Recently, I was at the Friends of the Library bookstore a few blocks from my home where Kingfisher Days jumped off the shelf into my hands. I carried it home in my bicycle’s basket and read it (again) the same night. (The first time was in 2001 when one of my precocious granddaughters was beginning her teens and, as usual, I read the memoir before gifting it to her.)
Kingfisher Days is a small book, similar to Evenings at Five (reviewed a few posts ago) but the storyline is completely different, although equally intense in its own way. The actress (and author) Susan Coyne is five years old when the memoir begins in cottage country in the summer.
Between our two cottages, running down to the little bay, was a thick hedge. Soon after I arrived that summer I was five, I discovered a strange relic there: an old stone fireplace, half-hidden beneath the leaves. Moss and lichen clung to the rough-hewn stones in patches of black velvet and scaly grey, and brilliant dots of mustard-yellow.
I asked my father about it…. He looked up. “Well, that’s Uncle Joe Spondoolak’s house,” he said, and went back to the crossword. “Who’s that?” I asked. My father put down his pencil. “Well…he was an elf, or so they say.
So I started leaving little gifts there for the elves: handfuls of wild strawberries, a daisy chain. And, overnight, the gifts would disappear. I found a little whisk broom and swept the hearth, and I filled some hazelnut shells with water for the elves to drink. And I drew a picture of myself and left it under a rock. These things, too, disappeared.
One morning Susan found “a neatly folded piece of pink paper….Its edges were turned down with a round seal of wax, stamped with an ‘N.’ And on the outside were some words, written in ink in a spidery hand, a little blurred by the dew.” And a summer of gifts and letters begin. I cannot tell you more; that would spoil your reading. But in the fall when Susan and her family returned to Toronto, Susan wrote to Mr. Moir, the retired school principal and cottage-neighbour in whose garden she spend many summer hours, to tell him about her new life. In December she received a reply – by letter, of course.
I wonder if you have time to help me find out something more about Nootsie Tah: Where was she from the time she was hurried away from Sacsahuaman and her mother until she came out of nowhere last summer to teach you about fairies?
Mr. Moir suggests that Susan visit the library; he gives her clues, including John Keats’ poem “The Fairies Triumph.” Mr. Moir’s letters are as charming as those of the fairy Nootsie Tah. There are no sketches, as there are in Evenings at Five, but sprinkled throughout are images of pressed leaves – most appropriate for a northern, cottage-summer story. Later, a young mother takes her son to the magical place of her childhood. “At the bottom of a long hedgerow, we got down on our hands and knees to peer beneath the leaves.…And then we saw it – the old stone fireplace. It was smaller than I remembered it,…almost like an altar.”
We don’t know what will influence us (or the children in our sphere), but this book attests to the inspiration of a little magic and imagination. I am so happy it jumped off bookshelves – not once but twice.
Available through your local bookstore or online: Kingfisher Days
Curious about the author, see Susan Coyne