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From the Old to the New
In the early days of growing up, heat in the home was usually in one place - the kitchen. The stove was as central to the kitchen as the table, even more so. It was the means of providing warmth for that room and a little for the rest of the house if it managed to escape there. The water for cooking, bathing, shaving, cleaning and whatever you needed hot water for was heated on the old black-top stove. One very large black iron kettle always was used for hot water for everything except a cup of tea. That kettle was shaped so that its bottom could fit down into the stove when a cover (damper) was removed. In our house it always sat in its hold. You had to make sure there was water in it all the time and never allow it to run dry. Watching that old kettle lazily blow steam kept you feeling secure and at home. We would often toast bread in the front grate. This was accomplished by sticking a slice of homemade bread on a fork and holding it in front of the grate until one side as sufficiently brown, then switch it over. As boys we would also play with the ashes in the front grate. Sometimes, to get more life out of old flashlight batteries we would punch holes in their bottoms and try to stuff in ashes, believing it would help. Whether it did or not, I'm not sure. We would often be warned when playing with the ashes in the front grate that if we did it long enough it would cause us to pee the bed. The oven was set on top of the stove as part of the pipe was used for the smoke to escape. I believe the oven was double walled with the smoke and heat travelling between the walls causing the oven to heat up. Watching the large loaves of homemade bread being pulled from the oven, reacting to the aroma, and imagining that as soon as it cooled enough, a slice covered in Good Luck butter (margarine) and molasses, make you want to go back. Yes, that stove was a centerpiece for sure. I can still sense the peace and security as darkness began to settle in with the clicking from mom's knitting needles, the hum of the kettle boiling, and the only light for a while would be the glow from the kitchen stove front grate. Who would want to change such an atmosphere? My mother did. Keeping the old stove clean was quite a chore. There was nothing to tell how much heat was in the oven. You really had to bend over to attend to what was coking because it sat so low on the floor. Its black top had to be polished quite often, and of course, things were starting to get modern, such as kitchen cupboards and ranges. So one day, mother ordered a new Enterprise range from Mifflins. Boy was it different from the old stove! Like putting your hillbilly cousin alongside of a Hollywood star. The gleaming steel top, the enamel over with the temperature gauge, the gleaming white enamel exterior, the large warmer on top and large tank on the side for warming water made the old stove look so shabby that we really felt sorry for him. We had gone modern. We had come up in the world. No doubt about it. This new gadget, however, changed some of our attitudes. We no longer stood around a friend, we now stood back and admired the intruder. But we knew it was our mother's pride and joy and we would have to get used to it, like it or lump it. My grandfather who had known the old stove much longer than any of us certainly wasn't impressed by the big piece of gleaming steel and enamel. You could hear him grunt to himself and say under his breath, "You won't get any heat out of that. You can't even see the fire in the grate." But he was a great old man and if my mother wanted it, he would learn to accept it. He was usually the first up in the morning to light the fire. He found out the first time he did so in the new range that it could give off plenty of heat. Not only did he have the top red, but the water in the tank that was meant only to get warm was boiling. He grumbled no more on the new stove. The new range proved to be a great kitchen companion for my mother and we learned to accept it also. The memories of the old stove still linger however, but we won't tell the range. He might get his top red again. Sam Johnson St. John's, NL
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.
