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Newfoundland is affectionately called 'the rock' and this accurately reflects the farming potential of most of the island. Until quite recently (1980s) when transcontinental transport became affordable and ubiquitous, the diet of the middle to lower classes was bereft of fresh produce. I grew up in the 1960s in St John's, and as a child I remember potatoes and root vegetables with every dinner. The winning triad included boiled potatoes, carrots and turnip. On special occasions, like Christmas, we would have pease pudding and cabbage. For added flavor, a piece of salt beef would be added to the boil up. My mother served the potatoes and turnips mashed (but not together) and the carrots in chunks. They all softened at different times, so the potatoes were done before the carrots and the carrots before the turnip, so a delicate fishing expedition was held at various times in the process. My cousin Maureen once instructed me, upon reflecting on the process, "Put a stone in the pot with the turnip and when the stone is soft, the turnip is cooked." I don't think she liked turnip. My Dad and I both loved mashed turnip, though. It was mashed with margarine and salt and pepper and we both put Cross and Blackwell mustard pickles on them. In the early 80s, Mom and Dad were feeling prosperous enough to afford a winter holiday in Florida. They would drive from their home in New Brunswick in mid-March and stay for 3 weeks. Dad's three older brothers and their wives would be there at the same time, so each year they reconnected and recreated the beloved meals of their homeland. For the most part, the Newfs felt quite at home in their warmer, southern neighbor. They all developed tans and wore shorts everyday, a foreign experience for Newfs who grew up on cool and cloudy summers. All was going smoothly until the shocking truth about American turnips was revealed. There, bold as brass, labeled in the Piggly Wiggly, were small, white bulbous items labeled Turnips. My aunt looked at them with obvious disgust. "Young fella, do you have any turnips?" She asked sweetly of the man in the apron, stacking melons. "Yes, Ma'am. Here they are right here." He stopped at the white vegetables that were certainly not turnips. "Those are NOT turnips. Can I speak to the manager?" "Yes, Ma'am. I will get him," said the boy, clearly questioning his own knowledge (and life choices) when faced with the four-foot confident dynamo which was my aunt. A few minutes later, a slightly older man with a matching green apron approached. "May I help you, Ma'am? I am Tim, the produce manager." "Well, Tim, there seems to be some mistake here. These small things here are NOT turnips. They must be labelled wrong." "Oh, yes. They are turnips, Ma'am." My aunt gets visibly more agitated and opens her mouth to question the intelligence of the smiling man. He jumped in. "Are you Canadian, by chance?" She smoothed her skirt, put her chin up and answered with confidence. "Yes, I'm from Newfoundland, sir. That is NEW FOUND LAND as in un-der-stand. We hate it when Americans put the accent on the second syllable." "Well, I know what the problem is. What you are looking for are RUTABAGAS." He walked to the end of the aisle and picked up a gnarly, thick-skinned, larger yellow root vegetable. "There they are! You must be some stunned down here to call turnips RUTABAGAS!" She took two and walked away as the manager smiled and shook his head. Ten years later, I married an American with a strict aversion to rutabagas. Not only can I not easily find the turnips I like in the States, he also cannot stand the smell of them cooking. So I have not had them since 2017, when I visited my cousins in Newfoundland and we had a boil up. So, on a day when I feel nostalgic and homesick, I hunger for turnip (rutabaga in American). Susan Fagan Las Vegas, NV, USA
Simple Christmas Nights
Some of my best Christmas memories will always be from the late 80s and early 90s because that's when I was a kid. I hung on to those memories every year. Lately though, I find myself appreciating more recent Christmas memories. No matter where in this country I have lived, I've returned to my home town of Bonavista for every Christmas of my life. When I was younger, I would be in the local pub within an hour of being home. These days, however, I've slowed down. It takes me 3-4 hours to get to the pub. Christmas for me right now is about seeing friends and family again. The food, the drinks and laughter are one thing but when the dust settles on Christmas, it becomes about the little things. I rush home, I get through the door. The family greets me, there's a drink in my hand and within ten minutes everybody is sitting around the table, chatting. The wife's uncle feeds the dog finger foods under the table. The baby is on Nanny's lap. We finish supper, the crowd clears out. I head over the road to visit my brother. It's these late night strolls around the bay that really stick with me. I hear the ocean in the background. Some nights it rumbles, some nights it's reduced to a quiet hum. But it's always there. Wood stoves are burning from small cozy homes. Homes that have had the same Christmas lights in the same windows for 30 years. A television is flickering in the living room quietly lit by tree lights. White Rock is lightly covered in snow, just enough to give me that perfect backdrop. I hear a few laughs coming from a shed nearby; it's late for some but the Christmas spirits are still up. An old man clears his throat and says hello while he leans on his back steps for a late night cigarette. Taking in the sea salt air, I stroll up my old street for what could always be the last time. I stare at my old neighbourhood, almost like I'm in a movie, watching my childhood memories. Street hockey, sliding and snowball fights. Going home soaked to the bone, hanging my clothes up to dry by the wood stove. I get home, my parents are gone to bed, the stove still lit. I sit down and have one more night cap, next to that very same wood stove we used 35 years ago. After Christmas, it always gets harder to leave Bonavista, especially as everybody is growing older. But it's simple nights like these that always stick with me wherever I go. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, everyone. Ches Pack Churchill Falls, NL
A Christmas Gift for Molly
