Curn: A Tribute to my Uncle

A tall, slender man with a big heart, my Uncle Curn (his real name was Cornelius) was a brilliant man. He could talk politics with the best of them and he really knew how to spin a yarn. Whether he was humming a tune by his favourite singer John White or tying flies to go salmon fishing, the man was always in good spirits.

He lost an eye cutting pulp when he was just a young man, but the accident never affected his love for the forest. He spent his best days in the woods, often alone, setting rabbit snares or finding new spots to cut firewood.

Uncle Curn was a plumber/pipefitter by trade, but his true love was fishing. My uncle truly loved salmon fishing, and he spent most of his free time along the rivers of Western Newfoundland, especially at Harry’s River and Southwest Brook.

Mom said that as a child, her brother loved taking things apart. She said the only thing wrong with that was that he rarely put them back together. She recalls him disassembling the family’s old phonograph player. He was amazed at how the small parts made the thing work. Mom recalls the house being relatively quiet after Curn took the phonograph apart, as he didn’t put it back together right and it never worked again.

Cornelius was always game for a good chat, and there was no winning an argument with him. Mom said he was always so smart. Nobody could outfox or fool him.

My uncle was good friends with my dad even before he met my mom. I have a picture of my Uncle ‘Curn’, my Dad and my Uncle Frank that brings back memories of the good times they had as young men.

My dad married Curn’s sister, and Curn married my dad’s sister. How is that for a close family? Although my aunt’s name is Rita, my uncle referred to her simply as ‘Reet’.

They were married a few days prior to my parents, and together, Curn and Rita had a large family who they loved very much. With five boys and a girl, they had their hands full.

My uncle and aunt ran a small convenience store in my community, and I can still remember going there to buy ice cream. On one occasion, when I ordered a popsicle, and my uncle asked how I was paying, I simply said…”put it on my tab…and that’s what he did.

I remember one time, my uncle called and asked if I would like to accompany him and his son on a fishing trip. I was excited to go, and of course mom said yes. He said not to worry about anything, because my uncle never worried. He was the most carefree person I ever knew.

His old green Chevy truck pulled into my dad’s driveway, and me and his son Ronnie squat next to him. As we traveled to the river, my uncle told us stories, and made the two of us laugh all the way.

When we got to the river, my uncle noticed that he had forgot his tent. Most people would worry, but not him. “Don’t worry, I have a roll of felt in the back. We can make a bough camp and put the felt on top if it rains” he assured us.

“Besides, it won’t rain, it is sunny and not a cloud in the sky” he said.

It poured that night. Me and Ronnie climbed in the little shelter his dad built for us, and I must admit, with the felt on the roof, the thing was totally waterproof and even a bit comfortable.

It was comfortable until about three in the morning. This was the time I woke from my sleep, drenched in water. Apparently, Uncle Curn’s fire was going out from all the rain, so he gradually tore pieces of felt from our roof and threw them in the fire. We were soaked.

The next morning, the sun was splitting the rocks, and we didn’t take long to dry off.

The worst thing my uncle ever did was begin smoking. He truly enjoyed a good smoke, and incidentally, smoking was the thing that made his life most difficult. I don’t think I can remember seeing my uncle without either a cigarette or a pipe.

A few years back, he lost a leg due to clogged arteries. If you think losing a leg got him down, you didn’t know my uncle. I remember him telling me of how he crawled through the woods, hauling his body through the thick brush, setting rabbit snares in the fall of the year.

And who could forget the trips that he took to the river, sitting in his ATV, fishing for salmon. One leg didn’t make a difference to a man who was as resilient as my uncle.

A few months ago, the other leg began giving him trouble. Doctors attempted to free the clogs from his veins (my family have very small veins), and although the surgery was relatively successful, his heart just couldn’t take it. For the last few weeks, he has been sedated with morphine, only coming to long enough to speak to the many visitors who came to see him.

We got the call early this morning. His body could no longer withstand the pain. With most of his veins and arteries clogged, he passed away. It was a bittersweet time for my family. We knew he was in pain and suffering, so we wanted the Blessed Lord to take him away from his misery, but on the other hand, we didn’t want to lose him either. Our lives will be much emptier without him.

Uncle Curn was a great father to his kids, who all turned out to be good people. I see a bit of my uncle’s brilliance in each of his children, and my mom says that she sees a lot of him in me.

