Home » BOOKS » Excerpt From P. S. Don't Tell Your Mother

Look me in the eye and say that

An Irish temper and accuracy with a gun is what got my Nana Noonan into trouble. She’s taught me a lot. Although I’ve never shot anyone, I credit my sharp reflexes to keeping an eye on Nana.

I’ve learned it pays off to have a sense of humor, as Nana uses hers to get out of more than a few jams along the way. By setting bad examples around the town of Telkwa, population 852, Nana taught me it is important to be fair to your fellow humans. As long as they don’t drive you to do something foolish.

I’m Maggie Mulvaney. I live with my Mom Fran, Dad A. E., and dog Tippy in Terrace, which is 150 miles away from Nana.

Three years ago for my tenth birthday, Nana gave me a box with writing paper and envelopes in it. And she gave me a fountain pen. Not the kind like in school, where you have to dip it in ink. A real one that holds ink inside it. And for my 12th birthday, I got some turquoise ink! I love writing Nana, because I like to do handwriting, and what she tells me in her letters is best kept on paper.

She doesn’t much care for the telephone anyway. Nana says Telkwa is one big party line and the number of people who only hear half the story when they pick up the line is the way rumors start.

It’s easy to write her and keep up on what’s happening in Telkwa, because the mail only takes a day to go by train from here to there.

In the hundreds of letters she sends me, THAT DAMN JEHOVAH! is her favorite phrase.

She doesn’t trust anyone who won’t look you in the eye. Like that Jehovah. He is hell-bent on saving Nana. His high hopes on salvation equal her intent to remain as she is: hell-bent on being herself. After all, she is an Anglican.

I like it that she’s Irish. But she has a temper. There are lots of things that get her going. The Jehovah tops her list.

The townsfolk place bets on Nana and the Jehovah and when they will have their next ‘set to’. Cash exchanges hands on a fairly regular basis.

Nana keeps me up to date on the real situation. There is more to it than the Jehovah and Nana not seeing eye-to-eye.

I understand more than I let on. Both Nana and I know that I can keep a secret and I’d make a good witness if I had to.

However, over this past year - almost too late - I have found out that when you give good advice, you can’t always depend on it being taken.

I still have a lot to learn about human nature. Nana’s a good start.

She is just half an inch short of six feet. Maybe the Jehovah got scared when he looked up at her. Nana isn’t fancy. She wears a house-dress, apron and sweater, nylons and no-nonsense shoes, and Martha, of Martha’s Heavenly Hair Salon, does her hair every week. Nana always wears a bit of rouge on her cheeks and wears Bonne Belle Peachy-Crème pink lipstick. She smells of Noxzema, which makes her skin the softest of anyone in our family. Normal ends there. She is not like regular grandmothers.

She stands so straight and looks right at you with her sky-blue eyes. When she talks to you, she expects that you will listen and then have a good chat. I pity that Jehovah. He doesn’t understand that Nana is very sweet. In her own way. At least she’s nice to me and the rest of our family. She does have a way of raising one eyebrow so slightly that if you aren’t really watching you know something happened, but can’t put your finger on it. Dad says it’s Nana’s presence that scares the crap out of the best of men. Grandad won the prize for best man, then. He won’t put up with much crap from Nana. That’s why she spreads it around town instead.

She’ll help anyone who is at their worst. She pitches in at all the town events, and does whatever she can for the Women’s Institute and the poor. She goes out of her way to do something for anyone who is out of work, sick or sad. They’ll tell you that it is Nana Noonan who quietly did the most for them.

Nana always tells us kids to lead by example and don’t brag about it.

That’s why I can’t figure out why she doesn’t like the Jehovah. The only thing I can figure is that because the Jehovah doesn’t help anybody around town, and just tries to sell his religion to people - for free - Nana might think he isn’t setting a good example. There’s something about him that gets her going, and every once in a while, I will throw a prayer in at night for the poor Jehovah, just to put in my two bits worth and try to help even out the score.

It’s not working so far.

Saturday, June 20, 1959

Dear Maggie:

That damn Jehovah was back here hammering on the door. I told him to get the Hell off my property, but he never has listened. He keeps leaving his magazine. He also has the nerve to suggest I need to be saved. I toss his magazine over the fence. Once he gets in the alley, he just tosses it back in the yard and takes off.

