Excerpts from Tenth Anniversary Edition: Welcome Home by Stuart McLean

Pages 436-445

 

Bill Morry is telling stories on Farley Mowat. Again.

"I knew," he says, slouched in the leather chair in his wood-panelled living-room, "that God-damn boat wouldn't float. I advised him not to buy it. The boat was condemned. I know the guy he bought it from. He could have had a better boat for a lot less money. He was lucky he wasn't drowned. Farley had these illusions of doing things the old way. He didn't want shelter on it. He wanted a tiller instead of a wheel. I tried to explain that he was going to have trouble seeing where he was going. But he just sat there on the couch drinking rum and didn't listen. And then when he went aground he couldn't get up front fast enough to get the anchor out. I could've told him that."

The Morry family bought the property where we are sitting tonight over two hundred years ago. Morrys have lived and worked in Ferryland as merchants ó buyers and sellers of fish ó ever since.

"Farley used to come and stay here. Here at the house." Pat Morry, Billís wife, has been uncharacteristically quiet up until now. "In those days there was nowhere to stay in town and we ran a bit of a hospitality home. It wasn't an official thing. People would come along looking for some-where to stay and I was embarrassed that there was no place to send them. So we'd take them in.

"Farley stayed here on and off maybe six months in all," says Bill, stepping on his wife's sentence with the casual neglect that comes with forty-nine years of marriage. "He is an unusual character. I got a great kick out of him."

 

While Bill is fixing drinks, I ask Pat about the ring I have heard about.

"He wants to know about the ring, Bill," she calls to her husband.

"The ring," he says, reappearing. "I found it when I was maybe eight or nine. I was playing by the water. Near where the river comes down from the priestís house. It was laying there in the sand. My father took it to St. John's and had it appraised. It had a big ruby and settings for two diamonds, but one was missing. It was a Queen Anne setting. Mother wore it for years. Where is the ring now Pat?"

"Peter has it. We gave it to Peter."

"We've found all sorts of other things you know," says Bill. "Grape-shot and cannon-balls. You find that sort of stuff all the time when you're gardening. Once I found a chain-shot, which is two cannon-balls chained together. They are designed that way so they tumble when they're shot. They are supposed to tear down masts when they hit a ship."

It is late and I am tired. But the Morrys don't seem in any hurry to go to bed. Bill fixes another drink and we sit in the dark room, and as the wind makes the house creak like a ship, he tells me about Captain Kidd and Blackbeard and the great pirate Peter Easton. The ring that Morry found when he was a boy is the only tangible evidence of the treasure that Easton is said to have buried somewhere, or so the story goes, up a stream that runs into the Ferryland beach. There are three streams that fit the description. The other clue to the treasure's location is that the pirates are said to have stepped into the stream to wash yellow clay from their boots after they finished burying the loot. There's never been a boy in Ferryland who hasn't spent some of his summers poking into strange-looking rock piles and digging into the stream banks where the clay is streaked with yellow.

There is only one lamp left on in the room. Pat has moved onto the couch now. I am almost dozing in my chair. And Bill is still talking.

"Little changed here, you know, until the radio and TV came. Until the radio and TV it was the same for me as it was for my grandfather."

Billís grandfather was Thomas Graham Morry, son of John Morry who was born in Ferryland around 1848. Thomas Graham was the fourth generation of Morrys born in Newfoundland.

Bill's father was Howard Morry. In 1965, when Howard was eighty years old, he sat down and wrote a document called "The Memories of Howard Morry." It begins with an apology:

 

Things I remember which I know will be of interest to folks in years to come. I only wish I had to jot down all the stories I heard when we were young and in the long winter evenings. Poor folks would sit in the twilight and dusk up to 9 P.M., perhaps later, in some cases to stretch out the little drops of kerosene they had, in others, like our own home, to sit and talk and sing songs and some-times hymns.

 

My dad was a Church of England man and could play the concertina. I can see him now by the glow of the fire, sitting and playing and singing out the old hymns: Nearer My God to Thee, Rock of Ages, A Few More Years Shall Roll, etc., and his brows would go up and down with the tune.

 

Pat stirs, "Before TV people used to come visiting. The Lunenburg sea captains used to follow the squid schools up here and they would come visit when they were in harbour.

"Oh, it was a fun time. Bill would get out his guitar and they'd sit here and sing and drink booze. There would be dances in people's houses. And eating and drinking and singing. And then we'd wheel them back to the boats the next morning.

"It all started to change when the radio came. And it kept going with the TV."

