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Writer's Corner- New Brunswick

Uncle Enochs’ Wake
By Barry L. Hatt

   Enoch Elmer Hatt, 4 June 1906 – 4 September 1979. An obituary in the paper along with the names of living relatives still leaves a great deal unsaid. Enoch was a special person to me. He lived in L’Etang, Charlotte County and the day of his funeral and subsequent wake turned out to be special too, and a bit scary, but I am getting ahead of my story.

   I have been fortunate to come from a loving family. Many of my aunts and uncles have lived in Charlotte County; in and around L’Etang, St.George, Blacks Harbour, Back Bay and surrounding communities. (That should include most of them.) They are the ones that I got to know best because cousins usually make good friends. The open door policy was the order of the day and if mischief was being practiced, an aunt or uncle was expected to set you straight if you were at their place.

   The late 50’s and early 60’s were times of great imagination and exploration on the part of the youth. We didn’t have all the electronic gadgetry that is around today. Family values were important and everyone knew who their aunts and uncles were and any family gatherings usually took place out at the Old Homestead.

   If you look at a map, L’Etang lies about 7km south of St.George. The L,Etang Peninsula at that time was accessed by a dirt road. At the end of one of the three forks in the road, overlooking L’Etang Harbour, stood the ‘Old Homestead’, or to most people, Uncle Ene’s (Short for Enoch.)

   Uncle Ene lived there alone, at the end of the road, and enjoyed having people visit. His sisters were always checking up on him to make sure that he wasn’t in need of anything. A more beautiful setting for a homestead would be hard to find. The house is situated on the plateau overlooking the harbour. Islands and coves accentuate the harbour with the Connors Bros. farms of Blacks Harbour in the distance. In those days there were two old boat wrecks on the shore to play in, as well as fields on the lower plateau and lots of wooded areas for many and sundry games. In the spring the lilac bush near the house always was full and left that welcome scent in the air around the yard.

   Uncle Ene was one of 13 children. Because his hair had fallen out when he was young, he was bald headed. I don’t know if it was because he was self-conscious about it or not but he never got around to getting married. That may be why he had a special place in his heart for children. We all knew that he loved us and could do no wrong when we were with him. Our parents might be ready to discipline us for some wrong we had committed and Uncle Ene would come out with a laugh, put us on his knee and make light of it and then shoo us outdoors to play.

   The frequent gatherings at the Old Homestead were great times for the many cousins to play and develop great friendships. Our aunts really knew how to cook, (still do) and the meals were enjoyed by all present.

   I can still see Uncle Ene sitting at the table when one of us youngsters would come in the kitchen. He would say something like; “I suppose you want a cookie”, and would go ambling across to the cupboard to get one. When that lucky child went back outdoors to play and the others saw his special reward the mad dash for the kitchen would begin. There was a storm door to the kitchen with a spring on it that was alive with the ‘bang’ of children running in and out.

   Uncle Ene usually dressed the same each day. He had dark pants with braces, a red or green checked shirt and black rubber boots. There was nothing pretentious about him. He also had one of those tweed hats that snapped at the front. He wore that hat most of the time except for meals.

   Because Aunt Dot, (Dorothy) was the closest sister she usually took Uncle Ene to town on Saturday morning for his weekly supplies. Saturday morning was the most looked for day of the week for me. That was the morning that Uncle Ene came to visit us. We lived out on the main road, between St.George and Back Bay and later in the morning after Uncle Ene got back from shopping he would saunter down the road to our place.

   In his pockets he always brought us a treat. It was always a game to see who would find the two brown bags that he always had, one with maple buds and the other with peanuts.

   My family moved to Toronto in 1965 but the saying “You can move a boy out of the country but you can’t move the country out of the boy” holds true. Toronto proved too fast for me and I moved back to N.B. in 1971. I worked in Fredericton but still went to St.George and L’Etang on weekends. Aunt Dot told me that I always had a place to stay and treated me like one of her own. She and Uncle Eddy were almost like second parents to me. If I was there on a Saturday morning aunt Dot would often ask me if I would take Uncle Ene to do his shopping. I got to enjoy those outings.

