‘There is no place like the outports’
Recently, a friend gave me some letters, removed from a dwelling being dismantled.
The letters speak of an earlier time ... 1941. The one I am quoting from is dated Aug. 28.
It’s written by a young man – let’s call him Tom – who had left his Coley’s Point home to work in Grand Falls.
That evening, he sat in his apartment on Pine Avenue and wrote his mother. Possessing a good command of language, Tom was obviously an able communicator.
The paper is mildewed with age. It’s difficult to breathe because of the all-pervasive smell of mould. The careful handwriting has faded with time, but it’s still decipherable.
Today’s reader is, in effect, able to sit behind Tom’s shoulder as he wrote, reading about the things that were on the mind of a son away from home.
“I received your most welcome letter,” Tom began somewhat formally.
“I am well, and glad to hear ye are the same....
“I am not working this evening, as it’s showery.”
He asked to congratulate those back home who had passed in school.
He inquired about a certain girl, wondering if she had passed, as well. I wonder, who was she? His sister? Girlfriend? The possibilities are both endless and intriguing.
“Did any of the Grade Eight Class fail?”
Tom admitted, “I haven’t got my mind made up yet as to what I am going to go at. I don’t see anything that I could do, except that I go to summer school next year and go teaching for a while.”
He had a humourous streak: “I will have to do something before I forget what I do know.” He could have added an exclamation point.
He realized it was “no use stopping there because it is like throwing money away.”
Meanwhile, he also realized he would “have to wait until I come home and see what is best to do.”
The day before, he had received a letter from Pop. His father or grandfather? We don’t know. Tom planned to respond on Sunday.
He missed home: “I would like to be home now to go out in the boat sometimes fishing. There is no place like the outports.”
He informed his mother he “got a suit of clothes the other night. It cost a good bit, but it was the best I could do. There are two pairs of pants. Of course, it was not my doings. It got to stand me a good while now.”
Tom again mulled over his future. “I wouldn’t mind if I had to go to school another year,” he wrote, “because when I am finished school, there is no stop at all. You have to be working all the time.”
He asked about another young lady, wondering if she “got a school yet.” Who was she?
“I guess if I had stayed home,” Tom admitted ruefully, “I would have made almost so much (money) as I will down here.”
Board was costly. “It would be alright if I didn’t have to pay so much for board,” he complained goodnaturedly. “That spoils it all. Anyway so I pay off what I owe this summer is all I care.”
He and his mother had discussed rubber taps.
“Well,” he responded, “I don’t think you need bother about that. So I was thinking about getting some leather in here and tapping my shoes. I think they have a last over to Gillette’s.”
Tom’s mother had sent him a parcel, but it hadn’t arrived. “The shipping bill for it is come, but we cannot find the parcel.”
Tom had to condemn his old shoes; indeed, he was now wearing a pair belonging to somebody else. He hoped to receive the parcel the next day.
“By what you said on your letter,” he wrote, “you had the storm Sunday harder than we had it. The lightening was terrible heavy, but we had no thunder worthwhile, and that was distant. I was out in all the lightening because when I came home it was all over. We didn’t have any rain with it.”
The end of August was at hand. “Summer will be over,” Tom added sadly. “It seems only a very short time since we were going to school, and now it is time to go again.
“Well, I think I have told you just about all the news for this time. So I think I must close.”
Tom wanted to be remembered to various individuals. “With love, your affectionate son.” I wonder, what became of Tom? Did he eventually come home for good? What course did he choose for his life? Did he become a teacher?
We are left just wondering. Burton K. Janes lives in Bay Roberts. His column appears in The Compass every week. He can be reached at