December 1959 One cold December evening I shivered my way to the barn to pay my friend Bessie the cow a visit. We had finally reached a truce - she lets me into our little excuse for a toilet, if I bring her something sweet. I was leaving the barn when I heard a strange noise coming from the hayloft. I slowly climbed the ladder and shone my flashlight around the loft. Sitting on top of a large stack of hay partially covered in snow, was a little Tooting Owl. As I slowly approached the owl its fragile form hinted at a broken leg. I decided I'd take a closer look in the morning if it didn't take flight over night. The next day I couldn't wait to check the barn. I crept up the stairs to the hayloft and there the owl remained, snuggled down into the hay. Suddenly from behind me I heard several voices. One of them shouted, "Teacher, Teacher, can we see the bird?" I turned and there were 3 young girls looking up at me like I had discovered a gold mine. Together, we stood in awe of the owl. Molly, a curly haired redhead, expressed her desire to help mend the injured leg. Holding our collective breath, we watched as Molly gently cradled the owl, revealing the injured leg dangling beneath her mittens. "Can I bring it home so mom and I can fix it?" Molly asked. I nodded in agreement. I watched as the little knot of girls carefully made their way towards Molly's house just a few hundred yards away. I called out, "See you at 7 o'clock tonight." I had recruited a group of 8 girls to practice a few carols for the Christmas carol service I was planning. Christmas was only two weeks away. I wanted to do my best to make sure we did a good job with the first ever such service held in Green Island Brook. I had held Sunday service every week and grew tired of singing hymns either alone or with one or two ladies. The first choir rehearsal was a struggle. The girls ranging in age from 7-15 years were very shy as they sang almost under their breath. We started with Silent Night. By the end of the first rehearsal I had taught them how to sing the carol without having to look at the board for the words and they had also managed to get the volume up. I felt we were making progress. That evening I walked home with Molly and a few of the other girls. Molly excitedly told us of the bird's progress and the girls hinted at a secret plan for the upcoming Christmas carol service. That night as I said my prayers and crawled into bed, I experienced a feeling that most teachers must get. It wasn't just a feeling of accomplishment, but one of belonging, becoming part of a community, and doing something worthwhile for the folks that depended on you for the care and education of their children. As I look back now, that first Christmas in Green Island Brook was one I will never forget. One evening I decided to ask my landlords, Will and Christine, if they had some nice wood around. I sat in the kitchen and sketched a crude drawing of a bird cage. I told them of my plan, which made them very happy to help with this special project. My choir was up to 15 girls and 2 mothers as we approached our final rehearsal just one day before the big event. Mr. Ford, the elementary teacher, did a great job reading the passages between the carols and all the singers did a wonderful job. I was thrilled with the rehearsal. We were ready. Will and I got to the school very early on the big night. We had covered our special surprise in a big red blanket. The choir had a lovely surprise of their own, donning red and green capes as they made their way to the front of the school. They looked awesome. The room was packed, with people even standing at the rear. My 17-year-old body shivered a little. I had to take a deep breath and get the show under way. The choir sang like angels, their faces beaming with joy. I fought back tears of pride as I watched them perform flawlessly. At the break, we devised a plan to engage the audience in a rendition of Jingle Bells. "Let's make the rafters of this building shake!" I said. And that we did. The room resonated with the sound of voices, once timid, now singing with exuberance. After the joyful singing, I gathered everyone's attention for a brief story that captured the essence of Christmas in our community. I recounted Molly's compassionate act of tending to the injured owl. After talking with her mother, I learned it wasn't the first animal Molly had brought home to fix. I asked Molly to join me beside our special surprise. I pulled the blanket off like a magician and there for all to see was a beautiful red cage with a white door, adorned with a red cross and the words "Molly's Animal Hospital." Molly's tearful gratitude touched our hearts as she pledged to continue helping animals in need. We closed the evening by singing Silent Night, the entire congregation joining in. I felt deep down that this was something very special. In that moment, Green Island Brook felt like a close-knit family, linking arms with one another, bound by the warmth of the holiday spirit. It's at a time like this that the real meaning of Christmas enters our hearts. Written by and submitted on behalf of Don Noseworthy
Back when I was young growing up in rural Newfoundland there wasn't a lot of opportunity for organized sports. Money was scarce, or better still, non-existent. Most places were small, lacking the funds to develop recreational facilities so we young fellas were basically left on our own to create fun activities. We played a lot of Tiddly because it didn't require any special equipment. Just a couple of sticks from the woods or old tar mop handles and a pair for bricks. Horseshoes was another popular pastime which, unlike Tiddly, could be played one on one. Most families hack then had a horse which was used to haul firewood in winter, plow the gardens in early spring, haul caplin when they came ashore in June before it was let loose for the summer and early fall. Before letting the horses loose, men would remove the horseshoes so they wouldn't get lost when the horses roamed all around, or injure one another when they got into a kicking match. The horses usually roamed in herds all over the place. We kids took advantage of this and used the horseshoes for fun. Not all parents were happy with this because very often youngsters would carry the shoes off somewhere and forget to bring them back. Come fall, the shoes were nowhere to be found and new ones had to be obtained which was costly. My brother and I, not being any better or worse than others in the neighbourhood, found ourselves with no horseshoes. Dad forbade us to use the ones he had taken off our horse cause most likely they would disappear like in previous years. So this was a big problem for us young fellas. Where to get more horseshoes now that our current supply was off limits. The situation called for some serious brainstorming. As usual, in such times of crisis, we met at our very own 'command centre', the big flat rock in the corner of the field in the German's Grove, our unofficial playground. Many a serious and somewhat secret discussion was held in this spot. The envy of MI5, CIA and CISES put together. Girls were not permitted to attend. As the meeting proceeded under the guidance of the senior boys, a plan of sorts was devised. The younger falls, myself included, were to spy on the grown-ups as we often did, with the idea of coming up with a plan to obtain our very own supply of horseshoes. Now, young fellas like myself at this time were known to hang around the older folk when they were discussing important things or just yarning as to where to cut wood this winter if the path was good and the ponds were frozen. Our elders usually dismissed us as being too young to understand or too dumb to know what they were talking about. They figured we mostly took after our mother's crowd. During one of