The B9 Lump and Mel's Ignorant
When I was in kindergarten, we knelt down every morning before school started to say prayers. We prayed about ten minutes - the Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be and the Litany of the Saints. Ora Pro Nobis! (We all spoke Latin in kindergarten.) One morning, some of us were doing penance prayers. They were the prayers that we forgot to say the night before. I have to explain: Every morning, Sister asked, "Who forgot to say their prayers last night?" If you forgot to say your prayers you would never lie, cause your hand or some other part of your body would stick up from your grave when you died. I had forgotten to say my prayers the night before so I was down on my knees by the radiator in the back of the class with the few other souls bound for purgatory. Ora Pro Nanny, Granda, Mom, Dad, sisters, brothers, cousins - blah blah blah! Eyes lowered. Hands joined in prayer. Collars and cuffs. Gosh! My left knee hurt really bad! I couldn't check it out because I'd have to haul down that old brown sock and garter so I waited till lunchtime at home. Mom had a look at it and sure enough! There was a little hill growing on the top of my left knee - geez! My sins were coming out through my knee! Ora Pro me! Next day it was a visit to see Dr. Tulk who shook his head - a bad sign! The day after, it was out to Botwood to see Dr. Twomey. That night, and for a few after, the Rosary rang out right after supper. Whispers of "B9" and "Mel's Ignorant." B9 Bingo? Sure everyone knew Mel was ignorant! Another trip to Botwood. Ora pro no! no! no! White-masked bandits and big devil Twomey's mustache! Scoopin' out the sins on my wobbly knee. I screamed a litany of profanity! "Ora! Ora! Ora! Poor me!" Home again, blessed with the green scapular. Never going to Botwood again! I only had B9 on my knee. Mel's ignorant anyway. Ora pro happy day! Madonna Cooke Kelly Bishops Falls
At The Kitchen Table
March of 1970 was a busy month in the little white house in the Alley of Bay Bulls, NL. A family of seven young children was preparing for a big move to the mainland, rural Ontario to be specific. I was the oldest of the seven so it was particularly a busy time for me. Helping organize clothes and other essentials. I was just 12 years old that year. The day before the big move I was told Aunt Lulu wanted to see me. So, out the door and down the Alley to the next house I went. Helen Maloney was my Aunt Lulu; she was the kindest person I ever knew. I walked into the kitchen; she was standing by the sink with her back to me. "Come here," she said softly. I moved closer. There was a small brand-new black transistor radio on the counter. "That's for you," she said. I didn't touch it. I never received gifts except one at Christmas and one on my birthday. Today was neither of those. "Pick it up, it's for you," she said again. I did. I wasn't entirely certain what it was, "What is it?" "It's a radio." "It's mine?" "Yes, I wanted to give you something before you move away." "Thank you, I'll take good care of it." "Go on with ya now." She still had her back to me; only years later did I realize it was a very emotional moment for her. I treasured that little radio for a very long time. We didn't have much in the way of technology in that place and time. Lulu knew I loved to sing and listen to the radio. This was a little portable radio I could get a station on, where ever we lived. What I will always treasure even more is the fact that she used some of her money and bought that gift for me. That she took the time to think about what I might like. That she wanted me to know she would miss me and to have something to remember her by. She had taught me to sing Galway Bay and other songs. She taught me to be kind, gentle and caring by her example. One of the last times I saw her we were all sitting around her kitchen table on a warm dark summer's night. After hours of chatting and laughing there was a still moment and for no reason I can remember, I started singing Galway Bay. On the second verse she chimed in. We finished the chorus and sat for awhile smiling. She said "Carol, I taught you that song when you were young." I said, "Yes, I remember and now all these years latter we get to sing it together again while sitting around this table. That's a good thing." She nodded yes. Just a few months after that visit Lulu took her long journey away from us all. She couldn't take any gifts as she left us to walk the earth without herbut she left us the memories of compassion, strength and goodness that she poured out on us all. She walked the earth gently but she left a wake of loving kindness behind her that reverberates far into the future. Like a transistor radio the hearts memory can pick up the stations of the singing days of the past and broadcast it through out time. I always feel lighter and smile when I remember Lulu. There is no greater power than to leave a legacy such as hers. A legacy of kindness. I remember my days in the Alley as days of kindness that surpassed all the hard times. Days of thoughtfulness that shored me up above the cruel times. It only takes one person to fill a child's heart with love and the smallest of gifts can leave the biggest mark for good. The singing days at an aunt's kitchen table in the Alley, can carry you far in this wide challenging world. When my grandson was born, I held him and softly sang Galway Bay. I whispered in his tiny ear, "When you're older I'll tell you about Aunt Lulu." And I kissed his tiny face. Singing days carry us forward and the heart of a loving aunt is told to generations she will never know. Who buoyed up your heart? Remember them to those who follow, keep the singing, the kindness, the goodness alive. Remember the goodness it is more powerful than all the harm. Remember the goodness. Remember the kitchen tables and the laughter, it can strengthen the weakest heart. by Carolanne Kennedy
