Robert Hunt has some lot of memories.
Don’t we all?
But here’s the thing — Robert Hunt has the jump on most of us in that he has written and published his. As a matter of fact, he has done so three times.
Brazil Street (Flanker Press) is the third book in a trilogy of Robert Hunt’s memories.
Regarding all three books, Robert Hunt says he has written down everything he could remember, “so that my children, their children, and the next generation will know how we lived, how we survived, and how we became the people we are today.” That’s a worthy purpose. In Brazil Street Hunt writes about his youth in St. John’s, Newfoundland, during the first decade or so after Confederation pupped.
When we read a man’s memoirs we assume he is writing about old times and, rightly so I suppose, until we realize that isn’t necessarily the case.
For instance. Once upon a Christmas, Robert wished for Beatle boots, and he explains those boots were the craze of the day because of a popular rock band called … well, The Beatles.
Robert, b’y, that wasn’t so long ago. That was just the other day when I was young, for frig sake. Anyway …
For many families during Hunt’s youth, grocery money was counted twice and, consequently, grub was rough. Luxury fare — such as baloney! — wasn’t always affordable: “Sausages, ham and bologna were expensive and labelled ‘special’ treats at the time.”
Robert b’y, have you checked
The nest under the eave of my shed was ginormous, and I made the mistake of googling “How many wasps in a nest?”
“A large nest can be home to 600,000,000.3 wasps,” the search result read. “That army is preparing to attack you. Move to another hemisphere immediately.”
OK, the warning wasn’t that dire but it did offer a reminder of how wasps can get aggressive if disturbed.
Oh, I’ve been there.
A few years ago, during a wooded walk to a swimming hole on summer vacation, my son disturbed a nest, and a swarm got up under my trunks and held StingFest 2015.
If a Steve screams in the forest, does anybody hear? All residents and in-shore mariners along Canada’s east coast did that day.
I got stung on the butt multiple times and the experience didn’t sit well for a couple of days, which probably explains why I absolutely dreaded tackling the nest on the shed.
But it hovered over an area where my kids play, and wasps were flying out of it whenever someone walked past.
It simply had to go.
To do the job, I donned full wasp warrior armour — snow pants, leather motorcycle gloves and a black hoodie. the price of baloney lately?
Yesterday, me and Missus stopped at The Food Shop to buy something for supper. We thought, baloney, perhaps …
… until we read the price. The cost of a chunk of baloney not much bigger than a soup can was edging towards $20. Sixteen loonies and change! Being frugal and wanting to stay within our budget, we decided to forego our feast of fried baloney — with a couple of boiled potatoes, had the supper come to pass — and opted for a cheaper cut of beef tenderloin. Would I tell a fib? Another fond (?) memory Hunt writes about is having company from around the bay. Oftentimes, kin that came to St. John’s — to see The Doctor, for example — stayed at the Hunt’s already crowded house on Brazil Street.
I don’t relate to such kinfolks’ visits but Missus — reared up among Rabbit Town’s warrens — remembers …?… the pain.
Here’s what she said when I mentioned that the bay crowd used to stay over at the Hunts’: “When relatives stayed at our house, my sisters and I had to sleep on sofa chairs pushed together.”
Now in her vintage, Missus moans of a chronic crick in her back, probably the result of the sofa chairs shifting apart during the night and her double-T butt sagging in the gap.
The other day when we all were young, cash money was difficult to come by. Robert Hunt, however, was an industrious lad. He worked hard at anything that would earn him a dollar or two. He sold cod tongues; he scavenged scrap metal; he ran errands for American personnel stationed at Fort Pepperrell. With savings from his job at Woolworth’s — and from a second job at Bob Glasco’s Meats — he fulfilled a dream.
He bought a camera, a Kodak Hawkeye Flash Fun.
“Robbing a convenience store today, Steve?” the neighbours might ask.
“No,” I would tell them in a confident, quiet Clint Eastwoodlike voice, “I’m going to make someone’s day.”
Eastwood’s Dirty Harry had a Smith and Wesson. I had my daughter’s TimBits mini-soccer ball.
I threw it at the shed roof three times to gauge how the wasps responded to a threat, and to get an idea how many might be inside.
They reacted with vigour — all 140,000 of them!
Clearly outnumbered, I pondered knocking the nest down with a hockey stick … and then dozens (or more) of them flying under my hoodie, stinging my neck and bald spot repeatedly.
“Hey Steve,” the curious would whisper if that happened. “Are those little follicles? Are you getting a hair transplant?
“No,” I would reply with defeat. “Those are wasp sting-
For a while, as a teen, I worked at a Hudson Bay Company store in a foreign province. Like Robert, I saved up enough money to fulfill a dream.
I bought a portable writer.
Robert fancied he might become a famous photographer. I expected I’d one day be awarded a Nobel Prize for literature.
An aside. The most useful thing I learn in high school was how to type. Immune to mockery from companions with visible abs, I weaseled my way out of phys-ed classes and enrolled in typing classes … with the girls … who ignored me completely, having eyes only for the guys with abs who foolishly risked crippling themselves jumping from springboards in the gym.
Sadly, Robert lost his camera. As far as I know, he isn’t a famous photographer.