these get-togethers, the topic of dead horses came up. There was much talk about the loss and the hardship it brought on the owner. The men also talked about having to help the owner bury the poor animal. Apparently, there was a spot nor far from home where horses had been buried for years. Bingo! The place mentioned was only about an hour's walk from where we all lived, in a place called Cullen's Pen. Another meeting was held under the utmost secrecy and high security. Again, girls were not permitted to attend. A plan was devised to search the area mentioned for possible horseshoes. After all, most of the animals had died in the fall and winter, so they were most likely wearing shoes. The whole gang got in on this plan. We would secure a wooden crate with hand-holds on either end, and a pick and shovel, which every household had. A time and a place were set for the expedition to go forward and everyone was sworn to secrecy. We already knew the general area in question, so when we got there it was just a matter of spreading out in groups of two and keeping an eye out for anything that resembled a horseshoe. We had no metal detector, just the keen eye of youth. Soon, someone shouted, 'I think I see a rusty one!' and sure enough, it was indeed a strike. The older boys, using all their mathematical skills, soon located more shoes. It was a sight to see - it would have made any poor ol' nun happy to see how those boys used their knowledge of geometry to locate the other three shoes on each of the dead and buried horses. Thank God the animal had been interred legs upward. The long and the short of it is we came out of there with the wooden crate almost full of the old horseshoes and each of us carrying about four each - there were about eight of us in the gang of grave robbers. We didn't tell anyone where we got our horseshoes and no one asked. Our fathers were just happy we weren't using the ones they had taken off the family horse. -Cyril Griffin
Grandfather and the Lamb
Back when I was a young boy my grandfather had a flock of sheep. Many other people had the same. Animals were allowed to roam freely in most small communities. As it was, sheep, goats and horses usually ranged over the open barren hills surrounding our town. Men like my grandfather would make periodic searches around the hills to check on the condition of their sheep. No one used dogs to herd sheep in our area, in fact most people blamed dogs sometimes for causing death or injury to their animals. One day as I was playing in our front yard, my grandfather was returning from one of his frequent checks on his sheep. He was driving this one adult sheep before him and he had a small lamb under his left arm. I was very curious as to what my grandfather was doing carrying the young animal. He told me he had found the injured lamb on the hill and the mother was close by, she would not leave him. The little fella had a broken leg, which in most cases would mean he would surely perish. My grandfather was not about to let that happen, at least not without trying whatever he could to save the poor animal. He asked me if I would help him save the beautiful little helpless creature, and I was happy to do so. Well, grandfather drove the mother into a small fenced yard beside his house and tied the gate shut so she could not get out. The he carried the young lamb into his house - my grandmother was not at home, she was shopping at the time. Grandfather laid the little animal on the kitchen floor and told me to hold him there. He didn't want the little lamb to cause any further damage to itself. So I knelt down on the floor beside the lamb and tried to keep the little fella from getting up and jumping around. I rubbed his little head and body to keep him calm. My grandfather went outdoors for a few minutes and came back with several short pieces of wood. Then he went upstairs and returned with an old white shirt which he tore into strips. While I held the lamb still, grandfather put a splint on his little leg and tied it in place with the strips of torn shirt. Then he told me to let him up to see if the lamb could stand on his own and move around. Sure enough, it worked out great, though it remained to be seen if it would all hold together when the lamb was outside and walking around. He put the lamb in the small yard with its mother so he could observe him while his leg healed. Well, the whole procedure turned out to work just fine. The little lamb started walking right away and the splint held together. Several weeks later, grandfather asked me again to hold the little lamb on the kitchen floor while he carefully removed the splint. The young sheep was ready to roam again on the hills. He didn't appear to have even a limp. I was so proud our treatment had been such a success. My grandfather, who was very impatient and sometimes coarse with people, apparently had a great affinity for God's lesser creatures. - Cyril Griffin
Cream at the Top of the Jar
Nan didn't have a cow like others in the cove I guess she did when mom was growing up She was younger and had a big family But now she was alone and She couldn't look after one. So we would get our milk From one of the other folks They gave it freely so you didn't Always go to the same person. That would be taking advantage. Hannah Kelly used to put some cream At the top of the milk jar She knew Nan liked it, so did I Sometimes walking home from the other side I would put my little fingers In the neck of the jar. The cream was delicious So I had some more until at last it was gone. Nan wondered why there was no cream, but She didn't want to say anything because After all, the milk was free. Maybe they needed it to make more butter. This little caper of mine Went on for a while until Nan Couldn't stand it anymore. She had To ask somehow why there was no cream. I couldn't tell her I was eating it. During the conversation at Uncle John Kelly's one evening The matter came up. It was Hannah herself Who asked Nan how she liked it. Well, my cover was blown Hannah laughed so hard And Nan was mortified. After that, there was always a little Jar of cream for Nan, with a cover on it That was screwed on tight. (Don't ask me how I know that) And still some cream at the top of the jar For the little boy with the sticky fingers. Cyril Griffin New Perlican, NL
Christmas at 15 Cook Street
