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The Protagonist Speaks

Interviews with the characters of your favourite books

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Family

Anna Di Angelo (of Trillium, by Margaret Lindsay Holton)

Dear readers, tonight with us is a matriarch of a wine-making family from Canada. She is here to tell us about the 250-year history of three families.


Tell us a little about where you grew up. What was it like there?

Hello. My name is Anna Di Angelo and I am in my 80th year now. I am the only daughter of the late Domi and Gloria Di Angelo. I still live in the same 1920s family bungalow near the massive century-old Hartford peach and fruit farm on the southern shore of Lake Ontario.  My grandfather, brothers and nephews have all worked there as farm labourers. The Hartford family have been very good to our family, the Di Angelos, over the generations. Some may think it’s an Old World feudal type of arrangement, but I know better. Without the Hartford’s help, our family would never have rooted and settled here. ….  I cannot read or write so I am sharing these thoughts through dictation, helped by my older brother, Gregorio. … Greg knows that I love plants. I was never allowed to work on the Hartford Farm because, as I was told back then, I was a girl.  People also said, back then, that I was simple or ‘backwards’. Well, yes, I am a girl, but I am not simple. I have just never cared for most nonsense that people think important. I know, as example, that healthy plants in a healthy garden are very important, more important that a shiny new car, or new clothes. I know that healthy growing plants gives us life. Healthy plants only thrive with the right balance of soil, sunshine and water. For most of my life, I have been quite content to tinker in our family’s back garden and grow our large growing family’s vegetables. Over the years, I’ve often helped other local villagers care for their plants and gardens too. They would bring me their sick and dying plants to mend and I would tend to them until they were better. I did make a little bit of pocket change doing that, but mostly people would thank me with a fresh cutting or a new root for my growing garden  … I especially love grapes and have worked very hard at developing a sturdy strain that survives the cold winters of Ontario. They grow all over the trellis in the back garden now.  They grow up the walls and surround the windows too … My vine has even been incorporated into the Hartford estate. Greg had suggested to Mr. Hartford that, if done properly, they could grow my hardy grape to make icewine.  That was the only time I was allowed on the Hartford farm. They needed me to watch over and prune those young shoots, to coax them to give their luscious fall fruit. Greg, my older brother, watched over me, while I watched over that maturing vineyard. Then, a few years after that, the tending was taken over by Greg’s boys, Tony, Charlie – and my bastard boy, Johnny.

Did you have any favourite toys as a child? Any cherished memories?

When Johnny was a baby, Uncle Joe hand-carved a little billy-goat for him out of driftwood. I painted it. When Greg came back from the war, the family believed that I, as a teenager, couldn’t look after Johnny properly. It was decided that Johnny would move over to their house and grow up as the older brother of Greg and Angela’s two sons, Tony and Charlie. I didn’t mind. They were just over the backyard fence. The gate was always open and all the young boys would come over to see their grandparents, and me.

I remember when Charlie first got a job working at the Whistleman Winery in the 1970s: he started to stay in the back bedroom, my parents’ old room, because his hours were so unpredictable. I didn’t mind that either.  I would make up food parcels for him to take to the fields and made sure his clothes were clean, just like I used to do for my brothers, Greg and Attilio, when we were younger. Poor Attilio was killed during the war. Greg never really got over that huge family loss. He always believed it was his fault that Atti died. I doubt that, because Greg has always been a good son, brother and father to his own boys.

Personally, I think war is a horrible and unnatural human disease that kills and maims virile young men. It destroys the living. It destroys Life. What good gardener could possibly approve of that?

What do you do now?

Well, I’m old now. 80 plus. Officially, I am the matriarch of the still growing Di Angelo family, even though I never married. Johnny, my son, did grow strong and healthy in my belly, after I was raped.

I was fifteen at the time, walking home with my wheelbarrow along the lakeshore path, when that unknown man approached me. At first, he was kind, funny and friendly, but then he suddenly grabbed me around my waist and threw me down on the ground. The wheelbarrow tipped over.

When my monthly bleeds stopped, I told my mother I thought I was with child. Turns out I was. There was a lot of confusion, upset and anger at that time. But what could be done? I was pregnant in a Catholic family and the man was unknown.

Continue reading “Anna Di Angelo (of Trillium, by Margaret Lindsay Holton)”

Dana McCarren (of The Hook, by Kathleen Doler)

Dear readers, tonight with me is a globe-trotting journalist making the journey back to her childhood town, a place she has been running away from all her life.

She is there to reconnect with her family, her drug-addicted brother, and the town’s tight-knit surfing community. In the process she runs into a gang war, a violent drug kingpin, the FBI, and a whole new family crisis.

She is here to tell us about facing her ruinous childhood, her inability to sustain relationships, and her struggle to move on with her life. 


Tell us a little about growing up in Half Moon Bay and learning to surf?

When he was a thirteen-year-old grommet, my older brother, Shane, started learning to surf with his buddy, Craig. I was always determined to do anything Shane did. So, I’d ride my bike out of the neighborhood and hunt them down — I had the makings of a journalist even as a tween. I’d pedal as fast as I could…away from that house, away to anywhere. Finally, Craig got tired of seeing me sitting alone on the foggy damp cliffs, watching. For my twelfth birthday, he gave me his old yellowed and dented surfboard, coated with dirt-encrusted surf wax. It was waterlogged, heavy and hideous, but it smelled like coconuts and it was mine. I started trying to ride it, getting drilled into the sand regularly. I was hooked. Surf rushes. It fills my ears and quiets my brain. It washes off the shame.

Do you have any cherished childhood memories?

Cherished? Not a word I’d ever use in the same sentence as “childhood.” I ran away from my fucked-up family (sorry, journalists always have potty mouths) as soon as I’d graduated from high school, when I was just seventeen. I rarely visit my hometown of Half Moon Bay. It can suffocate me worse than a collapsing wave. Craig helped me make my escape to college…at the time, Shane was already self-medicating, escaping in another way.

What do you do now?

Although I’m a business journalist with a well-respected newspaper I like to tell people I’m a professional gossip. Really, what do I do? I get people to tell me things they’re not supposed to say and I’m not supposed to know. If I ask the right question, the person I’m interviewing squirms. That tells me I’m on the right track. I’m a road warrior; I travel frequently for work. It’s a great way to avoid having a real life, one with relationships and commitments. I don’t have pets; hell, I have a hard time keeping house plants alive.

Continue reading “Dana McCarren (of The Hook, by Kathleen Doler)”

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