   Enoch Hatt was quite a character. He had a great sense of humour and had strong opinions on a diverse number of topics. You might say that his language could get quite colourful when he got excited. If he didn’t like someone, they knew it and the opposite was also true. Stubborn and cantankerous are words that I have heard people use to describe him and at times he probably did display those characteristics but he loved life and always had a special place in his heart for children, which more than offset the negative.

   His trips to St.George would include stops at Vaughan Dewars and Seymour MacKays on Main Street to pick up the few items that he would need to get him through a week, as well as a stop at Boyds for some Double Dipped chocolates made by ‘Ganongs’ and a plug of ‘Club’ chewing tobacco. Before leaving town he would tell me he had to stop to visit ‘Uncle Ben’, who worked at the Government Store. There he would get a pint; “ For medicinal purposes only.” His sense of humour came through once when he told me: “ Those damn fools tell you rubbing alcohol is good for aching bones, I think it’s better to take this kind inside and let it seep out.” That said, he was not a heavy drinker, although he would enjoy a sociable sip from time to time.

   On some Saturday evenings my friends and I would drop in on Uncle Ene, just to visit. We might play a game of cribbage or just sit and talk. Some animated discussions and sparks of that colourful language could develop if you brought up anything concerning politics. It was also interesting to get him talking about his younger years, when he spent a winter at a lumber camp, weir fishing, or explaining how the family had to stock up on food supplies for the winter.

   In one story he told about heading to Eastport, Maine, for supplies. This was in the 1930’s and the family owned an old yacht, the ‘Edith’, which had been altered to carry herring. The ‘Edith’ had an old ‘ make and break’ engine that chugged along. To help speed it along they had left the mainsail attached. This particular trip to Eastport was with a load of herring to sell and after unloading they stocked up on their winter supplies. Usually more than one family went along so there would be a considerable amount of supplies coming home including salt pork, sugar, salt, flour and molasses. Most years it was Elisha, Bob and Dave Leavitt, Hazen Hatt, Artimus Hatt who was my Grandfather, and Uncle Enoch.

   By the time they finished loading there was a gale blowing and for some reason the Harbour Patrol was out to make an example of some Canadians for not declaring their goods. (There is a possibility that the Harbour Patrol thought that some restricted items such as alcohol could have been on board.) As soon as the yacht cleared the break-water a patrol boat left the wharf behind them and put on its’ siren to stop them. Well, this was their winter supplies and they were not about to stop and take the chance of losing it, so the order came to raise the sail. The wind was blowing so hard that one of the stays holding the mast let go as soon as the mainsail took the wind, but the others held. The patrol boat took a couple of 30 foot waves bow first and decided that it was best to return to the protection of the wharf.

   The trip to the relative safety of L’Etang Harbour was a fast one with the sail full and the old engine chugging along. Fear of a telephone call to alert Canadian authorities helped make the decision to run the boat up on the main beach to aid in the unloading of supplies. Hazen Hatt hoisted a 46 gallon drum of supplies on his shoulders and went up through the woods with it, by himself, and in like manner the boat was quickly unloaded.

   The men back then were hearty indeed. Their everyday work was either fishing or working in the woods, depending on the season, so they were in good shape, and generally strong. No authorities showed up but that trip to Eastport for supplies has certainly lived on through the years.

   Enochs’ years of chewing tobacco finally caught up with him and he died of cancer on September 4, 1979. Again the old homestead became the focal point of the family, who had come from far and wide for the funeral. Also at this time Hurricane David to be blowing out in the Bay of Fundy. I felt that this was a special occurrence, a highlight for Uncle Ene in his passing and something else to remember him by.

   Enochs’ brothers and sisters were mainly gathered in the kitchen at the homestead while most of the nephews and nieces were in the living room. We of the younger generation were of the consensus that we should hold a wake to celebrate his life. We all felt that Uncle Ene would have wanted us to do that rather than just mourn his going.

   While the storm was raging we were comfortable inside. The old enterprise wood stove was burning and brought welcome heat into the house. A meal had been prepared and eaten. Both generations felt that they had paid a proper farewell to Enoch and the gathering began to break up in the early evening.

