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Room, Board and a Better Tomorrow
Some lessons in life are taught by those most close to you. Other important lessons can be learned by passersby and take a lifetime to appreciate. Our family lived in inner city Toronto in the 1960s. Our parents divorced and we survived on three things: love, social assistance and taking in boarders. Mom never expected nor deserved the hardship of raising a gaggle of youngsters alone. But her upbringing in outport Newfoundland in the 1930s was an early learning ground; take what you get, and wait a fair wind and you'll get one. Waiting on her fair wind, Mom sometimes bowed but never broke under the weight of seven children arriving and a husband and father eventually leaving. Her days were long and money was short. When her ship came in, it took the form of Newfoundland boarders, each looking for a warm bed and a hot meal. These transitory souls brought with them their luggage - but also their baggage, jammed full with the unexpected, the funny, the entertaining and, sometimes, the bizarre. Spanning 10 years, many Newfoundland men and women passed through, one literally passed on, and more than a few passed on important lessons in life. There was Bill, the chain-smoking Ham Radio operator who was as tall as he was short-tempered. Like Gordon Pinsent in The Rowdyman, when he looked at me with those weight-of-the-world eyes, I was both saddened and terrified. But, like a rock-strewn shore, in time his hard exterior wore away, I became his junior sidekick. We rode the east-Toronto streets in his Chevrolet Biscayne. I fancied myself a stand-in for a son he never had or, perhaps, one he couldn't be with. Bill and his Biscayne eventually took a wrong turn in life. He ended up paying a debt to society behind bars. I learned then that, for some, the weight of the world is simply too heavy to bear. Then there was Gerald, the sleepwalker. Gerald sometimes roamed the house at night in his underwear, eyes wide shut. Often found shuffling in the dark, Mom would gently coax him back to his room, her voice soft but firm. It was a mystery to me how he navigated the basement stairs to his room while asleep. The greater mystery was how Mom navigated these bizarre situations alone. I learned that circumstance and necessity sometimes breed capability and courage. Let's not forget Barry, whose misfortune was to pass away one winter evening following a health event in his rented room. To my nine-year-old self, it was like the Walton's meet Alfred Hitchcock - only John-Boy's comforting voice did not soothe us that night. Instead, we kids comforted each other and, boasting fake courage, brushed it off the next morning like fresh-fallen snow on the front stoop. I learned that life sometimes came and then it went. Will, the bayman, plied his trade on the Great Lakes aboard a 210 metre container ship, the Adriana. He would tell us tall tales of the 'high seas'. That he had never been to the ocean did not matter. We knew but didn't care. He was cartoon-like in his character, and equally fictional in his yarns. This was part of his charm. I learned that people don't need to travel the world to be worldly. John and Glenna were siblings who arrived with few possessions and many bad luck stories. He, a twenty-something rabble-rouser, would steal your friendship and your wallet in the same encounter. She, teenaged and soft, was like a bird in your palm. But life had hardened her heart. Her daytime smile would light up a room, but her nighttime tears left darkness in my heart. I learned that sometimes people go through life wearing masks to cover the hurt inside. I know now that each of our boarders was searching for the elusive Holy Grail said to exist off "the Rock" in mainland Toronto - an easier life. Few found it. For those who didn't, they found instead that big city living was just a different kind of hard. They returned to the Rock where their small town struggles were, at least, familiar. These boarders left a marked impression on me. They taught me not to judge a suitcase by its cover, for each unpacks a unique story. Most important, they taught me to hang on to hope. For each of them, hope was the possession they carried with them daily. It was not found in their threadbare closets but in each of them - in their guarded but giving smiles, in their tentative but telling stories, and in their courage to rise each morning to face another day, each one of them doing so alone among a family of strangers. I know now they were searching for a better tomorrow, for a helping hand, a welcoming place to settle down. I like to think they found comfort in our home and in the human connection found there, including in the curious nine-year-old boy who lived down the hall. Fast-forward 50 years and I'm 35 years connected to my wife, herself a proud Newfoundlander. When we first met, we fancied being housemates - shared boarders of sorts. Like our boarders, she had plans to move in and, eventually, move on. Lucky for me, I remembered my Mom and our boarders; I realized that my Newfoundland ship had come in. Instead of my partner in living, I invited her to be my partner in life. All these years later, we've found a better tomorrow together, a fortune I hope our boarders, too, went on to find.
Sons and Daughters. WHY?
Mount Pleasant Cemetery in St. John's is where my Dad, Arthur, was burried in 1988 and my mom's ashes were placed in the same plot after she died in 2009. They lived most of their life together and now they will spend eternity as one. Holy Cross Cemetery in Richmond Hill, ON, is where my first born son Arthur (named by my wife in honour of my father, who became her surrogate dad when she was 16) was buried in 1970. When my wife's battle with cancer ends, her ashes, as she has instructed me, will be placed in Arthur's grave. Again, and for eternity, they will be one. Living without my two Arthurs has not been easy, but I have have had life-support via my wife Mary to help me cope and keep a semblance of order in my life. But I do not know how much longer my life-support will be with me. Living with cancer (despite the books, brochures and other publications I have read) continues to cause upheaval in my life with sleepless nights that are too numerous to count. But life goes on for me and my sole wish is to help my precious Mary navigate that "troubled road of life" until the Big C takes full and final control of her. And ends my raison d'etre. Her life on earth was troubled, from the day she was born, and only she knows the pain she suffered when she was but a child and now is suffering once again. If either her first and third born children happen to read my words and suddenly realize that "A mother's love is a blessing," they will wonder why their mother celebrated so joyously when she borne them!
Our Changing World
Like everybody else who are isolating themselves from Covid-19 these days, we are watching a lot of television. Yesterday, since there is not much on the sports channels, I selected a show called "Salt Water Cowboys." Having been born and raised in Newfoundland but now living in Ontario, I found this to be a pretty good program depicting the day to day business of fishermen trying to make a living by harvesting the sea. It is a struggle and entails a lot of hard work, danger and uncertainty often under miserable conditions. My forefathers were fishermen but I am not. Two things happened during this particular episode that were memorable to me. The first incident showed how one fisherman, and his crew of four, lost a number of nets because another group of fishermen had cut them loose. Why would they do that? It was suspected that their net had somehow crossed another one previously set, and the cut was made in order to separate the two. The freed net had sunk directly to the bottom, and since a fishing boat is rigged to catch fish but not retrieve lost nets, there was no way to locate and recover it. The cost of the lost netting was estimated at $5000, not including the value of the fish entrapped in it. The fishermen were understandably brokenhearted. What a waste! The second thing that got my attention was when two other fisherman on the opposite side of the island decided to scuba dive for scallops. This for me was different, I had never seen this done before in Newfoundland. Not the game changer that the fish finder was by a long shot, but one more weapon, I guess, in the arsenal against the denizens of the deep who are already losing. I like to see the fishermen make a good living, but this just seemed wrong to me. I love to eat fish, and scallops are favourite, but is this really necessary? In this particular case, the young fisherman is trying to make enough money to buy his girlfriend a 1.5 carat diamond engagement ring. Romantic yes and, as it turned out, almost tragic, too. One of the divers did not surface when he should have and a frantic search by the other found him below entangled in another abandoned net, not the same one, of course; I'm sure there must be lots. There is a certain irony here that becomes obvious. Can you imagine the newspaper headlines if the worst had happened? "Fisherman Drowned, Trapped in Abandoned Net." Happily, he was rescued. "Drain the Ocean" was my next viewing choice. An interesting program that would have been science fiction just a few years ago. I followed along as various areas of our planet's oceans were "drained" by a computer which is processing underwater scanning data and turning it into virtual imagery. Fascinated, I watched several areas being exposed, including sunken warships, interesting geological spots, evidence of lost civilizations, and the successful locating of a Norwegian ferry that had been carrying heavy water to make Atomic Bombs destined for Germany during WWll. What fun, how interesting, entertaining and historically valuable. I don't know if this data is as good as it looks, and I suspect a lot of the images are added artificially, but I do know the technology of our world is advancing in leaps and bounds. The potential astounds me. Now, I'm just an ordinary person with no special expertise either in fishing, or in how to virtually expose the ocean floors. I can, however, see a connection here. What, I thought, If somehow virtual imaging photography could be used to locate lost fishing gear? Snagging and retrieving a lost net, if it could be located, shouldn't be too difficult, not a lot different from retrieving nets the usual way perhaps. What would be the impact of recovering the nets or fishing gear that have been lost in the ocean. I'm sure that nets lost years ago have biodegraded and don't exist anymore. However, what about those lost in modern times which are made of more durable material? Do they permanently lie on the bottom still trapping species that prefer that part of the ocean? Do shellfish become entangled in them? We have people nowadays working hard trying to clean beaches and recover floating plastics which, in my view, may be far less harmful than the stuff we don't see. These are just random thoughts from a housebound retiree that a good oceanographer might easily address. I don't know enough about it to be sure, but I suspect the answers might disturb us. A future alternative might be to require a small signalling device, that could be activated by a searcher, attached to each net. This isolation period that is imposed upon us right now could be used productively, in reevaluating our lives and our relationship with our world, other creatures and each other. It's easy to point our fingers at the greedy self-centred and ruthless oligarchs, but these traits are also found in all classes of our society. We need to rethink or values and perhaps together we can help restore our suffering planet, the place we call earth, our home. We have to eat and there is nothing wrong with using our resources wisely. But we shouldn't overdo it. Money is such a poor excuse for ruthless exploitation. Perhaps, if our confinement, loss of life, and livelihoods lasts long enough, we will learn something, and emerge the better for it. The earth is in the process of teaching us a badly needed lesson, and we need to make significant changes before an even bigger disaster occurs! This isn't meant, in any way, to malign our hard working fishermen who help to feed us. I have never known one yet who made enough money to buy a luxury apartment building in New York or a resort in Mar-a-lago; I merely wanted to point out how each of us have contributed in our own way to the state the world is in, and now is a good time to reflect on how we can help heal it. I guess too, I just couldn't help thinking about how many scallops had to pay with their lives for that engagement ring.