The salmon rivers will be a lot lonelier this year, as his homemade salmon flies will no longer flicker on the rushing waters. He will be missed not only by friends and family in the close knit community where he lived, but by anyone who has ever met him.

the wire

Photo Prompt by Madison Woods


we were running through the woods that day

we were young

and carefree.


and my friend


on an old trail

that led to Scott’s farm.

They say he meant no harm

just protecting what he thought was his.

He used wire you know,

to keep us out

from land that he didn’t even own.

The wooden fence

rotted fast,

but the wire

was made to last,

its barbed ends

were as sharp and cold

as the old man’s soul.

and we felt it

when we tripped

on the rusted wire

that lay buried

next to the old man.





Today’s thought…

Sword Swallower

On all the talent shows, there is at least one sword swallower. I can’t look. If the act goes well, he shows up on the next episode, ready to freak me out again. If the act goes awry, he is dead on stage…how is this an act that he can repeat.

“The act didn’t go well. I will make it up to you if I get called back!” he says, while bleeding to death!

How long can an act of swallowing a sword possibly last? Imaging a two hour Vegas show where a guy puts swords down his throat. Boring unless something goes wrong. Its like watching Nascar…boring unless there is an accident.

How does one know they are a good sword swallower? What about the people who discovered they weren’t good at it?  Are they dead?

At what point in a person’s life do they decide they want to be a sword swallower? “What you doing the weekend?” “Not much, I might try swallowing something sharp, see how it turns out…”

How does one believe they can do this? Do they start off with small things, like pocket knives and steak knifes? “Junior, get that butter knife out of your mouth…want to cut yourself and bleed to death? What’s wrong with you???”

When the sword ‘goes down the wrong hole’ does the person die, or just cough it up?

Are swords fattening? Lots of Iron, so I guess they are healthy!

Not much of a margin for error in sword swallowing. It’s either it went well or you are dead.

Its not like you meet some guy who says “I tried Sword swallowing and gave it  up….I wasn’t good at it”  If you aren’t good at it, you are probably dead by now.

The act probably requires concentration. can you imagine if the guy is on America’s Got talent and one of the judges hits the X…I bet that buzzer could be distracting…

Honey’s visit

Living in a small community, we never got many visitors. We were surrounded with immediate family, mostly on my dad’s side, so nobody really had to visit I guess. My grandmother had family in Nova Scotia, and from time to time, her relatives would come to the island for a visit. We always looked forward to this.

I remember once, mom’s cousin Honey and her husband Dave came to visit. I later discovered that ‘Honey’ was a nickname, her real name was Jeanette.

I was probably around 25 at the time, and already seriously into working as a private Disk Jockey. I was getting ready to play a wedding for a young couple who recently visited, when I decided to play a few tunes, and see if they were ‘dance worthy’.

With this, mom and dad began dancing around the house. My brother and sisters hid their eyes with embarrassment, but mom and dad didn’t care. That was until mom noticed someone standing outside the picture window….with a huge video camera on their shoulder. It was Honey’s husband Dave, laughing to kill himself, as he videoed mom and dad dancing away. Of course, (if my memory serves me correctly), his laughter was short lived….he forgot the lens cap on his camera. (If this was not the case, I would love a copy of the video) Too bad, this would have made a great video for mom and dad’s 50th wedding anniversary a few years ago.



peppermint leaves

I had a dream last night. I was little again. I was sitting in the tall grass at my grandparents’ house. The smell of fresh mint in the air, and a gently breeze blowing in my face. My great grandmother was sitting with me. ” Chew the peppermint leaves, and then spit them out!” she said, “They make your mouth tingle!”

With a handful of gooseberries she picked from the branches of the tree that hung over the step rail, and a glass of lemonade my grandmother made for us, we had quite a time. She told me stories, mostly about the hardships she faced as a young woman, left to care for her eleven children when her husband was taken from her at just 50 years old. Tuberculosis took him, and the dreaded disease took one of their younger sons soon afterward.

To this day, whenever I smell the scent of fresh mint, I find myself back at my grandparent’s house, sitting in the tall grass, chewing mint leaves and laughing with my grandmother Josephine.



seat of choice

PHOTO PROMPT – © Ted Strutz

Heading to work, Paul realized that he had to use the bathroom. Pulling into a service station, he quickly headed to the restroom. On the way, he met a man exiting the room, tools in hand.

Paul noticed not one but two identical toilets. He used the first one, and upon completion of his business, he attempted to flush.

No handle. In fact, no plumbing.
Apparently the man leaving the room was a plumber, not yet finished installing a new toilet.

