Month: December 2013

The evolution of Electronics in a Rural Newfoundland Home

my kid asked if I had a texting package when I was a kid. A texting package? What the hell is that. He answers ‘its a phone package that allows texts’. “did you have texts when you were a kid?” I answer ‘Yes, but our texts were textbooks and we studied them!” he didn’t ask anything else.

Kids these days just don’t get it. Living in rural Newfoundland, we only got electricity in the early seventies, which isn’t really that long ago.

I was twelve before my family actually got a phone. This was  three years after we got electricity. It was two years after we got running water, and a year after we got an inside toilet. Before those  days, we relied on an outhouse that was located fifty feet from the front door. Think that  was bad? We didn’t have toilet paper. We used catalog paper. I know, you are thinking ‘ouch’ right now, and rightly so. When you went to the bathroom, it wasn’t to read a book, it was because you really had to go.

I remember the first toilet we got. We didn’t know how to sit on it. We mounted the toilet like a motor cycle, with the tank to our chest. It wasn’t until a relative came by that we found out how to sit on the thing.

When the first phone arrived, we didn’t know proper  ‘phone etiquette’. Whenever the phone rang, we would sit and stare at the thing, too shy to actually answer it. When we finally did answer the phone, we would do so by saying “Who is you, This is me!”

Again, it took a relative to explain that all  we had to do was to say ‘hello’. My family was one who could watch the Beverley Hillbillies and not think anything funny at the way that they acted. Of  course, we didn’t have television back then, so how would we know any different?

We eventually did get TV, and years afterwards, we got VCRs. We invested our money in the Beta system, but returned it to Woolco when the instructions were too difficult to understand. The clerk argued that this was the wave of the future. I am glad we didn’t listen to the guy. My uncle always wanted a VCR, so one day he traded his television for a VCR. He bragged about the thing until he realized that he needed a TV to run the thing. Go figure.

Eventually, my dad put a splitter on the phone line, and I actually had a phone in my room. The only thing was that with only one  line, anyone could hear what was being said on the other line. This ruined what little privacy I had as a teen (especially with a younger brother and two sisters who laughed and giggled on the other line whenever I talked  to girls).

Eventually we did manage  to catch up with the rest of the world. I still remember my first computer, a 286 with Windows 3.1. At the time, the thing was amazing. I could calculate anything, keep spread sheets, and it played DOS games. What more could you want?

A few upgrades and now we have a home  theater system in the house, three or four computers, video games for the kids, and cell phones, ipads and ipods for everyone. State of the art…Ya Baby!

Now to get me one of those Texting packages!!

Trifecta Week 108: A Newfie Christmas poem

This Christmas poem is my entry into this week’s Trifecta Challenge. The word is
1a : a man who has begotten a child; also : sire
b capitalized (1) : god 1 (2) : the first person of the Trinity
2: forefather
3a : one related to another in a way suggesting that of father to child  
b : an old man —used as a respectful form of address

This year we celebrated Christmas with the folks here at home

Father made his famous rabbit pie, better watch out for the bones

Later on that night, we visited my sister and her kids

we talked about our wonderful day and all the things that we did

The mummers are at the door

looking for a drink

And while sitting by the wood stove, it gave me time to think

of Christmases past and present

and the ones that will soon be

brought a tear to my eye, so proud to be Newfie

There’s nothing like a Newfoundland Christmas

Come here and  you will see.

An Old Soldier’s Tale

Heavy breathing and panting, he ran for his life. The sound of his heart beating practically drowned out the sound of gunfire behind him. As he headed for anyplace where he could hide, he prayed to the Lord for a chance to make it out of this one alive. Tripping over bodies that fell before him, he fell to his knees. Looking behind, he could see that they were gaining on him. In an act of total desperation, he sought refuge by lying on the ground and hauling his slaughtered comrades over him like a blanket.

His heart now racing, he struggled to remain quiet and out of sight. He silently prayed that he would remain undetected by the enemy, especially now that they were standing so close to him. With his breaths like thunder and the smell of rotting flesh the only thing between him and the enemy, he thought that this was the end; that he wouldn’t be strong enough to survive.

