By John Swartz
Jamie Lamb’s father, James, was an influential person in the history of Orillia. He followed C. H. Hale as editor and publisher of the Packet & Times. Jamie, followed into the news business. Now living in British Columbia, Jamie just published a book, Christmas in Mariposa, a collection of 13 short stories, which is entertaining and a window into Orillia six decades ago.
The stories provide insight into who Jamie became and about how this town ticked back in the 60s. Some people have the good fortune to be in the right places at the right time; Jamie is one of those people. His tales reveal backstories of things which made Orillia what seems like the perfect place to grow up and bit of why it is the way it is today.
Actually it was the times. A kid could disappear all day long, go anywhere in town, and not be missed unless late for dinner – and nobody had a panic attack wondering where little Jamie was; or in my case where little Johnny was. Kids without leashes have the habit of getting into situations and meeting people their parents might not approve, but learn things no classroom could provide.
Orillia of then was not much different from other small towns, like the one I grew up in, but, it seems to me the characters here were more vivid, eccentric and interesting. The gift Jamie has is remembering the finer details, the names, and the ability to string words together to paint a picture anyone can identify with whether you are from Orillia, or not.
Certainly if the reader is a life-long or long term resident, you can transpose the lay of the land from then to what it is today. Some things haven’t changed, but much of the geography of the Bay Street he lived on has. Some of the people in his stories were well-known, others not. He uses pseudonyms for many of the characters, sometimes not stretching too far (C.H. Hale becomes C. H. Kale) and sometimes using real names. I probably know, or knew some of those people, but I can’t be sure.
The stories all have personal meaning. They are moments in time effecting Jamie’s world view. There are moments you’ll feel the need to find out who is cutting onions, balanced against humour, sometimes subtle and dry, and richly descriptive passages of people and places. The story, Angus and the Skating Rink, tells us how a town came together to defy council, informs us not to judge a person by their cover, and celebrates a particular moment in Orillia’s history.
A Choir Will Sing reveals how a group of people can come together to honour a member of the community who greatly changed others (it still happens from time to time), did so selflessly and until the highpoint of the story, quietly.
Folkies and Old Folks gives insight to the early days of the Mariposa Folk Festival, Ruth and Bruce Jones, their family, and the people who came to perform. The Secret Garden is about the repayment of a debt one doesn’t know is owed, how a seemingly everyday act, though not a common act at that time, can change two lives.
All of the stories connect to Christmas, though with some it may not be apparent at first. The one which struck closest to home is Good Time Charlie because I lived a very similar experience to the setup of what became a twist. I heard Jamie read this story at his book launch at the Leacock Museum and it transported me back to my childhood and made me think of how, though time and place were shifted, there are stories everyone has which are universal to some extent.
Then Jamie reveals something about Charlie no one probably knew, a measure of character he kept to himself which surely would change other people’s opinion of the man. There are people like Charlie living in Orillia right now, doling out acts of kindness under the radar.
Having a long career in writing (Jamie was a reporter at the Packet & Times back in the day) enables him to tell the stories in a page-turner way. One could put down the book after each chapter, but one is also compelled to find out what other things he will reveal about this place we think we know, how living in Orillia affects the way we act and think (because, having lived many other places, it is different) and how this town once was and still remains. There’s also a bit of maybe previously unknown history relating to one of Stephen Leacock’s stories from Sunshine Sketches.
It makes me wish my history here goes a few decades further back. The stories Jamie has wrote, and those of others like Sherry Lawson, Dave Town and Jim Foster, give me greater appreciation for this place which somehow has always felt like home to me.
Manticore Books has it in stock, the library has a couple copies, read it.
(Photo by Swartz – SUNonline/Orillia)