Junior Red Cross Memories
It was the first day of my first year as a teacher. Although I was not familiar with my new job, I was certainly familiar with my surroundings. I was back as a teacher at the same school I had attended from grades eight to eleven, and I'd also done my teaching practicum there. It was home ground and I felt quite at ease. The school bell rang and as was the custom, I took my place at the door to my grade six classroom. As the pupils moved into the room, I could see at the end of the long corridor a few stragglers dawdling their way slowly along when suddenly the stentorian tones of the principal rang out from the other end. "Get into your rooms," he trumpeted loudly. Without a moment's thought, I hastily turned into the room. Years of hearing that same voice ring out daily had conditioned me (and hundreds of other pupils) to move as soon as the first word was uttered. Wait a minute, I said to myself. I don't have to hurry. I'm the teacher now! This was but the first of many memorable experiences I had that year. But without a doubt, among the most outstanding were the meetings of the Junior Red Cross (JRC) club. I was quite familiar with JRC, as it had been a regular part of the school routine when I was a student. It had been first organized in the 1920s but came into prominence in World War II when teachers saw the JRC as a socially acceptable way to involve young people in the war effort by sewing and knitting comforts for the soldiers and raising money for such things as hospital supplies. These were lofty aims for Newfoundland students living in relatively poor communities and I have no idea how widespread or effective Junior Red Cross clubs were in accomplishing these aims. But as a pupil in a St. John's school following the war, I was very aware of the JRC as a means of promoting good health, cleanliness and safety. Good habits were reinforced by large, colourful posters with such catchy rhymes as: "When you cough or sneeze or sniff/ Always use a handkerchief," or, "Stop, look and listen before you cross the street./ Use your eyes, use your ears, before you use your feet." However, over and above these aims, in my experience, JRC clubs taught children the basics of democracy - how to nominate others for positions of leadership, hold an election and work with the elected leaders. In the upper elementary grades these were president, vice-president, secretary, treasurer and programme convener. Junior Red Cross club meetings were usually held on Friday afternoon and were eagerly looked forward to by pupils and teacher alike as a release from the routine of learning; a time when discipline was more relaxed and everyone could enjoy the change of pace.So here I was, a brand new grade six teacher, setting up my first JRC club. The first meeting took the form of an election of officers. It was an election the like of which I had never before witnessed. The first position to be filled was, of course, that of president. With complete confidence, I explained the proper procedure to be used and asked for nominations, inwardly hoping that at least one or two of the children would have enough courage to speak. To my surprise, I was immediately faced with a forest of waving hands and the task of choosing the pupil privileged to speak first. When the first nomination was proposed and the nominee found agreeable, I dutifully wrote the name on the blackboard and looked around. About half the hands had been lowered. The next candidate was greeted with cries of "Oh no miss! She's no good." After momentarily quelling the electorate, I wrote the second candidate's name on the board. After three nominations had been proposed I suggested that perhaps this would be sufficient, only to be corrected with, "Oh no miss. Last year we had ten!' Not wishing to subdue their unexpected ardor, I agreed to carry on with the nominations. However, when eight names had been proposed and the nominations were still coming thick and strong, I decided that enough was enough. The candidates were asked to leave the room and the voting began. "How many people voting for this first person?" I asked. A few supporters timidly raised their hands and everyone looked around the room to see who was voting for whom. I wrote the number of votes on the board after the person's name. The next candidate, a boy, was obviously popular with one section of the class, the boys. However the girls showed little or no interest. And so the voting continued. It was a large class and I conveniently overlooked the fact that several pupils were voting more than once. Changing one's mind during the voting process was obviously quite acceptable. Candidate number six was a girl who was apparently a favourite with the whole class. When it was obvious that she had received a majority of votes, the class cheered loudly and showed no interest in continuing with the rest of the voting. However, this boring necessity was soon over and the candidates entered the room amid extremely loud whispers of "You won, Jean!", "Hey Jean, you won." I suggested that perhaps they should applaud the winner which they did quite heartily. (I later discovered that this girl had been president of their JRC club the year before, and although quiet, she was a good student and well-liked by her classmates.) And so the elections continued for the positions of vice-president, secretary, treasurer and programme convener. The method used in selecting a candidate for nomination was unique. The prospective nominator would stand and look around the room, (there were 46 pupils in that class) surveying the field, as