When Ottawa author Margaret Singleton was a child, her loving adoptive mother would tell her the story of how her parents had chosen her as a baby and she was delivered to them in a chauffeur-driven limousine. As she grew up as a farmer’s daughter, so did the physical pain and mental misery of feeling she didn’t belong. Dreams of the city filled her head as she did rough chores like cleaning out the silo, collecting eggs from the hen house and filling the wood box. Distracted and obsessed by the time she was a teen-ager in the 1950’s, she vowed to one day claim her identity and find her real mother. She completed her long, difficult mission by publishing her memoir The Box in the Closet and launching it in the crystal ballroom of Toronto’s King Edward Hotel in 2011. This is the site where her real parents were reunited at a ball in the 1940’s after years of separation.
- The start for solving the mystery came when, on her deathbed in the 1960’s, Singleton’s adoptive mother told her a green box in the closet held documents about her birth. Until then, except for one or two toys and the limousine story, she knew nothing. Many obstacles frustrated her search: lack of information, shocking prejudices and practices towards the illegitimate and adopted, legal trickery, lack of legal rights protections and the difficulty of coping with her own emotions as well as what her mother had gone through in order to have her. This very sad, horrific story will bring tears to your eyes.
Extraordinary features of this inspiring, factual yet creative book are:
- the two brave, strong women (mother and daughter) who fought their way through great challenges
- passages rife with nostalgic details of dress and setting that recreate the past century
- vivid, dramatic scenes that involve the reader, as if watching a movie
- insight into the thinking of a wealthy, privileged, powerful, controlling, iron-willed Rosedale aristocratic patriarch
- the author’s creative and ingenious narrative techniques, dialogue and embellishments based on “credible theory”. She takes the reader into her confidence
- an overall attitude of forgiveness and thankfulness after having found her birth family, although big personal and social issues remain
When the book was published and launched, Singleton sent a personal letter to the current residents of the mansion on Cluny Drive in Toronto’s Rosedale district where her story begins. They are Heather Reisman, owner of Indigo/Chapters, the largest book retailer in Canada, and her husband, Charles Schwartz, one of the country’s wealthiest businessmen. They did not respond to the invitation to share in the history of that day in 1935 when a limousine left what is now their mansion’s garage bearing a seven-month-old baby, a chauffeur and a distraught grandmother. Eight tiny silver vases filled with pink rosebuds were lined up across the base of the back-seat window to console her.
Wouldn’t it be the ultimate irony if it went on to become a best seller, and even a movie? It certainly has the potential. I think Reisman may be another prominent Rosedalean who miscalculated. If Singleton’s real Bicknell grandfather had realized that his daughter and her pregnancy would not go away, no matter how much he was determined to protect their social standing, this story could not have happened.
Memoirs find their roots in the bittersweet and, perversely, we love reading them.
Happy Reading from Cozy Book Basics!