For three days he hid like this. His stomach growling for food  of any kind, he ate any small insects that got close enough  for him to grab. Despite his prayers, the enemy remained close enough to see him if he got up. During his time lying under the dead, he had time to think of everything that mattered to him. He thought of the beautiful wife and kids he left back home in Canada, and of the life he should had led. For once, he actually regretted the two tours of duty he volunteered for. Now, with the Germans standing but a thread away from  him, he figured that this would be his last, that eventually the sick  smell  of rotting  flesh would be too much for him, and that he would move enough that they would see him, and even worst, kill him.

The first few nights were the worst he thought, but he was not ready for what would happen next. On this, his third day of playing dead, the soldiers thought it fit to pile other bodies on top  of him. They planned to pour gasoline of the lot of them, burning the dead soldiers and eventually moving on. It was at this point that he suffered most. The weight of the fallen soldiers was more than he could take. After the first few were piled high above his stiff and sore body, the pain  overtook him, causing him to pass out.

When he came to, he thought that he was in heaven. Soldiers that he spent so many days and nights with were sitting around him, praising him as a hero and rejoicing that he was still alive. This was no dream. Aaron Cooper was a hero. He had spent three full days buried alive, the only thing between him and his ultimate demise being the soldiers who had been gunned down by a terrible enemy, an evil that almost overtook the world. Between his prayers to the Good Lord and a miracle, Aaron survived this ordeal. Along with his surviving, the enemy lost a vital piece of information; Aaron was trusted to deliver a package across enemy lines. He had the package tucked in his shirt the entire time that he hid from the German soldiers.

This story was related to me by Aaron himself. While volunteering at a local  senior’s retirement home, Aaron entertained me with stories of his miraculous  adventures in the Canadian Armed Forces. At first, I thought the stories to be fabricated in his mind, but after speaking to his son and the ladies who worked at the retirement home, I learned that they in fact did happen. He really did spend three days almost buried alive.

I remember Aaron asking  if I could find him  a copy of his favorite song, ‘Distant Drums’ by Jim Reeves. He used to sing the song  day and night, driving the ladies who worked at the home insane. He was delighted when I delivered the CD to him. It was on Christmas Day, 2004. He could be heard singing the song all that day. On Boxing Day 2004, the world lost  a hero. An  unsung hero whose story would never be told…until today.  This is but one interesting story that has been related to me by the many people  I visit each month at retirement homes in the area. All seniors have a story to tell, whether it is one of fighting for  their country or raising a ton of kids in hard times. Give a listen  sometime, you will be amazed.

a racing set for Christmas

Sitting here wrapping gifts for my son, I am taken back to a Christmas when I was his age. Times back then were so different. We didn’t get so many gifts that we grew tired from opening them. We only got one thing for Christmas…if we were lucky. There were some Christmas mornings where the gifts were very small. You see, times in rural Newfoundland were very tough when I was a kid. My  parents worked hard just to make ends meet.

I remember that Christmas morning. I had wrote Santa asking for a race car set. Well, it wasn’t totally my idea. My dad wanted me to get a race car set. He talked me out of the ‘Squirming Herman’ toy I asked for, explaining that a real boy needs to have a race car set. I went along  with him. Mom used to give him that ‘look’ whenever he spoke of the gift, reminding him of who it was for. He would just laugh and go on with whatever he was doing while mom shook her head with the ever familiar ‘tsk tsk’ that drove him crazy.

“I hear you get a Corvette and  a Ferrari with the race set. My buddy is into cars and he says that it can  provide hours of fun” said my dad. He was more excited than  I was.  “But Dad, the kids at school are getting cool  stuff like klickety klackers (Two hard  plastic balls on a string, joined at the top  with a metal ring. You held the ring and clacked the balls together and it made a neat noise.) Dad refused to let me get that toy, saying that some kid is going to kill another with that someday. He wasn’t far from the truth, as the toy was later taken off the market because some kid somewhere did kill another kid with the toy. My dad wasn’t a dumb man, still isn’t.

Well, on Christmas morning, I couldn’t sleep a bit. As I lay in my bed I could swear that I could hear cars revving and running, but I figured it was just my imagination getting the best of me. I wouldn’t dare get up, for fear that if Santa caught me, he would leave before dropping off my gifts. Dad said that if Santa caught me up, he wouldn’t come back ever. So I stayed in bed and eventually fell asleep.

