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Stuart McLean

03/21/02 12:00AM

Ever hear the name Hugh Jolly?

Unless you're a Brit, probably not. Hugh Jolly was a famous English pediatrician whose lot in life was to be forever known as "the British Dr. Spock."

It's a sad thing to be known as the Something Somebody Else.

But I want to talk about just that, the guy I always think of as the Canadian Garrison Keillor.

His name is Stuart McLean. Like Keillor, he's a storyteller, he has a bunch of books in print, and he's got a regular show on national radio. McLean s show, on the Canadian Broadcasting Corp, is called, "The Vinyl Caf┐." On it, and in his several books, he talks about the same folks, time after time.

Only, it's not Lake Wobegoners. It's Dave, who owns a record shop called The Vinyl Caf┐; his wife Morley, who manages a local theater group; and their kids, Stephanie and Sam. They're as familiar to Canadians as the residents of Lake Wobegon are to Americans.

If you're a Keillor fan, as I am, you'll probably like the books of Stuart McLean, as I do.

The stories run from make-you-cry to roll-around-laughing. Here's a sample from a recent book, The Vinyl Caf┐ Unplugged.

It takes place at the kid's Christmas Pageant, which Morely is directing. Dave is "helping her out" by setting up the sound system. On a cue from Morley, Dave throws the switch:

There was a hum in the room, an electronic hum that had begun when Dave turned the speakers on. A hum that had begun like the hum of a distant train but was growing louder and louder. People were looking around now, and no one could tell where it was coming from because it sounded as though it was coming from everywhere. Like the hum of creation, like the hum at the end of the world, like the hum of God himself.

The kids in the audience stopped moving, and babies in the front rows stopped crying, because it was a hum you felt now as much as you heard, and it felt as if the hum was going to swallow the room. Not knowing what to do, Mike Carroll leaned into the microphone and spoke his first line into the hum. He said, "Winter loomed."

Except he didn't sound at all like Mikey Carroll in grade six saying, "Winter loomed." Instead it sounded like the voice of God himself, and the words "Winter loomed" sounded more like "YOU ARE DOOMED."

It's a sad thing to be known as the Something Somebody Else. Especially when the review on back cover, the one from the Toronto Star, begins: "Stuart McLean (Canada's Garrison Keillor)."

This is Jules Older in Albany, Vermont, the Soul of the Kingdom.

--Jules Older is the author of more than 20 books for children and adults and is a passionate outdoors enthusiast. You can reach him at older@vpr.net.

Stuart McLean's books are hard to find in the U.S., but they're available on Indigo Books at www.indigo.ca
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