April 07th, 2008
EDITH IGLAUER was born in Cleveland, Ohio. She married Philip Hamburger and raised two sons in New York. A frequent contributor to the New Yorker, she has nonetheless written a great deal about Canada. Her first book, The New People: The Eskimo's Journey Into Our Time (1966, reprinted and updated as Inuit journey in 1979) chronicled the growth of native cooperatives in the eastern Arctic. She profiled Pierre Trudeau in 1969 and internationally known architect Arthur Erickson in 1979. Denison's Ice Road (1975) is about the building of a 325-mile winter road to the Arctic Circle. Divorced in 1966, she came to Vancouver in 1973. She married John Heywood Daly, a commercial salmon troller, and moved to Garden Bay on the BC coast, John Daly died in 1978, After writing Seven Stones: A Portrait of Arthur Erickson, Architect (1981), she began recording her memories of her late husband and his salmon troller the Morekelp. The result is Fishing With John (1988), a memoir. Edith Iglauer divides her time between Garden Bay, BC and New York. She was interviewed in 1988.
T: In 1945, at the end of World War II, you were in Yugoslavia as a correspondent for the Cleveland News. Was that the beginning of your career?
IGLAUER: Well, I didn't know how to manoeuvre myself around professionally until I made that trip. It gave me some confidence in myself. I had articles published. I was paid ten dollars an article. When I got home the editor, Nat Howard, gave me a bonus of a hundred dollars. That pretty well paid for all my expenses. I was technically a captain in the US Army and we ate in army messes.
T: Why did you go?
IGLAUER: My husband Philip Hamburger went over for the New Yorker as their war correspondent in the Mediterranean theatre. He was there at the death of Mussolini and did a terrific story on it. Hanging upside down and everything. I was trying to join him, so I got myself accredited to the News, which was my hometown paper. I was able to sell the idea to Nat because I planned to go to Yugoslavia and Cleveland has a big Slavic population.
I was the only woman on the Army transport plane. The soldiers were darling to me. They carried my luggage; they really took care of me. I was just a kid still. I landed in Casablanca because I didn't know where I was going. That's where the plane went, and then I had to get myself to Italy, where Phil was. I remember going to Italy, flying over the Bay of Naples. The door blew out of the plane. All of sudden there was this tremendous rush of air. Everybody fell on the legs of the man sitting with his back at the open doorway, holding him down. I can remember sitting there, watching this door sailing over the Bay of Naples, like a great bird.
T: Once you've survived in a bizarre, post-war situation, you can reasonably expect to manage in Northern Quebec or Great Slave Lake.
IGLAUER: That's right. The damage, the destruction. Everything was still in ruins. There wasn't enough food. I remember the manager of the hotel in Belgrade came up and had coffee with us every morning because I had brought some powdered coffee with me. From that experience overseas I learned that I'm good at parlaying myself. For instance, in Casablanca I just sat where the planes came in and waited for a space. When I'm on a story I just follow along and let it take me wherever it will.
T: You go passively into situations. But you can also use passivity to manipulate people, to help get information.
IGLAUER: Well, I have found that if you are patient while you're doing a story, the other person is apt to say what you want to hear. If my work is good, it's because I want to hear what's truly going on. It's much better for me to sit there and let things happen. I was trained by the New Yorker not to have the writer as the most important person in the story. I learned a lot from A.J. Liebling. He was one of the great writers of the New Yorker. Actually, he was notorious for just sitting out his subject. Eventually his subject would break down and begin to babble. If you sit there long enough, amazing things come out.
T: How was Pierre Trudeau to interview?
IGLAUER: He was terrible about giving me one-to-one time.
T: Was that conscious on his part? To show you where the power lay?
IGLAUER: Yes. Very much so. I don't know if any New Yorker profile has ever been done where the subject gave so little time personally as he gave me. I had to report around him, get almost all my information from other people. Then when he did see me on a one-to-one basis, it was at lunch at his house. He had a deliberate habit of speaking so fast I couldn't keep up. I had to take notes under the table, but he would never have said the things he said to me with a tape recorder on.
T: Has your estimation of Trudeau changed since 1968?
IGLAUER: I was horrified with the War Measures Act. I'm sorry to say there must have been something wrong with my reporting because it caught me by surprise. Other than that, by comparison with what's happened since, I still think he's the best prime minister we've had. The present one, Mulroney, is not going to ever get a prize for what's going on inside his head.
T: You're on the New Yorker staff. Does that mean you have to submit a certain number of articles every year?
IGLAUER: No. I sign a contract every year giving them first reading of my work and I am always, it seems, working on something for the New Yorker.
T: How many people are on that "staff'?
IGLAUER: I have no idea. Nobody I know knows.
T: Your old friend Hubert Evans used to joke that any writing in the New Yorker was just filler between the ads.