   I was staying at Aunt Dots that evening and had retired at a respectful hour for once. At about 11:15pm I heard the phone ring. A feeling that something was wrong came over me as I heard Uncle Eddy speaking to someone on the phone and immediately afrerwards moving around upstairs so I got dressed and went up to see if there was anything wrong.

   Uncle Eddy, (Actually his name was James Edward Anderson but everyone called him Eddy,) was Captain of one of the Connors Bros. sardine boats, the Strathlorne . The phone call was to inform him that a SOS had been received. A yacht was reported to be going down out in the Bay of Fundy and any of the fleet that could respond were asked to help. As Uncle Eddy was readying himself to go I arrived upstairs. When he explained what was going on I asked if I could go with him. He may have hesitated just a second but replied; “If you want to.”

   I know, I know, what was I thinking about? Well to me Uncle Eddy was one of the best captains around. He had been at sea since he was a youngster. He could build anything that he put his mind to. He knew more about automobile engines than most mechanics and if he was going out on the Bay of Fundy to try and save someone then it was a perfectly safe place to be. The big mistake that I made was to eat a potato covered with some sort of sauce just as we were leaving. I was thinking of being marooned without any food I guess but should have thought of anything else before I ate that potato.

   We arrived in Blacks Harbour and already some of the boats had gone out. It is refreshing to watch a captain get ready to leave port. There is an air of efficiency and awareness that comes from years of experience that helps to calm the mind. On board there were six of us. Uncle Eddy at the helm with two gentlemen, one at each of the front side windows and the other two at the rear side windows. I was stationed in the middle, behind Uncle Eddy and between the two at the rear side windows.

   After we left the safety of the harbour I became amazed at how hard the wind was blowing and how high the waves were. I think the Strathlorne was a 45 foot vessel but out in the hurricane it was like a small dinky toy. The waves and wind would throw it into an approaching wave and the sea in all its fury would wash over and along the decks only to have the on-coming wave throw it the other way.

   I was amazed at how quickly I got my sea-legs. Standing in the middle as I was it seemed that my legs were going up and down like pistons as the boat listed 45 degrees to one side and then the other. I was amazed that there were so many boats out that night and was told that even the Princess of Acadia, a ferry, was out looking for the sinking boat. The lights on the other boats were like bobbing corks on the horizon. As we searched and were thrown around the initial fear that we were going to be amongst the lost was replaced with the knowledge that the sardine carriers were well made indeed and that the captains of them were a special breed. I might even have enjoyed the wild ride a bit more if that potato that I had eaten wasn’t rolling around inside me and giving me an upset stomach.

    I don’t know for sure how long we were out there but word came for the boats to return to port. It was on the way back in that I excused myself and changed places with the gentleman on my right. The window slid open and I relieved myself of the potato that had been tormenting me. I felt immediate relief and said thank you and again changed places with him.

   We found out afterwards that the SOS had been a hoax. Whoever did it will be accountable some day for risking the lives of dozens of men who without thought for their own lives immediately left the shelter of home to aid a mariner in trouble. I have a great respect for the captains of the Sardine Carriers. Theirs is not an easy job, there are no regular hours of work yet they carry out their work with a well earned sense of pride.

   Uncle Enes’ wake turned out to be something that I could never forget and I also got to spend time with my Uncle Eddy as well, at ease in his element. Uncle Eddy passed on in November, 1988. It is interesting that the two Uncles that I got to know the best came to me in dreams after they had died. They both looked like they would have when they were in their prime and they were doing things that they would have enjoyed. Uncle Ene was out walking in a beautiful forest and Uncle Eddy was tuning an engine on a beautiful boat that he was captain of. They may have been only dreams but I felt a special closeness to them and a thankfulness that is difficult to put into words, after I awoke.

   We all have family, friends or acquaintances that have special stories or loves that we should take time to hear or to know. The more we can learn to listen, the more we can come to understand and to love. Let us be thankful for our families, past and present.

Barry Hatt lives in Fredericton. You may contact him through his e-mail address which is blhatt@rogers.com

THE END

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