From a Good Home: A St. John’s Family Saga

There are only so many hours in a day. I have time to read only a limited number of books.

My reading interests are eclectic. As a former clergyman, I enjoy books with a theological flair. As a historian, with a graduate degree in Newfoundland and Labrador history, I read a lot of books in this category. Biographies are a perennial favourite. Fiction is near the top of my reading list, especially when I need a break from more academic treatises. But, with the large number of novels being published, where does one draw the line? My pile of to-read books is about to collapse.

I recently read Trudi Johnson’s From a Good Home. Actually, I should say Dr. Johnson, from-a-good-homeas her doctorate, from Memorial University of Newfoundland, is in NL history.

So, I asked her, how does one go from being a Ph.d. in history to being a novelist.

“The two roles are very much intertwined,” she responds.

Two events influenced the direction of her first novel.

First, her mother and many of her female relatives and friends worked in service.

Growing up in the capital city, listening to many of their stories, she was fascinated by their courage and commitment.

Second, after a decade of teaching high school, she went back to MUN and earned her doctorate. Her specialty: matrimonial law and inheritance practices.

“There, I was drawn once again to the narrative of people’s lives, how each one of us perceives the world around us.”

While writing her dissertation, she “wrote fiction as a distraction from academic writing,” not unlike my reason for reading fiction, as a respite from theology, history and biography.

Using the characters she had known most of her life, she crafted a family saga.

Rather than write narratives for academic journals – as important as they are – she writes in the genre of fiction.

“Narratives may be recognized as valid historical accounts to some extent,” she explains, “but the academic world continues to place higher value on quantitative research.” Fiction gives her a broader readership.

The story she tells in From a Good Home revolves around Hannah Parsons, who leaves her home in Bonavista Bay in 1935, to work in service for Charles and Virginia Sinclair, a wealthy St. John’s family. Hannah catches the eye of the household patriarch, after which her life takes an unexpected turn.

Trudi has specific hopes for her readers.

Obviously, she wants them to enjoy the stories, “to simply finish the book with a smile, feeling that they have just spent some time with interesting people.”

Then, she wants them to appreciate how much we are influenced by our past.

“People come into our lives and leave them,” she says, “but some make lasting impressions.” The characters are complex. And all of us need to “present a particular face to others, and even to ourselves, as we respond to life’s events.”

Finally, she wants them to “appreciate the untold stories of themselves and their family members.”

Trudi is only on the cusp of what she has in mind. Books 2 and 3 are yet to come. All Good Intentions and Share and Share Alike are bound to appeal to a wide audience, as well. In From a Good Home, I found a couple or three people I know. I wonder who else will show up in her series.

From a Good Home resonates with me on a very personal level. My late mother, born on 15 November 1914, left Cutwell Arm (now Beaumont South) at around thirteen years of age and went in service for a family in Bishop’s Falls in 1930.

It’s obvious that Trudi enjoys writing fiction.

“Writing is both challenging and enjoyable for me.”

She has whetted the reading appetite of many. As she rises to the challenge of continuing to put her pen to paper, or her fingers to her laptop, undoubtedly our imagination will race in many directions. “They want to know what happens next!” she exclaims. “And so do I….”

Bruce Cockburn’s unconventional spiritual journey

Bruce Cockburn has been part of the folk/rock scene since the 1960s. My interest in his music dates to my university days in the 1970s. He has entertained and, especially, challenged me time and again. Many Christians have been struck by his refreshing lyrics, expressing personal faith in a manner less sentimental than much of Christian contemporary music.

cockburnHis autobiography, Rumours of Glory (2014), is not “your standard rock-and-roll memoir,” he says, which means it’s less about partying and more about physical and spiritual journeys and political activism.

He informs readers up front that, while Jesus Christ entered his life and music in 1974, he subsequently “let go of his hand.” Their relationship has since “ebbed and flowed,” but he has determined to live his life “somewhat in line with his Word.”

As a mystic, Cockburn has tried to keep both “Jesus the compassionate activist” and “portal to the cosmos” close to his heart. But don’t expect dogma and doctrine. As a free-spirited artist, he uses guitar and voice to portray joy, love, pain, beauty and mystery.

