I BEGAN IN CAPE BRETON
Over a hundred and thirty years ago a rickety old ship left Glaskow, Scotland, bound for the new world.
In it were Highland people who had been evicted from their small farms by landlords who had decided to raise sheep rather
than to rent their land to small-time farmers for part of what they raised.
Neil MacLean and his wife Mary, their three year old son John, and year old baby Neil, were one of the families.
They sailed for a couple of weeks and got caught in several storms. The old ship sprang a bad leak and was forced to
turn back and land in Ireland for repairs. That took some time, but they got off again. The trip was long and
dreary. Food spoiled, there was too little water, and the general situation was most unsanitary.
They had been three months at sea when they landed near what is now Port hawksbury in the Strait of Canso,
a body of water that separates Cape Breton from the mainland of Nova Scotia. Some people met them there. They
had to walk all the way to Valley Mills where they were to settle. One young man, Donald Og (Young Donald) carried the
baby Neil on his back all the way, a distance of close to thirty miles through the wilderness. Baby Neil was to be my
Once in a while he used to tell us stories that his mother had told him about this Atlantic crossing.
I remember one in particular. There was a deaf old lady aboard who seemed to think that everything she heard was good
news. When someone shouted something, she would say, :Thank the Lord for that!" When, before they cleared the
British Isles, the boat touched on the reef that caused the unhappy leak, the lookout shouted something like, "The rocks are
beneath our bows!" and the old lady shouted back, "Thank the Lord for that!"
One day, not long aog, my grandson, Andrew MacLean Boone, asked me to tell him about when I was a boy.
I told him that when I was his age there were no busses or trucks or road-digging machines or any such things, and that the
few automobiles people had were in the big cities, and that I never saw one until I was in high school. There were trains,
of course. But we rarely could find enough money to ride in one. For us, there were just horses and buggies and
carts. We didn't know about electricity, and had never seen a motor of any sort. Andrew looked at me in wide-eyed
wonder and said, "Did you really begin to be a man in those times?" I said I did, and then he wanted to know where it
was I began, and how I happened to start there, and such questions. I realized that although I had told him a lot of
stories, I really had not talked at all about my family.
Now, where is this place where I was born and began to be a man? If you took an airplane ride from
New York City to Newfoundland, you would probably fly over Cape Breton, as I have a couple of times. Cape Breton is
at the very top of Nova Scotia in Canada. It is an island, but the ocean wanders right into the middle of it and forms
what are known as the Bras d'Or Lakes. If you should fly over these lakes, and if you knew where to look, you would
probably see where I was born and grew up. When you get over a place called Arichat and started across our lake you
could see Big Harbor where mother was born, West Bay where the lakes ended after almost cutting the island in two. Near
it would be Magalawatch where we went to church. A little farther on there would be Lewis Island, and behind it Seal
Cove where my home was. To the right would be Orangedale and Gillis Cove, and farther on Whycocomagh where my Uncle
My home was close by the water where we caught ocean type fish such as Cod fish, salmon, herrings, smelts,
tommycods, eels, and oysters. Next to us was Uncle Hector's place. He made buggies. A little on the other
side of us was Uncle Dan's house. There were a lot of little farms about, mostly owned by people named MacLean.
Every farm had lots of woods from which the men cut timbers for the Sydney Mines coal industry. On the farms there were
horses, cows, pigs, sheep, chickens, and ducks, and people had to grow oats and hay to feed these creatures from whom they
got eggs and feathers and milk and cheese and meat and wool, and so on. There were things like sugar and flour that
they could not easily grow on their farms, so they had to find some cash money with which to buy such things. That is
why my father worked on the railway, and why we all had to earn any cash we ever got.
My family was a big one. There were my father Neil, and Mother--whose name was Margaret, although
she was always called Peggy--and there were nine children: first three boys, then three girls, and then three boys again.
They were John and Neil and Duncan, Mary and Katie and Flora, and Colin and me--Angus--and Allan. People outside the
family spoke of us as Johnnie Neil, Neillie Neil, Duncan Neil. That was partly because there were so many with the same
names in every family. Uncle Hector's children were to us Johnnie Hector, Neillie Hector, etc., and Uncle Dan;s children
were Johnnie Dan, Duncan Dan, and so on.
Father was broad-shouldered and weighed about two hundred pounds, but he was not very tall. He was
as strong as a horse, loved to build things, and never did anything at all with animals if he could help it. He
particularly hated chickens and cats. Mother was red-headed and moved about very quickly. She was always concerned
about animals, and spent much of her time looking after them. In my time, she did all that had to be done for them except
for what help we younger kids gave in cleaning stables, milking, and feeding. The older boys were grown-ups to us, and
were either on jobs or looking for jobs. John was strong and steady and helped pay for food and things. Neil never
stayed on a job for long. He finally took to mining and was a miner all the rest of this life.
Duncan became a railway man when he was fifteen. He said he was eighteen and they believed him.
He never stopped railroading. Duncan was prpbably the smartest in the family. Mary and Katie who were twins took
off early. Mary got married and Katie and Flora went to Boston where all Cape Breton girls seemed to go. Colin
was the nicest guy ever, and Allan was big and full of fun and the one everybody in the community loved best.
The family always had dogs, and when I was growing up the dogs were Purdy and Dixie. I still think
Purdy was the wisest dog there ever was and the best watch dog. He was partly---very partly---French Coach. Dixie
was gingery red and all fun and wasn't distinguished in any way as Purdy was. There were horses named Gordon and Dan
and dozen or more cows and sheep. And those are my family, and I loved and still love each and every one for some
There were people in the neighborhood who were almost family to us. Our cousins, of course, but a
number of others, too. Big Allan was a carpenter whom we loved and respected very much. There was his father Donald
Og, the same who carried my father as a baby all the way to Valley Mills. There was Donald Nicholson who lived up the
Barren Road and told such amazing tales. There was Neillie Malcolm and Johnnie Malcolm and the Martin boys, Kennie and
Johnnie. There was Johnnie MacDonald who could fight his weight in wild cats and who could sing an endless number of
funny songs. Uncle Hector was special. He made buggies and cutters and his shop was a kid's dream of a play place.
We loved him and his wife Aunt Jessie very much. Uncle Dan was my father's brother and Mary, his wife, was my mother's
sister, so their kids were our double-first cousins, and we played with them a great deal. Near us also were Ian Ban
(fair or blonde Ian) and his grown-up boys, Hughie and Neillie. Neillie was especially loved for he was fun. There
were some as far away as Orangedale, such as merchant Dan who always gave us candy when we shopped.
There were a lot of other people who were very interesting to kids, even exciting. There was Burnt
Jim at Orangedale who ran a blind pig and bought rabbits from us and old empty bottles. Living with Burnt Jim was Fog
Horn who was nicely named, for he had a voice like the crack of doom. There was dear old Blind Neil who used to walk
past our place about once or twice a year. I think he went visiting relatives now and then. He walked with two
canes with which he felt his way. We lived near the highway, and when we saw him coming, we always ran to meet him.
We would pick up his canes and lead him on. He never failed to thank us, although I'm sure he could have got on better
without us. We were a bit shy of Blind Neil, probably because he was the first blind man we knew. He seemed to
know who we were, and most times gave us a nickel, or even a dime when we left him a half mile down the road. Mother
used to scold us for taking his money, but we thought it would not be polite to tell him we didn't want it.
There were others, a great number of others, who were exciting although not always lovable. Big Belly-Button
Peg, for instance, who used to show up once in a while. There is a special story about her coming up later. There
was Ian Slash--how he got his name no one seemed to know. He wandered about doing odd jobs. He thrashed oats for
farmers, for instance. He wasn't the brightest sort. He always carried a dollar watch that didn't go because he
never wound it. Once he was asked why he didn't wind his watch, and he said: "It's very bad for a watch to wind
it. Wears it out."
There ws Nosey, who was Ian Slash's daughter, I think. She was born without a nose, and we used to
tease her. Why did we tease her and so respected Blind Neil? She was a good workeer, and was maid to the minister
for many years. Kids do things that not even they can explain. There was also Big Charles who tramped about with
a stiff leg, and seemed to live on what people gave him. He was not always clean. Stiff-legged Charlie was intelligent,
but this fellow was a moron. He had lice and mother used to groan when she saw him coming. She even cried
at times at the thought of the work that would have to follow a visit from Big John. She just could not turn anyone
away who needed food or bed. There was a really crazy tramp who had no name but Crazy Tramp. He carried an ax
handle with a hunk of lead on the end of it. People were afraid of him. These were all the people who sort of
belonged to the country. Most of them wandered about because there was no one to care for them, and they couldn't earn
their own living. We had no police or prisons, no hospitals, orphanages, Old Folks' Homes, clinics, or anything like
that, just an asylum for the violently insane many miles away.
There were many who called for bed and food just once. People who were passing through. Most
of them were sailors who had jumped ship at Sydney and walked along the railway to the Strait of Canso where they might find
another ship. Some of these appear in our stories because they were very interesting and often very nice. There
was, of course, the endless traffic of our own people going and coming to and from the far West, to and from Boston, and few
things were more wonderful than the arrival of someone who had been away for years. Al these folks, you might say, were
And all I say about my people in these stories was seen through a young boy's eyes, and sometimes a boy
doesn't understand what his eyes see, and he doesn't always understand what his ears tell him. From what I have said
about dirty and queer people, one might think such were the kind of people I lived with, and that wouldn't be true.
And it is all because a young person's interests are different, and he doesn't feel about things the way grown-ups do.
For example, I talk a lot about ghosts and devils, which I took very seriously. But most grown-ups just loved to talk
about such things. They probably didn't feel as I did. I tell about funny things that happenned at church, like Rev.
Mr. Rose pounding the pulpit. We couldn't understand what he said as grown-ups did, so all we saw was how he growled
at times and whanged the pulpit. The
people thought he was great, and he really was a good minister. When I say my mother used my two dollars
without asking me you might think she was a real meanie, and that would be a mistake, because she was a very kind and lovable
person. So as you read what I say, remember it's a little kid talking, one who didn't understand too much and one who
probably remembered all that was startling and unusual, and things that concerned him very personally, which probably no one
else remembers at all.
IN THE BEGINNING OF THE WORLD
My father used to speak of a man who always started stories of his early life with the words, "In the beginning
of the world..." People thought that was funny, but I can understand how the man felt. The beginning of my world
is made up of vague, shadowy memories and feelings--mostly feelings, I guess--feelings of fear and pain and of joyous gladness
and wonder. I usually have pictures in my head of things I remember, and in these earliest memories I see myself in
the pictures as well as other people.
I think the earliest picture is of myself looking at a new baby being washed in a tub by a woman who laughed
a lot and wanted to know if I like the baby. There are many women in homespun, colorful clothes all about the room,
and they are passing a bottle around that had what looked like water in it. If this baby was my youngest brother Allan,
as I think it was, I was just two years and five months old.
Another old one shows me in a patch of land that is full of stumps, and I am gazing with a very happy feeling
at one big stump that had been partly burned and had a hole under it. I was looking at it so because people had told
me that wa where they found me. I don't remember wondering how I got under the stump or anything of that sort, I just
felt good while looking at the place where they found me. So my first mother was a stump.
The next one is a painful memory. My brother John was actually going out to the wood pile to cut kindling
on the Sabbath day! Somehow I believed that anyone breaking the Sabbath in that way would be struck dead in his tracks,
because God didn't like that sort of thing. Yet, here was John going to chop wood. I slipped out the door after
him and circled the house and peeked around the corner where I could watch him. I couldn't understand why people didn't
try to stop him. I saw him take the axe and cut up some borads for kindling to start the fire for tea. I watched,
scarcely brething. Any minute it might happen. Then John gathered the kindling in his arms and walked inthe the
house and started the fire, and nothing at all happened. I didn't understnd. This was about the first of the things
that were supposed to happen and didn't.
A curious thing about it was that it was God who was supposed to strike people dead. O was glad, of
course, that John wasn't struck down, but I was disappointed in God. If it had been the Devil's work, I woulnd't have
minded so much. We kids took the Devil very seriously, but there was something thrilling about him. We feared
him in an enjoyable sort of way. But God--one didn't enjoy him, at least I didn't. People said he wrote down everything
we did in his little black book, and I think this was what I disliked most. I couldn't have a naughty thought by myself
that wouldn't get written down. My Highland Scottish people held the name of God in great reveerence. No one used
God's name in vain without inviting trouble, bur one could say anything he liked about the Devil.
Father used to say, "Abuse the Devil all you likle, he deserves it." So we could swear about Hell
and the Devil all we wished.
The people who saw the Devil were usually drunk or half-drunk, and such people saw him often. One
man said he was chased by the Devil on the old Barren Road. He said that he had clearly seen the Devil. He was
big and round like molasses barrel with long arms and short legs. The legs did not diminish his speed though.
He was catching up rapidly, and pretty soon the poor man could hear him pant and felt his hot breath on the back of his neck.
"Eeauw!" he cried, and tried to yell and to give up when the Devil sprinted past him. As he got in front, the Devil
burst into a thousand stars and flames and disappeared. Next day the poor man was very sick at his stomach and people
said that it was evident that he had had a great shock such as seeing the Devil might be. No one seemed to hink that
he might have been sick from drinking too much.
I saw the Devil once myself. That is, I saw him in a certain way. I was alone in the house except
for Purdy. There was a bedroom right off of the dining room and through the door I could see the late afternoon sun
shine in very. Then the dog growled and ran and looked into the bedroom and growled some more. I knew no one was
there, and I thought at once that it must be the Devil. When the folks came in, I told them about how the dog had growled,
but added that I saw a fire burning in the middle of the room--a fierce fire. Then I said that while I watched it all
disappeared and that Purdy looked as if he were ashamed of himself. They listened to me in silence, but on one said
anything. There was always the possibility that I was telling the truth.
I did not think of the Devil as bad at first. I just thought God send him out as a hunter of bad men.
Ans I didn't think of God as being particulary good. I certainly did not think of him as being loving and merciful.
He made all the terrifying rules and he saw that we obeyed them, or else....Nor did I think of him as an old man with a beard.
He was an eye, as big as the sky, and always on the watch. But God wasn't on my mind all the time. There were
nice people and scary people, and nice things happened and bad things, too. So most of my early mind pictures have nothing
about God in them at all. I remember being frightened most to death by aman with a Santa Claus face and a short white
beard who chased me around the stove clicking his teeth and saying HE WAS GOING TO EAT ME. The awful part bout this
memory was the awareness that everybody was laughing at me, which was just too much for me to understand.
Wetting the bed was something to be ashamed of, so we got over it very early. Maybe that is why one
night when I was sleeping in the room next to the dining-living room, while a lot of neighbors were visiting, I woke up and
found myself standing in plain sight on the edge of the bed and wetting acorss the floor. It was the roar of laughter
from the people that woke me up. And I was never allowed to forget a thing like that.
There are nice feeling memories too. I felt warm and safe in bed with Colin and Allan, and it was
wonderful when mother would come in after her baking for the next day was done and tuck the blankets around us. I always
pretened to be asleep as the light came into the room. It was hard not to move while the light stood still over us after
the blankets were snuggled in. Then the light would move away slowly and I would sleep. This is something that
happened many, many times.
Opposite our house was the mouth of the river over which the railway bridge passed. Under the bridge
and beyond, the water rushed very fast. A memory I have is of walking up on the new ice a little ourside the open place
under the bridge. I was crossing from one side to the other with a little stick that had a bit of string on it and some
kind of a hook. I had an axe whiched I had dragged along. It was the cry from my mother up by the barn that made
it a memory that couldn't leave me. I had watched other people going fishing through the ice, and I suppose I just went
fishing without telling anyone. People used to to test the ice with an axe, and I suppose I did this, too. I raised
the axe with both hands and let it drop to the ice, and I clearly remember how it went through to the handle and water oozed
up. But this didn't mean anything to me. I was almost across when mother cried out, and then I turned around and
went back. Mother met me at the shore and grabbed me and hugged me and then gave me a good hard spank. Now, who
could make any sense of that? Then I learned about thin ice and drowning.
A delightful memory is the first time soneone--I think it was Duncan--squeezed a stream of milk right from
the cow;s tit into my mouth. It was warm and tickled my tongue and throat and tasted so good. And there was the
first time I went with someone to feed horses in themorning and there was a brnd new colt. He was happily up beside
Gordon, the big grey gelding, while his mother, tied in another stall, was trying to kick the wall out of the barn.
Gordon was so proud he tried not to let us near the colt.
Such beginning memories aren't much, are they? Just a snapshot here and there as we begin to see and
understand. But they are very dear and wonderful, for they are the little windows on the beginning of our world.
SOMETIMES THERE WAS SCHOOL
Teacher and pupils all sat in a cluster about the boxlike wood stove. Most of the faces were strange,
and I could not understand much of what was said. This was my first day at school, and I spole Gaelic nd understood
very little English. English was, however, the school language. It was a cold winter's day, and although I didn't
know many people, there was something nice and friendly about being close together around the stove. I had enjoyed the
walk through the newly fallen snow on the way to school. Children had left prints of their bodies here and there in
the snow, and by brushing their arms up and down, that had made those prints look like winged angels. There was a happy
promise in all this.
The school was a one-room building. Up front it had a small raised pltform on which sat a desk for
the teacher. Behind it there was a blackboard about four feet square. Usually the children sat on home-made benches
at long desks. Our fathers had built the school and all the furniture. It could not hve been very old, but the
desks were cut up and scratched as if it had been there for a hundred years. We were all around the stove this day because
the wood was green and didn't burn very well. The fthers brought loads of wood to the school, but the bigger boys had
to cur and split it. If this wasn't done properly, we would be cold.
I was scared the first day because I didn't know a thing. Can you imagine not knowing anything?
That's the way it was with me. I had had no story books or picture books at home, so how could I know anything?
Oh, I knew about cows and horses and fish and such things, but this didn't count at school. The teacher took me up beside
her at the desk when the room was warmer and my turn had come. She put her arm aound me as she started me on the Primer.
On the first page there was an alphbet in capitals, and on the next the alphabet in small letters. On the third
page there were pictures of a dog, a hen, a pig, a tub, and a fly with the names under the pictures. This was so that
a beginner could learn some words. But I had to learn the alphabet first---the ABC's. as we called it. It was
slow work. The little letters bothered me. But I managed to make progress until I reached page five in the little
book, and then the teacher started me at the beginning again. It was disgraceful to have that happen, so I vowed I would
never be "put back" again.
There were times when we had no school at Seal Cove. The people could not pay much for teachers, and
teachers of any sort were hard to find. One of my teachers had not even passed the first year high school examinations.
But we got beter teqchers as I grew older, and one or two were really good, like Mary MacLeod who loved to teach and knew
what she was talking about. It took something of a genius to do good teaching in that place. There was no equipment,
no library, and only two maps. One was a rorn world map which no one ever seemed
to use, the other was a map of Nova Scotia with all the counties clearly marked. Before we left school
that Nova Scotia map was as familiar to us as "God Save Our Gracious Queen," and the Shorter Catechism. Reciting the
counties was the one thing we always did in addition to reading, writing, and arithmetic. We were eternally memorizing
the counties, although I can't even yet guess why. The words still slip over my tongue deliciously and make me feel
homesick: Inverness, Victoria, Cape Breton, Richmond, Guysborough, Halifax, Lunenburg, Queens, Shelburne, Yarmouth,
Digby, Annapolis, Kings, Hants, Cumberland, Colchester, Pictou, Antigonish, and I still get that wonderful feeling of accomplishment
when I reach Antigonish. To this day, when I finish a difficult task I feel like shouting "Antigonish!"
