BWS 08.11.17: Dorothy Ellen Palmer


Dorothy Ellen Palmer is a disabled senior writer, Mom, binge knitter, retired teacher and improv coach. Her first semi-autobiographical novel, When Fenelon Falls, (Coach House, 2010), about a disabled teen freeing a bear from a cage in the summer of 1969, was long-listed for the ReLit Award. Her work has appeared in NeWest Review, Little Fiction/Big Truth, and Don’t Talk to me About Love.

Dorothy’s memoir, This Redhead and her Walker Walk into a Bar, will be published by Wolsak and Wynn in 2019. Ahead of her November 8th appearance at our anniversary, Dorothy shares with us an excerpt from her memoir!


From the knees up, Gerald was the cutest boy I’d ever seen.

California Surfer Boy cute. Blue eyes. Unruly blonde hair a still-respectful tad too long. And a slow, crooked smile. He had a Muskoka cottage, was President of the Debate Team, and had been to Paris, France. In 1971, when I was sixteen and he was eighteen, he lived up the hill from me on Delma Drive, in our Toronto suburb of Alderwood, where all the mothers loved him.

Even mine. And she didn’t love anybody.

When Gerald passed our front porch, when he stopped to chat up my mother, I glimpsed what my father must once have seen in her. She smiled. She laughed. Sounded smart and sassy. Gerald relaxed her in a way I never could. Watching him converse so effortlessly with the woman who seldom spoke to me felt like comfort food, like home should be.

But when Gerald smiled at me, I puked.

In September, the first time he knocked on my front door and asked for me, I flushed the toilet, climbed out the bathroom window, vaulted a hedge, and vamoosed through three back yards. I refused to acknowledge, I flatly denied, I could not risk, any kinship or solidarity between us. I had to be seen as a normal teenage girl. I needed to believe I was one.

And you can’t be normal with a gimpy albatross around your neck.

You won’t pass for normal if someone spots a gimp then stares at you. I’d prevent that scrutiny at any cost. With effort, I could mask my limp. And thanks to teen years that saw the undisputed reign of elephant-ear bell-bottoms, my shoes didn’t betray me. Like a cloak of invisibility, my pants fanned out over my feet to scrape the floor. I told myself nobody knew I crammed stunted nubs of feet into boy’s orthopedic oxfords, reinforced black leather: size two.

Bell bottoms would always be in style. I could hide my deformity forever.

If friends and neighbours remembered my operations and childhood crutches, I told myself they wrote it off like a skiing accident, as something from which I’d fully recovered. I’d never been teased in public; that was the barometer. I gave no credit to the fact my father was the Akela of Alderwood’s thriving Boy Scout troop, and thus held the badge and camping fate of my male peers in his hands. I equally dismissed what was likely an even greater deterrent: my mother had the most cutting tongue on the street and sharpened it there daily.

I told myself only this: I walked to high school with my friends. I belonged.

Dorothy Ellen Palmer visits Brockton Writers Series on Wednesday, November 8, 2017 in our new home, Glad Day Bookshop, 499 Church Street, Toronto, at 6:30pm (PWYC) alongside Spencer Butt, Jia Qing Wilson-Yang, Puneet Dutt and special guest Heidi Reimer who will discuss, “How to Write a Novel in 10 Years: Total Rewrites, Massive Scrap Piles, and Persistence Through the Long Haul.”

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