Outport Harmony on Boxing Day

There was once a time when the light through the windows would have been sufficient for the tasks at hand. These days, though it was supplemented by a single bare bulb, hanging there right next to where he’d hung the name plate from the boat he’d used from the sixties up until he and Brendan had built the new one in the early nineties. Just before the moratorium as it had turned out. That extra light was only needed from time to time, though, if a burr, a flaw or the need for a fine knot merited a closer look. Most times the hands, made sure by almost eighty years of practice, were guided by an inner sense of space. They just knew where to be, what to do. The tools were always left in the same spot and each component piece fitted with the kind of precision that only comes through skill, honestly earned through many years of hard work.

dec24-2014-bare-bulb

Christmas holidays might lessen the amount of time he spent in the store but they didn’t eliminate it entirely. Today, Boxing Day, just as any other, found him surrounded by the sights, sounds and smells of the fisherman’s store down by the shore. The tools: a mix of new and old; some bought as recently as last month and others handed down by his own grandfather. All vital, all used every day. The materials: a mix of items bought, or cut and hand sawn, and even an eclectic array of items recovered—wood from palettes, discarded fasteners from other projects, found items, on and on.

The soft sounds of the waves in the harbour lapping against the uprights that held the store served as a constant reminder of a lifetime spent making a living from the sea. His time on the water was mostly passed now, though, and he had come to accept it for what it was. Government had decided there were too many people chasing too few fish and, so, had ended it all. Retirement—that’s what they’d termed it but, to those working the in-shore fishery it felt more like an injustice. They, with their smaller gear and boats, hadn’t been the ones who’d all but completely wiped out the stocks. Those that had—the foreign trawler fleet—had escaped prosecution and in fact were still at it, albeit further offshore, but no matter, same effect: no more fish for the smaller operators.

dec24-2014-tools

Aye—no matter. He was used to hard times and, so, had done what he’d always done: persevered.

dec24-2014-marking-board

He had his memories, each one carefully curated and each recollection treasured.

The carrying out of his daily work in the store was the key to unlocking each one. Knitting the twine for the lobster pot ends brought back memories of the evenings spent up there in the kitchen patiently doing exactly that while the happy sounds of nine growing children rang all around him. The placement of a latte upon a bow recalled thoughts of spring preparations for each new season; each one met with the kind of hope that only comes through a staunch faith in the willingness of the Earth to provide for its inhabitants and in the goodness of others.

dec24-2014-band-saw

Each tap-tap-tap of the hammer on the latte nail, each cut with the band saw brought forth an additional memory: in the boat with Pad and Mac, cooking a scoff down for’d or at the cabin after a long day, hauling the lines with Brendan…Brendan, the oldest son. Gone now—ten years, yes, but never forgotten, not even for one hour.

He had his family; his greatest treasure.

His wife of over fifty years, the love still as strong is it had been back from the earliest times, raising a large family in a time when making a decent living from the sea was possible but still took that much more care, effort and skill. His children, grown now and with children of their own and, like him, strong in the face of adversity and imbued with that same sense of hope that had carried him through the difficult times, as well as the gratitude that had kept him always leaning forward into the wind.

Sometimes a smile creased his lips, sometimes a tear…Buzzzz, one cut at a time, one piece at a time, one memory at a time…

dec24-2014-stove

Should he turn on the other light? Evening was falling hard, making it difficult to see the finer details now. A glance at the stove; the wood was burning low and now was the time to either put more in or just leave it be.

He stood up, stowed away the tools, put on his jacket and stepped out into the evening air. The wind was coming up a bit but the air felt warm against his cheek. How strange! Last year he’d had to shovel through two feet of snow just to get down here! But that’s how it is—every year is different.

The shed was behind him now and he set his sights on home, just up the path. Tonight all hands would be at home. There would be food, presents, music; good times just like there had been in those many days before. And this year something else: two great grandchildren; always new steps in that long journey, but always accompanied by love, faith and hope.

dec24-2014-heading-home

He was now mid-way between the store and the house. He stopped. The sounds of the wind, the water and the laughter from the house now blended; an outport harmony. He took one more look around and breathed deeply of that soft, salty sea air before moving on.

