It’s 1950, and 12 year old Tommy lives in Lowertown, Ottawa, with his Dad and Aunt Dottie. It’s been 2 years since his mother’s death, and the family is planning their first trip without her, back to the cabin in Low, Quebec. Since Aunt Dottie is germ-phobic, Dad and Tommy leave early to get the cabin up to scratch.. What Dottie doesn’t (and mustn’t) know, is that Dad’s friend, Frank, is traveling with them. Frank, home from the war, is a boozer and dirty, and Dottie has no time for him.
The trio travel north on Highway 5 in Frank’s new Buick special – a news provoker for sure, but the big Gatineau gossip is that Mean Hughie, famous for his lacerating temper, has cancer and is dying. Most are skeptical – “I’ll believe it when I see it.”
Mean Hughie’s daughter, Baby Bridget lost an arm to Hughie’s threshing machine when she was little, and her father beat her for being in the way of the horses. Tommy fears Mean Hughie but remembers Baby Bridget for her eyes “eyes that were as green as the Gatineau Hills.” After a crazy drive, visiting every bar along the way and leaving a bit of the car’s anatomy behind at each lurching, noisy, drunken stop, they arrive in Low to hear that Mean Hughie has disappeared.
As Tommy and Baby Bridget reacquaint, he learns that she has a mission; to find her father and thereby heal her arm. And she wants Tommy to help her. The two set out to find Mean Hughie, and that involves a visit to a mystic who hums with the power lines at the dam in Low, and a midnight row upriver to the deserted farm where Hughie is hiding out.
This is a robust story – violent and poetic – imbued with the Irish sensibility that so characterizes the Ottawa Valley. The language is musical – and there are songs in the story, some of which you might know.