Downhome magazine only has space for a mere fraction of the great stories sent to us by readers. Luckily, they're all available here. You'll find fond reminiscences about the past and personal experiences to which we can all relate.
Sinnot's Bridge I don't know really what category this belongs under in the Downhomer, but I was encouraged to send it on anyway. I hope it doesn't break with format too much and that you and your readers will enjoy it. MR
Sinnott's Bridge M.S. Roberts
Halfyard Sinnott's head pounded as the light streaked through the blinds of his chilly bedroom. Straining to open one blood-shot eye, he focused narrowly on the clock ... click to read moreI don't know really what category this belongs under in the Downhomer, but I was encouraged to send it on anyway. I hope it doesn't break with format too much and that you and your readers will enjoy it. MR
Sinnott's Bridge M.S. Roberts
Halfyard Sinnott's head pounded as the light streaked through the blinds of his chilly bedroom. Straining to open one blood-shot eye, he focused narrowly on the clock hanging haphazardly on the wall. The wallpaper peeling, the plaster cracked. Another repair left undone. Halfyard groaned into his pillow. When did he last do laundry? It smelled earthy and like it was once wet, smelling of sour beer breath.
The room was too cold and he was cocooned so warmly. Why am I awake? It was still early, that much he could sense. The light was still a grey-blue, not the bright yellow of a full sunrise. The furnace hadn't kicked in from the basement, it's familiar boom like a bass drum.
Something had roused him from sleep.
Not the running dream again that left him feeling exhausted.
Not even the last image of Maggie as she stepped off the porch and into the awaiting car. The one that repeats and repeats, the same sad backwards glance. Eyes downcast, the sound of her sigh. She had a bit of a cold and it made her nose whistle.
Half snaked his arm free of the twisted sheets and rubbed his eyes free of the sand of sleep. Winter mornings come long and slow and cold. It was before dawn, indeed, but only just.
The clock said twenty-five minutes past seven.
In the first moments of awareness and clarity, Half blinked and listened for whatever awoke him. The blood thrumming through his veins, the sound of his inhaled and exhaled breath like the wash and receding of waves. The hum of the fridge in the next room. Then the sound came again. A muted moan in the distance. Half lifted his head only inches but it rolled as if full of water.
He buried his face in the mildewed mess of his pillow and wished for sleep to come again but knew it wouldn't. He had that kind of luck.
Across the frozen bay, Tryphena Guy already burned two slices of bread in her grandmother's old-fashioned two-sided toaster. She blew softly into the mug and sipped. The water makes the tea taste different here. Being still on Alberta time, she's been up crawling the floor for hours. She arrived in the dark a week ago and since then it seems she's perpetually in darkness. She gets up in the dark, goes to work in the dark, and with the exception of her mid-day smoke break standing out back of the grocery store, she goes home in the dark.
When will this miserable wet winter be over, she wonders bitterly.
Now, young Triffie, her nan would warn her tenderly, no sense in complaining. Go find a man you wants to stay warm in winter.
A man. Not a bad idea, now that she has a woodstove to fill in order to keep warm. Maybe that's what nan really meant. She thought her nan was trying to make a naughty joke.
Turns out it may have been practical advice.
In wool socks and slippers Triffie shuffles to the sink to scrape the black off the bread with the butter knife. Not one to waste, she butters the toast and takes a bite, sighing.
Out on the bay, in the misty blue haze of morning still nestled in the harbor, something inky, blue, and moving snags her attention. The sort of questionable movement that makes her glance quickly, then look back again. She leans out over the sink to the window, testing to see if the movement was real or her eyes were inventing things.
At first it appeared to be people.
Immediately Triffie thought back to the pictures of sealers. Tiny, black, figures dancing elf-like over ice pans in jumpy filmstrips from social studies class. Who was foolish enough to be out on the ice at this hour of the morning? Drunks losing their way home after a party. We lost poor old Spence Matthews that way, driving off on his skidoo, embarrassed and drunk from a shed party. Drove right off the frozen edge of the bay, he did. Right into the water.
What was one large black figure suddenly appeared to split in two. And then there was a sound. A muffled bleating, like a child's first attempt at a trumpet. Triffie couldn't tell if the sound came because of the split or separate from it. Either way, she waited, enthralled and fixed to the linoleum floor, straining her eyes and her ears. The toast went forgotten on the counter. The kettle on the stove started to rumble, boil, and finally whistle in distress.
Stifling a burp, Halfyard threw the blankets off him like a great cape. Shuffling to the bathroom, he broke wind resoundingly and giggled in spite of himself. Disappointed there was no one here to witness it or evaluate it.
I must be still drunk, he mused as he swayed before the toilet.
Navigating in the almost dark he headed back to his bedroom when he hooked his toe on the upturned edge of the worn living room carpet. He went down, smacking his shin on the coffee table. In a blast of singeing profanity he cradled his scraped leg and only then noticed, sucking his breath through clenched teeth, that there was something happening out on the bay.