The next morning, I was anxious to see what Santa brought. After dumping out my stocking to find the usual, fresh fruit (even grapes, which we never got throughout the year), I found my race car set already set up on the living room floor. My dad and our neighbour were sitting on the floor with each a screwdriver, working on MY yellow Corvette. “What’s wrong with my car, Dad” I asked.

“Not sure, it worked perfect all night!” he said.

“All night? How do you know? Who was using it?” I asked

“Well, Santa always tries toys before leaving them in a child’s home. He left me a note saying that he couldn’t get the yellow one to keep racing. He left me instructions to fix it.” My dad lied.

I may have been eleven, but I was no fool. I knew that dad was up just after Santa left, and that he and our neighbour wore my car out before I got a chance to play with it. I knew, but I didn’t say anything. I didn’t want to ruin my dad’s Christmas.

Dad told stories of when he was a boy. They didn’t get anything like this for Christmas. They got socks and mitts that their mom knitted, or snowshoes that their dad made, but not every year. I guess that’s why my dad was so excited about the race car set.

Eventually my dad got the race car working. When that happened, he and I sat and played until the little metallic runners under the car wore out. That took the entire day. What fun!

Now, as a dad, I get the chance to play with my son’s toys on Christmas morning. Only a few more sleeps!

something to tickle your funny bone

A blonde was shopping and came across a silver Thermos. She was quite fascinated by it, so she picked it up and brought it over to the clerk to ask what it was.

“That’s a Thermos,” the clerk said. “It keeps some things hot and some things cold.”

“Wow,” said the blonde. “That’s amazing. I’m going to buy it!”

So she bought the Thermos and took it to work the next day. Her boss saw it on her desk.

“What do you have there?” he asked.

“Why, that’s a Thermos. It keeps hot things hot and cold things cold,” she replied.

Her boss inquired, “What do you have in it?”

The blond replied, “Two popsicles and some coffee.”

An evening with Sam and Judy: My 1976 Christmas Writing Assignment

Sam White was a hardy Newfoundlander. He made his living first as a fisherman and then as a logger. These days he is enjoying his retirement. Growing up in rural Newfoundland, Sam did what he had to do to make ends meet. His long-time companion, Judy, sits by his side as I gather information of what life was like for the old couple back in the ‘old days’.

“Christmas was such a special time” Judy recalled. “We didn’t have Santa and all the commercial crap that comes with the old guy. Instead, we had family get-togethers, kitchen parties, and good food. Christmas was a time to take a break from the hard work and take it easy for a day or so.”

“Take it easy, she says! Judy, you have no idea! With eight kids how does a guy take it easy? They all want something for Christmas, and with the little money we had, it was very hard to manage!” added Sam, who sat on the hardwood chair that he made. He was drinking a glass of his favorite soda pop, Pineapple Crush.  When I asked him about his beverage choice, he explained that the stuff was only available to Newfoundlanders. Upon checking it out, he was right. Nowadays, Pineapple Crush is available in parts of Ontario and Alberta, where thousands of Newfoundlanders now make their home.

On the table beside his chair, I notice a few other ‘Newfoundland specific foods’ such as Maple Leaf Vienna Sausage, ‘Jam Jams’, a bag of Hard Bread, and on the cabinet next to the stove, a bottle of Newfoundland Screech. Screech rum has been on  the island for years. Brewed in Jamaica, early settlers traded cod for the brew. Sam offered me a swiq of the stuff, and I readily (and foolishly) accepted. The stuff smelled like turpentine, and tasted much worst (not that I ever drank turpentine, but I could only imagine how it tasted). Sam and Judy laughed as I nearly choked on the bitter rum. I turned down the next few shots, but Sam didn’t let them go to waste.

“Judy, get this boy a plate of your special Salt Beef soup. That will soothe his stomach.” My head spun from the tiny shot I managed to keep down, but I have to tell  you, Judy’s Salt Beef soup was something to die for. With a hint of salt (a taste quite popular in ALL Newfoundland cooking) and a tasty broth, it was delicious.

While I spoke  to the elderly couple, I noticed a fiddle hanging on the wall above the door. “Do you play?” I asked. “Used to, broke three fingers, pretty hard to hit the strings with crooked fingers. If you want a tune or two, I can take out the mouth organ, I don’t need the fingers for that!” Sam said. Judy rolled her eyes and looked  on. “Not the mouth organ, that damn thing drives me crazy!” she complained.

