A simpler life than it is today
Hard to imagine living in a community without automobiles, eh b’ys?
In [Flanker Press], Rex Brown recalls such a place — Tack’s Beach, a place where one always yielded the right of way to the men with the hand barrows.
Until it was re-settled in the late 1960s, Tack’s Beach was an active fishing village on King’s Island, part of an archipelago deep in Placentia Bay. Like many other Newfoundlanders, the people of Tack’s Beach were uprooted from their outport homes and more or less forced to shift kit and caboodle, bed frames and bread pans, to more centralized growth [?] areas.
Fifty-plus-years later, a generation of greyhaired Newfoundlanders still reflects on those earlier times in their former homes. In this book, Rex Brown reflects on life in Tack’s Beach before resettlement. He takes his reader’s hand and leads him — yes, yes, or her — all around the harbour, chit-chatting and yarning as they mosey.
Brown points out various houses and properties: the Bolts, Greens, Barretts, Browns; the church, the shop, the school, the wharves. Almost like an animist, he even points to natural objects as if they have souls of their own: the Big Rock; an enormous freestanding spruce tree; a venerable, totemic plum tree.
Former residents of Tack’s Beach, their extended families and others already familiar with the community are most likely to identify with the particulars indicated: the author’s family home, the road to Broad Cove, for instance, and the histories of individual families.
While the itemized features of Tack’s Beach don’t mean much to me, it is kind of spooky to realize the similarities between the author’s life and mine; between certain aspects of the author’s, dare I say, personality and mine.
Both reared to a large part in the 1950s, the author and I grew up to be school teachers. Perhaps our professions were pre-destined, and because of that, as boys we suffered obvious deficiencies, at least in the eyes of the men with the hand barrows.
Brown confesses that his skill set was “whatever is the direct opposite of jack of all trades.” Eventually, he managed to master the six-horse power Atlantic engine in a trap skiff. Nevertheless, he “forever felt inadequate.” I know the feeling. Every other bay boy in my outport home could heave over the flywheel of an engine or steer with a sculling oar. Not this bay boy. I never did master sculling or understand the importance of an igniter. For frig sake, even now I sometimes call a neighbour to help me replace a spark plug in my lawnmower. I get the impression Rex Brown enjoyed a game of piddley and maybe exhibited some skill at smacking the piddley stick. Not me. And you know I was too clumsy to ever walk on stilts. What? Don’t insult me; of course I could ride a bike.
There was one bay-boy pastime at which I was adept. I could stomp my boots on milk cans and squat them on my feet as horseshoes. Lube tins, by the way, were superior to milk cans because, being larger, they curled over the instep and gripped like ski boots.
Rex Brown’s family well was “divined” he says by Uncle Fred Eddy. The well in our garden on Random Island was also divined by a water witch who marled back and forth until the skiver of forkeyed alder in his hand bent down like a knotty finger pointing to underground water. Truly. No doubt, life out the bay — or around it for that matter — in many ways was simpler than it is today. A lifetime ago, youngsters would run half a mile to see kittens before they opened their eyes; or a day old lamb frolicking in a grass-garden; or the rare wolf fish trapped and hove up on the wharf; or the rarer yellow lobster Mr. John Henry once landed in Tack’s Beach.
Both Rex and I suffered [!?] through lengthy church services during which the number of hymns was more daunting than an interminable sermon, especially if some of them had seven or eight verses plus a chorus. Lordy. I don’t know about Rex, but I know more than one Sunday I beavered my teeth into the wood of the seat in front of me and gouged notches still visible.
And that was before Mammy dragged me to my feet to join the singing while the organ huffed like a bellows in a painful Protestant drone.
Thank you for reading.