The Christ­mas muskrat in Branch

The Compass - - SPORTS - — Ma­rina (Power) Gam­bin was born and raised in her beloved com­mu­nity of Branch, St. Mary’s Bay. She lives in Pla­cen­tia where she taught for al­most three decades. She can be reached at mari­nagam­bin@per­sona.ca

It is strange how prepa­ra­tions for the Christ­mas sea­son cause the most re­mote mem­o­ries to come to the sur­face. Maybe at a cer­tain stage in your life, you keep prob­ing deeper in an at­tempt to re­gain a lit­tle of your childhood. Al­though I have not seen a muskrat up close for many years, a short time ago this in­ci­dent popped into my mind. It has kept com­ing back so of­ten that I feel com­pelled to sit at my com­puter and de­scribe it in print.

Henry John Cur­tis was well known in the out­port com­mu­nity of Branch, St. Mary’s Bay in the 1950s. He lived in a lit­tle house sit­u­ated to it­self in the Easter’ Cove of the com­mu­nity. For weeks at a time (and maybe even months), he was a her­mit, a recluse, a loner. He would re­treat to his sim­ple abode and re­main there un­til the spirit moved him to reap­pear. His moods were un­pre­dictable. At times, he would go about the com­mu­nity qui­etly; at other times, he was over­ac­tive, shout­ing strange say­ings and pre­tend­ing to chase young girls. I was pet­ri­fied of Henry John when he was in this hy­per­ac­tive mood and at such times, I steered clear of him.

On Henry John’s fre­quent vis­its to our house, he acted the per­fect gen­tle­man. He dis­cussed the weather con­di­tions or the scarcity of rab­bits. Some­times, to amuse us, he would sing a lively verse or two of Me Old Ra­gadoo. My mother al­ways of­fered him a mugup, which he ac­cepted gra­ciously, sit­ting qui­etly at the ta­ble with his cap placed on the floor. I of­ten won­dered how he could be so quiet at our house and so odd and scary in a dif­fer­ent en­vi­ron­ment.

I re­mem­ber one year when I was seven or eight years old, and it was a few days be­fore Christ­mas. It was around dusk, the weather was cold and there was a bit of snow on the ground. I re­mem­ber Henry John com­ing in and say­ing, for the ben­e­fit of my sib­lings and me, “Santy Claus will get here this year be­cause we are go­ing to have a big fall of snow.”

I can still pic­ture him sit­ting at the end of the ta­ble, en­joy­ing his cup of tea with a thick slice of sweet bread. When Mommy gave him a piece of fruit cake, he was more than thank­ful, and I think it was at this point that he was over­come by the Christ­mas spirit. Get­ting up from the ta­ble, say­ing that he had a “Christ­mas box” for us, he darted out through the porch. I waited with the ex­cited an­tic­i­pa­tion that all chil­dren feel when they know a sur­prise is near. Mommy was protest­ing, telling him that there was no need to give us a present, and I was try­ing to “shush” her. I sure wanted to see Henry John’s gift.

In he came a few min­utes later with a red­dish-brown muskrat skin (with the head still on) at­tached to a large board. Hav­ing never seen such a ro­dent be­fore, at first I was cau­tious, then I was cu­ri­ous. Later, I was fas­ci­nated by the soft fur, the poppy eyes and the whiskers. Need­less to say, Mommy did not keep Henry John’s muskrat pelt. She knew he wanted to sell it and that he needed the few dol­lars it would fetch. She ex­pressed deep grat­i­tude for his gen­eros­ity, and he said he would bring us a brace of rab­bits later in the year, which I am sure he did.

Think­ing about this muskrat story now warms my heart in a way that all the yule­tide glit­ter and hype in th­ese mod­ern times can­not ac­com­plish. Henry John had so lit­tle to of­fer, but the an­i­mal skin meant a lot to him. I re­al­ize now, that in his sim­ple, downto-earth way, he was say­ing “Merry Christ­mas and thank-you for your hos­pi­tal­ity.”

I know now that he taught me a valu­able les­son in the prac­tice of giv­ing from one’s heart.

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