“What you like to hear? I know all the popular songs of the day. “I’se da Bye”, ‘Squid Jiggin’ Ground’, Mussels in da corner’, what will it be me laddie?”

Being fairly well ‘tuned’ in traditional Newfie music, I knew all those tunes. Back in the day, fishermen and their wives used to sing sea chanteys as they worked. The songs became part of our heritage.

“Judy, you sing a few, I back you up on the mouth organ (also known as the harmonica).”

Judy reached behind her and pulled out a button accordion. A loud “Wraaaap” sound rung from  the instrument as she prepared to play it. “I used to play that thing, but you know, the fingers. I taught my lovely Judy to play so I wouldn’t forget the melodies. She plays guitar and fiddle as well. I has me one talented lassie” Sam added.

“Oh shut up old man” she said, as she commenced with the music.

The two of them  put on quite a show. First a medley of traditional tunes, then a mix of a few I never heard before. Sam said that he and Judy made them up one stormy winter night. I was in awe. Who would have thought that these two old timers were so talented?

When Judy got tired playing, she asked if I was hungry. “We don’t get many visitors these days, especially with the kids gone and all.” I said that I was fine, that I was enjoying myself way too much to be hungry. Besides, look at all the info I was gathering. Sam offered me a few sweets, again traditional Newfoundland food.  “Have a few peppermint knobs, they make your mouth feel like a cold winter’s morning”. I took one of the candy, with it’s pink and white stripes and cool mint taste, it quickly became one of my favorite candies.

As I wrote notes in my scribbler, Sam and Judy looked on. “Our boy Thomas used to like writing as well. I still have some  of the stories he wrote.” said Judy, with a tear in her eye.

“Where is Thomas now?” I asked.

“Thomas is with the angels. He is a hero you know.” Sam said proudly. “Tommy went off to war when he was just sixteen. He fought bravely against the Germans. They say that our boy went down fighting. A true Newfoundlander for sure.  Don’t mess with us; we may seem generous and kind, but threaten our freedom and our safety, and you  will pay. Them damn Germans paid, didn’t they, Judy?”

“They did indeed. I can’t talk much about that anymore. It seems like a dream, like it couldn’t have happened.” Judy said, tears on her face. I changed the subject. “So do you go to town often?” I asked.

“Town? Why should we? We grow our own vegetables, raise our own cattle, hens and pigs. Sam still hunts for rabbit and moose and the occasional partridge. We live like kings in our own home.” Judy said.

I looked at my watch. 8:25. I had to leave soon. My dad would be by soon waiting to bring me back home.

“I have to finish my report soon, got school in the morning.” I said. The old couple seemed to sadden with my ever word. “Can’t you stay just a while longer? We don’t get much company. Why not give Judy a hand decorating the Christmas tree. The old girl has a difficult time reaching the higher branches.” Sam asked.

“Old Girl? I will give you Old girl!” Judy said. “But yes, I could use some help.”

How could I disagree? I helped the old couple decorate their fine tree, putting their beautiful homemade ornaments on the tree. When we finished, Judy took out her guitar and played ‘Silent Night’ as Sam and I watched. My dad had arrived and sang along as well.

The next morning I was quick to wake. I grabbed my notebook and hurried downstairs for breakfast. When I got to school, I was first to present my assignment. I didn’t even use my notes, as I recalled the wonderful visit I had with Sam and Judy White. My teacher was so impressed with my report that she gave me 100% and suggested that I continue to write  stories. Good advice, as writing later became such an important part of my life.

Sam and Judy? They are gone  now. The old house is but a wooden frame down an old woods path.  Many of the residents in the community have long  forgotten the old couple, but not me. They remain in my heart as a wonderful memory of Newfoundland past. With its Sugar cookies, peppermint knobs and Newfoundland Screech, memories that I will never forget. Merry Christmas to one  and all, and a Happy and Prosperous New Year to all.

