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Restigouche River, New Brunswick

CARE FREE DAYS

    Looking back to my boyhood days I often think how much times really have changed in the last sixty or seventy years. The boys today, from the time they are born, have everything they need to make them happy. They are overloaded with toys of all kinds, guns, trucks, games, tricycles and bicycles, you name it and they have it and yet they are no happier and less satisfied then we were.
   At Christmas if we were lucky perhaps we got one little cheap toy. I am speaking of the average family of which I was one. There were nine in my family so you can guess that we were not very well off, so if we wanted a toy or something to play with we had to make it ourselves. I remember sawing off blocks of wood to make wheels for a wagon, I planned to build. I got my brothers to help me. The long cross cut saw we were using had not been filed or set for years. It was like pulling a cat by the tail. My brother told me he didn't mind me riding on the saw if I didn't drag my feet. We fought with the saw and fought with one another, then he quit. After I went through all the boys I did manage to get four wheels.
   Now to bore holes for the axles. My father had a big wooden box up over the shed which he always locked with a padlock when he went away for any length of time and I didn't blame him because he knew if he left it unlocked there would be very few tools left when he came home. He also knew I was the one he couldn't trust as I loved to work with carpenter tools. I just had to make that wagon and to make wheels I had to get a hole in each one. I knew there was a hand auger somewhere, so where was it most likely to be - in the big box of course. I thought about it for a long time. Two things bothered me, first how to get into that box without breaking the cover. I could see no way, even if I could my conscience would bother me and my father would never trust me again. What would he think of me, but I just had to have that auger so up I went and with a bar pried off the hasp, breaking the cover as I did so. There was the tool I wanted alright. If you ever tried to bore a hole through a birch wheel ten inches in diameter and one inch thick with a dull auger, you know what I was up against. I got two of my brothers to hold it down on the floor while I did the boring. I hardly got started till the wheel started to turn. I told them to hold harder but it was impossible.
   They told me to go chase myself and left. Believe it or not but it took me two days before I found a way to hold that wheel. I got a long plank and bored a hole in it where I thought the hole in the wheel would be then put the end of the plank under the sill of the wood shed and lined up the hole with the mark where the hole in the wheel would be and with a couple of boys sitting on the plank I bored holes without too much trouble. In a day or so I had what I thought was a masterpiece of work and with it we had a lot of fun. I put the tools back in the big box but I couldn't fix the damage I had done. When Dad came home my mother spoke to him before he found out for himself and lifted a load off my little shoulders.
   Those were happy days - lots of places to explore – swimming holes and places to fish. Every summer a circus came to town. That was the day of all days. Those were the days of the big parade. Everyone was there. People came by horse and buggy, by train and on foot. We boys had seven miles to walk so we got up early in the morning so we could see the train unloading, that would be about daylight. It was very exciting. Then came the parade led by the clowns and the steam organ, and by the way, I doubt if there is one in existence today outside a museum.
    The music wasn't too bad, at least we thought it was lovely. You could hear it for miles. Then came the wagons with the wild animals, walking restlessly back and forth in their cages, lions, tigers and monkeys and dozens of others. Then the girl in the glass cage with the boa constrictors, usually one or two around her neck and a couple more coiled around a brass pole in the middle of the cage.
   These wagons were drawn by the most magnificent horses one could imagine. Snow white and jet black, some times eight horses, two abreast, would be hauling one wagon. Their harness was black and mounted with silver and gold truly a beautiful sight. Then would come the elephants and the camels, the riders dressed in their fancy native costumes. Then the beautiful ladies on white horses, prancing along and lets not forget the Wild Man from Borneo, tearing up and down in his cage in great rage, stopping now and then to grab and rattle the bars and threatening everyone in sight. What he was so mad about I never did find out. There is no parade in the world that can equal the old circus parade. Yes, there are longer parades I will admit, but parades were not so short perhaps a mile long and they held bound.
   Something most parades can't do today. Every minute of the day was one of excitement. We boys didn't have much money. We were lucky if we had five dollars but then we didn't need much, if you didn't gamble on too many games, such as the African dodger or the lucky pin game, but if you did go broke, who cared, this was circus day and it only came once a year. We usually stayed till dark and walked home, tired but happy.
   Yes they were care free days and we were just as happy as the kids today. If we had any money we earned it ourselves and a weekly allowance was unheard of.
   Then we had the Bear Man that came around every summer. Sometimes there would be two men and two bears but usually only one. He had no set time to come. He just appeared one day. We would hear the sound of a bugle coming up the road and we knew it was the Bear Plan. It was a great event for us kids. He wore a uniform; baggy pants, high black leather boots, light brown jacket with brass buttons and a high crown peaked cap and he carried a staff about six feet long with a peaked knob on top and painted with bright colours. With this he controlled the bear and used it in his acts. The bears were huge brown bears, native to Italy.
