Greta Hussey was born long before me, well before the advent of the atomic bomb. She was born on Sept. 28, 1921.
There is no mention of the atomic bomb in ‘Our Life on Lear’s Room Labrador’ [Flanker Press], not that it matters.
Although our ages are a quarter of a century apart, Greta and I have some experiences in common. The particulars of our births are one.
Greta was delivered by her father’s mother who was a midwife.
As she explained it: “It was just a matter of Mother moving from the kitchen to the bedroom.”
My father’s mother, also a midwife, welcomed me to the planet after Mammy moved from the kitchen upstairs to a bedroom of Granny’s house.
A few years later, when Granny’s house was renovated to bring plumbing indoors, the room of my inauspicious birth was turned into a toilet.
I’ve often wondered if that architectural alteration had any traumatic effect on my budding character.
One never knows what will influence one’s growth, eh b’ys?
Greta’s book, a memoir of sorts, tells of the summers she spent before Confederation with her family “down on the Lar’brador” at Batteau as part of the annual Labrador fishery.
Unlike Greta’s family, mine didn’t even sail down on the Lar’brador. My family — loggers, not fishers — did, however, jack up one year and spend the winter in the woods behind Whitaker’s Point where we lived in a shack not unlike Greta’s summer cabin.
And like some of the migrants who crated their hens to Labrador, Pappy stuffed our hens into homemade cages and hauled them across the arm to Whitaker’s Point.
There is no doubt that the winter on Whitaker’s Point was a formative season for one wee bay boy.
Greta speaks of many things, indeed, more things than the Walrus and the Carpenter ever yarned about.
She speaks of bottling bakeapples, for instance. She explains the necessity of jam-packing the berries into the bottles and sealing them absolutely airtight to prevent fermentation.
Greta remembers how once a poorly sealed bottle exploded: “When we went to investigate, we found that the force of the fermented berries had blown stopper, berries and juice to the ceiling.”
One night in the middle of our Whitaker’s winter we were abruptly awakened by a barrage of gunfire ... well, not actually gunfire but rather the sound of exploding homebrew that Pappy had capped too soon.
All of the people spoken of in this book have to be commended for their hard work and endurance, for their unflinching stoicism in the face of formidable circumstance. Some of the people spoken of in this book are interesting for more specific reasons.
Nath Cole, a man of dauntless faith, unassumingly rebuked a midnight spirit kicking up a ruckus on the deck of his boat and cast it out in the name of Jesus Christ. Aunt Mary Jose, noted for her cures, used a saucer of heated milk to lure a tapeworm from the belly of one parasitically afflicted man.
Some old photographs are scattered throughout the pages of ‘Our Life on Lear’s Room’. Two of them are especially fascinating.
On page 68 is the picture of Walter Spracklin , casually leaning an elbow on a tombstone and grinning cheerfully at the camera. The juxtaposition of life and death, of the quick and the dead, of vital young man and long-moldered corpse, is a testament to … to the fact that life goes on until it stops, I s’pose.
By the way, the headstone Walter Spracklin is leaning on isn’t a ‘stone’ at all. It’s a slab of hand-carved pine that has its own story, but I’m not going to tell you what it is.
On page 58 is a photo of Greta’s mother that, in its simplicity, exemplifies the hard times experienced by those Labrador fishers and also illustrates their indomitable nature.
Mother, full-faced and youthful looking, is wearing a neat felt hat — I’m guessing felt — and a long dark coat. She is smiling cryptically, reminiscent of buddy Leo’s famous Mona, and holding a sack at the end of one arm.
The caption, in part, says this: “Mother with a meal of potatoes.”
Thank you for reading.