The hills were just beginning to don a faint halo of sunrise behind their rounded backs, but on the vast, blue blanket carpeting the harbor below, a drama was commencing.
The players had taken the stage and were waiting for their lighting cue. But they'd already started the orchestra. It was already warming up, it seemed. Fragments of sounds, trills, notes that were not quite music drifted up from the ice and hit Halfyard's streaked picture window like rain. He got to his knees, crawled to the picture window and watched.
If someone walked in, Halfyard would look to them like an alert watchdog on point.
The VCR's serious, digital face read forty-six minutes past seven.
Old, warm clothes were not hard to find in this house. Everything was thick, knitted, homespun, patched, darned. Stored in wooden trunks. Triffie's curiosity overrode her fear of things that occur outside on bleary winter mornings in the half darkness. Anything outside her window that caused noise like that back in Fort Mac was to be left alone. Not her business.
Never you mind, young miss, you'll find your own trouble all by yourself. Her nan's cautionary voice again. It made her warm in recollection. So did her knitted shawl, Pop's heavy worsted wool sweater, cable knit and old wrinkled trousers with the red plaid lining. These were the only warm hugs they could offer, their absence tangible now.
Triffie threw the clothes about her small frame, and pushing her feet down into large rubber boots, she opened the kitchen door. Leaning on the frosted screen and opening it with a creak, she stepped out on the bridge. Bridge. They made fun of me for calling it that in Alberta, she smirked to no one. Back step. Veranda. Deck. Whatever you want to call it, it was still sturdy, meeting the back door of the house built upon a rock. Like all it's little neighbor houses.
The front door, however, had no such steps or landing. There was nothing to the front at all. Just a straight drop of about twelve feet from the doorsill to the lawn.
A mother-in-law door, Uncle Fred called it.
From the back bridge extended a clothes line out to where the garden sloped up a hill. The line didn't split her view of the bay, and through her billowing vapor of breath she saw the two fairly large figures on the ice. They were too large to be people, she decided.
Then there was that noise again.
The figures were bulky, top heavy, teetering on long, spindly legs.
Horses? Nobody in the bay kept horses anymore Half reminded himself. Martin Bradley gave up his small farm half a dozen years ago, before he boarded up the place and went to Grand Prairie. Horses wouldn't dare go out on the ice anyway unless they were driven out there.
He watched, as the two figures appeared to turn, like they were circling a partner for a dance. A la main left, do si do and a head swung out to look over a humped shoulder that had an immense nose and beard. Moose. Two moose, in fact.
Right there. In the middle of the harbor.
It was now ten minutes to eight.
The day was dawning and their dance would soon be over. Am I the only one seeing this? Half wondered.
Are they mating? Fighting? "That's not two bulls out there is it?" he mutters.
It's almost hypnotizing, seeing their legs almost come together as if one multi-legged, knobby- kneed, double humped creature, chin to flank circling in a clumsy symmetry, until they separate for a moment and call out to each other.
So there's Halfyard on his knees in the living room, his breath making a steamy oval on the window, wondering if he's losing his mind to be seeing moose dancing a hearty jig in the middle of the bay.
And there's Tryphena on the back bridge wrapped in her grandparent's musty, trunk -wrinkled clothes wondering pretty much the same thing.
"What in the name of God would drive two moose out on the ice like that?" she mused.
Above their heads the sun grows bold and stretches over the rounded hills, now revealing fully the strange ritual. The last of the stars is outshone, the thumbnail of moon winks far and away, and the constellations cover their tracks. But the stars have still aligned.
Around the foothills the misty fog reaches to meet the jumbled mess of jagged ice that froze in sparkling spires along the beach. Great, flat pans of ice heaving like white tectonic plates out of snowdrifts; here and there showing grey where the ice is weak and slushy. Slob ice. Not safe to drive a machine on, not safe to walk across.
Not safe for moose to be out on, by rights. Yet here they were.
From their tracks they appeared to have come down from behind Hartley's garden, on down the lane to the old government wharf, and started across the harbour. There was a clear path out onto the ice and not so many pans buckling up to block the way. By the looks of it, they were over half way across to the other side where they could skirt along the beach and enter the thick woods. But for whatever reason, they were locked in this myopic study of each other, entwined and circling. They reminded Triffie of a pair of figure skaters.
A cramp in his right calf and Halfyard realizes he's sitting on his feet and he's cold. He gets up and a tickle in his throat makes him cough, so he limps to the kitchen for a much needed glass of water.
The mess of his kitchen depresses him. In the harsh light of morning its sparseness is only outdone by its obvious neglect. Empty brown bottles on the counters from one end of it to the other, from sink to stove. I should have got new dishes, I suppose.
Don't even want to look in the microwave, afraid there's something living in there.
A frightening groan and shudder erupts from the pipes as he turns on the tap. The suddenness of the sound makes him start. My god, I'm in hard shape. The house is in hard shape. The moose are going foolish dancing in the harbour.
Everything's all upsot.
Half shakes his head and chuckles at it all, gulping the water down, not caring when it drips down his chin onto his chest.
