“Our first move was from Quebec to California,” writes Paradise author Johanne Cronk Carreau. “We were a French-Canadian version of ‘The Beverly Hillbillies.’ Father was the only one who knew how to drive or how to speak English.” The stories told by Gilbert Carreau “wrapped around us like strong threads in an indestructible fabric ... a bond that outlasted his life.”
Five stories are told in “My Father’s Big Toe” ($12.95 in paperback from JoJo Books; available from myfathersbigtoe.com or from Lyon Books in Chico, where Carreau was a recent guest). Steve Ferchaud provided the interior illustrations as well as the cover, which features elements of each of the stories.
The title tale introduces the fearsome Loup-Garou, “a mean and hairy beast with the body of a wolf and the face of a man.” He flies through the sky in a magic canoe. And if you saw him, a body part would catch on fire. Is that while Gilbert’s big toe lacked a toenail?
In “Alligator Dance,” Carreau’s father has to fight off a pesky alligator so he can fix a sick tree in the Florida everglades. In the 70s Gilbert worked for a while as an electrician in Zaire, and brought back the story of “Pygmy Stew.” Bottom line: “I didn’t get cooked.”
“A Ball Of String” is about a boy Gilbert grew up with who got a strange present for his ninth birthday. Gilbert’s friend was in a hurry to grow up, and pulling on the string made time go forward. Dream or no, there’s a moral in there somewhere.
In “The Magic Carpet” Carreau writes: “Father gestured a royal invitation with a sweep of his open hand. He bent forward with one arm folded at his waist and the other at his back. ‘Welcome,’ he greeted us in a magician’s tone. ‘Step right up and experience an astonishing and miraculous adventure. Take a seat, take a chance, and take a journey.’ He raised his arms and in a wave unrolled an invisible magic carpet. My sister and I sat as his feet, our shoulders bouncing with giggles.”
Gilbert is the giggle-maker.