Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Clamming in Labrador

"The Boss & the Gang (College Students from U.S. College)"
Repeatedly, I asked Joe Souley, John Patey, and the other fishermen who worked at the time “on the Room” (mission) if there were no clams in the harbor. The bottom at low tide looked just right for long clams, but they always said, “No.” One day I took a bucket and spade and went up to the “top” of the harbor (a mile) and came back with some good-sized one. The mud was full of them. When I showed them to Joe, he blurted, “Skipper, them are no clams, they be Cocks and Hens.” “Don’t you ever eat them?” I asked. “Not if we can help it, all durin’ the Starvation Winter we had nothin’ else, and never ate ‘em since.” Our reasonably meager diet was often increased by clam bisque, clam-pie, and fried clams; soon other Mission folk followed and after a meal at our house, Joe and some other of the harbor folk followed suit—but gingerly. They had had enough.

They didn’t know that many other groups, Indians and settlers, have survived starvation winters by the same means as is attested by the great shell heaps long the coast from Maine to Florida.

Joe Souley was a great person. He could neither read nor write but he knew a lot about life and human nature. He has sailed the seven seas and could describe ports, like Liverpool, that I had seen so accurately that I trusted his description of those I had not seen. And year after when I saw Yokohama, and Fuji, it looked just as Joe said it ought to.

Joe had worked in a copper mine up the coast at Tilt Cove and knew how to use dynamite. He taught me how to blast, but he couldn’t temper drills. They would be too soft and not hold an edge, or too brittle and break. I had watched Andy Jagger in the blacksmith’s shop on the way home from school, blown the bellow fro him, broken his twist drills, and learned many things from him. I remembered that he heated things he wanted to temper to a “cherry-red” and then dipped them in oil. Just what color cherry-red was while in a forge fire memory didn’t say, but trail and error demonstrated that it could be done.

Great boulders stood in the way of our pipe lines and cellars and much blasting was indicated.

(After his first Cottage Hospital was under roof, the Doctor, so he told me, had thought of a cellar and got a miner to blast—the roof was damaged! So we did our blasting first.)

Joe would have me hold the drill, then with a giant sledge he would begin to strike while I turned the drill in the hole. Then brave man, he took his turn holding while I . . . swung the sledge, fortunately for him I never missed—my old grandfather coming to the rescue. (I am a great believer in atavism—or whatever it may be called. Cap’n Harry, my grandfather, was a skilled mason (he built most of Greenwich Village in New York, over a hundred years ago.) He once was known to have cut the center out of a millstone to convert it into a well curb, cut it—on a bet—in thirty minutes. He knew how to swing a maul; I’m sure he was there fifty years later, for my help. (What’s fifty years among Yankees?)

--Jesse Halsey

No comments: