Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
In the early morning hours two days later Matt and Mary got on the road for Blanche Tickle just about the time Amanda was waiting for the bus to school, and Jake and Rachel were heading down to the Chinook for a day’s fishing. “It would have been nice to stay for another few days, maybe till the season ends,” Matt said as he pulled out of the parking lot at Jake’s. “But I’ve kept listening at the door waiting for my mother to knock on it.”
“Aye, might’s well be gettin’ out while the gettin’s good,” she agreed. “I can’t recall mentionin’ Blanche Tickle in your mother’s hearin’, so if your father doesn’t say anythin’ about it ta her, maybe she won’t be botherin’ us there.”
“That’s about my thinking,” Matt agreed. “I have to admit I never thought of Newfoundland as a place I’d like to winter over, but since I’m going to be with you it ought to be a lot of fun.”
“An’ takin’ off for most of a month in Florida ought to make it go a little quicker,” she smiled.
Rachel’s offer to check out the idea of borrowing the Winter Haven with the other boat owners had turned into a multi-family dinner at the restaurant the evening before, including two of John and Debby’s three kids as well as Amanda. Matt knew everybody well, of course; the deal to borrow the boat went easily, but the price demanded was yet another retelling of Matt and Mary’s adventures the summer before. It had gone late, and only the kids needing to be ready for school in the morning had kept it from going even later. Not all the details were worked out yet, so there would have to be some letters and phone calls over the next few months.
“Yeah, that’ll take the sting out, all right,” he grinned. “I hope you brought the Scotch bikini along with you.”
“I did,” she giggled. “It’s not like it takes up a lot of space. I thought it might be fun ta tease ye with some time. It might not be the warmest thing ta wear but I figured I wouldn’t have it on long when I wore it ’fore I’d be under the covers in a nice warm bed all up close ta ye.”
“True,” he laughed as he turned out onto the highway. “I like seeing you wearing it, but I like taking it off you even more.”
It is not a short trip from Winchester Harbor to Blanche Tickle, especially with Matt the only one doing the driving. It was over 1600 miles to just get on the ferry in Nova Scotia bound for Newfoundland, and once they were on the island they would have to drive nearly 600 miles from the ferry landing to Blanche Tickle. But there was no point in hurrying; after all, they had all winter, so they decided to take their time and maybe see some of the things Matt had passed by during his rush to get to salt water back in the spring.
Just from a quick look at the map, Matt decided that it was a little shorter to go north of Lake Huron, rather than around the south end. Since a lot of two-lane roads were involved on the Trans-Canada Highway, it might take longer, but it would take them through places he’d never been near before. This meant heading northwest out of Winchester Harbor, crossing the Mackinac Bridge, and then going on up to Sault Ste. Marie to cross into Canada.
Even though the weather had turned gray and cold, there was still no reason to rush. What with taking their time, it took them three days to get to North Sydney, Nova Scotia, where the ferry jumped off for Newfoundland. They arrived to find that it had just sailed, and wouldn’t run the next day, so they had a day to kill. They spent it backtracking far enough to drive across the new bridge to Prince Edward Island, and went south to check out the huge tides in the Bay of Fundy.
Two days later they managed to get on the ferry, the Caribou, and rode it for seven hours across the Gulf of St. Lawrence to Channel-Port-aux-Basques at the western end of Newfoundland. From there, it was still almost a two-day drive along a narrow two-lane road. It was often crooked and rough, so sometimes they couldn’t go very fast. A day and a half later, quite a ways short of St. John’s, they turned down a local road that would take them down to Blanche Tickle.
Finally, after a long week on the road, much of it in the seat of the little Chevy, they drove down a narrow gravel road into Mary’s home town.
