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Summing up a life of words
Some people just seem to know what their life’s passion is from a very young age.
And though Dodi Morrison downplays her own writing, it has been a central feature of her life for 80 years, now summed up in her first ever book, Okanagan Reflections.
“I’ve never felt that my writing was that important, my sister being so brilliant,” said Morrison, referring to the Governor-General award winning poet, artist and author Heather Spears. But luckily for readers in the Okanagan Valley, Spears disagreed.
“Finally she and my daughter, who is also a writer, insisted I put this together,” said Morrison, who said they picked out the general categories for the table of contents, like people, the environment and the many other topics Morrison has written about during her long career as an educator, broadcaster and columnist.
Stretching her mind back over 90 years of life, Morrison remembers herself writing as a child.
“Our teacher had foolishly seated us in the order of our rank,” she said, explaining that her Grade 6 teacher placed the quicker students in the back rows. “I was seated in the back corner, which embarrassed me. She didn’t bother with the back two rows very much, that’s where the smarter students were.”
But it was there that Morrison started writing.
“I ran a little newspaper. I wish I had it now, it was funny,” said Morrison. “Then I just kept on writing. I didn’t do much with anything; I didn’t intend to do anything, I just had to write.”
Morrison was trained as a high school teacher, eventually finding her way into children’s programming for the CBC, which she did “off and on over the years,” as she raised her own family.
“The first thing I ever submitted that made some money was a story called It’s Not A Very Good Road and that’s in the collection. It was about a family expedition to collect huckleberries in the Kootenays — huckleberries in the Kootenays are like nothing else,” she said. That was in the early 1950s, when her son Chris was very young.
“I submitted that to the CBC and I won a contest — $35, I think. But it had to be read by a man because it starts out with ‘My wife is always after me to go huckleberry picking,’” said Morrison. Her father was chosen as the male voice to read it the first time at CBC in Vancouver but last week, more than five decades later, another family member was chosen to read it at the book’s launching at Hooked on Books in Penticton.
“For the launch, my son read it. That was nice, he is a very good reader,” said Morrison. After the success of that first article, Morrison began writing for magazines and other periodicals, eventually returning to broadcasting when CBC Kelowna called her up to see if she was interested in becoming their senior’s columnist.
“I had to condense it into three minutes, interviewing seniors. That was really fun and challenging,” said Morrison, who interviewed the likes of Steve Cannings and Edith Iglauer for her on-air column.
Okanagan Reflections brings together many of these short pieces in an anthology format, which Morrison said is ideal for bite-size reading.
“You hear about books you can’t put down, this is a book you are meant to put down. Read a selection and put it down, then go back to it,” she said. But getting it together required some help, and Morrison found herself working with an old colleague, Dona Sturmanis, as well as the Okanagan Institutes’ Robert McDonald.
“We submitted this idea to various publishers and we found one that we really liked, but she wasn’t going to start until September. And we thought time was of the essence. I mean, I am 90,” said Morrison. “We decided to self publish, which is a misnomer. Dona did the publishing, she did most of the work. She really worked hard for me and edited everything. Robert McDonald, he did the actual book and put it together.”
Proceeds from sales of the book, which is available now in Penticton at Hooked on Books, help support the local chapter of Grandmothers for Africa, which Morrison helped found in 2006. She hopes to draw on their support to get the book out to other locations for sale, like local Farmers’ Markets.
“All the grannies are very eager to help me. They are a wonderful group and most of them are about 20 years younger than I am, so they’ve got lots of pep. That’s why I thought I should do this. I can’t run around and do all the things they do,” said Morrison. “They have done marvellously, we only started in 2006 and in the time since then we’ve raised $70,000.”
But even at 90, Morrison isn’t finished with her writing career.
“Musicians and writers can’t retire. I am always wanting to write something, and sometimes I just can’t get it done fast enough,” she said.