wrote short stories, novels, and creative non-fiction
for adults, plus stories and chapter-books for children. In 1953 McClelland & Stewart published her most successful adult novel, High Bright Buggy Wheels, which sold like crazy and generated fan-mail for the rest of her long life. (Luella was born in 1900 and died in 1996.)
Now the book that my family always termed simply The Buggy Wheels has come to life again, in a reprint from Oxford University Press as part of OUP’s Wynford Project, which “restores to print a wide range of titles representing significant milestones in Canadian literature.” (OUP has also reprinted one of Luella’s creative non-fiction books, The Elegant Canadians, and I’ll write about that later.)
My brother, Philip Creighton, and I are happy that High Bright Buggy Wheels is available again. We know the novel well and see it as our mother’s finest work.
The heroine is Tillie Shantz, a young Mennonite woman in rural Ontario circa 1900. Her story takes a classic coming-of-age shape, as Tillie struggles against the narrowness of faith and family to reach a bigger life that still honours her origins. Tillie herself has great appeal, as do several minor characters, particularly her father Levi Shantz. Readers loved Levi! So do I. (Luella herself by the way was not Mennonite, though her stepmother was.)
This reprint has brought me closer to my mother in new ways. As prep for writing the introduction, I reread the novel not only for enjoyment but in a literarily attentive way. For decades I’ve known that Luella gave me much of my story-telling ability, but I hadn’t identified the specifics. Now I see that she modelled how to use details of clothing, food, sky, flowers, weather, colour. How to embed clues in dialogue. How to omit something & thereby make it stand out huge. How to use minor characters to carry theme. How to repeat with variation.
I am grateful! And will thus modify the famous quotation from Goethe’s Faust: “That which thy mothers have bequeathed to thee, earn it anew if thou wouldst possess it.” I’m working on it, Mum.
One of Luella’s essential texts was Irma Rombauer’s Joy of Cooking, which through umpteen editions bore that directive (in the patriarchal form) as its epigraph. No longer, sadly.
Luella Creighton’s High Bright Buggy Wheels is available from Amazon.