Matt hadn’t been sure what to expect of it; he knew the town was small and huddled close to the bay that opened before them. If anything, it was smaller than he had imagined, a cluster of small multi-colored houses picturesquely and somewhat randomly scattered around the small bay. While they’d been driving through a scrubby forest, the trees had thinned out near shore and there were only a scattered few to be seen in the village, where patches of brown grass and bare rock seemed to predominate. Out in the harbor, several fishing boats rode at anchor, and a few were pulled up on shore. It all looked something like a picture off a calendar to him.
Mary had him stop at the post office to pick up the keys to the place from the postmistress, Sinead Flannery. The post office proved to be a small building located more or less in the center of the village; there was a store next door, and that was about the extent of the commercial part of town. Sinead was an older, heavy-set woman with a nice smile. “Ye might’s well be usin’ your house,” she told Mary. “There ain’t been no one askin’ ta rent it since that Yankee fella left back at the end of August.”
“Aye, we figured that,” Mary agreed. “Looks like we’ll be stayin’ most of the winter, but we’ll be takin’ off in the spring sometime. We might take off for a while in the winter, too, dependin’ on how things go.”
“An’ who’s this fella ye brought with ye?” Sinead asked.
“Aw, this is my Yank boyfriend, Matt,” Mary smiled. “I bummed a ride to Ireland with him on his little sloop back in the spring, an’ we been together ever since. He’s a nice guy an’ a fisherman, too. He an’ I were out on his uncle’s fishin’ boat for a couple days back a week ago. Kinda interestin’ that, they do it a lot different than we do here.”
“Aye, a Yank, an’ a fisherman, too,” Sinead smiled. “Well, welcome ta Blanche Tickle, b’y. It’s a small place but we like it here.”
“Glad to be here,” Matt grinned, realizing he was going to be hearing a lot of Newfoundland accent over the next few months, and not just from Mary. “Looks like a nice place.”
“An’ how’s the fishin’ been?” Mary asked.
“Fishin’s been all right, if the damn government would let the b’ys be catchin ’em,” Mary shook her head. “Cod’s been shut down a lot, an’ they’ll only let the b’ys fish a couple days a week. A couple boats are up for sale since they can’t make ends meet no more. Some of the boys are fishin’ crab and shrimp ta try ta make ends meet. Eamon and Seamus O’Kelley drug their boat up on shore an’ got jobs in St. John’s for the winter. I don’t know that they’re goin’ ta be back in the spring. Some others got jobs up there, too.”
“Damn shame,” Mary agreed. “Sounds like it’s ’bout as bad as ever.”
“Aye, it’s been pretty tight at times,” Sinead nodded. “But I guess we’ll go on hangin’ on like we always done.”
“Say,” Mary said. “Is there any firewood left around my house?”
“A little,” the postmistress sighed. “That Yank fella that was rentin’ the place seemed ta like the fireplace in the chill of the evenin’, so he went through it pretty much. There’s a few sticks left, but not a lot.”
“I suppose we should be gettin’ some, then,” Mary replied. “There anyone around that might be likin’ ta bring us a load?”
“Aye, Evan O’Bannon was in askin’ about it this mornin’, an’ I think he’d be glad of the money.”
“Tell him ta drop ’round, would ye?” Mary asked. “I guess maybe Matt an’ I better get over an’ see the house.”
“It’s all right,” Sinead told them. “It could stand for a bit of cleanin’, but I figured on puttin’ it off till someone wanted ta rent it. That Yank fella said he might be back in the summer again; he don’t know yet, but he seems ta like it there.”
“Fine with me, an’ we oughta be gone by then,” Mary smiled. “As long as he wants ta rent it, I’m not mindin’. It pays the taxes, gives us a place ta stay in the winter, an’ even leaves me a little left over now and again.”
“Ye got plans for the summer, I take it?”
“Aye, Matt an’ I are plannin’ on bein’ out on his little sloop again. We went ta Ireland, Scotland an’ Norway. We ain’t sure yet where we’re goin’ next summer, but we’re workin’ on it.”
“My, sounds like fun,” Sinead grinned. “I’d like ta see Ireland sometime, I never been there. Looks like ye done well in findin’ a boyfriend, Mary.”
