Still seek­ing jus­tice

Car­bon­ear woman re­flects on early morn­ing break-in that still haunts her

The Compass - - NEWS - BY PAT CULLEN

The crash comes early in the morn­ing. I sit bolt up­right in my bed and gaze at the alarm clock. Its green dig­i­tal fig­ures tell me it’s 4:45 a.m. It is Nov. 12, 2006. It is the Sun­day of the long Re­mem­brance Day weekend. I lis­ten for a few min­utes. There is no sound any­where in the house. I as­sume the noise comes from out­side. It is prob­a­bly a bro­k­endown quad, that ubiq­ui­tous blight which ac­com­pa­nies most hol­i­day week­ends in Car­bon­ear.

I am not prone to night­mares or ner­vous­ness. I think, “oh, well,” and turn to go back to sleep. I com­pletely for­get about the phone call that came around 9 p.m. the evening be­fore. It was a call filled with such in­com­pre­hen­si­ble non­sense I could not de­ter­mine the sex of the caller, much less what it was say­ing. I also for­get about the break-in that oc­curred at my then-un­oc­cu­pied house roughly two weeks ago by teenagers os­ten­si­bly look­ing for a hang­out. The po­lice caught them. Surely, they wouldn’t try again. It is so early. Maybe, I am just too sleepy to an­a­lyze.

Then I hear the foot­step as it makes its way up the base­ment stairs. I know now I am def­i­nitely not alone. I also know there is no phone in my room and I have no weapon. I know I have left the lights on in the base­ment as a pre­cau­tion against in­trud­ers, a pre­cau­tion I felt nec­es­sary af­ter the last break-in. I re­al­ize, too late, that the lights have given this in­truder ac­cess to ev­ery part of the base­ment. My mind races to the ex­posed elec­tri­cal sys­tem on the wall. What if he tam­pers with it and plunges the house into dark­ness? What will I do then? I as­sume it is a he be­cause the foot­step on the stairs is heavy. I also know if I die at his hands, my death will not be easy.

I hear him as he opens the base­ment door, goes into the kitchen, the TV room, the par­lor, a now-un­oc­cu­pied bed­room. I lis­ten care­fully. I curse the con­trac­tor who in­stalled some ma­chin­ery in the base­ment and did it in such a way that it is now im­pos­si­ble to lock the door lead­ing from there into the kitchen. That one act has given this man ac­cess to my en­tire home. Oddly enough, I am calm. I have never felt more calm in my life. I re­al­ize, much later, it is that strange sort of calm that some­times comes over a per­son when he or she is faced with death.

As he me­an­ders down the hall, I lie there in the dark. I am pre­pared for ev­ery­thing — the knife, the ski mask, the rope. I won­der what he wants. I sup­pose he just wants to ter­ror­ize me, but I won­der why. Fi­nally, he throws open the door to my bed­room. He is dressed in dark clothes, but there is no ski mask, there is no knife, there is no rope. He does not en­ter the bed­room. He just stands in the door­way. His face is ex­posed. He knows I do not know him and he is right. Al­though his back is turned to the bright lights of the hall­way, there is just enough vis­i­ble to tell me what I want to know. I have never seen this fairly young man be­fore in my life.

A look of sur­prise

In a boom­ing voice he ad­dresses me with, “Hello dar­lin, ya gotta beau­ti­ful home.” An­gry and em­bolden now, I leap from my bed and shout, “Get out, I’m call­ing the RCMP.” For min­utes this con­tin­ues like a mantra. He re­peats his salu­ta­tion. I re­peat mine. As I ad­vance to­wards him, he turns to go. I march him to the front door, switch­ing on the re­main­ing lights as I go.

In what is now a brightly lit house, I gaze at his pro­file. His left cheek has mas­cara lines on it. There was mas­cara taken from my home dur­ing the first break-in. I won­der if it is mine. He does not ap­pear drunk or drugged. I no­tice he never looks di­rectly at me. But, I also no­tice he is watch­ing me care­fully and for a brief minute his face reg­is­ters sur­prise. I won­der why. I will soon have time to spec­u­late as to its rea­son.

He does not re­sist my ef­forts to re­move him from the house. In­stinc­tively, I know he will not hurt me. Yet, I do not touch him. With star­tling clar­ity, I re­mem­ber an ar­ti­cle, buried but not for­got­ten, that some peo­ple do not like to be touched. They may even be­come ag­gres­sive. I keep my dis­tance. I keep my head. I push him through the door and lock it be­hind him, think­ing wryly that he can al­ways go around the back and re­gain en­try through what now must be a splin­tered base- ment door.

I go to the phone and call the RCMP. The fe­male voice at the other end is cheer­ful and en­cour­ag­ing. I am calm and give her a de­tailed de­scrip­tion. She tells me a car will be dis­patched. I am re­luc­tant to hang up, but I know I must. I must watch for the car. As I put down the phone, I am afraid to re­turn to my bed­room to change into street clothes. He may come back. He may have his friends with him. This time, I may not be so lucky.

A fi­esty home­owner

As I look down at my­self, stand­ing there in night­gown and slip­pers, I am dis­gusted at the level to which I have been re­duced by this un­known crea­ture. Twenty-five min­utes later the po­lice ve­hi­cle pulls up, the doors slam, the ques­tions be­gin, and I be­come a statis­tic.

Dad was quick off the mark with a yes, and mother, with some re­luc­tance, fi­nally agreed to let me go. Some­how or other I think she was a wee bit jeal­ous with all the at­ten­tion Betty was giv­ing me.

Felix owned one of the few cars in our neigh­bour­hood (Dad did not have a car). It was a shiny black Hud­son sedan. It had plush seats and large pas­sen­ger side win­dows. And wow-wee, I dis­cov­ered, it had a ra­dio, too.

