NEWFOUNDLAND AND LABRADOR
With “Tales From the Past and Other Drivel,” Wilbur Dean has produced a book of memories – a collection of stories and poems about growing up in Hickman’s Harbour, Random Island, during the first couple of decades after Confederation pupped.
The book’s cover is interestingly appropriate. It’s a black-and-white reproduction of a painting of a photograph of young Wilbur aboard a punt, hauling on a mooring rope. The picture is a bit blurry, as is the past, eh b’ys?
For instance, the author tells the tale of Sandy Thistle, a local merchant who invented Pay-TV in the days when Whipper Billy Watson and Gene Kiniski body-slammed each other in wrestling rings.
I read this tale and unexpectedly – poof, out of the blue – a childhood chant echoed in my noggin: “Sandy Thistle, blow your whistle.”
Where did that come from?
Recalling my own bay-boy days in Lady Cove, as if seen through the haze of faded window sheers, I seem to remember Sandy Thistle’s mailboat chugging past the cove en route to Clarenville and a gaggle of bay-boys bawling out, “Sandy Thistle, blow your whistle.”
Could I be right about that, Wilbur, or is it a false memory, a blurred memory, a result of Time’s tendency to make the past murky?
Not all of Wilbur Dean’s tales are of the distant past. His poem “Irma” features a hurricane that wreaked havoc in the Caribbean in 2017.
Way back in the murk (1955, for frig sake!) a furious hurricane – Ione – hammered Random Island. Although I was still chewing with milk teeth, Ione taught me that nothing is permanent. She uprooted and cracked into kindling humongous spruce trees that had been ancient when Granny was a young maid. She ripped boats from their mooring and flung them into grass gardens well above the landwash.
Speaking of fiery females …
In “Divorce: Fifty-Fifty,” Wilbur considers the possibility of he and Norma divorcing. Ultimately, he reckons it would never happen. Even if proceedings reached the moment of the judge’s descending gavel, Wilbur figures he and Norma would not allow the knot of their wedded bliss to be severed because in the nick of time they’d embrace and say, “We made a mistake, we’re together till death.”
Some sweet, when you think about it, eh b’ys?
Similarly – well kinda, anyway – me and Missus have scuffed against the grindstone, so to speak. On occasion, Missus has … well, let’s say suggested I share Rover’s abode and has threatened to leave me if I fail to spend some time repenting.
Believe me, I’ve slunk back from Rover’s house, tail between my legs, hound-dog-humble and said, “Missus, if you ever leaves me, I’m going with you.”
“Juniper Tree” is about two boys and a tree they often climbed. After Wilbur’s buddy Cyril is injured in a fall from the tree, they ignore the tree and play elsewhere.
But listen: “It intrigued me to think that the tree also missed us. It suddenly became dormant. No needles grew, no buds appeared.”
Boys and men and tree seem linked like that.
Think of Shel Silverstein’s “The Giving Tree.”
If it’s a truly boring Sunday afternoon, think of my story “Stumped” that can be found in an obscure bookcase at Mr. Google’s house.
Wilbur Dean was a bay-boy. He knew motorboats.
“The Trap Skiff” is a poem about a boat reflecting on its life and looking forward to Bonfire Night, hoping Hedley and Wilbur Dean will stog its cuddy with blasty boughs, set it on fire and send it to Motorboat Heaven.
Here’s my favourite line in the poem: “And my stay-sail was sewn with herringbone stitch.”
I confess, I don’t know a stay-sail from a sop rag but there’s a gem-dandy ting-a-ling to the image of a sail “sewn with herringbone stitch,” eh b’ys?
In the foreword, Wilbur writes that he wishes to remain true to his outport heritage.
He does, b’ys. Remain true to his heritage that is … r ight down to the fatalistic determination that, historically, has given outport Newfoundlanders the strength to overcome odds that folks of lesser fortitude might not.
“Let’s Go Fishing” illustrates the point.
Despite the Moratorium’s restrictions, Hickman’s Harbour fishermen swear they’ll get their fish: “Rules and regulations mean nothing to we/’Cause we’re gonna have our fish, you see.”
Here’s the line that best expresses the “fatalistic determination” mentioned above: “So here we are, it’s the middle of June/We’re freezing our butts off. Winter will be here soon.”
Expectations of winter in June, or not, the fishers set off to challenge the odds.
Thank you for reading.
Harold Walters lives Happily Ever After in Dunville, in the only Canadian province with its own time zone. How cool is that? Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.