REMINISCENCES OF A LIGHTHOUSE KEEPER
July 16, 1980 edition of the Saint Croix Courier (with permission)
Editors Note: Prescott Dines, 83, of St. Andrews is a retired keeper of the Green's Point light which guided vessels through L'Etete passage through long years of service, prior to being de-commissioned in 1963. Mr. Dines has recorded his reminiscences and the newspaper is pleased to print these in instalments. Helene Nielsen of Ottawa, grand niece of Mr. Dines, helped in compiling the material, gleaned from Mr. Dine's recollections of 27 years as keeper of the light.
From this same area, Green's Point, my father chose his bride, Mary, daughter of the local preacher, Joseph Gates. To this marriage was born nine children, five girls and four boys. Two adopted children made their way into our lives, without disrupting more than a little extra squeeze at the table.
To attend the local school we all walked two miles to and from, winter and summer. The lack of a school bus at the door certainly did us no harm.
While in the process of growing up, of course we never missed anything, from 'Chicken Pox' to 'Scarlett Fever'. With the good home care and the professional help of old Dr. Alexander and Dr. Taylor of St. George, we all survived to enjoy a rigorous outdoor life at the station. I think too that the Good Lord must have taken a liking to us.
The one exception, sadly, was my second oldest sister. From studying in the chill of her upstairs bedroom she developed a bad cold which resulted in pneumonia and death at the young age of thirteen years. Unfortunately, it was an era without miracle drugs.
In October 1910, I had my first trip to Boston. As a boy of twelve, I was adequately chaperoned by a Mr. Mane Matthews who lived in Boston. He kindly 'saw to it' that I arrived safely to my destination at friends.
At that time, the Eastern Steamship Line consisted of the Calvin Austin, Governor Dingley and the Governor Cobb. It was my misfortune (I later learned) to be booked on the Governor Dingley.
These three steamers ran regularly between Boston, Portland, Lubec, Eastport, and Saint John. It was my first and last trip on the Governor Dingley. After the trip I was told (as if I didn't know by that time), that she was the worst of the three to roll. This was long before the 'new fangled' stabilizers became a standard item. I was soon well aware that the old Dingley didn't have anything to stop her from rolling--for we rolled all the way to Boston. Seasick? I have never experienced anything like it. Mark Twain summed up my feelings at the time when he wrote of seasickness: 'I would give ALL I own for one half acre of dry land.'
That ship rolled so badly that chairs and other furniture not fastened down, as well as trunks stowed on the lower deck, rolled around at will. Nothing stayed where it had been placed or where it belonged, including my stomach.
My second trip to Boston in 1924, on 'terra firma' was at an average speed of 25 mph in a 1923 Ford touring car, purchased from Harry Simpson of Deer Island.
While at school in my early teens, I was given a leading part in one of our church concerts. To all of us, the concerts were important. It was one of the few 'social' evenings we enjoyed with all the neighbours coming under one roof for the event. Young and old looked forward to it in anticipation.
The day before the concert, I finally finished a kite I had been making. Anxious to see it fly, but the wind being very light that day, I carried it to the roof of one of the flat-topped buildings to give it a better height.
In my effort to get the breeze to take it higher, I took one step too many and landed on my head on the ledge below--minus a few teeth and 'out cold'. Shortly, the family found me and got me to the house. Dad fetched the doctor who sentenced me to a week of absolute quiet in bed. I had suffered a concussion.
The concert committee found a substitute for their downed 'star'--and I gave up kites.
During my closing school year (1914-1915), while studying for high school exams, I developed a kidney ailment that left me flat on my back for most of the winter. Old Dr. Alexander became the 'voice of doom' when he advised my parents not to rely on my ever reaching manhood.
However, he administered the 'Red Medicine' and somewhere between the medicine, the Good Lord and the Town Pump water, I have survived to enter my eighties.
That winter and spring found me at home reading and studying and becoming bored. Mother decided that with so much spare time, I should learn how to knit-- and learn to knit I did. Socks and mittens were soon accomplished and I have never regretted that new found skill.
In fact, it became my wife's secret weapon during World War II. As was the custom, yarn was delivered to the ladies in the area to be knitted into socks for our members of the Armed Services. In our two-man assembly line, I would knit the legs of the socks and pass them on to my wife who 'turned' the heel and knitted the feet. With this method, she was able to pass in more completed socks than most and 'piqued' the curiosity of the local ladies. How could this woman knit them up so fast? Knitting machine? We never revealed her secret.
As I improved somewhat in health, my Dad gave me a few dollars to act as 'assistant to the Assistant Keeper', an elderly man we called Harve, who had been hired for that post.
When the Steam Fog Alarm was in operation, the boilers had to be kept between minimum and maximum. If the steam got too low, the old horn made rather a long blast; on the other hand, if it got too high, the safety valve would POP and everything in the engine room would be covered in water and condensation. The ensuing cleanup job would be the worst of all.
As I recall it now, it is apparent to me that my Dad did not altogether trust the old man to stay awake, especially from 6 p.m. until 12 midnight......a large part of my job was to keep the old man awake.
