Monday, August 08, 2005

Doryin' Along the Arms


“Faintly as tolls the evening chime
Our voices keep tune and our oars keep time
Our voices keep tune and our oars keep time
Soon as the woods on shore look dim
We'll sing at St. Ann's our parting hymn
Row, brothers, row, the stream runs fast
The rapids are near and the daylight's past
The rapids are near and the daylight's past.”
“Why should we yet our sail unfurl
There is not a breath the blue wave to curl
There is not a breath the blue wave to curl
But when the wind blows off the shore
Oh, sweetly we'll rest the weary oar
Blow, breezes, blow, the stream runs fast
The rapids are near and the daylight's past
The rapids are near and the daylight's past.”

-
The Canadian Boat Song

The morning broke with me thinking the same thoughts I had when I’d drifted off to sleep the night before. Fi’s approach to life, his simplicity, his naïve sense of trust were so foreign to me. While I stubbornly held on to the illusion that my father was a noble man, there was something inside me that was suspicious of almost everyone. Everyone, I’d come to believe, had an angle. I knew that in spite of all my idealizing my father had one. So did Lake R. Van Reenan. Some of the people I gravitated to didn’t seem to, but they really did. Joe Yanochick needed someone to buy the booze. And, while I hadn’t figured out what Larry Jones’ angle was, I was certain that in time I would.

Fi was still asleep as I got up. I went outside the cabin. Dawn was beginning to break off to the east; the sun was making its way slowly into view from behind the trees. I lit up a cigarette, then stood quietly for a while watching the day overcome the night. I was still lost in my thoughts and by now I was wondering why I had this strange penchant of putting myself in harm’s way. “God Almighty,” Dillon, I muttered to myself. “Why do you do these stupid things.” I was afraid to go much further, thinking that Fi’s addled condition had been something passed down through the Parks to him and my mother, and then to me. What else could explain Joe Yanochick and the idealizing? Why was I continually putting myself in harm’s way when deep down inside I didn’t trust the people in whose hands I was putting my life? It didn’t make sense. I took a long drag of the cigarette, inhaled, and held the smoke inside my lungs for as long as I could. Then, as I exhaled, I began to talk out loud to myself, believing Fi was still asleep and wouldn’t hear me. “Dillon, I can’t make sense of you. Are you just some figment of Kafka’s imagination? Are you as addled as Fi and your mother?”

As the last word came I heard the cabin door creak open and I looked back. “Were you callin’ me, my son?” Fi asked. He was dressed and appeared to be ready to go. Hoping that he hadn’t heard what I’d said I said, “No Fi.”
“Thought for sure I heard my name.”
“No, I was just sort of talking to the morning…Nothing much that made any sense.”
Fi seemed to take the bait. “Looks from what I can see she’s gonna’ be a beauty. Before long we can go down to Billy and Mabel’s and get some brackfast then be on our way. A good day to be in a dory”

About fifteen minutes later we were at Billy and Mabel’s. After an hour of breakfast and conversation we were on our way, seeking adventure.

Fi was only half right about the day. It was beautiful, but it as also cold, with a stiff wind blowing across the water directly into our faces as we arrived at the boat dock. I was dressed for the occasion, but he didn’t seem to be. I had my GI issue parka to warm me and all he had was a flannel shirt and that wine colored cardigan. Sensing that I wasn’t as prepared as years living in Mcivers had made him for this type of trip, Fi reassured me. “We’ll go up north a ways along the arms,” he said. “Not too far at all.”
“How far are we going?”
“Not far.”
“Do you think we’ll see any whales while we’re out there?”
“Oh, not likely, my son. The humpbacks and blues won’t be back this way till the spring. Probly just be you and me out there this mahrnin'. If it’s whales you want to see you’ll need to come back and your uncle Fi’ll take you out once more.”

The boat was smaller than what I’d imagined it would be. It appeared to be fourteen, perhaps sixteen feet long, with no motor to propel it. Fi must have seen the worried look on my face, because he laughed, then reassured me. “It’s a fine day to be in a dory. I’ll man the oars and let you see the sights, my son.” I protested, telling him that I wanted to pull my load and he again laughed. “Takes a sturdy man to handle a dory and it ‘pears to me that you’re some thin for that sort of thing. I’ll man the oars and you can take pleasure from what you see.”

With that we got into the dory and began our adventure.

We started by making our way north from Mcivers, hugging the coast line. Fi rowed and hummed as we did. “Some old fisherman’s tune,” I thought. I said nothing at first. I was just trying my best to drink in the sights and at the same time trying to stay warm. It took about fifteen minutes for my body to acclimate itself as best it could to the environment, but when it did I began to feel quite comfortable and began to ask Fi questions. “We are heading north, right?”
“A bit north and a bit west.”
“Where are we going?”
“Up along the arms. I’m thinking we can make Cox’s Cove and back ‘fore it gets too late. If I feels strong maybe we’ll stop and have you meet some of the Morgans. If not we’ll just come back to Mcivers.”


