What to do with an Old Salt Beef Bucket? Sweet Sufferin’!

All week the CBC morning show has been running a contest on what to do with old salt beef buckets. All I could think was <<bleep>>. Now, don’t get me wrong, those 3 to 5 gallon plastic pails are great and, in all likelihood, found–and used–in just about every single household in the province. But still–all those memories from so long ago.

My earliest memories from when we lived on Red Island
included flowing water, clean clear and cold
that ran from the well on the hill, to our house via hose
“gravity feed” running water, island gold.

Our bathroom on Red Island. Might not seem like a big deal to you but in the 1950s on an outport settlement on an island with no formal infrastructure this was a big deal!

Our bathroom on Red Island. It might not seem like a big deal to you but in the 1950’s on an outport settlement on an island with no formal infrastructure this was a big deal!

Then “Resettle,” they said, “to a more modern place.”
So scattered like the winds we took off–
new house, dug a well, electric pump, heating coil—hell,
the old ways? “Pshaw!” we would scoff.

All through the first summer and well into the fall
it worked, running hot or cold — watcha want?
But that first winter in, a new pattern emerged
havoc; a step back, karma’s taunt.

A cold westerly wind would blow for some days
till the balls from the monkeys would drop
and the pipe on the bedrock covered with not enough soil
froze, ruined the pump, made the fecken works stop.

So from then until June when the ground finally thawed
Dad and I had additional chores.
He’d draw buckets of water from the well, hand by hand
and I’d drag ‘em to the house by the scores.

Fill up the bath. Not for bathing but flushing,
and likewise fill up the containers downstairs:
ones for washing, ones for drinking, “shit on that” I’d be thinking;
all filled with endless buckets in pairs.

Carry water, rocks, firewood, nails--what have you!

Carry water, rocks, firewood, nails–what have you!

Now da b’ys on the radio want us to recall
some good use for old buckets of beef.
I’ve nothing to say about that because frankly, my friends
the sight of them still fills me with grief.

In case you’re wondering, “what’s with the salt beef?” here’s a bit of background. I’m from Newfoundland Labrador, Canada, a place whose existence, until modern times, relied on the bounty of the sea. Salt cured beef and pork was a staple food aboard fishing ships in the days before refrigeration became commonplace. Often termed “Trimmed Naval Beef” as it was certainly a staple aboard navy vessels, it consists mainly of brisket cured in very salty brine. It was generally boiled, along with potatoes, cabbage, turnip and carrots and served as hearty “rough grub” for hungry seafarers their families.

It’s an acquired taste, but most of us here at home have done so. These days, with an emphasis on eating more healthy foods, it’s generally been relegated to the status of garnish. Whenever a traditional roast turkey or chicken dinner is cooked a small portion of salt beef is cooked along with the vegetables, just to pass on that distinctive taste.

While it can be bought in single portions, shrink wrapped, more often it’s bought by the tub. These can range in size from 2 L to even 30 or 40 L tubs! The larger sizes are more often used by restaurants and the hard-core salt beef junkies.

Those tubs are almost never discarded. They function, instead, as general purpose pails, with uses you can only imagine. That, of course, is where the radio contest came from. As for me, I give thanks, every single day, for running water 🙂


About Maurice A. Barry

Coordinator: Teaching and Learning Commons, Faculty of Education, Memorial University of Newfoundland, Parent & Husband. eLearning consultant/coordinator. Program Development Specialist - eLearning (Department of Education; Retired). Writer: over 40 Math/Physics texts/webs. Developer & Manager of web content. Geek. Not into awards but loves comments.
This entry was posted in family, poetry/songs, Society and Culture and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to What to do with an Old Salt Beef Bucket? Sweet Sufferin’!

  1. elkement says:

    That was very interesting – and entertaining! I often tend to forgot hat standard infrastructure was not that standard a few decades ago.

    In the 1950s bathrooms like that (with a bath tub!) were also not that common in Austria – even in cities. I vaguely recall visiting distant relatives as a child. They had a (large and prosperous) farm – but there was … how do you call that in Canada? … an earth closet! When we searched for a house to buy we had also seen one with such a toilet … this was about 15 years ago.

    I have read a well-researched novel about the consequences of a major power grid blackout – and thing that struck me especially (and I realized I had not considered that) was that toilets would not work… and humankind would be propelled back into to former centruries within a few days!

    • When Dad married Mom, he was living in Red Island, a tiny somewhat remote fishing village. She, on the other hand, was living in Dublin–a place that was almost the exact opposite in just about every respect (except the accent; that place had a very Irish accent). He devoted considerable time and money into modernizing the place.
      What he started with: a wooden three storey house built from lumber that had been cut and sawed by his father. (recall last year we discussed the mansard roof) with
      – no central heating, just a stove in the kitchen that ould burn oil, wood or coal. He used coal.
      – no plumbing. There was a dug well close by the house and buckets of water would be brought to the house.
      – no indoor toilet. An outdoor one was used. Though they go by many names, the local common term was “outhouse.”
      – no electricity at all. Oil lamps were the most common.
      Here’s what he did:
      – installed the toilet and bathtub you saw as well as a kitchen sink. The water was “gravity fed” from the same well as they’d always used. Only cold water was on tap although if we’d not moved away in 1965 he would have put a heating coil in the stove’s fire pot and used it to convection heat a 30 gallon water tank placed by the stove. That’s exactly what he did as soon as we moved off the island. The sewer was a standard 4 inch plastic pipe that simply led directly to the harbour. No treatment; not an ideal or sustainable situation as you might imagine. For the grey water he dug a “french drain” that also led to the harbour, around 30 metres in front of the house.
      – wired 12 volt lights through the house. These were energized via a pair of led-acid batteries. To charge them he mainly used a wind-charger. He made the wooden propeller by hand. He also had a 12V generator for backup.
      – purchased a wringer-washer and a 23″ black and white TV. These were energized via gas generator. Clothese were dried on a line and we had 2 TV channels. The government owned CBC and locally owned CJON now known as NTV.
      All in all it was not a bad way of life, however as you would expect my Mom always did find it quite a culture change. We did, however, frequently visit Ireland.