“I think so,” she grinned. “I ’spect ye’ll get ta know him a little ’fore the winter’s done.”
The two of them headed back out to the Cavalier. “Wow,” Matt said. “Are you sure this is Newfoundland? It seems like we’ve walked into an Irish fishing village like some of those we saw last summer.”
“Aye, Blanche Tickle is pretty Irish, anymore,” Mary agreed. “It ain’t all Irish, there’s a French family or two in the settlement, an’ even a Basque family if they’re still around. We’re a mixed lot on the South Shore, b’y, but most of the people are pretty good. I think I told ye I’m sort of an outsider here since I wasn’t born here, but it’s still home ta me.”
Mary’s home proved to be out on the edge of the village, with only the faint trace of a road leading to it. It was a small house, located close to the bay; the remnants of a tumble-down pier were in the water right in front of the house, only yards from the door. Matt could almost close his eyes and see Albert’s bummer at anchor not far out in the bay, with his battered old skiff tied to the dock; he’d heard stories about both of them from Mary often enough.
The little white-painted house was considerably smaller than even Uncle Jake’s, but at Matt’s first glance it seemed well kept, and again, it seemed like it should have been a picture on a calendar somewhere. Considering the artist Mary had rented the little house to the last couple summers, it seemed likely that there might be a painting of it hanging somewhere, maybe more than one.
Inside, the house proved to be, as Mary had said, cozy. There were two small bedrooms at one end of the single-story house; the rest was an open room containing the kitchen and living room areas. Right in the middle of the room there stood a big space heater. “’Fraid there ain’t no bathroom, b’y,” Mary grinned. “You’re gonna have ta use the biffy out back.”
“Can’t be much worse than using the head on the boat,” Matt shrugged.
“Oh, we get a winter storm goin’ it can be a mite tryin’,” she grinned. “There are times in the winter when the only true happiness is pullin’ your pants back up. There’s a thunder mug around for when it gets really bad, but usually it’s best ta just grit your teeth, go out, an’ do your business. I grew up usin’ it, an’ we didn’t have the propane heater then. Like I said, it’s a small place, but it’s home ta me. You’re not disappointed, are ye, b’y?”
“Not in the slightest,” he smiled. “I can think of a lot worse places to spend the winter, and my home heads the list.”
It was chilly in the house; the heat wasn’t on, and the water had been shut off for the winter. Both of those were quickly solved, although Matt had a profane tussle getting the pilot light on the space heater working, but soon it was warming up inside. The propane in the big white tank out back was also getting low, and Mary said she’d have to tell Sinead to get someone there to fill it. “I don’t know for sure anymore who’d be doin’ it,” Mary explained. “And since there ain’t no phone there’s no way ta call. But Sinead’ll know, and whoever it is will be droppin’ by the post office sooner or later.”
There was also very little food in the house, which wasn’t a surprise. “We can go over ta the store and get some stuff to hold us for a while,” Mary said, “But maybe in a day or two we oughta go inta St. John’s and stock up for a while. We want ta be able ta buy what we can when we can at the store, but they don’t have a lot of stuff an’ we shouldn’t be cleanin’ them out. ’Sides, I left a few things at Widow O’Kelly’s in St. John’s it’d probably be nice ta have here.”
It took them a while to bring in the few things from the Cavalier, and for Mary to take some of her clothes and things from the closet she normally kept locked when the house was rented out. In only a couple hours, it began to seem like home, warm and lived in. It might be a little on the primitive side, Matt thought, but as long as he was with Mary, this would be a good place to spend the winter.
The day was winding down when there was a knock on the door. It proved to be an older man with a lean, weathered face, in his fifties if Matt had to make a guess. “Evan!” Mary said. “Good ta see ye again. You’re a sight for sore eyes.”
“Good ta see ye again too, lassie,” he grinned. “Sinead told me ye were back, an’ ye’d brought a Yank boyfriend with ye.”