With my p-jays in my duf­fel bag, tooth­brush, socks, sneak­ers and a va­ri­ety of other clean cloth­ing we headed off. Felix trav­elled along “the old road” — there was no Trans-Canada High­way. Car­bon­ear seemed such a long drive, about 75 miles, or about a four-hour jour­ney from the city, much of it over dirt roads that seemed to last for­ever. The ex­cite­ment was un­bear­able for an eight year old ( first-timer) to the bay.

A lit­tle snicker

It was along that route that I would hear for the first time about “Oly-rood” and “Hav-on­dale” — the light­hearted joke about the drop­ping of those Hs and As. Ev­ery time I drive through those com­mu­ni­ties nowa­days I still snicker.

Betty was quite a char­ac­ter and so much fun. She told me about the Seal Cove Dam and its cir­cu­lar flume (wa­ter con­duc­tor) that snaked its way along the hill to­wards Seal Cove’s three pond gul­lies, about the dis­ap­pear­ing church of Avon­dale, and about those c.o.d. turns (come over dar­ling’) still fas­ci­nat­ing to this day, and about Brazil’s Hill and Lassie Point, and the Til­ton blue­berry bar­rens and the fas­ci­nat­ing ship that looked like it went aground off Har­bour Grace — the old S.S. Kyle.

Sit­ting in the car up front be­tween the two (now adopted par­ents) we played games in­clud­ing find a horse in the gar­den, count the sheep, look for for­eign li­cence plates, count down the miles and a spelling bee. Yes, spelling bee. It was then I learned to spell Car­bon­ear.

I can still hear Betty re­peat over and over, CAR-BON-EAR, CARBON-EAR. She told me to re­peat it sev­eral times. Soon I had it and to this day in the re­cess of my mind I can still hear Betty say­ing it.

An ice cream and a soft drink af­ter we lunched at a tea room near Bri­gus hit the spot. A car ride that lasted so long was a large or­der for an eight-year-old kid. Car­bon­ear was a moon away, it seemed, but pit stops like that took my young mind off the te­dious ride.

Adult con­ver­sa­tion

At first I was a lit­tle ner­vous and scared that I might get home­sick. Betty and Felix chuck­led at that no­tion and soon I found out how right they were.

We stayed in Felix’s mother’s old home on the Burnt Head. His mother was still quite ac­tive — the quin­tes­sen­tial grandma. She had braided hair, I seem to re­call, and made won­der­ful golden brown home­made bread, ob­vi­ous from the first step through the door.

She fussed over me like a kit­ten. I slept up­stairs in a com­fort­able bed with feath­ered pil­lows. She threw on ex­tra blan­kets and I would drift off to sleep lis­ten­ing to the chat­ter down­stairs in the kitchen, all of which per­me­ated its way up through the floor vent po­si­tioned over the kitchen wood stove.

All week I slept solid and was not one bit home­sick. It was a dream world like in the sto­ry­books mom at times would read to me.

The days seemed to fly. I tasted the salty spray on my lips for the first time, felt the wind off the ocean, played pi­rate Peter Eas­ton on the beach near the old wooden boats and in the field and near the wharf with the Butt boys (sadly, I can’t re­mem­ber their names), and threw beach rocks from the shore­line into the foamy waters. A bot­tle tossed with a note in­side un­for­tu­nately sunk and we never both­ered to try another. To­day I wished we had. Who knows where it might have wound up?

So many im­pres­sion­able mo­ments in time — mo­ments, it turned out, that changed my life for­ever.

That was the first of a num­ber of sum­mer trips I would make to the Burnt Head with Felix and Betty.

As I grew older and be­came a news­pa­per car­rier for the old Daily News and mixed with the older boys and girls in the city, my trips to Car­bon­ear ended, much to the cha­grin of Felix and Betty, but not to Mom, who later told me she missed me like crazy when I would leave for “the Bay.”

A nos­tal­gic re­turn

It was all part of grow­ing up—a nat­u­ral part of my pend­ing ado­les­cence and of let­ting go my early boy­hood.

Now re­tired and liv­ing in Clarke’s Beach, My wife Betty and I drive to Car­bon­ear fre­quently th­ese days to shop or to walk the board­walk. Re­cently, on a beau­ti­ful sum­mer af­ter­noon, we re­turned to the Burnt Head area, walked near the beach where I once played and where it all be­gan over 65 years ago. I sat on an ocean­side bench and boy what mem­o­ries came back. It was surre- al.

Ev­ery time I hear per­former Wayne Chalk’s song “Salt­wa­ter Joys” it brings a lump to my throat. The words, the pic­tures he con­jures up and the beauty of its verses reminds me of those sim­i­lar kinds of days at granny McCarthy’s home at the Burnt Head.

Felix and Betty even­tu­ally raised three chil­dren. A girl named El­iz­a­beth (Evely), who still lives in Car­bon­ear, and two boys, John and Billy. Both Felix and Betty are buried in the old ceme­tery there. On the day we vis­ited their grave a num­ber of years back, strangely it seemed, I could hear Betty re­peat­ing — CARBON-EAR, CAR-BON-EAR.

We had a friend­ship that was very spe­cial. The McCarthys meant the world to me and I am cer­tain they felt the same. They gave me trea­sured mem­o­ries that will last for­ever — and a love for out­port liv­ing.

Rest in peace my spe­cial an­gels. I will never for­get you.

— Bill West­cott, now re­tired, writes from Clarke’s Beach

Ed­i­tor’s note: the pre­ceed­ing is an up­date to a sub­mis­sion pub­lished in The Com­pass in July 2003.

Pat Cullen

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