All the kids were constantly asking, "Please, may I go out?" We had old-fashioned ginger pop
bottles and most everyone who went out brought back a bottle of water from the little sprink brook by the edge of the woods.
We were allowed to drink from the bottles during school hours until the teacher put a stop to it. Kenny Murdock once
brought in three full bottles and dropped two of them on the floor. They broke and Kenny got whipped. He was sent
out to bring in a switch froma tree, and the teacher used that. Once Duncan Dan was sent out for a switch nd he dragged
in a ten foot long tree the road workers had cut. The teacher broke off a limb and switched him with it before making
him drag the tree out again. Duncan laughed through the whole thing, as did the rest of us.
We studied reading and writing and arithmetic most of the time. There was a reading session right
after school opened in the morning. Spelling wnet with the reading lesson. After that, we did arithmetic until
recess time. After recess the older children might do a lesson in the"Health Reader," but most of us did nothing but
arithmetic until noon. After lunch we learned to write by copying sentences written in a "copy book," such as "Honesty
is the best policy," "A stitch in time saves nine." r "Anno Domini, in the year of our Lord." After the writing, we
did arithmetic until afternoon recess time, if there was an afternoon recess. Then came geography which invariably meant
memorizing the Nova Scotia counties. On Fridays, following the late recess, we had recitations of memorized poems.
One went up front and bobbed his head, said his piece, bobbed again and sat down. Once in a very long while we had a
spelling bee instead of recitations. We all stood in a line along one side of the room. When you missed
a word you sat down because you were out. We loved this because it was such a good game. I nearly always sat down
on the first try. The recitations were the usual scheduled program, though. Boys who were too lazy to memorize
picked the shortest hing they could find. One of these went:
Love not to talk.
Love not to boast.
Grief comes to him
Who brags the most.
We'd get scolded for using this, but there it was-- a poem--and right in the school book, and we felt we
had a right to it.
At recess we wandered about in the woods, which was all around us, and did the things the season and the
situation suggested. There was a time when the Mayflowers (trailing arbutus) were out. I have never known any
place else where they grow so bountifully. There was a time when the bunch berries were in season, and we ate those;
and a time when all we could get were wontergreen berries. We even ate the leaves of this plant. If there was
a high wind, we might climb young trees and ride back and forth on them. There was always a spruce gum, nd we'd chew
its sap during school hours. Often we were made to throw the delicious stuff into the stove. That was a real heartbreak.
We played games. Generally, we would place one person in the middle of the road, which was by our door. The others
would run across from side to side and he would try to catch them. Each one he caught would have to join him as the
catcher. Some children who lived in Boston came to our school for short periods. They tught us singing games,
such as "Lazy Betsy" and "In and Out the Window," which most boys thought were sissy.
There was a railway crossing less than a hundred yards from the school. And I am afraid that we misbehaved
around that crossing. There were pits under the rails on ech side of the road crossing. This was to keep
cattle from wandering on to the railway. Flossy Murdoch once stayed dwon in one of these pits while a long freight train
went by. She came out staggering with a clob of oil on the top of her head. We were constantly putting nails and
pins and such small things on the rails for the train to flatten them out. They made interesting trinkets. There
was an upgrade at the crossing, and heavy freight trains would consequently be moving rather slowly. On such trains,
we often hung onto the stake pockets of flatcars for a short ride. We never thought that what we did was dangerous until
one day a couple of trainmen standing in the coal hopper threw lumps of coal at us to scare us away. They were obviously
angry, and we thought they really tried to hit us.
This all led to a very unusual morning when we had a visit from a railway policeman. This was the
first police any of us had ever seen. He accused us of almost derainly a train. About a mile west of the school
someone had put a lot of scrap iron on the tracks, and it shook the train very badly. None of us ever went in that direction
except Kenny MacIntosh and his siter Amy who came that way to school from away up the Barren Road. When the officer
found this our, he concentrated on oor Kenny and quizzed him, and we thought he tried to get him rattled. But Kenny
kept saying, "I didn't do it," until the officer had to give up. Whatever he thought, we all believed Kenny was innocent.
And that was how the fun went out of playing with trains.
There were nice times on the road to and from school, too. Everyone was barefooted in summer.
We put on footwear only when the frosts came, and
we discarded it as soon as the snow was off the ground. I am sorry for people who can't remember the
feel of the cool dust or mud of the road between their toes in early morning. There was a place with pines which was
delightfully cool in hot weathern, and hushed and full of quiet mystery in winter. Our companions on the road were Uncle
Hector's youngest--Ellen and Malcolm, and Uncle Dan's kids. Duncan Dan and I had a special liking for each other.
We used to talk tirelessly about what we would do when we grew up. There were his sisters and a brother, too--Hughie,
Sophie, Jessie, Margaret, Lillian and Lena. Ruth was too young to go to school then, and the others were too old.
We had great times on that road as well as some fights.
When Seal Cove had no school teacher, we went to the Orangedale school, to which we walked a distance of
two miles. I think those were the two longest miles ever measured. Most of the time we walked along the rilway
tracks, except for the last half mile which was on the buggy road. We loved to walk the railway, even though we often
mashed our big toes and got slivers from the ties in our feet. Father used to have regulr sessions doing "first aid."
He would lay us on a table and lance infected places with a razor and remove the slivers. The railway was dengerous
even in summertime, and doubly so in winter when the snow plows built high walls of snow on each side of the cuttings.
I was nearly caught in one of those places once. The cutting was curved so one could not see more
than a quarter of the way through it. After listening carefully, I started through. I was about halfway when I
saw the engine appearing around the curve. The day was so cold and frostly and the snow so insulated sound, that the
train made very little noise. There was only one thing to do. I whirled and ran, literally for my life.
When I got to where I thought the top of the bank was within reach, I leaped like a stag and somehow was able to hook my arms
over the edge, and there I hung while the train went by. If the train had carried a snow plow, I would have had it!
The other youngters were some distance behind me, and when they came up we all tired to leap, but none of us could come up
nearby to where I landed. Fear sometimes paralyzes people and animals, and sometimes it puts wings on their feet.
The first day at Orangedale School is easy to remember. There was a notorious character of my own
age who always had to fight every new boy who came to the school. His name was Johnnie Brec (spotted or freckled Johnnie)
who was supposed to be a tremendous fighter as well as the meanest sort. All the youngsters for miles around had heard
of Johnnie, and all regarded him with fear-laden respect. His special prey were boys too young or too small to protect
themselves. I had met him once. I had been allowed to go to the store alone, and merchant Dan had given me a great
handful of candy which I had put into my patch pockets. The moment Johnnie met me at the railway station I knew who
he must be. He at once grabbed me by the shirt front and began yanking me back and forth. I had no hope of beating
this fellow, and I was shy and didn't wish to fight.
He went through my pockets and took all my candy, and my beloved jacknife as well. I felt very much
ashamed on the way home, especially since the old teacher of mine had witnessed the affair. So on that first day of
school I avoided Johnnie successfully until the lunch hour. We ate sandwiches in the school while the village kids went
home. When Johnnie returned, he immediately grabbed my special friend, Duncan Dan, and began shoving him around
the school room. Duncan was two years younger than either Johnnie or I. That he should be attacked made me very
angry. Weel, it burned in me until it reached the top of my head, and then, suddenly, I ws not shy or afraid anymore.
So I fought Johnnie, up and down between the rows of desks and finally out into the lobby. I got him against the wall
in a corner where the carpenters hadn;t finished their job, and shingle nails stuck out through the boards. When Johnnie
got his face banged against the nails and began to bleed, he just quit. The next time we met at luch hour, he bragged
about Angus being his best friend and said that together we could lick everybody or anybody. Colin and Allan had to
whip him, too, before he called them friends. Allan was a surprise to him. He was two years younger, bur much
bigger and stronger, and he picked Johnnie up by the ankles and banged his head on the ground.
The Orangedale School was a lot bigger than the Seal Cove School. It had factory-made seats and desks,
and several maps and a globe--the first globe I ever saw. It had a tall round stove that burned coal, and the boys had
to take turns starting the fire in the mornings. We had some good teachers there. Margaret MacRae was a relly
good one and a college graduate man teacher the best ever. There was anothe Ican hardly remember, but once she whaled
me with a long wooden pointer for something another fellow did. I was often guilty when I wasn't punished, so I never
resented the ruler much. But I trounced Kenneth Murdoch that day for blaming me for something he had done himself.
This teacher started using the stick after Johnnie Brec had cut her whipping strap into little pieces and left them in a neat
pile on her desk. Maybe she thought I was guilty of that, too.
One winter while going to the Orangedale School, I lived with Tailor MacKinnon. He thought I
would make a good tailor. He wanted to teach me the trade. I looked after his horse and cow and started the fire
in the mornings, and throughout one whole winter all the tailoring I did was to sew one button on a man's pants. I decidedright
then that tailoring was not for me.
I went to school during one winter at Little Harbor, and lived with a very wondeful MacGregor family.
But I didn't learn much that year. The teacher had a high school diploma and was a very nice person, but the kids picked
on her, so we were al;ways having some kind of an uproar. Uncle Colin MacRae's two boys, Archie and Duncan, attended
that school, too, and I was very fond of them. I was well behaved most of the time, but at times I just got too bored
to be good.
One day I got permission to go out, and when returning I spied a broken window pane in the attic window
of the school. I playfully threw a pebble at it, and by good luck it went through the broken place and bounced along
the attic floor to the great delight of the kids below. When I got seated, Archie MacRae, a delightfully mischievous
guy, wanted to know if I had thrown anything in the window. I winked at him, and he immediately asked for permission
to go out. he hadn't been gond a minute when there was a tremendous crashing of glass nd the rattle of debris on the
attic floor. In his desire to go me one better, he had thrown a big rock, but his aim or his luck were not as good as
At another time I had made a dart out of a bottle cork, a horseshoe nail and a feather and carried it in
my pocket. When a particularly wild ruckus broke out between kids who started throwing ink at one another, I threw the
dart at the ceiling. It stuck with a sharp thud. The noise stopped, and everyone looked at the ceiling.
The next day lmost every kid in school came with a pocketful of darts, and inside half an hour the ceiling was speckled with
the them. The poor teacher was frantic. She tried to sweep them down with the broom, and one stuck in the top
of her head. I still feel ashamed of that.
I was getting bigger and bigger and not learning very much, so I skipped from fifth grade to first year
high school. No one cared so long as I could do the assignments. But this move created a real problem. There
was only one high school to my knowledge in the county and it was thirty miles away. I just had to be taught along with
the grade school children. But school trustees didn't like pupils from other districts to be taking so much of a teacher's
time on advanced study. I could have stayed at Orangedale, but I had an all-out row with the teacher, and refused to
go back. So I went looking for a school in other places such as Valley Mills, Malagawatch, and Marble Mountain.
None of them would admit me. I came home one day and threw my book bag over the wood pile and vowed I was through wtih
school. Mother cried over that, and she was still tearful when father came home with the word that Dan Martin, an Orangedale
merchant, had told him of a minister in North Sydney who wanted a chore boy to live with his family and attend high
school. The minister was Dr. T. Chalmers Jack, a wonderful man, nd because of him I had one great year in a real city
WE GO TO CHURCH
Allan got a ride in the two-wheeled sulky with Duncan who was driving Dan. Colin and I went in the
buggy with father and mother. We stood on the rear axle and held on to the back of the seat. John and some neighbors
went by boat. The day was beautiful. The road was so full of dust that Maud's feet hardly made a sound, and wonderful
clouds of dust followed the rear wheels. It was a seven-mile trip around the end of the lake to Magalawatch where the
big church was. This was one way in which to be religious; one went to church. We had no family prayers in our
home, nor did we have grace at the table, except that father said the only one he knew whenever one of the elders or praying
person came to dinner. Father would ask the guest first to say the blessing, but he would signal to him to say it himself.
We were a bit scornful of father for this inconsistency. But we were all deeply religious. We believed in, and
talked constntly about the doings of God and the devil, and we rarely failed to go to church.
At Magalawatch there were both Gaelic and English services on Sunday, one after the other, and my family
always attended both. On Sunday evenings there was also a service at Orangedale, and, of course, there was Sunday School
in the afternoon. I loved the going to and coming from church best, and I think Colin and Allan did too. Interesting
things happened on the way. More exciting were the guests who always came to out place for the noon meal, which was
our dinner. Guests were sure to be entertaining as were their horses and dogs and buggies. But the great fun was
the anticipation of excitement on the roads. We had no sooner started this morning when a man from Whycogomagh way past
us with a great flurry. He had a shiny new buggy and a stylish horse with brass-trimmed harness; there was a bit of
red ribbon on his whip. Father said that the man had better pur some of his horse-tending time on improving his farm.
Mother said, "Oh, he's young and probably trying to find a wife."
Before we got as far as Valley Mills where the road crosses River Deny there were several buggies right
behind us, and a little farther, after we joined the road from River Deny Station, there were many buggies before and behind
us. The people were almost a hundred per cent Presbyterian, and all attended church, especially at "sacrement
Every little while someone with a fast horse would come cutting in and out on the narrow road and pass everybody. We
were fiercely envious of these and urged father to follow them. He almost did once, then he pulled back on Maud's lines
and said, "I suppose we had better remember the Sabbathand keep it holy."
About a mile from the church, right across the lake from our home, we passes merchant McAuley's home and
store. Mrs. McAuley. Senior, was
just getting into her grand buggy, or carraige - it should be called, with the lamps and the great splash
fenders and the stylishtop. She had two beutiful looking horses.
Nearer the church we could see the whole expanse of out lake. Boats with sails dotted it almost everywhere.
We identified john's boat, among those from Seal Cove and Valley Mills. Many sails came around Stony point from Orangedale,
and others came from Big Harbor. Sailing was by far the best way to go to church, or so we thought. For there
was always the possibility of a race. People never challenged one another to a race, not on the Sabbath, but just the
same they were all trying to beat each other. We thought John's boat was the fastest on the lake. Johnonce did
win a big race with it. There were all sorts of boats in that free-for-all race, some almost schooners. John's
boat was only fourteen feet long. The boats were timed and John's was the last to go, but he was the first in by a couple
of miles. So we weren't just bragging. Uncle Colin MacRae thought his boat was the fastest. John's had a
centerboard, and washboards along the sides to keep the water out when sheheeled over in the wind so she could really travel.
I liked to crouch in the bow and listen to the gurgle of the water and see the spray fly out on each side. Many considered
it sinful to race on Sunday, indeed everyone did, but people did it just the same, and we thought is the most innocent kind
of fun. We found it difficult to understand about sin.
I thought it intersting too to be inside the church with so mny people. There were so many I was never
able to count them. I especilly liked the high pulpit with the red velvet and the tassels handing from it. There
wasn't another speck of color in the room except for people's clothes. That particular Sunday the minister was in roaring
good form, and everyone went away smiling.
The following Sunday noone raced at all, for everyone was intersted in seeing the monster. Some got
to church late, and some never got there at all. We had heard rumors about a sea serpent or some huge creature swimming
about the lake. Then one day, John--who ran alittle ferrying service across the lake--actually saw it. John was
the least excitble one in the family, so everyone believed him. He said the thing had surfaced right behind the boat.
It had a flat head and something like bristly mustache across its mouth. The head, he said, let out a puff of misty
breath that one could both see and hear at some distance. Then the head went under and right behind it there come up
a big silvery barrel-like thing, and as it disappeared there came another and another. Then it would disappear altogether
for a while before the head came up again. We sailed over almost the whole lake that day and didn't see a signof it,
but some people said they had seen it. The following Sunday, however, most everyone who was along the shore saw it,so
probably not many people got to church that day at all. Hundreds of people from Whycogomagh, Alba, and Little Narrows,
and other places came to the shore in hopes of seeing the thing. Most were afraid togo out in boats to have a closer
look, but John and
a couple of neighboring boys went, and john took his gun. He said that maybe people would believe
him if he shot the thing. They got near to it all right, and John shot bullets into it several times. When hit,
it thrashed about and made a great whirlpool, and then disappeared. After a while it would come up again , and go on
showing its head and its loops as if nothing had happened.
Some people, of course, believed it was a sea serpent, and even said they saw the tapered end of its tail
when it was thrashing about. Others said it was some queer kind of a whale. One man from Newfoundland called it
a Herring Hawk, and said he had often seen others like it along the Newfoundland coast. But no one ever really found
out what it was, for it suddenly disappeared and was never seen again. A year later someone living near Marble Mountain
said its skeleton had been found where it had gotten itself trapped in shallow water. But again, this was just somebody's
Soon aafter the monster excitement, it was "sacrement" time at the Magalawatch church. All the ministers
and people of four or five congregations usually came together for the month of June. One week at Malagawatch, then
one at Little Narrows, and one at River Deny. At such a time we sailed every day from Thursday until Monday. There
wer often three services going on at the same time. One in the church and two outdoors. I can't remember a sacrement
week when the weather wasn't sunny and bright. Women raised parasols against the sun. There was a tremendous crowd
on the Sunday after the monster disappeared. One minister preached about The Gret Leviathan what wags a tail like a
cedar. It was disappointing to find out that he was talking about some monster in the Bible. It didn't seem like
church at all that day. The young men started throwing conversational candy at the girls. The candies carried
messages such as, "You're my girl," or "Aren't you cute?" and "I love you." We heard about this being done at other
times, but we had never seen it. We scuttled about between the rows of people on out hands and knees and picked up the
candy that the young ladies ignored or that had missed their mark. It never occurred to us that people might think this
an improper thing to do. Are kids that dumb today? But we found out about it when we got home. Father was
mortified and mother was ready to give us a whaling. Mother always did the spanking, but we were never afraid of her
as we were at times of him. We missed all but a scolding, and that was because we didn't give any back-talk.
Everyone went to church at "sacrement" time. Old and young, good and bad, rich(?) and poor.
They liked the minister who could talk fast and loud, especially if he was a big husky person who could split wood or shoe
a horse or do other kinds of men's work. To be really liked, he would have to show how well he could quote the Bible.
He would have to tell them they were sinners and about all the terrors of hell that waited for the wicked. But if a
minister bawled them out for attending dances, or drinking whiskey, or for not giving enough money to the church, he wouldn't
be so popular. Father would say at such a time, "Who wants to go to church to be scolded?"