 

I loved to go to some of the old sailors' houses and there were lots of them then. They'd talk about shipwrecks, foreign ports, brave deeds, etc., and sing "Come all ye's" and ballads for hours. Some of the owners of the houses were very poor but that did not make you less welcome. If you could get a couple of pipes full of tobacco or a few coppers and give them to him, or lay it on the window bench, it would be thankfully accepted. Fellows that did not have anything else, and there were quite a few of them, would bring a few sticks of firewood.

 

"I guess we had the first TV set around here," says Bill. "We got our set three or four months before the broadcasts began. It was a big change. The more people got TV's, the less you saw of them.

 

"At first they all came here to watch the wrestling. The same bunch came week after week and they all took the same spot. One week Paddy Crane didn't show up so I sat in his chair and soon after I settled down sure enough he came in. Well, he just sat down right behind me and he got so wound up he took off his tie and then his jacket and finally his shirt. He was sweating like a bull and pounding away on the back of the chair like it would come apart. I had to move away but Paddy didn't notice a thing. We wouldn't normally watch the wrestling but everyone came over so we'd put it on.

 

"But I guess the TV ruined everything."

 

In the long winter evenings we used to slide over the hills and skate, young and old. And at nights there were always folks on the road. At each crossroad, the first fellow to come along would wait for his chums to come there from the other lanes. Then sometimes we had dances on the bridges, especially in the fall and lovely moonlit nights.

 

We'd go some nights to Aquaforte and Calvert, go some nights as far as Rocky Pond Bridge which was wooden. The girls and boys would come over from Cape Broyle and we'd dance there and any fellow who had a gal would see her home. Other nights we'd go to the quarry bridge to dance. The Aquaforte crowd would be down there. The music was mostly accordion or mouth organ, but sometimes we'd have to lilt it for a dance, for hours. We danced polka, the bridges were too rough for waltzing, that was left for dances and fairs, etc., in the hall.

 

"Before the TV everyone depended on everyone else," Bill says. "You visited. You helped each other. It was like the Mormon system. Iíve walked from here to St John's. And the biggest hazard was putting on twenty pounds. In those days people would know you were walking and they would invite you in for a cup of tea. Only it wouldn't just be a cup of tea, it would be a whole meal.

"The night my mother had her stroke people got out on the road with shovels and they shovelled the road all the way from here to St. John's so they could get her to the hospital."

 

Iíll just break off here to tell of my grandfather Sullivan.

His brother had a haberdashery over in Dublin and he was out here some years when he had a letter telling of his brother's death and that there were two large crates of goods left to him. They were being sent to him by the first boat coming to Newfoundland and calling at Waterford on the way over. Eventually he got word they arrived in St. John's. Then a long wait. None of the boats calling here could get the bales down their hatches, so one brought it on deck. On the day of arrival all the harbour that could walk went down on Carter's wharf to see what Sullivan got from Ireland.

 

Well there was another problem, there wasn't any horse or cart big enough to get the crates on to bring it to his home so he decided to open them on the wharf. First one, the biggest one, was filled with ó of all things, ten dozen tall silk hats, so he knew he wouldn't sell them. He gave them around to the neighbours as they came along and his son told me, for years afterwards you'd see fellows fishing with Beaver hats (he called them) and when it came to the squidding ground, to look around and see maybe twenty or thirty men squidding away and now and then get their hats knocked off by someone with a squid. For the squidding ground was always a place for jokes.

 

"My mother was quite a woman," says Bill Morry It is so dark in the room now I can barely see. I sip my Scotch and close my eyes. Bill keeps talking.

"She came from Scotland. I guess she missed the old country. Anyway, my father got some money together and said she should go home and have a visit because he wasn't sure when he would get any money together again. I think he had saved a thousand dollars, which was a hell of a pile of money in those days. He said, 'Frederis, go and have a good time. Stay six months. We'll get along all right.' Well, there were eight children but we had a maid and off Mum went. She was going to stay to St. John's for a few days with relatives and then off to Edinburgh. I remember my father sitting by the fire saying, 'Mother will be well on her way to Scotland by now.' And then after a week or so a schooner came into the wharf and somebody came running up to the house and said, 'Mr Morry, there is a big box on the boat addressed to you.'

 

"It was only about a hundred yards down to the wharf so we all rushed down and sure enough there was a terrific big freight box sitting on the deck, and then all of a sudden my mother climbed out of the forecastle. My father said ĎFrederis, what are you doing here?í And she said, ĎWell, Howard, I thought of you and the children and I just couldn't go.í

"She had met a German music professor in St. John's who had come to Canada before the First World War and wanted to go back home. He had this big grand piano be wanted to sell before he left. Mother bought it for nine hundred dollars and I guess she used the last of her money to have it shipped home. It was huge, only a foot short of a concert grand, and it took half the men in town and a jury-rigged sling to get it off the boat. They set it down on a sled and wrestled it up the hill to the house with brute strength. I remember my father standing there saying, 'How in the name of God are we going to get it inside?' It was the fall. There was snow on the ground. They finally had to take out some of the windows and part of one of the walls. Once it was inside, the piano took up nearly half the room. I remember my mother playing and everyone standing around the piano. We all had to sing our own songs. It was a beauty. Black ebony."

