It doesn’t have to be “fancy”—the 1950s hostess

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.”

True magic—the intricacy of a lantern slide

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:

Kudos to the class of ’58—my aunt Carol graduates!

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.

The Smallest Objective featured on CBC Radio

June 22 | 2020

I was very fortunate yesterday to be able to share some thoughts about my memoir, The Smallest Objective, with CBC listeners. Many thanks to host Ainslie MacLellan and the entire team at All in a Weekend for this wonderful opportunity.

The Smallest Objective in the news in Montreal!

June 18 | 2020

Please enjoy this week’s coverage in two Montreal newspapers: (page 18)


Memory loss and selective remembering

June 15 | 2020

In my new memoir, The Smallest Objective, the themes of willed forgetfulness and selective remembering are foremost. Racism, now so much on our minds, entails both of these. In discriminating against others, we “forget” their humanity, their entitlement to equal rights and opportunities, and the suffering they endure. If we remember related history, we are apt to do so selectively, too often eliminating the events that make us ashamed or uncomfortable. The form of racism that afflicts some characters in The Smallest Objective happens to be anti-Semitism, but all forms of discrimination—whether arising from race, colour, gender, or sexual orientation—are to be condemned.  

Seashells by the seashore—my father in Florida

June 11 | 2020

My father was known among his family and friends for “His love of kittens and fledgling birds. His obsessive collecting of seashells,” as detailed in my new book, The Smallest Objective. The shells shown here were both collected and arranged by my father.  It’s on a beach in Florida, when he stoops to “claim a whelk of modest proportions,” that one of the most harrowing moments in the book occurs.

A date at high altitude—my aunt Carol in Mexico City

June 8 | 2020

In my new book, The Smallest Objective, my aunt Carol stars in the chapter titled “Lake Pátzcuaro,” named after a lake with mythical properties in the Mexican highlands. Carol had recently graduated from the physiotherapy program at McGill University when she and her best friend travelled to Mexico, where they joined two doctors Carol had met while interning. Shown here are Carol and her doctor friend dining in Mexico City in 1959. Inside the cardboard presentation folder for the photo, the young doctor composed a note: I hope that you will never forget this night and your friend, Rafael. 

Ruby Foo’s restaurant—the lowdown

June 4 | 2020

The characters in my new memoir, The Smallest Objective, love to eat and drink—and, most of all, they adore Chinese food. Ruby Foo’s restaurant, opened in Montreal’s west end in the 1950s, quickly became the go-to place for egg rolls and chicken almond guy ding. And for the less adventurous, there was always a club sandwich. This restaurant on the Sunset Strip was where my teenaged mother, Rene, and her sister, Carol, were escorted by their beaus on hot dates. The image here belonged to Carol, a memento of the place where she and her first boyfriend met for special occasions when they were “going steady.”

Jockey Fleming—the jockey without a horse

June 1 | 2020

In my new book, The Smallest Objective, an entire chapter is devoted to my mother’s great-uncle Jockey Fleming, the family black sheep. During his heyday in mid-century Montreal, Jockey earned his keep as a gagman, ticket tout, and holder of bets for hockey games and the racetrack. He was celebrated by many of the most renowned sports and gossip columnists of the era. Al Palmer, in his 1950 book Montreal Confidential, wrote, “[Jockey’s] rise to fame as one of the town’s official meeters and greeters has been meteoric—whatever that means.” The image here is from a period postcard belonging to Jockey’s niece Carol, a genuine rider.