Thee were certain ways a minister had to behave although no one ever told him he had to do more than preach
the word and visit the sick. No minister ever asked you to come forward and give yourself to Christ, or anything that
sounded like that. But one evening at the Orangedale Church we had something new which was great to see. That
was when the evangelist came. He was a man who said he had been a great sinner (and he probably told the truth), and
that he had been converted in Boston, and had immediately begun preaching. His sermon was all about the terrible things
he had done, and if he wasn't lying, he had been scum. He went into his sins at great length and then began to snivel
in self pity. Finally, he began really to cry. He would wipe his face with a big hankerchief, say a few words,
and snivel some more, and he'd "praise the Lord" in almost every sentence. Everyone felt embarrassed. We had never
heard or seen anything like it. Then, two elders--tall, straight, grim fellows--walked up the aisle side by side as
if they were about to take up the collection. Instead, they went up to the evangelist, one on each side of him, took
him by the arms, and led him down the aisle and out the door. Maybe he had a good reason to cry, but one didn't go bubbling
and sniffling in the pulpit. If you had to do that sort of thing, you did it somewhere where not even your family could
see you. I was sorry for the preacher, but I always felt proud to remember those two elders, because religion should
be more dignified.
Colin and I misbehaved one night at the Orangedale Church. We weren't very old, so manbe God forgave
us even if the people didn't. We went with father and mother and got seperated from them at the church door. So
it happened that we sat by ourselves among people we did not know. The Rev. Mr. Rose was preaching, and he was in good
form. We had often heard Colin Martin mimicking Mr. Rose's preaching, and we were delighted to know that his mimicking
was just about perfect. The minister banged the pulpit just the way Colin Martin said. We could see a couple of
flies buzzing about the minister's face, which mush have been distressing to him. He sensed that people had noticed,
so his preaching got even more vigorous. He banged the right side of the pulpit, and then the left, and he waved his
arms so it looked like he was shooing the flies. Then he put both his fists together and he gave the Bible a fearful
blow. Colin whispered, not too quietly I am afraid, "He got one!" I snickered too loudly. There was a terrible
silence for a moment when everyone, including the minister, stared at us, and among all the eyes were those of our father
and mother. Well, the rest of the story is just too sad to tell.
Mr. Rose came to call at our house soon afterwards. He probably had forgotten all about that snickering
in church, but we felt he had come about it, and we'd be in more trouble. He asked us about how we were getting on with
the Shorter Catechism, as he always did, and no more. Then everybody sat in a circle, and mother brought out the family
Bible and set it in front of the minister. Then Mr. Rose read about scarlet sins getting as white as wool. It
was nice to know that sins could turn white, but why? Then we all got down
on our knees with our elbows on the chairs while Mr. Rose prayed. When a minister prayed, he wouldn't
dare chet his people with a short one. So the prayer was long. I was curious and peeked through my fingers.
Colin and Allan were peeking, too. I saw Allan getting red in the face as though he were going to giggle, and then mother's
eyes o[pened and ours closed tightly immediately, and stayed closed until the Amen.
The Sunday School at Orangedale was interesting only when we had lessons of David and Goliath and Daniel
in the lion's den, and that sort of thing. Sometimes we didn't like the teacher very much. I never wanted to go
to Sunday School when Elder McKinnon was teaching. I think I know why that was. Elder McKinnon kept the post office
at Orangedale, and I wnet to his home one day before school time to mail a letter. I didn't knock. People rarely
knocked on our door at home. They just walked in and said something like "Well, well, and how are you all this fine
morning?" Anyway, this was the Orangedale Post Office and so I walked right in. The whole family were down on
their knees at morning prayers. I knew at one that I had made a mistake and I just froze where I stood and hardly even
breathed. When the prayer was over, Elder McKinnon scolded me fiercely for the sacrilege of interrupting family worship.
He was so angry he shook. So I could never see him afterwards without feeling just as I did then.
Then we Stoney John for a teacher. He got his name from Stoney Point where he lived. He was
the very best teacher anyone could ever have. And soon we would do anything for this good and glad and wise man.
I memorized the whole of the Shorter Catechism and six hundred Bible verses for him. You know, when you use the words
"good mahn," there is generally some person who gives meaning to that word "good." That was how it was with Stoney
John. Dan Martin, a merchant, taught the Bible class for the grown-ups, and I always thought that he must be good, too,
for they were always arguing and having a good time in his class.
Often when we got home from the family service at Orangedale the men in the neighborhood, or most of them,
would often come to call. They would turn down the wicks in their lanterns, set them down by the door, and then they
would sit in a ring along the walls of the kitchen. Father would sit by the stove and stoke the fire and keep the house
warm. Like one night when Colin and Allan and I were stretched out on the floor behind the stove and partly under it
along with Purdy and Dixie who seemed to love the heat as much as we did. The men were arguing as usual about religion.
This time Peter Nicholson was saying that no matter how much of a sinner one might be he could still go to heaven. And
that a good man might go to hell. God had decided every little thing in advance, he said. Just as he finished
his speech, Purdy stretched himself and let out a loud and doleful groan. Everybody laughed, and one man said that he
thought as Purdy did.
We learned a lot about relition in this way, although no one ever tried to teach us religion at home beyond
making us memorize our catechism, and read up on our Sunday School lessons. After listening to many such discussions,
however, one felt that religion was the most important thing in the world. These discussions may have had a lot to with
why Duncan Dan and I had begun to think that, maybe, we would be ministers.
Some time when we were between ten and twelve years old, Duncan Dan came to me with the idea that we should
plan to have a religious service. "If we're going to be ministers, we might just as well start practicing." We
could have it in his barn, he thought, and have all the other kids for a congregation. He would prech the first time,
then I would preach. So we posted a notice on Uncle Dan's barn door. The following Sunday we kids would
not be in church for some reason that I have forgotten. That would be a good time for us.
On Sunday most all the yoounger kids came and we sat along the edges of the hay mow, our feet danglin down
toward the barn floor seven or eight geet below us. Up bove our heads the crown beams went acorss. These were
great timbers that helped to keep the barn together. Duncan climbed on to the one across the floor space and opposite
to where we sat. It was the nearest thing in the barn to the high pulpit in the church. Some of the kids giggled
and Duncan didn't look pleased, so all quieted down wondering what he was going to say. Some would have liked him to
mimic the preacher as Colin Martin did, but Duncan's intentions were very serious. He first had us sing "Jesus loves
me." We all knew that hymn. Then he tried to get us to sing "Nearer my God to Thee." But we didn't know
it too well and it sort of fizzled out with the first stanza. After that, Duncan prayed--a real prayer, too--and we
were all awed by it. Then he let the Bible drop open, thinking that was the way to let the Spirit quide him to a good
message to read. It was something about Jeroboam. When he finished reading he set the Bible down on the crown
beam between his feet, there being no other place, and he began to preach.
This might be fun, we thought. But we were all so astonished at the ease with which he spoke, and
the things he said, that we just sat there and listened. It was short. too, and that alone made it a great improvement
over most sermons we had listened to. When he said his last words, he raised his arms over his head to give a benediction
the way the minister did. This shifted his weight and he lost his balance and went backwards into the haymow below.
There was as yet only one load of hay over loose poles, so he didn't bounce on the hay. He went clean through it!
There was a clatter of loose poles, and then a fearful commotion broke out in the hog pen way down below. There was
a dealy and and breathless silence. We remembered that it was the Sabboth, and that we were forbidden to play on the
Lord's Day. God might punish us. What we really feared was that Duncan might be dead down there among the pigs.
We slid down to the barn floor and quietly scurried around back to the entrance of the pig pen place. In the meantime,
Duncan was utterly astonished when he fell with a great
plop among the hogs. He looked into the little eyes of a huff-huffing excited pig while he felt for
broken bones. He seemed to be o-kay. Then he realized with a joyful glow of feeling that he had done somethin
none of us had ever done before or would ever dare to. So it was that when we got around to the hog pen, he was climbing
out and grinning as if he had won theOlympic gold medal. What a relief! Everyone shouted and laughed. We
helped Dundan scrape himself off a bit in the grass, and then we rushed back to the had barn. We had once again doscovered
the joy of jumping from crown beams into hay mows as farm kinds have done ever since man first started to store his fodder.
LET'S GO FISHING
There wer gold and greenish yellow and touches of pink on the horizon and every bit of light was reflected
in the water. Little round sparkling diamonds danced about the oars as the water was disturbed. It was very, very
good to be out before the sun, when there were no other people anywhere in sight--just the water and the sky and wooded shores
and wild creatures such as the loon whose woice shattered the stillness and stirred echoes from every direction. Along
the shores a muskrat appeared now and then, scurrying home from a night out somewhere. Father and I were on our way
to run the nets, which were set out two or three miles away. In the spring and late fall we could get codfish and other
fish by netting. We had to get up about four o'clock to be back in time for father to get to his work on the railway.
He often let me go along with him because I loved so much to go. he was wonderful on these trips, full of talk about
big fish, dangerous storms, adventures on the Newfoundland Banks, and such things. He let me row for a while and told
me I had one storn arm and a lazy one, and so the boat didn't travel in a straight line, but wiggled like a snake.
Father was a strange man, I suppose. One an ordinary morning he was cross as a bear. If there
was nothing to be relly cross about, he would invent something. Mother couldn't please him and she often cried at such
times, and all we kids silently sided with ehr, and this made him crosser than ever. Mornigns were unhappy unless one
got up and away before breakfast. In the evening, however, father would be home after a hard day's labor all smiles
and full of good humor. We'd run to meet him down by the shore, and Allan, being the youngest, would ride him piggyback.
We would rifle his luchbox for leftovers. After supper, when the chores were done, he would tell us wonderful stories
that had come down by word of mouth through goodness knows how many generations. Some of them were not what people in
our time would call nice stories, but they were unfailingly funny. and I think we needed something funny as mush as anything.
Our evening Dad was fun, and Dads are to have fun with, don't you think? But I have strayed away from the fishing story.
A net was tied at each end to a long stake driven into the bottom, and we ran it by just pulling it over
the boat, in on one side and out on the other, or just along the side. We caught a half dozen codfish this morning.
In a net with smaller nesh we caught several tommycod and a big trout. There was a place in the net that was knotted
in a ball, and father said things about the devil as he worked over this. In the know was the backbone of a big trout.
This was the work of an eel. Eels love trout, and they often got to them before we did. There was a fierce spashing
in one of the cod nets and when we got to it we found a salmon, over a yard long. Years before, there had been lots
of salmon, but they had become very rare.
There was a wind by the time we set out for home, and it helped us along. Father had to go to work
right away, so i cleaned the cod. In several of them there were beautiful roes that looked like big pink Dutchman's
britches. Mother was an expert with fish so she did the salmon.
I must tell about the spring when Colin and I caught a couple of codfish. It was a windymornign and
we got to talking about seasickness and how someone had said that if one ate the heart or theliver of a fresh-caught codfish
raw (and at once), he would never be seasick. We thought it would be a cheap bit of insurance if true, and it wouldn't
hurt us if it weren't true. So we opened a cod. I threw the heart into my throat and swallowed it as I might an
oyster. I hardly tasted it. I told Colin to just cut a small piece of the liver. But he didn't think that
would do. Anyway, he didn't mind swallowing the whole thing, he said. I really don't know whether it was a liver
or not, but it was big and just off-white in color. Colin crammed it into his mouth and found he could not swallow it,
and his eyes bugged out. He actually turned green, and then what do you think happened? You guessed it!
He was angry about losing his breakfast. Maybe it was a good idea, for I have been to sea a lot and I never have gotten
seasick. The trouble with that argument is that Colin never got seasick either. But maybe he got credit for trying.
We caught fish in many ways, and I fell in love with fishing, and I never never got over it. I think
it was my sister, Katie, who first took me fishing. It was winter and fishing in winter was done through holes in the
ice. There was a place in a cove, sheltered from the wind, that had several holes already cut, and that's where we went.
They had given me a bent pin on a piece of string as tackle. On the pin part there was a lot of fluffy red wool, and
we put a little bit of fish on the end of the pin. With katie's help I actually caught a fish. It was only a smelt,
but as big a one as ever we caught int he lake. That was all I wanted. We rushed home to show my fish. No
bent pin ever caught a fish, no matter what old fellows like to say, but this one had red wool on it, and the smelt's teeth
got caught in the wool. When we got home, I put the fish down on a bench on the porch and sat beside it all morning, full
of pride and happiness, until it came time to cook it for lunch.
It wasn't long before I was allowed to go fishing alone, and I often brought home lots of smelts, and now
and then some good speckled trout which seemed to inhabit the lakes in winter. One day I cught a big one, all of fifteen
inches long, and I was in exstasises over it. I hung it on the proch, highup on the studding where I was sure the cat
couldn't reach it. I wanted people to see it before I cleaned it. I found Colin and Allan in the barn and told
them about my catch. They pretended not to believe me, so I took them to the porch. And there was the cat, half
way to the roof, clinging to the studding and chewing on my trout! He had already eaten almost half of it.
I wailed like a fire engine, and Colin and Allan Laughed at the very same time they were saying it was just
too bad. This was a black day, and maybe it is the reason I have never liked cats. I can admire them for their
brains and their beauty, but love them, no!
It was while I was about to go on one of these early fishing trips that mother persuaded me to wear a red
hood. She claimed my cap was not warm enough. I thought it was sissy for a boy to wear a hood, but she got me
when she said that the fish loved the color red, and that the red would be reflected in the water when I fished. The
hood came close to my face and was long enough to reach partly over my shoulders and was tied under my chin. It was
thick and very warm. I caught a lot of fish that day, and so I never went fishing for years without wearing the red
hood. People teased me about it, but I believed fiercely that it helped me catch fish. Anyway, I caught more fish
than anyone, and became the best, or the luckiest, fisherman in the family.
A lot of people fished through the ice. They would get piles od spruce and fir boughs to lie on, and
to keep them sheltered fromt he wind. People did not have shacks to drag out onto the ice as they do in some places
now, but when a peroson found a really good hole he would build a teepee of young firs around it. It was wonderful to
fish in one of these cozy places. One could lie on dry boughs with his face near the water. There was no reflected
light on the water, so one could see better, and there was the delicious odor of the green firs and balsams. One rarely
fished in more than two feet of water, so the fish were close to one's face when they came, and one had the advantage of seeing
them take the bait.
I went out to my favorite covered hole one day at about noon, a time which most people would say was most
unsuitable for fishing. I saw few fish for a long time, and those I saw didn't even look at my bait. Then, suddenly,
I saw my dream fish swimming in. He couldn't be seen all at once in the hole. The biggest trout I had ever seen.
I began to shke all over. The ice was very think at that time of year and the hole was big at the top and small at the bottom,
and that was because it was very difficult to cut any other kind with an axe. The trout passed by my hook without looking
at it. And then a second time. I jiggled my line frantically in an effort to get him interested. After a
while he casme back, and as he swan past he just opened his mouth and the hook and bait got sucked into it. I pulled
a mighty pull and got him through the narrow bottom on the hole, and then the line broke at the hook.
"Oh, i lost him!" I yelled, and then I saw a swirl in the water. I drove my arms down in the hole
right up to my shoulders and tried to scoop him up but he eluded me. In desperation, I just whirled my arms around in
the hole as fast as I could, and the great trout leaped right out onto the ice.
:Oh, holy ole machinaw!" I yelled. I grabbed the fish by the gills,
and, leaving everything right there, I ran for home. And how excited everyone got when they saw it.
Father tried to weigh it on a set of stillards, or weighing scales, and said it was over fibe pounds, and that was most unusual
for a speckled trout.
I grabbed a mouthful of luch and took off to the ice again. I gished all afternoon and caught two
big enough to weigh about a pound and a half each, and a number of smaller ones. When I gave upfishing the sun was going
down, and when I got home dinner was over. There was company. Two men had called and stayed with the family for
dinner. They and father were smoking their pipes. On the table there was a pile of fishbones! My trout had
been cooked and eaten! Every single bit of it. Mother cooked another whole trout for me, enough for three people,
but although it probably tasted better than the big one, it just wasn't my big trout. I had very few unhappy times at
home, but this was one of them.
When the ice first caome and it was vey thin, and just strong enough to support people, the whole neighborhood
would be out spearing eels. They cut big round holes in the ice and then poked around the muddy bottom for eels.
The eels wer hibernating in the mud by then. When the prongs of the spear hit an eel, it would slide in between them
and there was a hook on each prong to keep them from getting out again. As soon as the man felt the eel he would turn
and run his long pole until the spear end and the eel came up. Then he would scrape off the eel, and start poking for
another one. There would be hundreds of eels around holes. This was a time for feasting. When the ice got
thick, there was no more spearing until spring.
Once after the ice went out in the spring, and just when the leaves began to break out on the alders, Colin
and I told father that we were ready for the eel spearing. At this time the eels were swimming freely and they could
most easily be speared at night if one had a good artificial light. Colin and I had been gathering pitchy bits of pine
root for some time. The best kind we often dug out of bogs. After splitting and drying this wood would burn like
a candle, although most fiercely. Father had a firepot that could be hung out in front of the bow of the boat.
In this the wood was lighted.
On this trip there were father and Peter Nicholson, each with a spear on his side of the bow. Colin
and I rowed gently as they directed. The eels, and indeed all the fish, seemed to like the light. When an eel
swan near, it was speared, if one knew how to use a spear. The spear for this kind of spearing was different.
It had two springy hardwood jaws with a steel prod in the middle. Father hardly missed one this night. Peter missed
a lot, and he blamed the spear. Father took pity on him and traded spears, but it made little difference in the number
Once father said, "Peter, here's a real eel. See, there with its head under the bunch of grass."
"Oh man, Man," said Peter. "You take it. I'll miss it for sure."
"Strike, man," father commanded, "or we'll both miss it." Peter struck and got his eel on the spear.
"Turn your spear and let him wind himself on the pole!" father yelled. This done, the big eel was
brought in. It was enormous--so big that Peter's spear was broken by it. Peter, a very rpoud fisherman, just muttered
things like "Oh Mother Mary," and "What a divel-spawned thing!" was such remarks. And then he started telling about
how horse-hair, when left in the water, could turn into eels. He could prove this. Father snorted and we giggled,
and Peter sighed. He had seen it happen.
It was a wonderful night. OFten the smoke from the firepot came into our faces, and we'd have to change
the direction of the boat. There were eels all about our feet. The boat seemed about half full of eels.
We got home at about half-past two in the morning with swollen eyes and sooty faces. It was fun, great fun!
All through the fall months we fished oysters, using wire dipnets with which we lifted them from the bottom.
The net had a handle about ten to twelve feet long. The water had to be clam so we could see the oysters. We used
cod liver oil tp help keep the water calm enough to see through it. The men who gathered the oysters in a big way used
rakes with teeth a foot long. We sometimes sold oysters by the barrel, and got less money for the barrel than one pays
for an oyster cocktail now. Mostly we fished them when we wanted to eat them. We made stews and we roasted them,
but we liked best to eat them raw, right out of the boat bucket.