   The men were Italian and their English was not too good but they could get along. Although the bears were quite gentle he always had a muzzle and held by a short chain. You could ride on his back if you had the courage to do it. Then he would put on quite an act. For twenty cents he would 'climb da pole' usually a clothes line pole, if you had one, ten cents to roll over and play dead. 'Plow da field' for ten cents and for a loaf of bread or a piece of butter he would dance the 'hootsie cutsie', a popular dance at that time. It was as good as a small circus for us kids. The man would thank us and say good-bye. He was always very polite. He would move on to another house. He would be back next year but we never knew if it was the same man or not, but we didn't care, he was the Bear Man.
   Then we had the Monkey Man. We could expect him every summer as well. With him he had a little monkey and a delightful little fellow he was. He would dance to the music of a little crank organ they called the 'Hurdy Gurdy', that the man would set up on a tripod. He dressed the monkey like a little man, pants and jacket with red trim and a cap with red and gold trim. He was a real mimic and he could make a lot of funny faces.
   The man had a tin box and you could put in a few cents if you wished or give him loaf of bread or any food you could spare. He would take anything you had to offer. He would stay for an hour or so. I remember one day he fell asleep under a tree on the road and we played with the monkey He was tied with a little chain and only played at a distance. He would not let us touch him. We were sorry to see him go and looked forward to seeing him next year.
   We had all kinds of characters roaming in those days. There was one man, called him Kelly. No one knew him by another name. I just barely remember but heard the old people say he am about five different summers. No on , knows who he was, where he came from or where he went. He was about forty five or fifty years old, clean shaven and neatly dressed and always carried a black leather bag. What was in that bag was somewhat of a mystery. He seemed to a man of many talents. One year he was a travelling doctor. He had a few bottles of medicine to cure any ill known to man. One year he was a dentist and had a pair of electric forceps to pull teeth without pain. My mother had a bad tooth for some time, so Kelly said: "Why not get it out. With these forceps you won't feel any pain or very little.''
   Not for Kelly, but for my mother it: was a different story. She said afterwards it just about killed her. One year he had an electric belt - a sure cure for sore back. However I will say he had lots of nerve and he asked for nothing for his services. For the electric belt, he gave you an address so you could get one if you needed it. One thing for sure, he was not a peddler or salesman. If you offered him a lunch or asked him to stay for dinner he would gladly stay but he never told anyone his history or what was doing travelling around the country but he would say, I am just an opposition to the government, or say nothing. He travelled all over the country, the main roads, the back roads and to every little settlement, always moving on. Some said he was a detective looking for a murderer but that was only a guess. Kelly disappeared as mysteriously as he came, and, took his secret with him.
   When I was a boy in school, we too had a mystery man. He called himself Professor Reddin. He always came before school holidays. He would suddenly appear at the school and ask the teacher if he could come in as he was interested in children and liked to see them work. At first the teacher was dubious of a strange man in school but he looked clean and neat with a white goatee and he said he was Professor Reddin.
   A professor of what, he didn't say but he seemed awfully interested in the children's work and he was very polite. He said if he could use the hall at lunch time he would put on a little show for the kids. So we went to the hall that was close by, this first time he showed us a sort of blow gun in which he put little arrows into and blew at a target that he set up and he showed us how to make a lot of different things with paper. He entertained us all through the lunch hour. I remember him coming two or three different summers and always had something different to show us. Once he had a dart board and let us throw them and he also could do tricks with coins and other slight of hand tricks. Then one summer he didn't come. What happened to him or why a Professor would be travelling around when the schools were in session will always remain a mystery to me.
   Pack Peddlers were quite common in those days. The men carried great loads of dry goods in striped bed ticking. They first laid out the tick on the floor and laid the dry goods on top and crossed two corners over and tied it in the middle, then crossed the next two corners over and again tied their two ends together, then put this load on their backs with the loops around their forehead.
    Besides this they carried a small jewelry case and we always liked it when he opened this case. He had rings, broaches and many other trinkets and maybe needles and pins and hairpins. He just used his arm for measuring the yard goods. People seemed to trust him as to measurements and prices. I think it was because they had nothing to compare with but they always liked to see them coming. Of course not all peddlers were men, women too were common. They carried two huge baskets one on each hip. I remember one, people called her big Anna. She was a giant Syrian woman, about six feet tall and must have weighed two hundred and carried a load that the average man would have a hard time to lift. She staved at our home many nights and always slept on the floor. She was a jolly woman with a lovely face and we all liked her.
   Mary was another woman peddler. She was small and also carried two baskets. How she carried such a load was amazing. They travelled through the back roads and sometimes were seen twenty miles or more from town. Even in the hot summer days you would see them plodding along the roads. You would have to admire their courage and stamina.
   A well known pack peddler was Mark Tennonhouse. He arrived every summer. lie was a little old man. You could see the pack coming before you could see the man. lie was well known for his ready wit and funny stories. People said he was a wealthy man and had a magnificent home in Montreal. Why he came so far to peddle in that part of the country only he had the answer. He said: "I come here each summer to meet my friends and walk in this beautiful country." He came for many summers but one summer he failed to arrive and only Mark Tennonhouse knew why.

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