Here is one of the many short stories I write once a week at home: Uncle Luke tapped the glass, it was rising. The wind was from the western. The sun setting in the west left the sky blood red. "Going to be a nice day the mar," he said to himself. "Sit down." said Nan, "I got a bit of bread dough left over. Want a few toutins, Luke?" "Yes," he said, "I thinks I will." Nan cut up and put in the cast iron frying pan a few pieces of fat back pork. Once fried up, she put the bread dough in the pan, frying it to a golden brown colour. Placing a piece each on a plate, Uncle Luke poured 'lassy over his. They said the blessing and ate their nighttime lunch. "Let's play a game of scat," said Nan. "Alright," said Uncle Luke, "let's play a few hands." After a half dozen games of scat, Uncle Luke and Nan retired to bed, said their prayers and fell asleep. With the window open, a fresh western breeze flowed in the room, freshening the room. A lonely loon cried in the night, waves washed upon the beach was music to his soul. A bang on the door woke Uncle Luke. "Must have been dreaming," he thought. Falling asleep again, he was awakened again be the banging. "Someone's house must be on fire," he thought. Getting dressed, he walked downstairs, cross the kitchen to the porch door. Opening the door, Young Noah was there. "What's wrong, Noah?" asked Uncle Luke. "Pop is down on the floor, soaking wet and is hurt!" "OK," said Uncle Luke, "I will be over." Going back upstairs, Uncle Luke got dressed, hauled on his boots, ran up the path. It was bout a 1/4 mile to Skipper Ned's house. Going into the kitchen, and into the parlour, down at the base of the steps was Skipper Ned. "What happen to youse?" asked Uncle Luke. "I was going down to get a glass of well water, and me old hip gave out and I slid down the steps. I told Noah there was no need to bother you, I'se is alright." "Can youse move yer legs, Ned?" asked Uncle Luke. "Oh yes, no problem there. Be me cane is up in the bannister, I hooked it in the rail to try and slow down me fall." Gettin' Skipper Ned's cane, Uncle Luke helped Ned up, and with his cane, he walked to the table, sat on the chair, with Young Noah getting a glass of well water from the bucket for Skipper Ned. Skipper Ned looked at Uncle Luke. "Did you hear that Skipper Bob might be arrested?" "No, I never," said Uncle Luke. "What happened?" "Well, you knows that Young Levi got home a few days ago?" "Yes, I heard," said Uncle Luke. "Is he as bad as ever?" "Worse," said Skipper Ned, "if that is possible. He wasn't home a week, when things in Pigeon Cove started to disappear. Skipper Leige upon the hill had his stable door ripped off hinges and his good dog sled gone. Uncle Mark had his new axe stolen. Now you knows Uncle Mark, 92 and wouldn't hurt a soul. He was some upsot when he found out. Aunt Minnie had her flower garden destroyed, while Aunt Molly had all her fresh milk hove out on the ground. That's not all, Uncle Luke. He broke into Aunt Phoebe's house, found her life savings of a thousand and stole it. He was going all around the community braggin' 'bout the money he had. "Now, Uncle Luke, you knows how much Skipper Bob thought of Aunt Phoebe." "Yes," said Uncle Luke, "She was like a second mother to him." "Yes." said Ned. "When Uncle Bob found out, he was fit to be tied, and said if he ever finds Levi, he will break his two legs. He went to see Aunt Phoebe, and she begged Uncle Bob not to lay a hand on Levi, but to let the Ranger handle it. 'No,' said Uncle Bob, 'that young hangashore needs to be taught a lesson.'" "Oh my," said Uncle Luke, "that Levi didn't know who he would be dealin' with." "Have a cup of tea with me, Uncle Luke, and I will continue the story. " With the stove going, Young Noah poured a cup of tea for skipper Ned and Uncle Luke. He was also interested in the story. "The next day, Skipper Bob went down to the shop fer some 'lassy fer his mother, and who should be there but that hangashore, Levi. He was showing off his money to whoever would listen. Skipper Bob looked at him and asked, 'Where'd you get that money to, Levi?' 'None of your damn business,' Levi said to Skipper Bob. Well, Young Clayton looked at Skipper Bob's face, it was blood red and he was as mad as hell. 'I knows where you got it.' said Skipper Bob, 'you stole it from Aunt Phoebe, twas her life's savings, and I am takin it back. You are nuttin but a low life scum, too damn lazy to work, and a bloody thief. On top of that.' said Skipper Bob, 'you nuttin but a lazy hangashore, too damn lazy to pay his own way, rather steal than earn it proper.' "Well, this made Levi mad as hell as he challenged Skipped Bob to a fight outside. Now if Young Levi was either bit smart, he would have stopped right there, but no, he threatened to beat the shit out of Skipper Bob. He said he learned to box up in Canada, and was going to teach Skipper Bob a lesson. "Out on the ground, Young Levi started to dance around Skipper Bob, making short jabs at Skipper Bob. Skipper Bob waited his turn, and gave Levi a poke in the chest. The poke stunned, but made Levi a little wary of Skipper Bob. Levi moved to give Skipper Bob an uppercut they called it. Well, Skipper Bob grabbed him be the shirt collar, hauled him in close and gave Young Levi such a beatin' that Young Levi was crying. He had two bruised eyes, a bloody nose, two missing teeth, long with a bruised ego. Young Leige looked at Skipper Bob, and said, 'I'm having you charged for assault.' Skipper Bob went over to Young Levi, took the money from his pocket, and told Levi to leave and never come back. He said, 'You is a disgrace to Pigeon Cove, and I 'llows your mother and father is rolling over in their graves.' "The Ranger did come, Skipper Bob told him the story and what happened. 'That's not the story that Levi told me,' he said, and he charged Skipper Bob with assault. "The magistrate did come the spring to hold court. With Levi in the seat with a sly grin, the magistrate asked Skipper Bob what happened. He told the magistrate word for word what had happened, and all the crime that happened and how Levi was going round showin off his money, with Aunt Phoebe's house broken into and all he life's savins gone. "The magistrate looked at Levi. Levi just put his head down. 'Levi,' said the magistrate, 'I don't condone what Skipper Bob did, but you had it comin' and you deserved everything you got, You didn't have a clue with who you was dealin with. When, I heard the real story, 'tis a wonder Skipper Bob never killed you or broke you legs. Skipper Bob,' said the magistrate, 'I find you not guilty on all charges. Will you go down and tell Aunt Liza to cook some dinner, please.' "'Yes," said Skipper Bob, 'I will indeed.' "The magistrate looked at Levi. 'You see, Levi, Aunt Phoebe worked hard for that money, and you stole all her savings. You see, Levi, Aunt Phoebe was like a mother to me when I would visit her from Cat Cove. When my mother got sick and died from scarlet fever, Aunt Phoebe raised me. I knew Skipper Bob long before you ever did, and for Skipper to do something so bad as that, I knew there was another side to the story. I wasnt supposed to do this case, but the other magistrate got sick, and he sent me. Levi, I sentence you to 1 year of hard labour at St. John's. Then after that you have no family left here, therefore, you are never to come back here again. Your poor old mother and father up there on the hill would be ashamed of you in their grave, as far as I am concerned, you put them there before their time. "'You are nothing but a lazy hangashore. Case dismissed.'"
