For one Grimsby author, her book is not just the story of any farmer, but rather a fictional twist on reality.
Carol Mazur recalled her time as a teenager picking peaches on a Beamsville farm in the 1960s and '70s. She said her book aims to capture Canadian farming life of that time. A lifestyle that, according to her, doesn’t exist anymore due to the commercialization of farming.
The farm she worked on was owned by a particularly interesting individual, whom she brings to life in her book, Lis, as the main character, Richard Lis.
“He was an unusual person,” Mazur said. She described the real farmer as elderly, but still lively and hospitable to those around him, with some occasional quirks, like clicking his heels in moments of happiness.
The farmer, according to Mazur, was a Polish immigrant who moved to Canada as a young man in 1928 but waited until his later years to purchase the Beamsville farm. He purchased the farm at the age 62 and lived there for the final 17 years, until his death in 1975.
Post farm life, Mazur went to study English literature at McMaster University and obtained her Bachelors of Library Science degree, beginning a 32-year career as a librarian and document specialist at McMaster.
The book, according to Mazur, is a work of almost 40 years, as it was around that same time she began writing it. Originally, Lis started as a short story that she shared with an English professor while at university. The professor encouraged her to expand on it. Though she worked on it over time, Mazur said it wasn’t until the last eight to 10 years that she began to make serious progress on it, turning the story into a novel and putting it through several revisions.
The book is based on the real-life auction of the farmer’s estate after his death. In the story, Lis is recreated through the memories of the members of the Ziembas family who are gathered at the auction.
The Ziembas, employees of the late Lis, are based on Mazur’s own family, employees of the real farmer.
Mazur, her mother, father and brother all picked peaches at the farm. She recalled her mother having a special bond with the farmer, whom she felt sympathy for given he was a bachelor at his old age.
“She felt that he would maybe like company some times. So we would drive there and talk to him a bit,” she said. Often her mother would bring the farmer homemade baked goods and other food and in return, he would offer them food and drink as well.
Her family and friends who have read the book and were familiar with the farmer told her she depicted the farmer accurately in personality.
Mazur said she relied on memory when writing up Lis, but she made Lis’ backstory almost entirely fiction, as her real life subject was a private person.
She said the writing process made her aware of the complications about writing about real people and what details to leave out and what to use. “I still wonder what would he have thought of this? He probably wouldn't have liked it,” she laughed.
Despite her embellishments of the farmer’s past, she said she hopes that readers “will see him as he was or as I tried to portray him. And also, I want them to see what farming life was like.”
Lis is available online as well as at the Grimsby and Lincoln public libraries.
Moosa Imran, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Grimsby Lincoln News