What are life and memory made of, if not stories?
Léonard Lafleur’s thoughts turned to the stories of his youth the day after his mother passed away in 1988. There was something about that loss that compelled Léonard to put pen to paper, recalling the stories of growing up on Foundry Street in Lachute in the 1950s and 1960s.
This month, Léonard’s 234-page book, filled with stories, was published. As this is being written, he is waiting for his first big order of books to arrive and says that many of them are spoken for already. It feels as if people have been waiting for this book.
Léonard first gave people a taste of his stories and his memories by publishing one of his stories in The Watchman, Lachute’s English-language newspaper, several decades ago. Soon, a new story was being printed in each weekly edition. They were popular.
We could all be writing the stories of our youth. But Léonard has the knack of writing these stories with just a hint of the adult perspective to come while sustaining that feeling of a gentler and simpler time, seen through youthful eyes.
Filled with observation and humour (mostly at his own expense), Léonard says his stories are a mix of the whole truth, in some cases — while at other times, stories of particular characters, for example, are an amalgam of personalities from his childhood. The magical thing about this book is that one soon feels that Léonard is recounting stories from your childhood. The adventures, the free-wheeling time when children had to sort out their own differences, the dawning of a larger understanding of one’s parents, siblings and the world at large — are all conveyed so effortlessly in these stories.
“I am very comfortable with these stories,” Léonard says, adding that his 10 siblings (his youngest sister passed away recently) have all acknowleged that his recollections were accurate.
The world of Foundry Street is filled with details that make it feel so familiar. How does Léonard remember so much of his childhood?
“I think it’s because I’m a reader,” Léonard says.
“Anyone who reads a lot, lives in the past, the present and the future,” says the self-described “shy” author.
He is at home as he tells these stories and hopes that others feel that way too. He is quite certain that reading stories from the past is a way of escaping reality.
Is that escape so welcome because life was better back then?
Léonard pauses before answering.
“I think it was better. It was simpler and consequences seemed less important,” Léonard says, adding that the gravity of much of today’s world news and issues is a heavy burden.
Looking back, he says that there were difficult and great experiences — “And that is what saved me,” he adds.
“If we had snowball fights, or battles in the forest — we were all living on the same street. We might disagree with each other, but we didn’t hurt each other psychologically, emotionally or physically.”
He knows his stories have touched a chord with people, as sharing them recently on the “Lachute As We Remember” Facebook page sparked hundreds of comments.
A recurring theme in Léonard’s book is his family living in both the English-Canadian and the French-Canadian world.
“As kids, it didn’t matter if you were anglophone or francophone — and I refer to this in my book, but the reality set in later, when we reached adolescence. In those days, the division was more religious and cultural.”
Today, he thinks that in some places there is no wall while in other places, that wall between cultures is still very thick.
He thinks his book will resonate with people over 50, especially for those who grew up in a small town, like Lachute, where both cultures lived side by side.
Now that he has completed Foundry Street, his thoughts are already turning to his next writing projects in the style of futuristic fiction — not quite in the realm of science fiction — that he has been mulling over for some time now. He has several story ideas and some draft chapters already completed.
Speaking of the future,Léonard says, “I think of our children and our grandchildren as being in a house full of broken windows and there is broken glass all over the floor. They have to figure out a way to not cut themselves on all of that broken glass. The future will not be easy, but there is always hope. It could take just one person to change the world. There could be somebody out there right now — a nobody — with a thought,” Lafleur says, mentioning the idea of “igniters”.
Maybe someone will write a book that will ignite a thought and if we can help it along with a story, well – why not?”
Léonard and his wife Monique have two grown children; they have lived on Ile Bizard for 36 years. In his typical self-deprecating style, he points out in his book that a stint at a Catholic boys school revealed he was definitely not “priest material” and he ultimately went on to enjoy a 31-year career with Air Canada.
By now, you will want to know where you can buy a copy of “Foundry Street.” Léonard will be signing books at PEP Prêt-à-Porter at 484 Main Street in Lachute, on Friday, June 26 from 11 a.m. until 7 p.m.
Copies are limited for this print order, so call 514-898-2839 or email to reserve your copy for pick-up: [email protected]
You can also order a printed copy here: https://www.lulu.com/en/ca/shop/l%C3%A9onard-lafleur/foundry-street/paperback/product-zrvgje.html.
The price for a copy of Foundry Street is $24.95.