One of the strengths of Rumours of Glory is the context it offers for his celebrated songs, released on more than 30 albums. The lyrics “tend to be triggered by whatever is in front of me,” he writes, “filtered through feeling and imagination.” An alternate guide to some of his lyrics is Brian J. Walsh’s Kicking at the Darkness: Bruce Cockburn and the Christian Imagination (2011).

In “Lovers in a Dangerous Time” (1983), for example, Cockburn counsels “Spirits open to the thrust of grace” to “kick at the darkness till it bleeds daylight.” Doing anything less, he intimates, is a vacuous pursuit of Christ.

When my alma mater, Memorial University in St. John’s, NL, bestowed an honourary doctorate upon Cockburn in 2007, deputy public orator Annette Staveley dubbed him “a grim traveller in a dawn sky,” whose discography “bears witness to the horror and the holiness of the human condition.” His intense “imagery offers us glimpses of the divine.”

His spiritual songs, he explains, “are about celebrating the Divine and our place in the cosmos, and doing so from a place of seeking, from a desire to know, as best we can, the heart connection with God, however one might define such an entity.”

Cockburn’s music reflects the unconventional spirituality of a postmodern psalmist who deserves a louder hearing in Christian circles.

Adrift on an Ice Pan

“It was Easter Sunday at St. Anthony in the year of 1908….” Thus Wilfred Grenfell began writing his gripping account of being adrift on an ice pan.

His booklet, which appeared in 1909, “turned into an outstanding publishing success,” according to Grenfell biographer Ronald Rompkey. It brought “a new generation of readers in touch with [his] exploits.”

adrift-on-an-ice-pan-161x250The most recent edition of Adrift on an Ice Pan appeared earlier this year from Flanker Press, in St. John’s.

Edward Roberts, 11th Lieutenant Governor of Newfoundland and Labrador, contributed the foreword. Grenfell “wrote vigorously and well,” he says.

A frontier doctor risks his life to save a patient, surviving two days and a night, lightly clad, wet and hungry, with his dogs, on an ice pan in the North Atlantic.

“If Adrift on an Ice Pan had been written as a work of fiction,” Roberts suggests, “it would have been ridiculed as being literally unbelievable.” But it is true, if somewhat embellished; the heroic and extraordinary tale, even today, continues to attract readers.

This edition includes more than twenty illustrations and photographs, as well as an wilfred-grenfellaccount of the rescue, recited in the Newfoundland vernacular, by a member of the rescuing party. The book ends with a biographical sketch of Grenfell, written by Clarence John Blake.

“Faith, courage, insight, foresight, the power to win, and the ability to command – all of these and more of like qualities are embodied and portrayed in Dr. Grenfell,” Blake comments.

Victoria Booth-Clibborn Demarest

The following is a revision of an entry which I wrote for the Dictionary of Newfoundland and Labrador Biography in 1990.

DEMAREST, VICTORIA BOOTH-CLIBBORN (1889-1982). b Paris, France, 31 December; independent world-renowned evangelist; preached significant Newfoundland crusade 1919; d St. Petersburg, Florida, 4 April.demarest-victoria-booth-clibborn

Demarest was a granddaughter of William (1829-1912) and Catherine (1829-90), co-founders of The Salvation Army. Experiencing the born again experience at the age of six, she claimed to have received a supernatural call to preach at fourteen. She began accompanying her mother, Catherine Booth-Clibborn (1858-1955), aka la Maréchale who, with her husband, Arthur (1855-1939), had disassociated themselves from the Army in 1902. In 1918, she married Cornelius A. Demarest (1895-1970), organist and choirmaster at the Second Presbyterian Church at Louisville, Kentucky.

In the winter of the following year, the Demarests responded to an invitation by the Methodist (later United) churches in St. John’s, NL, to hold a series of evangelistic meetings in the capital city. The meetings convened in Gower Street Methodist Church from 5 January to 10 February. (Meetings were also held in Carbonear.) demarest-letterIn her unpublished autobiography, Rays of His Splendor, Demarest wrote: “The response [to the St. John’s meetings] became an avalanche. Sometimes people could not wait to get to the seekers’ room; they fell on their knees right in the aisles.” Estimates of converts range from “many hundreds” to 2,000. A newspaper reported 684 Methodists, 126 representing other denominations, and 190 giving no church affiliation. The Demarest crusade helped consolidate evangelicalism in St. John’s.

