A Midwestern University professor looks back at his childhood in 1930s Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. He grew up in a fishing community, and recalls the first time his father took him out on the boat.
When we returned to the house everyone made a great fuss over my precocious excursion and asked, “How did you like the boat?” “Did you cry in the boat?” They repreated “the boat” at the end of all their questions and I knew it must be very important to everyone.
My earliest recollection of my mother is of being alone with her in the mornings when my father was away in the boat. She seemed to be always repairing clothes that were “torn in the boat”, preparing food to be “eaten in the boat” or looking for “the boat” through our kitchen window which faced upon the sea. When my father returned about noon, she would ask, “Well, how did things go in the boat today?”
His father was not happy being a fisherman – he loved to read and valued education. His room was on the main floor off the kitchen and it was always in turmoil, books covering every surface. Any time he wasn’t out on the boat, he could be found in his room, reading.
Magazines and books covered the bureau and competed with the clothes for domination of the chair. They further overburdened the heroic little table and lay on top of the radio. They filled a baffling and unknowable cave beneath the bed, and in the corner by the bureau they spilled from the walls and grew up from the floor.
One by one his sisters discovered their father’s room and became spellbound by the volumes they found there. Their mother’s reaction bordered on angry: “Take your nose out of that trash and come and do your work.” “I would like to know how books help anyone to live a life.” One by one his sisters got jobs and moved away from the village to live their lives elsewhere.
The winter the boy turned 15, his father became ill. The boy left school to help with the fishing. But after only the first day, his father called him into his room and asked him to go back to school. So he did. While his mother said, “I never thought a son of mine would choose useless books over the parents that gave him life.”
… and I wished that the two things I loved so dearly did not exclude each other in a manner that was so blunt and too dear.
Read the story yourself and discover how it ended for this family and many others who saw their children off into the world instead of staying to take over the traditional way of life.
And it is not an easy thing to know that your mother looks upon the sea with love and on you with bitterness because the one has been so constant and the other so untrue.
We wore heavy sweaters now and the awkward rubber slickers and the heavy woollen mitts which soaked and froze into masses of ice that hung from our wrists like the limbs of gigantic monsters until we thawed them against the exhaust pipe’s heat. And almost every day we would leave for home before noon, driven by the blasts of the northwest wind coating our eyebrows with ice and freezing our eyelids closed as we leaned into a visibility that was hardly there, charting our course from the compass and the sea, running with the waves and between them but never confronting their towering might.