Triffie shivers and her knees suddenly are knocking.
This is foolishness, she scolds herself, not like you've never seen moose before. Go in the house of it, before you freezes on.
The moose were now sauntering shoulder to shoulder on the snow-covered ice, headed towards the beach. It seemed the spell was broken when the sun discovered them. Teenagers scattering from a party under the scrutiny of flashlights.
Tryphena turned on her heel. She reached for the screen door latch and was just laying her hand upon the cold metal when a loud crack went off behind her and echoed around the harbour mouth like a gunshot.
She drew back as if scorched by the door handle and looked at her hand before coming to her senses.
She turned back towards the bay.
At that same exact moment, water shot from Halfyard's mouth and sprayed over the gauzy kitchen curtains.
What in the Jesus was that racket?
Careful of the rug this time, he darted back to the window in the living room and pressed his face into the breath oval, the better to see the harbour again. The moose were gone.
That's not possible, sure, they were just there a second ago. They don't just up and evaporate. Unless this was a just a dream in the first place, like the other dreams that plagued him nightly.
You gotta quit drinking this much, Sinnott.
There it was again! What a loud bang.
"Now I'm sure it's not my mind," he said to no one, assuredly. I know that sound, sure as I'm standing here.
He grabbed pants, socks, a threadbare white undershirt, and a wool sweater from where they rested in piles on the floor like so many shed skins and flung his garments on him.
That's the ice cracking, my son.
Triffie's boots clumped over the frozen wooden steps as she descended from the back bridge, down the path alongside the house, and around to the front where her truck was parked in the gravel driveway. She scurried up an embankment of snow piled up at the end of the turnaround and looked down at the harbour.
Sure enough, there they were.
Except now, one was standing with four tall, spindly tree legs somewhat firmly planted on the frozen beach looking back at the ice. The other was still standing, but not so firmly - quite like a gangly, old-fashioned camera on a tripod - on the ice. It was facing the shore with obvious intent, but inability to act.
Triffie thought of the winter scene from Bambi.
The moose's legs were straddling what appeared to be a crack parting the grey ice like a ripping seam several feet underneath its belly. The loud, popping gunshot sounds continued to ring out, the report slapping up the hillsides as the morning sun swelled.
Halfyard's coat and stocking cap and gun mitts were still on the wood box where he left them the night before. He pulled the cap on and elbowed his way out the basement door he used to bring in wood, pulling one mitt on between his teeth. His nostrils stuck together a little in the chill and he wiggled his nose like a rabbit as he sauntered to the end of the driveway.
Curiosity led him on.
At the foot of the lane he looked to his right. The clock tower on St. Ambrose church, the white and stoic sentinel for sailors galore with its Roman numerals, read five minutes to eight.
He crossed the dirt road and jogged the few steps to the wooden gangway leading to his boatshed. Perched atop several dozen rickety shores over the mounds of granite, it was met almost to the floor joists by the buckled pans of ice. Unwinding the ropes lashing the wooden door, he opened it with a jerk and inched along between the wall and his father's punt stowed for winter. He came to the opposite end of the shed with doors that opened toward the water. In the spring, the boat would be backed out of this door and slid into the Atlantic, but for now, Half wanted the view of the bay.
Sure enough, there they were.
I'm not that drunk after all, he self-congratulated.
What he assumed to be the male, as it was the bigger moose, was on the beach, his nose sniffing the air and beard wagging at the female. She was poised on some quickly cracking ice and was losing footing fast.
Her hooves slid outward.
Her grunts came in spurts, as evidenced by her breath, puffing in great clouds around her head. As she tried to regain her footing, she couldn't help but stamp down with her hoofs and before Halfyard could look back to the male, whose coaxing bleats were rather comical sounding, another crack was heard followed by a great rushing splash.
And something else from a distance.
Suddenly a speck on the other side of bay sprung to life on a small hill. Halfyard saw a bundle of what looked like laundry come stumbling down to the beach and start across the ice at full tilt.
Well, what in the name of God was going on, has the whole world gone mad? And who was this now, come screeching over the water like a wild banshee? His eyes darted to where the whirling dervish was clamoring and his mitts gripped the doorframe.
Oh my Jesus, she's fallen in.
The moose's hind quarters were under the grey and brown frozen slurry, while her forelegs stuck straight out in front, kicking against a pan of still unbroken ice. Her neck and head teetered, bobbing up and down as she kicked, churning up the waters with her panic.
Triffie ran up to within fifty feet of the moose before she stopped herself. Sure, what can you do all by yourself, you fool? You're not coaxing a cow out of a muddy riverbed. This isn't Alberta anymore, Triffie.
She stood stock-still and suddenly felt very much like an idiot.
Only now, she too was stuck.
With three brisk and brutal yanks on the pull cord, Halfyard's old Yamaha snowmobile roared to life. He had gone through the shed, across the road, and up into the yard that fast he couldn't remember moving. But the snowmobile jumped to life and started back down across the garden like it knew where it was headed before he did.
