Sun, January 30, 2005
Saunders memoir covers a lot of area
By James Reaney

Her grandfather was a mayor of London.

Her father was mayor, too, and a senator.

Those mayors of long ago -- J. W. Little (1895-1897) and Edgar Sydney Little (1920-1921) -- are just two of the many people whose memories float in and around Naomi Little Saunders' My Story: A Labour of Love.

"Everything I did, I was happy about," she says, summing up life, love and career.

The 105 pages of her memoirs branch out in many directions -- from Belvoir, a stately Delaware-area farm, to an amazing round house built in Wallaceburg, to such famous London addresses as 960 Wellington St. and

784 Richmond St.

Relying on personal memory, not history, My Story also has something to say about asparagus and architecture, the London Hunt, nursing, Ontario Hydro and much more. In other words, Saunders lets her mind travel over a lot of the terrain she has seen in her 87 years.

The author is fortunate to have found a Boswell to her Johnson in Peter Vickers. The two met

10 or 15 years ago when she was a customer at his framing

business. As her friend, Vickers has helped with research, typing and computer skills. Too modest to take any credit himself, he should be lauded for helping encourage the preservation of many important photographs, including those seen in My Story.

Saunders is not connected directly with the famous London clan whose name adorns

Saunders secondary school and other landmarks. Her late husband, Bill Saunders, was from Goderich.

Naomi and Bill, who worked for Ontario Hydro, shared many adventures. Both served in the Second World War -- Naomi as a nurse and Bill with the RCAF -- and they lived happily in that circular-shaped home they had built for their family in the 1960s.

"The best thing we did was build the round house," Saunders says. "Easy care," is the sensible reason she gives for liking it so much -- a good example of her sensible, direct approach to her life and times.

That Wallaceburg house intrigues me because it seems to have been a close relative of the late, lamented "round house" on Western Road in London. While the Wallaceburg architectural gem is still standing, its London cousin disappeared, abruptly, a few years ago.

Saunders mentions a "Mr. Dundas" as being connected with both structures. I would, as always, welcome more details.

For all the joys of a house that is round, the most fascinating place in the book, to me, is Belvoir. Its garden plots supplied asparagus, bunched by Naomi and her brothers, for sale at Covent Garden Market. Its cattle were fabled.

Pronounced "beaver" by the Littles and relations who owned the farm in the 19th century, its name came from a castle at

Rutland, England. The current pronunciation is more in keeping with its French meaning of "beautiful to see." Its owners

graciously made Belvoir available to Saunders and Vickers when it came time to launch My Story last year.

Speaking of launches, Saunders knows how to make a splash. At one moment, she puts time and space and memory into 74 words with this sure touchstone of Saunders recollection.

"I swam the length of the pool at age (of) five years, and was given a lovely pewter mug with a glass bottom by my father. That was the summer of 1922," she writes.

"The pool was always full, and in the wintertime there were logs floating in case of fire. Thankfully, there was never a problem. There were oodles and oodles of parties for all the years that we were there, from 1922 till 1950 when we sold."

For me, some of My Story's magic disappears when the years at Belvoir are over.

Naomi's father, whose dreams of a cattle empire never had the "cold hard cash" to become

reality, died after suffering a heart attack in 1943.

Her mother, Helen Gibson Weld, was a true Stoic, she says, keeping the Belvoir flag flying even as her husband died and her children were swept up in the war. Finally, she sold Belvoir.

As My Story continues, there are more passages of joy and sorrow and small events to go with the sense of life in London flowing by.

Not that Little, who turns 88 next month, is going to sit back and watch.

Her own life story is one she knew was worth telling. The Little saga still needs to be told.

"I just feel so badly. Grandfather Little and my dad, they were big people. They did a lot to form London . . . let's get the Littles on board," she says.

Vickers, her loyal ally and editor in preparing My Story, smiles that this Little campaign might be his next big task.

MY STORY: A LABOUR OF LOVE

What: Reminiscences of longtime

Londoner Naomi Little Saunders, including personal and family photos in its 105 pages

Details: Privately published and distributed; $15; Contact naomilittle@rogers.com


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