In midsummer I used to suffer because there was so little fishing. i wanted to go fishing as far away
as Lewis Island one day because I had seen some small flounders there. Mother reminded us that it was haying time and
that if we wanted to gather saltwater hay on Lewis Island and bring home a boatload, we could go. This was something
we usually did once a year. The cows loved the salt-tasting wild grass once in a while. So we got an axe and forks
and a rake and a scythe and took off. We worked hard cutting the stuff, and gathering it together in a stretcher-like
affair we invented. By the time it was ready to load the boat, it was too late to go fishing, and there was a terrific
wind blowing toward our shore. Even if it was a favorable wind, we knew it would be crazy to try to go home with
a heavily laden boat. So we stacked the hay and decided to go home light. It was then that Allan got the idea
of cutting a fir tree and using it for a sail. So much easier than rowing all that way. This we did. We
had some difficulty getting it into the mast step, for it was a big tree--at least for our purposes. The wind
grabbed it at once and we took off at a frightening speed. Although we crowded into the stern, the tree just about shoved
the bow under the water. The wind increased as we got away from the island, so much so that we became frightened.
decided to get rid of the tree, but we couldn't go into the bow and struggle to get it out. Colin
tried it alone and we shipped a lot of water. Then we bailed frantically while the boat plowed along like a sperm whale.
Suddenly, above the roar came an ear-splitting yell from the far shore. It was father standing on the railway bridge,
and we knew right away how foolish we had been. Colin picked up the axe and whacked the tree. It was under such
tension that it broke off with a sound like a gun shot, and went into the water. We were safe! This was
a time when father was not nice. Didn't we have any brains at all! - he wanted to know. If the wind had veered,
even a little, he scolded, we would have capsized and drowned. And, of course, he was right. We could swim a little,
but we niever would have made shore from the middle of the cove.
DO OR DIE DUCKIE
While all this was going on, we lived in a farm yard. The barn and stables were about sixty yards
from the house. In between there was a buggy house, but that wasn't built until I was about ten. Right behind
the barn was the embankment of the river, and the path to the boats, and beyond the boats the railway bridge. A short
distance up the stream was the site of a saw mill fther operated at one time, and right by the dam was where we watered the
cattle in winter, because it was so easy to get to the water there. The front door of the house faced the road on the
side opposite the river, and about fifty to sixty yards from the house was a dep well under a wonderful pine we had climbed
so much that it was shiny from bottom to almost the top.
Most things that happened tous happened in this area. Here also, Duckie's great moment came to him:
the moment of truth, some would say. We had a great many chickens, and one year there were many new chicks among which
there were more than the usual number of roosters. They often got into fights, and we loved rooster fights. Each of
us claimed a rooster for himself--that is, if we thought him a good fighter. My first was white and full of "git and
go," and he won many fights for me. But one night a cow laid down on top of him, and I had a very flat rooster in the
morning. Fortunately, there were lots of toosters and I selected another, a speckled one. He turned out to be
a dud. He was wuick to strat a fight and then would run away. Some people are like that. I wanted to change
again, but the other boys would not let me. I could choose another only if something happened to the one I had.
Colin had a big black one and he won most of the fights. Allan's was red and yellow and he lost most all his fights,
and finally died. We buried him as a good soldier ought to be buried.
But Allan had a special friend, Allan Mohr (Big Allan), the carpenter. He loved Allan Bec (Little
Allan) in a special way. So one evening he came to call with a big rooster under his arm, and this rooster was a present
for Allan Bec. We never found out where he got this beautiful creature. He wa almost as bis as a turkey but much
more beautiful. He had style. Big Allan said to Little Allan, "Now see if this one will win some fights for you."
And could he! When he was turned loose, he made for Colin's champion and drove his two inch spurs into its head, leaving
him almost dead. Next he went after all the other roosters and beat them all. Then we knew this rooster was a
highly bred game cock. We never had seen a bird with such needle-like spurs or such fighting style. In one day
he was lord of the farm yard. But he wasn;t bred to care for a lot of chickens. He was a fighter, and there being
no more fighting roosters, he took after the ducks.
Among the ducks there was just one drake, a very polite white one
who was always bowing and whispering kind things. I don't think he had a name. But we called
him Duckie. In the fighting business, he was just a no-count bird. But he had a flock of female ducks to look
after, so when the big rooster whent for him he stood his ground. The cock made vicious passes at him with his spurs,
but Duckie was practised in bobbing--in ducking, if you like. And he dodged the spurs. Then, there being nothing
else to do, he grabbed the game cock by the wattles--those things that hang under a rooster's chin--and just hung on.
The cock could neither peck not strike with his spurs. He just looked embarrassed, and when Duckie started walking backwards
and dragging him along, he just looked mortally ashamed. Duckie kept backing and dragging him until they went clean
under the great barn. Duckie's feet provided great traction. By that time, everyone in the family had come to
watch, some to cheer. Duckie dragged his victim once again all around the barn-- the big rooster stubbing his spurred
feet into the ground, but to no avail. I think it was because of all the shouting and laughing that Duckie finally let
go of his hold. The great cock just turned and ran. After that even a hen could make him run. His fighting
days were over. It looks as though one could never tell when he is about to meet his match. You know, the quiet
people are often strong people.
It wasn't always fun in the farmyard. We had a lot of work to do, and we three younger ones did most
of the chores. The older ones said it was our turn now. We sawed wood and stacked it in back of the kitchen stove.
We brought water inf rom the well. We took the cows to pasture after miling and brought them home again in the evening.
In the winter we cleaned stables and shoveled a path to the creek for the cows to go for water. The stable cleaning
we disliked the most, and we used to fight over whose turn it was. We liked best to feed the animals. When one
opened the hatch in front of the cows, he got the sweet scent of their breath. They so welcomed the food that we felt
we were doing a very kind thing. And to feed the horses was always a delight.
Once in a while, we might get into some trouble. Allan and I were bedding down the cows after cleaning
the stable one day when I bet him that I could go right under Lily, a guernsey hornless cow, and that she wouldn't even get
nervous. I didn't think of the moose-like animal on the other side of her. When that critter saw me appear, she
kicked me right on the of the head, and probably several times. I remember only the first whack. When I came to,
I was a really dirt mess lying on by back in the snow. Allan had dragged me out by the heels. My face was swollen
and both my nose and ears were bleeding. There was a big lump on the top of my head for a long time after. People
used to joke about it and say the kick started my brain growing again, and that was why I was so smart in school.
We once had trouble with a bull. The cows were across the creek feeding amongst scrub trees and bushes.
Flora and I went to bring them home. We considered the bull a sort of pet that never showed any crossness. But
this time he came right for us with lowered head and there was little doubt about the way he felt.
He was out to gore us. I grabbed a stick and whacked him over the head, but the stick broke and we had to run.
Whenever we found a stick I turned and whacked the bull, but they were all old brittle sticks that flew to pieces and never
once even slowed down the bull. He followed us to the far end of the pasture where a tall rail fence ran out into the
water of the lake, far enough to discourage cattle from going around it. We would have climbed the fence to safety if
we had had time, but the bull was too close behind us. We rushed into the water and got around the fence with the water
up to our ears. There we panted and watched the bull try to knock the fence down. Fortunately, it was a new fence
and five rails high. But a half mile nearer home, when we had climbed over the railway fences, we saw the bull coming
again. He had somehow gotten through or over the new fence. But the railway fence was too much for him.
The next day father put a ring in his nose. He used to say, "Never trust a bull," and this time we believed him.
A cow can be dangerous too, under certain circumstances.
A big white cow with a crumpled horn named Dandy almost got me once. Dandy had a calf and when the
time came to send her out to pasture and wean the calf, I was told to take the calf away from her and put her with the other
cows. I did that. On that same evening, Colin was bringing the cows home for milking, and went by the house just
as I was taking an armload of wood into the kitchen. I was on the porch when Dandy saw me, and she broke from the herd
and charged me like a whirlwind. I just had time to strike the latch on the door and fall headlong into the kitchen
door as Dandy jumped on to the porch and missed me by inches. She went crashiing through the other end of the porch.
Mother said it was mother love, but I thought it was just a mean old cow, although I was always surprised to hink that she
remembered who had taken away her calf.
We all loved horses and we always had two, and sometimes three. It was more pleasant to clen the horse
stables, and we liked to curry and brush the animals when there wasn't anything more exciting to do. I remember Maud
best, a light bay mare, and Gordon, a dappled gray, and a very young animal we called Dan. Dan was sired by a great
racer, so we had great hopes for him. The first winter of his life we fed and watered him right in his box stall, and
took him out for walks. He always drank the water bucket dry. He had never seen so much water. He got bigger
and bigger, and once in a while he would lift his head and sigh, and look at the creek and start drinking again. Hismother,
Maud, was a good animal except when she got loose in the stable now and then. At such times she used to kick poor Gordon
until someone hearing the row would come to rescue him. Gordon could be mean, too, at times. He would bit e us
if he was enjoying his oats and didn;t want to be harnessed. Colin got bitten very badly by him a couple of times.
But Gordon was a great work-horse, and usually he was very kind.
The horses gave us more trouble in the summer. They had to go out to pasture when not working and,
of course, we had to bring them in in the morning. Sometimes they didn't want to be brought in. Gordon would walk
away from us--if we didn't have a pan of oats for him. Once even the oats didn;t work. He just would not come
to the dish Colin held out for him. Then Colin set the dish down on the ground and backed away a couple of steps.
Sure enough, Gordon came and started eating the oats, but when Colin came to him to grab his forlock and halter him, he falttened
his ears back, bared his teeth, and reared up waving his big hoofs right in Colin's face. We had to drive him home tht
time like we would a sheep, which was a lot more difficult than riding him.
Maud never did like to be brought in, but if you caught her in a fence corner she would stand. Once
Colin went for her when she was far from a fence, and every time he came near her she would turn away. He coaxed her
with a lot of soft talk and even got close enough to pat her on the rump, but he couldn't get to her head. Finally,
Colin got angry. He picked up a stick and holding it behind his back, he soft-talked her until he got within a couple
of paces of her head. Then, like a bolt of lightning, he jumped at her and grabbed her mane and jumped onto her back,
whanging her with the stick while he jug his bare heels into her belly. There being no bridle or halter to guide her,
she took off in the wrong direction. They galloped like fury to the highway. Maud leaped the rail gence into the
road, and then the fence on the other side of the road. They had a beautiful run across a green meadow towards Uncle
Dan's place. At the end of the meadow there was a fence with a deep ditch close by the other side. Maud never
interrupted her stride. She went over both fence and ditch like a bird, and galloped right up to Uncle Dan's front door
where she stopped and blew a great breath. Colin whacked her agian, and she took off back the way she had come, jumped
all three fences again and stillanother before she got to the barn and skildded to a stop. How did Colin manage to stay
on? Well, anyone who knew Colin just wouldn't ask.
We looked after the horses generally. We harnessed them and hitched them into the buggy or what-not
for whoever was going to drive them. We unharnessed them and bedded them down when they returned. Once in a while,
we got to drive them ourselves, and this we were very proud to do. We were never allowed to drive Dan. He was
a full-blooded raing stallion and not to be trusted with kids.
Sheep are not the sort of creatures to cause any excitement, but sometimes our sheep were the cause of scary
happenings. They, of course, caused a lot of work. They had to be fed indoors all winter, and in the early summer
they to be sheared. After the shearing, mother got us to help clen the fleeces, which was an unpleasant and timesome
task. She carded and spun the clean wool, and later turned it into socks and mittens and blankets. She got a weaver
to do the loom work. This weaver would come and pound away at the
loom for many days. There were also the lambs in the spring. Sometimes they came too soon and
they needed specail attention. Sometimes a sheep would have no milk or she would abandon her lamb. Such lambs
were brought into the house to be kept warm and fed. For such a one, mother would take warm milk into her mouth and,
holding the lamb's mouth open, would squirt the milk into its throat. The trouble with these lambs was that they became
pets and would follow whoever fed them like pups.
Any real excitement was likely to come from the rams. Once a small but very cross ram of Ian Ban's
came at my brother John. John was very strong, and the ram wasn't very big, so John grabbed him by the horns and swung
him over his head. When he hit the ground, he was so surprised that he kept going. Our big ram was something else
again. He wa very big!--weighted over three hundred pounds, and had big horms except that one had been broken off.
This ram was just mand at all humans. He would attack anyone who came in the same field with him. Some boys had
blinded him in one eye when he was young. We used to have many peddles, men who carried huge bundles of goods about
on their backs and sold them to people. One of these came into the driveway one unlucky day when the ram had just gotten
through the fence. The peddler dropped his load and leaped the fence. Then the ram attacked the bundles.
One was too bid and soft, being full of towles and sheets and clothes, to be much fun. After giving that a few bunts,
he attacked the big square box which we called a jewelry box. It was full of little things like needles and thread,
glasses, jack knives, spectacles, stick pins, buttons, etc. On the first whck, it split in several places. We
got the ram away after a while and picked up as much stuff as we could for the peddler. Mother was so ahsmed that she
fed him toast and jam and tea. For a long time afterwards, we would find a cuff lick or a watch chain or something of
the sort in the dust of the driveway.
Some people used to say that if a cross ram came at you, all you had to do was to lie flat on the ground
and the ram wouldn't touch you. Duncan got caught once in the middle of the field by our ram, so he just laid down on
this belly in the grass while the ram came like a cyclone. That ram didn't care whether people stood up or laid down,
so Duncan got butted on the rump with such a whop that he was imspired to run, and run he did.
There were two or three summers when I worked for a man Named Cameron at West Bay Road agbout twenty miles
from home. I drove the horse in the hay rake, spread hay to dry or stocked it, and I made lay loads while two men pitched
the hay on to the wagon. One day Mr. Cameron brought home a couple of big rams. He had them tied together by the
necks with a piece of chain. He asked me to hold them while he went into the barn for something.
His mistake, at least from my point of view, was that he dropped a bucket onto the barn floor and it made
a loud bang. That was all the rams needed. They took off. I could hold the north wind as easily as those
two beats. One of my fingers got caught in a link of the chain, so I could not let go. They raced with me a good
half mile to the fan end of the farm. On the way, they dragged me through a very wet place below a spring. They
circled the farm through wet and dry places and over scrubby and rocky places, and then unintentionally they got into the
corral where the cows were gathered for milking every night and morning. It was far from being a clean place, and I
felt that they purposefully dragged me through every heap of manure before they found the gate again and went on to cleaner
fields. Finally, I got my finger untangled from the chain and dropped out of the race. I lay on the ground panting.
I was scratched all over and my sides weere cut and bruised by the rams' hooves. And to say that I was dirty would be
the understatement of all time! I have always been very fond of lamp chops, and I just wonder!
THE BEARS CAME BACK
When old Ewen Mohr (Big Hughie) died, father said something about him being a famous bear hunter.
There was no bears on Cape Breton in our time, but there had been when father was a boy. Colin and Allan and I wished
very much that the bears would come back, but until they did we had to be satisfied with stories about them. So after
dinner, when father was relaxed on the couth with his pipe we asked about Ewan Mohr's hunting, and he told us a story about
"When Ewan was young there were many bears, and he had more than his share of them. They stole his
sheep so that they disappeared about as fast as he could raise them. The leader of the bears was a huge one-eyed animal
that Ewan supposed was one he had wounded years before. He was a tremendous bear and he just about lived on Ewan's sheep.
The other fears followed him around and soon became sheep killers like him. One night three sheep disappeared, and Ewan
was so angry that he declared war on the bears. He spent a day making lead bullets and he walked from Little harbor
where he lived to MacAulay's store at Magalawatch to get a supply of powder. Then he went home and got down his flint-lcok
where it hung on the wall and began to load it."
"What;s a flint-lock?" we asked.
"Oh, the flint-lock muskat had a flint and a little powder pan and when a person pulled the trigger, the
hammer came down and struck the flint and made a spark that lighted the powder, and then the charge of powder in the gunwent
off and blew out the bullet. They didnt have fire caps like your brother John's gun has. The flint-lock wasn't
too good a gun. It made a flash and was so slowin firing that creatures could duck off and run at times."
"Tell us about Ewan,: we asked.
"Where were we in the story?"
"Where he started to load the gun," we told him.
"Well, he had a pcketfull of bullets he had made and also lot of wadding like bits of paper, old cotton
cloth, or drymoss. Anything that would pack tightly. First, he poured the powder in his palm, and then poured
it down the gun barrel. Then he pushed in some wadding and poked it down and rammed it tight with his ram rod.
The ram rod was part of the gun, and was carried on the underside of the barrel just like John's gun. Then he put in
a bullet and some more wadding which he rammed tightly on top of the bullet.
"Ewan found the bear tracks, and he could see plainly where the sheep
had been dragged away. He followed these tracks back inthe the thick woods and after a while found
where one of the sheep was buried. The bear had eaten part of it and buried the rest in dried leaves. He searched
until he found the remains of the other sheep and the old bones of sheep he had lost long before. He had probable found
the place where the bears ate what they stole. He knew the bears would come back for another meal, so he hid behind
a big maple tree and watched. He sat there patiently for hours, not making a sound. That he could so this
was one reason why he was such a good hunter. Suddenly, a squirrel went 'twrrrrrrrrrrr" close to his head and nearly
jumped him out of his skin. Ewan groaned. That squirrel would tell every creature around where he was. Then
he thought that maybe the squirrels were telling him something.
"He held his breath, and before he had to breathe again, he saw the big bear coming. He came slowly,
raising his snout into the air and sniffing. He finally got to uncovering the sheep and Ewan took very careful aim at
the top of his head and pulled the trigger. The bear let our a growly squeal, shook his head, and then came for Ewan.
He must have had a cast iron skull. The big hunter had no time to reload his gun so he climbed in the the maple, and
began to reload his gun up there. By the time he rammed the wadding after the bullet, the big bear was half way up the
tree. This time he shot the angry creature through the head and the bear fell and struck the ground like a sackful of
rocks. Ewan could see other bears around as he reloaded his musket, and he made up his mind that the best place to be
was home. He got up and ran and right away a bear rose up on his hind legs right in his path. He shot that one
and then had to climb another tree to reload. A third bear pulled one of his long leather boots off before he got out
of the way. He shot the bear that had his boot and loaded again and came down and ran once more. He hadn't gone
a dozen steps when he was clobbered over the head by a bear. He was knocked head over heels, and when he got up the
bear grabbed him by the cheeks and kicked him in the tummy. The foot without the boot was no use, but he really almmed
the brute with the big boot he had on the other foot. The bear backed away enough so Ewan could grab his gun and run.
He climbed a tree again and reloaded and shot two bears before he came down. When he did get down a bear slapped the
gun out of his hands, and it flew off and fell on a stump and went off and killed another bear."
Allan and Colin and I looked at each other, and we knew this was a whopper, but father went on.
"He killed nine bears that day," he concluded.
A man from West Bay Road told us how as a boy he had gone to see his father's bear trap and found a big
one caught by the hind foot. The chain that tied the trap was too long and the bear got him and knocked him down
and then jumped on top of him. When the animal's mouth opened wide to grab his face, he took hold
of the bear's tongue with both hands and dug in his finger nails and held on while the bear thrashed about. Being held
by his tongue, the bear could not clamp his teeth down on his hands. A neighbot who had heard the bear's roaring came
in time to shoot it and so saved the man's life.
We thought that was a whopper, too, but we weren't sure because we didn't think anyone could think about
grabbing the tongue unless it happened.
Some stories we knew were true. Like the one about Ian Ban when he sat up near the sheep carcass all
night long waiting for the bear to come back for another meal. Before daybreak, he fell asleep and when he woke up the
dead sheep waas gone.