It seems to me that Pat Morry has drifted to sleep on the couch. I am, myself, floating in some half world half-way between sleep and wakefulness. The light, the Scotch and Bill Morry's voice wrap around me like fog.

"Mother was supposed to go to Edinburgh again in 1929. Maybe it was 1930. Anyway, she went off to St. John's and once more I can remember Father saying that he supposed she was on the high seas by now, and he hoped she had a good trip.

"Now, in those days it was the habit of fishermen to cure their fish on flakes [wooden-framed racks on which fish are dried in the sun], and it was also the habit for everyone to help each other out. On the weekend the kids would often do the work and I remember we had all been sent down to work on the Currans' flakes when we saw this cavalcade of cars coming up the road. There were maybe three or four cars in a row, which was a lot of cars in those days, and they were all blowing their horns. The one in front was an old square-back Dodge. Well, we all turn up the road and here it is but Mother is driving the old Dodge. And once more father said, 'Frederis, what are you doing here?' and Mother said 'Howard, I just couldn't go.'

"She had been staying with the relatives again and they happened to own the Dodge dealership in St. John's and she had bought this big old square car. It sort of looked like a pick-up truck. 'Well, this is all fine, Frederis,' said my father, 'but how are you going to keep it in gas?' She had it all figured out. She was going to go taxiing. And for years thatís what she did. She drove people back and forth to St John's and picked up supplies and things.

"Mother taxied until the car packed it in. But Father never learned how to drive. They would take the car into a big meadow by the house and the handyman would sit in the front and try to teach him. He'd say, 'Now, Mr Morry, there is a fence over there.' But† Father could never turn in time. He was always running into the fence. And it was a large meadow. That was the only car they ever owned. When it was finished they never got another.

"I think he gave her money for a third trip, but by then he knew she wasn't going to go. She went down to St. John's again and bought things for the house. And I think she used some of the money to help my brother at university. She was only gone about three days that trip."

 

One morning I decide to leave my car at the inn and set off on foot. I only have to walk a few minutes before I relearn an old lesson. If you really want to understand a place, you can't do it from an automobile.

I am standing on the gravel shoulder beside a vacant field, a hill sloping towards The Gaze. I must have driven by this field over one hundred times. Except now I can see that the field isn't vacant at all. It is an overgrown and forgotten graveyard, right in the centre of town. I can't believe I have driven past it so often and never noticed the tomb-stones slanting out of the ground.

I climb the wire cow fence and wander through the uncut grass, absent-mindedly brushing the stones with my fingers as I pass each one. Most of the inscriptions are too faded to read anymore. Many barely poke above the grass. It is as if the ground itself was rising up in slow mounds to swallow them. The stones, I think, looking at the harbour, mark the field like icebergs, floating through time, nine-tenths of their memory below the surface. Memory and memorials slipping away together.

These are graves from the early I800s. Maybe earlier. For there are mounds here with no stones at all.

I sit there among them, under the sun with the wind and the sea in my face, and as I sit I remember a passage I read near the end of Howard Morry's diary.

 

... Don't go home without going to Aquaforte. There is an American privateer sunk there and 'twould be an interesting place to go, it's easy to see her and any of the Windsors will show it. And get the view out the harbour from the highway up above Mont Windsor's. Then to Fermeuse. Go to Bill Trainor Senior's, tell him I sent you, itís a very historical place. They live in Admirals Cove. He'll show you around. Then to Renews ó Go to Steve Chidleigh or old Jim Devine ó but I expect that Jim is too old by now. There is a gun there, the oldest, I would say, in Newfoundland. Itís Queen Elizabethís time and is of brass. I warned Steve not to let anyone take it away. Please warn him too, for Renews is quite a historical place, Steve will be able to tell you, and there is a Miss Jackson who was a school teacher in Fermeuse for a while, that knows a lot of history. Thatís all for today. Iím going to have a few drinks and for a while think Iím forty instead of eighty. Bye now. Iíll write a few little stories some day when Iím in the mood..

 

I sit there for a long time, fingering the wiry grass and following the clouds as they drift across the sky, and the ice still here in the harbour, the sea grass on the downs, the oats.