In the nearly six decades after leaving Newfoundland, Demarest continued her worldwide crusades, in 1946 founded the World Association of Mothers fro Peace, and was ordained by the Congregational Church (now the United Church of Christ). She became a pianist, composer (of over 100 hymns, including Jesus is Calling the Weary), linguist (she spoke four languages), author (of over six books, including Sex and Spirit: God, Woman and Ministry), playwright (including King David: A Drama) and monologist. She earned the appellation, “Prophet of Ecumenical Christianity.”

Colouring Newfoundland and Labrador

“You know you’ve gone back to a second childhood when you….” How would you complete this sentence? These days, I finish the statement with “…open an adult colouring book and get to work.”

Adult colouring books have taken the world by storm. Why are we so enamoured of them?

Tom Roston, a blogger, explains it this way, “Anyone who has appreciated a meditative mental drift while knitting or mowing a lawn knows that there is something calming about engaging in a familiar, low-impact activity that requires minimal thought and bestows a clear sense of progress.”

Visual artist and children’s writer Dawn Baker has sharpened her pencil to produce a baker-dawnbook of “line drawings ideal for colouring.”

She knows a thing or two about writing and illustrating, for over 80,000 of her books are in print! Each is known for its bold, eye-catching colours.

In her latest work, Colouring Newfoundland and Labrador, she depicts “images that represent our people and culture.”colouring-newfoundland-and-labrador-small-165x165

It might be a moose, an inukshuk and Northern Lights, a homemade jam, a view of the Rooms, capelin rolling, a button accordion, Jellybean Row, or Purity products.

The colourer will be entranced by the seventy-six scenes represented.

Baker admits that “it was quite a challenge to adapt to a method that stopped short of adding any colour whatsoever.” But she has succeeded admirably.

She started each page with a pencil outline, which she adjusted until it looked realistic. Then, she “completed the illustration by using a variety of sizes of pigment liners.”

In an amusing twist, Baker herself is eager to “finally fill the images with the bold hues for which our province is famous.”


A detail of one of my attempts to colour this book

Whether it be with coloured pencils, pastels, markers or watercolours, the final product is left entirely to the imagination of the colourer.

Which reminds me, I need to sharpen several of my coloured pencils.

Colouring Newfoundland and Labrador is published by Flanker Press of St. John’s.

Arthur S. Winsor

The following is a revision of an entry which I wrote for the fifth volume of the Encyclopedia of Newfoundland and Labrador in 1994.

Winsor, Arthur S.0002WINSOR, ARTHUR S. (1905-2005). Clergyman. Born Triton. Married Phoebe Palmer Bishop of Bay Roberts. At 18 years of age, Winsor moved to Corner Brook. Raised in The Salvation Army, in 1926 he experienced religious conversion at “The Ark,” the Pentecostal meeting-house founded by Charles L. March (1869-1932) and Herbert Eddy (1883-1959) at Humbermouth. Soon after, Winsor became a pastor with the Pentecostal Assemblies of Newfoundland. Largely through the efforts of Winsor, William Gillett (1906-77) and Thomas P. Mitchell (1900-80), churches were established in several western and central Newfoundland communities. From 1963 to 1982, Winsor was the first Chaplain for Institutions for the denomination. He wrote about his early life in a series, “Things…Seen and Heard,” published in Good Tidings, the official publication of the denomination.

Jacob Noseworthy

The following is a revised and enlarged version of an article which I wrote for the fourth volume of the Encyclopedia of Newfoundland and Labrador in 1993.

NOSEWORTHY, JACOB (1878-1955). Pentecostal layman. Born St. John’s. Married Marie Hudson of St. John’s. As a young man, Noseworthy emigrated to the United States. After working for several years with the Green Shipyards as an engineer, he returned to St. John’s, where he worked until retirement with Harvey and Company. A Methodist, he experienced religious conversion during an evangelistic campaign Victoria Booth-Clibborn Demarest (1889-1982), granddaughter of Salvation Army cofounders William and Catherine Mumford Booth, conducted in St. John’s in Gower Street Methodist Church in 1919. Sometime before 1925, Noseworthy joined Bethesda Mission, the first Pentecostal meeting place in Newfoundland, located on Gower Street in the capital city. On 19 November 1925, fifteen years after it began in Newfoundland, the Pentecostal movement was granted denominational status by the government. Noseworthy, along with farmer James Stanley and jeweller Robert C. English (1888-1942), who later became overseer of the denomination, helped to frame the Memorandum of Association, and was one of the signatories on 8 December. Jennie E. Green (letter, 9 January 1983).