There was also the one about Murcich, who in out time was known as The Bear. He was following a woods
road long after dark. His feet seemed to find the way even though he was quite drunk. He had been to a party somewhere.
He swayed back and forth as he walked, but he felt like the strongest man in the world. Then he thought he saw something
move across a patch of moonlight on the road ahead. He stopped to have a good look, and sure enough, there was a bear
coming to meet him. Murdoch picked up a big stick, and all his muscles got tight and rippling. The bear acted
as if he wanted tokeep politely on his side of the road, but Murdoch was not quite as polite. He went for the bear and
struck him a fearful blow on the head. The bear reared up and struck the stick out of Murdoch's hands and grabbed him
around the shoulders and bit the skin and hair right off the top of his head. Someone else going home from the party
found him near dead from loss of blood. Murdoch wa tough and he recovered, although he wlways had a bald spot.
After that, he was known as "Murdoch, the Bear."
There were stories about other animals besides bears. My grandmother shot a seal once, and a great-uncle
who was a sailor boarded a whle he thought was dead and had what was probably the first submarine rine anyone ever had.
But I don't know anymore about these stories.
Father shot a big cat once that was always a mystery to him. No one who had not seen the animal would
believe there had ever been such a creature. This story was no whopper. We knew by the way father talked when
he was telling the truth. He had a little dog, a terrior of some sort, and one morning this little doggie set up a shattering
row just before breakfast. Mother looked out of the window--this was when they lived in the log cabin on the hill--and
much to her astonishment she saw an enourmous animal that looked like a cat, although it seemed almost as big as a colt.
It was walking across the cleared patch about the cabin in the direction of the river. She let the dog out and he took
after the beast like he was forty dogs. They both
disappeared over the edge of the bank of the stream. Father got into his clothes, grabbed his gun,
and took off after them. He followed the dog's barking up stream until he caught up with him. The terrior was
by then so excited his voice got slivered into squeaks. He had the cat treed in a big pine. Father brought down
the creature with the first shot, and the dog grabbed it by the ear and tried to shake it. This was his prize and he
wanted everyone to know about it. The only wild cat known in Cape Breton was the Bobcat, but this was no Bobcat.
He was five times as big. The Bobcat was gray and had a stub of a tail. What was this animal? He never found
out. None of the neighbors who came to see it had ever heard of such an animal. So the big cat remained a complete
mystery. But in later years, in British Columbia, I saw a Puma (also called a cougar and several other names), and he
fitted father's description perfectly. Some think pumas were once all over the continent, so maybe it was one of these.
But the big cat had to remain a mystery, and those who did not see it could not believe that there ever was such an animal.
We enjoyed old-time bear stories best because everyone know there had once been lots of bears. But
they had disappeared, and we thought that there were none left in Cape Breton. Bears might have come across the Strait
of Canso on the ice flow, or they might possibly have sswum across. There were no deer in Cape Breton, either, and no
moose nor porcupines not skunks; yet all these were common on the Nova Scotia mainland. There had been tremendous forest
fires, and that may have had something to do with the absence of these animals. Anyway, there were no bears, and then
suddenly Allan and I met a bear!
A cow had strayed away, as our cows often did. Mother said they went in search of mushrooms at a certain
time of the year. We couldn't find the critter anywhere, and then someone told us she had seen her half way to Orangedale,
a direction in which our cows never seemed to go. So Allan and I went to investigate. About a mile from home,
we saw a cow track going into the woods, and we followed this clue. We lost the track immediately, but we found a path
that a cow would almost certainly make if it went that way. We had gone quite a distance, and the sun was getting low
in the west when we saw a black shadow moving across our path.
"There she is!" Allan shouted.
But there was something different about this animal. We stopped and listened. The soft way the
twigs cracked under its feet wasn't like a cow. We listened to the thing circle around us and move a if it inteded to
get behind us. So we scooched low in a bunch of wild grass and watched at a place where we could see the ground clearly
against the sky. Out into this stage walked the animal, and stood on its haunches, and started sniffing the air.
"It must be a bear!" we both whispered at once. For a minute we didn't know what to do. Then
I suggested, "Let's jump up and yell and see it go."
That was o-kay with Allan, so we got set and then jumped together and yelled like hyenas. We expected
to see the bear go like lightning. But it didn't. It rose and started moving very slowly, and took a course around
us and very near to us, although we could not see it because of the bushes. When it got away from the path on which
we had come, we took off like a couple of bunnies.
I don't believe anyone ever ran a s fast. We got home without a cow, and everyone laughed at our bear
story. They laughed at us so much that we began to wonder if we really had seen anything. The next morning Neillie
Malcolm called, as he frequently did, and the first thing he said was "You won't believe this, but half way from town I saw
a bear's tracks in the road."
"Are you serious?" Father asked.
"I certainly am," he said. "I have seen lots of bears elsewhere, and I am not mistaken about this
one. His tracks were quite clear in the soft clay.
Allan laughed sarcastically, and I said, "Ya, ya!" I felt like sticking my tongue our, but that wasn't
Some birds are just as interesting as animals, I should say just as exciting. Once brother John and
Neillie Malcolm and Laughie Donald climbed a tall tree on Lewis Island and robbed two young chicks from a fish hawk's or Osprey's
nest. They brought them home and left them for us to look after. They were worth looking after, too, but the looking
after took a great deal of extra time and work. Then we started to find fish for food. That wasn't easy in the
summertime. We had to go to Monroe's Bridge where we could catch some very spiney perch and small flounders, if we were
lucky. The birds had ferocious appetites, and the fish would disappear as soon as we gave it to them. They squawked
constantly for food, but they grew rapidly. They soon got so big they filled their cages, so we took them out and set
them on the cage tops, hoping they would take a notion to fly off home. Mother made un tether them. She was afriad
they might go for the chikens. Then, she said: "These things eat all the time, and if you want them to live you'll have
to fish about all the time."
This was too much. It got so that we were fishing after dark and altogether too early in the morning.
We finally decided we would have a bang-up fishing spell and bring home enough food to last them several days. We had
luck, too, and caught many perch, several flounders, and some big suckers. We put them all on top of the cages, and
invited the birds to help themselves. When we went to bed they were still tearing the fish to shreds and gobbling them
That's when father noticed them, and he thought the boys had robbed a bald eagle's nest instead of an osprey's...and
maybe that was the truth. But we were never to find out. In the morning they were both as dead as dodos.
It was astonishing to evern suspect that a wild thing could eat itself to death. It was sad to have to learn about creatures
that way, but there was no one to tell us what to do.
Louis Joe, our summer Indian neighbor, had an adventure with a wild animal no bigger than a red squirrel.
Every summer, Indians came and camped on the bit of our land that was farthest out on the shore of the cove. They caught
eels and oysters, and made baskets and axe handles which they exchanged for food they could not prepare too easily themselves.
They had a legal right to camp along the waterways, and to take ash trees, etc. for basket materials from anyone's land.
The Cape Breton Indians were Micmacs, and in those days there was a reservation, as there is now, at Whycocomagh,
and there was another at Big Harbor. I do not know which of them Lousi Joe belonged to. I think he must have been
partly French, for he had a big, black beard, which is unlikely among pure blooded indians. With him came Maggie, his
wife, a couple of young people, and a very old and dignified man who was Maggie's father or grandfather. He was blind.
They built three teepees, as a rule, and I think one was for the old man, exclusively. One was canvas covered, bu the
others were made of birch bark. There was a cooking place outside, and a place for a small fire in the center of the
teepee. The smoke wound up through an opening in the top of the teepee.
We loved to visit this family, although we were not allowed to bother then very often. Louis spoke
fair English, and always asked questions when we visited them. I once sat for quite a spell in a teepee with the old
man, just the two of us. He smiled faintly, but didn't say a word, and neither did I. I have always enjoyed being
with people who didn't feel they had to talk all the time to be sociable. Then I moved to Louis Joe's teepee.
His wife, Maggie, was weaving a basket with hands that moved very fast. Lois smiled at me and pulled out a box into
the center of the teepee, and showed me a very young
mink. I had seen a baby mink along the shore,
and once caught a glimpse of its mother. This was probably the one he now said he caught with his
bare hands. Lousis pointed a finger at it and said, "He bite bad." Then he showed me his bandaged wrist.
When we next saw Louis, months later, he had no right arm. The wound from the bite had become infected, and Lousi barely
lived through it. Now, if I could tell of a big grisley bear biting the arm off a man, it would make an exciting story.
Yet that little bit of a squirrel-sized mink could be almost as deadly without timely medical assistance.
But what I started to say was that the bears came back, and later the deer came so plentifully that people
found it difficult to grow vegetables. The deer were brought in by the government. Now there's a road across from
Nova Scotia mainland to Cape Breton and any animal can cross without wetting its feet. So I imagine that by now skunks
and porcupines can get across as easily as any other. Even the oose can cross. But there was no way of telling
how our particular bear got back.
AND THE RATS CAME TOO
Uncle Hector sold his place to a brick maker, and it was a sad day for us when he and his family mover to
their new home which was half way between Valley Mills and Magalawatch. There was a padlock on the door of the buggy
shop, and it looked strange, for we never used a lock on anything. It was then we bagan to know really how nice Uncle
Hector and Aunt Jessie were, and we remembered sadly the good times with the fresh smelling pine blocks and shavings on the
shop floor, and how Aunt Jessie sort of got inside you so that you felt something was wrong when she wasn't around.
The new owner, Mr. Lantz, built what we thought was an enormous house. It was three stories high.
The two top floors were filled with beds for the workers, and the lower ones had the dining room and kitchen and lounging
room. Dozens of men came. None spoke the Gaelic and some spoke French more than they did English. There
were dozens of horses, too--big, beautiful creatures, much bigger than the breeds we used. A siding was built from
the railway and soon it was filled with boxcars full of horse feed and machinery, wagons and bobsleds. A huge shed for
kiln baking the bricks was built and the drying grounds were laid out as flat and smooth as a tennis court.
The horses turned the machines in which clay and sane were mixed and moulded into bricks. They hauled
everything that needed hauling, there being no trucks then. They also hauled the four-foot sticks for the fires of the
kiln after the woods crew had felled and chunked the trees. When winter came, they used bobsleds to bring in the
wood. A team carried a whole cord at a time, and a cord means a pile of wood four feet high and four feet wide and eight
The first men we got to know were Jim Fraunkand Joe, whose last name I never did know. They
were the chief teamsters. They loved their horses like mothers love babies. Their horses looked sleek and shiny,
and their harnesses were glittering with thoroughly polished brass, there were red and white rosettes just under the horses'
ears. The time they didn't spend brushing and feeding the animals they gave to polishing the brass and thinning
out tails. We soon discovered that they were jealous of each other. I liked Joe better than Jim, and maybe
that was because someone was playing tricks on him. Someone stole his oats and brass ornaments and that sort of thing,
and finally did something very mean, indeed. His horses stopped eating and he discovered that someone had smeared grease
of some sort inside the horses' mouths. I suspected that only Jim knew enough about horses to do a thing
like that, and yet he didn't seem like amean guy. Anyway, he loved horses too much for that.
The winter time was especially exciting for us. The wood cutters were working on father's woodland,
between our home and the school house, or on the Barren Road, so we often got rides on the bare bobs when we were going to
school, and on the loads when coming home. Bob riding was difficult. The rear one was the one available tous,
and it was tied to the forward one just with crossed pieces of chain. It switched and jerked a great deal.
Our dog Purdy always tried to ride in every vehicle that a horse could draw. He often tried of this
reak jerking bob sled. He would jump on and sit up in great difnity for a half a minute or so. Then the bob would
jounce in a rut, and Purdy would go bottom over kettle. He'd catch up at once and try it again, and seemed to take the
peculiarities of bob sled transportation for granted.
Either Colin or Allan or I, or all three of us, would go the the Launtz cookhouse every morning for the
garbage. It seemed too bad to call it garbage. It was gourmet pig food, and we had pigs. The cook seemed
to discard eveeything that wasn't eaten at once. Left-over meats, whole bake-sheets of cookies that didn't just suit
him, large portions of cakes that weren't as fresh as hed'd like, with piles of vegetables and peelings and leftovers.
You could tell the pigs were impressed with the improvement in their diet.
In this way we got to know the cook, who turned out to be a pretty good guy. he once gave me a jack
knife, and instead of handing it to me he laid it on the table, and said: "Bad luck to give people any sharp pointed
tool. So I am not giving it to you. I am setting it on the table, and you can take it if you wish." I thought
he wa a nut to believe anything like that, but I wanted that knife and I wasn't slow in taking it.
The brick factory got underway fast. The sheds were built, the pit opened from which the clay was
taken, mizers set up, and so on. John got a job making brick. He and others took trays to the mixing machines
and shoved then into its middle. They then pulled hard on a lever, and removed the tray, now with a number of bricks
on it--six, I think. This done, the men ran out to the hard, flat court and expertly laid the brick on the ground where
they could be somewhat sun-dried until they could be handled. The men worked in their bare feet. Often they sang
foolish songs as they ran back and forth. Then the brick would be taken into the great kiln shed and piled into a regular
mountain of beautifully packed raw brick. When the pile was complete they started fires in the these tunnels, right
through from side to side. These fires had to be tended night and day for a long time until the bricks were properly
It was fascinating to see the men handle the bricks. A man below would pick up two bricks in each
hand, put them together and throw them six to ten feet up to John who caught them as easily as if they were packages of tea.
The bricks never separated as they went through the air.
Johnnie Dan also got a job, although he was very young. He pumped the water from the river into a
raised tank from which it would flow to the mixing machines, all by hand pump. It was very hard work.
Workmen came to call almost every morning, and we loved having visitors. Some could sing and some
could dance, and some could play some instrument. Even those who just played the harmonica or Jew's harp were lots of
fun. Sometimes we had dances at our home and most of the brick men came. They danced Scottish reels mostly, and
There were less attractive kinds of excitement. One evening mother took a lantern and went to the
cellar for potatoes, and what did she see sitting on a box in which she stored preserved fruits but a rat! That doesn't
sound like much excitement, but it was really the beginning of a war.
None of us kids had ever seen a rat. They had left with the bears for some reason, and for years there
had been none. Now the box cars of hay and oats and food brought them back, and they found a whole new world to conquer.
Colin and I had the oats to thrash. We had no great love for the task, but it was one of out responsibilities.
We'd put a pile of unthrashed oats on one side of the barn floor. Then we would stnad facing each other on opposite
sides of the oats and begin banging with the flails. The flaid had a handle six or seven feet long: on the end of this
was another shorter stick tied on with a piece of eel skin which was tough and supplied its own lubrication. I swung
the flaid so that the short stick would describe a circle over my head and then went down with a bang on the edge of the oat
pile. This was done with a side movement that tended to move the oat straw to the other side of the barn floor.
Adte I hit, and the flail was in the air for another hit, Colin's flail would band the oats, then mine and then his, and so
on. The trouble with this was that now and then our flails got tangled, and then the shorter stick was liable to strike
one around the eyes. We got more lumpy black eyes from flails than we ever did in any other way. It was while
we worked at this task that we discovered rats were in the barn.
In a few weeks we had a plague of rats. Uncle Dan didn't seem to be bothered as yet. Probably
because he was farther away from the brick yard. There were so many in our barn that when we went in at night with a
light, the floor would be half covered with rats scurrying away and down an open place in the floor. The mows of hay
and oats would be full of their noises, too. Our oats were not bound into sheaves, but merely forked in the same way
as hay. The rats made chaff of it faster than we could thresh, so fast that we had to give it up for lost.
One day I happened to look into a pig place just after the animals had been fed and the troughs were packed
full of rats, so full that only an old boar was brave enough to try to eat. We had to stay with the pigs while that
As spring came, we had little chicks and ducklings, and all but a half dozen were taken by the rats.
Once mother put the ducklings, which were about a quarter grown, into a big grain box with a cover. There were just
air holes in the box. Next morning there was a great hole gnawed through and four of the ducklings were gone.
That was when I declared my own personal war against the "varmints." Father bought several rat traps,
and I used then and all my muskrat traps, too. I caught dozens of then but this made not the slightest difference.
It seemed that a dozen rats came to the funeral of every one I killed. I then tried fishing tackle in addition, and
caught several that way, but I had to give it up when I caught one of mother's prize chickens. John had to file the
hook off and let the rest of go down its gizzard. They all scolded me and predicted the hen would die. But it
didn't. It was the prize egg layer and it beat its own record that summer.
Then I thought of the muscle-loading shot gun. John had gotten a new double-barrelled shot gun with
breach-loading shells. It looked like it would cost too much to expend a shot on every rat I killed, so I experimented.
I used a modest bit of powder and just two BB's, and made sure that the waddings were good and tight. This worked fine
and I must have killed hundreds of rats this way. I'd lie on the grass watching the place where they appeared from under
the barn, and when one came I shot it. But, again, the rats did not decrease in numbers. I filled the barrel with
water and covered the top of the water with oat chaff, and I drowned a lot of them. But more and more rats followed.
Then Merchant Dan sold us some new rat poison which he promised would get them. We cut up bread into
squares and spread then with the gluey stuff. It stank and seemed to smoke. The poson was then covered with flour
and topped with confectioner's sugar. We set them out in a room in the barn that nothing could get into except rats.
In the morning the stuff was all gond and a number of dead rats were lying about. What is more, there wasn't a sign
of a living rat anywhere. Then Uncle Dan complained that we had sent them all to him. It was true. Rats
will often move when they detect poisons. Uncle Dan also poisoned them, and in a short time the war was over.
WE CURE COLIN'S ASTHMA
Colin had asthma. He was often miserable and wheezed a great deal. No one knew what to do for
it--not even the doctor who gave him some emulsified cod liver oil. It was something to take even if it did no good.
Then one day, Belly-Button Peg came to call. She was smoking a clay pipe. She was wild-eyed, as usual. Mother
wasn't too anxious to have her get into the house because, if she did, she would stay and stan and waste people's time.
So we all met her outdoors. She sat on the porch steps and at once began telling us of the foolishness of people we
knew. She was generally berating somebody, and in the niddle of one of her tirades she heard Colin wheeze, and immediately
switched to scolding mother.
"Whatls the idea of letting a child go with that kind of trouble?"
"Well," mother replied, "Is there anyone who knows what to do about it?"
Belly-Button Peg snorted like Ian Ban's bull when he was cross. "Do about it?" she yelled. "Of
course, there's something you can do about it, but one can't expect fools to know about such things." Then she went
on more quietly, "The boy's still growing and that makes the cure possible! All you have to do is take him away back
into the woods and find a tree that he will never see again as long as he lives. That's the first thing. Then
you stand him against that tree and you bore a hole in the tree just close above his head. Be sure and make it deep
enough. Then you cut that cowlick from his head, and you stuff it into the hole. Then you make a wooden plug,
and you drive it in on top of the hair as tightly as you can drive it. Then you cut the plug end off so it looks just
as if someone had cut a limb from the tree. Then you go home and wait. When the boy has grown past the hole, which
should not take more than a year, the wheeze will be gone."
When Peg left, everybody laughed at her cure. Father laughed the loudest and called her an old witch.
