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Grand Bank Spy
Back in 1938, I was a teenager in Grand Bank, Newfoundland. My father, Harold Patten, his brother Charles and cousin Cecil Patten operated a boat named Cinderella, which they used to ferry passengers around Fortune Bay and St. Pierre. One stormy night in early spring there came a knock on our door. A man wanted to go to St. Pierre that night. My father told him that it wasn't fit for a seal to be out and asked could he wait until morning. The man said he had to go that night and money was no object. My father took him to see my uncle and cousin, and they decided to go. I was to stay home. After a very rough crossing, they arrived in St. Pierre. When they were tying up, the passenger started climbing up to the wharf, saying "So long, suckers!" My uncle managed to grab him by the ankle and haul him down on the deck, where he was administered "Newfoundland justice." They took the fare from his wallet and his pocket watch, then threw him upon the wharf and immediately left for Grand Bank. Later we heard he was a spy. My father, before he passed away, gave the watch to my wife and she treats it as one of her proudest possessions.
Growing Up in Newfoundland
In the summer, from age four or five years old until I reached age eleven or twelve, once school was over in June my father would bring me to the train station and I would board the train outbound for Clarenville. I had my name and destination written on a paper note that was pinned to my summer jacket lapel and my dad would speak to the conductor and ask him to look out for me and see that I was met by my uncle Raymond in Clarenville. My uncle Raymond would then motor down Smith's Sound to Thoroughfare where I would be met by my Nana and Baba Brown. Uncle Raymond would then head for his home in Trey Town on Ireland's Eye, an island across the sound from Thoroughfare. I would spend my summers with Nana and Baba with one week in between at my uncle Raymond and aunt Amelia's house until mid August when my Dad, Mom and my siblings would arrive for their annual visit. I remember sitting with my Nana Brown on her balcony and when she heard the "putt, putt" of my uncle Raymond's Acadia engine somewhere up the sound, I would see my Nana's face light up and thirty years of age and worry disappear from her face as she awaited the arrival of uncle Raymond's boat containing mom and dad and my brother and sisters. My Nana would then take me by the hand and we would walk down the path to the wharf where schooners would offload their cargo of supplies for the General Store and pick up the salted cod fish that had been delivered there by the local fishermen. Soon after our arrival on the wharf we could see uncle Raymond's boat, a ways up the shore, and we both eagerly awaited, Nana more so than I, its' arrival as she lived for the moment that she could hug her adopted son Arthur and her other grandchildren. Nana never officially adopted my father but she and Baba raised him from a very young age and both Nana and Baba cared for, loved and cherished him as if he were their own begotten son. My dad in turn thought the same of my Nana and Baba, called them mom and dad and in their latter years brought them both to our house in St. John's for the winter months. He tended to their comfort and well being with the same zealousness and sincere love that he displayed, all of his life, towards my siblings and I. This, despite protestations from my mother who resented my dad's devotion to and love for his mom and dad, my Nana and Baba. The time for my return to St. John's came quicker each year as I aged but I knew, and lived for, the next June when I would again return to spend my summer with my Nana and Baba and do again the things I loved to do. One of the things that I loved to do was go sailing in my Baba's rodney every day. Rain or shine I went sailing in Baba's rodney all around Thoroughfare, adventures I reminisce about to this day. One morning, much the same as I did every morning, when the salt from the Atlantic Ocean lay so heavy in the air that it seemed to stick to my tongue, I was sculling my Baba Brown's rodney from its' mooring place across the cove to Burnt Island. The sun was shining brightly, the wind was blowing gently from the west and my spirit's