For as long as I can remember my father has been writing stories, mainly about growing up on a farm in Johnville New Brunswick. I would say that my sister Susan Rodgers and I got the writing bug from him except that my mother told me recently she’s always wanted to be a writer too. I think the bug bit the whole darned family.
I’ve long wanted to collect my father’s stories up in single package. For years I’ve had versions on my laptops and computers and hard copies laying about. But I was never sure I had them all.
I managed to get home to Prince Edward Island this past summer. While there, Dad and I talked about his stories. He’s eighty-seven years old now. He showed me stories of his I’d never seen before. Before I knew it, I was gathering all the stories up, making sure I had them all. Some were already in electronic form. Others were on paper, having been typewritten decades earlier. (Dad told me that purchasing a typewriter was the original impetus for starting to write.) Others were parts of amateur collections that had been put together over the years by writers groups my father had been part of. One story was actually a letter written to Dad by his brother Bill back in the fifties, a letter possessing a singular charm, and that eventually became a part of this collection.
After I thought I’d collected every word Dad had ever written, or at least that he could remember writing, one of my cousins, Ann Cassidy McCambley, sent me three stories he’d forgotten he’d written, that his sister Marion had absconded with after a visit to Dad’s house years ago. (One of those stories, “Fishing,” is a part of this collection. )
I started editing. I already knew the stories possessed their own allure, imparted in part by a striking authenticity. The voice, the vocabulary, the terminology, is straight out of Dad’s youth growing up in Northern New Brunswick in the forties and fifties. It’s a whole other world, one Dad brings vividly to life. Editing the tales consisted mainly of cleaning up the grammar and punctuation. As much as possible I hewed to Dad’s original prose, changing only what was necessary. It felt like polishing gemstones; I was not chipping away rock and detritus only to unearth coal. These were emeralds, rubies, diamonds. And I don’t believe I’m saying that just because the man is my father. My father knows how to tell uniquely compelling tales.
Or, truth be told, re-tell some of them. Many of the tales in this collection were told to him by his father, for whom I am named: the original Joseph Thomas Mahoney, or Joe… the exact same name as me. That Joe Mahoney was born in 1900 and died tragically young in 1954, younger than I am now. He was a teamster and a farmer, worked his own farm all his life with his burgeoning family. And while doing so told a lot of stories, many of which my father remembered, and some of which are in this collection, two of which are entertainingly told in part in that man’s own voice. Here’s a photo of the man in his prime, with my grandmother, Helen Kilfoil, and an aunt and an uncle:
The Deer Yard and Other Stories is being published by my own imprint, Donovan Street Press, in association with my sister Susan Rodger‘s company Bluemountain Entertainment, subsidized in part by a grant by the government of Prince Edward Island. One of my daughters, Erin, illustrated the deer on the cover. Valerie Bellamy, a graphic and book designer from Halifax, designed the superb cover. All three of my sisters, Susan, Shawna and Kathy helped proofread the collection (there are zero typos, or had better not be!) It’s available in ebook now; a softcover version (featuring large print) will be available shortly.
Here’s the back jacket blurb:
Tom Mahoney grew up on a small family farm in Johnville, New Brunswick. Despite a lack of modern conveniences such as running water and electricity, he wouldn’t have had it any other way. Tom’s was a world of natural beauty; of soft and lonely quiet. Life was never dull. His active imagination was nourished by ghosts and demons, intrepid priests, drunken neighbours, redneck bullies, frightened deer, angry bears, wannabe circus dogs, and plenty of shenanigans. From these seeds great stories grew. Drawing on his own experiences and those of his family — his father was also a gifted storyteller — Tom’s humorous and touching tales, spanning decades, brim with colour and authenticity.The Deer yard and Other Stories