by Laurent d’Entremont
Photo from Le Musee Acadien
Recently, I read an article, titled The Way it was…gone forever, by Yarmouth Vanguard’s longtime editor Fred Hatfield. Fred has been a good friend since forever, as we both date to the 1940s, although I’m a few years older, but not wiser, than he is.
We often exchange e-mails, as we like to do a bit of reminiscing about a time that no longer exists. Fred wrote about how things are always organized these days and how, in the 1950s, kids played outside in the snow or skating pond and parents never worried because they knew where their children were. This is so true, our mothers would call us at mealtime: “time to eat, come and get it, or there will be none left.” It was somewhat the same way that farmers would call their cows in. They would rattle the fence with a feed bucket or hit it with a stick, letting the cows know that it was feeding time.
Mention the snow and old-timers will tell you that we had a lot more snow back then. My grandfather would shovel a narrow path from the house to the barn after a storm; sometimes we helped him with the shoveling.
A big thrill, though, was when the snowplow would get stuck in a huge snowdrift that formed on the main road near our house. This was big news and every kid, dreaming of the day he would have the honour of driving the snowplow, would come to watch the show.
The operator would back up his machine a hundred feet or so and try go through the ten foot snow drift, usually not succeeding the first try. With an audience of 50 kids, he was likely showing off for us. The next try was a lot more dramatic. This time, the snow plow would back a bit further from the snow bank, then at full throttle with wheel spinning and spitting black smoke from the exhaust pipe, the old Caterpillar engine would wail in pain and plow into the snow bank at full clip. Snow flew in all direction and we only hoped that no one was coming in the opposite direction. We would talk about this at school for the rest of the week.
No matter how deep the snow was, we walked to school, no school bus in those days. On real blustery days, we took our lunches to school, usually in an empty lard pail, eating at our desks at noon. Most of our clothing was made of wool and we hung these to dry near the wood-burning stove. Soon, with the drying process, the classroom smelled as if it had been invaded by a flock of sheep.
Sometimes, coming home from school, some fishermen would give us a ride in an old pickup truck, usually a Ford. We would pile into the back and some of the bigger boys would just stand on the running boards holding on to the mirror or door handle…no one thought it was dangerous at the time.
Our parents did not worry too much because most of the time they did not have a clue where we were. Newspapers and battery-operated radios of the day were not full of news about children being abducted. The only cases we knew were the children of rich and famous people (like Charles Lindbergh) being kidnapped for a ransom. Our folks, being broke, had nothing to worry about.
Our parents might have worried, though, had they known of our many visits to the Twin Islands in an old fishing dory during summer time. My friends Clifford M. and his brother Hector had a long, double-ender fishing dory that had been used for lobstering by their father and his cousin, Robbie, the blacksmith in many of my features. The aging dory was now retired, but Hector, the innovative son, kept it in top-notch condition. With a fresh coat of fire red paint and sporting the moniker of “Red Sack” on the prow, it was now good as new…well almost. It took us about half an hour to row to these islands. Coming back home, at times the fog would shut in and obscure our visibility, we would stop and listen for noises on the shore, like car horns or ox bells…we always made it home on time for supper.
Most Acadians had large families during the 1950s, and looking back, many of the things we did would certainly be considered dangerous today. I guess because of the times and circumstances we had (more or less) learned to take care of ourselves. And like Fred said in his article, that’s the way it was… now gone forever.