Title: The Ripening: A Canadian Girl Grows Up
Author: Lily Iona MacKenzie
Genre: Fiction, New Adult Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Publisher: Pen-L Publishing
Sexual awakening can be messy business.
Tillie Bishop never knew her father, and when her mother abandons her, Tillie quickly becomes streetwise. Even in Calgary, forces of the coming 1960s—a decade of rebellion, discovery, and upheaval—are already at work within her. As a Canadian Girl in Training, she’s tried to follow their Christian guidelines, but she prefers to make up her own. She smokes cigarettes in the church bathroom during the group’s meetings and plays kissing games afterward with neighborhood boys. Barely a teenager, glamour becomes her new guiding star, and she fantasizes about a future of dating men and having sex.
At seventeen, during a stay in Toronto, she becomes a band groupie and throws herself into the “sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll” scene—just what she’s been looking for. Then, seeking more adventure, she moves to San Francisco, drawn to its psychedelic night life, leading to a deeper downward spiral. However, Tillie’s grit and ability to face life’s challenges are inspiring, the seeds for later discovering her artist self.
Tillie takes readers on a wild ride through a period of riotous personal and cultural change. Join her if you dare!
Tillie Bishop eventually becomes a visual artist and changes her name to Tillie Bloom. Follow the older Tillie in Freefall: A Divine Comedy. She’ll take you into an art world you’ll never forget.
Excerpt from The Ripening: A Canadian Girl Grows Up:
It was spring, and the clouds had returned. They were white but not the glary white of snow when the sun struck it. Clouds seemed friendly and soft, reminding Tillie of marshmallows. She liked their fleecy, milky color and the way they came and went, constantly changing shape, giving her glimpses of blue.
Mama’s belly was changing, too. It grew like the bread she baked. Tillie wondered if she’d swallowed some yeast. Her stomach got so big Tillie was sure it would burst. Mama let Tillie feel it when the baby kicked and moved around. It scared Tillie to think she once had lived there, too. She didn’t blame the baby for trying to get out, but he’d have to knock louder than he was doing.
Tillie longed for a boy. If Mama had a girl, Tillie would want to smother her. She knew she shouldn’t have such bad ideas, but that’s how she felt.
One morning, she woke to a lot of noise downstairs. Harold yelled, “Get up, Toots.” Tillie thought it was time to visit the farmer’s market with their eggs. She threw off the covers and ran downstairs. Mama was packing a small bag. She stopped and grabbed her stomach. Groaning, she said, “Get dressed, fast. The baby’s coming.”
Harold was already outside warming up the car. Once dressed, Tillie and Mama climbed inside, and they all headed to Calgary. Rocks from the gravel road struck the fenders. Snow had fallen during the night and covered the ground. The frosty windows made it hard to see through them. The back seat was cold. Tillie kept her hands inside a white fur muff and played here’s the church, here’s the steeple under cover all the way to the city, not daring to think that she’d soon have a brother or sister. How would it get out of Mama’s belly? How did she get out of Mama’s belly? She’d told Tillie once that she’d arrived in a teapot. Tillie had been around the farm long enough to see a birth or two, and none of them came from teapots.
Mama gasped every few minutes. She reached across and grabbed Harold’s arm. Her moaning reminded Tillie of how the cows sounded when they gave birth, so Tillie focused on what was happening under her muff. She didn’t want to think her mama was like a cow.
Water creeping under the front seat got Tillie’s attention. Her hands grew still. It was like the streams she made in the garden patch when she was supposed to be watering. They’d wander around out of her control. Tillie loved to watch them slither through the rows like garter snakes.
This water seemed out of control, too. Tillie didn’t realize it came from Mama. Noah’s ark was all she could think of. Her Sunday school teacher said the flood had wiped out everything. Tillie raised her feet and put them on the seat. Inside her muff, she kept making and destroying the church over and over.
Harold finally pulled up in front of Calgary’s Holy Cross Hospital, and they rushed inside. Harold pointed to some seats in the waiting room and said, “Okay, Toots, wait there.”
Tillie kept her muff on for a long time and worked on her congregation, whispering to herself, “Here’s the church, here’s the steeple.” But she finally got too warm and took off both muff and coat.
Worried about Mama, Tillie wandered the hallways, hoping to find her and Harold. She took off her shoes and skated in her stocking feet over the slick linoleum, gliding farther away until she got lost and couldn’t find her way back to the waiting room. Harold had told her to stay put just the way he did with the dog. The dog obeyed; she didn’t. She feared she’d never see her mother again.
A nun found Tillie bawling by a water fountain. She wore a starchy all-white thing on her head, and her face was as slick as satin. She said, “Can I help you, little girl?”
Tillie nodded, wiping her eyes on her sleeve and sniffing.
The nurse asked, “Are you visiting someone?”
And then more tears came. Tillie told the nun everything. Her name. Mama was having a baby. Harold had brought them to the hospital from the farm. Tillie thought she had lost her mama forever.
The nun said, “What’s your mum’s name?”
Tillie said, “May. Bishop.”
“Wait here while I make a phone call.” The nun walked over to the nurse’s station and picked up the phone. A few minutes later, she re- turned and took Tillie’s hand. “You have a baby brother,” she said.
Tillie almost felt happy. At least she wouldn’t have to kill the new baby.
They walked through the building until they came to a large window. Behind it were lots of tiny cribs. Each held a red face wrapped in white. The babies all seemed to be awake and howling at the same time.
“You stand here for a minute, Tillie. I’ll be right back. Don’t go away now!”
She nodded and stood, watching the babies squirm under their covers. The nun appeared on the other side of the glass, wearing a mask over her mouth and nose and cradling a tiny baby in her arms. Tillie stared at her brother’s face. His eyes were squeezed shut, and his tiny purple fists poked out of the white blanket.
Harold would want him for a keepsake.
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A Canadian by birth, a high school dropout, and a mother at 17, in Lily Iona MacKenzie’s early years, she supported herself as a stock girl, as a long-distance operator, and as a secretary. She also was a cocktail waitress at San Francisco’s Fairmont Hotel, briefly broke into the male-dominated world of the docks as a longshoreman (she was the first woman to work on the SF docks and almost got her legs broken), founded and managed a homeless shelter in Marin County, co-created The Story Shoppe, a weekly radio program for children that aired on KTIM in Marin, and eventually earned two Master’s degrees (one in Creative writing and one in the Humanities).
She has published poetry, short fiction, and non-fiction in over 165 venues. She also has published three novels: Fling! (2015), Curva Peligrosa, (2017), and Freefall: A Divine Comedy (2019). A sequel to Freefall, The Ripening: A Canadian Girl Grows Up, will come out in October 2021. Her poetry collection All This was published in 2011, and her poetry chapbook No More Kings in 2020. She currently teaches creative writing at the University of San Francisco’s Fromm Institute for Lifelong Learning and blogs at http://lilyionamackenzie.com.
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