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1969- You're Only as Old as You Act - Stuart Trueman

No covered bridges, no swirling tidal waters, and no lobster-eating Acadians in the 1969 Leacock Medal winner.  This disappoints me and my Bourgeois side because the author Stuart Trueman was normally an energetic promoter of New Brunswick.[i] 

Nicknamed “Mr. New Brunswick,” Trueman worked his entire career and lived his 84 years around his native Saint John.[ii] Yet, when reading his Leacock Medal book, you might not recognize any stories as being associated with the place he cared about and called home. 

The book, You’re Only as Old as You Act, bundled up a collection of stories about family, friendships, and other absorptions not tied to geography or local culture. Trueman had published most of them earlier in magazines intended for national audiences and may have written them purposely for a generic Canadian sense of humour. 

Trueman did not consider himself a humorist at all or even a particularly funny writer, but rather a reporter who could write in a light-style when required, and, in this book, his technical reporter skill stands out.  His writing is crisp and efficient.

But these pieces also follow a recipe of sorts.  They often tell of a well-meaning hoser whose plans go wrong and have the opposite effect of what might be expected.

In the story of “The Considerate Shopper,” Trueman advises readers to speak pleasantly
to “sales girls” so that they know you appreciate the “tiring hours they put in” and because the act will encourage “faster service.” He then counts out the dominoes that tumble after his compliment is taken as an accusation, attempts to explain are seen as an awkward joke, and then his apology is viewed as an inappropriate advance.  Similar luck befalls the salesman who thinks his success in fishing will make him popular at the well heeled White Birches Lake Fishing Club. 

One Christmas season, Trueman’s friend Roly Haskins has his head turned by four speeches on keeping up “the goodwill of Yuletide ... all the year.”  When Roly decides to leave his Christmas tree and decorations up, he is branded a tightwad by neighbours who think he is “trying to make one tree last two Christmases.”  His persistent good will wishing causes friends to assume he has something to sell and then “the rumour flew around the Roly was going into politics and shouldn’t be trusted.”

Although Trueman follows a pattern, it’s not enough by itself. His quirky, yet authentic descriptions made it all work. 

My No-New Brunswick misgivings aside, it’s all pretty funny, and that mix of a well meaning hoser, unintentional consequences, and writing skill probably makes a pretty good and still valid recipe for Canadian humour.[iii] 

[i] One of the men credited with the “discovery” of Magnetic Hill, Trueman  served in many official tourism roles including, for close to thirty years, as an alternate member of the Commission overseeing the Roosevelt Campobello International Park.
[ii] Stuart Trueman worked for two Saint John, New Brunswick papers, the Telegraph Journal and Evening Times Globe, for over 60 years if you count his post-retirement freelance work for the papers.  He retired in 1971 and passed away in 1995 at the age of 84.  Initially a cartoonist, Trueman began at the Telegraph Journal at the age of 18 right out of high school.  He illustrated his 1969 Leacock Medal winning book, You’re Only as Old as You Act, and others with his own drawings.  As a 21-year-old reporter, on 19 May 1932, he interviewed Amelia Earhart as she was preparing for her flight across the Atlantic.
[iii] Trueman wrote thirteen other books and had more than three hundred humorous articles in publications like Weekend, Maclean’s, and Saturday Evening Post.  He wrote two of the books after the age of 70. They were cookbooks based on New Brunswick heritage recipes co-written with his wife, Mildred. ( New Brunswick Literary Encyclodpedia online Nov. 2, 2013)