I remember - people and places

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I've lived in this village for nigh on 46 years. Here are a few of my memories ...

I remember when garbage collection in the village was run by a local lad with a big Chevy truck. Cash only. Nice feller, and he was pretty regular when sober. I had no complaints.

Problem was there was some stuff he wouldn't handle, or things would pile up and I'd need to do a major clean-out. A lot of people in those days used to dump stuff like that deep in the woods. I found one place back on a logging road that, if you can picture it, looked like a fridge graveyard.

The other choice was to take it into town where they had a large shed, about a hundred feet by fifty feet with a deep, rectangular, pit in the middle. Down in the pit was a bulldozer that would trundle backwards and forwards compressing the garbage as it went along.

If you went on the weekend dumping was free so that's when EH and I would load up his old truck and get rid of all our unwanted stuff. We didn't need to go too often, which was just as well, because sometimes we'd come back with more than we took. The reason for this was you didn't actually dump the stuff straight into the pit, you'd dump it at the edge and a backhoe would come along and push it in.

So, at the edge of the pit there'd be all these piles of stuff that everyone else had dumped and it was like a mega bonanza for hoarders and fix-it-up people. I'll always remember one guy digging out all these Playboy magazines and looking at them on the spot. They're most probably worth a fortune now.

Nowadays all our garbage is handled by a large corporation and it's taken to a landfill site about thirty minutes up the road. Garbage is big business in this day and age and the era of the small individual operator is long gone, just like a lot of things.

I remember when Jeb, a fisherman in the village, used to set out mackerel traps. That's what he had a license for. Mackerel. And I think he must have had one for tuna. But not for salmon. Unfortunately the odd salmon used to swim into his trap. Since he didn't have a license for salmon he was supposed to chuck 'em overboard, dead or alive. He could lose his license, boat and traps if he got caught bringin' 'em back. I had a standing order with him for the salmon. No questions asked. No officer, no salmon ever entered this house. There were several other people on the list so you had to wait your turn. He was taking a big chance but it was the "old" way of doing business in the village.

Vern and I also had an order for a tuna. Vern would split it up and all I had to do was go get my half. One day Vern called, reminded me of our order, and said he had the tuna and was cutting it up. Now, when I placed this order I had a picture in my mind of maybe 50 pounds apiece. What I'd forgotten was that Nova Scotia held the record of the biggest tuna ever caught on rod and line and weighed in at 1,496 pounds.

"How big?" I asked.
"I dunno," he replied, "maybe five-fifty."
I thought, "Oh dear (that's not really what I thought). What am I supposed to do with 275 pounds of tuna?"
"Ok, bud," I said, "give me a call when you've got it cut up."
"I might be all day at this," he said.
"Thank heavens," I thought, "this'll give me a chance to lay off some of the action," and I started to make a few calls. The bottom line was I was able to get rid of about twenty pounds. In the end a hundred pounds went to the cat, maybe ten pounds got cooked, and the rest was fed to the gulls.

I remember when I first met Weldon. What stood out were his hands. They were wrapped around the handle of a mop (he was the janitor at the place where I worked) and they made the mop handle look like a toothpick. His fingers were twice as wide as mine but short and with deep grooves in them. The skin on his hands and face had the colour of a dark wood. He was a fisherman and had been all his life. He was in his mid-fifties when I met him. He fished in the morning before he came to work (haha). He handlined cod, haddock and pollock, and set lobster traps in the winter season. He fished by himself in a sixteen-foot wooden boat with an outboard. Before he had a motor he rowed. The handlining, hauling traps and rowing explained the size and the grooves in his hands. As a young lad he fished on the Grand Banks in the days of sail. It was dangerous work. The movie, Captains Courageous will give you some idea of what he went through.

He'd sell some of the fish and lobsters at work. I think the lobsters were $2 a pair (the same price as a pair of rabbits). It didn't matter what size they were. Back in 1950 he hooked into a 200 pound halibut. The following was written by his daughter Lillian about the event ...

Dad used a small lap workboat - the type they use in trap fishing and I believe he had a small outboard motor. He was handlining at the time and had quite a battle bringing it in. Alone in the boat, he would haul it in and then give it some slack when it got rambunctious. Each time the fish tired itself out, he would haul it up a bit and then let it 'take some line' and once again would bring it in until he finally got it to the side of the boat. I really don't know how he managed to knock it out, then lasso it both front and back to the side of the boat, bringing it in that way. Because it was so big, he really didn't get a lot for it - probably in the vicinity of 20 cents a pound - it could even have been less.

