Change and Tragedy.

The war was still raging in Europe in early 1944 but since there had  been no volunteers from Little valley, the community had not been affected as others had. It was true that several young men had wanted to go “overseas” but in all cases a mother’s tears had prevailed. Another result of the war however, was about to have it’s affect on the tiny hamlet. When  America entered the war in 1942, it had found that Newfoundland, being the closest of the Americas to Europe, to be an ideal location for Military Bases.  One such base was built at Fort Pepperell near St. John‘s, and now word reached Little Valley that two eighteen year old girls from the community, Lizzie Henley and Vida Samson, who had gone to St. John’s to visit relatives were  working on the base! The news was the talk of the town for weeks and many other young girls whispered excitedly to each other about finding work there, or at the base in Argentia, in Placentia Bay. Their parents, they knew would object, but  a precedent had already been set ,and besides rumour had it that the pay was better than that made by most men in outport Newfoundland.

Eli bought a radio that winter, one of only six in the community.  Adam watched in excitement as his father placed the radio and the large battery that accompanied it, on the shelf that had been built especially for that purpose. While he helped his father figure out which plug-ins went where, his older brothers were busy  installing a ground wire, and another that must extent at least twenty feet into the air. Eventually, all was ready and after many crackling noises, as Eli adjusted the dial, a man’s voice could be heard as he read the latest weather forecast for the island. Everyone smiled, now they could get the latest news from St. John’s and even hear the war news from the mother country.  Eli had already warned his sons that batteries for the radio were very expensive and that they could listen to only a few programs, other than news.  His older brothers looked forward to  hearing The Big 6, a weekly 15 minute program of Irish music, sponsored by a business of the same name in St. John’s . Adam however, was hoping his father would agree to his listening to the last period of the NHL game from Toronto on Saturday nights. He had heard just one broadcast of a hockey game in his life and had been immediately hooked. 

It was now eleven years since Newfoundland had given up it’s self government and agreed to be governed by a commission, and now that conditions in the country were improving, voices were being raised, particularly in St. John’s, calling for the resurrection of self government and the return to Dominion status. Adam, even at the youthful age of thirteen, listened to all news broadcasts, and  showed a keen interest in all things political. Eli and Mary sensed an ambition in their youngest son and were determined that he would complete high school. Perhaps he would become a teacher or a clerk in one of the merchant’s stores in Petersview.  Adam’s ambitions however went far beyond any dreams that his parents might have. A year earlier he had persuaded the teacher that the school in Little Valley should take part in the Department of Education’s Travelling library program and now new books were being exchanged every two months. Adam, with his unfathomable thirst for knowledge read every book and coupled with the fact that he followed not only every local, but even all world news with an insatisfiable appetite, was probably one of  the best educated  people, not only in Little Valley but anywhere along the coast.

That was the winter that Joseph Crawley, just six months older than Adam, but who had already quit school, fell through the ice and drowned. It had happened in late March when few people ventured unto the fast disappearing ice. The event would remain forever itched in Adam’s memory, as the two had been talking just five minutes earlier, in fact Joseph had taunted him for being afraid to walk on the ice. Adam had even witnessed the tragedy. Where Joseph had been just seconds before, there was now only open water. Adam ran for help but it was all to no avail, Joseph’s body would not be recovered until almost a week later. The Community as a whole gathered to support the family though everyone was in shock and mourning. Later that night as Adam and Simon lay in bed unable to sleep, they were both grateful for each others company. When Adam did fall into a fitful sleep, it was to see again the open water where Joseph had been just a minute before, and to hear the boy’s mother call his name over and over again as she was led away from the shore and back to the house to which she knew Joseph would never return.

Father Ryan arrived the next morning and spent most of the day with Joseph’s parents, four brothers and five sisters. Later he talked with the men about their efforts to recover the body but agreed that little more could be done at the moment. Because of the likelihood that Joseph’s body would wash up on the beach, the men kept a strict outlook and children were warned to stay away. It was Joseph’s father, Mark Crawley and Sylvester McCarthy who would find the body six days later. Adam, who was one of those asked to help carry the coffin to the church, and later up the hill to the cemetery, felt as if he was living a dream. Most of the young people, both boys and girls, who gathered around the grave cried openly. Death was something that happened to the old, never one of their own. The roads of Little Valley was silent that night as young people elected to stay at home or with friends.

As the end of the school year approached, Adam began looking forward to returning to the fishing boat. The Cod fishery was of to a good start and his father had promised him a full share this year.  The war in Europe was also drawing to a close, though Japan was showing no signs of surrendering. Adam felt that a new era was coming and there were signs even in remote Newfoundland outports.  Three more young women from Little Valley had gone to work on American bases, and talks were beginning between Newfoundland and Britain  to put together a National Convention to decide the Island’s future. Next year he would be in high school and if they continued to see good years in the fishery, he might be able to put away a little money for college.

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