were higher than, as in my young mind, I imagined Mount Everest was. I had nothing in particular on my mind at this time but, seeing as it was early August, I wanted to check and see if the black berries, that grew rampantly on Burnt Island, were ripe enough to pick so my Nana Brown could make a black berry pudding for me. Black berry pudding was my favorite until blue berries ripened, then blue berry pudding became my favorite. That was my way of thinking when I was a seven year old boy. Not a care nor a worry in the world, thinking I owned the whole world and no one would or could ever do me harm and every body loved me simply because I was me, the first born son of Arthur Edward Brown. Not knowing how to swim and not wearing or even knowing what a life-jacket was, I would sail Baba Brown's rodney out of Trinity Bay into the open Atlantic ocean on the windiest days of the summer. With sea water coming over the gunwale and not a care in the world I would wave at passing fishermen, in their Acadia engine powered motor boats, as they returned with their daily catch of cod fish. When sight of land was dimming I would turn the rodney into the wind for my return sail to Thoroughfare and my Nana Brown's welcoming arms. When I finally returned to Thoroughfare, moored the rodney and walked up to Nana's house, Nana was waiting on the balcony and mildly admonished me for sailing so far out of her sight and then she hugged me tightly and shed tears of joy over my safe return from my seafaring that day. The exact same thing she would do on countless days, long before and long after, this particular day. Nana was the kindest and gentlest person who ever graced this earth with her presence and I am sure that if there is any such place as heaven, she is there. I have never believed in heaven or hell but of late some things have happened to me that have given me pause to reconsider. One of those things happened a month or so ago on a very still and quite night. From some place, that seemed to not be of this world, I heard a sound that I did not recognize as being normal to my surroundings. So I closed my eyes and listened carefully, with every ounce of concentration that I could muster, and I heard again that sound, a sound I have not heard since my early childhood. I pinched myself to ensure that it was not my imagination making me hear the sound that I was hearing. I am as positive about what I heard as I am about there being no escape from someday dying and leaving this earth. I heard the gentlest of foot falls above me that only she could make, the sounds I remember from childhood as she came up the stairs to tuck me in my bed for the night. I remained deadly quite in hopes that this was a dream that would never end so I could go on remembering her in the vivid technicolor of a dream. But such was never to be. I spent a lot of time with Nana when I was a child and one of my most vivid memories of that long ago time was my Nana crying along with the lobsters as she placed them into the cauldron of boiling water in preparation for supper that evening. Such was the ways of my very youthful days, days that I remember with fondness and a sadness for what once was but will never again be.
Shrove Tuesday Memory
Shrove Tuesday ( pancake Day ) is approaching, and a memory of a childhood tradition comes to mind.
Growing up in our small community of Morrisville, it was tradition to go door to door on " pancake day "
collecting pancakes. We would knock on a door, open it just enough to poke our small saucepan ( dipper )
in and recite this rhyme.
" pancake, pancake, pancake more,
if we don't get a pancake,
we'll beat down your door"
Everywhere we went, a hot delicious pancake was dropped into our "dipper".
Years later, I took a teaching position in another small community, miles from home. On Shrove Tuesday,
the lady I was boarding with was going to be away for the afternoon.
At lunchtime she asked if I would have time after school to make some pancakes for her daughter's supper.
I did, and to be sure I had plenty, I doubled the recipe.
When she came home and saw all the pancakes, she asked why I had made so many. I told her I wanted
enough for the children when they came around. She had no idea what I was talking about.
That's when I learned, not everyone shared the same tradition.
