Emily: Song of a New­found­land Life

The Southern Gazette - - EDITOR’S VIEWPOINT -

When New­found­lan­ders meet they im­me­di­ately at­tempt to iden­tify each other, to lo­cate each other’s roots in the his­tory of ‘The Rock’. “Who are your peo­ple?” they ask. Denise Bat­ten, au­thor of ‘Emily: Song of a New­found­land Life’ (Kil­lick Press) is a Davis from Co­linet. Her grand­mother – the Emily of the ti­tle – was a Mar­rie from Mount Carmel.

It is Emily’s story Denise Bat­ten tells, both in the ver­si­fied text of the book and in the bal­lad that you can lis­ten to her sing on­line at ‘www.denise­bat­ten.word­press.com’

As well as be­ing told in song, Emily’s story is il­lus­trated by a se­ries of hooked rugs Bat­ten’s mother-in- law, Kaaren Bat­ten, es­pe­cially de­signed and crafted for this book.

At first, I read Emily’s song. Then I barred my­self in a room, clamped on my head­phones, plugged into iTunes and lis­tened to Denise sing. Some­thing mag­i­cal hap­pened. With mu­sic as ethe­real and clear as tapped crys­tal stream­ing into my ears, and while eye­balling the hooked rug il­lus­tra­tions, I was trans­ported to some­place myth­i­cal where the Sis­ter Fates weave hu­man destiny into ta­pes­tries.

Emily was born in “This mar­vel­lous ter­ri­ble place.”

These words, hooked in yarn that has been steeped in heart’s blood, bor­der the rug de­pict­ing Emily’s out­port home.

Emily “could berry pick, could bake a pie.”

There’s a rug show­ing berry pick­ers with chil­dren stooped in a go­daw­ful har­vester’s hunch pluck­ing fruit to fill their buck­ets.

As it was a thread of Emily’s destiny to pick berries, so it was a thread of mine. I bet a loonie, Emily – as most chil­dren did – en­joyed berry pick­ing.

How­ever, I curse the Sis­ter Fates for string­ing me off to the berry bar­ren. Per­haps I was a sour boy but to this day – to this very mo­ment – I feel the pain of that char­ac­ter­is­tic berry pick­ing squat and feel like chuck­ing rocks at the Fates if they were handy. Back to the magic. Here’s my favourite im­age from the song: ‘Sil­ver thaw’s re­sponse to sun – tears of sor­row, Emily’.

At 16, Emily was re­quired to leave home and go to work in St. John’s, to go ‘in ser­vice’ in the home of wealth­ier peo­ple, as did many other out­port maid­ens of the time.

The rug ‘Leav­ing Home’ shows Emily, dressed in grey, bor­dered in grey, sit­ting back on, her pos­ture – even though her shoul­ders are no bowed – sug­gest­ing sor­row.

The night be­fore she leaves home, I s’pose, Emily lies on her nar­row bed, her heels kicked up in what might be the last in­no­cent mo­ment of child­hood, like a Louisa May Al­cott hero­ine.

Look at the win­dow­panes in the rug. Are those the shapes of fairies in the frost (?) or am I in­ter­pret­ing them as if I were the sub­ject of Rorschach inkblot test­ing?

They’re fairies I ‘ low, be­cause a “Fairy girl in the moon­light glow” sings songs to com­fort Emily.

Don’t hate me for this next bit, Denise.

When I first saw the rug show­ing Emily, port­man­teaux in hand, ap­proach­ing the row of jelly­bean houses, I couldn’t sup­press thoughts of a forlorn Mary Pop­pins. But when I let the pic­ture seep deeper into my nog­gin, I re­al­ized Emily is more like Jane Eyre trudg­ing across the moor­lands to Rochester’s house.

And like Jane she per­se­veres de­spite the knots and tan­gles those hor­rid Sis­ters tie into her ta­pes­try … or some­thing.

Emily found true love with Si­mon, be­came a mother, “worked the land with strength and courage,” and like Mau­rya in Syn­ges’ play ‘Riders to the Sea’ wor­ried her­self sick when her men folk were on the saltwater.

I fear rocks from Kaaren Bat­ten for what I’m about to scrib­ble.

Many of the clouds shown in the rugs have pais­ley shapes – kinda. Some re­mind me of ame­bae; oth­ers, with thorny tails, re­mind me of scor­pi­ons.

Are there sym­bols at work? Ame­bae sug­gest­ing a world team­ing with life; scor­pi­ons sug­gest­ing per­ils a’ plenty?

Or am I just an aged, for­mer school­mas­ter with a skull full of mis­fir­ing synapses?

Denise Bat­ten’s book and song are tes­ta­ments to Emily, and that’s the main thing. They are tes­ta­ments to a strong, in­spi­ra­tional woman who was lib­er­ated long be­fore any lat­ter day fem­i­nists stripped-off and set fire to their foun­da­tion gar­ments.

In a fron­tispiece grand­mother Emily smiles, all rosy-cheeked, from a sepia snap like so many of the grand­moth­ers of those of us with en­twined New­found­land roots.

Denise Bat­ten is a Davis from Co­linet.

I’m a Walters from Ran­dom Is­land.

Thank you for read­ing.

gh­wal­[email protected]­sona.ca

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