My childhood: The way it was
Today we live in a very fast world, controlled by money, big enterprises, many rules and regulations and a hundred other things that did not exist during my youth.
Plus a clock that goes faster than we can keep up with. It’s like the song “Stop the world and let me off.” The merry-go-round of life is on fast-forward.
The secure days when we left the keys in our cars overnight and never bothered to lock our doors at night are long gone.
Turning back the clock to my childhood days of the late 1940s and 1950s, my early memories are of a totally different and relaxed world. In an old family photo album, dating back to the Second World War, there is a picture of me, perhaps at three years of age, walking my grandfather’s milking cow to the water trough. This was my contribution to the war effort. My father had taken the picture and at that age I had already made up my mind to be a farmer like my grandfather.
In those days, the values of the coastal village were not measured in dollars and cents. At home we did not have electric lights or running water. My mother and grandmother did the cooking on wood-burning stoves and milk came straight from the cow.
Vegetables, eggs, poultry and meat were products of the family farm. The outdoor “washroom” was 50 feet from the house near the barn and on every Saturday we took a bath in a galvanized tub, whether we needed it or not.
My grandfather was a typical farmer/fisherman of those days. He and his brother Charles had a lobster boat and during the seasons that’s what they did for their living. In the off-season my grandfather worked on land while Charles, known as “Charlie Muir,” was captain of a swordfishing vessel called the “Muir,” hence the name “Charlie Muir.”
Swordfishing was the occupation of many people during the summer months. In late spring the swordfishing crews and captains would start equipping the old schooners to harvest the migratory fish. Extending on the bow of these schooners was the bowsprit and a metal “cage” for the striker to hold on. The striker had a long wooden pole with a brass dart, tied to a rope, known as a harpoon, to spear the swordfish. That’s how it was done. Lobster fishing was kind of a secondary fishery as the catches were very small and prices were low in those days.
Comparing today with my earliest memories, though, has to do with starting school 70 years ago. Our beloved teacher was 27-year- old Edna d’Eon, who died in July 2016 at the age of 95.
The first grade was known as “Grade Zero” and we walked to school in all kinds of weather. There was no need for parents or guardians to wait at the road with school children for the school bus. The world was a lot safer back then. Actually, we played games on the unpaved main road as there was very little traffic.
On cold days we dressed as if we were about to explore the North Pole. For heating the school there was a big wood and coal-burning stove. This was centrally located, with a stove pipe about 20 feet long to reach the chimney.
On wet days we hung our woollen clothing and mittens near the stove for drying. Soon the schoolroom would smell as if a flock of sheep had just invaded the place.
On real bad days we brought our lunch to school in an empty lard can, which acted as a lunch pail. We usually ate peanut butter on homemade bread and molasses cookies and drank a small jar of fresh cow’s milk at noon, which would hold us until suppertime.
Unlike the schools of today, snow could have piled 10 feet high and no one would have considered closing school for the day. The only time that school ever closed was when some south-easterly winds caused a down draft in the chimney and filled the room with smoke.
And guess how much teachers were paid? I found some of the old school records that showed teachers’ salaries. On the low end of the scale I found $330 for the year’s work and up to $425 for a “well educated” (normal college) teacher. That salary scale remained until sometime in the 1940s.
Annual salaries for most households were no better. Yes, we were poor, at least money-wise, and yet with family life we had riches that cannot be begged, borrowed or stolen today.
Swordfishing from back in the day.
Some paving underway but back in the day kids played on unpaved roads as there was little traffic.
Laurent d’Entremont back in his childhood days.