The spiritual side of Don Cherry

CherryI must admit that when I watch Don Cherry on Coach’s Corner, I don’t immediately think of his spiritual side. But perhaps I’ve been overlooking a little-known aspect of his life.

Quitting school in grade 10, he remembers the day he was laid off as a construction worker, “The jackhammer was my speciality. Strong back, weak mind.” He was embarrassed and humiliated to have to tell his wife Rose and their children that he couldn’t find a job.

Eventually he found a job painting at $2 an hour. He even tried being a car salesman. “I established myself as the worst car salesman in the world,” he later joked.

“I couldn’t seem to do anything right,” he says. As far as he was concerned, he was “a failure at 36 years old. Nothing to look forward to in life.” It was one of his bleakest times.

“One afternoon,” he explains, “I lay down in bed staring at the ceiling, thinking of the mess I’d made of my life. Suddenly something seemed to tell me to get on my knees and ask the Lord to help, which I did. I prayed, ‘Lord, is this it? What am I going to do? I can’t get a job. My life is just one big failure. I am embarrassed to look my wife and kids in the eye.’ ”

He gets a tad mystical at this point, saying, “A light or something came in the room and somehow I knew exactly what I was going to do. A voice or something came into my mind: ‘a comeback in hockey.’ ”

The reality was, he hadn’t played in two years. “It would be tough sledding,” he acknowledged.

He called, then visited, the general manager of the Rochester American Hockey Club, Doug Adam.

“I’m going to make this club or die,” Cherry later told Rose.

But he “couldn’t get the feel of the game back. I was doing okay, but it wasn’t there.”

Whenever he was discouraged, he would hear an inner voice, “Keep going.”

“I was back feeling great, playing super, getting picked as a star of the game, top of the world. But black days were coming.” He was understandably heartbroken when he was benched.

Long story short, after a fan attacked Adam, Cherry was made coach, something he knew how to do. “I was born to coach,” he says. The team played terrific, but unfortunately missed the playoffs by a single point. Cherry was fired.

One day, Cherry received a call from one of the nine businessmen who had bought the Rochester Americans, Bob Clarke, asking him to coach.

Without batting an eyelash, Cherry accepted, then offered to be general manager, as well, for the same money, all of $15,000.

“We packed the arena with fans,” Cherry recalls. “The players I had were players nobody wanted, just like me. It was us against the world.” The team won and, he says, “just kept winning. In fact, we were first overall in the league and I was rated Coach of the Year.”

When Cherry was contacted by the Boston Bruins Hockey Club of the NHL and asked to be coach, he jumped at the opportunity.

“I remember my first game behind the Boston bench,” he recalls. “As I looked around at the crowd and out on the ice to see Bobby Orr and all the great Bruins who I was coaching, I thought back to my room in Rochester where I couldn’t get a job sweeping floors and how I asked the Lord for help and to show me the way. I remembered how black and despondent and embarrassed I was. In only three years He pointed the way and I was back on top of the world. In just three years, and they say there is no God. The Lord rescued me in my darkest hour.”

Can’t judge a book by its cover, I suppose.

A collection of children’s books

I am now an exceptionally proud first-time grandfather! Leighton Eric Janes, in this photo in daycare, is the joy of our lives. Which got me thinking about children’s books…again. Sherry and I made sure that our children, Krista and Christopher, had a wide variety of books ever at the ready. We have squirreled many of them away, and we have already passed some of them on to our grandson.

I grew up with books, but most have disappeared with the passage of years. However, while recently rifling through a keepsakes folder, I found a booklet from days of yore, Ol’ Swayback, written by Craig Massey. The publishers commissioned the Kids’ Adventure Series “because of the recognized death of wholesome, action-filled fiction for youngsters in the pre-teen age group.”

Ol' SwaybackAs I flip through Ol’ Swayback, I see this notation in my childish handwriting: “Burton Janes. I got it from Karen Janes. She sold it to me.” I asked sister Karen about this. “I guess I needed the money!” she quipped.

Anyway, publishers, ever desirous of reviews, are wont to send me print review copies of their new books as they appear. I appreciate their largesse. In recent times, I have accumulated a pile of children’s books. I recently read all of them in one sitting – it took less than an hour. I now have something to say about them.

