“Lard thunderin’ Jesus George will ya grab that spade and get diggin? Night’s comin’ on and we is nowhere near done.”
It’s true. I had been gazing off into the distance. Here I was, sixteen, and stuck out here trying to build Sherwood Forest.
It’s not that I wasn’t eager for my father to succeed. But this was hard work. I had blisters on blisters. And it was Friday night.
I thought back to where this had all begun. My father gave up on Newfoundland when the cod had disappeared. He sold what little we owned near the remote saltchuck called Wily’s Cove, and moved the entire lot of us to Cape Breton. He said we would become bluenosers and do with lobsters what we couldn’t do with cod.
Well we had learned one lesson with cod, but another one with lobsters. We couldn’t find cod but we couldn’t sell lobsters. A depressed economy meant that he could make more by leaving his few dollars in the bank than by inshore fishing.
For the second time in six years we were destitute.
But he wasn’t moving again, and there was no way this man was going on the pogey. He said he would make it here or die trying. As I drove the spade into the rocky ground I figured it was me that was dying. But I loved this guy and all that he was and wanted to be. He was my father.
“Dad,” I said, “d’ya really think this is gonna work?”
“Of course it’ll work George. I’ve seen people do this all the time at them nurseries and in farms. No problem plantin’ – just a problem growin’ so when we is done we are gonna keep on this plot like ticks on a bull.”
It was near 10 PM when he called it a day. I couldn’t see where I was digging and it had gotten chilly despite working so hard. I slung my shovel over my shoulder and followed him to the house. Mom was at the stove, heating water because she heard us coming up the walk.
“Here,” she said, “sit down and have a fresh butter tart with your tea. You’ll feel a whole lot better.”
It seemed to me that the furrows on her forehead had gotten deeper and deeper over the past three months as we planted the seeds that dad and I had harvested from pine, spruce and fir trees in the area.
We had pails of seed ready for planting, and six acres of land dotted with tuckamores that, according to my dad, was made to order for a commercial plantation.
We had half the site planted. I guess I was getting tough like my father, though my hands rebelled every night after school when I worked with him on that scurfy ground.
One of the great things about being really poor is that you have no shame when you go to church or school. You are beneath shame. Likely the well-to-do are mocking you behind your back. But then again maybe they’re just full of pity, or happy that it’s you and not them hacking away at making a tree farm in a gravel pit.
At school the teachers know I’m not a total dullard but they seem to look at me with sad eyes, as if I was a dog with a missing leg. I’ve even had one or two of them offer to buy me lunch in the cafeteria, though my mom would kill me if I ever accepted their charity. Besides, every day she loads my backpack up with thick home made sandwiches though you can see through the meat.
“Don’t ever, ever. Ever let me see you with your hand out,” she’s told me I don’t know how many times. “It’s people like us that make the world work,” she says, and I know she believes this deep down in her soul. Why, if we are making the world work we don’t have anything to show for it is a connection that neither she or my father seem to have made yet. But that disconnect weighs on my mind.
So here I am sittin’ at the table with a steaming cup of tea and my hands hurting so bad I could almost cry every time I pick up the cup.
“George, you get at your homework now,” she says, whisking the crumbs into a pan and pouring dad another shot of what passes for stimulant in this house.
Yeah, it’s only 10:30 now and I’ll have no problem getting through English lit before I pass out.
My English assignment was to read the first chapter of a book on homesteading by some muckymuk named Susanna Moodie. With my eyelids dropping I made it to page 26. Suddenly – I bolted straight up off my Winnipeg couch like I had been hit by lightening.
Miss Moodie was explaining how she had established a tree farm. She learned you had to start with “seedlings.” She said a tree won’t grow from seed without a year’s preparation. You had to do something called “stratification.” That way you fooled the seed into thinking that it had fallen to the ground and stayed there over the winter, and was then nurtured by rain and sunlight in the spring. And even if you did all that, she said only one seed in a thousand was successful.
I closed the book and decided what I had to do. On the way home I had seen a sign go up in the chip wagon. They wanted a potato peeler.
Tomorrow I’ll get in there first thing in the morning and deke out the competition. In a couple of weeks I’ll have enough saved to buy my dad a twenty-sixer. And after a few snorts he’ll be in much better shape to hear what I have to tell him. Even though I had a plan, I was still filled with dread.
[Twice submitted and twice rejected short story. No regrets, except the last s.s. competition that charged a $30 entry fee chose a truly awful winner, exceptional only in the amount of swearing it contained. Go figure.]
Interested in my other work? Here’s my book on success without conflict.