it were. Upon spotting a likely candidate (either his best friend or someone he felt indebted to), he would raise his hand and await recognition. After voicing his nomination he would once again survey the room to measure "audience reaction." If this were favourable, he resumed his seat, satisfied with his part in the affair. If unfavourable, he looked around again for a more promising subject. It was an unwritten law in the grade six class that if you were nominated by your best friend, you were duty-bound to return the compliment. Whether or not either of you were qualified for the position seemed to make no difference, and it was also immaterial if either of you were elected or not. Once social duties had been discharged the matter appeared to be forgotten. Tact was a foreign element in grade six elections. When candidates were proposed, the rest of the class frequently felt called upon to state the qualifications of the person in such colourful and enlightening terms as, "Aw, he's no good." "Hey boys, vote for John." "Jim Smith, hahaha!" "Oh no, not her again," and similar expressions of goodwill. This last candidate had been unsuccessfully nominated for two other positions and was finally elected treasurer. A suggestion that perhaps they should refrain from making comments on the nominees fell on deaf ears. But the other pupils didn't seem to mind, so deciding that discretion was the better part of valour, I let the matter drop. When nominees for the position of programme convener came up there was quite a bit of bargaining among the members of the class. This position had with it the added prestige of being able to select a small committee to help in arranging programmes, an integral part of all JRC club meetings. One young boy said to his neighbour, "Hey George, if I nominate you can I be on the committee?" Later I noticed this was exactly what happened. I was puzzled to know why being on the committee was such a coveted position. The answer to this question came at the very next JRC club meeting which was held on a Friday afternoon two weeks later. A few days before the meeting I notified the president and programme convener and on Friday morning I announced to the class in general that there would be a JRC club meeting that afternoon. The programme convener revealed that he had no programme ready, but appeared unconcerned about the lack of time for preparation. Wisely, as I later discovered, I said nothing, inwardly fearing that there would be no programme forthcoming that afternoon. But before the bell rang after the dinner break, the "committee" (of one) was busily at work commandeering members of the class for the afternoon's programme. When protests were made, the committee solved the situation by the time-tested method of asking the teacher. "Miss, you have to take part in the programme if you're asked, don't you?", this from the committee. "Miss, you don't have to take part if you don't want to, do you?", from the compulsory volunteer. 'Well,"I replied, hoping to avoid any hard feelings on either side, "I can't make you take part, but everyone should do what they can, don't you think?" As the two parties separated, I heard the committee say, "There. Teacher said you have to do it." And the volunteer said, equally assuredly, "See, I told you. Teacher said we didn't have to." One bright girl asked the committee "Why don't you be on it?", meaning of course the programme, "I'm on the committee," was the reply. When the minutes of the meeting had been read and the business (choosing a name for the club) was over, the president said the magic words, "the programmer convener will now take over." Everyone settled back with sighs of happy anticipation. "Raymond's going to do it," were the convener's opening and closing remarks. Raymond was the "committee". Raymond hastily consulted the back page of his exercise book and announced, "Donna and Mary will sing a duet." Amid giggles from girlfriends and frankly skeptical looks from the boys in the class, Donna and Mary came forward and after one or two false starts, sang a very acceptable duet which the whole class applauded warmly. "Sandra will now recite." Sandra came forward with her literature book in hand and read a poem from a section of the book which we had not covered in class. Once again, applause ensued, which evolved into a sort of tom-tom beat and had to be stopped by the teacher with, "that will do." The next item was a trio. "Jean, Caroline and Linda will sing." Loud cries from the back of the room caused a very hasty correction in the programme. "Jean, Barbara and Mary will sing." Although most of the programme consisted of unaccompanied singing - solos, duets and various other combinations, it was all very revealing to me. Most of the performers showed little evidence of stage fright or self-consciousness and were not in the least dismayed by one or two bad starts, having a member of the group miss a few lines here and there or having to change the song at the last minute. One pair of singers, after singing one verse of a song, declared it was no good, an opinion which their audience obviously shared, and decided to change it there and then, which they promptly did, continuing with the performance unabashed and quite self-controlled. The enthusiasm which went into the elections and meetings of the JRC club in grade six that year would put to shame many a PTA, Home and School Association or similar adult group. I often wonder if, in later years, those eager grade six pupils became like many adults, reluctant to take responsibility or show enthusiasm. I rather think that even the cares of maturity could not entirely dampen the fires of energy and enthusiasm which burned brightly in the JRC club of my first grade six class.