Stories of a Small Town
Dear Sir: I wrote this short story a few years back and thought I would share it with you. I would be delighted if it was printed in your book. Coal's Cove was a part of Long Harbour where I grew up. I currently live in Calgary area, in the City of Chestermere, Alberta. Thank you, Suzanne Demaer (If you do indeed wish to print it, please let me know and I'll made sure I buy that copy!) Best wishes to you all for the Christmas season. Stories of a Small Town by Suzanne Norman Demaer "Never forgetting the treasured memories of childhood" The ocean flowed into the harbour which was only a stone's throw from our home. Some days it could be quite a treacherous sea with waves splashing about. We wouldn't dare venture towards the "point" the place where the big rock was. If we stood on that big rock, when the waves were coming inland, we'd be drowned for sure. In the coldest of winter's days, big pans of ice would be beaten together by the waves, making the harbour seem like one sheet of ice. Only a few dared jump onto those ice pans, dashing from one to the other, hoping never to fall into that icy water. I never heard about anyone drowning. Then there were the beautiful summer days when the sun shined so brightly and that same water glistened. We could see the sparkles on the water and we'd listen for the motorboats coming back home from the fishing grounds. The men would bring back their catches and we'd wonder how much fish they'd have and wonder if Mr. Kelly would fire up the stove on the beach to feed us kids some lobster. The gulls hovered wherever the fish was taken, hoping for a fish to fall - they were sure to be lifted to safety. That harbour was our haven, our home, and the little place it enveloped was called Coal's Cove. The hillside was made up of rugged rocks and stunted-looking trees. They were evergreens so they never lost that beautiful shade of green. Everyone knew each other, maybe sometimes too well. There was never a dull day it seemed. We kept track of everyone coming and going, and it felt like the community was one big family. The school house and church were built close to each other and we always participated in the choir and school concerts. How I loved to sing! My friend, Angela, and I would spend a whole afternoon singing in the hot sun. We would be in our swings soaring higher and higher towards the sky. What fun it was! The most precious memories from childhood are never forgotten. We would go on a family day. We'd pick berries and see who could get the most in the least amount of time. We'd listen to our father tell us stories about the fairies and how they used to sneak into the woods and scare children. We'd sing and be so happy on the days we could be with dad, as he only got to come home on weekends. He had to go away during the week and work hard to provide for our family. Then, there would be days we'd go "trouting". Most people would say fishing. We'd take our bamboo poles with the lines and hooks attached, and walk towards the best pond. Sometimes we'd walk along the train track and listen for a train, hoping one would pass by so we could wave to the people onboard. Mom would pack us a picnic most times. She'd stay at home and cook a feast to be ready upon our return. I know we all liked to fish, but cleaning it was the most dreaded task. Mom always hated the smell of fish but boy could she cook. There was always a dance on Friday nite at the big hall. People would come from all the nearby small towns and there'd be a great time. The first dance I attended was when I was fourteen, just a week after my birthday. Mom had gone to the city and bought my sister, Lila, and me the same type of blouse. We got ready and I nervously followed Lila who was 2 years older than me. Boy could she dance and before I knew it, I was out on the dance floor with all of my friends having a blast. The Christmas concerts were the best. There was always someone on stage who could imitate someone else from a different town. They would do such a good job, you'd have to look around and hope that person wasn't at the concert. How embarassing that could be! The joy in our house at Christmas time could not be compared to any other holiday. It was overwhelming. We looked in the Sears catalogue Wishbook for weeks before Christmas and we made many wishes. We each hoped that Santa would bring us something special. Christmas mornings were stupendous. The living room floor would be covered in cars, trucks, dolls, sleighs, apples, oranges and candies as we opened our gifts. The kitchen wafted wonderfully cooked smells at our noses. It is one of my most happiest memories. Family time at Christmas was the best we could ever wish for. We didn't ask for anything. Whatever we got we enjoyed. The home cooked meals prepared from the fixings from dad's garden and the ocean nearby provided us with our healthy meals. Our parents loved us and tried their best to give us a balanced life; one filled with laughter, song, books, discipline and well-being. Life certainly wasn't bad in a small town. We didn't have as many choices as kids do today but I will always remember having more than a fond memory for one small town nestled close to that old ocean. As did many young people from that little town, I grew up and travelled to other places, all the while never forgetting a special place called Coal's Cove.
My Dad's Tools-Then and Now
Our summer place is on the hill side of Highway #450 that runs through the Town of York Harbour. We have a view of the harbour, Governors Island and other Islands out in the Bay of Islands. My dad loved that view. He passed on in 2009. After World War II, he took courses in the electrical and carpenter trades. He built my parents first home; a wall, a door, a room at a time on what was Glen Valley Road (now Carmen Avenue) in Corner Brook. Our basement there was outfitted with a long work bench and above that were many nails in boards along the wall where he hung his tools. Some of these were handed down from his father so already by then they were antiques, Dad was 85 when he passed and his father lived to be in his 90's. Back then tools got a lot of use in the Richards family.
