Are you interested in recording your personal history and preserving stories about the people and places that have enriched your life? Then perhaps, like Regina writer Sally Crooks, you should write a memoir. Life writing, as it’s sometimes called, has become increasingly popular, and workshops on the genre are frequently led by many of Saskatchewan’s veteran writers.
Crooks’ 164-page memoir, About Jim and Me: a love story, traces the author’s experiences as a Scot who immigrated to Regina in 1965 with her beloved husband, Jim, a physiotherapist 16 years her senior – an age difference her family wasn’t pleased about. The book project, Crooks explains, began in 1997, six months after Jim’s death, and was 12 years in the making.
The author’s no literary apprentice: she studied the craft at the Sage Hill Writing Experience; participated in writers’ colonies; and has been publishing poetry for years. As her book progressed, various segments appeared in journals, were heard on CBC Radio, and were recognized with Saskatchewan Writers Guild awards. In 2007, Crooks earned a John V. Hicks Manuscript Award.
In the opening chapter, “Our Last Night Together,” Crooks unflinchingly details her husband’s post-stroke conditions, and her hands-on care: “When the catheter care was completed, when I had rolled him onto his right side, inserted the belladonna and opium suppository to control the painful bladder spasms, adjusted the pillows, straightened his pyjama top … when all of this ritual had been performed for the last time, I bent to kiss him goodnight and hear, as always, his murmured, ‘Thank you, dear’ … And we wept, as we had never done in over forty years of life together.”
Jim Crooks had not been a well man since a heart attack in 1980, but a stroke in 1995 exacerbated his decline. Sally, who’d studied music in England and sang in numerous productions in England and Scotland (and became highly involved in Regina’s music community), had just returned from a concert rehearsal the night of Jim’s stroke: “I made and poured the tea, gave Jim his [Scotch mutton] pie and sat down … After a few minutes I became aware there was no sound or movement from Jim…I rose to look and found him immobile, his eyes glazed, his mouth, with the remains of the pie, open but rigid.” Life changed forever.
Crooks reveals the emotional rollercoaster while Jim transitioned from hospital to the Wascana Rehabilitation Centre to home, and finally to a personal care home. She includes the hours leading to his death, then moves between the years that followed and special moments that came far before, like their honeymoon, their ocean crossing on the “Empress of Canada,” and their first date at the Royal Festival Hall.
The couple’s shared love of music was a lifelong bond. Crooks writes: “ … singing with the Regina Philharmonic Chorus is the part of my life that gives me most pleasure and solace.” From the careful prose evident in this memoir, I suspect writing is up there, too.
THIS BOOK IS AVAILABLE AT YOUR LOCAL BOOKSTORE OR FROM WWW.SKBOOKS.COM