The hole in the ceil­ing

The Compass - - OPINION -

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.

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