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.
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.
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 🙂