I learned to use many ploys and I doubt that Harve ever suspected any of the 'on purpose' accidents...such as the chair that always used to upset with a great deal of clatter, or the big coal shovel that I clumsily dropped close by him on the cement floor.
When awake, Harve was usually devouring one of his novels. One I remember in particular was called Thorns and Orange Blossoms (a love yarn).
My two younger brothers used to delight in teasing Harve. One of their favorite pastimes took place in the spring when the ice on the outdoor reservoir was spongy but able to support their weight.
At these times Harve would be pelted with snow balls and in true Keystone Cop fashion, would set out chasing the boys who would take a short cut across the unreliable ice. The ending would be predictable...the boys would make it safely to the other side and old Harve would take a very cold plunge.
As a boy, I would look forward every spring to the coming of the Indians. They came from Pleasant Point, Maine and Indian Point, St. Andrews. They were either Passamaquoddy or Micmac and they came in their canoes, laden with baskets to sell--the product of the long winter months just past.
April would be cold some years and many nights my dad allowed them to stay in the buildings. They would bed down on the cement floors near the steam boilers. This warm berth was much appreciated by them.
One day when the fog horn was in operation, a big Indian stepped into the Fog Alarm building. After watching all the moving parts working automatically, he paid his compliments to the original planning engineer by saying, "Him big know."
Many times during the summer months, these Indians came to the mouth of L'Etete Passage to shoot porpoise which they pelted and then smoked the red body meat.
I have seen two of these men in their canoe come ashore with two porpoises in the canoe and towing a third behind. Their agility at standing in the canoe and discharging a 12 gauge shotgun without upsetting the canoe, never ceased to amaze me.
One time, two Indians, John Nicholas and his son William, left Fry's Island with their sail set, the wind being quite favourable but rather squally. Their canoe upset, but my father spotted them and rowed to their rescue.
Perhaps the most colourful of these Indian visitors, was a large man we called Big Noel. Noel would often come to visit my father, usually cheered on his way with rum.
I do remember one day in particular, we spotted Noel paddling towards us as we stood at the shore. We could readily see the difficulty with which he made his way. The rum had slowed his co-ordination to the point that the paddle seemed to be a useless propeller.
He sat quite still in the canoe after reaching the beach. My father asked what was the matter. Noel raised himself slowly and carefully. As he did, he lifted his empty jug and tucked under his arm a piece of pork about the size of a cracker.
'Sydney, it's a case of too much rum and not enough pork.'
Many small boats used by sardine fishermen went aground in their day to day quest for fish, but happily in most cases, floated again in the next tide.
It follows, in boating, as in any other vocation, that 'anyone who never made a mistake, never made anything'. I have always admired the many keen men and captains of vessels in the sardine industry, that go their rounds day and night.
My admiration is especially for the men of Deer Island and Grand Manan, who learned early to navigate the many channels and islands, knowing that in the darkness and constant fog, only minutes separated them from disaster. Their daily lives were in constant struggle to survive against the cold, darkness, water and the frustrations of the early gasoline engines that had their regular fits of stop and start.
Occasionally, these tireless men would indulge in what were called fishermen picnics. Either in small groups or large gatherings, they would sing and yarn endlessly. As the throats became better lubricated with 'spirits', the singing became the best you'd ever want to hear and of course the yarns took on a quality that claimed the attention of all who listened.
In the year 1910, the fishermen held one of their grand picnics. As a boy of twelve I was mesmerized...bands playing, booths selling the most wonderful things, games, hot chowder, ball games and land and water races.
Chowder was served in an old house near the ball field and I ate and enjoyed the steaming meal in the serving room of the old house.
Afterwards, my curiosity about the doors leading to other rooms in the house led me to open one of these doors and look in. I couldn't believe my eyes, (which probably looked like they may pop out of my head anytime.) There before me sat several women smoking, not cigarettes but real old T. D. (clay) pipes. These pipes were made of white clay and after much smoking turned brown. When really old and ripe, they became quite black.
Several rowing races took place that day...four oars, two oars and single rowing races. As I remember it, the Government Fishery Patrol Boat Curlew was in port and of course none of the local fishermen like to see that vessel anywhere near by. The Curlew had their rowing boat all 'slicked up' for the four oar race. Soon a team of able bodied men from Back Bay challenged them, using an old Saint John salmon skiff as their entry. The crew from Back Bay included Zack McGee, Orbin Harris, Harlin Kinney and Wilfred Kinney. These men easily out distanced the Curlew crew.
Then the Leavitt boys from Leavitt Head challenged these winners. John, Dave, Seymour and Ebin Leavitt effortlessly won the race in their 14' fisherman's Lunenburg dory. John and Seymour Leavitt went on to win the two man rowing race in an eighteen foot 'pea pod' built by Fred Frye of Back Bay. The prize for this race was donated by Dr. H. I. Taylor of St. George. It was a pair of opera glasses, possible value of $25.00. My dad afterwards bought them from the men for $10.00, as the men said the money would do them much better than glasses. I have them today.
End of Part 2
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©Charlene Beney 2006