By Derm Corbett Christmas memories of old Cook Street warm our hearts every December. Close your eyes! Is that Mike Dooley laying canvas in the old kitchen? He'll get a haircut in return and he and dad will celebrate the finished product with a beer. Boy, is Mike ever sweating! Got to get any needed painting done before the canvas goes down; hate painting those kitchen chairs. Mom has been baking for weeks, snowballs are my favourite. I think I saw some taffy on the old nail in the back room so maybe there'll be bullseyes! Dad and Uncle Val are gone to get the tree. We have to have a giant because the ceiling in the upstairs living room is so high. Mom has been putting children's gifts on layaway for weeks and picking them up when she could afford. Now she has to find hiding places! It's time to get the decorations from the boxes in the loft at the top of the stairs. Don't forget Uncle Jack's nativity set. Floors got to be scrubbed and waxed. There's half a ton of coal to be shoveled into the coal pound. Dad is back with the tree and we watch as it's dragged into the spotless living room. It smells wonderful but once it's tied into the corner we won't see it again till Christmas Eve. The hook goes on the door! Did you see the size of the turkey thawing out on the basement window ledge? Time's getting close, wash is done, clean clothes for Christmas Eve mass, got to get washed all over first! Home from church, take the hook off the living room door, there's the great tree still bare. We'll now hang out nylon stockings beside the old fireplace; the updraft threatens to carry them all up the chimney. Finally, up the stairs with the old coal stove glowing and lighting the way. Sleep won't come! Sounds like activity downstairs but you dare not move. Finally morning! Mom, and mom alone give the ok to get up. Down the stairs, the living room door is open. The tree is magical, fully decorated. Look at the bubble lights. The light in Uncle Jack's Christmas stable is on; the baby is in the crib! The stockings are bulging with goodies: apples and oranges, chocolates, comics, colouring books, it's a gold mine! And besides each child's stocking sits the big gifts: dolls, guns and holsters, games, skates, and clothes. Once again, the magic is real. How, in Heaven's name, did Mom and Dad ever do it? No doubt Mom was the driving force behind the annual celebration. She was the organizer, she handled the scarce money and bills associated with the season; she assumed most of the hard work of cooking and cleaning and she was the one who assumed the pressure of making sure that each of her children the magic on Christmas morning. I don't ever remember Dad and Mom giving each other wrapped gifts when I was a child. Usually it was the winter boots Mom needed or the warm coat Dad couldn't do without. No surprises, no luxuries, just the practical. The fact that their children were beaming was more than enough.
Friday Night Wrestling
I was talking to a cousin of mine from town a while ago. He was telling me that he had attended the funeral of a man we both knew but not all that well. The man was 93 years old when he passed. I said to my cousin, "you know you' getting old when you attend a 93-year-old's funeral and you can say you knew his parents better than you knew him." Which was true for both of us. Well, that gets me to my story, cause like many my age, I can remember when television didn't exist. At least not in the part of the world where I grew up. When we were young, my brothers and I, we used to stand outside a furniture store in our hometown watching a television set in the showroom. It was always left on so people could view it from outside the store. It was a small black-and-white, no colour in those days, no flat screens either, no cable or satellite. Now, television was new back then and so were television stations. There were no 24-hour broadcasts. The few shows that did come on started in the afternoon around three or four o'clock in the afternoon. There was this image on the screen called a test pattern that was an Indian head. Every time the image moved at all we thought a show was about to start. We would stare at that test pattern for hours. Later on, as some of the more well-to-do folks in our town bought television sets, we, my brothers and I, would stand outside their living room windows watching their television until they either closed their curtains or drove us away. There was one lady who would ask us into the house to watch the shows with her kids. My father got wind of what we were doing and forbade us from doing that any more. But of course, my father worked away a lot. Believe it or not, televisions cost more then than they do now. We were one of the first families in our neighbourhood to own a TV, not that we were well-to-do or anything like that. Our father was so ashamed that we were going around looking into other people's windows that he went out and bought one. God knows how long it took him to pay for it. It was an RCA Victor 18" black and white with rabbit ears to bring in the signal. Our back kitchen resembled a local theatre most nights because all the people in the neighbourhood came to watch TV at our house. Can you imagine that happening today? We kids loved the half hour shows that came on before supper. Every day of the week there was a different show. We watched Range Rider, Annie Oakley, Tex Ritter, Tim McCoy and Roy Rogers, and there was even a show with an Indian star Brave Eagle. That's how we got into cowboys and Indians. The most popular show with the grownups was Friday Night Wrestling from Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto. All the men in our neighbourhood and most of their wives came to watch the wrestling. It was standing room only in our back kitchen those nights, every chair in the house was occupied. The wrestlers didn't wear fancy outfits in those days, just plain swim trunks and knee-high boots. The referee always checked for foreign objects - not that they had anywhere to hide them. I can remember a lot of their names, but seeing as I can't get the spelling right, I won't attempt to list them. I do remember one of the most popular good guys was Whipper Billy Watson, he did a lot of work with sick kids, especially polio victims, and helped to raise a lot of money on their behalf. He was famous for his dropkick and sleeper hold. There was another named Pat O'Connor, his trademark was the mule kick, and who could forget Yukon Eric, who said he ate two dozen eggs for breakfast every day. And of course there were the bad guys - the Russian brothers and Tiger Tasker. You can imagine the scene as the good guys fought the bad guys with two out of three falls determining the winner. Everyone was on the edge of their chair some watching blow for blow with their favourite wrestler. It was quite the sight to see, even better to hear. My mother wouldn't allow any swearing or foul language, so everyone had to exercise a great deal of restraint. It was hard to believe that these were all good, church-going people at times. Many a hat was either torn to shreds or bit to pieces in our back kitchen. Eventually, almost everyone in the area got themselves a TV set and the local theatre went back to being a single-family home. We still watched Friday Night Wrestling, but it got much quieter when there was only us. Cyril Griffin New Perlican, NL
