1119 Mother’s Day on Salt Spring

Home on the Strange: Chronicles of Motherhood, Mayhem, and Matters of the Heart
by Susan Lundy

Victoria: Heritage House, 2021
$22.95 / 9781772033649

Reviewed by Margot Fedoruk

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“Sometimes moms just need a little escape, even if it’s just a fantasy,” says Susan Lundy in one of the many entertaining stories in her book, Home on the Strange: Chronicles of Motherhood, Mayhem, and Matters of the Heart. In her daydream, she expects a pizza delivery person, but finds instead a fairy godmother who insists Lundy soak in a hot bath while the woman cleans the house, feeds the children organic brown rice, vegetables, and a tofu casserole. Later, the woman happily reads her daughters Dr. Seuss, ad nauseam. Like Lundy’s daydream suggests, perhaps it’s time to slip into the tub to sip Prosecco and nibble on cheesecake, but while indulging in her book (with dry hands, of course). Home on the Strange is for anyone who not only wants to escape with a good book but who may wonder what it’s like to raise a family on Salt Spring Island, where long power outages and battles with deer, mice, bats, and spiders are the norm.

Susan Lundy. Photo by Lia Crowe

Home on the Strange contains seventy-four short essays, gleaned from a column Lundy wrote for the Gulf Islands Driftwood newspaper, where she worked as a reporter and editor. Part One, “Family First,” begins in 1986 when Lundy visits Salt Spring Island and falls in love with a man she has just interviewed. From their union they have two daughters which provides fodder for many of her stories, each wrapped up with funny and wise statements. “Motherhood connects us all,” says Lundy in her prologue. “As I look back on years of being a mom, it is the overwhelming passion for my family that overrides everything.” This is the sentiment of the majority of her book.

Revel in Lundy’s hilarious attempts to answer the often-unanswerable questions from small children. In “Driving Questions,” she is bombarded with tough ones such as “where does the wind come from?” and “Is it bad to lie?”

Laugh out loud as Lundy invents a game where she rests on the couch and tells her children they are playing “naturopathic physician,” which involves napping while her daughters rub lotion on her feet and chant healing verses.

Gulf Islands Driftwood, November 4, 1998

It is clear that Lundy enjoys her role as a mother, although she admits, “There are times I don’t want to be the adult. I don’t want to be the mother. I don’t want to be the one who must deal with the dead rodent in the cupboard, and I don’t want to remove the tick from the dog’s head.”

Living on an island can be challenging, especially for swim moms. Lundy spends weekends travelling up and down Vancouver Island in her VW van for swim meets. Most islanders will nod their heads in understanding about the pain of ferry travel with children, especially during holidays:

We boarded the ferry with one child and both dogs sleeping peacefully and the box of chocolates still sitting under the front seat. Then came “the whistle will blow” announcement, followed by a muffled batch of words that ended in “Fulford Harbour.” It turned out that BC Ferries had a special holiday treat for parents with sleeping children and puppies and chocolates. Due to the fog, the whistle would blow every two minutes all the way to Fulford. Sierra and Magic were up by the second blast, the chocolates remained uneaten, and back to Christmas dinner as a microcosm of the season… chaos ensued in the small car, just like the inside of a dishwasher.

Skeena Queen docking at Fulford Harbour, Salt Spring Island

Part Two, “My Act 2” begins after Lundy has an amicable divorce and meets her new love interest and fellow hockey fan, Bruce. This is where the “Matters of the Heart” section of the book begins. After successfully launching her children from the nest, new adventures abound, such as a cross-country jaunt in Lundy’s Orange VW, dubbed “The Pumpkin” which, among other issues, has a broken gas gauge. Lundy tells the tale:

Bruce was driving the first time we ran out of gas, and he managed to steer the van off the highway and onto an exit that happened to be at the top of a hill. The van rolled down the hill, we took a sharp left through the intersection without stopping and slid right into a gas station. It was a thing of beauty.

Susan Lundy. Photo by Lia Crowe

While many of Lundy’s stories explore gentle subjects such as how to wean children who may be too old to breastfeed and what might occur when the truth about the tooth fairy is leaked, many deeper issues are explored. Lundy writes eloquently about the trauma of having a sick infant in the ICU and later touches upon mother guilt, personal autonomy, and micro chimerism. After another major health scare, it prompts Lundy to philosophize:

What are the good, true, honest, and joyful things in your life that make you want to get up in the morning? What drags you down? How can you bring passion, light, and love into your days, and weed out the dissonance?

Heritage Apples (2013)

Lundy has won over 25 awards including the honour of being a two-time recipient of the Jack Webster Award of Distinction. She now works as a freelance writer and editor and is also the managing editor of Boulevard Magazine Group. Her first book, Heritage Apples: A New Sensation (Touchwood Editions, 2013), is a history of local apple varieties, often from old orchards, with photos. Lundy’s 35 years of writing experience is evident in her vivid and funny stories about island living, which are vaguely reminiscent of iconic comedy writer Erma Bombeck’s accounts of raising children in the wilds of suburbia, for example in The Grass is Always Greener over the Septic Tank (Fawcett, 1995).

For more essay-style books in this genre try Mary Laura Philpott’s I Miss You When I Blink: Essays (Atria Books, 2019), where Philpott concludes that having children throws mothers into a kind of warped time machine. Or Laughing at the Dark: A Memoir of Motherhood and Mayhem (Madison House Publishing, 2021), by Deborah Dunlevy, who explores the notion that a mother’s experience of parenting may be worlds apart from a father’s.

“What is the essence of motherhood?” ponders Lundy. This book, I believe provides the answer. These stories create a portrait of Lundy’s version of unconditional love between a mother and her children from the early years until after they leave the nest. This is the book you will want to buy as a special gift for your sister, your mother, and your best friend. Even if your bedside table has a teetering stack of good books to choose from, this will be the one you reach for time and again to bask in the author’s witty and wise voice.

Want more? Check out Home on the Strange photo blog on Lundy’s website.

The Skeena Queen approaching Swartz Bay from Fulford Harbour, 2016. Photo by Jim Thorne

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Margot Fedoruk

Margot Fedoruk has published excerpts from her memoir Cooking Tips for Desperate Fishwives: An Island Memoir in Portal, 2019, 2020, and 2021. She has a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Winnipeg and is currently completing a Creative Writing degree at Vancouver Island University, where Fedoruk was awarded the Barry Broadfoot Award for creative nonfiction and journalism and the Meadowlarks Award for fiction. She has studied with Susan Juby, Kathy Page, Sonnet L’Abbe, Frank Moher, Robert Hilles, Robert Wiersema, and editor Joy Gugeler.  Margot lives and works on Gabriola Island. Visit her websiteEditor’s noteMargot Fedoruk has interviewed Shelagh Rogers and reviewed books by Myriam SteinbergMandy Moore & Leanne Prainsb. smithKim Clark, and Sari Cooper for The Ormsby Review.

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