A random act of kindness
Mother’s Day is long past, but any day is a good day to write about a mother beloved.
My mother, Eva Janes (nee Burton) — you need no longer wonder about the origin of my given name — was kindness personified. She loved nothing better than doing random acts of kindness. I recall one such incident in vivid detail.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, our family lived in Port aux Basques, where my late parents pastored the local Pentecostal church. We lived not far from Wreckhouse which, Robert H. Cuff writes, “was named for the propensity of high winds funneled down from the Table Mountains for blowing trains from the tracks.”
The legend of Lockie McDougall (1896-1954) was still alive.
He and his family had made Wreckhouse their home since the early 1930s. Known as the “human wind gauge,” Lauchie was contracted by the Newfoundland Railway to “sniff ” the wind and phone Port aux Basques whenever he determined it was unsafe for trains to travel through Wreckhouse. Indeed, once, when officials failed to heed his warning, 22 cars were swept from the tracks.
Lockie’s wife, Emily, explained in a later interview, “He’d use his hand, go outdoors and come in, tell you right where the wind was. Smart, my dear, he was some smart.”
Following Lockie’s death, Emily continued the practice of wind smelling.
“I’m the woman what looked after the wind in Wreckhouse,” Emily once said in an interview.
Day after day, she received phone calls from the Newfoundland Railway consisting of a single question, “What’s the wind like today?” Invariably she’d answer, “‘Tis good now, but there’s a big storm coming up.”
Admittedly, she did lose two trains. “Blowed off the tracks, but it wasn’t my fault,” she explained. “A big storm come on. Thank God nobody got hurted.”
I recall the day my mother said to my father, “Eric, perhaps I should bake a few muffins and bring them up to Mrs. McDougall at Wreckhouse.”
Knowing Mom was determined to carry through on her first instinct, Dad said, “As you wish, dear.”
On Saturday, Mom and Dad gathered us siblings in his first car ever — a Ford Falcon — and drove to Wreckhouse. Mom walked up to the weatherbeaten McDougall house and knocked.
“Mrs. McDougall,” she said, “here are a few muffins I felt strongly to bake for you.”
The 60-year-old lady gratefully received them. Mom returned to the car, satisfied she had done her good deed for that day.
A year later, Emily discontinued the practice of looking after the wind in Wreckhouse and moved to Port aux Basques. She lived with her son, Lochie, who cared for his mother who, by that time, was suffering from Alzheimer’s. From that town, she said, “I loved it up to Wreckhouse. I’d go back today if it wasn’t so lonely.”
It’s been a long time since I passed through Wreckhouse. I’ve been told the McDougall home eventually blew down. A plaque was placed at the former site of Wreckhouse to commemorate the McDougalls’ service and a sign was erected to warn tourists of the wind.
In June 1994, Environment Canada announced a proposal to spend $80,000 studying wind conditions at Wreckhouse, in order to determine how best to serve traffic. In all likelihood, hiring a “human wind gauge” to succeed the McDougalls was not part of the recommendations.
There is a Random Acts of Kindness Foundation which, according to its website, is “founded upon the powerful belief in kindness and dedicated to providing resources and tools that encourage acts of kindness.”
People are encouraged to participate in the kindness project: “Do you have a kindness idea or story to share? Whether large or small, easy or challenging, submit your kindness ideas. We’ll add your ideas to our database and share it with the kindness community. If you’ve got a story, we want to help you share it with the world! Become a member and submit your story, including images and videos, if you have it, and we’ll spread the word.”
There was no such organization in the late 1960s and early 1970s, so evidently my mother was ahead of her time by her random act of kindness shown to Emily McDougall of Wreckhouse. Burton K. Janes lives in Bay Roberts. His column appears in The Compass every week. He can be reached at