Once, when my brothers, sisters and I were still very young, Terry came into our lives. Now, he was very different from anyone else we knew. He was only a baby when first he came to us one morning, I can't remember the exact time of year, but I believe it was early fall. You see, Terry was an orphan. His mom had died giving him life. There was no one else to care for him, so he became one of us. We all came to love him very much and we all cared for him as best we could cause we were all very young. My dad built a wooden crate for him and put it behind the kitchen stove, half-filled with warm, dry hay. My mom and we children fed him bottles of warm milk so that he would grow strong. There was a great fear among us that he might not make it on his own. Every night our mom would wrap him in a blanket and place another over the top of the crate to keep him warm. There was no heat in our house once the fire went out. Every morning he greeted us from his little bed behind the stove and one of us would give him his morning bottle of milk because mom was busy getting breakfast for us. We all loved him very much and we all wanted him to grow strong. You see, Terry wasn't like us, he was a tiny little lamb with no mom to care for him. My brother and I had saved some money we earned berrypicking, selling chafe for 10 cents a bag and helping other people with their gardens or hay. We each bought a lamb from some people our parents knew. I bought a black one because they were different and rare. We put our initials on them with red paint before we let them loose with grandfather's flock. So the lambs grew into adult sheep and had babies of their own. Mine was okay, but my brother's wasn't and died soon after her lamb was born. My sheep wouldn't have anything to do with the other lamb. So we ended up trying to save him ourselves. Don't know why we called him Terry, it was a name someone suggested and we all agreed. In the end we did manage to save him and he became part of our family. When he grew strong in the spring, dad put him in the barn and made a special stall just for him. Every morning when dad went to the barn to check on the horse, Terry was inside the door waiting for him. Lots of times dad would let him come to the house for a warm bottle of milk and a slice of homemade toast with butter. He still loved his bottle of milk even though he was eating table scraps and hay by now. We would all give him a hug or otherwise greet him when he came into the kitchen before we all left for school. In the evening he was always waiting on his little perch in the yard when we came home. We let him join in with us and our friends when we played games outdoors. Everyone in the neighbourhood got to know him like we did. As he got older, he played tag with us. He loved to butt you in the rear with his head - when Terry tagged you, there was no denying it. If you bent over for any reason, he would run at you and butt you in the rear. We made a game of it. One time my mom's friend next door needed to use our clothesline because hers had fallen down and her husband was too busy at work to fix it. So as she was taking some we clothes out of her basket, Terry spotted her. Yes, you guessed it. He took a run for her and butted her in the rear. The poor woman went head-over-heels and landed on the ground, more shocked than hurt. When she told her husband what happened that evening, he laughed but he fixed the clothesline right away. Several people who were in the sheep business at the time offered to buy Terry, but we were having none of that. He was after all one of us, a very important part of our young lives back then. But the time would come when we would have to work together to save him once more, like we did when he was young in his crate behind the kitchen stove. It would be a terrible ordeal for all of us. There came to be, around this time, a bad disease which attached sheep, and many perished eaten alive by larvae - maggots. The old people called it the "blue bottle fly" plague. They called it that because flies - which were big like common fish flies, except their bodies were a bright blue colour - would pitch on the sheep and lay eggs in small clusters in the wool. We kids called them "fly spits" because they looked like the tiny bubbles you see at the top of the dishwater in the kitchen sink. When these eggs would hatch into larvae or maggots, these maggots would bore into the sheep and live off the flesh until they eventually killed the animal. It was a slow and agonizing way to die. We would check the few sheep we had every day to see if any fly spits were on them. We did this by running our fingers through their woolly coats. If we found any, our dad would mix up some liquid and put it on. As with many human diseases, like cancer, the treatment often hurt more than the disease it was trying to cure. Many people had herds of sheep that roamed free in the spring, summer and early fall. We kept Terry close to home because, like I said, he was one of us and we could tell he didn't like hanging around with the other sheep. We checked him every day, mom, dad and all of us, because we didn't want anything to happen to him. But he wasn't to be spared, flies did pitch on him and they did lay their eggs. The eggs hatched into larvae and the long, slow ordeal started. Just as we did when he was young in the crate behind the stove, we all pitched in to save him. It was heartbreaking to watch the maggots eat into him. We took turns holding him steady as dad or mom applied the liquid to his open wounds. Many a tear was shed for our little friend. But as luck would have it, we did manage to save him once again. There was a great sense of relief and also a desire to not have to go through that again. Most people got rid of their flocks - it was too costly to save them. It was a sad day for all of us when Terry was sold. We all thought the same thing - that the butcher's knife was a better way to go that to be slowly eaten alive. We all still remember him with love. Cyril Griffin New Perlican
Rock For My Bed
As you may recall, I told you earlier in one of my stories, our house had no central heating, no furnace or electric heaters. Back then, parents would never go to bed and leave fire in their kitchen stove, some would throw water into the stove at night to make sure. There was always a fear that you might be burned in your bed while you slept. Every winter somewhere in NL, this happened. Mom would put beach rocks in the oven (some people used bricks or other things) after supper to warm so we could put them in our beds to keep our feet warm. Everyone knows when your feet are warm, you are warm. Mom would wrap the rocks in small pieces of cloth, old towels, remnants of old bed sheets. Her favourite was the legs of old winter underwear which were fleece-lined. We would take them upstairs to our own beds. We each had our own rock and we would watch as mom wrapped them so we could grab our own when she was finished. This way you made sure you had your own. If you waited until they were wrapped you wouldn't be able to tell which was yours. My brothers and sisters would put the rocks underneath the covers and push them down to the foot of the bed. I would leave mine near the top and move it down in steps, to heat the whole bed. Smart, don'tcha think? All of the rocks came from the little cove. I would search for the most unique looking bed-rock while I was helping Nan find her firewood in the summer. Beach rocks were the best because they were smooth all around with no sharp edges. Sometimes mom would pick them out when she was visiting the cove in summer, sometimes Nan did. Din Kelly would drop off a box of rocks at our house. The rocks had to be replaced now and then because they would crack after being heated so many times and then cooled down. Cyril Griffin New Perlican, NL
