East Coast, Newfoundland, present time
Always poor people, but they made a living. Land-poor, you might say. His grandfather had two hundred acres along the headland that he got from his grandfather. Wasn’t much use for it – just tuckamore and berry barrens, shore too high to bring a boat in, and no beach to speak of for the cod drying flakes. Yes, you could, and did, berry in season, plenty of those: bakeapple, raspberry, blueberry, kinnikinnick.
No money in that, though. And anybody has the right to pick berry land. Even now, the grandson can see the pickers leaning like ladders against the hill’s pitch. So a wee house in town it was and the grandfather working day boats and the grandmother making the fish with the other women on the beach and afterward setting a solid meal in front of him. Some grand times, for a while.
It’s all the grandson’s now. He always loved the headland’s long wild views of the Atlantic stretching like a possibility. His grandfather showed him how to set a trapline for rabbits out there in the winter to keep the family fed. Maybe there’d be a fox or marten pelt to send up to St. John’s for money in his pocket to buy candy for him and his mates. Sometimes, the two of them snow-shoed to the shabby camp a mile in to hunt deer, the night wind beating around outside, the wolves howling, and the smoke of the grandfather’s pipe patrolling the shack and holding it safe and cozy. It was always “them two” in those days – grandfather and grandson.
But still, the land is not of much use, and the fish are mostly done now. Now he has a girlfriend and a baby, so he goes out west with the rest of them to the Alberta tar sands: three weeks on, three weeks off. Steady pay and good money. New roof on the old place and another room for the babe. (How did all of them live in those two rooms back then? He never questioned before.)
Then the accident. “Not your fault,” his mates say. “Could’ve been any one of us.” The company pays to fly him home alone, the Halifax airport at midnight for the connection, and no one to have a beer with for the wait. “Never be the same,” they say after the surgery. “Better get another line of work.” So now there’s nothing else to do but sell lots on the headland – “long, narrow lots,” they say, “is the smart money.” That way, those from St. John’s or Ontario can have a road at one end and their own waterfront on the other.
The grandson turns his back to the wind to roll a cigarette. Yes, that’s the right thing to do, he thinks as he takes his first drag. Family to mind—sell lots. Yes, that’s the only thing to do. He steps into the wind and sees the long, wild stretch of the deep Atlantic, cold and green, snapping with white caps, stretching out before him as it always has, except now he feels it like a rebuke.