All kids in Alder Point and Area that I knew had their daily chores, the boys the outside chores and the girls the inside chores. In families where there were no boys then the girls had to perform both. Outside chores consisted of hauling water from the well, cutting wood and splitting kindling and bringing in scuttles of coal. In preparation for winter there was the need to haul eel grass from the shore to put in banking around the house to keep the cold bitter wind out. Ashes were also used but there never seemed to be enough. I had other unusual chores from time to time and they were: bail out the lobster boat and clean it out after a day’s fishing – this was a stinking and dirty job. There was always someone at Johnny’s wharf who was cod fishing and my father would ask them to save him the guts. One of the lousiest and dirtiest jobs I ever performed was the following. In order to attract more lobsters, my father would use these codfish guts and place them in a barrel at the end of the wharf in the boiling sun. He then tasked me to cut up squares of burlap and ladle these guts into the burlap squares and tie them and place them in a crate in his lobster boat. He used these the next day to bait his lobster traps with as he said great success. I didn’t get the stink off me until near Christmas. It would make you barf just looking at this barrel of guts boiling away in the sun waiting for me to come and stir it up – oh gawd the thought of it makes me gag even today!
As I stated earlier, we were poor but not as poor as many other families who lived in Alder Point and Area at the time. I remember my mother saying in describing some other family that they were so poor that they used lard instead of butter or margarine on their bread. To taste lard was to gag. Poor Grampa Fraser who never had much but was always aware of some poor family that needed a handout and he made sure they got it. We were blessed with a father who never made much money but was always working and working hard. His greatest attribute was the fact that he was a good provider. We were fortunate that we knew family or close friends who were on the local coastal steamers who because of the work they were doing had ration exemptions during the War. So the provision of butter, sugar, tea and coffee was always available. Daddy was an excellent hunter as well so when not working on his off time he would be in the woods getting rabbits, partridge, pheasant and deer in and out of season. Then in winter there were wild ducks as well. Uncle Willie (Willie R. Fraser) always seemed to be able to get freshly caught cod fish from the Bras d’Or Lakes. They were somewhat wormy at times but you just had to keep an eye out for the worms. Since we didn’t have cold storage or even a fridge or ice box this crate of fresh frozen cod fish spent the winter out by the wood pile. When we wanted a cod fish you went out with the axe and cut one out of the frozen glob of fish and brought it in for Momma. The same procedure was pretty much applied to having chicken. Our mother identified which hen was due for execution and we went out and grabbed it and either wrung its neck or gently put its neck on the chopping block and struck it with the axe. It was great fun then to let it go without a head and it would run around for a few minutes before succumbing to its faith. On reflection it may seem cruel but in those days practical. Another domestic chore I had to perform regularly but didn’t enjoy was skinning and cleaning rabbits. Nailing them up outside on a post and peeling the skin off them was not appealing in any stretch of the imagination and to this day I don’t eat rabbit.
Digging Clams on the Flats
During the 1920’s and the 1930’s there was no price for fish and work in the mines was a very odd shift or none at all. As a result many families were destitute and went with very little in the way of creature comforts. The government of the day provided what was called relief. Families might receive $3.00 per week. You had to go to an appointed place and stand in line. There was only so much money allotted and when they ran out and you were still in line you were out of luck. Relief was issued tendered to an applicant by way of a chit worth $3.00 which in Alder Point was only negotiable at Arsenault’s Store. It was no wonder that it was easy to get volunteers to join up for WWII and get a free ride to Europe being provided uniforms and food. Little did these poor devils know about what they were getting themselves in for by signing on. They quickly learned that it was not to be a free ride – war was and is hell!
In those days many families would have a pig or two which was butchered in the fall and salted. This together with salted herring, salted codfish, salted mackerel and salted dry codfish got us through the winter months. For a break from this salt fare we had Daddy who got the rabbits and the ducks and the occasional partridge. It was a welcome event when the drift ice left our shores and the spring herring came. What a treat was fresh spring herring with the spawn. This was followed by lobster and then the mackerel. You couldn’t get better at the Waldorf Astoria – the tastes were out of this world. We were very lucky to have a mother and a grand-mother who worked in Boston at the Glebe House and knew recipes that were not common in Alder Point. I wonder today why you can’t get mackerel stew or yellow cake with crushed hard candies inside. And brown sugar frosting that you could die for. We had all of those things yet we foolishly would bring home from town a loaf of Jesty’s bread – “baker’s fog” Grampa called it. We had the home made bread and the rolls and the butter milk bickies (biscuits) and several types of pies and on occasion a cake all lined up on the kitchen counter. This occurred on a regular basis and not just for the weekends. Then the berry season brought all kinds of other tastes that were out of this world.
Daddy as were most men in Alder Point in the 30’s and 40’s was no different then the other men in the area. He was set in his ways and chauvinistic in attitude with regard to his status as a man and where women fit into the family structure – men at the top. For example no matter how scarce the work and the dollar was he seemed always able to get dressed up on Saturday night and go to town taking his straight razor when necessary for sharpening to the barber in Sydney Mines. Sometimes he would get a haircut and/or shave, buy some smoked fish for breakfast and other items and have a few drinks before coming home late in the evening. For those few drinks it was necessary in those days to go to a bootlegger. As I recall, Daddy often went to Father Swan’s in Bras d’Or. That routine seemed to be a right of passage for the man – not so for the woman.