It went on like this for some time. I’d ask simple questions and Fi would patiently answer. When I ran out of simple questions I decided to get on to the really important ones. “What was my mother like when she was a little girl in Mcivers?” I asked. It appeared to me that Fi was searching his memory as he rowed. For the next few minutes he moved his head back and forth, occasionally letting out short sounds. “Um humh.” “Ah, yes.” When he seemed satisfied with what he was remembering he began to speak. “Your mum was a little thing and everyone loved her. All of Mcivers loved Susie.” With that he paused. I waited for more, and when it didn’t come I asked another question. “Why did she go to America?”
“Oh, my son, to find her a husband like her sisters had.”
The questions meandered, like the shore line we were passing..
“Was she like her mother or her father?”
“Oh she wasn’t at all like Rueben. Your mum was a gentle soul. She was like our Fannie for sure.”
“Fi, I saw a portrait of a man at Billy and Mabel’s.” As I spoke my mind’s eye could see the portrait of a man with a long, unsmiling face. He had beard, indicating to me that he was a man of the sea. His eyes were dark and piercing. “Who is that?” I asked.
“That was Rueben.”
“He had a hard look about him, Fi.”
“Oh, my son, he were a stern man.”
“Did he love my mother?”
Fi began to row with more vigor, as if something I’d said animated him. “I don’t knows,” he said. “Maybe as much as a stern man could.”
My line of questioning took another direction. “Why didn’t the men leave Mcivers?”
“Oh, someone needed to cut the timber and catch the cod up here, my son, and it was the Newfoundlanders who did the cuttin’ and the casting of the nets when me and my brothers were young. Things were different then.”
“How?”
“Oh, the strangers hadn’t taken all the cod from the Grand Banks. There was enough work for a Newfoundlander back in those days.”
“Strangers?”
“The Americans and other strangers came and fished ‘em out.”
Before I could ask another question Fi went on. “Tis different now. Those younger’n us have taken to idleness with the cod gone. They wants nothing but to get their skin and drink the home brew.”
“Get their skin? What does that mean?”
Fi laughed. “Oh they finds the plump women and takes them out into the dark of night.”
“Sex?” I asked.
Fi nodded. “They gets their skin.”
“I see.”
“If you stay in Mcivers long you’ll meet ‘em, specially your cousin Sherb. I’d steer clear of him if I were you, my son. He’ll do you no good if he can.”

By this time we’d made a turn and were headed back south toward Mcivers. Fi seemed to row with a sense of urgency, almost as if he was late for some special appointment in Mcivers. The harder he rowed the more I worried. “Is there a storm coming up?” I asked.
“No, my son.”
“You’re rowing very hard.”
“Well, my son, there’s tea and biscuits at Mcivers as soon as we gets there. And then tonight they’ll be bringin’ out the acordeen and fiddle and we’ll be step dancing for a while.”

I noticed very little of the landscape as we made our way up and back “along the arms.” I have no doubt that the scenery was breathtaking, but I have very little recollection of what I saw. It was what I heard that was important. Fi answered my questions and I began to fill some of the gaps in my mind with what he’d said. While there were still many more to be answered I felt reassured as we arrived back in Mcivers. Knowing that my mother was really loved, and hearing it from Fi was even more reassuring than when I’d heard it from Billy and Philip. Even more comforting was another sense that had slowly came over me. Fi hadn’t said much at all, but the things he had told me that he wasn’t really addled at all. I saw that I’d made, as I often did, a hasty judgment. There was much more to Fiander Park than met the eye..

We spent the next few hours until late evening sipping tea at Billy and Mabel’s. It was just enough gadaboutin’ to cap off a glorious day. Fi seemed very pleased with it all. He laughed almost constantly and kept telling Mabel, “Our Susie’s boy is a man of many questions, maid. I think if we keep him long enough he might get them all out.”

A while later Fi said our goodbyes. “Philip and I’ll be on our way, Mabel. Thanks for the tea.”
“Off to do some step dancin’, are ya’?”
“That we are.”
“Sherb’s gonna’ be there. Keep your eye on Philip here, will you Fi? You know how Sherb Park can be.”
“Oh, maid, I will for sure.”

As we walked down the road together I wondered what was going to happen next. The night ahead held the promise of an accordion and a fiddle, and step dancing. But there also had been warnings. “Who is Sherb and why are they warning me about him,” I thought.

The answer was to come that night and the days that followed.

1 comment:

Gone Away said...

Still reading, Phil. And good stuff, as always.