But Colin and Allan and I wanted very much to have that wheeze cured. We had a conference in the barn and we thought
it wouldn't hurt to try. We could manage without anyone else knowing about it, and so escape being laughed at if it
didn't work. So, one day we collected an axe and a big auger, a bread knife and a pair of scissors. It wasn't
too easy to hide these things when we pretended we were going to look for spruce gum up the Barren Road.
About a mile up that lonely road we turned off into the woods and tramped a long time until we came to a
place we were sure we would never see again. We finally came to a tree in a damp, dark hollow that no one would
ever wish to visit. Allan kept his finger in the hole while I tried to make a plug. The hair
was so springy it would jump out it it wasn't held in there. Making the plug was difficult. It had to be quite
round and the bread knife was not very sharp. When we finally got it to fit, we pounded it in with the back of the axe.
Colin himself, being the best hand with an axe, cut it off clean with one blow. All we had to do then was to wait about
a year. That seemed a long time. And suppose Colin didn't grow any bigger. Some people didn't. All
we could do was advise Colin to eat a lot more than usual.
We started home confidently, and after walking fifteen minutes or so, I spied our hollow and the tree again.
I yelled to Colin, "Shut your eyes quick! We're back at the tree!" We had gone around in a circle. That
scared us a bit, for we had heard how lost people went around in circles. We discussed the problem and we all agreed
that home was a bit south of east from us and that the Barren Road was south. We tramped about another fifteen minutes
and Allan, who wa ahead shouted, "Turn around quick! We're back at the hollow again!" The third time this happened,
we were really scared. Maybe people would never see us again any more than they would that old tree.
"But we were sure we were going in the right direction," Allan wailed. "We went straight, didn't we?"
"No, we didn't," said Colin. "We've been going in circles like chickens."
"What can we do now?" we all asked at once.
Then I had an idea, so I said, "We turned in a circle to the right when we thought we were going straight,
didn't we?" Colin and Allan agreed that we had. "Then," I said, "why not try our best to make a circle to the
left, and maybe we'll go straight."
They laughed at me, but there being no other suggestion, we tried it. We didnt go straight, but we
didn't circle back either. We came out at a place way back in the woods that we happened to know. There was our
creek and a bit of burnt land where we planted potatoes one summer. Feeling safe, we felt good and laughed a great deal
and agreed that we'd certainly never find that old tree again.
In a litlle over a year, Colin's asthma left him. Mother daid that children grow out of diseases like that
sometimes. So we never knew for sure whether or not we had cured Colin's asthma.
Uncle Colin MacRae was
sure that Belly-Button Peg could cure some troubles. he said he had a great toothache once, and there being no doctor
to pull it or dentist to fix it, he did what Peg told him. As he said, "You have toothache long and
hard enough and you will try anything that's supposed to be a cure."
She made him find an old hordeshoe with the nails still init. When he did this, she made him remove
one of the nails and straighten it. Then she sent him to the brook for a rock from the very bottom of the stream.
Next, she sent him to the woods with the nail and the rock and he drove the nail into a tree with the rock as she instructed
him. After that she told him he nad only to wait. That night the tooth split and dropped out with a lot of blood
and pus and the toothache was gone. Father spoiled it all by saying that infected teeth did that sometimes.
There were superstitions that few people believed, but there were strange things that many people believed.
For example, most people believed in ghosts, so we believed in them, too, or maybe half-believed.
I remember the first ghost I heard. Our parents had bulit a log cabin when they first started the
farm, and it stood there behind two aple trees for many years after they mover to the new house. Neillie Hector told
us he had seen a ghost there. He was a such ghost with white whiskers and he cried all the time, or so Neillie said.
I wanted to go and get some apples one day, but I was afraid to go alone. I think I was very young then. The door
was gone on the cabin and the roof had fallen in, some of it all the way, and the floor was all in the cellar. But I
wanted the apples so much that I went. Trembling with fear and excitement, I stood at a safe distance and listened.
Nothing happened. Then I went nearer, and still nothing happened. Finally I looked through the space between two
logs where the moss had fallen away. What a jumble of boards! As I looked, I heard something running up somewhere
near the ceiling, and then there was a loud crash and bang and the place filled with dust. I ran for home in such a
panic that just breathing nearly choked me. Mother shook me and then she laughed and gave me a glass of milk.
When I told her what had happened, she said pieces of the old place were falling down all the time, and that probably a squirrel
had set it going. I didn't believe her at all.
Many people believed that folks could at times get signs just before someone was going to die. They
might see strange lights at night, or hear people speak to them who had been long dead. People at our place often wondered
at lights we might see on stormy nights crossing the hillside on Uncle Dan's farm. Lights might have been carried by
people looking for a lost cow or sheep, but some folks like Peter Nicholson would never think of an explanation of that sort.
And there were others who would just shake their heads.
The thing that spooked me most of all was the whispered belief that some people had the "second sight."
They could often tell in advance when
someone was going to die. I was very much afraid of one man who was said to "see things," and might
look at you in a funny way if you were going to die. He worked with father one day and i was just plain scared that
he might look at me. Actually, he was a very nice man.
Neillie Malcolm, or Begob, as we called him, claimed that Colin Martin had the second sight. He told
how he and Colin were walking along the road one night when Colin stepped to the ditch, saying, "Well, now, I haven't heard
of anyone dying. Whose funeral can it be?" He stayed there and stared for a long while. When Begob told
him that he hadn't seem anything at all on the road, he shook his head. Then he told Begob that he had seen a whole
string of neighbors in buggies following a cart carrying a coffin, and that he, Begob, had walked right through them all.
Begob claimed later that there was such a funeral in that place two days later. Wasn't it Dr. Doolittle's pig that called
things like that "skoopish"?
Donald Nicholson used to tell stories, and some of them were real superstitous. Like seeing a woman
milking the fresh calfed cow and then disappearing before his eyes, and the cow going dry immediately. And once, he
claimed, he saw a rabbit sucking one of his best cows. He threw a rock at it and broke one of its front legs.
Next time he saw one of his neighboring women, and she had her arm in a sling, and Donald believed she was a witch who could
turn herself into a rabbit.
Donald stayed home all through the ong, hard winter. In the spring on some nice warm day he would
start coming down the Barren Road to get his mail at Uncle Dan's little post office. Father used to call him the Dung
Fly because he always came out when the Dung Fly did. Father scorned old Donald as a liar, but we loved him for his
wonderful stories. He also used to bring us apples from his special apple tree, so we knew he was kind. Donald's
son, Peter, used to tell greater whoppers than his father. But we never liked him or his stories, and I think that was
because he was not an artist as his father was, and he wasn't kind like his father.
once we had a sick cow that we thought was going to die. But she suddenly got well for no reason that
we could observe. Someone spoke of this one day while Donald was visiting. He always called on us when he went
to Uncle Dan's for the mail and had tea and bread and butter with mother and us kids. This time, as usual, he could
tell a story. It was about a cow named Liza de Veaux owned by a man on the banks of the St. Lawrence near Riviere Du
Loop. Liza died in mid winter, and was dragged across the ice by a horse to an island and left there for the foxes and
ravens to pick. Everyone assumed that that was the end of dear old Liza De Veaux. But months llater, after the
ice had gond out, a fisherman rowing by the island saw Liza standing on the tips of her hooves on rickety legs
and drinking from
the river, and she was nursing a newly born calf. Father was pretending he was asleep on the sofa
when this story came to an end, and he let out a snort like an enraged elephant. Mother spoke as if she believed the
story, and we kids begged him to tell us another one.
Another time when Donald was enjoying his tea, nother told Flora how to prepare the fish for dinner.
Father had caught a big cod that morning. Hearing about the big fish reminded Donald of his story.
"How well I remember the biggest fish I ever saw caught with a hand line. Many fisherman had tried
to catch something all day and failed. Then, when everyone was about to give up, a dark young man from the West Indies
got a terrific bite. The fish dragged him right into the water until only his head showed, and would probably have drowned
him if a number of men had not come to help. They fought that fish all night, and only when the sun was rising did the
big creature weaken so that they could pull it shore. It took a dozen men to get it up on the beach. When they
opened his mouth wide with a piece of fence rail the man who fished it stood in its mouth. That was a fish to remember."
Father groaned as if hurt, and Donald, who could not miss the meaning of that goran, replied, "Say what you like, it was every
bit that big!"
"Of course it was," said Mother. Father told her later she ought to be ashamed of herself.
We loved old Donald Nicholson for his wonderful yarns. I think he invented then just as he talked.
he night believe in witches and the evil eye that could make a cow go dry or keep the cream from turning to butter and such
nonsense, but we never heard him say a nasty work about anyone we knew.
There was a superstition about the MacLeans that Donald Cameron said he believed. I think he was trying
to frighten me. He said, "One time there was a MacLean Chief who was a great warrior, but finally he got killed in battle
when an enemy cut off hlf his head with a battle axe. He got to be called 'Little-Headed Hughie' after a while, and
that was because his ghost is surprised to come back. So whenever a MacLean is dying, he is visited by Little-Headed
"This is quite true," said Donald Cameron. "When you get old and are about to die, he will come riding
to you, riding his horse and with only half a head."
"Why does he come?" I asked him.
"Oh, I don't know. Maybe to remind you that worse things could happen to you."
I told father about it and he said, "Donald Cameron is full of nonsense. no MacLean ever heard of
Little-Headed Hughie. Did you ever know that the word Cameron in Gaelic means 'crooked nose'? Well, his story
is as crooked as his nose."
I liked very much a story mother told me. She had a dream when she was young. She dreamed that
a man showed her where a pot of gold was buried under a tree. The dream seemed so real that she had her older brother
Christopher go with her to find the tree. They found it and Christopher dug it up and made a hole big enough for a ton
of gold, but there was nothing there at all. I used to wonder if I could go to Big Harbor and did it for myself.
The gold night still be there. Pirates might have come to the lakes to bury treasure. But I never got a chance
to go there to dig while I still believed the gold might be there.
MONEY, MONEY, MONEY!
It gave me a queer feeling to be in the woods in midwinter with a lantern. It was five o'clock in
themorning and I was a good mile and a half from home. It was very cold and still very dark, and the new snow was deep.
Nothing looked as it did in the daylight, but I knew the marks I had made on the trees, and there were also big stumps and
windfalls that I well remembered, so I had no trouble finding my snares. But I had to very careful, noting every turn
or half-turn I made. I was catching snowshoe rabbits to sell. I had caught four this morning and a partridge,
and the partridge was a complete surprise. I didn't know that they ever got into snares. I needed to be in the
woods so early because I had chores to do at home, and then I had to walk the two miles to school at Orangedale.
I left home earlier than did the others because I had to sell my rabbits to Burnt Jim, who lived conveniently
right by the railway station. Burnt Jim wasn't admired by too many people, because he sold whiskey, although to do so
was against the law. He got fined every few months, but that never stopped him. His family didn't like his business
any more than did other people, but Burnt Jim was a law unto himself, and he did as he pleased.
This morning he was not in the little building where I usually found him, so I wnet to the front door of
his home, pulling the rabbits out of the sack as i did so. One of Burnt Jim's nice looking daughters answered my rap
on the door. She almost screamed the words, "We don't buy rabbits!" and then slammed the door. I was wondering
what to do with my catch when Burnt Jim came out of a side foor and beckoned me. You know how it feels when you are
in a tight spot and then someone unexpectantly solves your problem by wiggling his finger! That's the way I felt.
He took me into the little building where he mixed things for his bottles. he gave me forty cents for the four rabbits,
and begged me to bring him all I could catch. I never found out where he sold them. No one we knew ever ate
rabbits unless they were very short of food.
Burnt Jim was rather fat and had a long gray chin whilser; he wheezed when he walked. But I liked
him because he was always nice, and he bought the things I had to sell. He not only bought rabbits, but all the enpty
bottles and flasks i could bring him. Three cents for a big bottle if it had a good cork in it, and one if without.
The bottles we brought him we found mostly along the railway tracks on the way to and from school. This morning he told
me he was about out of bottles, and wouldn't I find him some soon? When I was leaving with my gunnysack, Foghorn came
around the corner of the house and bellowed: "Rabbits! You better not let the women catch you!" I was to startled
by his terrific voice that I tripped and fell on my face. He made me angry.
That was one source of income, but there were others.
The air was cool one early dawn, but still there was the unmistakeable smell of spring. The ice in
the cove had partly broken up and the streams were clear. The muskrats had started to go home after theie midnight rambles,
if swimming about can be called a ramble. And that is what I was about, Muskrats. We used the word "musquash".
Merchant Dan was paying twenty-five cents per pelt. And I needed money very much. It's rather awful not to have
any money at all, not even enought to buy a pencil, so I wasn't inclined to miss any chance to earn an honest penny.
Everyone was wearing or wanting to wear a fur-lined coat in the winter, so there was quite a demand for spring muskrat pelts.
I had a few traps along the shores of the river, set in the entrances to their dens in river banks.
I did not go to see my traps at once. It was too early for that. Besides, there was something about the morning
that made me want to feel just good, and feeling good is worth taking some time out to do. I walked along the railway
tracks to Monroe's Bridge about a half mile away and watched mushrats swimming about, making long V's in the quiet river as
they went. Two swam right under the bridge and they went side by side, and seemed to be talking, or maybe scolding each
other. I thought they were beautiful, but I did not dare to let that feeling get hold of me. It would make me
chicken. So I shifted to thinking how much money I would make if I had a lot of traps. I suspected I was "chicken"
and that was an awful thought. I remembered when I tried to get away when the men were butchering hogs, and one of then
said, "The kid's scared." I thought also of all the muskrats I had trapped, and how some that had escaped me had chewed
off their trapped legs rather than be caught. Did you ever sense your thoughts were trying hard to tell you something?
That's how it was with me, i guess. But I was the best skinner of muskrats around, better than any of the men.
Father said once I should plan to be a surgeon doctor. I almost did study medcine because of that.
While I was having these thoughts, I saw two large animals suddenly appear in the water. They swam
very fast and all the muskrats disappeared as if they had melted away. They were otters and I tried to get near them
but they seemed to know every move I made.
I spent some time listening to the bird we called a Skylark. It was really a snipe. It always
flew about at sunset and at dawn. It would fly high and then suddenly drop, and made a lovely sound with its wings,
quite like a voice. It went "ho ho ho ho ho ho" on a rising scale. This was the first bird I learned to love.
It was getting too light now for the water animals and it was time to see my traps along our own shore.
When I got there I saw Allan with John's old muscle-loading gun running up and down the banks of the river. I went to
him and asked cautiously what he was doing. He pointed to a muskrat.
It would start up the stream and Allan would run around a lot of scrub towards a place where he could shoot,
but while he was doing this, the muskrat would turn and go downstream. Then he'd run to the downstream place where he
could shoot, and while doing so, the muskrat would turn and go upstream. This had been going on quite sometime, and
Allan was about bushed. I told him to give me the gun and he could run upstream as usual, and when the muskrat thought
he was fooling him again, I could get a shot at it. He thought I should do the running and that I wasn't being fair,
and, of course, he was right. It was one o fthose times when one does a mean thing. Anyway, he went running as
usual. I examined the gun. The stock was broken and held together with rabbit snare wire. I checked the
cap and saw powder in the nipple under it as it should be. By then I could see the muskrat coming. I crouched
by the shore back of a big stump and waited. When the rat got opposite me, I took careful aim and pulled the trigger.
There was a terrifying band and the back of my head and shoulders smacked against the ground, and the gun flew off in two
pieces. I lay there wondering what had happened until Allan came back and asked, "Did you shoot yourself?"
He was relieved when I sat up, but he said, "That's what you get for playing tricks." Then he asked,
"Where's the muskrat?" The answer was that there was no sign of a muskrat, dead or alive, anywhere. And then I
asked him, "Who loaded this gun the last time?" He said, "Colin did. He told me he didn't know whether he put
powder into it once or twice." "Twice!" I yelled. "Yes," Allan said, "he forgot and didn't know whether
he had put the powder in or not, so he put it some more to make sure."
I think that was the last time I ever fired at a muskrat. I gathered all my traps that day and hung
them up in the barn. I didn't swear off trapping things. I didn't know what was happening. But I made a
discovery. It came to me that what I really loved was getting up early in the morning, and being out alone with the
singing birds and watching animals having a good time. Besides, I had a sore neck and stiff shoulders to remind me that
one should know more about the guns he uses.
Up the Barren Road the spruce trees were tall and had no limbs for thirty to forty feet, which made then
very difficult to climb. But Duncan Dan and I tackled two that stood close together. We could see that they were
full of hardened gum drops that would be very easy to pick. Picking gum was fun, but while school was on in Orangedale
the gum had some economic value. We wrapped our legs about the trunks and pumped ourselves and began filling out mouths
with the gum. It tasted a bit of pitch at first, but after chewing and spitting it was delicious.
Duncan started talking again about out becoming ministers while we picked the gum and got higher and higher
in the trees. He said his mother had had a dream about us. Something good had happened to him in the dream, but
she dreamed that I was crucified like Jesus. "That must mean you are
going to be a great and famous man," he said. I thought I would rather not be famous if I had to be
crucified for it. Dreams, I thought, were opposite to waht would realy ahppen, so I'd likely not be crucified for anything.
But the important point in Duncan's mind was that this dream seemed to indicate that we were right in planning to be ministers.
In my pockets were several empty gun=cap boxes. When our mouths were full of gum, we slid down to
the ground and began packing the gum in the little boxes. We filled three of them this time. We'd get two cents
a piece for them. We sold this carefully processed and packaged gum to the bigger boys who usually had pennies.
The teacher caught me making a sale during school hours one day. She asked me if I had chewed it. I said, "Yes,
that gets the pitch out." She made a face as she passed the box back to me. I didn;t think she was very polite.
Sometimes money just came without even asking for it. Once when Colin and I were quite young, I found
a dollar bill on the way home from Uncle Hector's by way of the railway. We had never owned any paper money, and a dollar
was a fortune. So we leaped and shouted in triumph. I am sure no millianaire ever gotr such a thrill from his
first million as we did over that one dollar bill. Mother put it into the clock where all the family valuables were
kept--al she had to do with, that is. Later, she persuaded us that the most wonderful thing we could do with the money
would be to buy some blue denim so she could make summer pants for all three of us. That's what happenned, too.
I thought often afterwards of how mother used to collect eggs and save butter to sell to merchant Dan. So, I am sure
that most times she didn't have any more than we did.
About two years later, I found a two dollar bill in the yard after a New Year's party, and we never could
find out who had lost it. It also stayed in the clock for a long time while I dreamed what I would get with it.
One day when we came home from school, mother was very unhappy. I thought at first that someone had died. Then
she told me. The man collecting the month for the minister had come, and it was the second time. She was mortified
at the thought of not being able to give anything again. She couldn't face him that way. So my two dollar bill
wnt to pay the minister.
