She hadn’t been reading five minutes when she said, “I don’t know about that.”
Missus had read this line: “… areas where we feared to tread were The Brow, Rabbittown, the Gut.”
Reared up on Goodridge Street, smack dab in the heart of Rabbittown’s warrens, Missus was a wee bit piqued by Hunt’s suggesting Rabbittown was a fearsome place to tread.
“I know we crowd on Goodridge Street weren’t bad. He must mean that bunch on Merrymeeting Road.”
Be that as it may, Townies spotlights the stories of the rough childhoods of some of the youngsters reared up in St. John’s during the 1950s and 1960s. As well as presenting particulars about Robert Hunt’s own childhood, Townies more especially provides insight into the stories of certain of his peers — the boys who attended Holy Cross School in the first decade or so after WWII.
Hunt writes, “…our parents, the police, the Christian Brothers, nuns, and priests set the rules that governed us.”
I grew up with a group of rowdy bay-boys in those same years, and while we were half-afraid of the Mountie in Clarenville, as far as I know, none of us experienced brutality as extreme as that revealed in Townies.
Hunt could take his knocks. He didn’t shy away from a scattered slap with The Strap. “Nothing to it. All in a day’s work.” It was the unfathomable barbarous beatings at the hands of — at the solid fists of — the Irish Christian Brothers that marred his school days.
Because his father stood up for him the one time a Brother pounded him, Robert didn’t suffer to the same extent as some of his schoolmates who were not only “disciplined” by the Brothers but also by their own, sometimes drunken fathers.
Yet like many of the boys who were beaten unduly, Hunt still wonders what drove those men — “Irish Christian Brothers: angry, frustrated men who had the reputation of being sadistic” — to such incomprehensible cruelty.
Don’t get the impression that Townies is only about the miseries of school life. Hunt confesses to being a bit of a hellion who perhaps deserved an occasional stern reprimand.
One time he and his buddy Dickie got their hands on some firecrackers and promptly got up to no good. Basically for badness, they threw them into neighbourhood boarding houses and elsewhere — the Capitol theatre, for example.
Young devil-skins, eh b’ys?
Since we were good little bay-boys (!), the worst we did with firecrackers in the Cove was hold them between the tips of our fingers and thumb when they exploded to prove we were tough as nails…
…or, okay, once or twice maybe, we might have inserted a firecracker into a lumpfish’s puckered mouth and lit the fuse.
Not once though did we do anything with firecrackers that caused someone to chase us around the Cove “screaming at the top of his lung for us to stop so that he could kill us.”
Never, eh b’ys?
Lest I give the impression that Hunt was a little hard-ticket and nothing else, let me tell you, he was a hardworking young feller. He delivered meat for Bob Glasco’s meat shop; he ran errands for some of the regular clientele of the Belmont tavern; and when he was in his teens he was hired to work the candy counter at Woolworth’s.
F. W. Woolworth’s on Water Street. That was your spot once upon a time.
Hunt worked at Woolworth’s when it was the site of a provincial milestone, an event that was advertised in the store’s window: COMING SOON, A MOVING STAIRWAY.
In 1960, Woolworth’s installed the first escalator in the province. Its opening brought out the dignitaries — not Joey, but Mayor Mews anyway.
Hunt was one of the employees who help shoppers become familiar with the moving stairway, who prevented them from cracking their necks as they learned to step on and off the escalator.
I bet that was your fun, eh b’ys?
For the most part in Townies, Robert Hunt speaks for and of himself, yet he also allows some of the other boys to tell their own stories. For Robert, as well as the others, this book must be cathartic. In his preface, Hunt writes this regarding his hopes for this book: “I know that it has done me a world of good to get it down on paper.”
I’m sure it has.
Thank you for reading.
Harold Walters is a retired teacher living in Dunville, Placentia Bay. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.