I haven’t the foggiest notion what ever became of my typewriter but I still keep a space dusted on a display shelf for the Nobel medallion.
Last thing. As boys, Robert and his best friend, Dickie White, coined themselves a concept — Orphan Lake, a place where dreams come true.
That’s a lake we’d all like to splash in, eh b’ys?
Thank you for reading. type- ers that got stuck. It’s ahhh … How’s Mildred anyway?”
I wondered how to keep the wasps from swarming and stinging, and was quite proud with my decision — to turn on the hose and put the nozzle on spray!
I tested this common garden weaponry by throwing the TimBits ball at the shed and spraying the wasps that came out.
The water muted their attack, so I kept spraying and spraying, approaching the nest until directly under it.
Countless wasps flew out into the spray and retreated from my shed.
I continued hosing until they had all fled.
Turning off the nozzle, I stood, soaking wet but relieved, staring at the empty nest.
No more imminent threat to passersby, to my kids, their friends and my wahzoo.
I found myself really wrestling with the concept of the empty nest though.
Some day my kids will leave and that will sting more than any wasp ever could.
In the latest installment of my personal six degrees of separation saga, I was able to draw a direct line of connection to the story this week about that couple hoping to open a Balkan restaurant at the site of the former Sports Bar on Boncloddy Street in St. John’s.
Now, first of all, before I captivate Readership Land with my relationship to that area of town, I would suggest city council follow the lead of councillor Art Puddister and find a way for this Bosnian family to circumvent a foolish municipal technicality and be given an honest crack at having their dream reach fruition.
It’s really a no brainer, not?
From an economic point of view — even from a feel-good angle, one not normally associated with politicians — it makes so much sense for council to expedite the change in the zoning regulations, and let Eldin Husic and his wife proceed with their plans to give townies (and visitors) another unique, internationally flavoured eatery.
(In contrast to Puddister’s sensible suggestion emanating from what The Evening Telegram of the ’60s and ’70s headlined as “Council Notes,” there was Sandy Hickman’s Monty Python-like proposal the other day to the effect that the best way to deal with those macho bikers violating the tranquility of Signal Hill Road is to construct another route up to Cabot Tower, one that would, according to news reports I read, swing right by the Miller Centre, where people are preparing to die in the palliative care unit and others are enduring agonizing rehabilitative procedures.
Like that television commercial for a foreign beer would exclaim, in a classic British accent: “Brilliant!”
A quicker solution: have the Newfoundland Constabulary enforce laws already in place and patrol Signal Hill with more vigilance, instead of wasting time filling ticket quotas in areas where speeders are easy to nab).
But I digress (characteristically so), I would admit.
Another pragmatic reason to change the Boncloddy Street rules is to give the residents there a chance to have a classy use for the old Sports Bar building, after many years of having to tolerate the fallout (so to speak) of a hard ticket tavern in their neighbourhood, and, for a while, the headquarters of a delightful motorcycle gang, until it was shut down by the cops.
Now, I never dressed head to toe in leather — the image does generate a certain sense of nausea — or raced around the downtown on an obnoxiously loud motorcycle, and therefore had no association with the gang whose members did their thing on Boncloddy Street for several years.
But I have a history at the bar, a dive by any standards, a place of habitation during my time of consuming beer by the truckload. It was an all-male is it establishment, although no self-respecting woman would have wished to spend time in a dwelling where the smell of piss and stale beer would knock a good sniffer sideways, and a place where the only entertainment was the occasional racket and a jukebox that seemed to play nothing but hurtin’ songs.
My bond to the place goes even deeper: I actually lived above the tavern, a convenient location for someone who thought of beer as the nectar of the gods (until the gods turned on me and my liver). Friends of mine would suggest all that was missing from the apartment when I was its sole resident was a round hole in the floor and one of those poles once a fixture in fire halls, so I could just slide down each morning to the bar for my morning straightener.
Another connection to the bar: I named a dog of mine “Sport” in memory of the Boncloddy Street establishment where, as it turned out, some of my last days of abject debauchery were spent.
Sport was one of the finest dogs I’ve ever owned (and I’ve had more than my share of fourstar pets) and, aside from being absolutely lovable, as cuddly as they come, had a rather unique talent: he responded to trout the way a beagle responds to rabbits.
When I was fly fishing in a shallow brook, Sport would stumble over the rocks, make his way to my side, intently focus on the end of the line, and would literally shiver with excitement whenever a fish would breach and show attention to the fly.
The routine was always the same: whenever I’d swing the pole (rod, for the purists) back for a cast, Sport would follow the trajectory of the line, and would then watch — mesmerized, it seemed to me — as the fly eventually landed and floated down the brook. On cue, he would once again quiver whenever a trout would jump for the fly.
And when I’d finally hook the fish, Sport would raise his head skyward and howl, in appreciation (I liked to think) of his master’s work.
Sport lived for about 12 years, and we had many a grand fishing trip together.
Sappy (perhaps in the perspective of some), but true.
And thus ends this meandering, six degrees of separation submission.
Except to wish Mr. Husic and his wife the best of luck.
May they have better experiences than I did on Boncloddy Street.