Doesn't that story ring a bell. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway (the movie starred Spencer Tracy). I can easily picture old Weldon out there determined to outlast the fish.

I remember when there used to be a post office in every village. They were usually operated by a resident who set aside part of their house as an office. Our post office was run by a lady out of her basement. She was a cheery sort who loved to chat.

You had to go get your mail. There was no such thing as letterboxes (and there still isn't). What we have now is a central post office and mailboxes scattered along the roads.

I'll always remember one time, just after I'd moved into the village, when I went to get my mail that she told me how well my sister and her children were doing. She went in to quite a bit of detail. I wondered how she knew so much about my sister, since my sister lived in England.

When I got home I clued in. There, amongst all the bills, was a letter from my sister written on one of those pale blue, see-through air mail envelopes that we used back then.

I laughed. I put it down to part of the charm of living in a little village.

I remember when I talked to a farmer's son in the village about the problem I had with skunks and raccoons. He told me how he used to fix the problem.

He'd set a trap.

When he'd get a raccoon in the trap he'd just pick up the trap and make the raccoon take a swim - underwater.

He'd do the same for skunks, only he used a boat hook to pick up the trap. That way there was a bit of distance between him and the skunk. If he saw it getting agitated he'd put the trap down and let the skunk catch his breath. His last step would be to take the skunk for a swim.

Now I know what you are thinking, but here's how he looked at it, after all, he was a farmer's son.

He could throw the raccoon, in the trap, in the bed of his old truck and take it to the woods. But the woods around here back onto houses and that raccoon will follow his nose and make his way into someone else's backyard. Thus, his neighbour would acquire his problem and would most probably do the same as he did - take it for a swim. Now, he said, it's different with a skunk. Would you throw the skunk into the back of your truck and drive down a bumpy old road and not expect the skunk to get a little agitated and fire of a few shots? That truck would stink for weeks to come.

He was quite a practical man, but it's not the kind of thing I could do.

Nowadays I've resigned myself to the fact that the raccoons will get into my recycle bin and throw the contents all over the place, and that the skunk will visit me every year, dig 500 holes in his quest for June bug larvae, and turn my yard into a war zone. That's just the way it goes.

I remember that if I wanted a saw sharpened, or an anchor made, or a special piece of metalwork, I would go see Willie. Most people called him 'Uncle Willie.'

Willie was a blacksmith. Quite a small man but as strong as the metals he worked with.

To enter Willie's domain was like entering a black hole from which there was no return. The inside was lit only by the glow from the forge. What windows existed were covered by layers of soot. In fact the entire interior was covered in soot. As was Willie.

To find Willie you called his name and it was his voice that pointed you in his general direction.

A sharpened saw cost twenty-five cents, no more, no less. He would stubbornly refuse anything extra.

He was a blacksmith of the old school and took great pride in his work.

It's kind of ironic, but Willie's workshop has been replaced by a million dollar home. I never knew what happened to him, but he must be long gone by now.

I remember when Noble kept chickens. A whole bunch of them. He'd sell the eggs and, when it came time, he'd sell the chickens.

One time, after his three-year-old chickens weren't laying much, Noble was ready to sell the birds. JD, JW and myself decided we'd like a dozen each for the freezer.

It was an assembly line procedure. JD killed them by piercing the brain, JW dipped them in the hot water and used the machine to strip off most of the feathers, and I'd gut them and pull out the pin feathers. We were doing well but at my end the birds were starting to stack up.

It was just about then that Noble poked his head around the door to ask how we were doing when one of the supposedly dead, boiled, featherless birds rose up from the pile and decided to go for a walk.

Noble thought it was one of the funniest things he'd ever seen. We did too.

I remember a time when you went to the doctor's office you'd register with the receptionist but it was up to you to remember your place in the queue.

There was no booking an appointment or taking a number when you got there.

The waiting room might have held a dozen people when you stepped though the doors. Seeing as I couldn't remember a dozen faces the way I worked it was to try and remember the people who arrived after me. It seemed like there was always less people arriving after me than there was ahead of me.

Sometimes I'd forget, and a person who arrived after me would tell me it was my turn. I never saw anyone cheat the system because everyone knew how it worked.