A ride on the Newfie Bullet
The Newfie Bullet Christmas, 1958, I was just 15 and had made it home to South Branch from the Christian Brothers boarding school in St. John's, a 22 hr bump and grind ride by train, the "Newfie Bullet." Boy was I ever glad to get home. After 4 months of hustle and bustle in the city, it was so nice to be with my mom and dad and family and friends. Pure heaven... Then came the dreaded time to go back on a Saturday, Jan 03. I had an $8 upper berth reserved in a sleeper car but opted to go a day early instead, in coach class because of a pending snow storm. I didn't want to get stuck in snow on the famous Gaff Topsail. I climbed aboard the train at 10am on Friday along with two of my sisters. One was going to nursing school and the other for a joy ride, coach class all the way. You see, we had free train rides because our old man worked with the railway. Now all went well until we got to Corner Brook. The train was losing time and filling up fast. My sisters were seated together across and just back from me while I had to share my seat with an old lady about 45 yrs old. During the night we passed by Gaff Topsail OK, then at Buchans Junction a men's hockey team barged on board, on their way to Grand Falls. What a racket, there were players, hockey sticks, hockey bags and all kinds of stuff strung on the floor along the aisles, cigarette smoke everywhere. My sisters were in heaven, all happy and giggly, while I cowered by the window next to that old lady who was all "powdered up." Grand Falls came and went, along with the hockey team, and the train losing time all the while. Our bologna sandwiches were long gone by now! During the night we stopped in the middle of nowhere, piles of snow all around. Another passenger train was stuck in snow up ahead they said. By this time there was no heat, lights or water. Not nice. A lot of people snuggled up, but not me...too much powder!!! Early in the morning a helicopter came by with some water and sandwiches for the couple of hundred of us on board. We arrived in Clarenville early Sunday morning, where food, water and fuel was loaded aboard. Then we were told we could have one free meal each, sleeping car passengers first. A lineup of about 3 coaches long was formed and I stuck close behind my sisters. When I made it to the dining car door the man said, "filled up", leaving me next in line. I thought I was doomed, but I finally got my meal... a choice of fish or bologna with two potatoes. Nothing ever tasted as good. Still stopped that evening we were told we could walk to a hotel nearby for a free meal. No such luck. But at least we could buy sandwiches. Meanwhile the train behind caught up to us, what a jumble of hungry people. Oh dear. That evening we headed east again and got as far as Goobies. Stopped again, train up ahead. A small store was close by and I watched some passengers head through the snow towards it. One fellow came back and said "lard Jesus, by time I got der, all was lef was ball point pens and pocket combs." We finally arrived in St.John's at 8am on Monday, 70 hrs by train, coach class. Believe it or not I think I was happy to be there, back to boarding school for another few months. Oh, but I just couldn't wait to get back home again on that Newfie Bullet. Ben Brake 2022
Damn It, I won.
