Jeff Heuchert email@example.com
Audrey Livingston continues to be an inspiration to her family, in more ways than one.
The Greenwood Court resident celebrated her 100th birthday this past April and the extraordinary occasion was marked with a large gathering of friends and family, some of whom travelled from as far as Nova Scotia to attend.
“It really was an unbelievable day,” says Carol Savage of Stratford, the oldest of Livingston’s five children. “Mom sat there and smiled the whole time.”
As gifts many of Livingston’s 13 grandchildren and 23 great grandchildren wrote letters or poems which are now stored in a book in her room in the long-term care facility at Greenwood.
It was perhaps the most fitting of presents for a woman who herself never strayed too far from a pen and piece of paper, and on more than one occasion composed a short story, illustrated by her late husband Ted, as a gift to a child or grandchild.
One of those gifts was The Doll, which Livingston wrote around 1983. It’s the story of a young girl who sees a doll that she is determined to own, and follows her in her quest as circumstances lead her to help others and re-evaluate her desires.
Like so many of her stories, the manuscript for The Doll was shared amongst family but otherwise sat in a drawer where it languished for more than two decades.
That all changed a few years ago when one of Livingston’s granddaughters, Aly Livingston, found herself in a similar position, struggling to find a publisher for her first children’s book, which she had dedicated to her grandmother.
“My grandmother is a very special woman and has been a mentor to myself for many reasons, but especially in regards to writing and literacy for children,” says Aly, who lives in Dundas.
“When I decided to self publish my own work I thought it might be nice for her to see (The Doll) in print as well,” she adds.
Aly had a first run of The Doll printed around this time last year, and it quickly became a best-seller amongst family and friends. At Greenwood, it was chosen by the book club to read. It was also made available in select book stores in Southwestern Ontario, including Fanfare Books in Stratford.
Enough outside interest was shown that the family has recently gone ahead with a second run of the book, and Aly says she is planning next to publish a collection of Livingston’s reflections on aging, which she has entitled Light.
Today, Livingston is very hard of hearing, but her memory is still sharp. Holding a copy of The Doll in her hands, she recounts a failed attempt to have the book published, adding it’s “very satisfying” after so many years to see the book released.
Of course it’s not the first time that her writing has been published. By the age of 11, in 1925, some of her short stories and poems had already appeared in the Globe newspaper. During her high school years she wrote for and edited the year books.
And her affection for writing never faded, even when life got a whole lot busier. She married, raised a family, moved from North York to Ottawa, back to Toronto, and then to Brampton, worked as a school teacher, and also found the time to appreciate many other hobbies including gardening and hiking.
"This is a woman who did everything. She used to cross country ski to church!” laughs Savage.
In 1959, when she was in her mid 40s, Livingston completed her Master of Arts degree with a dissertation on the works of American author William Dean Howells.
In a Canada-wide United Church history competition in 1975 Livingston placed first for her history on St. James United Church in Parry Sound, where she and her husband had settled after the kids had all moved out. A few years later she placed first again for a short story she penned in the Louise Plumb competition of the London branch of the Canadian Authors’ Association.
Savage says writing – in any form – just always seemed to come naturally to her mother. The challenge, it seems, was sometimes finding the time. Savage recalls her mother getting up early in the morning when the house was still quiet just so she could write letters to family and friends.
“There were five of us (kids). So that’s just the way things were back then,” she says.
Livingston, when asked about her prolific output over the years, simply says, “I felt compelled,” adding that she always enjoyed the experience.
Calling all writers
In honour of her grandmother’s love for writing, Aly has organized a contest for writers in the Stratford area who are between the ages of six and 16.
She is looking for short stories or poems on any subject matter. Pieces can be emailed, with the name and age of the writer, to firstname.lastname@example.org. The three winning submissions will receive a cheque for $50 and a $20 gift certificate to Fanfare Books.
The deadline is Sunday, Jan. 4.