Quilt For My Bed
When we were young, my brothers and sisters and I, winters were long. The weather was really cold and there was always lots of snow on the ground. We did not have central heating in our house, only a wood and coal stove in the kitchen. Most houses around were the same. My mother would make quilts from pieces of material salvaged from old curtains, dresses, or worn out bed sheets and flour sacks. Sometimes she would dye the white flour sacks a different colour - blue and green were he favourite colours. She had a quilting frame which she would set up in our back kitchen. There were four bedrooms in our house. The two girls slept in a double bed together. Likewise mom and dad - when dad was home. My oldest brother had a room of his own. Me and my other two brothers shared a room but we each had our own bed. That meant six beds, three of them doubles, to make quilts for. You didn't have to make all six the same winter, but there were always two or three that needed replacing. You must remember the quilts were made from things that had already seen a lot of wear. I remember one of the quilts on my bed when I was small had a picture of Robin Hood on it. He was dressed in a green outfit with a funny green cap on his head with a feather in it. He had a bow an arrow in his hand, the string of the bow was drawn back as if he was about to shoot the arrow. The picture was printed into the sack. The quilts were heavy, designed to keep the body heat in the bed. You might have more than one on your bed during the really cold nights. There were many in those days. When it was time to wake up in the morning it took a mighty effort to throw those quilts aside so you could get out of bed. Cyril Griffin New Perlican, NL
I Remember Princess Elizabeth
"The King has died. Long live the Queen." Those were the words of my father at our evening meal on Feb. 6, 1952, in St. John's just two weeks before my thirteenth birthday. Word had just been received that our beloved King George VI had passed away at age 56. He had unexpectedly become King upon the abdication of his older brother Edward VIII, who chose to marry an American Divorcee - Wallis Simpson. This prohibited him from continuing as King of England and head of the Church of England. In 1947 Princess Elizabeth married Philip, Prince of Greece and Denmark. While he was from the house of Glucksborg, upon his marriage to Princess Elizabeth he became a naturalized British subject, and adopted Mountbatten - his mother's maiden name - as his surname. He was created Duke of Edinburgh on the eve of their marriage on Nov. 20th. Princess Elizabeth was proclaimed Queen and crowned on June 2nd, 1953. It was a day of great celebration in Newfoundland, where local spruce boughs were used to constructed arches along the route of a parade where residents could celebrate and local business could join in by displaying their best products as a contribution to life in Canada's newest province. As a British Colony, before joining Canada in 1949, we were intensely loyal British Subjects. We contributed troops to help England during WWII, played soccer rather than American style Football, and loved our many British traditions. So the death of King George was felt as a personal sorrow for many of us. I remember one of the most difficult adjustments for everyone was becoming familiar with singing the new National Anthem God Save the Queen after singing God Save the Kingfor so many years. In those days the National Anthem was part of our lives. It was even played in movie theatres, while some stood silently before the start of each show. To celebrate the Coronation, small tins of individually wrapped candies were distributed to all school children in June. These tins were quite elegant, with a lovely picture of Princess Elizabeth -now Queen - on the tin's cover. Many years later these little tins could still be found in Newfoundland homes where they were used to collect old coins or other knickknacks, long after their candy contents had disappeared. While each of us remembers were we were when sudden - sometimes cataclysmic - events occurred such as the collapse of the World Trade Towers in New York, the day of our marriage, or our first child's birth. So it is that the memories of long forgotten events came rushing back as if it were yesterday, as we watched the Queen Elizabeth's recent funeral procession in England. Thank You, Your Majesty, for sparking such memories; and by your example - giving us courage to face the future. Respectfully remembered, Jim Mercer - 21/09/2022
Green is the Colour of Smoke
In the 40s and 50s there was not much information on the dangers of smoking. Advertising was everywhere and most of the movie stars smoked and so did many of our parents. We started quite young and continued mainly I think because our parents told us not to. There was no money to buy tailor-made cigarettes or even to buy tobacco and roll your own. Besides, all the storekeepers knew your parents and you knew they would tell on you. But we certainly learned to scrounge. We would watch where cars parked. Once in a while they would empty their ashtrays. There were no filters at that time, which meant there was always a butt from every cigarette. Break open four or five butts, roll the tobacco in brown paper and you had your own cigarette. The brown paper gave it a stronger taste. (Wondering about brown paper? That was the paper used by shopkeepers to wrap groceries. Imagine, we didn't even have shopping bags.) Sometimes you managed to get tobacco from your parents or grandparents. You had to be careful not to get caught. You waited until the pack of tobacco was partly used before taking enough for one cigarette. If you got greedy and took too much they would notice. Everyone guarded their tobacco well. Pap smoked black Beaver in his pipe. This was tobacco pressed into a small block about the size of a chocolate bar but more that twice as thick. It had to be cut off in small pieces and Pap would often rub it between his hands to crush it a little more before filling his pipe. I would sometimes take enough for a cigarette and roll it in brown paper. This was not easy because the cut up Beaver was granular and would fall out of the rolled paper. Smoking hard Beaver in brown paper provided a harsh taste which almost stripped the skin from the inside of your mouth. I'm not sure how old I was when dad discovered I had been smoking. Maybe twelve or thirteen. He didn't say much right away, but the look in his eyes said he was not finished with me yet. After supper he said, "I see you like to smoke. In that case, I guess you might as well have a good one." I was told to get on Pap's settle or couch. Dad then proceeded to take grandfather's old pipe and fill it with black Beaver. Now, Beaver was strong enough, but in Pap's pipe it was even