On November 4, 2019 a woman of indeterminate age and her husband, both seemingly lost in a world which they had yet to become accustomed, cautiously looked around the small "Systemic Therapy" waiting room where my wife Mary and I were sitting while waiting for my wife's appointment time to arrive. Mary, being more intuitive than I could ever hope to be, noticed the couple's hesitation in looking as to where they could sit together in the overcrowded room and without any prompting she looked directly at the woman and said, "Please sit here, and your husband can sit in the next chair." The next chair being one of only two empty chairs remaining in the room. Mary, somehow knowing and feeling the distress that the couple seemed to be going through, continued to look at them and said "Randy, go sit over there and let this couple sit together." Subservient, as usual, I moved to the other empty chair in the waiting room. The couple were at first hesitant to sit in my vacated seat, with the husband saying "No that's O.K." But Mary insisted and they both sat down together, the woman siting next to Mary. After seating myself in the now last vacant chair, I picked up my novel and continued to read in an effort to overcome the ennui that comes with the boredom encountered from a feeling of helplessness while waiting for my wife as she continues her valiant battle against a formidable foe. I do not consider myself to be overly observant or blessed with exceptional hearing as age creeps up on me, so when I heard Mary and the woman talking I put my book aside to listen to them for what I had felt would only be a few minutes or so before my wife was called for her treatment. Mary quietly talked to the woman, who had just sat down next to her, and the woman smiled and spoke softly to Mary while seeming to be more relaxed and at ease then when she had arrived. Shortly thereafter Mary was called for her treatment that lasted a dreadful 60 minutes as I waited for the radiation to work its magic and make her body "cancer free" so she might enjoy some semblance of a normal life before the Grim Reaper calls her name. A few minutes later the lady to whom I gave my seat was called for her treatment. Not having been diagnosed as requiring Chemo, Radiation or any other type of cancer treatment to continue to live, I cannot speak with any authority on how my wife or her visitor might be feeling as they sat quietly talking while waiting for their treatment time to arrive. However, if or when that time arrives for me, a smile and a kind word from a stranger would lighten the load that I faced, words like what Mary said to that woman in her moment of distress. Is there a moral to my recollections? I believe there is: A kind word or two, at times, can be worth more than money can buy.
The Storm April 19, 1972, a raging snowstorm crippled the small coastal city of St. John's, Newfoundland. So severe was its fury, complete with howling winds and blustering snow, that even the provinces liquor stores were closed!That`s my dad's account of the day I was born. I have heard that story each of the past forty-seven years; he tells it the same way each year when he wishes me a happy birthday. This meteorological event became a symbol for the internal emotional storm I would soon face. I look back on my childhood and have very fond memories of my family, particularly my grandparents. My father's mother was the kindest, gentlest soul I have ever known. She taught me life lessons and skills that most men would not care to learn. She taught me to sew; now one of my greater skills. I watched my grandmother artfully craft yards of material into elegant window coverings, or drapes in Newfoundland terms. I remember every detail of the process, the slight bend and tiny nicks in the pins that were used to hold the material together as her Singer sewing machine stitched the pieces together. I remember the industrial smell of the material, not yet enveloped with the aromatic signature of the owner's home. And most importantly, that glossy black Singer sewing machine that she meticulously cared for. There was a lingering scent of machine oil from the light film that covered the moving pieces, all intended to ensure the machine's perfect timing. I am easily taken back to that small room in Brigus Gullies where my fondest memories are set, and a unique skill learned to benefit me the rest of my life. Eighteen years later I joined the Royal Canadian Air Force. As an aircraft mechanic and maintainer of life support equipment, I was required to understand the basics of sewing. I nailed it! My supervisors were amazed at how naturally I embraced the concept. Now fully trained, in 2002 I was sent on my first overseas deployment to Bosnia-Herzegovina. There I had a tiny shop constructed out of an old sea container, and in that container, an industrial strength sewing machine much the same as my grandmother's. I cared for it as if she were standing over my shoulder checking up on me. The timing was perfect, the scent of oil easily detected around my dimly lit shop just as it was in the small room where I learned to sew. While there I discovered a way to pass time through the cold damp Bosnian winter. Out of scrap material and using nothing but an image in my head I was able to manufacture spectacular camouflage creations. These creations that I brought to life were backpacks and I humorously named them, Johnny Backpacks. That was a fond memory of mine from Bosnia, however, there are other memories I wish I could lay to rest. Bosnia had just been ravaged by 3 years of fierce fighting and we were sent there to ensure that the two enemies adhered to the Dayton Peace Accords. Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic had been accused of genocide, so a NATO Peacekeeping Implementation Force was formed and brought an end to his war crimes. The evidence of these killings existed in shallow graves which were nothing more than a layer of dirt in most cases. The outline of each body clearly visible, and age of each victim horribly obvious. These were the sights that assaulted my senses each time I left the camp and the shelter of my little sewing room. There in that European country 5500 kilometers from Newfoundland, the conditions were met for that April 19, 1972 storm to quickly exchange energy with the atrocities I observed in Bosnia. My grandfather Fillier also had a positive influence on me. I was amazed at his ability to build or repair anything. I remember the model boat he made for me that was crafted from an old log I had found behind his cottage; every intricate detail down to the functional ivory white sails and tiny wheelhouse. I was in awe of his talents. I would spend all summer long helping my grandfather renovate his cottage, he patiently taught me to hold a hammer and explained the physics behind using determined force and leverage to drive the nail. I hold very dear to me the fact that my grandfather had served in the Navy during the Second World War. At the time I had no idea what it really meant to go to war, I just knew that he was a Canadian hero. He never talked about the war or what he did or saw during the campaign. My only indication he reflected on those days was an aging Union Jack of faded red and blue that always flew outside his cottage. One day my cousin and I decided to pry into the mind of that heroic man, and we were shocked by the flood of emotions we witnessed. My grandfather wept as he told the story of having to take someone else's life to save his own, an internal battle he had obviously fought since his return. I remember focusing on the pure white porcelain sink that he leaned on for support and feeling guilty for having caused his sadness, it was something I had never seen before. To my surprise though, I would see that pain and suffering again twenty-nine years later reflected in my own face. In 2011 I deployed to Afghanistan as part of an elite unit sent to combat insurgency. During the training for that deployment I felt an overwhelming sense of pride that I was following in my grandfather's footsteps. As a Flight Engineer, I was part of a helicopter crew that inserted combat forces on objectives occupied by insurgents in the hope of destabilizing the terrorist cells. We would later extract troops under the cover of darkness and escort any detainees to the appropriate authorities. I participated in fifteen of these capture-kill missions; you can't do anything fifteen times in a war zone without a few things going horribly wrong. There are not enough pages to describe to you all the horror I witnessed in the scorching red sands of Afghanistan. I have vivid memories of blinding dust lit up by the green illumination of night vision goggles, of our helicopter nearly crashing in an insurgent field, our wheels smashing through solid mud walls. The force of this was so intense I was thrown outside the cabin, I clung to the machine gun mounted outside as I was pelted with sand whipped by the helicopter's rotor wash. I was able to pull myself inside just before the helicopter regained flight and flew away from that near disaster. That same gun, that had several nights before saved my life, I used to shoot into a crowd of combatants eager to "down" a coalition aircraft. I can still remember the smell of gunpowder that filled the cabin as the rounds impacted around the silhouettes that were scattering for shelter from the bullets I rained down. Most crippling is the image I can never erase of a small boy struck in the head by a Taliban bullet, his innocence robbed. Like my grandfather, I had now also lived through a war with unimaginable horror. As he did, I now fight another war at home, the storm inside my head. You see today, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is widely accepted and understood as a mental health condition. That wasn't so in my grandfather's day. I struggle each day as I imagine he did, and I use the things he taught me to keep my mind busy. A perfect example would be the house my wife and I recently bought that required a lot of TLC. Quickly it turned into therapy for me as I incorporated all the skills my grandfather had taught me to beautify our home. I felt as though he was guiding me, helping me with the everyday storm that is PTSD. I have been part of several world conflicts and each time I have found myself surrounded by adversity, I relied on the skills these two amazing individuals taught me. How to sew, how to build things; life skills I hope to pass on to my own daughter. She knows my story and supports me in the simplest way, a note left on my desk, "I love you so much dad, you are so great at everything you do." If there is only one thing that she learns from me, I hope it is the ability to understand that there is no life challenge that you cannot overcome. Anything is possible, it just requires dedication and effort. You see, I was born on a stormy day April 19, 1972 and that storm still metaphorically rages inside me as I live with the traumas of war. My story may not be that of legend, but this story is uniquely my story.
