A debut author traces his family’s history, decade by decade, from the early 1900s to the present day.
In each chapter, Bright summarizes the major historical events of a 10-year span before recounting specific stories of himself and his family in detail. The author’s grandfather, Tom Bright, was married six times, and the family eventually spread from Ontario to Montana. They were mostly hardworking farmers, and these late pioneers in the first few chapters provide the most intriguing portions of his story, as well as wonderful, old photographs. The author’s recollections of his father, Ray Bright, riding in a cattle car across Canada in 1907 to start a new homestead are engaging, and other rich historical details bring the family’s first isolated farms to life. In 1923, Ray proposed to a local Ontario girl named Lottie Sampson, and in 1929, the author was born; he would eventually have a total of seven siblings. Thanks to his parents’ work ethic, the family would grow up “liv[ing] like kings” by Depression-era standards, despite not having electricity until 1949. Bright eventually attended theology school, where he married a young teacher named Marian Roberts; they lived with her mother, had five children, and taught at various schools around Canada throughout the prosperous 1950s and ’60s. Bright’s memoir diligently documents vacations, births, and job changes up to the present day, including Marian’s tragic passing and his new happy marriage to Betty Hamm in 2009. The inclusion of so many precise details makes the first few chapters feel dense with engaging material. However, later chapters, which cover more familiar narratives of road trips and graduations, become repetitive. The story and prose are most interesting when Bright examines his ancestors, instead of himself; several of them deserved more time in the spotlight, including the author’s eccentric vaudevillian uncle, Hart DeMille. Later accounts of new jobs and weddings, though, never seem like more than a thorough chronology intended for Bright’s immediate family, and general readers may wish for more stories of the pioneers.
A memoir that offers a promising look into the early 20th century but never brings the same excitement to its tales of more recent years.