RUSSELL — Russell Meadows Retirement Community held its final winter carnival event, a winter lounge lunch which welcomed former Russell resident, author and artist, Shirley Van Dusen, on Wed., Feb. 22.
The 91-year-old Van Dusen was introduced by long-time friend Betty Hay, who wrote one of her inimitable poems in the guest’s honour. Much of the humorous poem was dedicated to the number of pets in the Van Dusen household when the children were young.
Van Dusen addressed the crowd, describing how she came to Russell with her husband, Tom Van Dusen, Sr., and how she made friends in the area. Interestingly, a home they had rented in Ottawa belonged to Betty Dugdale of Russell, who was present at the luncheon. Shirley Van Dusen then told tales of living with seven children and a menagerie of pets, including usual pets like cats and dogs, and not so usual pets like chickens, a sheep and a mischievous monkey named Sidney.
Van Dusen described the pandemonium of life with her young family, and said she decided to write some of the funny events down. She later took formal training. “When the kids were older I took a course at Carleton University in Creative Writing,” she told the crowd, “and started cobbling my manuscripts together from my notes.”
These manuscripts became books of short, humorous anecdotes, including The Mother’s Day Monkey, which described some of the pet monkey’s hijinks. Van Dusen read two short pieces from the book, and her description of the monkey loose in the living room just as the bridge players broke for lunch had the audience in stitches. Other stories she talked about included the family of pet chickens, Ed, Ned, Ted, Jed and Jerome. The kids would feed the chickens out of a hole in the kitchen window, put there when son Mark shot a BB gun and the BB ricocheted and hit the glass.
Mark, who was at the luncheon, quickly denied it was he who had done it, but Shirley insisted, and continued poking fun at her children, three of whom were right in front of her.
Another story which had people roaring with laughter was the tale of Daphne and the Bylaw Officer. The Van Dusens had a house on Concession St. at the edge of town. A neighbour had sheep who had recently lambed, and Shirley announced she had always wanted a little lamb. “So I had this darling sheep-thing, she would come to the back door and stamp her feet when she wanted maple leaf cookies.” Sadly, Daphne’s presence broke Township bylaws and the sheep had to go back to her original home a mile up the road.
Van Dusen ended with a strong exhortation to the crowd. “I hope everybody writes down their memories— I really do. You don’t have to be Shakespeare, just write it down. Then they’ll have some written material they can check and say, ‘it really happened’.”