Paul left the room quickly, only to meet the same man, on his way to finish installing the toilet.

This little tale of surprise and disgust, is brought to you courtesy of Friday Fictioneers’ photo prompt of the week. Click on the froggy for more stories.

where the water doesn’t run

PHOTO PROMPT © Rochelle Wisoff-Fields
PHOTO PROMPT © Rochelle Wisoff-Fields

There is a lump in the sand
where the water doesn’t run.
Nobody goes there, not the father
and not the son.

A while back
when tempers flared,
a father lost control
and it’s what you see here.

His son, teased and tortured
and then bullied some more;

he took his own life
he couldn’t stand it anymore.

The  dad, confused and hurt
visited the bully one night,
he didn’t want to fight
but they did.

When they finished

there was only one.

Before taking his own life,

he buried the bully beneath the sand.

where the water doesn’t run.


This sad little tale of bullying and retaliation the frustrations of having your son bullied and feeling helpless,is brought to you by this week’s Friday Fictioneers. I hope you enjoyed the story.

Duel on the street


PHOTO PROMPT – © Al Forbes

Two warriors revved  their engines. “What you got in ‘er?” he asked.

“318, four barrel with a stick shift” I hollered, ready for battle. “What you got?”

“Straight 6, two speed power glide and a heavy foot” he replied, almost proud.

The flag dropped and the two of us tore down the street. we were neck and neck before the old guy swerved in my lane, taking most of my front bumper with him.

My bravery quickly turned to fear when I realized that he had just tore the bumper from my dad’s Dodge Pickup, I was a dead man.

the story was true….dad was surprisingly calm….got up the next morning, repaired the bumper…..and handed me the keys again. I learned a lot from that man, still learning…

This blast from the past is my entry into this weeks’ Friday Fictioneers.

my rebellious days

Back when I was a kid, like all kids, I went through a rebellious stage. No, I didn’t spend my time ‘saucing’ my parents or refusing to do my homework, I did something much more serious.

In the third grade, we shared our school with those dreaded protestants. Being Catholics, we had the best schools and apparently (although most would disagree) the best teachers (if you consider a cranky nun a good teacher).

The golden rule of getting along with the principal and the teachers was to stay away from any student who wasn’t a Roman Catholic. The school was virtually split down the middle, with a huge wall separating the two sections. A large sign read ‘NO ENTRY’ on either side of the wall, and most students did their best to abide to the rules. Not me.

I had a problem determining exactly who was Catholic and who wasn’t. Everyone looked the same to me. The principal even had a school assembly where he pointed out the rule, and threatened punishment by the leather strap if any Catholic kid was caught even talking to a protestant kid. We were taught that those kids were pure evil, and our protective school officials surely didn’t want any of us pure, innocent Catholic kids being led down the garden path by those sinners.

Anyway, there was this kid, Vincent, who worked like a spy on the playground. If he noticed a kid sitting alone, with nobody to play with, he would set that kid up with a friend….a protestant friend, for a price. Usually his price was a sandwich or some cool desert like canned pudding or jelly.

One day, Vincent noticed that I was standing by the sliding board alone, not another child in sight. Vincent slithered over to me and gave me a ‘Pssst’, and pointing to the wooded area behind the school, he invited me over. I remember feeling guilty as hell by going, but what did I have to lose, other kids said he was cool.

When I got to the bushes, Vincent stood there with two kids. A boy and a girl. They looked just like any other kid I had ever seen, no distinguishing marks to let me know that they were the spawn of the devil, so I decided to hear Vincent out.

“I like you kid” he said, “Just for today, I am going to set you up with not one, but two protestant friends. They just moved here from Ontario, and have no friends. I am not going to charge you anything, but mum’s the word if you get caught.” It was like he was a drug dealer or something, and I was drawn into his little scheme.

For the next two weeks, I actually liked going to school. No longer did I spend my recess and dinner breaks alone. I ate lunch and took off outside to play with my new friends. It was fantastic.

And then someone ratted me out. After lunch that day, like every day, I quietly left the cafeteria and actually went to the other side of the building. What did I run into but Sister Kotell (AKA Sister Kotex)!

Dragged by the ear from the playground to the office, and then twenty straps on each hand, my palms almost bled. Each time that leather strap came across my hands, the nun recited readings from the bible and told me how I was never going to enter heaven, and how my eternal soul was going to burn in hell forever….for playing with a kid of a different religion. I was eight years old for crying out loud. I hadn’t developed any prejudices at that time, so how was I to see my wrong doings?

