Long Ago and Far Away (2010, Pottersfield Press) is a masterful memoir by one of New Brunswick’s finest writers, octogenarian Wayne Curtis. It is his thirteenth book.
Perhaps you have to be from rural New Brunswick (even the Miramichi) to fully understand Mr. Curtis’ past, his father’s and his grandfather’s lives lived on a farm where you logged some trees for money, grew some crops to feed yourselves and your old mare Jenny and lived in a house with no running water, no indoor plumbing, and little to no insulation. His mother’s saying that “the good old days” weren’t worth two cents has a lifetime of hardscrabble existence to back them up.
“Good old days you call them? They weren’t worth two cents! I remember the winter of 1931 when poor Sadie Innes died of TB. She was fifty-seven but we thought she was old. She looked old because she had such a hard life, I suppose. Back then people had hard lives without even realizing it. They never complained because everybody in the country was in the same predicament.”
Later, in the early 1960’s, the world outside the farm was moving forward butfor Wayne’s family, horse and wagon was still the only sure way to get from place to place where there were still no paved roads. Then, one day, as a teen, he tells his father that this way of life is not for him.
“I can tell ya right now, I’m not going to do this for very much longer. If anyone was watching, I’d be ashamed to be seen on this old rig. I mean, we haven’t come far in the last hundred years have we? Look at us, we’re being pulled along by a tired ol’ mare.”
Much later, as an aged man, Mr. Curtis reflects that his life had no shortage of lessons learned and choices made. He concludes:
“I guess we cannot relive the past and enjoy it except perhaps in the telling of things. It’s like writing fiction, in the way that we have to keep it positive and entertaining and somewhere in the back of us. And this, I believe, is a way to justify the things we did, make us feel a sense of pride instead of shame. Only time can be a healer in this regard. And I guess we should not be too hard on ourselves. We could not have lived for history.”
This is a memoir written and relived without rose-coloured glasses. Still, there were some good times and moments of humour to be had. In short, we have a lovingly wrought time capsule of a time “long ago and far away” on the Miramichi.