Tales and Yarns

My Life in Newfoundland - Part Two

Author:  Don R. Wilkins

Pneumonia was a pretty serious illness in the forties. Penicillin wasn't in public use as yet. As I said it was two weeks before a Doctor got to me. In those days there was only one Doctor to cover hundreds of square miles. There were few if any connecting roads, so most of the traveling was done by Coastal Schooners or even fishing boats.

We took the Mail Boat to Gambo, stayed overnight with friends, and then boarded the train for St. John's the next morning. The Newfie Bullet? I don't know. Anyway when we arrived in St. John's I was admitted to the Hospital. I guess I was pretty far-gone, I think too far-gone for the doctors to do the usual surgical procedure, that is, insert a tube into my side to drain the infection. Later, I met a boy about my age in the Hospital, who had been there for several months already, with a drain in place.

I mentioned that my folks were Pentecostal. Strange, after all these years I still remember this incident. In those days Pentecostals believed in praying for the sick and seeing people healed. I woke up one day and Mom and Pop were on their knees when the Doctor came into the room. He waited until they stood up, shook their hands and said, “Your little boy will be alright.” Up until then a needle was injected into my side every day to check the progress of the infection. The very next day the same Doctor told us that the infection was dead and I go home soon.

I have no idea how the rest of the family got to St. John's. We must have all come together, I just don't remember. The home I went to was a three-room apartment. The third room, which slept four boys, was barely wide enough for a double bed. But just imagine! For the first time in my life….Flush toilets and electric lights, not to mention a telephone! Funny! I'm still amazed at Technology.

We didn't stay there long. My folks rented a three-story house on Harvey Road, I think. Mom ran it as a boarding house. There were always three or four men living with us, who worked with Pop at Quidi Vidi, (Hope I got that right). Besides my Uncle Ben and Uncle Bill, I remember only one other man. His name was Leonard Peach from Broad Cove. He had a son William, who was my age. Every Friday a large truck would take a number of men home to their respective Towns for the weekend. One weekend Leonard took me to Broad Cove to spend the week with William. I remember having a great time. It was the first time I was hit on by a girl; of course we called it flirting in those days.

Some things I remember: Going to the movies every Saturday for a nickel. Loved those Cowboy Movies, Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Johnny Mack Bride, and Johnny Weissmuller as Tarzan. How about those cliffhanger Serials? Nyoka, Queen of the Jungle. The Shadow, The Green Hornet as well as The Lone Ranger and Tonto. Those were the days.

Then there was the other side of fun. Church and Sunday School every Sunday, with a twenty-cent piece for the collection plate. Prayer Meeting, Wednesdays and Young Peoples on Friday nights. Aw Well! There was a price to pay. I guess I didn't appreciate those Church things then but I don't regret having done it now.

If my memory serves me right, the first school I attended was Curtiss Academy. I'm not sure about this, but I think it was the first Public School in St. John's. I did pretty well in school. The first year I was number one in the class. The second year I was number two. The third year I was number three. I don't know if I was getting dumber or if everyone else was getting smarter. We left shortly after that, so I didn't have to suffer the humiliation of hitting bottom.

My best friend was my cousin Bill. We killed a lot of Indians, especially Saturday afternoons after a Cowboy Movie. One time we decided we wanted to learn to play the guitar. Our good friend, Joe Osmond, who was a musician and a singer, agreed to teach us how to play. Pop bought me a big old guitar and the fun began. After about four lessons Bill was playing tunes and I was still trying to figure out the Sharps and Flats. I still haven't figured it out.

We had our first cigarette together. We bought a pack of Flags, went out of town a little ways where no one could see us and smoked the whole pack. I don't know if Flags are still around, but it was a Newfoundland made cigarette, which came in a ten pack, and sold for a dime.

A couple of incidents I remember: The Knights of Columbus (K of C) Hall, which was near our house, burned to the ground. The Hall was a popular entertainment spot and Dance Hall for the Servicemen. It had a full house the night of the fire, many Servicemen and civilians died that night. I don't know if it was ever proven, but the suspicion was, Nazi saboteurs started the fire. Indeed, during World War Two, Newfoundland was considered to be in the war zone. Ships had been sunk right off the Coast. Air Raid practice and Blackouts were the order of the day.

Another incident: The Newfie girls were attracted to the American Military, maybe because of their sharp uniforms, I don't know. Anyway, a fight started between some American Soldiers and some Newfoundland Regiment Soldiers, over a girl, I understand. This fight spread to many parts of the City. The word was, the Newfies beat the heck out of the Americans. That evening a force of Armed American Soldiers drove to the Newfie Garrison, ready to fight. Fortunately, the situation was defused without further incident.

Something I have never forgotten: Riding the Street Car. We would ride the Streetcar to the end of the line, get out and watch the Conductor switch the pole to the other end of the car and do back the way it came. Fascinating. From the end of the line we would walk to Bowering Park.

On the way we would steal some beets or turnips from a farmers field. We had to eat, didn't we? I learned to swim under water in Bowering Park, I would climb the high dive Platform, dive off and swim back underwater. Is the statue of the Caribou still in the Park?

When it became imminent that the War would end soon, us teen-agers began collecting old tires and scrap wood and anything that would burn. We built a huge pile in the middle of a vacant street near our house. When the announcement came, we set fire to the pile. Someone even threw a handful of twenty- two caliber bullets into the mix. What a celebration. We did this twice. Victory in Europe (VE DAY) and Victory in Japan (VJ DAY).

Sadly the end was coming, at least to this part of the Newfoundland story. Pop left for Canada with my three older brothers to find work, as did a lot of men at that time and, I understand, still are. Canada was a Foreign Country and we had to apply for immigration.

Mom sold everything and took the rest of us back to the beginning. Deer Lake.

Coming up "The Early Days."

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