Grandad says that if it bothers me so much I should put up a sign on the fence. I won’t. It’s my property. He can come to the door, but he had better be a good runner because he’s going to be on the hard end of my work shoes next time. He scares me a bit. Don’t tell your Mother. Next thing she’ll be up here sitting on the doorstep, ready to tell him off. I can tell him off, I just can’t get him to bugger off.

... We’ve had a lot of rain here the last bit. Poor bloomin’ raspberries don’t know what to do. Those Stranges next door keep picking the raspberries and saskatoons and I’m about ready to call Constable Reems. The Stranges say if I put my 410 shotgun out of sight, they’d feel better. I say, if they stay the hell off my property, and pick their own berries, I’d feel better and we’d be even. Those beggars can only pick their noses.

Auntie Polly was over for tea this last Tuesday. We had digestive biscuits. I told her about the Stranges and she thinks I ought to fire a shot. She is still mad at Alex Strange for looking in her window and laughing when she was getting undressed in 1934. I guess she wasn’t the best one to ask advice from. Uncle Dan says Polly knows from experience as they have those crazy yahoos next door to them. They stay up all night drinking and fighting. Guess I’m better off. At least the Stranges are too poor to buy liquor.

They’re too stupid to fight, now that I think of it.

Love Nana

P.S. Martha died her hair a real sickly orange. No one knows for sure what happened. I think she left it on too long. Tell your Mother about Martha, but not about the Jehovah.
Orange aid

Monday, July 6, 1959

Dear Maggie:

It was sure nice to see you and your Mom and Dad at the Round Lake Regatta last weekend. Don’t worry. Not too many people saw you throwing up. I guess we should have told you that the barbecue salmon is rich. Your Mom didn’t know you ate Cheezies and orange pop, too. All that orange stuff coming from such a tiny girl. You looked a bit like you’d been nibbling on Martha’s hair. She has it a brown-y orange now, and it looks better. But not much.

Love Nana

Friday, July 10, 1959

Dear Nana:

Thank you for helping me last weekend. I didn’t think I would stop puking! Good thing that most of the crowd was watching the boat race and you got me to the end of the dock.We’re pretty good here. I am going to a show tonight with Ronnie. It’s called Ben Her and stars Charlton Heston and Jack Hawkins. There is supposed to be a lot of fighting and chariot racing and some lions trying to eat people. AND the men are wearing little skirts.

It’s been pretty rainy. We want to go to The Lake. Mom says not yet because we’ll get colds. It’s already July!

Lots of Love, Maggie

P.S. Thanks again for kicking the dirt around me and making it seem like everybody throws up at the Round Lake Regatta. I love you.

What I didn’t tell Nana, Mom or Dad is that I’d also had two Cokes because the salmon was salty and made me thirsty. I’ve seen just one other person throw up before. It was one of Tyee Mary’s sons. John had just made it out of the Telkwa Hotel Bar. I was on my way to the Post Office for Nana, and heard something fall against the wall. It was John. He didn’t see me and I haven’t bothered telling him or anyone. A lot of the Indian people who go to the Telkwa Hotel Bar spend all their money on booze, and forget their families. I know lots of Indian kids who spend Saturdays in the park by the river, waiting for their parents to come out of the bar. Tyee Mary’s family doesn’t go to the bar too much, only to celebrate things. Nana says that Indian people can’t hold their liquor. I disagree. John looked like he’d been holding a whole case of beer. Anyway, more white people spend their time and money at the Telkwa Bar than all the Indians in the region. They shouldn’t be so fast to pick on the Indians. If I looked like John did when I was at the Round Lake Regatta, I am glad that there weren’t too many people watching me. I overheard Nana when she was telling Mom about me at the Regatta that she didn’t think anyone could throw up for so long. I almost interrupted and told them about John, then thought better of it. John and his family have enough people going on about them drinking without me helping. It’s not so much the getting sick, it’s where you are when it happens. Both John and I were lucky. I had Nana and he had me to keep our big traps shut. Except when we were puking!

Friday, July 17, 1959

Dear Maggie:

I got your letter today. Don’t worry. I threw up at the Round Lake Regatta once too, but it was from something else. I will talk to you about it when you are older.

Love Nana

P.S. Don't tell your mother about this, either!

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Review on PS Don't Tell Your Mother by Kathleen Schmitt

Anyone ... gets the real picture [of life in a small town] in this story of the petty quarrels, competitions, and surprising human tenderness that reveal the way life flows with lots of ripples in Telkwa BC. ... Fun and easy to read ... read more...

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