His very best salute
September 15 | 2021
My father in wartime, savouring a rare moment of leisure. As a …
September 1 | 2020
My mother, seen here as a young woman, had no trouble recognizing who she was—“myself,” as she wrote in this caption from her photo album The Story of My Life. She would never have imagined that her story would end with her forgetting her precise age, the season of the year, or the name of the serving prime minister. Yet such is the nature of dementia, an illness that afflicted my mother in her final years. As I discovered while writing my new memoir, The Smallest Objective, disease itself has no need of memory: “Illness shows no hesitation, not even illness that ravages memory. It needs no reminder, proceeding with certainty to its next move.”
August 24 | 2020
As we near the end of August, some of us may be recalling our childhood summers spent at camp in the Muskoka lakes or the Laurentian mountains. For my father, Archie, who suffered from dementia in his final years, the memory of his summers as a counsellor at Camp B’nai Brith https://cbbmtl.org remained vivid right to the last. In my new memoir, The Smallest Objective, I describe the setting of this camp where Simon, my father’s father, served as the second president: “The property was classic Laurentian and indistinct — scrappy conifers, low mountains sloping one into the other, a lake that didn’t conform to any known geometry.” Seen here is my father (right) in one of his favourite roles at camp—helping to oversee the kitchen.
August 17 | 2020
Like my new memoir, The Smallest Objective, my grandmother’s sewing box harbours many secrets. At first glance, the box and its contents appear ordinary: “The box in most ways aspires to nothing more than everyday life: the fraying threads, the small repairs, the effort to keep things, if not new, at least viable.” Nonetheless, over the centuries girls and women have safeguarded mementos in their sewing bags and boxes in the form of poems, love letters, or cherished pictures. My grandmother Rose’s sewing box, with its wicker handle and floral decal, likely dates from the 1930s. Beneath the sharps, yarn darners, spools of thread, thimbles, hooks and eyes is hidden a mechanism, covered in red silk. Revealed is “a musical sewing box, wound from the underside to produce a halting, delicately shaded tune. …”
August 11 | 2020
My paternal grandfather, Dr. Simon Kirsch, was born in Vilkomir (now Ukmerge), Lithuania, in 1884 and immigrated to Canada at the age of six. A Yiddish speaker versed in Hebrew, he excelled at English-language school in Montreal, becoming one of the first Jewish faculty members at McGill University. In my recent memoir, The Smallest Objective, Simon plays an important role in the final chapter, where his architectural legacy to Montreal, the city of his youth and adulthood, is revealed. A community leader, a botanist, and a land developer, the grandfather I never knew described himself as “One of nature’s living jokes.”
August 4 | 2020
Since the pandemic has effectively nixed opportunities for a single indoor book launch in Toronto, I’m hosting instead a series of backyard mini-launches to celebrate my new memoir, The Smallest Objective. At the first of these, my friend Ian, a talented architect, presented me with a bottle of his handcrafted black walnut ink with its own beautifully designed label. Ian extracts the ink from the husks of black walnuts native to Southern Ontario. It’s for use with a dipping pen, not a fountain pen and, like Lysol, is NOT to be ingested.
July 28 | 2020
Pictured here are Rose, my maternal grandmother (right), and her older sister Myra at Dominion Park—a favourite summertime attraction for children on Montreal’s waterfront. The year? Circa 1920. The source? Young Rose’s album of “snapshots.” In my new memoir, The Smallest Objective, I describe some of the park’s attractions: “Myth City, the Crystal Maze, Shoot-the-Chutes, the Laughing Gallery. At the centre of it all stood a 125-foot tower illuminated by seven thousand bulbs and a searchlight that rotated day and night, casting its beam indiscriminately over the surging crowds.”
July 15 | 2020
July 8 | 2020
Like so many young brides in the 1950s, my mother took pride in her role as a housewife. The image shown here is from The Golden Touch of Hospitality by Mary Grosvenor Ellsworth, a handbook belonging to my mother. Although Ellsworth advises young homemakers that “It doesn’t have to be fancy,” the elaborate trays, bowls, and garnishes say otherwise. In my new book, The Smallest Objective, I describe entertaining in genteel circles as the high-wire act that it was. More than anything, my mother feared her guests would “deride her chicken à la King, zippy pineapple salad, and icebox lemon torte.”
June 30 | 2020
In my recent book, The Smallest Objective, a whole chapter is devoted to my paternal grandfather, Dr. Simon Kirsch. A botanist at McGill University in the early 20th century, Simon created his own lantern slides illustrating the cellular composition of plants. Each slide consists of a glass plate imprinted with a positive image. The images on the slides were projected by means of a magic lantern, a wooden box with a flame chamber like this one in the collection of the McCord Museum in Montreal: http://collections.musee-mccord.qc.ca/en/collection/artifacts/M922.214.171.124-4
June 25 | 2020
Convocation this year has taken shape in new ways—celebrated online or in intimate groups in backyards. In my new book, The Smallest Objective, the McGill convocation in May 1958 is central to the chapter about my aunt Carol, my mother’s only sibling. Here, Carol and her mother, Rose, are shown in the moment after Carol has been awarded her diploma in physiotherapy. The narrator of The Smallest Objective writes, “I have several relics from that day in May, when tents and folding chairs obscured the central playing field of the university, and the wind lifted the hem of my aunt’s graduation gown, exposing her white pencil skirt beneath.” During this pandemic summer, 62 years after Carol’s graduation, the diploma in her hands belongs to me.