more so. He had used the same pipe for years and not having any teeth, the juices in the pipe had certainly matured. The sound when you began to draw in on the smoke was the sound of an old boat pump trying to suck up the last bit of water. The scene in the kitchen that evening was of a young boy smoking his grandfather's pipe full of dark Beaver with his father sitting at the end of the couch mending a pair of shoes. The father tells the son not even to spit and if he did he would jab him with the awl he was using. The mother sits in her chair across the kitchen, knitting, but anxious about what is happening. Grandmother is sitting in her chair and she too is worried. Grandfather has left the room because he finds it difficult to watch one of his boys being punished. I rather enjoyed the pipe full of tobacco. If I could smoke all that was in the pipe without getting sick then my punishment would turn out to be a blessing. With a little sense of pride I informed my father that the pipe was empty. I got ready to leave, but the awl in his hand said stay. He filled the pipe a second time, lit it, and told me to start smoking. The two ladies on the other side of the kitchen began to look more anxious. I too began to feel that way a little. The second pipeful began to have some effect on me, but I did manage to finish it without getting sick. Now surely that would be enough, especially when my mom said, "James, I think he's had enough." It was enough for me, but not for my father. He filled the pipe the third time, lit it, and told me to start smoking. I was not far into the third pipeful before my stomach started to churn. I don't know how much longer I could have continued but it soon ended when I heard my mom say, "James. That is enough - he's starting to turn green." I ran for the outdoors where I discharged everything I had eaten that day. What happened after that? Oh, I continued to have a smoke whenever I could scrounge enough tobacco. Sam Johnson St. John's, NL
Remembering Tinsmith Jake Cotter
The tinsmith trade can be traced back to the building of King Solomon's Temple, when copper and bronze were used. Working with bronze, Tobal Cain was considered the first artificer (craftsman) to apply his skills in the building of the Temple. From the 18th century on, using copper and tin, tinsmiths manufactured all types of household utensils, such as kettles, mixing pans and bread pans. Like other artisans, they learned their trade by completing an apprenticeship of several years, serving as a journeyman and then becoming a master tinsmith capable of employing and teaching others. Very often, the trade was handed down from one generation to the next with the business becoming a family business. The tinsmith I wish to write about here is my father, Jacob (Jake) Cotter of New Perlican, Trinity Bay. Born in the community in 1904, he left school at the age of fourteen to go fishing with his father. That was the normal thing to do at the time. He remained fishing until, at the age of 26 in 1930, he decided he wanted to become a tinsmith. We're not sure why he made that decision, but it may have been the result of a visit to the tinsmith shop of John S. Rowe & Sons in Heart's Content, the home of the first transatlantic telegraph cable. The story of how he achieved his goal is a fascinating one. Because we had distant cousins living in Hartford, Connecticut, in the United States, my father decided that he would go there. Then, travelling from Newfoundland, a separate country, through Canada and into the USA was quite an undertaking. The fact is he had never been any further than St. John's in his whole life. He travelled across Newfoundland by train, then across the Gulf, then by train through Nova Scotia and finally, by train again, across the US border to Hartford. It took him close to a week to complete the journey. After arriving and settling in with his two cousins, spinsters Rose and Mable Attwill, he went to work as an apprentice with a tinsmith company - a far cry from the fishing boat in New Perlican. My father worked at the trade by day and went to school at night, learning what we now call Mechanical Drafting. He did that for six years. Following his apprenticeship, he became a Master Certified Tinsmith. He worked mainly in the construction industry in Hartford, installing copper roofs, copper moldings, and eves troughs on such notable projects as the reconstruction of the Mark Twain's House (Museum) and Trinity College. One very important and skilled part of the trade was soldering all joints that needed to be watertight. These were the days before caulking, so all joints in copper roofs and flashing had to be soldered. Soldering irons were heated in small stoves using charcoal. Dad returned to New Perlican in 1938 and set up a tinsmith shop in a little store near the public wharf in Winterton. Rural Newfoundland at that time didn't afford many opportunities for him to practice the trade he had learned in the US, so he turned his skills to manufacturing household utensils. On Monday morning he would walk to Winterton (approximately 4 miles), sleep on the workbench that night and walk home Tuesday evening - a schedule he would repeat for the remainder of the week. After a year or so, however, he built his own tinsmith shop in front of the family home in New Perlican. The household items he produced included: bread pans, bread mixing pans, wedding cake pans, bun pans, the very popular woods kettles, and measuring dippers for measuring berries, kerosene oil and molasses, all of which had to be checked and stamped by a government agency for accuracy. And then there were items he made for smaller fishing boats such as gas tanks, funnels, and ventilation stacks. There were also items for outfitting schooners and large ships, such as the Kyle, which went to the ice. These required much larger household utensils such as 5-gallon kettles, bun pans that would bake four dozen buns at a time, mixing bread pans that would use almost half a sack of flour for one mixing, and baking pans to accommodate the same. Designing and producing such utensils required great skill and creativity. In addition of course there were the usual needs for smoke pipes, elbows, chimney tops, eve gutters, oil cans, and even special cans that fitted the style and size of moonshine sills. From the waste tin he would make felt tins for felt and tar roofing. I remember my father describing some of the finer things he was asked to do, like soldering broken eyeglasses and repairing stained glass windows using lead to keep the small panes in place. He was even asked to solder the reeds in musical instruments. Years after my dad repaired his cornet, Dr. Otto Tucker told me that "Jake Cotter could solder an arse in a cat." Otto, who played the cornet with the Salvation Army Band in Winterton, went on to become a well-known and highly respected professor at Memorial University. I should add that one of the most tedious jobs I myself remember doing was covering the front door of a house with copper and soldering about a hundred copper buttons on to make it look