Tales From the Past and Other Drivel

The Labradorian - - Editorial - Harold Wal­ters Harold Wal­ters lives Hap­pily Ever After in Dunville, in the only Cana­dian prov­ince with its own time zone. How cool is that? Reach him at gh­wal­[email protected]

With “Tales From the Past and Other Drivel,” Wil­bur Dean has pro­duced a book of mem­o­ries – a col­lec­tion of sto­ries and po­ems about grow­ing up in Hick­man’s Har­bour, Ran­dom Is­land, dur­ing the first cou­ple of decades after Con­fed­er­a­tion pupped.

The book’s cover is in­ter­est­ingly ap­pro­pri­ate. It’s a blackand-white re­pro­duc­tion of a paint­ing of a pho­to­graph of young Wil­bur aboard a punt, haul­ing on a moor­ing rope. The pic­ture is a bit blurry, as is the past, eh b’ys?

For in­stance, the au­thor tells the tale of Sandy This­tle, a lo­cal mer­chant who in­vented Pay-TV in the days when Whip­per Billy Wat­son and Gene Kiniski bodys­lammed each other in wrestling rings.

I read this tale and un­ex­pect­edly – poof, out of the blue – a child­hood chant echoed in my nog­gin: “Sandy This­tle, blow your whis­tle.”

Where did that come from? Re­call­ing my own bay-boy days in Lady Cove, as if seen through the haze of faded win­dow sheers, I seem to re­mem­ber Sandy This­tle’s mail­boat chug­ging past the cove en route to Clarenville and a gag­gle of bay-boys bawl­ing out, “Sandy This­tle, blow your whis­tle.”

Could I be right about that, Wil­bur, or is it a false mem­ory, a blurred mem­ory, a re­sult of Time’s ten­dency to make the past murky?

Not all of Wil­bur Dean’s tales are of the dis­tant past. His poem “Irma” fea­tures a hur­ri­cane that wreaked havoc in the Caribbean in 2017.

Way back in the murk (1955, for frig sake!) a fu­ri­ous hur­ri­cane – Ione – ham­mered Ran­dom Is­land. Al­though I was still chew­ing with milk teeth, Ione taught me that noth­ing is per­ma­nent. She up­rooted and cracked into kin­dling hu­mon­gous spruce trees that had been an­cient when Granny was a young maid. She ripped boats from their moor­ing and flung them into grass gar­dens well above the land­wash.

Speak­ing of fiery fe­males … In “Di­vorce: Fifty-Fifty,” Wil­bur con­sid­ers the pos­si­bil­ity of he and Norma di­vorc­ing. Ul­ti­mately, he reck­ons it would never hap­pen. Even if pro­ceed­ings reached the mo­ment of the judge’s de­scend­ing gavel, Wil­bur fig­ures he and Norma would not al­low the knot of their wed­ded bliss to be sev­ered be­cause in the nick of time they’d em­brace and say, “We made a mis­take, we’re to­gether till death.”

Some sweet, when you think about it, eh b’ys?

Sim­i­larly – well kinda, any­way – me and Mis­sus have scuffed against the grind­stone, so to speak. On oc­ca­sion, Mis­sus has … well, let’s say sug­gested I share Rover’s abode and has threat­ened to leave me if I fail to spend some time re­pent­ing.

Be­lieve me, I’ve slunk back from Rover’s house, tail be­tween my legs, hound-doghum­ble and said, “Mis­sus, if you ever leaves me, I’m go­ing with you.”

“Ju­niper Tree” is about two boys and a tree they of­ten climbed. After Wil­bur’s buddy Cyril is in­jured in a fall from the tree, they ig­nore the tree and play else­where.

But lis­ten: “It in­trigued me to think that the tree also missed us. It sud­denly be­came dor­mant. No nee­dles grew, no buds ap­peared.”

Boys and men and tree seem linked like that.

Think of Shel Silverstein’s “The Giv­ing Tree.”

If it’s a truly bor­ing Sun­day af­ter­noon, think of my story “Stumped” that can be found in an ob­scure book­case at Mr. Google’s house.

Wil­bur Dean was a bay-boy. He knew mo­tor­boats.

“The Trap Skiff” is a poem about a boat re­flect­ing on its life and look­ing for­ward to Bon­fire Night, hop­ing Hed­ley and Wil­bur Dean will stog its cuddy with blasty boughs, set it on fire and send it to Mo­tor­boat Heaven.

Here’s my favourite line in the poem: “And my stay-sail was sewn with her­ring­bone stitch.”

I con­fess, I don’t know a stay­sail from a sop rag but there’s a gem-dandy ting-a-ling to the im­age of a sail “sewn with her­ring­bone stitch,” eh b’ys?

In the fore­word, Wil­bur writes that he wishes to re­main true to his out­port her­itage.

He does, b’ys. Re­main true to his her­itage that is … right down to the fa­tal­is­tic de­ter­mi­na­tion that, his­tor­i­cally, has given out­port New­found­lan­ders the strength to over­come odds that folks of lesser for­ti­tude might not.

“Let’s Go Fish­ing” il­lus­trates the point.

De­spite the Mora­to­rium’s re­stric­tions, Hick­man’s Har­bour fish­er­men swear they’ll get their fish: “Rules and reg­u­la­tions mean noth­ing to we/’Cause we’re gonna have our fish, you see.”

Here’s the line that best ex­presses the “fa­tal­is­tic de­ter­mi­na­tion” men­tioned above: “So here we are, it’s the mid­dle of June/We’re freez­ing our butts off. Win­ter will be here soon.”

Ex­pec­ta­tions of win­ter in June, or not, the fish­ers set off to chal­lenge the odds. Fa­tal­is­tic. De­ter­mined.

Thank you for read­ing.

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