      • elkement says:

        Thanks, again very interesting! I would love to see a comparison of standards of living for different eras and countries.

        As I understood from historical accounts, some of the ancient civilizations were quite advanced (… the Roman’s ‘floor heating’ for example…) whereas surprisingly luxury and wealth did not always lead to better standards (… filth and horrible conditions in the palace of Versailles despite golden decorations everywhere…).

  2. Ha! The waterless episodes we have around here have come to mind immediately. When we put on the addition we were without sanitary facilities for perhaps a week. I cut the bottom out of one of our 5-gallons pails and made do in the woods (so to speak). Then there was the time when we lost the spring and had to drill a well (that was last February, you may recall). What a pain … hauling bucket after bucket after bucket (for about 10 days) up to the second floor for flushing. I cannot express my delight in having that well drilled. We always get by when we are without electricity, for we have a big generator, but it always takes quite a bit of effort just to get through the day. And, when those creature comforts return one realizes just how spoiled we have become. I have always said to Joanna, and in all seriousness, that life’s greatest pleasures may be counted on the fingers of but one hand … and between us Maurice, hot-and-running-water is one of them. D

    • Oh yes … and that includes a porcelain fixture to ‘sit’ and ‘contemplate.’ D

      • LOL! Agreed. It’s worth noting though (you might read the reply to Elke above first) that after Dad installed the modern bathroom in our house back on Red Island, his preference (weather permitting, of course) was always the outhouse, which was located diagonally downhill from the house around 20-25 metres away. Perhaps it was force of habit but I suspect he just enjoyed the added privacy and seclusion and perhaps the opportunity to dawdle over an extra article or two from the Readers Digest.
        I am chuckling to myself as I am reminded that we sometimes say to one another (men only), “there’s nothing like a good s__t in the woods!” 🙂

    • I think that today we take public water and sanitation entirely too lightly. I am of the mind that more than anything else it has contributed to our quality of life, especially health and the increased longevity we now enjoy. Dr. Peter Linn (local guy) recently noted aloud that when you look at it the right way it can be said that it has contributed to the rise in heart disease and cancer since it has permitted most of the population to now live long enough to get them 🙂

  3. There is so much here I could comment on… but, this will tell you about how self-centered I am. I’m thinking of my own baths.

    I need my baths. I’m not sure how I would cope without my morning baths (hot water, to soothe my aching joints and muscles, to help me face the day). This much I know about tubs: the old iron ones are SO much better than the new-fangled fiberglass ones. The old ones hold heat.

    I tend to view people the same way. Oder; better (or at least wiser, better able to hold warmth).

    • I don’t have a lot of regrets but in the quieter moments–I don’t have many–I note to myself that I never seem to allow the time to have enough quieter moments. Perhaps it’s because I’m just a bit driven, perhaps it’s because I have so many interests, or perhaps it’s just that I enjoy the noise, who knows. That said there’s something quite healthy in every possible way about just stopping everything, enjoying a bath and letting our happiness catch up with us. Around 12 years ago when I did a major remodelling of the bathroom (everything was replaced right to the bare walls) I installed one of those tubs with the water jets in it. Sadly, though, it’s hardly been used. Everyone just showers (three of the members of my household take what’s more like a sauna; basically draining the 50 gallon water heater in the process every time…another story). I often think–why not grab a book and go soak but I always find some excuse not to. I’ll have to work n that 🙂

  4. Tiny says:

    Very interesting! Vivid imagery in the poem. Enjoyed it a lot! And….thinking back to my early childhood, I think I’ve tasted salt beef in my grandma’s house 🙂 I can recall the taste, kind of.

  5. jennypellett says:

    Oh this made me laugh initially but then when you think of really having to haul all that water it’s no joke. I wonder what I’d use those pails for? Planting geraniums, maybe. Thank heavens for our plumbing system, and the outside tap which lets me water my plants!

  6. johnlmalone says:

    its good to read poems celebrating historical objects and ways. I enjoyed this. I may get out my poem celebrating the backyard incinerator and post it. At one stage, over twenty years ago, every house had one

  7. Great poem, plenty of character and I still give thanks for fresh water as I have to cart water or buy it as we are connected up to river water and its….. lets just say a little too organic. Great post Maurice.

  8. Oh my, the hairs on the back of my neck are standing up as I think of our own winter spent with water and sewage challenges with a lagoon that froze to the bottom, leaving the lines to plug and fill with raw sewage (we were on the farm then). Lots learned, including the fine balance between needful consumption and waste. My kids were still quite young, and now I wonder what they will think, years into their future as they remember that winter when no one could flush the toilet without checking the water level in the sewer line in the basement first!

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