I'd always take a book so I didn't mind the wait. Plus it was interesting listening to the conversations about the weather, the cod fishing, the muffin recipes, who made the juiciest sauerkraut, what's the best wood for smoking mackerel, and how to fix a tractor.

The conversations haven't changed much over the past forty years, the only difference now is that we have a new doctor and he calls you when it's your turn. Just as well, what with my memory being the way it is these days.

They say there's three things happen to you when you get old and the first one is that you start losing your memory, and I forget what the other two are.

Lillian Crooks wrote in her book, The History of Indian Harbour, that ... A staple of the community was the small grocery and general store ... When fishing started in early spring, debts were paid off, and groceries purchased with cash until the late fall and early winter when, once again, items were placed on credit until the following spring.

I remember when we had two general stores and two gas stations in the village. Credit was available at all of them. What was owed was hand written in a ledger and a gentle reminder was given if you overstepped your limit. One of the stores had a curved glass display case stuffed with treats and the kind of old cash register where the numbers popped up. The general stores were exactly that - they carried everything from rubber boots to cod jigs to smoked meat (smoked on site until the smokehouse burnt down).

They were also meeting places where you could catch up on the village gossip. The gas stations were by far the worst offenders when it came to gossip. The gas stations were a place where men met, and where endless stories, in between tots of rum, would be told. I should know, it took me half a day one time to get a puncture fixed.

When I wrote this article, a couple of years ago, only one gas station remained (and it did not sell gas). Since then a local family has decided to re-open one of the general stores. It does not do much business (seeing as there's two supermarkets just a fifteen minute drive up the road) but, from my perspective, it's nice to see the return of an old landmark. Sad to say, the store closed on January 1st 2013. It only lasted one year.

I was remembering the other day that there was a time when the only boats in our cove were cape boats. Traditional, old-style, wooden fishing boats used by a few of us locals who occasionally fished for cod and haddock. There were no yachts and the only speedboat was owned by a character we called Snake.

Snake would squeeze the last penny out of anything, which was not unusual for a lot of old-timers around here. By his standards he was a real wheeler-dealer. Snake didn't have an anchor for his speedboat so he wouldn't go far out in the bay when the wind was blowing. However, one time, when he was on the way out, the wind came up. Knowing he couldn't fish without an anchor he backtracked to my moored cape boat where he cut the line to my anchor, attached it to his line, and took it with him. On his way back he returned the anchor.

I didn't discover all this until the next evening after I'd steamed two miles out to the haddock grounds. When I had my marks lined up I took the engine out of gear and stepped to the bow where I stowed the anchor in an old fish box. I grasped the shank and threw it to port. The line followed for five feet and then nothing. The rest of the line lay in the bottom of the box. I watched the anchor and five feet of yellow line disappear into the depths of the green ocean. I couldn't believe my eyes. I looked at the line and could see it was cut and I remembered seeing Snake's boat passing close to mine the previous day. He never came out and said he did it and I never asked. I was pissed off at the time but laugh at it now, it gives me something to remember him by.

Anyway, when I look at the cove now all I see is big yachts and fast-powered pleasure boats. Except for one, all of the cape boats have disappeared. I shouldn't be surprised because I have a sepia photo of this cove taken back in the early 1900's when all you could see were wooden, sail-powered fishing boats. Lots of them. Working boats. In fact I suspect one of them belonged to the man that owned this land. I was told he was a giant of a man and that he would put a rope over his shoulder and pull his dory up on dry land. Quite the feat seeing as it most probably weighed 400 pounds. Leslie tells of never having played a prank on him during Halloween because he was so scared of him. I was also told that he drowned picking up supplies from across the bay where he rowed his dory to a general store. He had no dependants and the old, twenty-by-twenty, two-storey box of a house stood empty for many years. It was the land that appealed to me, I felt like I was in a dream when I walked down to the beach. I often think of him and of the many characters that used to live around here and of how times have changed.

The cove

I remember another wheeler-dealer in the village, just like Snake.

A friend and I were avid vegetable gardeners. We both had plots that were about 600 square feet in total. We were used to digging them by hand but word got around the village that a feller up the road had a roto-tiller for sale.
We both knew of him, and knew that we weren't going to get a deal, but I said I'd give it a try. We were going to split the cost so it would still be a deal for us.
So up I went, got a hold of the feller and went up to the shed and took a look at the tiller. It was old but sturdy so I thought it was worth buying.