Back when I was in grade six, (for you sticklers for time, that was approximately two weeks after Noah's ark slipped away from its moorings. In fact, I can remember helping his son Lot load the boat and, being young and innocent at the time, I kept wondering to myself, "isn't one each of these animals enough?" Let's just agree, it was a long time ago when I was in grade six.) my school was presented with this old lady's "bazaar book" because she was unable to go door-to-door selling tickets. It was expected that each child at the school would purchase a ticket for the sum of ten cents each. Now, I should take some time here to explain just what a bazaar book was. Basically it was a little black notebook with lined pages and a hand written number assigned to each line. These books would be given out to older member of the parish, mostly women, who would then go door-to-door selling chances on a prize they had either bought or most likely made, like a pair of homemade mitts or socks, sometimes even a homemade shirt. This was done to make money for the church. When you bought a ticket, the person would write your name on one of the lines in the book, some would let you choose which line. When the person with the book had managed to sell enough chances to fill all the lines - and not before - they would return the book and the money to the parish priest. The priest would accept the money, ask the person who many numbers were in the book, cause they were not all the same, then the priest, without looking in the book because people's names were written beside each number, would pick a number. Then both he and the person would check the book together to see who won. This was done to keep everything above board. The last thing you wanted was a court battle over a pair of socks. It was called the bazaar book because the funds raised from these books was used to put off the annual bazaar which was the biggest fund raiser of the year. Therefore, you were raising money to raise more money. We Catholics think of everything, it's the Irish in us. By the way, while I've got your attention, do you know how Noah's some I mentioned earlier got his name? Well, I'm not sure but there was talk around the wharf while we were loading the ark that Noah's good wife was "with child" years before and when Noah visited his wife in the birthing tent, she informed him that they had another son. To which Noah, considering the family he already had and perhaps hoping for a girl this time said "that's a Lot," and the name stuck. So. Now that I have explained all that, I can get back to my story. All the children in the school were encouraged to buy a ticket. Having said that, you should be advised that the term "encouraged" would not meet the definition of the word in either the Oxford or Webster dictionary. There were at this time some two hundred and fifty children from grade one to six in the school at the time. By and by the tickets were sold. Some families had to buy more than others because they had several children in the school at the time. To make a long story short, as they say, it came to a point that there was only one child in the whole school who had not bought a ticket. Now guess who that was. I should mention here that the prize was a big walking doll which was almost three feet tall. It was on display in the store window of the lady who owned the bazaar book. There was just no way I was going to buy a ticket on some doll. My teacher, who was by the way, the only male teacher on staff, tried everything to get me to buy a ticket. My mother was told that I was the only child that hadn't bought a ticket, even my older brother, who was also in grade six, had bought a ticket. Eventually, between my teacher and my mom I was encouraged to buy a ticket, keeping in mind my previous statement about the two dictionaries and the definition of encourage. But I was glad that was over - the pressure was getting to me. I forgot about the whole thing until one Monday night a couple of weeks later when my mother came home from the parish bingo, which was another weekly fundraiser. I was in bed asleep by that time when she woke me up to tell me I had won the doll. Being half asleep and thinking it was all just a bad dream, imagine my horror at breakfast when I realized it was true. It wasn't a bad dream -it was a real nightmare. So off to school I go, hoping this doesn't get out into the public domain. Some chance of that, almost every woman in the parish was at the bingo the night before. My teacher told me I would have to go down Water Street to the old lady's store and pick up the doll. That didn't sound too bad, after all, the old lady's store was on the water side of Water Street, only about twenty feet from the harbour. I could easily weigh the doll down with beach rocks and throw it in the harbour. The tide would do the rest. Not so lucky was I, says you. My teacher told me I would have to bring the doll back to the school because many of the children who had bought a ticket never saw the doll. Does the pain never end?! So I brought the stupid three foot tall walking doll back to the school hoping they might place it in the hallway somewhere so everyone could see it on their way in or out. I was not to be so lucky. Will the torture never end?! My teacher told me I would have to visit each of the classrooms in turn and let everyone in the school see the doll they had bought a ticket for. Imagine. I'm a twelve year old boy, parading around the school with this huge doll under my arm. I felt I had died and gone to the other place the nuns warned us about. Well, I did go to the two lower grades one and two, no kindergarten here thank god. When I walked out of the grade two classroom I looked up to Heaven and said a silent prayer that God would strike me dead before I had to make another step. After all, mom would have come to terms with it after a while. It was not to be. God had other plans and I would have to come up with a plan of my own. My plan was to hide somewhere until enough time had passed and I could go back to my class, tell my teacher I had visited all the other classrooms and everyone saw the doll. I hid in a closet outside the grade five classroom, directly across from my own grade six room. In those days in Catholic schools after each period or subject everyone would stand and say a prayer before starting the next period. I could hear the noise from my closet hide-away and when the last period was about to start I exited the closet. I went back to my class, told my teacher I had visited all the classrooms and everyone had seen the doll. Back in those days there was no staff room for teachers to gather between classes so my teacher didn't get to talk to his fellow staff member and learn I hadn't been to their rooms. Thank God that was over! But I still had to walk home with that stupid doll under my arm and meet up with the Protestant kids who were returning home from their schools. My very own journey of tears. After getting home and whispering a silent prayer of thanks the ordeal was finally over, my mother said I should show the doll, which was expensive, to my grandparents who lived across the road and my other relatives who lived up and down the road nearby... My father, for reasons I cannot explain, decided to build a display case for the doll and mount it over the dining room wall where it hung for over sixty years before the house was torn down. My own youngest daughter had expressed a desire to have the doll so my brother gave it to me. Now it stands, face-to-the-wall cause my son-in-law thinks it's scary, in my granddaughter's bedroom on the mainland. Years later - and I do mean years later - when I myself was a married man with children in school, I told my old teacher what I had done. We had a laugh together.
