A time of scarcity.
While kids growing up in outport Newfoundland today have probably never heard the saying “long hungry month of march”, it was not uncommon seventy or even sixty years ago. I was born in 1939, world war II had just started in Europe, and as part of the then British Empire, many young men from the island nation, volunteered to serve in the trenches. “The dirty thirties” were coming to an end and there was renewed hope all around. Ten years earlier however, things were very different. Newfoundland, like the rest of North America, had been plunged into a depression the likes of which none had seen before.
As was the custom, the fish merchants gave credit to the fishermen in the spring, who then sold them their catch in the fall. Even after this “squarin’ -up time”, as it was locally known, most fishermen were still indebted to the merchant. Many however were able to get some credit to help them through the winter, but during the dirty thirties, the majority had to go on government relief that paid a paltry six cents per day. Desperate times called for desperate measures. Women and children scoured the hills and marshes for berries which would be made into jam and stored away for the winter. During the fishing season, women cut out cod tongues and cod’s heads which would be preserved by salting. Small fish known as Caplin came ashore in abundance, usually in June, and could be taken in buckets. These too would be collected and dried as food for the winter when the land would be covered by snow and the water was ice.
Those too were the days of big families with some households having as many as ten, twelve or more children. The majority would have no income, until April when they would once more venture out on the water, and people had to manage on what was gathered in the summer and fall. Most families grew potatoes and some a few other vegetables, but by the time March rolled along, food supplies were getting low, and everything had to be rationed. Some had nothing left at all and so had to depend on the meagre funds doled out by the government of the day. It’s no wonder people spoke of ‘the long hungry month of March”!
Welcome to Authspot, the spot for creative writing.
Read some stories and poems, and be sure to subscribe to our feed!