One leg kneeling on the seat, the other foot braced on the running board and a prayer, Half followed the sunken trail of another sled that took a shortcut when the weather was colder and the ice much thicker.
Where the ice still was strong, he couldn't tell for sure.
Who that was out on the ice, he didn't know.
What he was going to do when he got to them, he didn't know, either.
His legs just said go, and the rest of him followed.
Triffie looked beyond the thrashing cow moose and saw the bull edging his way back onto the ice, still frozen in its shallowness, approaching meter by cautious meter. It seemed like an aching eternity of snapping sounds, cow-like bleating, splashing water, and groaning, breaking ice that made Triffie want to either pee her pants or cry. And then, of all the ridiculous times to remember Pop's warning whenever she whined or cried as a child: Remember, Triffie- the more you cry, the less you'll piss. With that, she started to shiver, laugh, and cry all at once.
But now there was a buzzing sound growing behind her.
Too afraid to move, she kept her eyes transfixed on the bull moose as he closed the gap between him and his mate, inching closer by the foot. If he gets too close, they're both going in. If I get any closer, we all go in together.
Still the cracking echoed.
Phantom hockey players taking slap shots at the hillside.
The louder the bull bellowed at her, the more the cow kicked. The more she kicked, the more she smashed the ice under her forelegs. She was thirty feet from the shoreline. The water had to be deep.
Come on, girl. Keep kicking. Get to the shallow part.
That whining, buzzing noise was getting closer behind her.
The bull would advance almost to within meters of where she thrashed then back up again, drawing her closer and closer to shallow safety. Twenty-five feet from the shoreline, they both crashed through with a mighty clap of flesh meeting water and air meeting sound as ice exploded.
The ice shook and a white crack snaked like lightening towards her feet.
A pair of vice grips yanked her from behind and swung her fully around in the opposite direction. Now she was staring dumbly through a scratched, yellowed windshield as they hurtled toward snow-covered rocks. They bounced over jagged folds of ice and onto the shoreline, the motor of the snow machine whining as it climbed over the hills, rattled across the gravel road and growled to a stop next to her truck in the driveway.
The driver's arms suddenly lifted from the handlebars on either side of her head and she heard a man coughing in the sudden silence when the engine was cut. A pair of gun mitts dropped on the dash in front of her face and she straightened up slowly. She hadn't realized she'd been crouching.
The machine shifted as the driver got off the seat behind her. Turning around she then realized the coughing had turned to laughter.
Halfyard Sinnott sat doubled over on the chopping block, laughing to kill himself.
"Missus, I don't know whose crazier, you or me," he managed in between ragged jags of laughter and coughing.
Tryphena Guy didn't know what to say herself so she started laughing then, too.
"I don't know, b'y. My legs just said go and the rest of me followed," she managed before bursting out in laughing tears once again. Holding her hand up to her face. "I don't know what I was thinking."
No ring, Halfyard noted.
Half looked at her then, really seeing her for the first time. Tiny mite of a thing, in clothes three sizes too big for her and tossed on as if with a pitchfork. Her hair a long, wild mass of brown curls, upturned nose a rage of freckles.
"You weren't thinking, I suppose."
She could only shake her head and wave her hands at him. Couldn't stop laughing.
"Well you picked a fine day for it, anyhow." He laughed harder, his blue eyes sparked in the broadness of the sun.
"My, oh my, oh my, " she sighed, wiping the tears from her eyes. "Are they done for, or what?"
"What, your friends? They're long gone. Look." He nodded his chin out towards the bay.
The thick, frozen water still swayed from the churning bodies but two sets of hoof prints led from the beach, along the shore and ducked into the tree line. Some clumps of snow still fell from the branches disturbed by their departing.
"Well," she whispered, and blessed them.
"Well, " he said.
A few seconds of quiet passed. They listened to the whole, silent world.
They turned away inside from sorrow. Forgave the paths that led away. Saw new paths back. To somewhere.
She looked at Half shyly and squinted into the sun. Shielded her eyes with her hand. The sleeve of the sweater nearly covered her small face.
"Suppose I'll have to offer you a cup of tea now, if the bottom of the kettle's not burned black."
He cleared his throat. "I suppose." He stood up from the chopping block and stretching a little, straightened up to his full height.
She got up off the snowmobile and started for the stairs. She paused on the first step when she heard him remark, "Figure you might need all the help you can get, anyways, sure. You haven't even got a bridge to your front door."
January 12, 2013 will be a day forever in my son, Jordan's memory - a day that he says determined his future employment.
Jordan is 15 years of age and in grade 10 in Buchans, Newfoundland. Ever since Jordan was able ... click to read moreJanuary 12, 2013 will be a day forever in my son, Jordan's memory - a day that he says determined his future employment.
Jordan is 15 years of age and in grade 10 in Buchans, Newfoundland. Ever since Jordan was able to walk he has had an extraordinary love for the wilderness. Many people have told me that kids like Jordan are a dying breed. Most are taken up with video games, televisions or computers. But not Jordan! Fishing, hunting, camping etc. are his favourite pastimes. However, besides a few fish, hurting animals is not on his to do list.