I was born the year before Newfoundland joined the Confederation of Canada. As a child growing up, our indoor play area was the concrete floored basement. The basement was also home for all those treasured tools. I did not think that at the time - they just looked old!! Dad gave me many a lecture when it was noticed that a saw or the hammer was out of place. As a kid I was never allowed to use his beloved always-kept-sharp saws. One not so fond memory, (since it involved a loud stern lecture) was when I decided that we (my two sisters and I) should have a marble hole in the concrete floor to play allies. I thought an appropriate tool for the job was the ten pound maul to start and then finish making it with dad's hammer!! He was not amused. However, the marble hole served us for years to come.
We bought our York Harbour summer home in 2008. Dad was alive then and he felt I should have some good tools to do the odd jobs around, so he started giving me some of his extras, even though by now he knew that I mainly dialed 1-800-carpenter/plumber. When he passed on and my brother in-law and I were deciding what to do with dad's tools, it was decided since we have a large shed in York Harbour that I would take as many of them as I needed as keepsakes. The shed has two big peg boards above a long workbench that the previous owner had left in place. I have hung dad's fine cut saw and the one handed down from his father, a key hole saw, a plane and the beloved hammer (with some noticeable nose flaking from the marble hole caper) on one side (as per picture #1).
Since I retired in 2013, we are there longer in the summertime and I have started to make wall or fence hangings and bird feeders from found beach wood or downed tree branches on our property. I also make flower boxes and picture rails.
To do these items I now get to USE ALL OF DAD TOOLS whenever I want. Each time I pick one up to do a Project, I look at the worn handles and think admiringly of dad and grandfather Richards. In life some things go full circle. If you have the opportunity to complete one, do it since it is so very rewarding.
Garry Richards, York Harbour NL
PS: The picture was taken by me at our shed, at our summer place, in York Harbour in August, 2016.
The Lemon Flavour Bud
I just made a lemon pie for my family.
As I poured the dry white mixture into my mixing bowl the sparkling yellow bits of delicious lemon flavouring danced in front of me. I reflected on my boyhood.
My mom used to make lemon pies and they were delicious. Back then, all those tasty lemon bits actually formed a smooth lump a lemon bud. It was bright yellow and about the size of a strawberry. When my mom poured in the hot water the bud would melt and the tangy aroma of fresh lemon would fill our kitchen.
As boys we often had fantasies but this is one we actually discussed. Someday, when we earned our own money, we would buy a pack of lemon pie mix just so we could put that bud in our mouth and suck it until it melted away.
Life can be so cruel. When we finally got our own money, the lemon bud was no more.
FEELING NO PAIN
FEELING NO PAIN
With hundreds of types of drugs and other health-related products lining pharmacy shelves, I wonder how, in God's name, did I make it through childhood without dying of some mishap or some god-awful disease. When I grew up in Branch in the 50s, we had very little with which to treat our ills and ailments. However, that did not stop us from medicating ourselves, in some form or another , when the need arose. Aspirin, which came in a little flat tin container, was the only painkiller used, unless you took my bachelor uncle's advice. No matter where you had an ache or pain, he would say, "The only thing to cure that is a good strong drink of hard liquor." My uncle gave the phrase "feeling no pain" a whole new meaning.
My mother's panacea for most ailments came in a little royal blue bottle called Vicks Vaporub. She had lived through the 1920s where she had witnessed a deadly influenza which killed many people including her own mother. She had also seen the dreaded tuberculosis decimate whole families. If we showed the slightest sign of a cough or a cold, she would plaster the strong substance all over our chests. Sometimes she sent us to school smelling like an apothecary's lab. Long before those little Vicks inhalers came into use, she would melt Vicks cream in hot water and make us sniff it to clear our nostrils. Some nights, the odor was so heavy in our kitchen that just sitting at the table could make you as high as a kite.
