It’s -16…the sherry has been poured and it is not too early for Christmas oranges. I sit down to the computer to write the second last post about summer. Dad agreed to take the drive to Ameliasburgh for the First Annual Al Purdy Picnic. He knew that I wanted badly to be a part of the event at the A-Frame and so he attended with me.
We began at the community hall where we had our picnic lunch made by ‘the ladies’, a wonderful egg salad sandwich, cookie and lemonade as we leafed through Ameliasburgh history set out on the tables. From there, we jumped on the shuttle bus and out to the A-Frame house edging on Roblin Lake.
The A-frame house at the edge of Roblin Lake was built in 1957 by Al Purdy and his wife Eurithe, who had set aside $1200 dollars from CBC radio plays Al had written in Montreal. They bought a piece of land and a load of used buildings material from a structure being torn down in Belleville, then set to work, building from architect’s plans ordered from a popular magazine. As Al made clear in his autobiography, Reaching for the Beaufort Sea, in the first years they endured fierce cold and poverty and worry. “But Roblin Lake in summer, planting seeds and watching things grow; doing a marathon swim across the lake while Eurithe accompanied me in a rowboat; working at the house, making it grow into something that nearly matched the structure already in your mind. Owls came by night, whoo-whooing in a row of cedars above the house; blue herons stalked our shallows; muskrats splashed the shoreline; and I wrote poems.”
Today, the Al Purdy A-Frame provides for a Writing Residency Program, a wonderful concept that has been and continues to be supported by a large number of interested individuals.
The John M. Parrott Art Gallery is housed in the Belleville Public Library. Some time before the picnic, I had picked up a small stack of second hand books on one of my visits. One of those books, and a real treasure of mine now, is George Bowering’s 1970 book about his dear friend, Al Purdy.
I read this analysis of Purdy’s poetry during long nights, struggling with grief at the loss of Mom. As I read, I became more and more connected to the poet’s words. I was really looking forward to walking through the landscape and home that had been a part of his writing.
Dad sat on a fallen tree with me…and I knew that it wasn’t his absolute favourite thing to do that day…but he did it with me. He was there for me…and more than anything else, as I sit here writing on a winter’s eve’ this is what matters most. We listened to poetry readings…heard a few speeches and a little bit of music in the company of great people and Al’s wife, Eurithe Purdy. Then, without terrific pomp, we toured the little house…looked out onto the water…gazed up through the branches of trees and then we left.
Since leaving Belleville, Dad has revisited Ameliasburgh and took a whole collection of photographs from his stop at the Museum/Library. I am so blessed that we shared that time on Mom’s birthday. I will never forget that afternoon.