I worked three summers for Donald Cameron at West Bay Road, but he never gave me any money One summer
I got a pair of overalls and a pair of hobnailed shoes. The next summer he bought me a sailor hat. It was a silly
thing I never wanted to wear. It had a wide brim, and there was a ribbon around the crown which had "H.M.S. Opher" in
gold letters on it. The last summer I was with him, his wife gave me thirty-five cents as I was leaving. Money
was like radium. You didn;t often find it. We never did really earn anything until we were big enough to cut timber
for the mines, and we were far from being as big as you are likely to think. We didn't get any cash from
the lumber either. It went to merchant Dan to help keep the family solvent. Once I got a real
job for one day mending roads with a bunch of men and was paid a whole dollar. Working with the men was wages enough,
though. Next day was mother's birthday, and I bought her a new lamp. The money was mine and I spent it myself
the way I wanted to, and I felt good.
Mother always was very much afraid that the family was deeply in debt to merchant Dan. We sent him
everything we could sell that he would take, and father turned most all his wages over to him every month. Mother was
certain it was not enough, and she was always urging father to an accounting. He never paid any attention, and we guessed
that he was afriad to ask for an accounting for fear he'd find out that he was in debt for more than the farm was worth.
Finally mother got really angry. She told him, "You may not own a single animal or a square foot of the land anymore!
If you don't go this very day and find out, I'll go myself tomorrow, and you better think over what people will think of that."
She pointed the broom handle at him. "You aren't doing a thing any more today, and you just better go."
He did go, and he walked like a small boy going to whipped. In less than a couple of hours, we saw
him coming back with an enourmous armload on his back, a much bigger one than the peddlers carried, and he was moving with
little half-running steps. We kids guessed that htings were all right, and we laughed and shouted, and mother cried
but kept on shaking her head. And then he threw the pack on the floor and it opened by itself and things tubmled all
over--shoes for everyone in the family, an enormous roll of print cloth for mother, socks and underwear, and al sorts of things.
Then father stood up and said, "And we have twenty dollars' credit now." That was the time the great fear left the family,
never to return.
WE DROP IN ON UNCLE HECTOR'S FAMILY
Winter brought cold weathen and, occassionally, hard times. We had no heat in the house except that
provided by the kitchen stove. There was a heater in the living-dining room, but we used it only on special occasions.
We did not mind the lack of heat in the daytime when everyone was busy. It was at bedtime that we really felt it, although
even then we never thought of being sorry for ourselves. We probably did not know how it was with the so-called " more
fortunate people." We were just cold and there was plenty of cold around. We usually left our shoes and socks
in the kitchen, and then sprinted through the dining room, cold hallway, and up the stairs, dropping our trousers on the way,
and popped into in our shirttails. We had falnnel sheets and they were immediately comfortable. At times we could
see the frost glistening on the walls in the hallway where the stairs were. It might have been proper for us to kneel
and say prayers, but it was nicer to say anything we had to say under the blankets. Colin and Allan and I slept together
in a reat big red bed, and we could soon hug one another into toasty comfort.
I should say something about that bed. We almost needed a ladder to get into it. It felt to
us as though it had been there forever, but one night it died. We were sound asleep when about two o'clock in the morning
both legs on the outside gave way, and we all slid and rolled across the room. Allan started fighting me before he was
fully awake. He thought I was doing something bad to him. We tried to raise the bed, but there was no use, the
whole side was splintered to pieces. Then we had a conference. What were we to do? One didn't disturb people
at night in our house. We finally decided the only thing we could do was to try to get into bed at Duncan's feet without
him knowing it. We tried, with our teeth chattering, but we didn;t succeed.
"Holy ole Mackeral!" yelled Duncan. "What are you kinds doing here?" We expained . He
was dubious, but he let us in with the command, "Keep away from me andno funny business." Next day they found another
bed in the attic for us, but it was never as good. It squeaked and the slats fel out whenever we had a pillow fight.
On Saturdays when there was no school, and we were big enough, we often went back into the deep woods just
off the Barren Road with crosscut saw and axes where we cup "pit props." These were nine-foot sticks which were bought
by the mines in Sydney. It was generally warner in the woods. There was no wind and when the snow fell, it came
down gently like on a picture postcard. It was often very silent. When we listened we couldn't hear a sound except
maybe the sishing and thumping of our blood in out own ears. Once in a while there would be a bird and there were always
the big snow shoe rabbits that were so white you could not see them until you almost stepped on them.
We didn't fool around when we worked. We talked about serious things, and often counted out sticks to see how long it
would take up to load a railway car.
We rarely had good footwear. I remember the year I wore an old pair of rubber boots that came up to
my crotch and always froze solid. At times we made cloth moccasins. We took old socks and sewed layers of other
old socks on them, or woolen materials of any sort--layers and layers until they were quite thick. They were fairly
comfortable, but generally wet unless the weathen was very cold indeed. When they got dirty they had to be thrown away.
Our other clothes were of thick tweedy material, so we never suffered when out of doors.
The winter wasn't all cold and hard work, although it must have been that to mother. To us there were
many fun times and many thinking times. We never even heard of storm windows, sio there were always sugh wonderful frost
pictures of trees and ferns and things on the window panes. How did the frost do such things? There was no one
with answers that one could really believe.
I remember watching a weasel run from the barn with anouse in its mouth and he took it down ove rthe river
enbankment. He could hardly be seen in the snow, and if it hadn;t been for the black tip on its tail and the mouse I
would never have seen it. While I was wondering about this, the weasel returned and went into the barn again.
Then I deliberately waited for him to come out, which he soon did with anothe mouse. I watched the creature take over
twelve mice from the barn, but by that time my feet were getting cold and I had to move. But I wondered? Did he
freeze them up for use? He would not need to dothat, for he could have them fresh any time he wanted them. Maybe
he had babies in the middle of winte? No one could say. And, you know, that's something I never did find out.
The river or creek bank was a thrilling play place right after a great drifting snow storm. There
were at such times cliffs of dnow that hung over the slope to the ice-covered stream. A sled was no good in such a place.
The thing to do was jump on to a cliff and go right through it and get buried in the snow that fell to cover one up.
One had to be careful not to jump before the other fellow got out of the drift. After a while, the cliff would be gone
and then we just slid down the steep slope on the seats of our pants, like the otters do. We were forbidden to slide
that way because it wore out the seats of our pants, but who could resist such a temptation after a real fluffy storm?
It wasn't so nice when we reached home soaking wet and got thoroughly scolded.
Normally, sliding with a sled was the thing to do. Ours was a home-
made sled about four feet long. It could really travel and we all could pile onto it any old way.
There was a good hill between our house and Uncle Hector's, and on Uncle Dan's place north of us there was a tremendously
long hill, and we often went there along with Duncan and Hughie Dan and maybe some of the girls. Once it rained right
after a heavy snow fall and then froze solid and the snow on this hill was so hard we skated down it from right after supper
until midnight. What a thrill that was! It was dangerous, of course. One traveled with great speed and there
was a woods at the bottom and one had to swing around quickly or get bashed against a tree.
A number of things happened onthat hill. One of Uncle Dan's cows wandered away and got exhausted in
the snow and just laid down. She couldn't get up when she tried to. Uncle Dan wans't home until long after dark
so the cow had to stay there all night. But she would be dead in the morning unless something was done. So men
and boys built fires near her in various places, and someone brought her a pail of warm water with oatmeal in it to drink.
The kids worked hard to keep the fire going and had to drag wood from considerable distances. About ten o'clock someine
brought tea and bread and jam and that was exciting. Children didn't often get a chance to stay up late and do things
with grownups. I wans;t at that party, but Colin and Allan were. I can't remember why I wasn't there, but I do
remember I was rather glad to be cozily in bed on such a cold night. Colin and ALlan went home about daybreak and mother
fed then an ice hot breakfast, and sent them to bed. They slept at once, but not very peacefully They both had
the wildest nightmares and talked and hsouted. Allan even got out of bed and carried on as if he were fighting someone.
He had to be forcibly put back tob ed. They slept all day and the next night, too. But they helped to save the
One time we had a wonderful storm, the kind that comes only once in a lifetime. It came early,
too, before there was any ice on the lake and before we had brought the sheep in from the pasture across the creek.
In a few hours the snow was so deep that the roads were impassable. Several people did ger as far as our house before
they gave up, and stayed with us for five or six days. Mother was the only one who didn't have a good time. She
had to cook for so many, and she was worried because there was little food in the house, and she knew that what butter and
fruits she had put by for the winter would be eaten up. The worst for her was when the flour gave out in the middle
of the week, and no one was able to go anywhere to shop. Not even a train ran for over a week. The great railway
cutting near the bridge, which was at least thirty feet deep, was filled to the top with snow. In desperation, she went
to the barn and got some of the bran we used for the animals and made muffins which we all liked very much. That's how
we learned that bran was good for humans, too. But there were more serious problems.
Father got caught three miles out in a boat. He had gone out to bring the codfish nets in for the
winter, and the storm caught him just as he was dragging in the nets. By the time he had them stowed away, the snow
was thick on the water and not melting. He rowed part of the way until the boat managed to get to a stake, a young tree
really, that someone had driven into the bottom to hold anet, and he pulled it up. Standing up in the boat, he slashed
at the snow blanket on one side of the boat and then the other and made some slow progress. He was so exhausted when
he got to shore that he could scarcely walk. A man without his great strength would never have gotten home alive.
The other critical situation concerned the sheep. Father and some of the guests had a dreadful time
finding them. No one had snowshoes and skiis were not heard of in that part of the country, and struggling through the
snow was consequently not the sort of thing men would ordinarily attempt. All except one of the sheep were brought in
on out hand sled. The lost one was not found until the next day, and it was frozen stiff. The dressed the meat
and then we had something to with the bran bread.
Colin and Allan and I would not have admitted to anyone that we were having a great time, but really we
were having the most marvelous time. Kids are like that.
Winter brought lots of fun. One of the best kinds of dun came with the horse races which were
held on the ice-covered lake. Such crowds and such horses! The races were just as exciting as the big "sacrament"
church meetings in June. Everybody wnet to the races, and, of course, there was always a horse one would like to see
win. Sometimes there were accidents. Colin and John were crossing the lake in a cutter when Gordon went through
the ice, and there was a dreadful time before they got him out and got back home. Colin's ears were so frozen that they
swelled up like bits of frozen cabbage and all the skin came off of them. He had a great adventure, but a lot of pain
too. There were starry nights when many people went skaring on the lake. We played games, one that was a bit like
hockey, and we often carried torches made of cotton tails soaked in kerosene. The torches were very beautiful, and I
think it was during these skaring nights that I learned to loved the stars.
But I started out to tell you about the time we went to call on Uncle Hector and Aunt Jessie. We didn't
realy intend to make a call. There had been a rain and the snow froze afterwards and everything was icy. We three
had a slide or two before breakfast, and the sled went like lightning. And then we thought how wonderful it would be
to ride down the hill from the highway to Uncel hector's house, and on past it way down to the railway. It was the best
hill anywhere near. We were half way there before we stopped thinking how wonderful it would be. We piled on to
out sled on our bellies three
deep, and wnt off with a whoosh. The sled picked up tremendous speed. But it would not steer
on the icy surface. Then a runner got into a rut and the first thing we knew, we were going for Uncle Hector's kitchen
door, and there was simply nothing we could do about it. Right in front of the porch there was an old snow bank, now
frozen hard. When the sled hit that, we flew into the air and hit the door a couple of feet up. It snapped open
and banged against the wall with a fearful crash, sending us sliding across the floor and uner the table at which the family
was having breakfast. We stopped there amongst a lot of feet, some of which were bare.
"Jeehosaphat!" Uncle Hector yelled, and jumped away from the table. His spoon, full of oatmeal porridge,
spattered on the floor. Aunt Jessie flapped her arms in a way she always did when she was excited, and she said, as
she often said, "Oh, I'm going to give you a good skelping." Malcolm and Ellen said nothing, but they looked from
up to their parents as if to say, "We told you these kids are crazy."
But Aunt Jessie slelped no one. She never did. We loved Aunt Jessie and bothered her a great
deal because she never did skelp us. Like so many mothers of the time, she baked bread most every day, and she used
to set out the dough in bake sheets back of the stove to rise. And that was an ideal place for visiting kids to sit
down. And how often we sat on her bread! It was always covered with a cloth, so how could we tell? She would
flap her arms and say threatening things that didn't sound a bit threatening, and then she would say, "Oh, well, I's knead
it up again, and perhaps it will be all right."
It was the same the morning we slid under the table. Instaed of getting skelped, we were served a
breakfast of pancakes and molasses. Who wouldn;t love a person like that? I have been sorry all my life that I
never told her much we loved her. People like that should be told, you know.
OUR EVENING FATHER
Our evening father was a very happy and wonderful man -- not a bit like out morning father. This time
he was even better than usual. After dinner and a smoke, he began to show us how to do "tricks." Tricks were difficult
physical stunts. For instance, he would place achiar face down on the floor and get on top of it, his hands on the back
of the chair and his toes on thje lowest round. Then he would tip the chair forward until the top of the back touched
the floor without falling off himself. Next he would slowly go down head first until he picked something like a thimble
from the floor with his mouth, then right the chair again and get off. When we tried, we got thrown half across the
room the first few times.
When we were very little, he used to play with our toes. He would touch a toe to every syllable while
Wanery, wanery, eugery, eagry on
Pillomy pollomy nigley John
Cleaver closer Irish Mary
Six geese black throat
You are out.
And the toe that was touched when he said "out" was marked or turned under. Then he woud do the same
with the other toes, until just one was left and that was the king toe.
In the winter, when the darkness came early and we stayed about the kitchen stove, we played kaleetacoch.
It went this way: We took a little stick and put one end in the fire until a red coal formed on it. Two youngsters
sat opposite each other. One took the stick. He said, "Kaleetacoch" and blew a breath on the coal. Then
he passes the stick to the other and he blew on the birght tip said, "Kaleetacoch" Then the other would say, "What about
kaleetacoch?" And he would reply, "Neither rock not stone nor crooked stick in yonder valley will fail to fly about the head
of Kaleetacoch." Then he blew on the stick end and passed it to the tother who began by blowing and saying, "Kaleetacoch,"
and it began all over again. The coal got smaller and smaller all the itme, and the joke was to have it in the other
fellow's hand when it went out. We were very young when he taught us this. The words mean nothing. Unfortunately,
the game was played in Gaelic and translating it into English loses the lilting rhythm of it.
There were many such tricks and we loved them. But the great fun was listening to father's stories.
They were in Gaelic and have never been written,
I am sure, and they were as old as sotries can be. The hero of most of his stories was a boy named
Donald. Our favorite was about how Donald got the monster to commit suicide. Donald was the sort who was always
playing practical jokes on people, or wandering around looking for adventure. This time he visited a butcher shop just
to see what he could find. When he left, he took a pocker full of pigs' tails, with him, which were of no use to anyone
and might come in handy.
After a time, he came to a beach by the sea. He could see a lot of people working int he fields nearby,
and close to the beach was a herd of pig. He at once thought he could have some fun. He stuck the pigs' tails
in a place where there were quicksands, and he drove the herd of pigs out of sight behind a hillock. Then he raised
a great clamor, callling to the people in the fields that their pigs were being lost in the tidal quicksands. The poor
folks came running to rescue their pigs. Each one grabbed a tail and pulled, but all they got were just the tails.
They were so angry that they would have beaten Donald for playing such a trick on them, but Donald got away in their only
boat. Even then they would have caught him if he hadn't rowed with all his might into the deep water. They kept
watch to see where Donald would land. So Donald had to keep rowing. He didn't dare go back to shore!
After a while, he came to an island, and when he tried to get ashore he upset his boat and got all wet,
filling his boots until they squished at every step. He hadn't gone far into the woods on the island before he realized
that this was the island where the monster lived who wouldn't ever let anyone get away alive. Donald moved very carefuly
so as not tomake a sound. But the monster heard him and pretty soon he was crashing his way through the brush towards
Donald. There was nothing for Donald to do but climb a tree. And this he did at once. The monster could
be heard sniffing and snuffing to smell him out, and before long he was at the bottom of the tree, shaking it and pounding
on it so that all Donald could do was hold on.
"Whos opp tharr?" yelled the monster.
"God," answered Donald.
"Proof it!" yelled the monster.
"You throw me up a stone," said Donald, "and I will turn it into water."
"Goot," said the monster, and a stone came crashing up through the branches.
Donald caught it and put it in his pocket. Then he took off a boot and poured the water from it down
on the monster.
"Ho!' said the monster. "You must be God, all right. Coom down and welcome to my house."
"Right gladly I will do that," said Donald, and he went down.
The monster looked fiercely him. "Ho," he said. "Coom."
Donald followed him to his house which was surrounded with piled of old bones. The monster was very
polie and gave him his supper, and afterwards showed him to a big bed where he could sleep for the night. Donald found
the bed very comfortable and almost went to sleep, but he decided it would be better to be wise than comfortable. So
he got up and made a dummy man with odds and ends he found about the room. He put this dummy into the bed and covered
it with a blanket. Then Donald crawled underneath the bed. About midnight the monster got up as Donald expected,
and he came tiptoeing to Donald's bed with a big club. He pounded the dummy until it was quite flattened out, and went
off saying, "God or no God, that will fix you."
In the morning, Donald got up and greeted the monster cheerfully, saying he had had a wonderful sleep.
The monster began to be afraid that maybe Donald was God, after all. He became very polite again, and made afine breakfast
which they enjoyed while the monster questioned him about many things.
Donald did a lot of thinking, and when he found a pig skin which had been sewn up for carrying water, he
had an idea. When lunchtime drew near, Donald said he would like soup, and that he was a champion soup eater.
"I'll bet," he told the monster, "that I can eat more soup than you can."
"Ho! Ho!" said the monster. He was obviously glad to take the bet, and he made a great caudron
of soup, enough to feed an anrmy. When the soup was done, the contest began. Donald put the pig skin inside his
shirt with the opening just under his chin, and most of the soup he spooned into the pig skin. Bowl after bowl was consumed.
Donald ate the soup only when the monster was looking at him. After a while, he got bigger and bigger and rounder and
rounder, and so did the monster. When the monster looked as though he would burst, Donald sighed and pretended to be
fuffering, too. Then he took up a butcher knife and stuck himself in the belly with it -- stuck the pig skin, really
-- and all the soup came sloshing out.
"Ah," said Donald, "that is a great relief."
The monster was not to be beaten that way, so he picked up the knife and ripped his won belly open, and
that the end of the monster, and the story too.
Once there were three robbers who plagued a countryside robbing and killing people. Donald traveled
through this region and heard about the robbers. One day he came to a bridge that went right over a great whirlpool.
He stood gazing into the whirlpool and wondering about it. While there, one of the robbers came to him and asked what
he was looking at. Donald could always think up a yarn without half trying, so he said:
"You see that whirlpool? Down there is my father's treasure which he took from the pirates and hid
for me in this whirlpool. I've come a long way to recover it, but I cannot swim."
The robber, thinking he might get the treasure for himself, said, "But I can swim, and I shall be glad to
"Indeed, and if you do that," said Donald, "I shall give you half of the treasure."
The robber thought to himself, "You shall give me all of it and your life, too." Then he jumped into
the pool and got gobbled up by the waters at once. As Donald watched, the robber's body came to the surface in a swirl
of water, and it looked as though he signalled with his hand before he disappeared for good.