I jest, of course. but you get the picture. With seven children in our family, there was always someone sporting a cut or a skin wound and for this there were two options. If you were lucky enough to get painted with a coat of Mercurochrome, the treatment would be quite painless, but that awful iodine could make raw skin smart like the devil. I would rather hide a skin injury than see my mother or father coming toward me with that dreaded brown bottle. I remember one spring when my mother found a novel use for those two medications. She would add a generous amount of Mercurochrome or iodine to her paint can in order to create a new colour for her walls. For the whole month of May, the smell of iodine would knock you down if you happened to find yourself in our porch with both doors closed.
Need I remind any child of the 50s about the poignant taste of that darn cod liver oil, which was inflicted upon every schoolchild of that decade. The first time I was forced to ingest a spoonful, it came back up as quickly as it went down. More of that oily liquid was spit across kitchen floors than went into our stomachs. And if perchance, it got on your clothes, you could smell like a liver pot for a week.
Today, if I feel the slightest inkling of a cold, I rush out to buy the traditional Buckley's mixture despite the fact that the first time I drank it, it completely took my breath away and knocked me out a cold junk. So much for following the correct dosage.
All this being said, I am still alive and kicking into my senior years. In spite of the obnoxious tastes, smells, stinging skin and a near overdose of Buckley's Mixture, maybe there is something to be said for medicines of the past. If need be, and the good Lord permits, I'll keep trying them for a few more years.
A Perfect Christmas
I not that special. My brother and I are children of divorce. My mother, living in Gambo, fell in love in her teens and had children young. I was first when she was seventeen and my brother came about a year and a half later. My father was still in high school at the time I was born and then went off to university, leaving my mother to raise two young boys (mostly) on her own. She ended up going back to her parents and leaving us with my aunts and uncles. A few years later the marriage crumbled.
My father ended up taking my brother and me every other weekend and for a couple of weeks during the summer. I remember great vacations camping, fishing, or just visiting with my relatives. Both my parents remarried and we still have a good relationship with both sets of parents.
I remember one Christmas when I was a teenager. My dad wasn't making much money with his new job because he had only been out of university for a few years. So, he picked up my brother and me for the weekend and we came back to his place to find the house undecorated for the holidays a couple of weeks before Christmas day. Needless to say I was a little disappointed.
The next day Dad took us for a drive out to the country. On the way he told us that we were going out to find our own Christmas tree. Just so you know, I grew up in a fairly small town, about 15000 people. Getting out into the countryside was not a big deal. We went out often cross-country skiing or just hiking through the forest. We drove for about thirty minutes and then Dad parked the car on the side of the highway. He grabbed an axe from the trunk and we started walking. We found a few snowmobile trails so it wasn't too hard of a walk into the trees. You think it would be easy to find a tree walking through the forest, but this tree had to be perfect. It had to sit in the living room covered with decorations for weeks. While the trees were nice, there were too many with flaws. Either they were lopsided, or there wasn't enough growth on one side. So we kept walking.
Then we came upon the tree. You know the one. It was the perfect size and shape. It didn't have any branches missing or needles falling off. It was probably about seven feet tall and a beautiful shade of dark green. Of course I didn't know what type of tree it was. It just looked perfect.
"You like this one?" my father asked. I nodded and he proceeded to cut down the tree. We dragged it back to the car and fastened it to the top. Once we got back to the house we were careful to get the tree through the doorway without breaking any branches. The tree was set up, but the next problem was there wasn't any decorations. While we were wondering where all the decorations were we could smell the lovely aroma of popcorn coming from the kitchen. My stepmom had prepared the corn, not for eating, but for decorating the tree. We spent the afternoon stringing popcorn. She also found some construction paper which my brother and I started to make those paper chain links. You know the kind. You make a loop with a strip of paper and then connect the next by passing the next strip of paper through the first loop and connecting the ends. A few hours later, with my brother and I being fortified by hot chocolate and candy canes, we had enough to wrap around the tree. One cardboard yellow star adorned the top. I stepped back to admire our handiwork. Even though the decorations were sparse and the yellow paper star was starting to droop, to me, it was perfect.
