Still seeking justice
Carbonear woman reflects on early morning break-in that still haunts her
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.
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.