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Johnny and the Gipsy Moth

You never know what you're going to learn when you get up in the morning.

Johnny and the Gipsy Moth

Shortly, I'll explain one thing I learned - p'rhaps two things - as a result of reading ‘Johnny and the Gipsy Moth’, a picture-storybook written by Deannie Sullivan-Fraser and illustrated by Hilda Rose of ‘Freddie’ fame.

Before that though, I want to comment on a universal flaw of certain mothers.

In the book it's handy a hundred years ago, and Johnny Sullivan, a well-to-do-ish townie, has been relocated to Grand Falls, a primitive [!] inland town way beyond the pale of civilized St. John's.

Johnny is the new b'y in town. His mother nudges him to go outside and make friends with Grand Falls' little ruffians ...well, maybe not hardcore ruffians, but certainly boyos rougher around the edges than Johnny.

Before Johnny ventures outside to face the local hard-tickets - well, maybe not real hard-tickets, but you get the drift - she rigs him up in his "best velvet jacket."

His best velvet jacket. With a lace collar, no less!

Wouldn't you expect the Grand Falls' b'ys to hammer him?

Still speaking of maternal flaws, remember how young Roch Carrier's mother drove him outside to play wearing a Maple Leafs' jersey among an otherwise completely Canadiens-sweatered crowd?

Closer to home: once upon my bay-boy childhood, something unexpected and horrible happen to my only white Sunday's shirt. P'raps Mammy washed it with sister's brand new, inch-thick red flannelette rompers.

Whatever the case, my shirt came out of the wash as pink as a trout belly.

Guess what colour shirt my flawed Mammy forced me to wear to church Sunday, saying, "It's only a bit of dye."

Wouldn't you expect the b'ys, mostly chums since the cradle, to hammer me?

So, heed this Adult Readers' Advisory before you flick open the pages of ‘Gipsy Moth’: The opening pages may contain text and images capable of traumatizing some readers.

Halfway through this book an airplane, the eponymous Gipsy Moth, arrives in Grand Falls and lands at Log Cabin Field. Turns out it's the sole - I think - fleet of Newfoundland Airways, in route to St. Anthony with a load of mail.

Giddy with excitement, all hands rush to the field to greet the plane.

In unusually careless fashion, "The women left their suppers boiling on their stoves. The men flung their axes to the ground."

All the same, I did learn a couple of things I didn't know about Newfoundland's history in these pages.

Call me stund, but I didn't know that a Gipsy Moth was used to deliver airmail in Newfoundland.

Or, p'raps I skipped school the day that chapter was covered and hid out in the woods because Mammy - dear ol' flawed, loveable Mammy - had made me wear my "old" pink shirt to school, saying, "T'idden fit for church anymore but good enough for school."

One line of ‘Gipsy Moth’ especially gave me pause: "The Exploits River was ... shining as silver as the fish scales in Johnny's pocket."

Fish scales in his pocket?!

That image baffled me. The brief glossary of Newfoundland words at the end of the book said this: “Fish scales: the name given to Newfoundland's small, silver 5 cent coin.”

Although I've jingled two or three of those old coins in my palm and wondered if they might have some antique value, I'd never heard of them referred to as ‘fish scales’.

When I got up in the morning of the day I read ‘Gipsy Moth’ I didn't know -I couldn't have known! - that by day's end I'd be off on a learning experience, off a' Googling.

I keyed in something like "fish scales+coins+Newfoundland" and almost fainted at the name of the first website that popped up: ‘’.


Sure enough there were pages of information about small, silver coins called fish scales.

A second website – ‘’ - added loads of extra information.

After browsing Wikipedia and discovering "Nickel [Canadian coin] sometimes called a fish scale," I finally arrived at my favourite site, the end of exhaustive Internet roaming - eBay.

Look at this item for auction/sale on eBay: Gold stretch fish scale coin and Gourmet Popcorn shirt top.


You never know what you're going to learn when you roll out of bed in the morning, even from a biographical children's book.

Oh, I neglected to mention ‘Gipsy Moth’ is a true story about Deannie Sullivan-Fraser's father, the young fellow with the velvet jacket.

Thank you for reading.

Organizations: Maple Leafs, Newfoundland Airways, EBay

Geographic location: Grand Falls, Newfoundland, St. John's St. Anthony Exploits River

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