Jordan has, for a long time, talked about becoming a conservation officer. Being outdoors, helping protect the wildlife and the environment is the ideal job, he says. And on that day in January I know that his destiny was chosen.
Jordan and a couple of his friends set off on their Ski-doos that afternoon for a ride around the outskirts of Buchans. Jordan recalls what happened:
"We headed down towards the spring, where Dad and I go fishing in the summer. We were just about to go down the path when we saw it. A caribou was down on the ground not moving very much. We all stopped and noticed that it was in a lot of trouble. It had a fox's snare around its snout! I couldn't just leave it there. It seemed to be having a lot of trouble breathing and I knew it would surely die. We walked up to it and it started to thrash around. I told one of my friends to run back and get my machete from the Ski-doo. He ran back, retrieved the knife, and brought it to me. I walked closer to the caribou, trying to reassure it that I wasn't going to hurt it, even though deep down I wasn't sure I was even going to be able to help. I got close enough and while my friend held the tree that the snare was on, I chopped it down. The caribou remained calm while I tried to figure out what to do next. I decided I needed to get the snare off the tree completely. Again, with the help of my friend, I chopped at the snare and released it from the tree. I knew what I had to do next was risky but I had to try. I smoothed the caribou down and told it everything was going to be OK and that I would try and set it free. I then took my finger and slowly slipped it in under the snare on his snout, and with my other hand I pushed on the end of the snare. It came loose enough for me to pull it off and release the caribou. It jumped up, and ran into the woods. My mom asked me why I never took any pictures? I told her I was shaking so much they probably would have been blurry!"
Jordan says his sense of accomplishment was overwhelming and if he had to do it again he would. He says he was very scared but he could only imagine how scared the caribou was. We don't have any pictures of the caribou but we do have a picture of Jordan holding the snare - something he says he'll always keep as a reminder of what he did that day and what he can do after high school.
The Easter Bunny called Mr. Bayly! (Ma Bayly Saves The Day!) Ma Bayly stood by the kitchen stove carefully removing the hardboiled eggs from the steaming pan and placing them into a large pot of cold water. Next would be the setting of the special 'Easter Egg Table,' a time-honored tradition in Ma Bayly's house. First came the plastic table cloth with Easter bunnies frolicking all over it, next the paints and paintbrush sets, with jars of water to rinse off one colour before choosing another, ... click to read moreMa Bayly stood by the kitchen stove carefully removing the hardboiled eggs from the steaming pan and placing them into a large pot of cold water. Next would be the setting of the special 'Easter Egg Table,' a time-honored tradition in Ma Bayly's house. First came the plastic table cloth with Easter bunnies frolicking all over it, next the paints and paintbrush sets, with jars of water to rinse off one colour before choosing another, and a big pile of bits of old cloth to wipe brushes and hands alike. Last, but certainly not least, a huge plate of Ma's homemade Easter cookies, each with a tiny candy Easter egg baked into the center, and a mug of cold milk for every child.
The grandkids and their friends would be arriving soon to undertake the very serious business of painting their faces on the hardboiled eggs. Once the artists were satisfied with their masterpieces, the eggs were very carefully placed in the empty egg cartons to dry and left with Ma Bayly, who assured the children the eggs would be kept under lock and key until Easter morning, when they would be judged and prizes awarded for the best faces.
After Church on Easter Sunday, there would be the community Easter Egg Hunt down at the park next to the Community Hall. There would be live entertainment of Newfoundland folk songs performed by talented local musicians, sandwiches and cakes brought from home by the folks in town, and plenty of hot dogs and ice cream for the kids.
And so it was almost Easter again in Ma Bayly's beloved community where everyone's house had a "Welcome" mat at the door and everyone was family.
Everything should have been glorious, for it usually was in Newfoundland's picture-perfect fishing villages in spring, but Ma Bayly's heart was heavy. Her grandson, Stan, had safely returned from Afghanistan last Christmas. That is to say, he had returned safely, apart from a below-knee amputation and the fact that, although his prosthetic was the finest he could have and his physical rehabilitation was doing fairly well, he just wasn't himself.
The doctors called it post-traumatic stress disorder. Ma Bayly called it heart-break disorder for the agony it caused poor Stan and the gut-wrenching helplessness it caused those who loved him and couldn't, just couldn't help him, no matter what they did or tried not to do.
Even though Stan's parents, Billy and Jean, had returned home from Alberta after Stan's return at Christmas and bought a house with a large piece of land, then quickly had a fully-equipped 2-bedroomed bungalow built on the property for Stan, he had flatly refused to move from Ma Bayly's parlour and spent his days sitting on the couch that was also his bed, flicking through t.v. channels, refusing to eat, unable to sleep and jumping at every little sound.
Eileen, who had been Stan's intended before he went to serve his country had had to slowly build up her life again with Stan. At first he had pushed her away, telling her he wasn't the man she had said goodbye to, so proud and sure of himself in his shiny new uniform. She told him over and over that she loved him now as much as she ever had and she would love him until the day she died. But still he pushed her away. "You don't want to be stuck with an invalid, Eileen. Off with you now and find yourself someone better."
