Author’s new book explores his rural roots
Rex Brown of Corner Brook has written a book about his memories of growing up in a Newfoundland outport.
© Submitted photo
“Out from the Harbour” is as enjoyable as it is educational.
Brown’s hometown, Tack’s Beach, was resettled before Brown reached his 20th birthday.
But the author’s yarns about the people who lived there – and their way of life - will keep the tiny Placentia Bay community alive in spirit well into the future.
Brown’s memoir paints a colourful picture of life in a small outport community in the 1950s.
It’s a way of life that’s long since gone and one that highlights the economics of a community that relied mainly on salt fish for its survival.
Brown takes his readers with him – from one end of the harbour to the other.
Those who pick up the book will soon find themselves inside the homes of the families of Tack’s beach, on their wharves, in their boats and taking a walk through the general store.
We learn about the fishermen who built boats, farmed gardens and worked in lumberyards to put food on the table.
Yet this is a book about much more then the men of Tack’s Beach.
It’s about a way of life in rural Newfoundland; a way of life that no longer exists.
It’s about the women who toiled the gardens, worked the fish flakes, raised the children, cooked the meals, kept wood in the stove and did whatever else needed to be done – without question.
Brown book’s is threaded with life lessons – lessons that are as relevant today as they were half-a-century ago.
Lessons about how church, school and the local community lodge were an integral part of the community.
Lessons about respecting others, no matter the cards they’ve been dealt.
Brown writes about a woman who visited his family’s home one Christmas.
Julia was doing her best to feed her family of 12, he writes.
She arrived at his home with a lovely glass plate for his mother.
“I knew it was one of the very few objects in her whole house not in constant use,” Brown writes.
His mother accepted the gift graciously and placed in among the rest of her china.
Brown writes that he was proud of his mother for not making the slightest fuss about taking the gift from the woman.
“She knew the meaning of ‘poor but proud’ and now, so much more than before, so did I,” he writes.
“Out from the Harbour” also speaks volumes about the African proverb “It takes a village to raise a child.”
That’s exactly how life was for those in Tack’s Beach.
“Mom always said that I left home at the age of four, went around the shore and never came back,” Brown says during a recent phone interview.
The children thrived outdoors. Their fun limited only by their imaginations. Their imaginations held no barriers.
“I have so few memories of actually inside my house and the reason was you were never in there except sleep and eat.”
The children were more interested in stomping milk and juice cans on their feet for clambering over rocks and “making a wonderful racket.”
They cleaved wood, just for fun.
They skimmed rocks, skated on ponds and harbours, walked on stilts, played rounders and stabled sculpins and flatfish off the wharf.
Children also did their part to help. They filled wood boxes and brought water from the well on washday.
The children had likely never heard of the word ‘inclusion.’
But that’s exactly what Brown and his cousin Freeman were doing when they took time, after a hockey game, to shoot a few pucks with a boy who was almost blind.
“When I challenged Ray for possession of the puck, Freeman instructed me to ‘give Ray a chance.’ I was too young and too eager to notice what was going on first off, so Freeman had to be firm,” Brown writes.
Brown says he has admired his cousin since that day.
A simple shot at the net – another huge life lesson.
“We seemed to be all in it together, with room and time for those different from the rest.”
Brown notes in the book that there were never any police in Tack’s Beach.
But all crimes had a life sentence, he says, during the phone interview.
“That’s because nobody ever forgot,” he laughs.
Brown recalls how difficult it was for his father to accept resettlement.
His dad represents the salt-of-the-earth people that Simani sang about in their song “Outport People.”
But you can't take a man from the soil where he grew,
Lest you know how to solace his mind when you do;
And for God's sake don't say how much greener's the grass,
'Cause those uprooted people start to weather too fast.
His father was “of the island,” Brown writes.
“Although through frequent business trips he was acclimatized to St. John’s, near which he ended up, he thrived only on Tack’s Beach. Resettlement took a big chunk out of him.”
Brown completed Grade 9 on Tack’s Beach. He moved to St. John’s for high school and university but returned home each summer until resettlement in 1967.
He’s been living in Corner Brook since 1972. It’s where he and his wife Elaine (Gosse) Brown from Spaniard’s Bay raised their family and where Brown worked as a teacher until he retired in 1999.
With any luck, and endorsement from the department of education, Brown’s book will find its way into classrooms throughout the province.
Brown is one of the founders and current organizers of the March Hare, the longest-running literary festival in Newfoundland and Labrador.
His book will be launched, in conjunction with the March Hare, on Monday, March 10, at 8:00 p.m. at the Masonic Temple in St. John’s, on Thursday, March 13, at 4:00 p.m. at Hotel and on Friday, March 14, at 2:30 p.m. at the Glynmill Inn in Corner Brook.