‘There is no place like the out­ports’

The Compass - - OPINION - Bur­ton K. Janes bur­tonj@nfld.net

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


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