‘In Those Days’ is a book that will bring laughter, tears and reflection
Bill Williams lives in retirement in Conception Bay South, but he hasn’t forgotten his roots. He was born in New Harbour and educated in Green’s Harbour.
As a professional, Bill worked as a teacher, millwright, maintenance supervisor and, latterly, United Church minister.
His first book, “Reflections,” is a compilation of his meditations, reflections and prayers.
In his second book, “I Minds When,” he attempts to connect with the past through stories, poetry, reflections, wit and humour.
In his latest self-published book, “In Those Days,” he intends “to produce a snapshot of a time in history telling stories that will bring laughter, tears and reflection to those who are reading it now, and those who will read it in the future.”
One of his stories revolves around the annual Christmas concert which was, he says, “on par with the East Coast Music Awards or the Juno Awards today. The concert was probably the most attended activity in the harbour.”
Practice began in October and continued until mere days before Christmas. French Hall would be bursting at the seams with those patronizing the event.
“On the day of the concert, the older boys were given the job to collect chairs from people’s houses around the harbour.” Piling the chairs on the horse slide, they brought them to the church hall. They also had to get the biggest and tallest Christmas tree available. “We didn’t mind that,” he says, “because, for those named to get the tree, it meant having the evening off from school.”
“Finally,” Bill says, “when all was ready and everyone seated, the concert opened with the singing of the opening chorus.”
The welcoming was “usually said by a frightened young primmer or Gra de 1 pupil, with his/her shoulders hunched up to the ears, and clinging on to her dress or his pants for dear life. They would be so nervous they dug their toe into the floorboards trying to get up nerve enough to get the words out.” Bill should know, as he “was one of those nervous and frightened youngsters.”
There were exercises, monologues and dialogues. The final activity was a drill, performed by the Grade 11 girls. “The drill,” Bill explains, “was a synchronized dance of sorts, only it couldn’t be called a dance because it was performed in the United Church Hall,” where dancing was strictly off limits.
The concert over, high school diplomas were distributed to those who had passed Certificate of Higher Education exams in Grades 9, 10 and 11. “Our graduation exercise,” Bill adds in passing, “was not as elaborate or as expensive as graduations are today.”
Then, the denouement: “it was time for Santa to come with presents for each child. The youngsters were tired, but Santa’s bells brought us all to our feet as Santa came into the room to the singing of ‘Here Comes Santa Claus.’ Santa made his way through the crowd and sat by the tree. He called every child’s name, and he gave each a gift.”
To this day, Bill still has his “little army truck with the front wheels turned and a wire sticking out of the back supporting an airplane as it flew around in a circle over the truck.”
The author nostalgically writes: “The old French Hall and the tworoom school are gone now. The floorboards cleaned with bucket, brush and Sunlight soap are long gone. The windows that were accidentally knocked out by the wayward kick of the football are but a memory. The sounds of the Christmas concert are not heard any more from the French Hall stage. I must admit, even though I didn’t enjoy saying my part, I still share beautiful memories of the shivers I had trying to do so.”
“The Christmas Concert” is but one of scores of stories Bill tells in his book.
“Newfoundlanders have a way of telling stories using picture-perfect descriptions of feelings and emotions. In fact, when two Newfoundlanders meet, the conversation is guaranteed to be a story....
“My intention is not to compare the past with our modern lifestyle … The reality is that just like today, in days last; we too had it all; all there was to have in those days. My stories are told using commonly used words describing a unique style of living in as few words as possible …
“If my writings about our Newfoundland past can make people laugh or make a person’s load a little lighter with humour and memory, I ’ve accomplished what I set out to do.”