friend, the writer, gardener and early childhood educator Clare Latremouille,
otherwise known as Olivia McDonell, or Olivia Clare Latremouille-McDonell, has
died, after an extended and repeated battle with cancer. Clare had multiple
names over the years, born as Olivia Clare Latremouille, known as Clare Van Berkom
by the time we met her in high school, a few years older than the rest of us,
with four-year-old son Noah in tow. She was already writing by the time we met
her, which further encouraged some of those early attempts by the rest of our
small group. It was her fifth time in high school, and even her second in ours,
Glengarry District High School in Alexandria, Ontario, as she lived with and
then near her aunt and uncle in town. At the time, we even joked that of course
she was co-valedictorian when she graduated; she’d had so much more experience
being in high school than the rest of us. By the end, she’d had some of the
highest marks in the province. She was older, smarter and bolder than the rest
of us, with experience we couldn’t even imagine. She was smart, fearless and revelled
in silliness; she was brilliantly talented, and seemingly all over the place,
expertly moving from one expertise to another. She was even a winner of
Carleton University’s high school writing competition during her final high
school year, part of a long run of winners from our school, nurtured by our
endlessly-patient English teacher, Mr. Robert MacLeod (I won the following year
for fiction). She loved children, even running a home daycare for a few years
during their time living in Ottawa’s Hintonburg neighbourhood, before attending
further school to be able to work as a Registered Early Childhood Educator through
the Ottawa Carleton School Board. She lived in such a state of joyful openness.
Of care. She was always the first to make sure everyone in the group was taken care
of, attended. Made sure you had some food. A beer, maybe. The door was always
open. You could always drop by.
had multiple names, even to the point of, eventually, multiple library cards, whether
under her maiden name, or either of her married names. So she could borrow seemingly
unlimited stacks of simultaneous books. During their years in Ottawa, she always
knew the best thrift stores, and visited them daily. If you were seeking out
Clare, there was a run of years that you could just go to the St. Vincent’s on
Wellington Street West, any day of the week. There was thrift store where the
owner would always provide Clare with baked goods, hidden under the counter. Another,
she always knew which staff member would give her the better deals. She knew
the schedules of new clothing, new staff, new furniture deliveries. She had
trunks filled with toys, costumes, musical instruments, library books and just
about anything else you could think of, only some of which related to their running
the daycare. She was always collecting, adding or repairing. Once they moved
out to the farm, she and Bryan managed and maintained a seemingly-endless garden,
and even had a pair of horses, which delighted our young ladies.
Monty Python albums she would play loudly and repeatedly in her apartment in
Alexandria, ever prompting Noah to sing along. I remember Noah’s fifth birthday
party, and the Creedence Clearwater Revival cover band she wanted to follow around
that summer. I remember her fortieth birthday party on Armstrong Avenue, when
Noah was twenty-two. Or the party that centred in their front room, having
convinced AJ Dolman to play Clare’s accordion, given their admission of lessons
as a child. Clare had more musical instruments than just about anyone. We had our
guitars, but still picked up her trumpet, her bongo drums, a ukulele. When they
drove from Kamloops to Ottawa in the 1990s, having left the café they’d
established there, Magpies, not everything they owned could make its way east,
but Clare’s mannequin, naturally, was carefully strapped onto the U-haul.
“The last of the living Latremouilles,” she called herself. Except for that distant cousin, the long-time Vancouver radio dj (but we didn’t talk about him). I’ve a stack of photographs from when Clare and I ran through our high school, attempting to convince various of our teachers to pose with the nose glasses we provided (most said yes; at least one sternly but politely refused). I once borrowed her jean jacket so I could look cool, as a group of us made for Montreal for a Peace Concert at the Montreal Forum in 1987. The illustration she made of our pre-concert group in the park, drinking beer and playing guitar with a few dozen others, made its way onto the cover of the zine we invented as part of our high school “writer’s craft” class: assembling poems, stories, drawings. All of it published anonymously, of course. She could fall helpless into fits of giggles, including when dancing at the Carleton Tavern somewhere in the 00s, realizing her friend Joy’s dancing had caused Joy’s pants to fall off, without them noticing. There was an element to our pairing that rendered chaos, a joyous silliness that not everyone else had patience for, akin to six-year-old twins: each encouraging the other.
I published some of her poems in the first issue of my long poem magazine, STANZAS, in 1993, and in a chapbook, not that much later. She’d been working on a poetry manuscript she’d titled “Naked,” some of which sits in a file on my computer. The poems from STANZAS, her “Garden” series, that later fell into her novel, The Desmond Road Book of the Dead (Chaudiere Books, 2006). As the first of the series, “Garden,” reads:
I can make the garden
grow, the sun fall up and down in the sky, a man full grown from passion in my
tissue, in secret places I hide my fat and wait for rain for rain for rain
How am I supposed to experience a world that Clare Latremouille no longer occupies? I shall have to be attentive enough for the both of us, I suppose. I shall have to be silly enough. An image in my head of the remaining members of Monty Python at Graham Chapman’s graveside, the first of the troupe to die: every one of them standing with pants at their ankles.
Condolences to her husband Bryan, sons Noah and Sam, her whirlwind of cousins and anyone else who was fortunate enough to fall into her orbit. I look forward to the stories still to come. I suspect they are many.