The Price of Snow
I'm sending the following piece to you on behalf of Mr. Jim O'Neill, originally from St. John's, who thought it would be of some interest to your readers, as well as to his many old friends from Holy Cross and his former neighbours on Charlton St. Originally published in the school newspaper, it was featured shortly after in the Evening Telegram in December 1966. I have retyped it, unedited.
Jim would certainly have preferred to contact you directly himself, but unfortunately he has experienced various health issues over the last few years which have left him seriously incapacitated.
He is presently residing in a senior's home near Lewisporte but in spite of everything, he remains in good spirits.
You can reach Jim through me here at my g-mail address in Gander or at the following numbers:
The Price of Snow
(from the Holy Cross Crusader)
All schools will be closed today due to the inclement weather.
These words were heard on February 8, 1958 at about 8:30 am on the local radio station. A storm raged, and by about noon all business establishments were closed down and all activities were halted.
Don't get any ideas about going out in that storm came my mother's threat, as I peered, somewhat starry-eyed through our living room window. By now it was two or three in the afternoon and the snow had almost drifted up over Fred Thistle's front door across the street. The visions of a heroic rescuer raced through my delighted little head.
By about six or six thirty in the evening, I heard my old grandfather say in a tome of amazement, This is about one of the heftiest blizzards I've a-seen in port near forty years. I looked again through our living room window, which was by now half mounted by snow. I felt a thrill up and down my spine as the storm was suddenly beginning to subside. Marvellous schemes as to how to get out into this wonderland of play, found their way in and out of my head,
At seven fifteen the telephone rang and fortunately I answered it. It was one of my friends with the same problem as me; he was not permitted to go out. He wondered if I was going to attempt an escape. I told him I was, so he decided to do the same. just as I had hung up the phone, Mother took my three younger sisters to bed. This was my chance. I took my long rubbers and coat, along with scarves, mitts and the like, and hid behind the oil burner in the hall. When I was dressed, I took father's short handle shovel and slowly opened the door through which I passed with commendable precision. I breathed a sigh of relief and began to ascend a huge snow bank which had mounded in front of the door.
I was, as the saying goes, tickled pink. Butch Heath, my friend on the telephone, along with his kid brother Wayne, appeared over their snowbank. We began to destroy the symmetrical beauty of the snow drifts with our shovels. Before long, there were four of us exploring this pure white world of fantasy. I had a feeling which only a young boy can experience, as I jumped about in the snow. Brian O'Keefe, the latest to join us, had also slipped away without the consent of his parents. This innocent disobedience was to cause both my parents and me a great deal of grief.
At about eight thirty we heard, off in the distance, the sound of a plow. We, as youngsters, were for some strange reason, attracted to this big yellow villain. The plow seemed to be coming closer and closer. We went over to the corner of the street and looked up towards LeMarchant Road.
Look! exclaimed Butch as he pointed toward the top of the hill. It was the yellow rotating danger light which was luring us toward it, like a magnet would a piece of iron. The four of us somewhat made our way to the top of Springdale Street.
The plow was not an ordinary four wheeled one and this added to our excitement. It was a bulldozer which ran on rotating steel treads.
As the dozer started down Springdale Street, it made one pathway through the snow and we four got down from the bank and began to follow the plough singing with our shovels on our shoulders, We are in the army now, we're right behind the plough...
Every now and then the plough would get stuck and would have to back up a bit for extra power. Each time this happened, we all made it up the bank. As we followed the dozer about halfway down the hill, it was again stuck. It began to back up. We scrambled for the bank. I slipped and fell on my stomach. The dozer was slow, but approaching me. I scrambled and crawled frantically to get up out of the way. But I didn't make it. The huge dozer backed over my two legs and my whole body from the waist down was crushed and numb.
