The fairies of Con­cep­tion Bay

The Compass - - CLASSIFIED - Bur­ton K. Janes bur­tonj@nfld.net

In 1940, there lived at Cupids a deaf-mute boy. One day, he and his fam­ily went blue­berry pick­ing. Dur­ing their ad­ven­ture, this lad, whose name is lost to his­tory, be­came sep­a­rated from the rest of his fam­ily. Some­body, hear­ing what was later de­scribed as “throaty squawks,” went in search of the miss­ing berryp­icker. The boy, when found, was “out of his mind and very dis­traught.” At home, af­ter he had calmed down, he was asked to draw on pa­per what had hap­pened. He drew a pic­ture of a short man, re­sem­bling a dwarf, with a long beard and a red pointed hat.

More than 50 years ago, at Clarke’s Beach, Mil­dred Par­sons’ mother and a cou­ple of friends left on a bakeap­ple pick­ing ex­cur­sion in a marsh. When it was time to go home, the two friends took the lead. Sud­denly, the older woman said, “We’re go­ing the wrong way.” Look­ing down to the end of the marsh, she spied what she later called “a herd of red horses.” Her friends then knew the woman was be­ing led by fairies. “It wasn’t un­til they got out over the hill that she knew where she was be­cause the fairies chased her all the way out. If her two friends weren’t there she would have gone in the woods.”

Fairy and ghost sto­ries have been around since the dawn of time.

As a child, I lived in the White Bay community of Ham­p­den. To make our own en­ter­tain­ment on long, drawn-out sum­mer evenings, we friends and sib­lings sat on our fence rail­ing and tried to outdo each other by telling fairy and ghost sto­ries.

By the time dark­ness fell, I would be scared spit­less, al­most too fright­ened to run across the gar­den and duck inside the house.

Of course, we’d vow and de­clare to never again en­gage in such scary sto­ry­telling … un­til the next night and the next and the next. It seemed we couldn’t sa­ti­ate our long­ing to hear more sto­ries.

I of­ten won­der about the ap­peal of such sto­ries.

Why do we en­joy telling and lis­ten­ing to them, es­pe­cially those scarier-the-bet­ter ones? In a sci­en­tific age, when many of us boast about the log­i­cal, skep­ti­cal and in­tel­lec­tual bent to our minds, why do we thrive on sto­ries de­signed to scare the livin’ day­lights out of us?

Arthur B. Reeve, in his essay, “Short, Scary Ghost Sto­ries,” sets down his own list of con­sid­er­a­tions.

A love of ghost sto­ries may be no dif­fer­ent than a pen­chant for de­tec­tive sto­ries. I per­son­ally am held cap­tive by the mys­te­ri­ous. For ex­am­ple, who can im­prove on sto­ries as di­verse as G.K. Ch­ester­ton’s Fa­ther Brown mys­ter­ies, Dorothy L. Say­ers’ Lord Peter Wim­sey, or the writ­ings of Agatha Christie, the “queen of crime fic­tion?”

Reeve asks, could it be that we are all “full of su­per­sti­tion,” to a lesser or greater de­gree? “Only we don’t let it loose,” he says. To divulge such per­sonal pro­cliv­i­ties would make us cer­ti­fi­able.

Per­haps, Reeve con­tin­ues, “man is in­cur­ably reli­gious.” In other words, “if all reli­gions were blot­ted out, man would cre­ate a new re­li­gion.”

Fur­ther, we tend to “stand in awe of that which we can­not ex­plain,” he notes.

The bot­tom line is that many of us continue to be en­am­oured with sto­ries about “things that go bump in the night.”

I’ve had my own en­coun­ters with the un­ex­plained in the past. All of them have left me deeply un­set­tled and raised ques­tions, “What did it mean? Was it real?”

I’m an ag­nos­tic re­gard­ing fairy and ghost sto­ries. At the same time, I’m open to a deeper ex­pla­na­tion, de­spite the way my mind strives to find nat­u­ral ex­pla­na­tions for su­per­nat­u­ral events. There is a ten­sion be­tween the sub­jec­tive and ob­jec­tive. I wel­come light on this dark topic. Ready for an­other story? This one took place in Car­bon­ear. A woman went in over the hills to look for her miss­ing cow. Led astray, she was gone 14 days and 14 nights. Mean­while, an older woman in the town had a dream, in which she was shown the ex­act lo­ca­tion of the miss­ing woman. The towns­peo­ple got Patty Ho­gan to take his horse and car­riage to the spot. Sure enough, there was the miss­ing woman. “She said she was taken astray by the fairies.”

There are count­less num­bers of fairy and ghost sto­ries set in Con­cep­tion Bay, in­deed, throughout the prov­ince. Read all about them in “Sonny’s Dream: New­found­land Folk­lore and Pop­u­lar Cul­ture,” writ­ten by the late Peter Nar­vaez (1942-2011), a mu­si­cian, folk­lorist, pop­u­lar cul­ture stud­ies scholar, eth­no­mu­si­col­o­gist and ar­chiv­ist. His book of 15 es­says is pub­lished by Memo­rial Univer­sity.

Free­lance jour­nal­ist Bur­ton K. Janes lives in Bay Roberts. His col­umn ap­pears in The Com­pass ev­ery week. He can be reached at bur­tonj@nfld.net

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