On Poppy's BeachNewfoundlander Susan Pynn Taylor appears to be a popular writer. I have two of her works, both illustrated by David Sturge of St. John’s, On Poppy’s Beach (2013) and At Nanny’s House (2015).

Lisa Dalrymple is no less popular, with three of her books being part of my collection, Bubbly Troubly Polar Bear (2013), A Moose Goes a-Mummering (2014) and Double Trouble at The Rooms (2016). David Sturge illustrated Bubblyone; Elizabeth Pratt (later Pratt-Wheeler) illustrated the other two.

Yaffle'sNancy Keating wrote and helped to illustrate Yaffle’s Journey (2013), the other illustrator being her daughter Laurel.

PicnicNancy Keating has now illustrated another book, A Picnic at the Lighthouse (2016), written by Rebecca North, who lives in St. John’s.

All seven books are published by Tuckamore books.

Wow WowGeorge Murray, who lives in St. John’s, has written his first work for children, Wow Wow and Haw Haw (2014), illustrated by Corner Brook native Michael Pittman and published by Breakwater.

BulletDwayne LaFitte, who currently resides in Mount Pearl, is the author of Bullet the New Steam Engine (2016). Illustrated by Therese Cilia, who currently lives in Belleville, ON, it is published by Pennywell Books.

Dawn Baker is no stranger to children’s literature, having written seven books since 1992. Her most recent is The Puffin Patrol (2017), also published by Pennywell Books. I have never seen puffins in person and, until I do, I will satisfy my curiosity about them by rereading Dawn’s captivating work.

Alice Walsh grew up in Newfoundland but currently lives in Nova Scotia. She teamed up with Erin Bennett Banks, a New York A change of heartnative with Canadian roots, to produce A Change of Heart (2016), which is published by Nimbus of Nova Scotia.

This I KnowFinally, This I Know (2015) is Michael Pendergast’s contribution to children’s literature. His book is illustrated by Joanne Snook-Hann. It is published by Acorn Press of Prince Edward Island.

The curiosities and beauties of a rural Newfoundland beach… A girl’s visit to her grandparents’ home in a traditional Newfoundland outport… An incident that happened on Bring Your Kids to Work Day involving a polar bear… A Christmas mummering story… What happens to a polar bear when there seems to be no space for him anywhere… The tale of a seagull and his ambitious plan… A fox wants to get rid of his fleas before a crow laughs herself silly… A pre-Confederation Newfoundland Railway story… A life forever changed in Newfoundland… A verse about dying… The story of a young boy and his father who spend a fun-filled day together at a lighthouse… Gary and his family experience an unforgettable holiday on the island of Newfoundland… Adventures in bird rescue.

The next time we visit Leighton in Halifax, I plan to tote along with us another selection of children’s books from my personal library.

The brick doll

Uncle Ches and daughter

Uncle Ches and Cousin Edie

One Sunday afternoon, my Uncle Chesley, who was a year and a half older than my father, decided to go for a walk through their village, Hant’s Harbour. It was in the years of the Great Depression, which meant hard times in Newfoundland and elsewhere. Consequently, the brothers had no clothes fit to wear to church. There were a total of eight children in the Janes family – five girls and three boys.

Sunday was a dreary day to them, so a little walk around the waterfront and beach was a break.

Suddenly, Uncle Ches, as we called him, hit on an idea. He took their dilapidated baby carriage, bearing the marks of many generations, and in a rough condition.

Due to the poverty-stricken times, their sisters had no dolls, or at least Uncle Ches could not find one to place in the carriage for their afternoon trek. So he picked up an old brick and a piece of ragged cloth, and placed his lifeless “doll” in the ancient, worn-out carriage which had seen many summers.

Then off they went, chanting one of Wordsworth’s poems that was then current in their low-key school.

Very soon, Uncle Ches got tired of the dummy baby in the squeaky carriage. When they drew near the beach, with its whispering, silver waves seeming to arouse his interest, he took the brick doll from its resting place and deposited it in the depths of the sea.

With all their reserved energy, they took off full speed, making the quiet of that Sunday afternoon ring with the sound of broken springs, mingled with their footsteps.

Today Uncle Ches’ daughter, Cousin Clara, says, “Sounds like a typical thing a boy would do. I know it is only boys having fun in bad times.”