I to this day marvel at the work that our mothers had to perform and the conditions that were visited upon them while they performed these chores. First and foremost they were never supposed to be sick and if they were sick they were expected to perform all the tasks that were required to run a house, husband and kids. The hottest day of the summer if it was the baking day they baked bread in a wood/coal stove that generated heat in the kitchen not unlike that in the stoke hole of a Great Lakes ship. Back in the 1940’s we never knew of anyone that had an electric washing machine so these women had to use a scrub board. Water had to be lugged from the well a distance from the house and then heated. Meals and lunches had to be prepared and dishes washed and kids readied for bed as well as for school. I still chuckle when I remember that with all of these chores being performed the men of the house invariably after supper and granted a hard day’s work went outside or into the front room and smoked their pipes and told lies until late into the evening. The lack of privacy afforded these poor women was in retrospect appalling. Everyone had an outside toilet which at the best of times was a place to be avoided but in the heat of summer it was deplorable and a place of punishment especially if you lingered. Then of course in most instances it was one baby after another. God bless them one and all. When I see people who receive the Order of Canada today I often remark that these women were often more deserving because of the sacrifices they made to run a home and raise a family.
Butchering the pig was a big event in the fall of the year and even bigger if you had two to butcher. These pigs could be 2 or 3 hundred pounds or more in weight which caused you some concern in handling their butchering. Grampa Fraser of course was on hand and took charge of the execution. Old Morris Capstick from Florence on occasion would assist Grampa in the butchering. Momma was boiling the water, and Daddy and some others would be erecting the tri-pod to hoist the pig on so it could be gutted and shaved clean of all bristle. Sometimes they could be shaved on a large table and then hung. There was always a chore involved in killing the pig, cutting its throat in such a manner that all or most of the blood could be salvaged to make blood pudding.
I recall an event of butchering a pig that turned out to be comical but a disaster as well. Poor Grampa Fraser always had a severe limp and used a cane with one leg being shorter than the other due to a fall off a horse when young and having never been treated. Because he had an expertise in butchering, Arthur Plant got him to come down to butcher his pig. Grampa had heard of people now shooting a pig rather than pole axing them so said to me bring along the 22 rifle and we’ll try this method. I was only 10 or 11 at the time and took along the 22. We went in the barn and to the pig pen. Now Grampa got in the pen with the butcher knife ready to slit the pig’s throat and I was on the railing with the rifle. Grampa directed me to fire right between his eyes. I lined him up and just when I pulled the trigger the pig turned his head. As a result the bullet entered between the eyes correctly but came out behind his eye and didn’t kill him but caused him to go completely crazy. Here now was the pig squealing not unlike the scene in the movie “Deliverance” and going full tilt around the pen with Grampa trying to get at him with his knife in one hand and his cane in the other. This was an hilarious scene that you couldn’t have scripted. It wasn’t funny at the time but today when I think about it I laugh out loud. Eventually Grampa was able to muckle onto the pig and send him to pig heaven and we then got on with the task of preparing him for the pork barrel. Grampa’s only comment was, “well b’y that’s enough of using the 22, it will be back to the axe next time.”
The last year of the war or the year after I remember Marguerite and Gert Dugas opened a small ice cream kiosk near the bank by the old school house. That is where I was introduced to the Arctic Bar which I thought when first tasted was to die and go to heaven. I still ask for an Arctic Bar on occasion but no one knows what I am talking about and it then forces me to explain what I want. I recall they started out being 5 cents and quickly went to 10 cents each. Beautiful vanilla ice cream covered with real chocolate on a stick. I swore when I could afford it I was going to buy enough of them to make myself sick. About 25 years ago I was at Maple Leaf Gardens and ordered one and paid $3.50 for it. No wonder Harold Ballard drove a cream coloured Lincoln a half a block long.
Pin Ball Machine
It is amazing to witness today the amount of gambling that goes on and that is available to the gullible public. You can barely visit a corner store without being bombarded by lottery games, scratch tickets and video games. Compare what goes on today to what was available in the 40’s is nothing short of amazing. Priests and churches of all denominations were charged with offences for operating bingo games. Bingo games that were used to raise a bit of money in order to pay off mortgages. Most corner stores had these little one foot by one foot sized punch boards that were illegal and normally hidden under the counter. You asked for them and paid your 25 cents and punched through the unused hole. Out would pop a curled up bit of paper with your winnings or try again message. I recall the highest winning prize was sometimes $25.00. There was also pin ball machines and some of them paid off in money but normally in free games. I remember if the clerk wasn’t looking you could get the machine propped up a bit and get the shot ball bouncing repeatedly against a specific light and rack up the winning games. You could then of course sell these “free” games to the next fellow who came into the store. If of course you were caught someone (the duty clerk) grabbed you by the ear and marched you out the door with the normal warnings and threats.
On occasion Phon Plant would go to town for something or other at Thompson’s and Sutherland’s Hardware. On one occasion he took me and someone else along with him in the back seat. We were probably about 9 or 10 at the time and they were paving or repairing the main street in front of the Strand Theatre and it was the first time I saw in my life a black man. He was working spreading the hot tar on the street. To this day I associate the smell of fresh asphalt being laid with black people. I got to know this man later in life when he drove a taxi in Sydney Mines – his name was MacLean and if I remember correctly the only black man on the Northside certainly at that time which was in the early 1940’s.
In addition to picking berries not for a pastime but out of necessity, we often were tasked to dig clams. We took our clay shovel and a bucket and headed for the “flats” when the tide was out looking for clams. The flats were the edges of the channel of the gut that was exposed at low tide. It didn’t take long to find clams because they had their little air holes that identified exactly where they were. Stick the shovel in the mud and tip it over and you had your clam. Great fun but a chore none the less especially when you could have been playing ball or just screwing around doing something else. Speaking about screwing around many of us always had our noses stuck in comic books, Superman, Captain Marvel, Dick Tracy, Red Ryder etc – we also traded them. Oftentimes if my father was expecting me to be doing something else he would take the comic book and put it into the stove. He would roll over in his grave today if he knew their present day value of those he destroyed in this manner