The Undercover Agent
The one overriding thing about serving in a small rural parish, particularly when you live in the parsonage, manse, precherage, rectory, or whatever your particular denomination calls it, is that you tend to be living in a goldfish bowl. The number of fish in the bowl usually equals, for some strange incomprehensible reason, the number of people in the pastor's family. Everybody knows your business. If they don't, they think they should. If they do, they think everyone else in the world has a right to know also. They also consider it, not just their creator-given right, but their bounden duty to find out and to make it known to the whole world. The pastor's wife and children are not entitled to any privacy either. After all, the congregation hired them, didn't they? Quite some time back, I was living in such a goldfish habitat on the South West Arm of Trinity Bay. It just happened that some people, family friends we knew from about 2000 miles away, came to visit us. We had made a grave mistake by telling them we lived in a house. We had sent them pictures of a house. When they arrived, however, with out-of-province plates on their car, they learned the real truth. We did not live in a house, but a fish tank. Fortunately they were all good swimmers. I hesitate to think about what might have happened otherwise. So here they were, mother, father, two daughters and another mutual friend, visiting from away. Total strangers to the land in which they now found themselves. Now the people in the local village were quite an intelligent bunch, and they knew in very short order that there were strangers in the area What the locals did not know was who these foreigners were. Neither did they know what they were about. Why indeed, would such intruders come to their village? The fact that they were not only visiting the resident clergy, but staying with him and his family, didn't matter a hoot. IT was necessary to find out, not necessarily in any kind of discrete manner, what these aliens weer doing. Were their passports and Visas up to date and in proper order? These were important issues which needed to be researched! It was interesting to watch the curious. As they drove by, they would slow down and stare at the house as though there was something wrong with it. If they were walking, they would stop in front of the place and look at it with their heads cocked to one side. I was beginning to wonder if the bowl had suddenly changed shape, or the water had turned purple. All they were trying to do was figure out the species of the new fish which had arrived uninvited. After several days, people started getting braver in their search for the facts. They even got bold enough to ask each other what they had learned. I am sure they had nightly meetings to check each others' notes and compare information. Then it happened. The principal of this newly arrived school of fish was out in the driveway with his head buried in the engine compartment of his vehicle. Changing spark plugs, to be exact. Somebody was talking up the street past the house. Actually, U had been watching him as he had been watching us for several minutes from the intersection one house down. The garage door was open and I was puttering around there doing I can't remember what. This person came down the driveway, past the car with its hood up and a butt sticking out of the engine room. He came into the garage and pretended to ask me something totally irrelevant to his mission. Although the gentleman visiting us was very close to my own age, he had a lot more hair than I did. He still does! But his hair is a platinum blond shade. In the darkness under the hood of his car it looked white. The local inquisitor, not getting a full observation of his face, made an assumption, from the colour of the hair, that this was an elderly gent whose rear was the most exposed part he could view. After the opening gambit, the local fact-finder put his hand to the side of his mouth and whispered very softly to me, "Is that your father?" I responded in the negative in an equally soft voice with my hand up to the side of my mouth. I suppose this action was necessary in case some of the insects and spiders in the garage might overhear our conversation, and go spreading stuff before my interrogator had his chance to do so. The next question asked, with the same motion of hand and quiet voice was, "Who is it then?" I looked over both shoulders, around the garage, motioned for him to put his head right close to mine and whispered even more softly than any of the conversation which had preceded and said, "He's RCMP from Ottawa." This happened to be the truth. He then asked, in such a quiet tone that I could barely hear it, "What's he doing here?" I could not for the life of me resist having a little more fun with all this so I repeated the look around the garage to make sure no spies were about and said in an extremely low voice, "I'm not allowed to tell you." He said, "Oh," and immediately skulked out of the garage and wandered off down the street in the direction from which he had come. Several days later in a town about 20 miles from where the above conversation took place, I bumped into a fellow from that community whom I knew fairly well. We both belonged to the same club. We chatted for a few minutes about an umber of different things. Finally he put his head quite close to mine and said, "I hear you have an undercover agent from the RCMP staying at your place. I hear he's from Ottawa, down here looking for drugs. Smart, too, brought his whole family, so people would think he's on holiday. Did you know him before he got here?" I did not directly deny knowing him. I did, however, sort of string out a god politician's rambling answer. This was a bunch of words which said absolutely nothing and then I ended with something to the effect that he figured the local minister would be the most trusted person he could stay with while he was here doing his job. Nothing more was said. I was in that parish for another year after my friend's visit. People were never quite sure what my relationship with the RCMP was. I never could see that there was any compulsion on my part to clue them in. I was friends with most of the local detachment and it was not unusual to have a police car in the driveway. My coffee was always on. Reverend Dr. Charlie Massey Courtenay, BC
Buried in My Heart: A Memoir
The orange sky was splotched with grey and blue, as the sun sank below the ocean. The ground was a lively dark green that faded into the oxidized iron rocks, exposed to the salt spray. Overlooking the freshly painted white picket fence, I could see the infrequent ebb and flow of the ocean waves. A stream that ran parallel to me produced a light, splashy flowing sound. Extraordinarily lively and beautiful, for land with buried endings. Bright orance flares from the sun and rushing water seemed to fade into the background as I breathed, "Here is your spot." My grandfather and I were close. He spend his days circling the town that he lived in, trying his best to keep up with everybody and everything that was happening. Everyone knew him from the navy blue colour of his Toyota Tacoma truck. His birth name was Leonard but most knew him by his middle name, Ross. I knew him as Pop. One memory that stick with me is of a time he took me to get ice cream. There was a small convenience store known as "Woody's", the best place in town to get ice cream. Woody's was granted its name as to allude to the owner of the store. This white building overlooking the bay was extremely weathered, even at that time. Upon entry, a pungent smell of stale alcohol and smoke overcomes you, but it quickly fades as the excitement over their delicious ice cream replaces it. Often I would try one of their 160 flavours of ice cream, but on this particular day, I was feeling plain, a vanilla soft serve type of plain. Pop would go to the back of the store where they s old the beer, picking out the cases he needed for the next couple of days. His eyes were squinted in confusion when he had seen that my unlicked ice cream was melting. The younger lady that was working the front of the store smiled and told him that he owed $2.49. My grandfather began to acquire a nervous laugh as he said, "I thought you were going to pay for it." I told this story to some of my family, and they all seemed surprised that he gave up the money for me at all. He was tight with his money, but he was stronger willed. Before his bad habits of smoking and drinking caught up to him, he just stopped cold turkey. Stopped smoking and stopped drinking. Cut out his bad habits with the drop of a hat. I asked him about his choice to stop some months later, and he told me that he just wanted to see if he could, see if he was strong enough to quit. As the man I knew that was 6'2 slowly diminished in height, his excitement over the news, a puzzle he was doing, or even card games, never stopped. He had thinned around his face and limbs, but his belly continued to grow. His primary mode of transportation went from a truck to his feet, to using a walker around the house. The housebound walker was not bound to the house forever as he decided he would be visiting my father down at our cottage. Our cottage was not far at all. It would take roughly 5 minutes to walk from our place to our grandparents' when I would go for breakfast or dinner or even to get WiFi. My Pop's walk of excitement came to an end when he was discovered by my great and aunt uncle, who were taking care of him at the time. When driving him around, he had to be lifted out of the same truck that he once could hop in and out of 100 times a day. I watched him forget the game of cribbage in front of my brother, whom he had taught. A tired mid-afternoon was spent at the bedside of my Pop. We spent almost an hour talking about his life. We spoke about playing Cowboys and Indians as a child, shooting gunpowder and barrings from a copper tube as a teen, his appliance fixing business as a young adult, the trailer park he owned during my childhood, the family dog that was given to him when his hair was white, and all of it in between. The conversation concluded with a statement of how proud he was of me and a request. The request involved visiting him when his final day was long over every time I had a chance, accompanied by the call to be at church the day he would not return. Long before this request, he took me on one of his regular truck rides. We went all over town that day. There was one place in particular by a large hill. The hill had a large cross on it, this was to commemorate people from that town who lost their lives at sea. Overlooking the ocean with rugged beauty, he pointed out an area where he believed there was a treasure. The area he pointed out was a large area and very general, but the treasure was held there, for sure. Just after that, he had taken me to a cemetery where his relatives rest, just adjacent and a small hike from the memorial hill. He took me down to the bottom, and we overlooked a white picket fence that needed to be painted, the sound of a soft flowing stream could be heard in the background. The grass was green where we stood, not a headstone for ten feet. It looked bare in this part, but as beautiful as ever. The ocean was still, and the sky was calm. This is where the treasure must be buried, I thought to myself. Pop took a glance out over the ocean and, with a breath, declared, "Here is my spot." I never got to go to his funeral in August of 2018, as it was in his birthplace of Twillingate, Newfoundland. He is still very well known to everyone around him as someone who was significant to their town. He will forever be known to me as an essential man in my life who taught me numerous valuable lessons. Every year since his passing, I have visited his resting spot, and that tradition does not have an end in sight. The treasure that is buried will always be in my heart. Carter Anstey Sarnia, ON Originally written as an assignment for high school English class.
A Visit to the Past
The old abandoned house nestled amongst the trees had an ethereal attachment. Unconsciously my foot released its pressure on the gas pedal and slowly applied the brakes, bringing the car to a stop near the old overgrown driveway. With my camera bag over my shoulder, I made my way to the barbwire fence that has been strung across the drive, now lying on the ground, the "No Trespassing" sign almost unreadable in its nest of dandelion and grass. The house was a two-story wood structure of indeterminate age, built in the form of European homes with the second floor consisting of four dormer windows. The windows had long ago lost most of their panes, the doors sagged on the old rusty hinges, the chimney was rusted and broken off at the rooftop level. There had been a barn, long since fallen into a heap of rotting poles and boards. The outline of a chicken coop was faintly evident next to the barn. The well was long since caved in and filled in, and marked only by a small depression in the ground. There was nothing there, just a classic old building that had once been a home. As I gazed at the old has-been, I thought I could hear the laughter of children. Children playing Pom-Pom-Pull-Away, Anti-I-Over, tag, Blind Man's-Bluff. Children skipping rope and swinging on a homemade rope swing attached to a branch of a large poplar tree. Children playing Kick-the-Can and catch with an old ragged ball. I heard a hen calling at the top of her voice to announce to the world that she had laid an egg and therefore the species would live on. Out in the pasture behind the barn, a calf frolicked in the grass while its mother calmly lay in the corner chewing her cud to produce more milk for the household. Two blueberry pies magically appeared on the kitchen windowsill to cool. The enticing smell of roasting chicken and fresh baked bread wafted across the yard. I heard the splish-splash of a butter churn as someone made butter for supper. My mouth watered from the thought of fresh, cool buttermilk. Then came the clink, clink of the cream separator as the handle was cranked up to speed. When there was no more clink, clink sound I could hear the milk being poured into the separator, and over the background whirring sound of the separator, the gentle sound of the milk running into a pail after the cream had been skimmed from it. In the rocking chair in the corner of the living room, two little girls looked through the new spring and summer Eaton's catalogue, choosing the toys and dresses that they would dream about until the next catalogue arrived in the fall. There was a freshly drawn pail of water on the lip of the well crib and a long-handled, enameled, red-rimmed dipper hung by a lanyard, for me to have a nice cool drink. I made my way unobtrusively to the well. "Have you been traveling long, sir?" I was startled, did I really hear the voice, or did I only imagine it? "I think that I have traveled about a hundred years." It may not have been a hundred years, but I had definitely traveled to another place and another time that can be reached only in the memories of those who have been there." Ken Collie Lamont, AB
My Newfoundland Dog
The winter that I turned ten years old my dad brought home a Newfoundland dog to replace a dog that recently died and which I believe came with our house as the dog was so old. Both the old dog and the new to me Newfoundland dog, which was fully grown, were outdoor pets. Mother would not allow us to have an indoor pet of any kind, not even a bird or a cat. I guess she must have had a bad experience with an indoor pet when she was young. Probably she was bitten by a pet lobster, lobsters at one time were plentiful in Newfoundland. Sometimes I wasn't even allowed inside by my mother no matter how cold I claimed to be or how loud and long I cried and pounded on our porch door. Sometimes it wasn't until my father came home from work on his trusty Harley-Davidson that I was able to enter the warmth up our home, still snotting and snivelling of course. We named the Newfoundland dog Blackie because of his totally ebony black fur coat and Blackie seemed to me to be as big as a small horse or a really big pony. Not having seen a real horse or pony at that age except for the horse (or was it a donkey?), that pulled Bob Tucker's grocery wagon when there was snow on the roads, which was most of the time during winters in St. John's when I was a young boy. But Blackie was really big and in my mind I was imagining ways I could saddle him and ride on his back as if he were a real pony. Oh, what I and a million others, would give to have that kind of optimism and innocence today. One winter day I made a harness out of salvaged material I found around our neighborhood and placed the homemade tackle on Blackie's neck and hooked it up to my sled. I tried and tried and tried to get Blackie to move ahead and pull the sled with me on it, but all he did was lie down and look back at me with extremely woeful eyes. I then put my imagination to work and tried to think of a way to get Blackie to pull my sled and take me for a ride. "Aha," I thought: the answer. I cut a long branch from a nearby willow or some other kind of tree and tied a hot dog to the far end of the branch which I held out in front of Blackie's nose. I was thinking that being a dumb animal Blackie would chase that morsel of food forever and take me wherever I wanted to go. Blackie was sitting on his haunches when I waved the hot dog laden stick in front of him and when he noticed the food he jumped up and lunged for the hot dog. His sudden movement for the hot dog caused my sled to go forward and me to fall backwards with the stick and the hot dog coming backwards as well. In the wink of an eye Blackie opened his mouth and grabbed the hot dog, still on the string, and in a second all that was left was a piece of string tied to the stick. Blackie didn't lie back down but he turned his head and looked at me with those woeful eyes of his and in my mind I felt Blackie was saying, "Got any more?" By this time I gave up trying to have Blackie take me for a ride on my sled so I left him tackled in and led him out Empire Avenue to where it meets Fresh Water road, just past the municipal dump. There I turned Blackie around and jumped on my sled and started the ride of my life. Blackie took off, headed West on Empire Avenue towards our house, and ran as fast as he could. With me holding onto the sled for dear life Blackie kept running and did not stop, going through two stop signs, until he reached our house and headed for our old shed (which was next door to our outhouse) where he slept at night. Without a moment's hesitation he slid under the shed door and the only thing that kept him from going through the other side of the shed was my sled and me hitting the shed door and stopping Blackie cold in his paws. Early in the spring of 1952 Blackie developed a bad habit of wandering up the road to a house where the people who lived there kept hens for the eggs that they would lay. Blackie soon took a liking to live hens and one day grabbed one of the hens, eating feathers and all and then came home with blood and feathers on his muzzle. And what seemed to me, at my young age, to be a satisfied smile or a smirk on his face. When the neighbor, I can't remember his name, came to our house to complain to my dad about Blackie and the hen I was surreptitiously listening and trying my best not to laugh. I managed not to laugh until the neighbor had left then I almost peed my pants laughing and my dad laughed along with me. That was my dad, the best dad I ever had and the best dad anyone could ever have or want. A short while later dad went outside and I heard him calling Blackie. When dad came back inside I asked him what he did with Blackie and all he would say was "Blackie won't kill any more chickens." When I persisted in my asking, dad said, "Don't worry about it Randolph my son," a phrase he always used whenever he was praising me or chastising me "Blackie won't do it again." Whatever my dad did or said to Blackie did not work as a week or so later Blackie came home with more blood and feathers on his muzzle and that same smirk on his face which seemed to me to say, "Ha Ha." Then no more than an hour later the neighbor paid us another visit. He spoke to my dad outside my range of hearing and when dad came back into our house he seemed upset and when mom asked him what the neighbor wanted and what was wrong he said, words to this effect "Don't worry about it, it's all been taken care of." The next day when I went outdoors, the last Saturday in July, 1952, a day I remember well, I could not find Blackie and I just figured he was off somewhere looking for adventure. When dad came home later that day, a little after noon, I told him I couldn't find Blackie. He said, "Randolph my son, come here, I want to tell you something about Blackie and the bad things dogs sometimes do that cannot be tolerated." He then told me that when Blackie killed another of the neighbor's hens despite his warnings he had to make a choice as what to do with Blackie. He then sat me on his knee and in what I remember as a somber voice he told me that once a dog gets the taste of blood, one time is bad enough but if they get a second taste of blood, there is no cure for them. I didn't know at the time what he meant, but now I do, he also told me that sometimes that principal applies equally to people. He went on to say he could have shot Blackie and buried him in our back yard or give him to someone who would care for him and take him to a place where he wouldn't kill any more hens. So dad said "I gave him to Ramon, a Portuguese fisherman on a trawler which was docked at Job Brother's dock and sailed that morning for the Grand Banks." Probably, never to be seen in St. John's again, Blackie with them. I didn't know whether to cry or laugh when dad told me what he did with Blackie but I remember how much I loved him, Blackie that is, and I thought how much better it would be for me to remember Blackie alive at sea, rather than dead and buried in our back yard where I would see him, in my imagination, everyday.
Anthony's Special Christmas
Jim Bobbett By Anthony McDonald December 14, 2019 This is a little story about a little man that lived down by the brook at St. Joseph's Cove. It is the brook that begins where the well for our drinking water is. This brook is only about a couple hundred meters long but it always has running water from a spring that comes out of the side of the hill. James (Jim) Bobbett, along with his brothers, Jack and Hughie, had built a little house across this brook which was pretty close to Leo and Annie May Haggerty's. The house was often referred to as the "shack". There were two other brothers, Matthew (Matt) and Michael (Mic) but they never came around the cove. Matt is listed in the 1935 census as a sawmill worker at Conne River living with Matthew and Susannah Benoit. He was 36 years old and single. Michael is listed in the 1921 census as the adopted son of James and Minnie Kearley at Head of Bay D'Espoir; he is 13 years old. This may not have been a fully legal adoption as people just took people in when the need arose and he was still listed as Bobbett. John (Jack) was also in the 1921 census as a boarder at Stephen and Susannah McDonald of Milltown and he was 24 years old and single. James (Jim) shows up as the adopted son of John and Margaret Kearley of Head of Bay D'Espoir; he was 18. This was in the 1921 census as well. The only time that I found Hugh in the census was 1935 and then he was listed as the head of the household living with his brothers, Jack and Mic, at Milltown. Hugh was listed as single and 40 years old at the time. So in 1935, Hughie was 40, Jack was 38, Matt was 36, Jim was 32 and Mic was 27. As far as we know, there were no sisters and none of the men ever married. Hughie had some mental issues which kept most of us younger ones away from the shack. Jim was a very small man; not a dwarf build, just a small frame and short. He may not have been 100 pounds and not 5 feet tall. Jim lived with us one winter while father was away working in the lumber woods. I'm thinking he helped out with the firewood and I believe we were still bringing water to the house, and of course, the dreaded slop pail had to be dumped daily. This was just the way it was in the late 1950's. He slept in the same bed as myself and Ken. We slept at the head of the bed and Jim slept at the foot. I only realize now that Jim was about 50 years old when I was born but he always seemed so much younger. He once told me that he could not remember how old he was or when his birthday was or what year he was born. When he got close enough to apply for his old age pension, they gave him a birth date and he was fine with that as he was with most things in life. He hardly ever complained but he used to call Saturdays the Devil's birthday because it was a tradition to have pea soup every Saturday; and he did not like pea soup. He could not read or write but he taught me how to count by using rocks. One year, Jim wasn't living with us but living down in the shack with Hughie and Jack. It was Christmas Eve and he stopped by our house for a visit. I was 6 or 7 and Mary was 4 or 5. We were busy figuring out where to put our socks. These were not Christmas stockings with our names embroidered on them. At Christmas time, "worstered" socks became Christmas stockings and they were put out in anticipation of the arrival of "Sandy Clause," as we knew him. Worstered socks were woolen socks that mom had knit which we wore faithfully. They kept our feet warm and dry. Sometimes, after mom had waxed the floors, we had to put on clean worstered socks and skate around the living room to polish the wax. It was pretty good fun seeing we didn't have any TV or iPads. We didn't always hang our Christmas stockings but merely laid a worstered sock across the back of a chair or couch. Sandy Clause would put some things in our socks and then lay the things that were too big for our socks on the seat of our chair. There was no wrapping paper or ribbons of blue, the gifts were just laid out but the joy and anticipation was at its highest. Each one of us had our own chair or a part of the couch or a corner of the room and you quickly went to your spot in the morning. As I laid my sock across the back of a chair, Jim pipes up, "You should put that 'udder sock down at our place in case Sandy Clause stops there." Mom gave the ok and off I went hand in hand with Jim. As we walked past Mick and Mary Jane's, and Leo and Annie May Haggerty's house, there was not a person to be seen as I was eager to tell anyone what Jim's plan was. We walked into a cozy, warm but bare house. Everything was made of sawed lumber and not a thing was painted. Hughie and Jack sat at each end of a small table and were quite friendly. There was a bed at the end and a bunkbed above that bed. It was the first time I had ever seen a bunk bed. One of them got a hammer and a nail and put a nail right in the middle of the bunk bed. I hung my sock there and it almost came down to rest on the bottom bed. Jim said, "Sandy Clause won't miss it there," and they all laughed. At that moment, I didn't know if Sandy Clause would find it or if they were laughing because he wouldn't find it. When I turned to leave, still admiring the bunk bed, thinking it would be a great place to sleep, I realized why they built their house across the brook. In the corner by the wood box there was a hole cut in the floor. They had the first indoor toilet I had ever seen. Straight down into the brook. That Christmas Eve I had a restless night's sleep at home; still doubtful if Sandy Clause would go into the shack. For the life of me, I cannot remember one single thing that I got that Christmas morning at home. Mom was pretty good at gift giving so I am sure whatever I had I was quite happy with. Although, one year, I got a violin complete with bow and rosin. I don't know what she seen in me that year unless it was the year my voice was changing. I played that violin faithfully every day during Christmas but shortly into the New Year it mysteriously disappeared. I wonder why? My sock at the Bobbett's consumed me. It wasn't long before I was dressed and running to Leo Haggerty's Cove. There was no knocking when I got there. I barreled in with eyes focused on the sock and there were enough bulges in the sock to know that Sandy Clause was here. I really didn't care what I had as long as I knew he came to the shack. Hughie, Jim and Jack were all talking and laughing and everyone seemed so happy. When I took the sock off the nail it felt like there were balls in it. Thinking that it may be those red, white and blue sponge balls that were so popular at the time. There were no balls but one beautiful red apple and one big orange. The toe of the sock felt heavy. At the toe, there were a couple of handfuls of coin. Although very young, I knew I had something of value here. With the toys I got home and a pocket full of change from here, I was surely the happiest boy in the world. I had everything that anyone could wish for. That Christmas has been forever etched in my memory. Neither of the men ever married or had children. I think this may have been the first and only time in their lives that they had to be Santa. From the joy I witnessed that Christmas morning, I truly believe that they enjoyed me having the best Christmas of my life. They really fulfilled the role of Santa to the true meaning of Christmas. Jim left shortly after that and went to work with Howard Barnes at St. Veronica's. Howard had a store and he was a distributor for beer and pop. Jim lived with Howard and his family from then on. In his older years and failing health, he went to live in a senior's home in Holyrood where he eventually died. Norman Barnes's wife, Aggie, told me about his death and that a member of her family was told by a staff member at the senior's home that one of the female workers got him a headstone. This kindhearted lady said she got a small headstone for a small man. Years later, I was out to the Hydro plant in Holyrood working with a crew from Bay D'Espoir and we went to a restaurant for lunch. On our way to the restaurant, I noticed a cemetery close to the highway. During lunch with Joe Walsh and Mike McDonald, I was telling them about Jim. We decided that on our way back we would have a quick look to see if we could find his grave. At the cemetery, we spread out in different directions as it was a very large cemetery and I was telling them to look for a small headstone. After about 10 minutes, I stopped and yelled to Joe and Mike that we should head back as we had a power outage planned for one o'clock. As I was taking my last look at whatever headstones I could see from where I was standing, something brought my eyes down between my feet and, lo and behold, I was standing with one foot on each side of Jim Bobbett's headstone. It was as if he brought me right to him.
A two-day winter storm caused the town to shut down, but the wind's fury diminished by the second evening. Left in its wake were beautiful mountains of drifted snow. A flurry of phone calls rallied three of my buddies and me to the street, to play road hockey. We soon saw that the unplowed street was a poor surface to play on. Our interest in staying outside was fading fast. We had to find something to do or head back to our homes. "Let's have a snowball fight," suggested Derek. "We can't," said Connie. "The snow is not sticky enough." Kicking snow with my boot, I spit-balled, "Why don't we go find some big drifts to jump in?" "Great idea, Conway!" Bobby slapped my back. "I know just the place. Follow me, boys." The four would-be players pitched their hockey sticks into a snow bank. Led by Bobby, we trudged through knee-deep drifts, creating a path up the road. Standing with his arms held out and his face pointed to the sky, Bobby said, "There she is, boys. Ours for the taking." You would think it was a bank we were going to rob, the way Bobby was talking. We were standing in the street in front of the local hardware store. The two-storey building faced the street and was bordered by chain-link fencing. The fence cordoned off the lumber yard around back. "Hey, White," said Connie, "You dragged us all the way down here for what? It's a friggin' hardware store. What are going to do, buy nails?" Connie started to laugh and the rest of us joined in. "No, you fecking idiot, this is where the best snow is. Take a look around, you dummy. The snow blows off the flat roof down the sides of the building." Sure enough, angled banks of snow on the sides of the building had climbed the walls. No one raised the question of when Bobby would have had the time to case the joint. It was his find and we gave him credit. We all knew the yard was off limits. The signage "KEEP OUT" gave testimony to the dangers. The hardware store was closed due to the storm. The unplowed roads and the lateness of the evening gave us confidence that there would be no adults around. No mention of dangers, getting hurt or being caught was ever voiced. To raise an objection would have made you the object of catcalls and jibes. Bobby started for the side of the building. The winter storm had created a drift that made scaling the fence easy. Jumping from the fence into the drifts was fun for five minutes or so. Bobby said, "This is boring," and began to lead us on a path deeper into the yard. The snow-covered piles of lumber provided a route up to the roof of the building. Like mountain climbers, the four of us made the ascent. From the rooftop, we had a view of the town. I could see my house with a light on in the front window. I said a silent prayer that my mom wouldn't look out and see me. I could hear her voice warning me that boys who are bad go to prison. After scouting all sides of the building for opportunities, Derek called, "Over here, guys. Look at the size of the drift." We peered over the edge of the roof into the snow below. Jumping from the roof into a pile of snow was never discussed. With a scream, Bobby ran to the edge and jumped. He propelled his body forward with arms and legs in motion like he was running in the air. His momentum was enough to let him clear the fence and carry him into a large drift. Bobby had courage none of the rest of us possessed. He was always first in the lake; it was never too cold. Cardboard forts made in his backyard always were wall-papered with magazine publications only available on the top shelf at the drug store. He introduced us to our first girls, none we would take home to Mother. The drift Bobby landed in had been created by a car sitting at right angles to the fence. The car blocked the wind, creating the perfect conditions for the snow to drift into a pile. The car wasn't visible on the first jump. The wood pile and old engine blocks hadn't raised a bump in the field of snow either. Only after climbing over the obstacles to get back in the yard did we discover them. With no injuries sustained on the first jump and with knowledge of what to avoid, we made our way back to the roof for more jumps. Two evenings later, just after supper, a blue Plymouth Fury with white doors sporting the RCMP logo pulled into the driveway of our family home. My brother yelled, "Why are the cops here?" The neighbours who peered out their windows that Sunday evening likely wondered the same thing. The knock on the front door was met by my mom. Before heading to the porch she told my my brother and me to stay in the house. After a few minutes, I was summoned. My brother gestured with his hand that my head was about to be cut from my neck. Standing next to my mom, holding open the outside door, was a man in a blue coat with a badge.< "We have a report of kids being on the roof of Dalaney's lumber yard," he said. "Is your name Sean Conway?" I looked at the floor and conjured the images of teenage boys flying through the air from the roof of the lumber yard during a snowstorm misadventure. The silence was broken by my mother's "Answer the man!" I looked at the cop and confirmed my guilt with a nod. The officer looked to my mom. My mom looked at me and pointed a finger indicating for me to head back into the house. She stayed to finish whatever conversations remained. I was convicted and sentenced that same evening. I lost the privilege of playing road hockey. My brother took great pleasure in planning evening games that whole week while I was grounded. I pretended to study in my room, hoping to atone for being bad and avoid any prison time. What I learned later was, my confession of guilt was made for an offense I hadn't committed. Yes, I went roof-jumping the first night but I was not involved in the roof-jumping the second night when the three guys got caught. They were running around the roof, jumping into snow banks. A caretaker in the building was alerted by the foot-falls on the roof. The three boys were called down and made to stand in the office. Each had to give his name when asked. Bobby gave the caretaker a contrite "Sean Conway" as his response. The names were turned over to the police that night. I held no hard feelings towards Bobby over the incident. We were all impressed at his quick response in a crisis. His idea to pin the blame on someone else was admired. Why he picked me was never discussed. Later in life, Bobby did prison time. I guess my mom was right after all.
Our Journey Home
By H. Joseph Seaward On Saturday, 24th March 2018, my brother Garfield died at home in Newcastle, Ontario. His wishes were to have his ashes interred beside those of his siblings, who had died in 1949/1950, in the old Anglican cemetery in the place of his birth, Gooseberry Cove Newfoundland. There was much to be done before the journey could begin. Garfield's wife Gertie Reeves and their children decided to have a church service at St. Alban's Anglican Church, followed by the internment of his ashes in the cemetery. The Anglican Parish Priest, Reverent Kay Khaliah, was contacted, and arrangements were made to have the service on 20th July 2019. The Clarenville Inn was booked for most of the extended family; others found accommodation in other establishments in Clarenville and surrounding area. All of Garfield's and Gertie's family, their five children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, approximately forty members, with the youngest one-year-old Hezekiel, made the trip. For some, it was a return to familiar places; for most, it was a visit to a land they had heard Garfield tell stories and boast about almost daily. He loved it and missed it so much that after retirement, he and Gertie lived there for two years. Their family ties were such that they returned to be with their family and settled in Newcastle, Ontario. All Garfield's siblings, their spouses, children and their spouses, and in one case, great-grandchildren arrived for the service and events that followed. I kept in contact with Gertie, and when the family issued an opened invitation for all to attend, I contacted many of my relatives and friends who lived in Newfoundland and was pleased to see so many of them in attendance. A friend from my childhood in Southport, Delores Avery and husband Ray Griffin, who live a few kilometres from us, and her sister Dot had made reservations for a trip to Newfoundland. When I told them about our plans, they changed theirs to be with us at Garfield's service. It was nice to see them at the church. On Saturday, 20th July, at 10:30 AM, we gathered at the Gooseberry Cove Anglican church parking lot. I was so pleased to see so many of my relatives and friends, some I had not seen in many years. There were a lot of hugs, tears and remembrances of times gone. Earlier, our son Joe and his wife Wendy and I had arrived and visited Southport, where I saw some relatives and met new people that were children of friends that had died many years before. I took pictures of the location of our home, where I lived from 1941-1950. There is only one house left from my days in Southport. After the funeral, Joe and Wendy took the opportunity for an extended trip across Newfoundland. Our daughter Carla and her husband James stayed in St. John's for a couple of days before and after their visit to Clarenville. It was Carla's first visit to Newfoundland in forty-five years. Our daughter, Jennifer, travelled with Marie and me. We stayed two nights in Mount Pearl before and after our visit to Clarenville. My brother Ron and his wife Margaret kindly became our constant companions, picking us up at the airport, feeding us and driving us wherever we wanted to go. We accompanied them to Clarenville and return and visited all their children before or after Garfield's service. When we left, they drove us to the St. John's Airport. While in Newfoundland, I met Garfield's daughter (from a previous relationship), Leah Adams, for the first time. Leah and I had been conversing with each other for a long time by phone and social media, but this was the first time we met personally. She and her husband Ken live in Manitoba. It wasn't until after we left, I realized I did not have a picture taken with her. She is a terrific person, and I am so pleased to have her as part of our family. I believe Garfield would have been proud of his family and their efficiency in planning such a monumental event. The numbers of people who came to the church service and cemetery attest to their love of him. His descendants far in the future will travel to Gooseberry Cove/Butter Cove/Southport to visit his resting place and admire, as he did, the beauty of the Southwest Arm. P.S. After the internment, Reverent Kay Khaliah asked who uncle Joe was. Someone said, "the one in the white shirt." She came toward me and asked if she could hug me. I told her you could give me all the hugs you want. As she hugged me, she said, after listening to Rosalind reading your tribute to Garfield, I feel as if I really knew him. A compliment well received and appreciated; one I will remember for a long time.
