First, it was Doesn’t That Hurt the Cow’s Back? Then came Picture This! And now author Steve Thompson has completed The First Time Isn’t Always the Best, the final book, he says, in the trilogy about his family.
“Unless the next generation coming up creates some new stories, this is the last family book for me,” Thompson said. Then he paused and added, “Some of them may be planning to make contributions. My daughter Bev, in Calgary, is a writer.”
The three books have followed the lives, the adventures (and misadventures) of the Thompson family, the parents and seven siblings Dave, Doug, Erik, Mike, Carol, Paul and Steve, growing up in the South Dundas area.
“When I started, I actually hadn’t planned to do a series of books,” Thompson said. “I had written some short stories, and I was back at a literacy day in Winchester and read some of them aloud. I was asked, ‘Got any more of those?’ and was introduced to a publisher in Ottawa.
The first book, well, some people said some nice things, and the stories just started expanding.”
As the books were developing, Thompson made a point of asking his brothers and sisters to share their memories with him.
“I asked Paul, what do you remember about growing up? He looked at me and said, “Steve, do what you always do. Make them up,” Thompson laughed.
The Thompson family, like many families, was made up of different characters, different personalities. Some relatives, Thompson freely admitted, teetered a little too close to the legal edge at times.
Thompson’s grandfather, some of whose exploits are described in The First Time Isn’t Always the Best, was called the “John Dillinger of Ontario. Among other things, Grandpa John had two wives, my grandmother and another lady he decided to also ‘marry’.
He had a few other secrets too. There was the cheese factory he owned that happened to burn down when he need some money. And there was the rum running during Prohibition. Grandpa maintained he was just helping the thirsty.”
Uncle Cam was also a bit of a black sheep, whose business activities (although quite successful) were described by Thompson as a bit “creative.”
“All my dad’s uncles had their ‘shady’ aspects,” Thompson laughed. “I have thought that that was probably why my dad was very upstanding. I remember him as stern and upright. From a very early age he had assumed responsibility for supporting his family and siblings. With his own children, he could be a bit aloof and distant. It may have all been a response to Grandpa John’s notoriety.”
His relationship with his parents is one that Thompson explores in his book.
In the afterward, Thompson writes that “I regret that I never told him (his father) much about my feelings concerning things that really mattered to both of us.”
In the book, Thompson’s mother is portrayed as an outgoing, sociable woman. “She loved to talk and visit. And she was a story teller, even sharing stories from the far past, the War of 1812.”
An Irishwoman, she loved the underdogs of the world. And she had a keen sense of humour: the ‘drama’ occasionally played out among neighbours always interested and amused her.
“She was the anchor of the family, the source of my love of story telling,”
There are many stories, hilarious, poignant, a little sad in this final book about the boisterous Thompson clan. Readers will discover for themselves the joys, the sorrows, the adventures of growing up in rural Ontario decades ago. They may even recognize something of themselves in the tales.
“People are interesting,” Steve Thompson said. “Talk to your parents. Know your family history. Perhaps this was a simpler time, but life was good. Stay connected with your siblings. To this day all seven of us remain good friends, and have regular family reunions. Of course,” he added, with a smile, “I take advantage every way I can.”
Steve Thompson’s book is available at the Basket Case.