Looking back at it now, I realize just how foolish the world was. My dad said that when he was a kid, he was told that protestants (anyone who wasn’t Catholic) all had yellow bellies. They were told never to check, but that they should believe in God, and God would protect them from the evil.

What would those morons think now that I am married to an Anglican, my brother to a United Church person, one of my sisters to a Salvation Army person, and my other to an atheist? You know what? They still don’t look any different than anyone else. Our school officials are probably rolling in their graves right now! Maybe they are burning in hell for teaching young kids racism and hate at such a young and innocent age.  I hope so anyway.



Romance in the Roots

During the last few months, I have began tracing my family tree. In the process, I have discovered so many stories. Stories of romance, tragedy, and struggle. In this, the first of the series, I bring you the tragic love story of Ralph and Mary, and how tragedy brought them together and separated them forever. Although we do not know much about Mary Foley, I am telling the story from her prospective.

“I had it all figured out back then. Leave my boring little community and head for the city. I had just finished high school and wanted to do something other than be a housewife like my mother. I did my best to stay away from the boys and concentrate on my future. My marks were high enough that I was accepted into the St. Clare Hospital School of Nursing in St. John’s Newfoundland.

I graduated top in my class and was ready to go to work. with the war just ended, there was plenty of work, and I got hired right away. I thought I would be working at St. Clare’s hospital, but that wasn’t the case. I was sent to work at the Sanitarium.

The Sanitarium was not where I wanted to work, but back in the 1940’s a girl couldn’t be too choosy where she would work, so I went. My family were outraged that I might actually get sick while working at the hospital, I didn’t blame them for worrying, since the Sanitarium was where 90% of all Tuberculosis sufferers ended up.

My first few days at work were difficult, long hours and lots of lifting made me rethink my plans for the future. I was spending so much time working, I didn’t have much time for myself.

And then one day, a young man was carried into the hospital. I still remember his curly hair and those eyes. I fell in love with him that moment.

I followed him to his room, where he was put in a tent near a window. He was quarantined so that his disease didn’t spread to anyone else. The head nurse assigned me to his bedside. Talk about lucky!

Every day, while he was treated, I was there. I held his hands while he bravely fought against the disease. He told me stories about his home back on the west coast, and  how his father died from the disease. He told me stories about his 10 brothers and sisters, and how his mother cared for them while she worked as a house cleaner for the wealthy people in the area.

On the nice days, I would open the window so that Ralph could breathe in the fresh air. This seemed to help him. The two of us would glance out at the beautiful scenery and talk about our futures and how much we wanted to spend the rest of our lives together. I spent every living moment I could with Ralph, and I couldn’t wait for him to leave the hospital. The doctor said that he was improving. That was hopeful enough for him to propose to me. Of course I said yes.

A few months later, the doctor said that Ralph was cured. He beat Tuberculosis. We went out on the town that day, along with a few friends we met at the hospital. What a great day. Ralph already wrote several letters to his family, telling them all about me. I could tell that he really loved me, almost as much as I loved him. We planned a fall wedding, back in Stephenville with all his family. I was excited to meet them, and Ralph said they were excited as well.

Everything was going so well, how could anything go wrong? Ralph picked up a job here in the city, and we were saving our money for the big day when suddenly my entire world came tumbling down.

This time there would be no treatment at the Sanitarium. Ralph had suffered an aneurism and died immediately.

I think I cried so much that I actually ran out of tears. My beloved Ralph, my handsome fiancé. My future. We had so many plans, and now it was over.

I wrote a letter to Ralph’s family explaining everything. They were devastated. With no money to bring Ralph’s body home, I took care of everything. I made sure he received a proper burial, and I paid for it all with the money we saved together.

They might say that Ralph didn’t have a long life, but I don’t agree. Despite being only 23 years old, Ralph managed to leave the simple country life of his siblings and travel across the province to the big city. He managed to beat a disease that killed so many, and he managed to fall in love…with me. I would say he led quite a full life. I just wish it could have been longer. I wish we could have had more time together.

I will never forget my handsome man, with his curly brown hair and beautiful eyes. I would especially never forget his voice, and how much I loved hearing him tell me how much he loved me. I miss you already Ralph.”

This is the story of my Great-Uncle Ralph White and the love affair he had with Mary Foley. Nobody knows what happened to Mary after Ralph passed away, all we have are the letters he wrote to his mother, how he expressed his love for Mary, and how he planned on making her his wife. We also have a few photos my family managed to dig up from old family albums.