IGLAUER: But he was very, very encouraging to me. One of the reasons I had to finish this book, Fishing with John, is that Hubert leaned in the doorway of his house one night as I was leaving and quoted the Scripture to me. He said it was my sacred duty to finish this book. He was always telling me about the fin on the salmon that had become useless. If you didn't use your talents, they will become useless. I was so sorry he didn't live to see me finish this book.
The last time I saw him, which was just before he died, he suddenly turned over in bed and told me what a wonderful writer he thought I was and that I had to finish the book about john. He went on for about twenty minutes. And this was from a man who was having trouble talking. It was very, very moving.
T: Did you learn anything about writing from Hubert?
IGLAUER: How could you not learn from a man who couldn't see and who wrote a whole book at the age of eighty-seven? I think his last book 0 Time In Your Flight is really a classic, on a par with W.O. Mitchell's Who Has Seen the Wind. It's a beautiful piece of work, no matter what his age was when he wrote it. It's almost perfect for what it is. And I think it's criminal that it wasn't given the Governor General's Award. Hubert had a tremendous influence on me. How the devil could I not learn about courage and determination from him? And also about the ability to adjust as you get older. Now I don't dare say to myself, "Well, I'm getting too old to do this or that."
T: Because you remember.
IGLAUER: Because I remember. It was Hubert, more than any other single person, who put me back together after john died. Those Tuesday evening discussion groups at Hubert's saved my life. There was nothing that I wanted to do after john died except die myself. But those Tuesdays at Hubert's were like an electric light; things suddenly began to come alive again, like lights that started to flicker.
He also introduced me to a very close friend of his named Maxie Southwell. I remember the day he put on his coat and got out his white walking stick. He was very old by then. I don't think he'd been out of his house for quite a while. We walked across the dunes to Maxie's house, two or three doors down the beach, and she was waiting. We all had tea together. Maxie served bread and butter and jam. I remember laughing and thinking, "My God, I'm enjoying myself." Maxie, who died before Hubert, although she was a good ten years younger, was very nurturing. With her, I could do no wrong. And to her I was absolutely beautiful.
T: They were like a mother and father.
IGLAUER: Yes. Over the years I never went through Roberts Creek on my way home without staying the night at Maxie's. Of course Hubert was not so thoroughly approving. He was very Calvinist. For instance, he thought I wasted time, and that I was much too social. After John died, in the beginning, I couldn't even sleep. It was like an engine running that would never stop. It was simply terrible. But the minute I got down to Hubert's I would fall asleep. It used to enrage him. He would stop all discussion and say, "Edith You're sleeping again!" I couldn't help it. I was at peace down there.
T: Did he have a spiritual influence?
IGLAUER: About three weeks after John died, the first time I was going up the coast to be alone in my house, I stopped and saw Hubert. I was crying and Hubert said, "You're expecting too much, too soon. You have to wait a while for John to come back. Don't be in so much of a hurry. He's got lots to do." This was a wonderful thought. To think that this man was going to come back into my spirit or whatever it was that Hubert definitely believed. Hubert always believed that his wife was still there in the next room. I really held on to that idea. Waiting for it to happen. It probably would have happened without Hubert, but it wouldn't have happened so gracefully. Even now I can't talk about Hubert Evans without wanting to cry. He was so wonderful to me.
T: Does Fishing With John communicate what you want it to communicate?
IGLAUER: I can't tell. I wouldn't be surprised if it only sold twelve copies. Or maybe it will sell a lot. I have no judgement on it. I just had to write it. And when I wrote it I had no judgement on it. It was Bill Shawn of the New Yorker who kept encouraging me. He says it's the best thing I've ever written. I don't know whether it is or not. I'm astonished that everybody likes it so much. It's made several people weep, which has surprised me.
T: Because it's a love story.
IGLAUER: I can't tell. When I started this I was just going to do a piece on fishing for Bill Shawn. Then John died. That transformed the whole thing. What I wanted to do was keep John alive and to have other people know this simply wonderful man. I was so afraid he might recede. There's no question it was a form of survival for me. Bill said, "Just write it as it comes and I'll take what I need." One of the reasons it took so long to write is that I had an awful time describing that fishing gear on the troller. I had three fishermen reading it the whole time for accuracy. They read it three times each. When the book was ready to be published I got uneasy and I asked Reg Payne to read it too. He used to be the head of the UFUAW. All of them seemed to be fascinated. They made factual corrections but they didn't have a word of complaint.
T: You were with John Daly for only four and a half years. ..
IGLAUER: But my whole life changed as a result. It's the quality, not the quantity of the time spent that counts. I've had to learn to accept that. It's hard to believe I've lived more years without him than I lived with him.
T: Now, when things happen to you, do you sometimes see events through John Daly's eyes?