Uncle Benny, The Funk Island Man
"The wind and the waves are always on the side of the ablest navigator." - Edmund Gibbon Funk Island is a small, barren, isolated, uninhabited island about 60 kilometeres northeast of New-Wes Valley. There are two large bunkers off the southwest side washed over by the sea where seabirds roost but don't nest. For this reason, the island and the bunkers have become pluralized to "The Funks." The cold Labrador current makes it a good breeding ground for fish, and in turn a large breeding seabird population. Through massive exploitation by the early explorers, the Indigenous people, sealers, whalers and fisherman the flightless Great Auk was exterminated. It is still home to over a million seabirds including murres, gannets, puffins and the world's greatest travelers, arctic terns. In 1964 Funk Island was protected as a wildlife reserve and in 1983 was designated as an Ecological Reserve; only those doing scientific research are granted permission to land there. A recent visit to Pound Cove provided the opportunity to chat with Harold Sturge and garner some information on his grandfather Benny Sturge. Uncle Benny, as he was affectionately called, was renowned along the northeast coast as a skilled mariner, possessing an uncanny sense of direction, and the "man who knew the Funks." Uncle Benny had a fascination for the mystic of all islands. He was born on Flower's Island, close to 5 miles offshore from Pound Cove in 1889. In 1906 he moved to another island just off Pound Cove, Mickamackay Island. During the 1920's he moved to a bald rock over -looking the ocean in Pound Cove. He had heard stories told by his father and grandfather about Funk Island where they had fished, a tradition he continued for over 60 years. He accompanied his father fishing there when only 7 years old and ended up fishing there with his two sons. It is said that when seabirds leave Funk Island to fly South, one could be in the Gulf of Mexico and the other in Antarctica but would come back to a 3-inch burrow in the turf of Funk Island to mate. Uncle Benny also had a mariner's instinct and intuition, possessing extraordinary nautical navigational skills. Harold relayed to me that he would go outside at night for 10 minutes to study the sky, the stars, the clouds, and the winds. He even studied bird habits. If Funk Island was blanketed in fog, he would spot a puffin with a capelin in its beak knowing it was headed for the island. He was heralded as the pacemaker or forerunner; when he left port or the fishing grounds, other mariners would follow suit. On one such occasion they were fishing off Funk Island on a calm, civil day when he sensed a storm brewing. He warned another boat's crew fishing close by, and after losing most of the galley utensils, made it to the safety of the Wadhams, closer to shore. Uncle Benny constructed his own boat, Sadie, which he used for most of his seasons fishing at Funk Island. To improve maneuverability, he transformed a square stern to a round one. He started out with just the sails, advancing to a power-driven 25, 45 horsepower Redwing, and finally to a 110 Lathrop diesel engine. They used hook and line, trawls, and later, nets. They stayed on board the boat, where they salted their fish and, when loaded, returned home. Funk Island was not for wimps; most fishermen shunned it; some considered it haunted. It's been described as a "marvelous terrible place, a man could go mad there." The cacophony of bird cries, the roaring sound of waves cascading off cliffs can be overwhelming. They fished among pinnacled, half-submerged rocks, eccentric currents, tides and squalls. But Uncle Benny was conditioned to the reality of the sea since childhood. He, like most early fishermen, was illiterate. Harold said he managed to print his initials as a means of signing papers. Just recently someone gave Harold his old splitting knife with his initials engraved in it. Their future was "here and now," the reality of their struggle for survival. He was not familiar with Shakespeare or Braham's Lullaby, but was a powerhouse of energy and passion, was steadfast, happy and content, a contrast to those more affluent and more sophisticated struggling to cope with life. He returned often to Flower's Island to shoot ducks, reminisce on the look-out where as a boy he watched the schooners sail to Labrador. He stopped in silence at the graveyard, a reminder of the tragedies, that he accepted as his fate in life. He lived at peace with nature and his fellow man, never flaunting his faith; he gave away many salt water birds to the needy and church socials. He died in 1967 at the age of 78. Maya Angelou, quoting her mother said, "Some, unable to go to school, were more educated and more intelligent than college professors." Charles Beckett
The Gambo Slide
"And the rest is as a story told, or a dream that belonged to a dim, mad past, of a March night and a north's wind cold." The Ice Flows - E. J. Pratt On a recent visit with Gerald Starks at Pool's Island, I went to his shed to take a picture of "The Gambo Slide." This is the same sled we borrowed, and had on display, at a Swilers' Dinner organized by a church group in Gambo as part of the Soiree'99 celebrations. Gerald's father, Albert, who received a medal for bravery in the rescue of the Florizel in 1918, was a twenty-three year-old sealer on the Stephano during the Newfoundland disaster in 1914. According to Gerald, the slide is at least one hundred years old. Your curiosity is probably mounting to know the connection or correlation between a Gambo slide and a Pool's Island resident. The romance and glamor of the historic seal hunt with its paradoxical drama of triumph and defeat is now confined to lore and legend, garnishing an enterprise that's all but vanished. During the early twentieth century, the focus of manpower and expertise for the industry had shifted from Conception Bay to Bonavista North, and included many famous Captains featuring prominent names such as Winsor, Barbour, and Kean. A berth to the ice fields was highly prized and sought after and often secured through people of influence or relationships. It was somehow a test of manhood, almost akin to war, challenging ones resolve and endurance through hardship, drudgery, and intolerable conditions. At the height of the seal fishery, the St. John's waterfront was not the only spot bustling with activity. In early March, it was estimated that up to one thousand sealers, descended on the town of Gambo to board the train to St. John's where their vessels and berths awaited their arrival. More than eight hundred of these were from the area between Greenspond and Musgrave Harbour as well as the off- shore islands. The sturdy sealers from Bonavista North had the unpleasant task of walking, in unpredictable weather, the sixty-mile, two-day trek to Gambo. According to Gerald, the sealers from Musgrave Harbour would walk the thirty miles to the Wesleyville-Pool's Island area for an overnight stay to join the main band. They hoped for a snowfall to reduce the physical resistance and ease the hauling of their small hand-made slides, on which they had a canvas bag containing articles of clothing and food, for the journey to Gambo and the train to St. John's. They started off before dawn for their tortuous journey across frozen ponds and bays, through woods and over barrens (no roads, restaurants or hotels). Gerald's father was effusive in his praise for the people in Hare Bay and Gambo, they welcomed them and shared what they had. At that time "the long and hungry month of March" was real, when cupboards were bare, pantries depleted and cellars emptied. The Gambo River meets the sea in Freshwater Bay, a long in draft, along which Middle Brook, Dark Cove, Gambo were situated. When the vast throng of sealers were spotted on the distant horizon, the local youngsters, who had been awaiting eagerly their arrival, ran to meet them. They took the slides from their fatigued adventurers, hauled them to the railroad station and in return were allowed to keep the slides. I've been told that, in a few instances, fights may have occurred and to the victors went the spoils. Some may have used their slides for firewood as they awaited in railway cars on the siding. I inquired from Gerald why his father's "Gambo slide", apparently, is the only one still around. He says that most of the slides were made hastily, explicitly for that purpose. His Dad was very particular to detail, and took pride in his craftsmanship; his slide was sturdy and well-built. He left it, in safekeeping, with an Osmond family in Gambo, where, upon his return from the seal fishery, he would retrieve it. It remains as a testament to its endurance. The "Gambo Slide" is but a small symbol, a sidebar to the main story, a sub plot to the tragic drama associated with our proud, but sometimes maligned, sealing history and tradition. The dauntless courage, the defiant and fearless spirit displayed amidst treacherous and unforgiving natural forces and freezing temperatures was a constant test of their manhood as they were repeatedly challenged with the will to survive. As Kipling said in his poem, "If you can so hold on when there is nothing in you, except the will which says to them: Hold on, You'll be a man my son." They were indeed men, men of steel - supermen.