The Booster Shot
Once while I was in the little cove one summer all the children in the area had to get their polio booster shot. There was a cottage hospital in Old Perlican so that's where everyone in the area, including the little cove, had to go. Now there weren't many younger children in the cove at the time, just four counting me on "our side" and only one on the "other side". Three of the children on our side were from the same family. John Thomas and his wife, Josephine, had Felix and his two sisters, Mary and Maureen. They had no vehicle, so Josephine made arrangements with Din to drop us off in Old Perlican on his way up the shore and watch for us on his way back in the evening. We did expect to be there most of the day. Josephine agreed with nan to take me with them. I waited with Felix and his sisters at their house which was close to nan's for Din to pick us up. We all got in the back of the truck, even Josephine, just like we did when we went to church on Sunday. We were all anticipating having to be at the hospital for a long time as there were lots of children in Old Perlican, Grates Cove, Bay de Verde, Caplin Cove and Low Point who also had to get the booster shot. Din let us out at the spot where the road up the shore met the road up the Trinity south shore and we walked the short distance to the hospital. The hospital looked very big to us at that time. It seems very small to me now because that's where my family doctor is. Anyway, Felix and I, being young and restless, got bored real fast. His mother was busy waiting in line to register us for the shot and the girls stayed close to her. We decided to have a look around. We roamed up and down the few corridors that there were, fascinated by all the equipment and the beds which all had wheels on them. The nurses were all dressed in white with funny little caps on their heads. Everything was so shiny clean you could almost see your reflection in the floors when you walked over them. During our self-guided tour of the hospital, we came to this room which didn't have any bed in it, just boxes of stuff and some carts. There was a nurse in the room with her back to us, busy at a desk. We watched as she filled these needle things with liquid from tiny bottles. There were lots of needles and tiny bottles. I was fascinated with all of this, but next thing I knew, Felix was out cold on the floor right in the doorway of this room. I had never seen anyone faint before so I didn't know what was happening. The nurse heard the thump when Felix hit the floor. She turned around, stopped what she was doing, came to where Felix was laying to see what was the matter. He was out cold, she couldn't get any response from him. She asked me if his parents were with us and I told her his mother was at the entrance of the hospital registering us for the booster shot. I ran and told Felix's mom that something had happened to him. I led her and the girls back to the room where Felix was still on the floor. The nurse asked Felix's mom if he had any medical issues. Josephine said she wasn't aware of any, but when she saw what the nurse was doing she said Felix was scared of needles and must have fainted when he saw them. The nurse was relieved that nothing more serious had taken place. She said it might be wise to Felix his shot while he was still out -that way there would be no risk of him fainting a second time. Josephine agreed to this, so Felix was the first one to get the booster shot that day. The nurse gave us all our shots right there in the doorway with Felix still out cold. When he finally came to, we all left the hospital about one half-hour after we got there. Felix wondered why we were all going home without getting our booster shot until his mother explained to him what had happened. We decided to take our time and walk back home as there was no point hanging around Old Perlican all day. We did just that sometimes. Felix and I were ahead of his mother and the girls and sometimes we lagged behind them when we found something interesting along the way. His mother stopped at Uncle Mike Kelly's house to let them know we were already home, just in case Din might think he missed us along the way. We were home before lunch thanks to Felix and his fear of needles.