The hole in the ceiling
Anne Galway (nee Brazil) grew up in a 75-year-old home located at the foot of the river and entrance to North River.
“Because children were often not privy to the straight talk of adults,” she writes, “it was typical for me to get my information at the hole in the ceiling.”
That is, the hole in the ceiling in the kitchen in the house in the town in the bay.
For those unfamiliar with this phrase — the hole in the ceiling — it refers to a source of heat in the kitchens of many homes in earlier times.
Anne says her most treasured educational experiences date back to that very hole in her childhood home.
She can still hear her mother admonishing her: “Anne, get away from the hole and into bed.” Sometimes the admonition worked, but more often than not it didn’t deter her from this pastime.
One morning, as daylight was dawning through the window’s lace curtains in her parents’ bedroom, Anne took up her position to listen “ through the hole for information deemed inappropriate for children to hear.”
“Mike,” Anne’s mother said, “ we will be missing you so much. The girls and I would love to be coming with you.” The girls were Anne and Ellen.
“I know, love,” Mr. Brazil responded, “ but it won’t be long before I get work. I’ll be coming back for you and the girls, as soon as I get work in Boston and find a place for us to live.”
Anne’s stomach churned. She knew her father was leaving that morning to join his siblings in the States. He hoped to work as a deepsea diver. He had already trained when he worked in the Chain Rock area at the entrance to St. John’s Harbour.
Anne and Ellen knew their mother, as well as their Aunt Lucy on Bell Island, were expecting babies. So, if their mother went to Bell Island while their father was gone, they could help each another. Anne was happy about that, but sad her father was leaving.
“If all works out,” the man said to his wife, “ we will live in Boston. You will also see your sisters and brothers who are already working in Philadelphia. It will be a great venture for all of us.”
Anne wanted to ask her father, “ Will you be home for my First Communion?” However, she couldn’t say anything from the hole in the kitchen ceiling because her parents thought she was asleep in bed.
Mrs. Brazil nodded. Her husband went to her, held her close, and kissed her tears away. Anne wiped away her own tears before they fell through the grate and sizzled on the hot stove.
Though she was sad to see her father leave, she understood he needed to find work to support his wife, daughters and John, the baby that was due in September.
“Now, Mike, before we get Anne and Ellen up to have breakfast of tea and toutons with you, we need to talk about how much money you will take with you.”
“Don’t worry, darling, I have 60 dollars,” he said, gripping his wife to him, “ which will be plenty to get me there and last until I get my first paycheque.”
Anne eased herself away from the hole.
“ Wow,” she thought, “ we must be rich!”
In later years, Anne encouraged more than 100 contributors to record the benefit they received from this education. The result is the book, “ Stories from the Hole in the Ceiling,” published by Flanker Press in St. John’s.
As adults, the writers share their fond memories of overheard conversations that have shaped their lives. There are stories of joy, humour and heartache, gleaned from friends, relatives and visitors to their childhood homes.
This treasury of stories reveals in glowing detail the unique character of Newfoundland and Labrador. Anne, a retired teacher, has seen the value of the fascinating education that can be gained through the hole in the ceiling.
This book is divided into chapters with catchy titles, including Jam Jams; Lessons Learned; Buttons, Buttons … I Found the Buttons; The Townie Learns Her Lesson; Portal Antics; and The “Hole” Truth.
There are stories to quench the appetite of all readers, ranging from “After the Fire” by T. Lopez to “ The Hole Secret” by Ron Pumphrey; from “ The Hockey Game” by Rex Colbourne to “ The Sleepwalker” by Ethel Chaulk; from “ Wet Hair Tells the Tale” by Marilyn Billard to “Need to Go” by Maryanna Drake.