MIDDLETON, NS - When Marilyn (Musial) Jones looks back to her childhood, she’s looking at a simpler time replete with outdoor playtime, scraped knees, Sunday drives, camping, and going to church.
Life revolved around family and the world was community.
You won’t find reference to smartphones, tablets, or video games. The 1940s and ‘50s growing up in Cape Breton was all about making your own fun, helping others, and if you were lucky, going to the circus.
Jones, a member of the local writers group Authors Ink, launches her fourth book April 11 at 2 p.m. at Macdonald Museum in Middleton. Growing up in Cape Breton is written in a conversational style and Jones picks out memories that are at once personal and yet for those of a certain age universal at the same time.
And that’s the key to this vivid storytelling tome. While Jones relives her youth, you’ll see snippets of your own past in many of the universal themes of childhood. Jones reaches back as far as she can remember, pulls out a lot of the best times, and finishes up at the age of 18 in 1960 when she finally left home to go to work in Halifax.
“I was the second of eight children, so everybody after me couldn’t have the memories I had of Mom and Dad and the older siblings. I wanted to share my memories with them and with my own kids and grandchildren,” Jones said. “I wanted to share my memories with my younger siblings and the rest of my family – and everybody that lives in Cape Breton.”
She now lives in Cottage Cove and Middleton where she’s active in the arts community.
She sees her childhood as fairly typical in Cape Breton for a coal miner’s daughter.
“Dad and Mom didn’t have much money, or time to do anything besides work,” Jones said. “Work at the home and build it up nicely. But I think they did very well. They took us around the trail a couple of times, we did get to the circus, and we went to some extra things – camping every summer which was the highlight of our life.”
They lived right on Lingan Bay.
“In the winter we skated on it,” she remembers. “You could leave things and nobody would steal them. You would go places and you wouldn’t leave a bunch of trash or garbage. You just knew not to do that.”
The book is written in both the third person and first person, but the reasons for the switch become obvious, and the storytelling doesn’t suffer.
Jones starts out with an early memory of two little girls playing in wet paint in a section titled ‘Partners in Crime.’ That sets a certain tone for Jones and older sister Charlotte who love to play with dolls, make mud pies, and as they grow up go to the matinees at the theatres in New Waterford and eventually the big town of Glace Bay.
She talks about family – the day Chuck was born and how the dynamics of the family changed.
Jones was a bit of a dare devil as it turns out. Her adventures on thin ice over fast-moving water in the winter are images vividly etched in words, an example of her storytelling ability.
And you know you want to keep reading when you get to the chapter called ‘The Time You Tried to Get Me Killed.’
That conversational style has the reader feeling like they’re sitting across from Jones in her kitchen as she recounts bits and pieces of life over a cup of tea – like the time the altar boy’s robe caught fire and her brother Chuck saved the little guy.
It’s compelling reading, and Jones holds little back, even the time as a little girl picking strawberries she was grabbed by a strange man. The idyllic childhood with perfect parents and protective community is sometimes no match for the evils that exist.
Jones writes almost 100 pages from her memory, touching the highlights of life in a time so different from today that some younger readers might have a difficult time believing the seeming innocence of a time before Vietnam, before JFK’s assassination, before the civil rights movement, before the moon shot. Before 9/11.
If anything, Jones’ book of memories is a counterbalance to the weight of what’s wrong in the world today and underscores how looking back to a simpler time may be just what we need to do to find solutions to our 21st Century woes.
Near the end of the book, out of nowhere and by itself, Jones writes: “Every time an old person dies, it’s like a library burning down.” That’s a mouthful of truth.
Growing Up In Cape Breton will be for sale at Blue Griffin in Middleton, Shelf Life in Berwick, Endless Shores in Bridgetown, and Inside Story in Greenwood.