IGLAUER: Oh, all the time. All the time.
T: How did you meet him?
IGLAUER: A good friend in Washington asked me to look him up. I called and he shouted into the phone, "I'm terribly busy. I can't do anything about you. I'm cooking for a dozen people." He slammed the phone down. I thought he was very rude. Then a week later he called me. He arrived talking a blue streak, apologizing that he was wearing his fishing pants. In the middle of the evening he asked if I ever married again whether I wanted a big wedding or to just go off to a justice of the peace. He never stopped talking until two-thirty in the morning.
T: Was there a part of you that was expecting or needing that love affair with John Daly later in life? Or did it come to you as a surprise that it could exist?
IGLAUER: We were both very lonely. You don't admit your loneliness when nothing's happening that's going to make it less so. But when you meet somebody that has all the qualities that you love, and they need you and you need them, well. ..I think most relationships Occur out of proximity and need.
T: Excuse me for saying this- but it sounds like your life started with this relationship. You were obviously missing something before.
IGLAUER: I don't mean it to. I had a fascinating first marriage, and Phil and his wife Anna are among my best friends. I see them a lot when I am in New York. My life is definitely divided into two sectors. Living in the United States. And living in Canada. Basically I never really liked New York. It's not a city that excites me the way it does other people. I don't find it the beginning or the end of anything. New York always frightened me. I always wanted to live in the country.
Growing up in Ohio we had a place in the country, which I still own with my sister, thirty miles outside of Cleveland, where we went every single weekend. Sometimes my father would pick me up when he left work on Friday nights and we would go horseback riding out there. It was marvellous to ride at sunset. In the early years of having this cabin we didn't have any running water, just a pump. As very little girls, we had to wash our dishes in a stream. When I went to the Canadian north, I went right back to my childhood. Plodding along after my father in the snow, having cold feet and cold hands, and not complaining. That's where my adjustment to being outdoors comes from. It's no adjustment for me to go to the Arctic and not have a regular toilet.
T: So you're not running after sophistication.
IGLAUER: No. I'm not a sophisticated person. I never really wanted to be. Life here suits me better.
T: Does this mean Vancouver is the Cleveland of Canada?
IGLAUER: No! John used to always refer to Vancouver as being in Lower Funland. And Victoria was always Crumpet Town. Vancouver is not as advanced culturally here as Cleveland by any means. Cleveland has one of the great art museums of the United States and it also has the best symphony in the United States. The public support for the symphony orchestra here is apparently nil. And I don't see any great collections coming into the Vancouver Art Gallery. I mean, when you get through with Emily Carr and Jack Shadbolt, what have you got? Not too much.
T: You've had two good experiences with marriage. That's two more than a lot of people have.
IGLAUER: Yes. I try to look at it that way. I had a psychiatrist say to me you must feel cheated because you had so little time with John. I said I could choose to think of it that way but I choose to think that I was the luckiest woman on earth to have him at all and to have years which were as happy as that. John said it was idyllic. And it was. Here were two people who loved each and completely trusted each other. It can be just as passionate and just as loving when you're older. And in some ways it can be better because you know what counts and what doesn't. And there's a lot of laughter about things you couldn't laugh about before. And of course all our children were grown so we just had each other. It was totally wonderful.
T: How did John die?
IGLAUER: He dropped dead while we were dancing.
T: Where was this?
IGLAUER: We were at an Indian reservation in The Pas, Manitoba. We were on our way to Thompson, Manitoba to see his son Sean, who is a mining geologist. His other son, Dick, was with us. We were going to have a reunion. But John had always wanted to go to the Trappers Festival. So we went there on the way. We were dancing and the room was full of smoke. I knew he had trouble breathing in stuffy places. He'd had a terrific heart attack before I met him, in 1962. I said to him, "I think we should leave now. There's not enough oxygen in here." He said, "Let's have one more dance. I'm doing just what I want to do, just where I want to be, with the person I want to dance with, and I'm completely happy."
Then when the music stopped he suddenly turned to me and said he couldn't breathe. He started for the door. By the time I got outside he was lying in the snow with his arms out. I started to laugh because I thought he was playing a game with me. As children we used to playa game called Angel Wings. For just a second, I thought that's what he was doing. Then I realized what had had happened.
My younger son asked me later what I thought about when John died. I remember so clearly what I thought. I saw my life stretching out in desolation. It was just desolate land. In a sense that's how it is inside. But I realized you can't mourn like that forever so I tried to do something positive and turn it around. So I'm happy in way, sure I am. But I miss him terribly.
T: That's a powerful idea. To die dancing.
IGLAUER: He was such a joyful man. If he had to die, that's the way he would have chosen. I think everyone who knew him at all well agreed on that.
Essay Date: 1988