book?

A. Soon after we immigrated to Canada, my wife Mary and I were at a dance in Toronto. A group of us were standing and chatting at the edge of the dance floor when I announced that I was going to the bar for a drink. When I returned, a young, good-looking woman put her arm through mine and I understood her to say, “I like the way you roll your arse!” (What we call “arse” in Britain is referred to as “ass” or rear end in North America.) I hesitated a little and looked down at one buttock and then the other, wondering what it was I did with my “arse” that got her attention. It wasn’t until I thoroughly thought about it that I realized that she was saying that she liked the way I rolled my “RRRRs!” I guess she enjoyed the Scottish accent. Boy, what a relief!

Q. You claim that musicianship is integral to your life. How is that reflected in your book?

A. When my wife/editor first read my story, she was struck by how much music was woven into the narrative. She encouraged me to expand on those instances, leading me to quote from songs or to fill out descriptions of the song connections with my own story. For instance, when I am describing my hometown Campbeltown, I mentioned the folk-song made most popular in the ‘60s by Scottish folk-singer Andy Stewart: “Campbeltown Loch, I Wish Ye Were Whisky.” We were unsuccessful in getting permission to quote the whole song in my narrative. So the next best thing was to show how it impacted my life and then paraphrase the verses.

I eventually wrote the following: “As we were growing up, three or four of us boys would go arm in arm down the street singing the first few words—‘Campbeltown Loch, I wish ye were whisky’—that’s all we knew at the time. I like to think that Andy (Stewart) heard those few words sometime in Campbeltown and created a song around them. ‘Oh, Campbeltown Loch, I wish ye were whisky, Campbeltown Loch, och aye! Campbeltown Loch I wish ye were whisky, I would drink ye dry!’

“The verses cleverly have the singer imagining how nice it would be if the loch were full up to the brim with whisky and he could anchor a yacht in the whisky-filled bay to go in for a nip and a dip ‘by night and by day.’ Clan gatherings would feature wading into the loch with toasts of ‘slainte bva’ (meaning ‘good health’). The only problem would be the police showing up in a boat and shouting, ‘Time, Gentlemen, please!’

“I find this a fitting tongue-in-cheek ode to a town that once boasted of 30 distilleries and still produces at least two very fine brands of single malt whisky – Springbank and Glen Scotia.”

 Q. Your book is permeated with “Scottishness.” Why would someone who has no Scottish connection want to read this book?

A. Lots of people like to read biographies or hear stories of other people’s personal experiences, especially if they are out-of-the-ordinary. It also seems to me that a lot of non-Scots show a curiosity about and interest in Scottish things like tartans, kilts (or what is or isn’t worn under them!), bagpipers, Robbie Burns suppers, Scottish parties called “caleidhs”, Highland games and the like. I hope they’d enjoy a first-hand account of one Scot’s unique experiences. We Scots are known as folksy and sometimes blunt people who put our own colorful slant to our language. I attempt to reflect that in my writing.

Q. I understand that you didn’t begin to write down your stories until you were age 63 and nearing retirement from years spent as a machinist.

A. Yes, I was too busy trying to make a living or playing in some band somewhere so I never took time to sit down to write until I was close to retirement. I quickly realized then that I’d have to learn to type and use a computer if I wanted to get anywhere with my writing. So I bought a used computer and a “teach yourself to type” tape and went to town on it. That’s me, though. I usually get enthusiastic about something new and go whole hog, plunging right in and damn the torpedoes!

Q. Have you always been a storyteller and what made you think you could be a writer?

A. When I tell about my early schooling, I bring up a memory of my English teacher, Miss Sharpe, telling me a couple of times during my school years that I should become a journalist after I finished school. (She had remarked often about the quality of my essays and compositions.) Huh, I thought at the time—‘me a journalist—me who had just about no clothes on my back! What a picture that would be—me in an office with holes in my shoes and no underwear!’

After I left home I always liked writing letters, telling of my latest experiences. I’ve always enjoyed relating stories and jokes— to anyone who would listen—most of which somehow related to something Scottish. Many people over the years have remarked, “You should write a book, Ian.” So now I’ve written several.

Q. Other than selling your book, what do you hope to accomplish with it?

A. I hope to give my own unique spin on understanding an impoverished life in the Scotland of the 1930s to 1950s; of the pre-Suez Canal crisis atmosphere in Egypt; of the joys of learning to play an instrument and joining a band. I hope that the reader will move from seeing me as a victim of poverty to seeing me overcome that life and also overcome the challenges that an immigrant faces.

Q. Who should buy this book?

A. People of any age from teens to seniors, especially those with interests in Scottish history, Scottish life, music-making, biography, and understanding the causes and consequences of poverty and immigration.

I might also add that lots of people enjoy books with pictures. “From Poverty to Poverty” is full of old photos taken by myself or others during the period of which I write. I’ve also added a few simple maps and drawings of the slum accommodations in which I first lived.

Q. Where can people buy your book?

A. Online at Amazon, or Friesen Press. – Links to these sellers are on my WordPress blog (ianmooremorrans.com). The book is also available for sale at the Highland Scottish Gift Shoppe in Calgary, Alberta, and at the Gallery Vertigo in Vernon, British Columbia, Canada or from most book sellers by special order. I also offer signed books for sale at book readings. The book is available as an e-book in PDF or Kindle format, as a paperback and also in hard cover format. The photos and maps are included in all versions.