This is a reprint of an article by Saltwire
SUMMERSIDE, P.E.I. — When 87-year-old Tom Mahoney picks up the paperback placed on his coffee table, his name in large font on the front cover, he can’t help but feel proud.
“To see the book there,” he said, “it’s just unreal.”
Publication had never been Mahoney’s end goal when he first sat down at his new typewriter 40 years ago. He never imagined his stories would ever be read by anyone.
Instead, the retired Summerside teacher had merely wanted to practise his typing; stories inspired by his father and his own childhood in Bath, N.B., were a good place to start.
“All the old stories I’d written out in pencil, I had to type them all out,” he said. “What great fun, learning how to type and telling stories at the same time.”
Although Mahoney moved his family to Summerside in 1966 after being offered a teaching job at Summerside High School, the years he lived on the mainland always stayed in his mind.
“When I was a kid, my dad used to sit and tell stories,” said Mahoney. “Then, when I got older, I used to sit and tell stories.”
Some of those tales would have taken place in the recent past – others, 100 years prior. A few were more fictionalized than others, but each one drew from the rural New Brunswick experience Mahoney and his father had lived.
When he thinks back to those days, he remembers his childhood home, a farm without electricity.
He remembers when he and his family would spend much of the day in the forest near the house collecting firewood for the stove. They would pack a lunch while they were out in the woods, telling stories while they ate.
“I had no intention of ever making a book out of them … But my son came home this summer, gathered up all the stories that he could find that I’d written, and he spent the summer putting them into a book.”
– Tom Mahoney
It’s memories like that that Mahoney cemented on the pages that were eventually tucked away in a folder, all but forgotten.
His children knew about them, had even read a few. For the last few years, Mahoney’s son, Joe – who has written a book of his own – was determined to compile them all into a collection for others to enjoy.
“I had no intention of ever making a book out of them,” said Mahoney. “But my son came home this summer, gathered up all the stories that he could find that I’d written, and he spent the summer putting them into a book.”
While he knew what his son was doing, Mahoney pictured the anthology would be more akin to a small pamphlet than the 250-page paperback the 29 stories ended up being.
“It’s unbelievable,” laughed Mahoney.
Connecting through creating
Although it was Mahoney who wrote the stories and his son who got the ball rolling, the whole self-publishing effort quickly turned into a family collaboration.
The cover art – a picture of a deer – was drawn by Mahoney’s granddaughter.
His daughters, as well, each took a turn at copy editing all the stories – including his daughter Susan Rodgers, a writer herself.
“It made me want to just set the computer aside and go spend a lot more time in the woods, you know? … The stories were that real, that you felt like you could just almost walk outside and walk into that life.”
– Susan Rodgers
Although storytelling runs in the family, Rodgers said she hadn’t even known her father was a writer until she began writing in her 40s.
“I don’t think I saw one of (his) stories until maybe around the time I first published,” she said. “So it wasn’t something we grew up with. To us, our dad was always a science teacher … so I think I was surprised when I first discovered that my dad was also a short story writer.”
For Rodgers, she loves being able to share a common interest with her relatives. She and her father have always found common ground in literature – previously more reading than writing – and now, it’s “cool” to know that she can connect with her father over storytelling, as well.
“First of all, we’re just really proud of Dad,” she said. “Second of all … I think I was really amazed (by) how good of a writer my dad actually is.”
As much as she’s excited to have all her father’s tales in one place, what Rodgers loves most is how it gives her a glimpse into what her father’s life was like as a child, teen and young adult.
“It really intrigues me that all those people would want to read it,” said Mahoney. “And then I hear the comments from them. It’s unreal.”
Although the book was completed and ready for self-publishing in the fall, it wasn’t until the tail end of December that Mahoney got to hold a physical copy in his hands.
Now that his work is out there, he loves having something to show for his efforts.
“It feels terrific,” said Mahoney. “I never thought it would happen.”
Kristin Gardiner is a rural reporter with the SaltWire Network in Prince Edward Island.