‘In Those Days’ is a book that will bring laugh­ter, tears and re­flec­tion

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

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.”

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