He broke her heart and she lost so much weight she could hide behind a lamp post. But still she came, every day, to be with her Stan, even if it meant putting up with hours of silence with him just staring at the t.v., or losing his temper and telling her to just leave him alone.
Slowly, the love they shared won the day and they became a couple again, but only the shadow of a couple they had once been.
On a good day, she could persuade him to take a stroll down the lane to see the new spring flowers and, although she linked his arm as she always had and would reach up and kiss him on the cheek as many times as she dared, he would be constantly looking around warily, suspicious of every little noise, feeling exposed in the open with nowhere to hide, always watching his back. He had a morbid fear of any kind of crowd, and a crowd to Stan was more than 4 people walking towards him. Finally, he would snap, "I want to go back, let's go back!"
It was as if a switch had been turned on when he was serving abroad and he just couldn't turn that switch off.
Ma Bayly dutifully took Stan the pills prescribed by the doctor with a glass of water to wash them down. At first, Stan took them, albeit grudgingly. Then one day he just point blank refused. Ma enlisted the help of Stan's parents, Billy and Jean, and of course Eileen. But to no avail. According to Stan, all the pills did was make him feel drowsy and less alert and he was adamant that he needed to keep alert at all times.
Ma thought her heart would break. Poor Stan. Nobody could know what he had been through and he was unwilling to talk about it.
Ma contacted the people in the army whose job it was to help lads like Stan and they offered Stan counseling with an army psychiatrist. That night, Ma gingerly broached the subject with Stan. Huge mistake!
"I'm not crazy grandma! I don't need any army quack poking around in my head!"
So that was the end of that.
Eileen was looking more pale and wan than ever and Ma took her under her wing as well, but there was no helping Eileen until she could help Stan.
Billy and Jean visited every day to try to persuade their son to come home. They called every night to wish him a good night and tell him they loved him. But there was just no moving him from Ma Bayly's side. It was as though deep inside him, through all the hell and fear, she was his one beacon of safety, his one connection to life as it had been before he went away. Inwardly, he was fighting with all his might to find his way back, but he just couldn't reach the hand he knew Ma was desperately stretching out to him.
Two weeks before Easter, Ma could stand it no longer. She only had one idea left to help Stan, but she would have to do something she promised herself she would NEVER, EVER do. She would have to grace a computer with her presence. She decided to go, (oh what did they call it), 'on line' down at the local library.
Now, the local library was a tiny room housed at the Town Hall, and Alice, the Town Clerk, would welcome anybody who wanted to use the computer, whether or not the library was open. Alice would never turn anyone away. Well, when Ma Bayly walked into the Town Hall, Alice took one look at her face and knew something was seriously wrong.
Before Ma could even speak, Alice decided this was a good time to take her lunch break. She turned the sign around on the entrance door (Gone to Lunch) and turned her attention to Ma. Ma knew that whatever was said in Alice's office stayed in Alice's office, the trust was rock solid, so she knew she could let rip and share her burden with Alice. A brief conversation ensued, not many words were needed for the 2 women were cut from the same Newfoundland cloth.
Minutes later, Ma sat in front of the computer in the library while Alice gave her the basics, in plain English, about the workings of the dreaded contraption.
"No wonder the world's going to rack and ruin," was all Ma could say to hide her nervousness at pressing the wrong buttons.
Alice left her to it and re-opened the Town Hall and sat in her office, one ear cocked towards the library for any sounds of distress signals.
Finally, pile of papers in hand, Ma walked into Alice's office and Alice made phone call after phone call. Ma's searching eyes never left Alice's face and every time Alice put down the phone on another dead end, Ma thought she would go quietly mad.
There was only one more number for Alice to contact and her hands were trembling as she made the call. She couldn't look into Ma's face, the face of sheer desperation and just a shred of hope left. How could she send Ma home without even that shred of hope.
But this time the phone conversation went on a little longer. Alice asked more questions and seemingly got more answers. Then Alice looked Ma in the eyes and smiled, "You'd better take this one Ma," she said, handing the phone over to Ma before taking a tissue out of her pocket and diplomatically leaving the room, wiping her eyes as she went, to 'tidy up the books' in the library, while Ma poured her heart out to the person on the other end of the phone.
Three days later Stan was sitting in his room at his grandma's house, listlessly flicking through t.v. channels. Ma, Eileen, Billy and Jean were sitting around the kitchen table in silence, waiting.
Finally, there was a knock at the door. Ma crossed herself, Jean grabbed Billy's arm and Eileen all but burst into hysterics out of sheer panic.
As Ma walked towards the door, she sighed and sent up a silent prayer, "Please God, please make this work."
On opening the door there was a tiny little woman with a HUGE black dog! Ma's jaw dropped. How would it fit into the hallway, let alone the house?! Apart from its size, all she could focus on was its drooling. She'd have to mop the floor if it didn't stop.