Big Man, Big Heart

A few years back, my dad worked with a man named Randy.  My dad described Randy as a big, tough guy who everyone was terrified of. He said that Randy had tattoos up both arms (this was back in the 90’s, where only soldiers and sinners wore tattoos), scars across his face, and weighed in the neighbourhood of 300 lbs of muscle and mean. (My dad has always been very descriptive, to the point that I didn’t know Randy, nor did I meet him, but I feared him)

Apparently Randy had a long list of criminal offences and jail time under his belt. ‘He wasn’t very good socially’ my dad said. He would come to work in a savage mood, complaining about a certain bartender or ex-wife that he wanted to kill, and as everyone listened in fear, he would slam his giant fist on a table and frighten the hell out of everyone in the room.

My dad explained that one day, while all the workers were out in the field working (The job was to prepare a certain piece of land so that the town could expand the golf course), a flock of seagulls landed beside the workers. They all noticed one particular bird who hopped on one leg.  As a few of the men joked about the bird, Randy said nothing. For once, he was quiet. My dad explained that one of the men picked up a rock and attempted to throw it at the injured animal. My dad said that he never seen such a big man move so fast. Randy leaped from where he stood and seemed to land  in front of the cruel man, grabbing his hand with the stone in it and virtually bending the man’s arm back to where it had to hurt. He then threw the man to the ground and rushed to the side of the injured gull.

My dad said that it was a miracle. None of the birds moved. The hurt bird seemed to hop right into Randy’s arms. With that, the big man held the bird in his arms and headed back to the camp, where using a few popsicle sticks, he fashioned a  little splint on the bird’s injured leg, and wrapped it with gauze from the first aid kit. He made a small bed in the corner of the room, and placed the bird in it. Taking a sandwich from his lunch box, Randy fed the hungry animal and cared for it as if it were a baby.

My dad said that in the weeks following, Randy was a much different man. He was caring and thoughtful, and showed respect to anyone who deserved it. He also spent a lot of time with the gull, who was getting stronger each day. When the bird was strong enough to walk on its leg, Randy took it out in the field and threw it into the air, watching it fly and catch up with the other birds who seemed to be waiting for him to return to the flock. My dad still talks about this day, when the big scary man from the golf course cried his eyes out as he watched the mended bird fly away.

There is good in all of us. Sometimes it takes a bit of time before it is seen, but it is there. Dad said that Randy quit the golf course job soon after the bird incident, only to wind up in jail for breaking and entering. Most of the town talked and chattered about the giant man and how mean and scary he was, but not my dad. He knew that the  big man had an even bigger heart.

Christmas with the seniors

These days, Christmas has a special meaning to me. Saturday was exactly ten years since I made a very special promise. It was just after I had undergone serious surgery to remove a massive tumor.  I had noticed that so many of the patients were without visitors; nobody to care if they lived or died. I made a promise that if I could only get past the surgery and come out with a clean bill of  health, that I would take it upon myself to make sure this doesn’t happen again.

So much has changed for me since making that promise. I met a wonderful lady, I gained confidence to do whatever I put my mind to, and I learned to be grateful for each day that I am here. Hell, I even discovered WordPress, and all the great writers who contribute to the site.

Like I said in earlier posts, I created a youth/seniors group called Friends Visiting Friends, where our youth would visit seniors who lived in retirement homes. That program lasted almost eight years. I also made it a point to bring my Disk Jockey equipment to various retirement homes and put off a Christmas dance for free. This year, the weather was terrible, with a ferocious winter storm looming. We were in  the ‘calm before the storm’, and since the weather was okay, the dance was held.

Just seeing how excited the seniors were was worth all the hard work of carrying my heavy equipment into the retirement home. All 85 seniors sat in chairs that were set up earlier in the day, and not a finger was still, a foot not tapping to the traditional Newfoundland songs and Holiday music that I played for them. Those who were mobile were up step dancing, some were even singing. Several grandchildren of the seniors’ attended and were very surprised when Santa made an appearance as well. One by one, the seniors got to sit on Santa’s lap, and he rewarded each of them with a special gift.

Just as Santa was step dancing out the door, he was pushed back into the building by a crowd of mummers. Long Johns, pillow cases and oversize bras, the festive mummers danced and sang while the seniors tried to figure out who they were. Party favors and trays of every kind of food was served and everyone had a great time.

When the dance was over, myself and my lady took the time to visit the residents who either chose not to attend the dance, or were too feeble to leave  their rooms. One gentleman took the time to show us his many sketches, and another took out his guitar and fiddle, and proceeded to play us a few tunes that he had memorized. He was delighted that we took the time to visit with him, as he did’t have any family members living close.

