Lilac Hill is the name of the Ottawa farm where Iain Reid grew up. His parents have lived there nearly thirty years now, with their five ducks, sheep, two dogs, several cats, and one guinea fowl named Lucius with whom his mother has an oddly symbiotic relationship. The rest of the flock is gone, and Lucius could have left the farm, too. Instead, he has chosen to remain. As Iain’s mother points out, he has chosen them as his flock.
After graduating from college, where he studied history and English, Iain has never really gotten his career off the ground. He has been barely getting by in Toronto, but has an opportunity to write and record book reviews for a local radio station back home. He decides to accept the offer . . . and move back into his parents’ home at the age of twenty-seven after a decade of independence.
A temporary living arrangement ends up spanning a full year, during which the book review gig ends and Iain works sporadically as a fill-in associate producer for the CBC. Eventually, however, even that casual employment dries up, and Iain finds himself in a state of full-blown unemployment. As winter settles in, so does Iain. He becomes a hermit, spending days on end on the farm, interacting with only his parents. His beard grows long and unkempt and the squares of the white dry-erase monthly calendar — color-coded to signify the activities of the various family members — are devoid of any entries in green, the color assigned to Iain by his father. But Iain has been writing, when not assisting his parents with farm chores, watching movies in the family television room that Iain has always found a bit spooky, or being called upon to whistle “O Tannenbaum” to entertain the relatives gathered at Christmas.
The world has changed much since my generation grew into adulthood. Today, many young adults are living at home because they have emerged from their college years to find that the careers they prepared for simply are not available. Or they are unable to make enough money to support themselves and pay down the debt incurred to complete their education. Many twenty-something’s are under-employed, while a good number are unemployed. So Iain Reid’s story of disillusionment, disappointment, and the need to take some time out to regroup, refocus, and relaunch oneself into adulthood will no doubt resonate with readers of all ages, especially those in his age range . . . along with the parents who are welcoming their adult children back to the homestead.
It’s a bittersweet homecoming for Iain, who is glad to have a secure home and loving parents to welcome him home, but is definitely accustomed to living on his own terms. And it is fascinating to see Iain’s parents and the minutiae that comprises their daily lives through his twenty-seven-year-old eyes. Reid’s memoir about that year includes many hilarious anecdotes about the rhythm of his parents’ life together, the way they communicate with each other verbally and nonverbally, as well as the various ways in which they press him into service alongside them. For instance, his father decides that it is time to clean the long-neglected barn. His mother enthusiastically agrees, so the three of them spend several days shoveling eight years’ worth of sheep manure out of the structure. Iain notes that by the third day, he was actually accustomed to the smell. Of course, his parents like to keep their pantry stocked, and the result of his father’s trip to Costco for just a few items is an eye-opener for Iain. Ditto his mother’s exasperation at her father’s suggestion that he purchase a different brand of soap than they customarily use because of the sale price. When his mother catches his father on his cell phone in time to send him back to the soap aisle to purchase the brand she wants, she hangs up and tells Iain with a perfectly straight face, ‘That was a close one.”
Living with one’s parents again after a decade can make even the most accomplished young adult feel inexperienced and incompetent, as Iain discovers. When his parents plan to leave him alone on the farm for a few days while they attend a conference, his mother hands him a clipboard and demands that he take detailed notes while she instructs him about how to care for the various animals. He faces the daunting task of injecting Pumpkin the cat — his mother’s feline soulmate — with insulin, even though Pumpkin doesn’t normally even allow Iain close enough to pet him. And his parents drive home the point that Iain should not try to reason his way through any problems that arise, providing him with a list of persons he can call if he has questions or needs assistance — a list that even includes his ninety-one-year-old grandmother!
Still, Iain is loved, accepted, and not pressured to move out or move on with his life until he is ready. His parents are extremely supportive of his writing. And as the long, bitterly cold Canadian winter finally yields to spring, Iain emerges from his long funk, shaving off his unruly beard and feeling ready to again tackle the world on his own terms. When he tells his father that he is thinking about going back out on his own, his wise father opines only that Iain should do what he thinks is best.
And therein lies the beauty in Reid’s poignant and surprisingly touching story about his year back at home. During that year, he learns to see his parents through new eyes, and develops an unspoken appreciation of them. He matures. One passage in particular touched me deeply, calling to mind similar moments in my relationships with my parents.
The cold and snow are harsher than they used to be. It seems to take Dad longer to get dressed for the morning chores, and the water pails and feed bags seem a little heavier. It’s understandable: he’s been carrying them for almosy thirty years. He tells me unenthusiastically that he’s got to pick up a load of hay after lunch. I tell him I have nothing on, so I’ll tag along and help him load it up.
As I watch Dad finish his soup, I see a familiarity in his hands. I’ve never noticed it before. His hands are slightly larger, but they are my hands. And my hands are his.
Those two paragraphs are the most overtly sentimental and emotional in the book. In One Bird’s Choice, Reid wisely does not draw conclusions or spell out what he learned during his year at Lilac Hill. Rather, he simple relates, in an easy, conversational style, the events of the year and his observations, allowing readers to glean on their own the lessons to be learned from his stories.
And there are many such lessons, the most important being that you really can go home again to the place where people love you unconditionally, if only for a brief respite. From the place you call home, you can renew your courage and determination amid the comfortable and familiar surroundings and the routines with which you become familiar all over again. And you can come away a wiser, richer person for having had the experience. One Bird’s Choice is a thoughtfully crafted, gentle, yet simultaneously funny homage to Reid’s parents, their values, and their way of life that will leave readers feeling that they have come to know the Reid family well and want to drop in at Lilac Hill for some coffee and a nice visit. Just don’t plan to traverse the driveway quickly because at Lilac Hill, as Iain discovered, all traffic yields to Lucius, the guinea fowl.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one copy of One Bird’s Choice free of charge from the author in conjunction with the TLC Book Tours review and virtual book tour program. I was not required to write a positive review in exchange for receipt of the book; rather, the opinions expressed in this review are my own. This disclosure complies with 16 Code of Federal Regulations, Part 255, “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
Enter to Win a Copy of One Bird’s Choice
One lucky reader, selected at random, will receive a copy of One Bird’s Choice, graciously provided by the author.
Post a comment, being sure to include your email address (for notification and delivery purposes).
Post a separate comment for each bonus entry!
- Become a follower on Google Friend Connect or confirm that you are an existing follower by leaving the name under which you follow in a comment.
- Follow Colloquium on Facebook Networked Blogs. (Note: Asking to be my friend on Facebook does not count as following.)
- Follow me on Twitter — be sure to leave your Twitter name in the comment
- Subscribe to Colloquium via RSS or Email and confirm your subscription
- Tweet about this giveaway and leave the link to your tweet in a comment!
- Post this giveaway on Facebook and leave the link to your post in a comment!
Sorry, but the book can only be shipped to a United States or Canadian address (no P.O. box).