"Mrs. Bayly?" asked the pipsqueak of a woman. (How did an elf of her size keep such a massive dog in tow?) "I'm Kirsten and this is.... well, I think it's best if Stan names the dog, if all goes well."
"Yes, I'm Mrs. Bayly. Come in, come in!"
Thank goodness Stan had his door closed and the t.v. up loud.
Well, when Kirsten and the massive Newfoundland dog walked into the kitchen, Eileen slapped her hand over her mouth. Billy and Jean stared at the dog with eyes like saucers and mouths agape. They didn't know what to expect, but a dog the size of a horse was not it!
It was obvious the dog was friendly, gentle and extremely well trained. Kirsten simply said, 'Sit,' followed by 'Good Boy,' as the dog obediently did as it was told, still drooling like a water leak.
A quick discussion took place. As Ma had learned over the phone, Kirsten represented a program that rescued animals from abusive situations or shelters, then cared for them and trained them to become service dogs for people with disabilities of all kinds, including veterans returning with both physical and psychological war wounds.
Kirsten gave Ma a handful of brochures and a list of contact information. Apparently, there would be someone coming to the house three times a week for a month to help Stan and the soon-to-be-named dog get to know each other and each other's needs and capabilities. Both Stan and the dog needed to be trained in each other's ways.
There was only one more thing to do now and frankly even Ma was quaking in her boots as she dreaded Stan's response to the plan that had been hatched for him behind his back.
Kirsten looked at Ma and whispered, "Courage Mrs. Bayly...courage."
The 3 of them, that is Kirsten, Ma and the dog, walked to Stan's door and knocked. The t.v. volume went down. "I'm sleeping," came a surly voice from the other side of the door.
Ma looked at Kirsten, who looked back at Ma and down at the dog, who looked up at both of them and decided to take matters into his own hands or they'd be standing there all day. He pawed at the door and whined very loudly. The t.v. promptly went off as Stan sat there, wondering what on earth was on the other side of the door. When the dog barked, there was nothing else for it. They opened the door and in trotted the huge black dog, leaving a trail of drool all the way to Stan and, on reaching him, promptly sat down by his side and looked up at him with smiling eyes and a big pink tongue lolling out with pleasure, as though Stan was the one person he'd been waiting for all his life. For the dog, it was love at first sight.
Stan's face was an absolute picture of frozen shock. The dog barked at him and promptly laid a huge paw on his bad leg. Ma held her breath. Stan stared into the dog's face and, despite himself, grinned. So engaging was the dog, that Stan forgot about everyone else and said, "Well who in God's Green Earth are you?!"
The dog whined and barked and drooled before putting his front paws on the couch, reaching up and licking (aka slurping) Stan's face. Stan said, "Urgh," and wiped his face, but at the same time laughed (and I mean actually laughed) for the first time since anyone could remember. The more Stan laughed the more the dog kissed (aka slavered) him.
Kirsten took the reins from here and Ma left her with Stan and the dog as things were explained to Stan.
Of course, everyone sat in the kitchen listening to every word and when the final crunch came, i.e. did Stan want to commit to entering the program, everyone held their breath until Stan said, "Can he stay with me now? You don't have to take him back do you?"
Kirsten disappointed Stan when she told him she would have to take the dog back today and someone would bring him back in a couple of days. Unfortunately, the dog and him would have to get to know each other slowly, for both their benefits. But when she took the leash and tried to take the dog from Stan's side, it wouldn't budge.
"Come," she said as commandingly as she could. "Come."
The dog was not "coming" anywhere and he made it quite clear by placing a paw on Stan's lap and leaving it there. Both Stan and the dog looked at Kirsten as though this was a gun draw in a spaghetti western.
Kirsten knew when she was licked. With great dignity, she cleared her throat and asked if they could give her a minute. She walked out into the back yard and made a phone call from her cell phone. Minutes later she came back in and, to Stan's absolute delight (and the dog's), she said that although this was highly irregular, given the circumstances (i.e. if the dog wouldn't 'come,' there was no way she could fling it over her shoulder and carry it out against its will) the dog could stay.
She and Stan carefully went over the details and requirements of the program and Stan eagerly signed the paperwork. The dog barked and wagged his tail so hard he almost gave himself whiplash!
Officialdom out of the way, Kirsten smiled warmly at Stan and the dog, a match made in Heaven if ever she'd seen one, and wished them both luck in their future together. She explained that in a couple of hours someone would arrive and bring all the supplies they would need to get them started. A huge dog bowl for food (along with a huge bag of food), another bowl for water and a special vest telling the world what a special dog he was. Someone would be in touch in a day or so to set up the first training session for Stan and the dog.
All that needed to be said having been said, Kirsten left to a triumphant chorus of 'Thank you,' from everyone.
Ma reminded Stan to let the dog out to do his business. Thankfully, there was a fenced back yard.
"But grandma, aren't you going to help me with him?"
