He's sneaky and sly, and he has caused anxiety and some concern to Downhome readers since he first appeared in the magazine in April 1996. His name is Corky and he's a conner, also called a sly conner because he was known for stealing the bait of young boys who tried to catch him off the stage head in years past. Known as an ocean perch by mainlanders, who sometimes catch him for food - a practice very much taboo in this province.
Corky hides away in the pages of Downhome, and readers spend hours, sometimes days, trying to find him. My late mother wouldn't read a word of the magazine until she found Corky.
Yet for all the trouble he causes he is the most popular personality in the magazine. We get more mail about Corky than anything else. We even get poems written about him; the following, which we received from Mike Breen of Port Colbourne, Ontario in May 1998, is a good example. (Mike had found Corky on a dinner plate in the previous month's issue.)
Ol' Corky's gone and met his fate
He's on somebody's dinner plate
To be a part of fish and brewis
Is not something he would choose
What's going to happen in the month of May
With no l'il Corky to hide away
Shame on you now, Mr. Young
That is an awful thing you've done
Quick! Check! Maybe he's not dead
Hurry and toss him o'er stage head
Let him swim and frolic free
With all his buddies in the sea
But the most anxiety Corky has caused is the two occasions when he didn't appear in the magazine. I got calls and letters from angry readers on those occasions. One man had spent several days trying to find him, only to discover that he had been inadvertently left out. He took a strip off my hide when he telephoned me to complain. One woman called in to say that she was sick for two weeks because she couldn't find Corky in the December 2000 issue.
Corky's mother wrote a letter of apology to our readers on behalf of her son for that transgression. Corky would have written it himself, but our readers might have mistaken his head shot accompanying the letter for his actual hiding place.
Yet for all the stress caused by seeking the elusive Corky, finding him can be very rewarding to the people who take the time and diligence. In the past 12 years our readers have won a total of $3,600 in Downhome Dollars (gift certificates redeemable at the Downhome Shoppe and Gallery, and on shopDownhome.com) for finding that hidden fish.
While Lila and I were at the Discovery Days celebrations in Bonavista earlier this summer, I learned that Corky may have played a role in shaping a career. Laura Woodworth of Grand Falls-Windsor, the current Miss Teen Newfoundland and Labrador, was at the same event, and she told me that when she was seven she won the Corky contest. Her parents brought her to the Downhome Shoppe and Gallery in St. John's, where she purchased a set of spoons with her winnings.
That was her first musical instrument. For the past several years, Laura has played the spoons as part of Mascara, a three-girl musical group that has performed at such events as the Gander Festival of Flight.
On the way back from Bonavista, we stopped at Bellevue Beach Park to drop off some Downhome Outdoors guides. The operators of the park, Ruby and Bill Hooper, told me that she won the Corky Contest twice and he won it once.
But Corky's involvement in married lives is not always positive, according to a reader named Mark, who wrote me the following from somewhere in Ontario in November 1996:
I am dropping you a line to let you know how much I love your paper and find it hard to wait a month for the next one. But Ron, that's not my biggest concern right now; it's my wife. She loves your paper also, and reads it through and through. But she is obsessed with Corky Sly Conner. She searches from page to page and when she can't find him, she gets upset with me. Then I go through hell until she finds Corky, which she usually does about the second week; then I can breathe again.
Now in the October issue she was reading the story, "The Little Girl Who Laughed." She was so touched over it, she started to cry.
To get her mind off the story she started to look for Corky and I started looking for a place to hide. Well she couldn't find Corky and let me tell you, she took it out on me.
I said to her, "In the name of God, don't be so foolish over a fish that you can't find."
Well Ron, that was the worst thing I could have said. How dare I insult her or Corky Sly Conner? She up with her foot to kick me, missed me, and kicked the corner of the wall - oohhh the pain! She split her big toe wide open. Thank God she didn't break it.
Well that was yesterday. She's upstairs now, stretched out on the bed with her foot resting on a pillow. And I bet I've made 40 trips to her every beck and call - and believe me, she is becking and calling.
Ron, I love your paper, but either the wife or Corky has to go.
On second thought, keep Corky!