Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Buying on Time

Share |
Buying on Time

The Porcupine's Quill, 1997

Take a step back into the dawn of suburban life.

Revisit the era when mothers in print dresses performed the arcane ritual of mixing the colour dot into the margarine, fathers filled every room of the house in Weston with tobacco smoke, and all the riches of America were to be had by buying on time.

Nothing you ever saw on `Ozzie and Harriet' ever looked anything like this. East European immigrants to Toronto in the early fifties dreamed of the good life in the suburbs. But they did not have any money, so they put up an outhouse, dug a pit in a new subdivision, threw a roof over the hole, and lived there among the lawns and gardens of their neighbours whose imaginations were largely limited to asphalt driveways. Their neighbours were not amused.

Buying on Time is a very funny and occasionally poignant look at growing up in the suburbs in the 1950s and '60s. This collection of linked stories follows an immigrant family as it fights to build a house and find a new life in Canada after World War II. At the heart of the stories is the Old Man, the irascible, insanely self-confident, pipe-smoking father who studies what he calls `the English' with an incredulity that is wildly comic, and who marches into Eatons trailing sawdust in order to buy his depressed wife a new fur coat. His English is bad, and his religion is almost mediaeval, yet he has cunning and a zest for life, as well as a taste for Five Star Whisky.

Antanas Sileika writes of this collection: `I took various fragments as seeds for the stories here. These were anecdotes I heard over the dinner table, at the homes of others in our ethnic tribe, and in the church basements after those impossibly long Latin high masses of the fifties. Our ethnic tribe was as varied as any other, but it seemed to take a special joy in the adventures in a new land. In a smoky church basement I first heard of the lumberjack who wrestled with bears, of a woman who married a legionnaire, and of the secret delights of Voltaire. If there was a collective vision among the DPs, it was to learn the rules of the game in North America, and then beat the locals at their own game. The ethnics won, only to discover that they have become the new establishment; now it is they who will be bested by the newer immigrants still.'

The lead story in Buying on Time was published in The Antigonish Review and chosen as one of the nine best stories published in Canada in 1995 by McClelland and Stewart's Journey Prize Anthology. Shortlisted for both the Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour and for the City of Toronto Book Award, Buying on Time has also found its way into the hearts of many listeners of CBC Radio's `Between the Covers'.