Posted by Nick Aroutzidis on Apr 21, 2018
April 26, 2018: Simon Marsden “Stratford Festiival. Behind The Scenes”, Mark Smith will introduce, and Sarah Hamza will thank our speaker.

Head Table:  Our President Linda Bathe, invites Mark Smith, Basil Hurst, Dan Kane, John Kechnie, Bryan Lapier and Bill Lemmon, to join her at the head table.
 
This Week:   Rural Urban Evening, Stratford Rotary Complex
 
President, Linda Bathe, welcomed a sold out crowd to the annual Rural Urban dinner and community celebration, where we enjoyed a fabulous meal featuring Perth County agricultural products thanks to the generosity of many sponsors: Ontario Egg Farmers, Perth County Beef Farmers, Perth Pork Products & the Demartines Family Farm, The Black Swan Brewery, The Arden Park Hotel, Festival Inn, L&M Catering, The Milky Whey, M&M Foods, Pazzo Taverna, Pelee Island Winery, The Queen’s Inn, The Local Community Food Centre, Tim Hortons, Foster’s Inn and Cozyns. 
 
M.C. Michael Fox thanked our sponsors as well as the musical performers,  “Bookends,” who entertained us during the meal with a lively selection of Celtic music.  He also thanked student volunteers from St. Michael’s and Central Secondary Schools for assistance with service and clean up and the Rotary Club’s Rural Urban Committee and volunteers.   
 
Michael introduced Richard Smelski, Chair of the 2018 selection committee for the Perth County Agricultural Wall of Fame, housed at the Stratford Perth Museum.  This year’s inductees Elaine & Roger Cook were recognized for their exceptional contributions to Perth County agriculture. Richard noted, in particular, the Cook’s efforts in reforestation on their property, the Ontario Woodlot in Shakespeare, and the arboretum at the Fryfogel historical site.  He also lauded their mentoring of youth though 4H. Elaine and Roger were humbled by the honour and commended all volunteers who work to better their communities.
 
Keynote speaker, author and Stratford native, Andrew Pyper, was introduced by his former grade 9 science partner, Katharine Hahn.  Son of longstanding Rotarian and Paul Harris Fellow, the late Dr. John Pyper, Andrew’s local roots often feature in his writing.  His award winning first novel, Lost Girls made the New York Times best-seller list and is being developed as a TV series. Movie rights have been sold for The Demonologist, the sixth of nine books.  He has a B.A. and M.A. in English Literature from McGill and a law degree from U. of T., but he never practised law, deciding that fiction writing was his calling. 
 
Finding Stories from a Lifetime in Town and Country.
 
Andrew expressed appreciation for the invitation and for everyone’s attendance at this event, given the competing draw of tonight’s episode of spring bakers on the Food Network and possibly also some hockey game.  He is often asked where his ideas come from. (Guelph!?) Does he just make things up (à la a certain president)?  No. His fiction comes from personal experience, but it is not autobiographical.  Nor is it history – facts, dates, places.  Experience reflects the shape of things past and his was shaped in the fertilizer-perfumed air of Stratford and surrounding area.
 
All of us need stories. They help us empathize and understand other people’s situations.  He suggested we try an experiment using something we want to communicate. If you say, “Let me explain something,” you will see staring back at you someone who doesn’t want to be there.  Science verifies that in this situation half of the listener’s brain leaves the conversation. However, if you say, “ Let me tell you a story,” the whole brain lights up, the listener becomes engaged and attentive. He/she wants to understand. (Andrew suggested that men in particular pay heed!)
 
Stories are where meaning lives.  Much of his work is written as if set in Perth County, where people are typically “down to earth” with a “no nonsense” attitude. The local accent is sharp, to the point, almost staccato. Residents seem virtually allergic to magic and the fantastical.  Yet, most know the locations of haunted houses and where to find the local medium or mystic.  Not that there’s a sign on the door, just everyone knows.  After all, this is the home of the Stratford Festival, the Mecca of story telling, and the territory mined by Nobel laureate Alice Munro for her short stories.  Ms. Munro’s stories elevate what we all see.  Her description of the birth of a baby on the sofa in the lobby of a hotel (Queen’s Inn) in a blizzard may not be literal but she makes it feel more real than if it had happened.
 
