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52 - A Pennyworth of Milk



from The Treasury of Newfoundland Stories published, by Maple Leaf Mills Limited, in 1961

About a hundred years ago, when I was a little girl, I used to ask my father to repeat the story of the little boy who went to get a pennyworth of milk in a little brown jug.

This boy was only fifteen at the time, the only son of a widow, and the two of them lived in humble circumstances near a sand-pit in St. John's east end. Because they were so poor, the son wanted to leave home to earn enough money for himself and his mother to live comfortably, but as often as he begged her, that often she refused him, for he was all she had to keep her company. She always said she would rather be poor to the end of her days than have him go away and leave her.

The story began one evening when she discovered she had not so much as a drop of milk in the house for supper. She gave the boy a penny and a little brown jug to fetch some from the neighbors, little knowing what grief was in store for her. He never returned that night.

Twelve years later the old lady was getting her lonely supper ready and thinking, as she always did at this time of day, of her son. It was twelve years to the day since he'd disappeared, but his mother had never once given up hope that he'd come home to her. She was just sitting down to her evening cup of tea when a gentle knock on the door woke her from her daydreams.

She opened the door on a young man, a strange young man, who said simply, "Hello, Mother. Here is your milk." In his hand was the little brown jug she had given him to fetch milk in so many years before.

In the long happy night of talking and planning that followed their reunion, this is the story that the mother heard from her long-lost son: Since he had wanted for so long to get out in the world and earn some money he had just kept on going that night when she sent him for the pennyworth of milk. He hid the jug under a bridge near their home and walked on into St. John's. There he stowed away aboard a sailing vessel bound for faraway Norway. For twelve years he worked in that country and prospered and earned the money he had promised himself as a boy.

Only then did he come home - twelve years later to the day and hour, home with a little brown jug of milk to his loving and lonely mother.



Back to: The Treasury of Newfoundland Stories Menu

This page transcribed by James Butler, 2000
REVISED: August 2002 (Terry Piercey)

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