Then the second and thrid robbers came and asked him what he was looking at.
"I'm feeling very sad," said Donald. "Down there is a great treasure which I came to recoverr, but
I can't get it without the help of good swimmers. I can't swim at all myslef."
The robbers winked at each other. Then robber number two said, "Why can't I go down and get it for
"You can go down all right," said Donald, "but it's too great a treasure chest for one man to bring up."
"How do we know that you are telling the truth?" asked robber number three.
"You don't have to take my word for it at all," said Donald. "One of you can go down and then
he can come up and signal to the other when he finds the treasure, and then the other can dive down to help bring it up.
If you bring it up, I shall divide the treasure equally between the three of us."
"Fair enough," said robber number two, and he jumped in. In a few seconds he came to the surface again,
and his hand flashed, and then robber number three jumped in.
When the people of the district heard how Donald had outwitted and got rid of the burglars, they made him
a great feast before he continued on his travels.
Once Donald saved a king's life, and the king was so grateful that he told Donald he could build himself
a house anywhere at all on his property that he happened to fancy.
So Donald bult himself a nice little house right in the middle of the king's best sitting room. The
king protested, and Donald said, "But your majesty, I thought you said I could build anywhere at all on your property."
"So I did," said the king.
"Well, then, your majesty," said Donald, but the king interrupted him and said, "oh, all right, I have lots
of sitting rooms," and he walked away. Then Donald brought in lots of earth and manure and planted a garen with trees
and shrubs and grass all about the house. The king protested again, but gave in as he had before. So Donald was
nicely situated, and when he finished his house he sat out in front of it and smoked and chewed tobacco, and he spat the juice
out on the grass. This time the king was really angry. He had a blind eye which had been destroyed in battle, and was
revoltingly ugly, especially when he got angry.
"You shall not be allowed to spit that way in my palace!" said the king.
"You mean to say," asked Donald, "that a man cannot spit on the grass by his own door?"
"Certainly he can't," said the king. "Not when his house is in my sitting room."
"But where can I spit?" asked Donald.
"You spit, said the king, "in the ugliest place you see."
So Donald spat into the the king's blind eye. And that was when he had to take to the road again.
A hero was more important to us, although not so much fun, was Angus MacAskill, the Cape Breton giant that
every Cape Breton boy learns about before he gets his second teeth. We were always questioning father
about Angus MacAskill, and sometimes he would talk to us about him. To get him going, Colin asked
if Angus MacAskill were real.
"Was Angus MacAskill real? Of course he was real. I saw him once in his own little store which
he ran for a while. He was too tall for his sotre and had to keep his head down when he wasn't sitting. It was
while he was storekeeping that people found out that he could pick up a whole pound of tea in one fistful."
"Tell us about how big and strong he was,: Colin begged.
"Oh, he was big, all right. About seven feet and nine inches -- two feet taller than John. He
was stout too. Weighed over four hundred pounds. I saw his vest once, and a man buttoned three other men into
it. But there have been taller men, and maybe stouter men, but most likely he was the strongest man in the world.
There is a ship's anchor in Halifax that he lifted once, and no one has ever been able to lift it since."
"Was he stronger than a horse?" Allan asked.
"I don't know about that. But they say that he wanted to drag home a log with a pair of oxen, and
when the oxen couldn't budge it, he picked it up himself and walked home with it.
"He was in a circus once along with Tom Thumb, who was the smallest man in the world, and he used to hold
out his hand and Tom Thumb could dance on it. He became famous then -- so famous that Queen Victoria asked to see him,
and had a gold ring made for him of which he was very proud."
"Was he big and strong when he was born?" I wanted to know. And I said also, "Malcolm Hector says
he once got mad at a teacher who was going to hit him with a stove poker, and that he yanked the poker out of his teacher's
hand and tied knots in it, and then gave it back to him. Is this true?"
"Oh, who knows? Probably not. We don;t know how strong he was as a schoolboy, but we do know
that he was very small when he was born, and only weighed two or three pounds, and had to be coddled in wool for a while.
Then he grew and grew and became stronger than anyone. Some say that he once smashed a bull's skull with his fist."
"Then he could have put knots in the iron poker, couldn't he?"
"Oh, he probably could, and maybe he did. It's like the sort of thing he would do. He was that
kind of man."
"Tell us more MacAskill sotries, Pa" we asked at once.
"Not tonight," he said. "Maybe you fellows don't need any sleep, but I do."
The railway was the most interesting thing around us. Trains were always fascinating us, and when
not in school we'd run pell-mell to get a closer view whenever we heard one coming. When we heard it whistling in the
distance we'd guess at the number of the engine. Colin almost always got it right. Each engine had something individual
about its whistle. Colin once even told us there were two engines, and the number of one was this and the number of
the other was that, and he was right. The first engines we knew were small, with only two big driving wheels, and they
had taller smokestacks. Bigger ones came later, and they had four driving wheels, but for some reason they weren't so
We also guessed at who the engineer was. Engineer Prouse had a very distinctive whislte, and we all
could tell when he was coming. Dan Matthewson used to drive like fury. We loved them both, one for his steady
competence, and the other for his push and recklessness. Our brother Duncan was now a trainman, and we often saw him,
sometimes walking on top of the cars. That was before they had air brakes. If the train was stoping, he would
run from box car to box car turning the hand brakes. More often though, he would stand out at the entrance to the engine
and wave to us, and sometimes he would throw out parcels which had presents in them for some of us.
The first time I was at the Ornagedale station as a freight train came in, the fireman came out and picked
me up, and took me into the engine. He showed me where the whistle was, and where the engineer could let sand out on
to the rails when they were wet and slippery. Then he opened the door of the huge fire box and said, "That's where they
put bad people when they die." He had me sit in the engineer's seat and look out the window. When he set me back
on the station platform, I was the proudest kid in the world. None of the other kids had ever been inside an engine.
Those two lone miles to Orangedale school would have been a dreary business if it hadn't been for the railway.
It provided most of the fun as wll as a good place to walk. All sorts of berries grew best along the railway line, and
also flowers such as the arbutus. There was a wire fence along each side of the right-of-way that had a borad strip
on top. It was really thicker than an ordinary board. It was fun to walk this fence. We often treid to walk
all the way without falling off. Colin said he did it once, but I never did. I did it with only one fall though.
Wlaking on the rail without having to step off was less exciting, but helped to make life interesting. On a windy day
the telphone or telegraph poles got out attention. You could put your ear to the post and hear a strong
musical note, a constant loud humming that was pleasant. Whythe things hummed we didn't know, except that we guessed
the wind had a lot to do with it. We used to tell smaller kids that the sound was the sound of messages going along
One day just as we started for school Father and Johnnie NcNeil and another man caught up with us with the
hand car. Father used to go westward on the line for over a mile every morning to inspect the tracks. Then he
would walk to Orangedale where he met his crew. He was boss. This time the men came to meet him with the hand
car. A handcar was a thing like a small platform with four heavy wheels under it, and handles on each end to pick it
up and put it on or off the track. In the middle was the raised part with the pushing handles that commected with gears
that turned the wheels so men could make it go. It could go fast, too. The men stopped and told us to hop on.
There was barely room for the three of us. It was much easier to stay on if you helped with the pumping. So we
pumped, and we pumped hard so as not to let the men think we were weak or lazy. It went on clattering with anice rhythm
that made it al very pleasant. Then Father suddenly pushed his foot down on the brake and the thing squeaked to a stop.
"Quick," he said. "You kids run, and fast !"
We did. There was a train coming like it was in a great hurry. The men got off and took hold
of the handles as if they had all week to do it and lifted the whole thing off the track. They waved to the engineer
as the train went by. Then they picked it up and put it back on the tracks. It was hard to get it going good again.
We had to stop at a crossing soon after, because of a man's balky horse who had decided to have a rest right in the middle
of the tracks rather than pull his wagon across. The men dragged him off and we had to start all over again.
There was also a machine called "The Speedy" that was used only by men who inspected the telegraph lines.
It had two wheels, something like a bicycle, and in addition it had to have an outrigger affair with a wheel on the end of
it that reached across to the other rail to keep the machine upright. It was propelled by pushing forward and pulling
backward on a handle that controlled the gears. This machine could go twice as fast as the hand car. When a man
met a train with it, he could easily drag it off. He could lean over and have it fall off if he got in a terrible hurry.
Sometimes either of these machines would be caught by a train and smashed, when the men didn;t have time enough to take it
off the track.
When we got to the station at Orangedale, there was a crowd waiting for the morning passenger train as usual.
Most everyone who was free wnet to the station to meet the train. You never knew who might be coming home
from some place, or who was leaving home. This train took people out of our lives, and we wouldn't
see some of them for years, and some we'd never see again. It often brought people back tous, when we least expected
Colin and Allan and I once walked to meet the evening express at a way station two miles in the opposite
direction from Orangedale. It cost us ten cents apiece. The coach was full of strange and sleepy looking people.
A trainman walked through singing, "Orangedale, next stop." That was fun to hear. THen the "news agent", as we
called him, came to us with a basket of magazines and prize packages. We had taken this trip partly because of the lure
of the prize packages. We had put our extra pennies together to get one of these, so we bought one. These packages
always contained writing paper, a steel pen, and a lead pencil. They each contained a prize, which was always a surprise,
for there was no way of telling what it would be.
After buying it, we got into an argument about who should have the prize. If we hadn't been in the
train, we probably would have had a fight over it. Then Allan reminded us that he had given more pennies for the package
than either Colin or I. So the prize was earmarked for Allan. Colin was given the privilege of opening the package,
and I was to take a pencil or pen, whichever i chose, and some of the paper. The others wanted paper also. I don't
think there was ever anything we ever did that produced the feeling we had when opening the prize package. What was
it going to be? There it came! What was it , anyway? A monkey? Yes, it was a little monkey with a
red cap. He was on a stick and one could make him climb up or down. Allan was delighted with the toy.
Then the trainman went past again, going faster this time, and saying, "Orangedale! Prangedale!" The
conductor got to us at the last moment to take our dimes. Then we found ourselves on the Orangedale station platform
and two miles from home. Our fun was over and our money gone and two miles to walk, but it was worth it.
We did the same thing several times. Once in winter, when we got to Oragedale, there was a great crowd
and everone looked glum and sad. Brother John was there and he shooed us home at once, sayhing, "There is something
here that you don't have to see. Johnnie Malcolm was killed by a train here at the station last night."
We talked only of serious things on the way home that time. We liked Johnnie Malcolm. We thought
he must have been drunk, as he oftenw as. We also realized that a train was dangerous, so we decided to keep a better
eye out for trains. They were hard to hear in the frosty air of winter, and stole up on you.
The railway was the highway for all the many strange people who visited and often spent the night with us.
Mother frequently said, "I could never tuen anyone away who needed bread or bed," and she couldn't, even when the people were
the sort who nauseated her, or frightened her for that matter. But there were many nice and interesting people, and
some of the least trustworthy were interesting.
The night we had two sailors, Schofield and Kennedy, for instance. They were very grateful for
supper, and smiled like angels over being offered a bed for the night. Kennedy played the violin, and fortunately we
had brother Neil's violin. He played beautifully for quite a while and then he switched to quick dancing music, a hornpipe.
Schofield got up and danced. He wore a pair of enormous boots and nearly broke through the floor doing the Sailor's
Hornpipe. He was tireless and we couldn't get tired of him. That is how they paid for the night's entertainment,
and we thought it was very good pay.
One night six Swedish sailors appeared at the door at supper time. Mother set more food to cooking
and they were fed, and finally she found beds for all. They were fine, clean men. They had nothing to give for
lodging except for cigarette tobacco. When they were leaving in the morning they stuffed father's pockets with it.
They said it was also good pipe tobacco, and father thought it was o-kay. He had enough to last him several months.
The railway brought us a black man once. A tall and strong and handsome Negro. I have thought
for years that this was the first time I ever saw a Negro, and I was entranced by him. He came to the hosue after supper
as we were all enjoying a beautiful evening outdoors, and mother gave him his meal. After eating, he asked if he might
have a glass of milk. He said he had asked one of our cows on the way to the house for some, and she either was a mean
one or she didn't understand Wnglish. He was full of jokes, and he had a beautiful voice like I had never heard, and
he spoke so easily and with wuch big words that I thought he could have charmed milk out of a stone, not to mention a cow.
Not until I started writing this did I realize that I had always known other Negroes. They lived at
Marble Mountain, these two men. They spoke Gaelic and poor English like the rest of us. They were so much one
of us that I never thought of them as being different in any way. They were outstanding citizens too, and spoke up vigorously
at school meetings and any meetings, for that matter. They loved debating and debates were populat at that time.
These two brothers were always on opposite sides and both ere elequent. I remember one debate on whether or not war
was justifiable, in which one of these men said tot he other, "If it 'twasn't for war, you, my dear brother and worthy opponent,
would be down in Tennessee hoeing cotton."
But I was speaking of the big, balck charmer. After finishing his milk,
he sat on the porch and told great storied about the wonders he had seen. There was one about his
father who was taken North when a baby by runaway slaves. Then he went on his way. The railway broguth him and
railway took him away again.
The railway sometimes brought us all sorts of exciting people. There was the man who claimed he was
a fruit king from Annapolis. He was going to send us barrles of apples that, he said, would go to waste unless "given
away." We never heard from him of course. There was the quiet, angry man who said he had invented the telephone,
and that Alexander Graham Bell had stolen it from him. We guessed that he wasn't quite right in the head.
The cattle buyer was unuasual.. He was so convincing and busnesslike that everyone took him for real.
He spent the night at our house and told us he was buying cattle. Next morning he went with father to look over some
of our cows and steers. He examined them closely, mentioning theri good points and setting prices on them. He
spent two days evaluating our cattle, and he promised such flattering price tags on them. Most night he came back to
sleep at our house. So he mover about the community, to Donald Og's, and Murdock Donald's, and to every place that grazed
a cow. When he went away, after spending most of two weeks, he left a list of cows we were to ship to him when he sent
word. The prices were about twice what anyone would expect. He would send us the money before people shipped their
cattle. Everyone was excited about the money they would make. But the cow buyer never returned, or sent any word.
He had an easy way to get food and bed for nothing. He could have stolen all the cattle, too, if he'd had facilities
for handling them. This was our first "con man," small time though he was.
Three men came to our house one evening and asked for food. Mother packed the food for them, though
she said she didn't like them. We were surprised two days later to hear that they were staying at Ian Ban's house which
was now vacant. And everyone felt resentful when we heard that they had demanded food from our cousin Mary MacNeil,
who was a widow and made her living as a dressmaker. She lived next to Ian Ban's place. Brother John spent that
whole evening with Mary, hoping the men would come again to make demands, but they didn;t. Next morning, however, we
heard that they had gone to Mary for their breakfast, which they ate like animals without saying thank you. When we
heard all this, the bigger boys and father were away, but Neillie Malcolm was home with us. He often came for
a week at a time. Neillie was angry as a hornet when he heard about it. He said, "We'll roust them out in a hurry."
Mother cautioned him, saying she thought they were dangerous. He took down John's new shotgun and
asked Colin and Allan and me to go with him.
We were thrilled. Someone came along just then and told us the tramps were holed up in Uncle Hector's
old house. Uncle Hector had sold out to a brick-making company. So Neillie and we three kids went over the hill
to Uncle Hector's. Neillie talked fiercely about what we'd do to the tramps. When we got there, he pointed the
gun at the door, and shouted, "Money or your lives! I mean, come on out reaching for the clouds."
Nobody came. After several challenges we looked inside and found no one at all. Then we went
on it Ian Ban's, and sure enoguh, we saw one of them going in the back door. When we got near, Neillie raised the hammer
of the gun, pointed it to the sky and pulled the trigger. We didn't hink it was loaded, but it was and it wnet off with
a great bang.
Then Neillie shouted, "Hey, you, in there ! Come on oout, and keep your mouths shut and your hands
high, and hit the road as fast as you can trot."
They came. Two were trotting, but one walked. Neillie yelled at him to lift those feet smarter
or "get some buckshot in his britches." He went smarter. We never had imagined Neillie was so brave, and we admired
him no end.
And all this fun was because of the railway. It was like life, You came along it for a while
and then you went away on it. And everyone knew in his heart that pretty soon he would stand in the crowd at Orangedale
station waiting for the train that would take him away.
I BEGAN IN CAPE BRETON !
Connecting some of the people mentioned in "I Began in Cape Breton" and "God and the
Devil at Seal Cove,"
Info sent-in by Frank MacLean of Sydney, Nova Scotia.
Thank you Frank !
Perhaps on page 4 you will see that Black Neil dealt with a business man in Orangedale
by the name of Dan Martin a merchant. To get the real feel of this, go back to "God and The Devil at Seal Cove".....around
the latter part of the book when Neil and Peggy were somewhat in dire straits in regard to food supplies, etc. Neil
went to Dan Martin and purchased many items of food and clothing, etc. Well, Dan Martin came from, in and around Orangedale,
Cape Breton, and he married Emma MacAulay of Malagawatch. Emma was the daughter of Margaret (MacLeod) MacAulay.
Margaret being a full aunt of my father Duncan Robert MacLean, DDS. Margaret (JCL02) was the eldest daughter of John
and Christy MacLeod and a sister to Johanna (MacLeod) MacLean, my grandmother...Margaret's years were 12/25/1835 - 10/07/1902.
She is buried with her husband, Malcolm, in the Fulton Cemetery at Malagawatch, Cape Breton.
Also noted in Angus' writings mentioned a tale of going to church and passing Mrs. MacAuley,
riding in her grand black carraige with brass lights.
Angus also states about working at Big Harbour, Inverness County, Cape Breton, for the
MacGregor's. The wife of Donald MacGregor was Agnes MacLeod (JCL05) also a sister to Margaret MacAulay and Johanna MacLean
..... Small world, eh? He (Angus) worked there for quite some time during at least one summer.
Again, Margaret and Malcolm had a son, Fraser .... and others, who became a Medical
Doctor and practiced medicine in Sydney. His wife was Dolena (Lena) MacDonald, first cousin to my mother, Christine
(MacDonald) MacLean. Dolena's mother Dolena died giving brith to Lena. Dolena MacLeod (JCL07) 1848 - 1868 (20)
and she being a sister to Margaret and Johanna ..... talk about keeping it in the family!
While practicing Medicine in Sydney, Fraser and wife Lena introduced a young lady, a
cousin of hers to a young gentleman who was a Dentist in Sydney Mines, YUP, my parents. Here we see COUSINS on three
sides: MacLean, MacDonald MacPherson and MacLeod.
Today, September 29, 2007
Dale MacRae-Barry Writes:
this is my grampa macrae and his brother i put the info from the book on myFamily site
I went to school during one winter at Little Harbor, and lived with a very wondeful MacGregor family.
But I didn't learn much that year. The teacher had a high school diploma and was a very nice person, but the
kids picked on her, so we were al;ways having some kind of an uproar. Uncle
Colin MacRae's two boys, Archie and Duncan, attended that school, too, and I was very fond of them. I was well
behaved most of the time, but at times I just got too bored to be good.