The dozer went forward once again via my legs. Butch belted the side of the dozer and the door opened and it stopped. The driver had no knowledge of our presence or of the accident. Within a matter of seconds a man was out in his stocking feet and had me in his arms. He had been watching us from the window all the while. As a matter of fact, he had called out to us a number of times but only in vain. I was conscious the whole while and my father's short handle shovel (which I have to this day) was crushed worst than my legs. I told Butch to take it down to the house and tell mother what had happened. I found out later that I shouldn't have done this because when mother answered the door, Butch, aided by Brian and Wayne, told her that my legs were hanging off and I was bleeding to death. I doubt that those were the choicest words he could have used.
At the hospital (St. Clare's) I was operated on and didn't wake up until the next morning. When I opened my eyes the first thing I saw was a bottle of blood annexed with a bottle of intravenous both with tubes one into either arm.
I spent close to five months laid up and had to repeat my grad three. All this was because I disobeyed my mother's words of warning.
N.B. Jim O'Neil is a student in Grade 11-19, Holy Cross. This short story was completed for Brother Cassidy's English course and forwarded to the Crusader as a contribution in the Christmas issue.
Toast . . . Soul Food
TOAST . . . SOUL FOOD
Comfort food is described as food that gives emotional comfort to the one eating it. Toast! When I was a child growing up in the Rocky Lane of Branch, I ate lots of good old homemade toast. Of course, it was homemade, as baker's bread had not yet reached our little shops. And of course, it was white bread as we knew absolutely nothing about the healthful attributes of whole wheat or whole grain or whatever. All we knew was that those big loaves, baked in an oven, fueled by wood, produced ideal slices for toasting.
A plate, piled high with golden toast, that's what I remember about a winter's breakfast in the 1950s. It didn't pop up out of an electric toaster because the amenities of electricity never reached us until 1965. To toast five or six slices at once, someone just threw the bread on the surface of the piping hot stove and flipped them over to get the desired brownness. As you can imagine, there were times when the visibility in our kitchen was like the smoke room on the Kyle. The slower method of toasting was to raise the damper and use some kind of wire contraption to hold your slices over the open fire. Then smother it all with Good Luck margarine that had to be melted on a plate, on those cold winter mornings, because we weren't yet aware of the soft stuff. Wash it all down with hot tea and that my friends, was comfort food.
We always had toast. We didn't have fresh fruits and fancy desserts or expensive steaks served with green salads, but we always had our toast. Oh, we had lots of local vegetables, fish, mutton, eggs and berries, but I don't think of them as comfort food..
On those nights when the full winter moon would shine its light on us, as we went sliding in the meadow, we would drag ourselves home tired, cold and hungry. Out would come the brown container of messy Fry's Cocoa. And what goes best with messy cocoa? We not only ate the toast, we dipped it into the steaming sugar-coated cocoa. I don't know if the toast made the cocoa taste so good or the cocoa made the toast slide deliciously down one's throat. Maybe, it was just the whole scenario, the togetherness, the fun and games that make me remember those simple snacks of toasted bread.
When Branch finally moved in to the age of electricity, our household was blessed with one of those two-door toasters that you had to watch like a hawk so your bread wouldn't burn. My poor mother cindered more sliced bread than she ate. It didn't always go to waste because the hens didn't mind that it was a tad overdone. If the slice wasn't too black, it could be salvaged by scraping, and if you chased it down with a hot beverage, sometimes you wouldn't even get a hint of a burnt taste. Those little flip-side toasters, whatever became if them? I guess they were replaced by the pop-up types. Too bad. They were kind of cute and they didn't do a half-bad job if you monitored them closely.
