Jim Brown doesn’t remember the stories, but what he does remember is the way Al Pittman read them.
For a few years during his childhood Jim recalls connecting Sundays with Mr. Pittman.
The poet, author and founder of the March Hare was a frequent visitor who would join his family at their Corner Brook home for a meal, either after church for dinner or later in the day for supper.
Jim’s dad, Rex Brown, helped Mr. Pittman with organizing and running the March Hare, and the two were good friends. After Mr. Pittman died in 2001, Rex continued as project manager of the festival which ended its 32 year-run this past March.
From a child’s perspective Jim described Mr. Pittman as a person who just fit in the house.
“You didn’t feel like this was an outsider. This was just Al. You expected him every Sunday and if you didn’t get him you were aware of it,” said Jim.
It was pretty normal during those visits for Mr. Pittman to read to Jim and his twin sister Jane.
That included things he had already published and works in progress, like a collection of poems for children about native birds of Newfoundland that came to be titled “On a Wing and A Wish: Salt Water Bird Rhymes.”
The rhymes are now the focus of a children’s show that Jim’s niece, Kate Sanders, and two friends, Bridget Swift and Dahlia Waller, have created as a final March Hare event.
“Being two young kids we would always be bouncing around and Al being interested in producing children’s literature, he was just using us as guinea pigs,” said Jim of those reading sessions.
“I think what he was trying to do was he was trying to work on the sound and the delivery of the book, the way it could be read.”
With children’s books, Jim said, the sounds and how words run together are just as important as what’s being said.
With Mr. Pittman, there was no change in his voice to reflect the characters.
He said the delivery was rhythmical, in a unique broken way.
“He would say a sentence that normally anybody would say very, very quickly, but he’d almost have this break in the middle and then go on. But 100 per cent delivered,” said Jim.
“I don’t remember many of the words, but I know that Al being very astute he would be looking at every part of me and Jane. Not just whether we were smiling, but he would be looking at whether your eyes would pop up, whether your hands would pop up. He’d be constantly looking for all kinds of reactions.”
Being so familiar with them he could easily read the children.
Back then Jim didn’t realize that he and Jane were his testing ground and just thought they were getting to hear some stories.
“It was more of the person in front of you doing the performer thing.”
The twins were around nine or 10 when this was happening and Mr. Pittman got the reaction he was looking for as the book was released in June 1992 with a dedication to the children who heard it first.
Jane Brown died that same year at the age of 11 and a family friend read from the book at her funeral.
Jim said his family still has the copy — one of the first ones released — that they were given.
Now living in St. John’s, he won’t make it to the show, so he’s hoping his sister, Jill Brown, Kate’s mom will record it.
“And I’m hoping to have a flashback, but I’m fully expecting the girls to come up with their own artistic vision of it.”