"Oh Stan me luv, he's your dog, I'm afraid you'll have to look after him." As she turned to leave the room, she said, "You'll have to think of a name for him luv."
Her heart skipped a beat of relief and happiness as he promptly yelled for Eileen. "Eileen, where are you? Come and meet our dog. We'll have to think up a name for him." Eileen's face lit up like a golden beam.
The dog was so humongous that she was a little afraid. She gingerly sat down opposite Stan and the dog, and almost shrieked when it came over to her.
"Relax Eileen, he's a gentle soul. He's more likely to drown you than bite you!"
When the dog placed his head on Eileen's lap and looked up at her, doe-eyed, she carefully placed her hand on his head and he let her pat him. She was lost from that point on.
"Well, what shall we call him Stan?"
"Well Eileen, he's going to be a Bayly for the rest of his days. No doubt about that."
The dog's ears pricked up at the word, 'Bayly,' and he sat between Stan and Eileen, looking from one to the other, eagerly awaiting their next bright idea.
"Bayly? Would you like to be called Bayly?" Stan asked the dog, who cocked his head to one side. The dog didn't seem sure. He barked and looked from Stan to Eileen, as if to say, "Now look here, I may be a Bayly, but I'm certainly not any old Bayly. I'm the one in charge of looking after you! I'm important!'
For reasons unknown, both Stan and Eileen understood and Stan said, "What about 'Mr. Bayly.' Does that sound better?" Well, he'd hit the jackpot. The dog barked, jumped up and slurped Stan's face and wagged his tail eagerly.
Ma smiled broadly as Stan and Eileen announced they were taking 'Mr. Bayly' out for a walk. She then rushed into the kitchen. She'd better have something ready for Mr. Bayly when he got back. A dog of that size wouldn't want to wait a couple of hours for someone to bring him something to eat. She warmed inside at the name they had chosen. It was a good name. She set about carving chunks from yesterday's beef roast and putting it in one of her big bowls, before filling another huge bowl with water and setting them down in a large space beside the back door.
Easter morning was, indeed, a sunny, happy affair. Stan readily agreed to judge the children's Easter eggs in Ma Bayly's kitchen and made a very good job of hemming and hawing and going back over each egg, with eyebrows knitted together in agonizing indecision, with Mr. Bayly matching him step for step as they both paced up and down the table scrutinizing each egg, finally announcing that they were all so good it was humanly impossible to choose, so they all must get a prize - a chocolate egg each!
Mr. Bayly lapped the whole situation up. The kids adored him and he obviously returned the feeling.
Later on, down at the Community Hall Easter Egg Hunt and community get-together, the whole town was gathered, enjoying the fun.
Stan told Eileen that they should go, but she knew he was only suggesting it thinking that she would enjoy it. She knew he wasn't ready for such a big crowd and all the noise, but he wouldn't be put off and so they set out for the Community Hall.
As they approached the crowd and noise, Stan, holding Eileen's hand on one side and Mr. Bayly's leash on the other, started to slow his step. Eileen said they should turn back. But no, Stan was adamant he was going to conquer his fear once and for all. However, Mr. Bayly had other ideas and, after barking up at Stan, started pulling back on the leash. His master was in distress and he could sense it a mile off.
Eileen spoke softly, "Stan, I'm not really that keen on going. I'd much rather the 3 of us take a nice stroll through the field together on the way home. The daffodils are beautiful at this time of year." Mr. Bayly was still pulling back on the leash. As far as he was concerned, this was not open for debate.
Knowing that both Eileen and Mr. Bayly were right, Stan agreed and the 3 of them turned around and walked away from all the hullabaloo.
Ma Bayly spotted them from the park and felt a sense of relief. She knew Stan wasn't ready, but at the same time she knew now for certain that, all in the fullness of time, she would get her grandson back.
As they walked, Mr. Bayly now content beside his beloved master, Stan suddenly said, "You know Eileen, Mr. Bayly is a bit big for grandma's house. Maybe I should think of moving into the place ma and pa built for us."
"Us?" Did Eileen hear him right? "Us?!" She turned away to hide her tears.
Stan continued, "I mean, it's a good-sized 2-bedroomed bungalow in a nice spot away from their house, so we'd have our privacy, and it's on a big piece of property, so Mr. Bayly can run around to his heart's content." He hesitated for a moment before turning to her and looking deeply into her eyes in a way he hadn't done for so long. "And we really have to start thinking of the future Eileen."
Well, if he hadn't been holding her hand I swear she'd have floated away on a cloud of sheer joy and love.
Ma Bayly stood with her friends, dishing out tea and coffee, along with a cheeky word or two when she felt it was warranted, for she had never been one to mince her words. "Get yer hair cut Jimmy Piercey, you look like a cave man," to a teenage boy she'd babysat since he was born. She was rosey-cheeked, as always, looking out at her community with complete, unconditional love.
As she soaked up the beauty of her surroundings, she looked out over the field at Stan, Eileen and Mr. Bayly walking together in the distance and, as her heart soared, she offered up a heartfelt prayer of pure gratitude to God that He had helped them once again.