Monday, April 2, 2018

How Canadian professor Harold Atwood, 81, got his book back -- 70 years later (4 photos)

From the SOO TODAY in Canada

NEWS ITEM written by Tom Douglas

How Harold got his Mark Twain book back -- 70 years later! (with 4 photos)

A recent SooToday column about Margaret Atwood gave writer Tom Douglas the opportunity to return the long-lost tome. Tom  recounts the tale in this article.

A former Sault resident, Dr. Harold Atwood, got an early Easter 

At 81, Dr. Atwood – older brother of internationally-renowned author Margaret Atwood – is a published author in his own right following an illustrious career as Chair of the Department of Physiology and Professor Emeritus at the University of Toronto.

So why would a noted scholar like Dr. Harold Leslie Atwood – referred to on the as “one of Canada’s most distinguished neuroscientists” – be as thrilled as he obviously was to receive what many people dismiss as “a kid’s book”?
Well, the last time he saw that particular copy of the gray-covered book published by The Modern Library in New York was in the late 1940s in his home in Sault Ste. Marie.

His dad, Dr. Carl Atwood, an eminent entomologist, was the first Director of the Sault’s Forest Insect Laboratory – known locally as the Bug Lab. One of the employees there at the time was Archie McDonald, whose son Gary was bed-ridden with an autoimmune disease that would take his life at age 12.

Gary, a voracious reader, was always looking for new books to read so Carl loaned Archie the book that Harold had received as a birthday gift from his parents on February 15, 1947. Not long after the loan of the book, the Atwoods moved from the Sault, Gary succumbed to his illness and the book got sidetracked.

Archie died at age 99 and his daughter Gail discovered the book while going through his effects. The inscription in the flyleaf read: “To Harold, for his birthday, With love, from Mother and Daddy February 15, 1947”. Gail vaguely remembered the loan of the book (she was only nine when her brother died) and was determined to get it back to its rightful owner.

An opportunity presented itself when I saw a post on Facebook by featuring a history column from the Sault Ste. Marie Public Library headed: Did you know Margaret Atwood wrote her first book of poems in the Sault? Since I am married to Archie McDonald’s daughter, I was aware of the story about the Mark Twain book and posted a plea for anyone who might have contact with Margaret Atwood to let her know we had her brother’s book. 

The story takes on an international flavour at this point because a retired American journalist now living in Taiwan, Dan Bloom, saw the SooToday item on-line. An Atwood fan who occasionally exchanges emails with the author, Bloom wrote me and said he had passed the item on to Margaret who in turn forwarded it to her brother Harold.

Harold contacted me and we arranged a book handoff at the University of Toronto Faculty Club March 30, where Harold and his wife Lenore hosted Gail and me at the club’s pre-Easter buffet.
Harold was thrilled at getting the book back and intends to give it to his grandson – named after the youngster’s great-grandfather Carl.

“I asked him if he had any problems reading material that in some circles isn’t considered politically correct these days and he said he would be pleased and thrilled to read a book that his grandfather has read so long ago,” said Harold.

Dr. Atwood thanked us for going to the trouble of heading into Toronto from our Oakville home to see the book returned to its rightful owner. Our response was that the cost of the GO Train and taxi that got us to the Faculty Club was a heck of a lot cheaper than if the stray book had come from the Sault library and a 70-year old fine had been pending!

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