To write this article, I googled "toast" and found the list to include all kinds from French toast to garlic toast to cinnamon toast crunch. At our humble table, in our bungalow on the Hill, we knew none of these tasty offerings. It was plain old toast that hit the spot.
When my sister, Cathy comes to visit, we do the toast thing. Before we go to bed, we sit at my kitchen table with our toast and tea and talk about Branch, always about Branch and the folks who were part of our happy childhood. Those late night chats, after we've played a hundred games of cards, take me back.
Lord, I still love toast. It is truly food for the soul.
A Child's Christmas Gift
Whenever I think of Christmas, I immediately remember the special people I've met over the years. Sometimes I long for the quiet, more peaceful season when family was the centre of Christmas instead of the hectic rush of today. Going visiting family and friends was always a thrill since I knew that I would be given a drink of Purity Syrup and a slice of fruit cake. Oh, what joy! There was one Christmas in particular that will always remind me of the true meaning of the blessed season.
I was ten, my brothers Edward was eight and Brian was six and we were anxiously awaiting the arrival of Santa Claus. We lived in the more run-down section of St. John's and that year was particularly hard for my parents. My father, a house painter by trade, hadn't been able to get much work during that summer and fall, consequently times were tough. My mother got odd jobs babysitting or cleaning people's homes, but that didn't meet our needs. Of course, as children we were ignorant of this fact, as we prepared our Christmas wish list for Santa.
We would take out the Eaton's Catalogue and look at the toys hoping to find those special gifts worthy of our Christmas list. Mom would take us downtown to visit the toy departments in the stores like Woolworths, the Arcade and Bowring Bros. when they were opened for the season.
Bowring Bros. was different from all of the other stores in many ways. They had a lay-a-way plan for toys and mom would take advantage of this program to put away toys for us for Christmas. She would make a payment each Saturday until the bill was paid off and then she would take her treasures home to await Santa. The program made it easier for people on very limited income to purchase items.
I always liked Bowring's toy department the best of all because they had more items of interest to me than the other stores did. As I think back, I remember visiting the stores with mom on Christmas Eve and especially Bowring's toy department to see what they had left for customers to buy. It was amazing that everything would be sold, leaving the empty shelves. It looked and felt very sad to see that the only things left on the shelves were torn boxes or broken toys.
On one Saturday, during the pre-Christmas season mom would take my two brothers and me downtown and we would go to the Sweet Shop on Water Street for lunch. What a wonder time we would have. The waitresses were very friendly and would take our orders - french fries, soft drinks and butterscotch pies. There was a dumb waiter in the wall that the orders would be placed inside and it would go upstairs. Fifteen minutes later the dumb waiter would come down with the food inside - it tasted soooooo good. I have never been able to get butterscotch pie like that in all the years since, it was just perfect and would melt in your mouth.
Though money was very scarce, mom and dad always managed to get us two presents each to place underneath our tree along with our stockings. One Christmas in particularly things didn't go as usual.
Christmas morning came and we all went downstairs where dad had already lit the coal stove to make sure it was cozy for us when we got up. We went into the little back room where our small Christmas tree stood adorned with colourful homemade ornaments. Underneath the tree were our few presents which were wrapped in red tissue paper and tied with a red twine. Mom and dad stood at the door watching us as we excitedly picked up the parcels. I had my two and Edward had his two, but where were Brian's presents? Weren't there any for him? He searched underneath the tree and stood up without any presents, saying, "No presents for me!" and walked away as if it didn't matter.
Mom and dad got down and looked all around but sure enough, there wasn't anything else there. What had happened to the other two presents, where had they gone? Mom searched the house, but they were nowhere to be found. Finally, she realized that she must have forgotten to get something for Brian. What could she do?
Before mom and dad could say anything, Edward went over to Brian and said to him, "Brian, you can have one of my presents, I have two," and he gave him the larger of the two packages.
"Now we will both have a present," said Edward as he sat down with his gift.
When I think of that Christmas and the love shared between my two brothers, it always reminds me that Christmas isn't about receiving, it's about giving.