By Richard Lemm
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Acorn's poem says nothing about MacDougall's absences from home or Elizabeth's role in the family. Nor does "Daddy" reveal that the captain fell into a desperate financial position in the early 1890s. According to a family tradition and Milton's own account, Captain Neil lost all his money when one or more of his ships (Milton later claimed it was his "fleet") went down in a storm. This tradition even suggests that the ship(s) should not have sailed, and hence that MacDougall was partly responsible for the destitution that followed—another element not included in Acorn's portrait of a nearly "perfect" ancestor.
Milton's earliest literary endeavour was deconstructive. A lot of Grandfather Carbonell's books were classics and English novels such as Lorna Doone. Before Milton could read the books he tore them up. Helen remembered him "tearing up these books and making men out of them, men in his army or something. Then he finally decided he should read them. He read all that remained" (Martin In Love and Anger). , was science fiction, for instance, the Buck Rogers tales. Milton's devotion to literature began at an early age, nurtured by Carbonell's library, Grandma Kate's storytelling, and Helen's recitations and skits.
This was a legacy rich enough for any writer mining his heritage. For a writer who would be proclaimed the People's Poet of Canada, the "storekeeper" legacy is as intriguing as Peter Musick; curiously, however, Acorn would absorb neither that part of his ancestry nor the occupations of his parents into his poetic perspective. Robert Fairclough Acorn, Milton's father, was born in Charlottetown in 1896, and attended West Kent and St. Peter's Cathedral schools. Robert served as a signaller in the local militia before the outbreak of the First World War.