Knowing how so many  of our older community members spend Christmas, birthdays and other special days alone, I only ask one thing this Christmas. I ask that anyone reading this could take the time to sit and chat with someone who is lonely this Christmas. Maybe take the kids and go caroling at a Senior’s retirement home, or bake something festive and share a lunch. Everyone likes attention, especially this time of year.

Giving Thanks

As we were putting up the Christmas tree, it brought me back to a Christmas that wasn’t so good. It was December 2003, and I had just returned from St. John’s and what was the most difficult thing I had ever undergone. At the time, I had a large tumor removed from my neck, and it was suspected by the entire group of Oncologists at the Health Science Center that it was cancerous. Still, for some  reason, I remained as hopeful and brave as could be expected.

My family were exactly the opposite. My brother looked like hell and appeared that he was going to have a heart attack. Being a health care professional (a Pharmacist), I guess he knew exactly how serious my tumor was, (seeing that it was connected to  the nerves leading to my brain). My dad didn’t fair well either, he worried constantly that the thing was going to come back. I had a sister living away, and for her, seeing me sick  was complete torture. My mom was strong, but I could tell from her face that she worried. The one strong  person in my family was my youngest sister. She had been the family sook, but when things got rough, she stood to the challenge.

The most  difficult part of the entire ordeal was sitting and watching  them  suffer. We are a very close family, and prior to this,  none  of us had to withstand any serious illness. As I said, I was incredibly strong at the time,  I truly believed that everything would work out.

My first day home was most difficult. For some reason, relatives seem to remember you when you are sick. These are the same  relatives that you never see any other  time. They all came to pay their respects, bearing gifts such as bottled moose and rabbit, homemade pies and cake. That’s it when you live in a close knit community where nearly everyone is family. We care!….even if it hurts!

I remember mom decorating the tree. While she was with me at the hospital (some 700 kms away from home), my dad tried to decorate it, and you could tell that his spirit wasn’t into it, as the tree looked as if it were dropped from an airplane, right through the roof of his house.  I know it was  difficult for them, as the doctor wasn’t very hopeful that the tumor wouldn’t come back and kill me. And what timing…Christmas time!

My brother was especially gluey. The independent one of the family, he rarely showed any emotion about anything and never ever spoke of his feelings, but this time, he couldn’t stay away. He wanted me to move in with him and his wife while I healed. I couldn’t  do that, I am one person  who truly needs his space!

We ate well that Christmas! All the goodies that were brought for me proved to be quite filling (except for me, being a diabetic, I couldn’t exactly enjoy all those sweets) and I believe that the togetherness of the family actually helped me heal.

I was put off work for five weeks, which worked quite well because after five minutes of talking, my jaw locked up completely and I couldn’t speak a word. After three weeks, work had me drove crazy to return, often calling to ask my advice on the computer system that ran the store, or about various products in the store (Radio Shack). On the last I said the hell with it and returned to work early (against my doctor’s orders). I stayed for two months, and after receiving a call from the hospital stating that more tumor was found, I had to leave for more tests. Eleven MRI’s followed, and with all the travel to and from the city,  the store didn’t give me the required time off to go for testing.  I told them to stick their job.  My life was worth more than  the shitty salary I was being paid.

This all  worked out quite well. After another four or five MRI’s, I was given a good bill  of health. I returned to school and obtained a diploma in Community Studies. I used the skills I had been taught to form my own non profit volunteer organization, and got federal funding to run a program that united youth and seniors living in retirement homes together on weekends. The program was very successful for a number of years. While in college, I met a beautiful, warm hearted lady who  I am marrying in the summer of 2014, and her son, who I am now raising as my own.

The entire ordeal made  me realize what was important in life. I learned that you should never take anything for granted; it can be taken  away as quick as a flash. I learned that a person should never be ashamed of how they look or what they have.  I learned that love is the most important thing  in life, and that a happy, healthy family is the best thing ever. I also learned  to trust my own instincts and to believe in the Good Lord. He makes everything possible. Merry Christmas to everyone who reads this. I would like to thank everyone  who has ever dropped by this site for a read, and I offer a special thanks  to everyone who has taken the time to leave a comment. Thank You from Sightsnbytes (Ted  White) and my family.