“Aye,” she smiled. “He may be a Yank, but he’s a fisherman and quite a sailor. We sailed his little sloop all the way to Ireland and beyond back in the summer.”
“That’s what she was sayin’,” Evan replied. “Ye’ll have to be tellin’ me more about that sometime. But Sinead was also sayin’ ye needed some firewood.”
“Aye,” she agreed. “I think maybe a pickup load or two, since we’ve got the propane now, but there’s no sense in usin’ the gas when we don’t have ta. ’Sides, a wood fire is more cheerin’ when propane ain’t.”
“That’s a fact,” he agreed. The two of them stood talking for a few minutes, mostly about the fishing and what had happened to a few people, before Evan said he’d be bringing a load of wood by in a couple days, and another one a few days after that. “Gonna have ta be doin’ some splittin’ of it,” he explained.
“Well, there ain’t no rush on the second load,” she replied, “’specially if someone needs it more than we do.”
“Ain’t a big call for it just yet,” he explained. “But the weather is gettin’ colder, an’ people are gonna be wantin’ it ’fore long. Be seein’ ye around, Mary. Don’t be hidin’ out up here with your boyfriend all winter, now. I’m sure ye must be havin’ some stories that don’t have much ta do with fishin’, an’ it’d be nice ta be hearin’ some of ’em.”
“Oh, we’ll get out an’ about every now an’ again,” she smiled. “Matt an’ I was just talkin’ that we needed ta be headin’ over ta the store ta get somethin’ for dinner.”
A few minutes later Matt and Mary walked the quarter mile or so over to the store, which was next to the post office. It was pretty much what Matt thought of as an old-time country store, an old wood building that contained a little bit of everything and not much of anything, some of which he had no hopes of describing. Of course, Mary had to introduce him to the woman who ran the place and around to a few of the locals who happened to be there; it seemed as if Mary knew everyone in the village. In a village as small as this one, that might well be the case, he realized.
As they walked back carrying a few groceries, Mary grinned, “Matt, ye realize that my comin’ here with ye is gonna be the big news around here for a few days, don’t ye?”
“I got that impression,” he smiled. “It seemed to me that almost everyone we talked to already knew about it.”
“As I said, it’s a small place, an’ between Evan and Sinead they’ve had the time ta spread the word,” she laughed. “There’s a reason I’ve been sayin’ ye had worked on your Uncle Jake’s fishin’ boat an’ that we’d been out on it a few days ago. Matt, I know ye well enough to know you’re not the sort ta be puttin’ on airs, but workin’ on a fishin’ boat will give ye a better reputation here than havin’ been ta college.”
“I figured that,” he nodded. “There are places where being a college graduate might carry some weight, but I guessed this wouldn’t be one of them.”
“We’ve had a few now and then that go on ta college from the school here,” she sighed. “But they don’t come back ta a little place like this.”
“Not surprising,” he shrugged. “But then, you know I pretty much consider going to college was a waste of precious time for me, don’t you?”
“Aye, I know that,” she replied. “Maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t, an’ there ain’t no way of tellin’ now how it’s gonna work out for ye. But, if I had the choice of livin’ in a small place like this around people I know, an’ living in your folks house in a big city not doin’ much of anythin’ around people that are all strangers, I know which one I’d want, an’ it ain’t livin’ there.”
“I think that makes two of us,” he agreed. “If I ever get to settle down, I don’t think I’d mind working for Uncle Jake like we talked about. Of course, Mom wouldn’t hear of such a thing. But whatever happens, I think I’d be real reluctant to try to plant you down in a big place full of strangers.”
“I figured that, b’y,” she smiled. “I ain’t sayin’ we have ta make our lives in Blanche Tickle, an’ in fact, we probably can’t. Much as I hate ta say it, this place is slowly dyin’. It’s a smaller place now than it was when I was a child, an’ the way the fishin’ has been it’s a poorer place, too. But we got a while before we have ta be worryin’ about that.”