antique without the solder showing. The door still stands in the house today. In 1942 my father went to work on the construction of the United States Naval Station in Argentia as Superintendent of the sheet metal shop. He was finally back doing what he had trained for in Hartford, making and installing copper roofs and flashings. After that, he returned to New Perlican to continue the business. Always anxious to explore new opportunities however, in 1951 he opened a tinsmith shop in Windsor with the hope of moving into Grand Falls. This didn't happen, mainly because Grand Falls was a company-owned paper town. Still not content to stay home, he went to work in St. John's with the well-known sheet metal business of George Phillips & Sons. Due to back problems he was forced to leave and return home. After a year of rest, he got the urge once again to start his own business, this time in Carbonear. The business opened in 1956. The sign on the building, hand-made from copper, read as follows: J. Cotter, Tinsmith and Sheet Metal Worker. While the tinsmith part of the business continued for some time, the main component soon became the sheet metal work and the heating and ventilation trade. In 1960, I joined the business, and the sign was changed to: J. Cotter & Son, Tinsmiths and Sheet Metal Workers, and later to Cotters Sheet Metal Works. My father died in 1973. While I kept the business going until 1979, the tinsmith part had largely disappeared because of the mass production of household utensils. I still made the odd woods kettle from stainless steel, but none to sell. I'm very pleased to say that a number of tinsmiths and sheet metal workers learned the trade from my father. They all found him hard working and patient, most knowledgeable and passionate about the business, and always anxious to do the best possible job. They would agree that we were taught by one of the best whose motto was "Take pride in your work: if you can't do it right, don't do it." For twelve years we worked side by side and not once did we have a heated argument. I feel very fortunate to have been part of the tinsmith business that my father started eighty years ago.
At My Mother's Knee
We grew up in a big house like most at the time. It wasn't fancy or anything like that. There was no central heating, no furnace, no electric heat and certainly no mini-splits. The only room in the house that had any heat in winter was the kitchen. People would let the fire in the kitchen stove - which burned wood or coal - go out before they went to bed. Some even threw water in the stove to make sure. There was always the great fear that the chimney might catch fire and we would all be burned in our beds. Almost every winter there was news on the radio of such a dreadful thing happening somewhere in the province. When supper was over we all gathered around the kitchen table to do our homework. There always seemed to be lots of it. We had a cat, Sue was her name, whose favourite game was to jump on the kitchen table and lie down on your open books. When one of us would put her on the floor she would just jump back up again and lie on someone else's open books. Mom would have to put her outside. We always had a cat, as most people did, they were good at catching mice. The female cats were best for that. Most tomcats would let the mice carry them away. Mom would sit in a chair across the room from the kitchen table. My younger sisters and I would kneel down beside her with our readers open on mom's lap. She would have a butcher knife in her hand and move it along the lines under the words as we read them. This is how we learned to read. Mom would help us with spelling words and also our arithmetic, our additions and subtractions and multiply tables. I think moms were the greatest teachers of all. So finally when the homework was done, the schoolbooks packed away in our school bags, we would pull out the chairs from our kitchen table, kneel on the floor with our elbows resting on the seat of the chairs. Mom would lead us in the Rosary. My dad was usually away working somewhere but he did join us when he was home. Sometimes he would try to escape the whole thing by visiting his mother and father across the road. "I'm going over to the old woman's," he'd always say when we started our homework. Dad couldn't help us with our schoolwork because he didn't have much education. My mom grew up in a little place about forty miles from where we lived. There were no more than thirty-five people living there at any given time. They did not have a church in this tiny place, nor a cemetery to bury their dead, only a little one-room schoolhouse with each grade having its own classroom. There were no nuns to run their school or teach religion. But the people of that little place always kept their faith alive, walked many miles winter and summer to attend church on Sunday. Their faith was simple and unrelenting, black and white with no gray areas. You do your part and God will do his. Mom would lead us in the Rosary kneeling in front of the rocking chair. She never read from any book or pamphlet, she knew it all by heart. Which mysteries to say on the different days of the week and so on. She even recited the Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary - all 57 incantations - from memory. Even when one of my older brothers, I had three, would misbehave, as they often did, she would stop, correct them, then continue on from where she left off. When you say the response to the 57 incantations "Pray for us" fast, it can sound much different than it's supposed to. My second oldest brother had a real problem with this. How many times did my mom have to stop and say to him, "it's 'Pray for us'." Mom is long gone now, likewise my brother who had trouble with the responses. The precious memories are all that is left. Many times, especially during the winter months, our Rosary would end with the whole family in tears. Now, this was not from any kind of religious fervor, but simply because the splits and shavings in the oven, where they had been put to dry, caught fire and the kitchen filled with acrid wood smoke which burned your eyes and made them water. Mom would throw a wet cloth into the oven to put out the smoldering wood splits, throw them into an empty metal bucket and carry them outside. She would come back inside and continue the Rosary where she left off. Back in the days of my youth everyone went to church on Sunday, some more than once. All the different religions were the same. Everyone dressed in their best clothes, shined their shoes, combed their hair, and many carried prayer books. Most of the people walked to church and after service walked home. There were very few cars. In those days most clergy remained in the same community most of their lives. They didn't rotate every five years or so like they do now. You knew your clergy and they knew you. My education was at my mother's knee. She had her grade eleven because her father believed the only way out of poverty was education. My faith, if I possess any at all, came from the same place, my mother's knee.