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The hole in the ceiling

I didn’t have a whole lot of fun when I was a wee bay boy. Unfortunately – I s’pose – my family lived in a bungalow.

BY HAROLD N. WALTERS

I didn’t have a whole lot of fun when I was a wee bay boy. Unfortunately – I s’pose – my family lived in a bungalow. The only familiar place that had a hole in the ceiling was – Where else? – Granny’s house.

Although I did of occasion spend time flat on my breadbasket peeping down through the hole at the dampers on Granny’s kitchen stove, I don’t remember any mischievous hi-jinks.

Not unless you count the time someone – some rascally cousins; not me, I swear – emptied a pepper pot down the hole during a crowded suppertime.

Apparently – I can’t take an oath of truth because maybe I wasn’t even present – not only did the cloud of pepper spread among the supper guests and trigger an epidemic of sneezing, but also some of the pepper drifted back upstairs on the heat thermals rising from the stove and caused fits of sneezing from the culprits thus exposing said young ‘vill’yens’.

Anne Galway’s ‘Stories From the Hole in the Ceiling’ (Flanker Press) is a collection of various people’s memories associated with the holes in the ceilings of houses they remember from their childhoods.

Common themes link many of the stories.

For instance, a number of people reminisce about sundry things that fell down, or in some cases ‘streamed down’, from the hole in the ceiling – slurry such as the odious contents of up-sot piss pots and capsized slop pails.

I do recall Grandpa sometimes kept a small keg of partridgeberry wine brewing upstairs in a bedroom, tucked in alongside the hole next to the added warmth of the chimney.

Once or twice in the early stages of fermentation when brewer’s yeast became too active, Grandpa’s keg frothed and foamed until the wine overflowed and spewed down the hole and onto the stove top ruining Granny’s latest polishing.

Loss of innocence is one of the recurring themes linking a number of the ‘hole stories’. Sadly, the greatest loss is the belief in Santa Claus.

Some youngsters – just like poor ol’ poet Robert Service – were disillusioned and hurt by that revelation.

What about Robert Service?

In his poem ‘The Skeptic’ he says, “My Father Christmas passed away/When I was only seven./ At twenty-one, alack-a-day,/ I lost my hope of heaven.”

He goes on to wonder which loss hurt the worse – God or Santa Claus.

I confess, I was unexpectedly crushed the winter we lived in the woods behind Withaker’s Point. Peering over the top of the wall partitioning my bunk from the kitchen – akin to a ceiling hole, I s’pose – I witnessed Mammy stuffing my Christmas stocking with a measly set of plastic horseshoes.

Flop-o! Just like that my Father Christmas keeled over.

Aren’t you tickled pink when you read a line that causes you to laugh aloud? In the story ‘The Townie Learns Her Lesson’ one missus who isn’t feeling top drawer says to another, “I feels like someone sent fer and can’t come.”

Ho-Ho and guffaw.

I hadn’t heard that expression before but I instantly empathized with the ailing missus. I’ve had days when if I had been sent for I would have been unable to go the distance.

Guaranteed, eh b’ys?

I learned the origin of a familiar word in Gary Collins’ anecdote ‘The IWA Strike’. Seems some folks call the hole in the ceiling a ‘scuttle’.

Mr. Collins explains a scuttle is also the name for the drinking water barrel on a schooner, a place where crewmembers might gather and chat – thus the word ‘scuttlebutt’.

IDKT – I didn’t know that.

What would a collection of Newfoundland stories be without some mention of hard times and how poor off ‘we’ were? ‘Hole in the Ceiling’ has a dandy example in ‘Button, Button … I Found the Button’.

Mary Cooney tells of how it was necessary for her to sleep three-a-bed with her sisters. That in itself wasn’t so awful, but Mary and her sisters were so bad off they “slept end to end holding one another’s leg wrapped in a towel and pretended the legs were dolls.”

I wonder if Santa ever brought Mary and her sisters Christmas dolls before disillusionment flew up the ceiling hole?

Harold Walters is a retired teacher living in Dunville, Placentia Bay. He can be reached at ‘ghwalters@persona.ca’.

Organizations: Robert Service, Flanker Press

Geographic location: Santa Claus.Some, Newfoundland, Dunville Placentia Bay

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  • Bruce Hynes
    November 29, 2011 - 21:27

    Just a correction re "scuttlebutt." The butt was the water barrel and it was usually lashed in a convenient place on deck. It was "scuttled" in that it had a square hole sawn in its bilge (the widest part of the barrel) to keep the amount of water used to a minimum (scuttle - to deliberatly sink or put a hole in)