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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.
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21 Responses to Outport Harmony on Boxing Day

  1. Peter Smith says:

    Very nicely written, thank you, I can see many people I know in this story.

  2. Maurice you surely have the gift. I read this with a tear in my eye. What a stunning piece of writing and a great tribute. This is my favourite line.

    as well as the gratitude that had kept him always leaning forward into the wind.

    Happy New Year to you.

    • Thank you. It’s so very nice to be able to enjoy a few days off. We’ve had a mild December so far. In fact it looks like we may break our all time record for least snowfall. I like that. There will be plenty of time for snow later on!

  3. Lovely. Really. I have never lived the life you describe here, that of a fisherman that is. And although my connection to the sea is tenuous … it is no less real for me. The concentration of salts in seawater is approximately 35 g/l and the 9 g/l of the stuff flowing through my veins is enough, somehow, to provide an attachment to that primordial environment. I spent lots of time at the ocean as a kid … a met Joanna on an oceanic island one summer while working as a Naturalist. Even now, nearly 400 miles from the sea, I am still drawn to it and think about it often. Sort of like a lost love perhaps, if we dare to be poetic about it. Is this your cousin, or an uncle? I cannot remember the particular connection but do recall a series of similar posts about this gentleman and his shop from a bit ago now. I enjoyed those as well and am glad for this addition to those stories. Thank you for the feelings expressed … bittersweet to be sure, but showing the indomitable power of human hope, persistence, a strong will to succeed, and of course perseverance. Another gem to be sure. Please include this series of seaside vignettes in that someday-book. D

    • Thanks, Dave. Your memory is wonderful. Yes, it’s Alex, my Father in Law and, yes, this is not fiction. Wishing you and J. all the best from the Eastern Edge.

      • Thanks Maurice. The very same to you and Josephine (and all the rest of the family as well). This has been a tough year for both Joanna and me, for a number of reasons. We are hoping that 2015 will bring a change in the winds of fortune. Although we recognize the Christmas holiday, our real celebration is focused on the Solstice. As part of our yearly tradition, besides going without electric lights for the day, we write items that we wish not to bring with us into the new year onto little slips of paper. We then sit by the open door of the roaring fire of the wood stove and, one-by-one, drop those little bits of paper into the fire … as our way of symbolically ridding ourselves of our worries and concerns. This year I found it necessary to use an unusually large number of slips of paper. I’ve got high hopes for 2015 however.

  4. mary says:

    A lot of warmth and light in this story and photos. Looks like fire in that old stove there. nice to see Mr Best and the harbour.

  5. Marie says:

    The colors and prose of this narrative are rich with texture. Well done, Maurice.

  6. tw says:

    This is beautiful Maurice, treasured thoughts and memories. I am glad you have written them here, for posterity, so that they cannot be lost in the sands of time. Wishing you all the blessings of the season, from your friend across the sea 🙂

  7. jennypellett says:

    Ah, that’s a lovely story – the warmth and respect you have for your father in law shines out. Happy New Year, Maurice.

  8. Tiny says:

    Wonderful reading. Another heart-warming story about a fulfilled life. Your FIL Alex looks quite a bit like my dad, and they could have borrowed the outfits from each other 🙂 Happy New Year to you and all the family!

  9. What an inspiring man. I like that you captured his faith, hope, and love (the source of his courage to persevere) without sentimentality, with truth about injustice and how it is possible, when we can’t change it, to live above it. Great photos, too.

  10. Violet says:

    Did you write this piece on Uncle Alex , it is well captured of the sentiment of outport family. My husbands uncle. Thank you.

  11. johnlmalone says:

    a wonderful ode, Maurice, in prose form to the man and his life. I loved it

  12. elkement says:

    As Dave, you have this gift of writing about ‘life, the universe and everything’ when you seem to ‘report’ on everyday details. You should do a documentary movie about your place and your people.

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