A Labrador Metis woman re­mem­bers

The Compass - - OPINION -

To­day Josephine Mil­dred Curl Penny is a re­tired suc­cess­ful en­tre­pre­neur with a large, lov­ing fam­ily, liv­ing in Dunnville, Ont. But, the pic­ture wasn’t always so rosy.

Josie, as she is known, was born in Roaches Brook, Labrador, to Metis par­ents, in 1943. She grew up in the Big Land dur­ing the 1940s and 1950s. Not un­like many other Metis, she and her fam­ily lived a semi-no­madic life­style, mov­ing in­side to the prim­i­tive set­tle­ment of Roaches Brook each fall to hunt and trap, and out­side to Spot­ted Is­land in the spring to har­vest the rich fish­ing grounds.

The first vol­ume of her au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, “So Few on Earth,” was pub­lished in 2010.

“Through my mem­o­ries,” she says. “I can share the life ex­pe­ri­ences of a peo­ple.”

She wrote with a three­fold pur­pose in mind. First, her book is in­tended to in­form her chil­dren, who were raised in Labrador, about their roots.

Sec­ond, she wants to en­lighten her grand­chil­dren, who were born and raised in On­tario, teach­ing them to “gain in­sight into the unique and au­then­tic life­styles of their Labrador an­ces­tors.”

Third, she seeks to “give voice to the strug­gles of the peo­ple who lived in this harsh land, a peo­ple whose daily lives were of­ten heroic, a peo­ple whose roots reach into the pre­his­tory of this con­ti­nent, long be­fore Euro­pean con­tact.”

She suc­ceeds on all three counts. Hers has been a life of strug­gle, es­pe­cially in the early years. To her credit, she writes with as­ton­ish­ing can­dor and trans­parency.

She was sent away to hos­pi­tal at four years of age and to board­ing school when she was seven. She was forced out to work at 11. Not sur­pris­ingly, she lost the fam­ily bond so im­por­tant to a child.

Dur­ing the years she spent at Lock­wood School, in Cartwright, she suf­fered atro­cious pun­ish­ments, mer­ci­less teas­ing, and the hu­mil­i­a­tion of two rapes. The de­per­son­al­iza­tion and con­stant pun­ish­ment even­tu­ally took their toll, and her once free-spir­ited na­ture was bro­ken. Read­ing be­came her one escape.

“My ex­pe­ri­ences at Lock­wood,” she re­calls. “Trans­formed me from a happy, care­free child into a re­bel­lious, an­gry girl.”

The first stage of the painful process was when she was sep­a­rated from her sis­ter.

“I vividly re­mem­ber be­ing ter­ri­fied, lonely, and lost,” Josie says. “I was fran­tic for my fam­ily al­ready and wanted to go home.”

Mean­while, there were spe­cial times at Lock­wood to be cher­ished ... Hal­loween, Guy Fawkes Night, Christ­mas, Valen­tine’s Day and Easter.

Through ev­ery­thing she ex­pe­ri­enced, she sim­ply learned to cope.

“I was just try­ing to make it through ev­ery day,” is how she phrases it to­day.

In the fi­nal chap­ter, “Leav­ing Child­hood Be­hind,” she is 17, “a grown woman,” she says, “and old enough to make my own de­ci­sions.” She is on the SS Kyle with her boyfriend, en route to Happy Val­ley-Goose Bay, in­deed, Josie adds, “on my way to a whole new life.”

The sec­ond vol­ume of her au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, “On the Goose,” was pub­lished ear­lier this year.

The first thing she has to do is to come to terms with her feel­ings of help­less­ness and iso­la­tion. She and her hus­band have four chil­dren. Josie tries to over­come many ob­sta­cles, at which time she be­gins to un­der­stand why she is un­able to feel or ex­press love.

Hers is a dra­matic per­sonal story that, in the end, af­firms life. She ex­hibits amaz­ing re­silience. Her ac­count is in­spir­ing in its fo­cus on the power of love and hard work that helped her to tri­umph over ad­ver­sity.

While at­tend­ing writ­ing cour­ses at McMaster Univer­sity in Hamil­ton, Ont., she was en­cour­aged to seek out a pub­lisher for her mem­oir. Push­ing ahead with the idea, she en­rolled in com­puter cour­ses, par­tic­i­pated in writ­ing sem­i­nars and earned a cer­tifi­cate from Con­necti­cut’s Long Ridge Writ­ers Group, which teaches as­pir­ing au­thors how to find their own writ­ing niche.

Her first

teacher at McMaster told his stu­dents two things in their first class: “Write what you know” and “Let the chips fall.” Josie needed no fur­ther en­cour­age­ment to com­mit her mem­o­ries to pa­per.

“This book,” she ex­claims, “has been an ex­pe­ri­ence I’ll never for­get! It has,” she adds, “en­light­ened my life be­yond all un­der­stand­ing.”

We, her read­ers, are in Josie Penny’s debt for writ­ing such a sear­ingly hon­est mem­oir of a Labrador Metis woman.

Both “So Few on Earth” and “On the Goose” are pub­lished by Dun­durn Press of Toronto.

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

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