"Ok," I said "How much are you asking?"
"$140," was all he said.
"Would you take $120?" I asked.
Well, that left me in no doubt as to what the price was.
"Ok. $140," I said, and dug out the cash.

I was wheeling the tiller out of the shed door when he reached back to a peg on the shed wall and brought down a rubber belt.

"Here," he said, "this is a spare belt for the tiller."
"Great," I said with a smile on my face.
"$7," he said.
"No, you keep it," I replied, asking myself at the same time as to what he was going to do with a spare belt for a tiller that he no longer owned. Some people.

I remember my first make-and-break wooden boat. She was a twenty-eight foot Tancook sloop with her mast cut off. Her style was very much like the famous Bluenose schooner. She was beautiful to look at. Her name was Swan. I suspect she could have told many a fishy story.

She was driven by a single cylinder, 4hp, Hawboldt engine with a huge flywheel. The way you'd start her was to prime the engine with some gas, grab the handle on the front of the flywheel, rock it backwards and forwards and then give her one mighty swing in the opposite direction you'd want the propeller to rotate. That way she'd backfire in the other direction and away you'd go. Sometimes she wouldn't backfire and you'd find yourself going in reverse heading for the beach. If that happened you'd disconnect one of the battery leads to the points, keep an eye on the flywheel and, if you timed it right, you could reconnect the battery lead when the flywheel was in the right position and she'd kick the other way. If you didn't time it right you'd be on the beach. Mind you, the easiest way out of such a position would be to swing the rudder over hard, but that would be too easy.

My biggest recollection of my time with her was when a basking shark came into the cove and I took the Swan out to take a look. The shark was longer than the boat and I could look right down on her massive, broad head. Took my breath away.

I sold her to a slightly built feller who was about my age. I had my doubts as to whether he could handle the engine. The next time I saw him he had his arm in a sling. When I asked what happened he said the flywheel kicked back and dislocated his shoulder. He was so pissed off he pulled her ashore and set fire to her. A sad, but not untypical end to a wooden boat.

Then I bought Swan 2. She was a twenty-one foot Cape Islander driven by a Lunenburg Foundry "Atlantic" make-and-break. I don't remember her horsepower but I do remember her flywheel wasn't as big as the one on the Hawboldt engine.

I have a couple of favourite memories of her. One is when my father came over and we went fishing together. In fact the only photo I have of her is with my father at the tiller. The other memory that sticks in my mind is when I took her to Tancook Island and spent the night asleep on her.

Both boats were without a cabin so you were open to the elements. The sound of a make-and-break engine put-put-putting along is like nothing else in today's world. Leaving the cove she would echo off the hills. It must be over thirty-five years since I last heard that sound.

Another make-and-break with the past.

For a video of the make-and-break take a look at Land and Sea season 14 episode 28 The Make and Break Man.

I remember when our well was dug.

Living in the country meant you had to find your own supply of water. The majority of people in our area had dug wells. Drilled wells were more expensive and you weren't always sure of hitting a water seam (and in many cases it would be salt water).

Our well was hand dug by two people. Borden Fader was one of the fellers but I haven't a clue as to who the other feller was.

They started by digging an area fourteen feet in diameter and just kept plugging away at it with shovels. Some of the soil turned out to be clay but they doggedly kept at it.

At fourteen feet deep they hit a spring. Borden's original intention had been to "rock" the wall but the water was coming in too fast for him to work in the hole. A gravel truck and a backhoe were quickly called in and, after the gravel had been dumped at the bottom of the hole, the backhoe lowered in a series of three foot diameter concrete crocks, one on top of the other. The last crock rose a couple of feet above ground level. Borden finished this off with a round stone facing which gave the impression of a real country well.

For 49 years it has never gone dry on us, and I think that is because we are very careful with our water usage throughout the whole year.

July 2016. This year the water in the well is at the lowest I have ever seen it.
South-western Nova Scotia has only received a quarter of its normal rainfall for June, July and August. Rivers are beginning to look like gravel roads. Chester restaurants are running dry. A fire hall has opened its doors for residents to have showers. Bulk water suppliers are doing a booming business.

September 2018. Same story if not worse than 2016. It rained twice in three months. The Nova Scotia government is offering loans for upgrading wells.

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Pat Donoghue, Canada, ©1997