Monday, February 11, 2013

Reader's Diary #948- Fearless Frederick Lepine: Mabel's Story

Since I was in Hay River for my son's hockey tournament this past weekend, I thought I'd try to find a short story by a Hay River author. It was a difficult search (the town only has a population of 3648 after all), but I finally happened upon "Fearless" Frederick Lepine's "Mabel's Story."

I wasn't entirely optimistic, though and because it was the grand prize winner in a 1996 Northwest Territories Writing Contest sponsored by NWT Literacy. Sure it won a prize, but I suspected it won because it was a heavy handed message about literacy, not because it was well written.

I'm pleased to say that it wasn't heavy handed at all. It's about an young man's encounter with an aboriginal woman named Mabel, who recounts her history as he helps her up from a fall and return back to her home. One part of history happens to be that she decided to learn how to read at age 66. It's a fact that can almost blend in with the others in the story but there are some subtle messages there if you look close.

Klik luncheon meat. Libby's brown beans. Cheezies. Boxes of Lipton chicken soup. Pilot biscuits, Kraft Dinner, Coke. These are the groceries that spill from Mabel's bags as she slips on the ice. Could be seen as mere cataloging of items for the sake of detail, but I think there are negative connotation of this grocery list; that this is the list of someone who is poorer and not refined. I say this, even as I sometimes buy some of these items. Not to say that Mabel should be judged by such items, or that some people don't genuinely enjoy such foods, but taken as a whole, I think there's an underlying message. Could Lepine be making a statement about public perceptions regarding lower class people and illiteracy?

Despite these perceptions, Lepine also manages to slip in that Mabel has learned to speak several languages. And, as I mentioned, she's aboriginal, she's 66, and she's learning to read and write. Any racists, ageists, classists, or just plain pessimists who would doubt that such a woman couldn't learn how to read should respect that such people are possibly just as bright and capable as the next. Such people possibly have a lot to offer. "Mabel's Story" is as much about dignity as it is about literacy.

It's not a preachy story, despite of all this, and I quite enjoyed it.

(Did you write a story for Short Story Monday? If so, please leave a link in the comments below.)

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