Andrew recalled the many times he and friends drove the side roads near Sebringville, where they concocted the tale of a woman escapee from a London asylum, who, taking shelter under a bridge, would grab your ankles as you passed by.  They fabricated the haunted bridge because they needed it. Eventually he used this myth as the core of his first novel. Mythology is not the same as fantasy.  It is a collection of stories with a message to deliver and it’s a feature of every culture and religion. 
 
Though one might not immediately think so, romance is also a characteristic of Perth County. His own early romantic experiences occurred on local back roads and park benches, in friends’ rec rooms, and while parked among the gently rolling hills in his Dad’s Buick Estate Wagon, “the Chariot.” One bright winter day, he and his girl skipped school and “parked” on a back road just outside town. They were not concerned about privacy, confident that anyone driving by would adopt the local mind-your-own-business attitude and drive on. Then a truck come along, slowed down and sidled up beside them. Unfortunately, they had only one small blanket for cover, which after a tussle he won. Their wrestling match was rewarded with laughter and slow applause from the two fellows in ironic John Deere caps, peering down at them with a look that said “ if you’re dumb enough to do it out here, we’re gonna watch.”
 
He also recalled his teenaged hockey team’s trip to Drayton, where they faced off against some very big guys, with beards and kids who could walk. Down 10 – 0, Andrew opted to take out a player while shouting something like “Drayton you’re gonna die!”  Consequently the Stratford team took shelter in the dressing room, then ran for the bus, which was pummelled by their opponents as it departed.  Good Fun!
 
If you are a good listener, people will give you stuff for free: advice, stories.  It is important not to practice snobbery or you may miss something profound.  Early in his career, he drove to do a reading in St. Thomas in a blizzard.  After braving whiteout conditions on the 401, he discovered only himself and the librarian who had invited him, alone with rows of empty chairs in the library basement.  Then, a large goggled woman came in carrying two bags, which he was convinced contained human skulls, and took a seat at the back.  He delivered the reading as planned and then asked for questions. Her hand shot up!  She told a story. “ Reading your books is like driving at night. You keep going faster and faster trying to catch up to the car ahead.  Just as you’re about to lose control, you hear a banging coming from inside the car.  You pull over and check in the trunk …. it’s you in there!”  What she said is true of all of us.  We drive in the dark thinking the thing that we want is just up ahead; but it’s not, it’s in the trunk.  It’s with us all along.  By the way, she wasn’t weird, just a fan whose bags were full of his books.
 
One more experiment to try at home. If you say to someone “Tell me the story of your life,” they will list a sequence of events, starting with “I was born in ...,” like a Linked-In page.  However, if you say “Tell me what your life’s been about,” they will consider for a moment, then tell you a story, even though it was the first question that actually asked for a story.  When we try to tell each other what’s really meaningful, we tell a story. It’s where we live; it’s where meaning lives.
 
Rick Orr thanked Mr. Pyper, by telling him a story.  When Rick changed schools in Grade 3, Andrew was the first kid to greet him at the new school and make him feel welcome. He was also the smartest kid Rick knew. His intellect and humour were there as a youngster and have grown and matured with time.  Rick is certain Andrew’s father would be excited and proud that he joined us tonight.
 
President Bathe closed the event by thanking the organizing committee, the volunteers and the guests in attendance for a successful evening.
 
Scribe: Pat Shewen
 
Make-ups: No report
 
April’s Attendance Committee:  Rena Spevak Orr (I/C), Sarah Hamza, Gary Morris, Ron Shaw, Roger Black, Mark Smith, Tony Carter, Patti Riehl, Guy Chadsey.