It was in the days before social networking, x-boxes, and iphones; it was even before the advent of television in Hermitage. How did the young ones ever survive the simplicity of growing up in an outport fishing village?
Well, we had outharbour juvenile delights, to borrow a phrase from Ray Guy. My friend and former student Wade Parsons has written about so many of them in his book That Was We, and his writings have stirred me to write about some delights that were so much a part of us around 1960, delights that meant we were never bored. To quote Wade, “We didn’t have time to be bored”. Exactly – we had so little; yet we had so much.
One pastime was clinging to trucks. It was quite common for the boys to jump on a moving truck in the community (all dirt roads so they didn’t go fast); the driver may have slowed a little, but he didn’t stop. The boys were quite skilled; they jumped on the back bumper and sprang into the box, went to the cab and spread-eagled themselves, and shouted God-knows-what at the passers-by. If the tailgate was down, in one fluid motion they grabbed the chain holding the tailgate and sat their backsides down on the tailgate, dangling their legs below. The odd time the one fellow who miscalculated was hanging on for dear life, he was dragged in by his mates, sometimes with a rubber boot or canvas shoe (the precursor to sneakers) left on the road.
The odd fellow would jump on the side running board and hold on to the box with his right hand and high-five walkers with his left. And clinging to trucks and going all over the town as the drivers made deliveries was a popular delight for the boys of Hermitage in 1960. Then there was Bert’s truck.
Each day at noon Bert left the Hermitage Trade where he was manager and drove slowly around the harbour to his home on the Eastern side. At 12:30 p.m. the east side boys were let out of school which was on the west side, and they beat it home as fast as they could. If they gulped down their food and got on the road, they could hitch a ride on Bert’s truck as he crawled along, back to work at 12:55 p.m. They jumped on and jumped off at the right time, arriving at school about an hour before classes would begin at 2 p.m. At times one of the boys would just grab the chain and run behind, content to be pulled along by Bert.
At other times my friends and I who grew up near Freeman Crewe’s store would find out if Phil, his worker, was delivering freight to Seal Cove. If so, we went and helped Phil load the truck, we rode with him to Seal Cove, we unloaded the truck and carried the cases into the store, and we rode back down again to Hermitage. It was a great way to spend an afternoon. Then sometimes on Sundays six of us with 50 cents each – and probably dressed in shirt and tie - would hire someone who owned a car to take us for a ride to Seal Cove; we thought it was wonderful. Some drivers would drive halfway through Seal Cove and turn around; another would go to the western end and turn around. We always tried to hire the guy who took us farther.
Such delights were a few of the many we experienced, delights that help us fondly recall our happy, carefree, innocent days of growing up in rural Newfoundland. There weren’t any seat belts back then!