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7 - Uncle Michael

 

 

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

In a small secluded hamlet, by a rill of laughing water
In a bay called Bonavista, of the Island Terra Nova,
Dwelt a man whose name was Michael.

Thin he was, and small of stature, but his life was good and noble
And by all he was respected; loved was he, and well respected
Was this man whose name was Michael.

"Uncle Mike" the children called him, and to them he was a wonder,
Teller of the wondrous stories, doer of the little kindness
That the heart of childhood treasures, and remembers for a lifetime.
Sitting on the beach at daytime, mending nets or painting dories,
Uncle Mike was often called on, by the happy carefree children,
Here to fix a broken dolly, there the skipping rope to mend.
And the parents were reminded, looking at this kindly person
Of the Lord, the children's friend.
Far away from this primeval scene of rural, simple beauty,
Uncle Michael had a daughter, living in the State of New York,
Living in the land of plenty. Cultured, educated, traveller
Was this child of Terra Nova, from the little sheltered hamlet,
By the rill of laughing water in the Bay of Bonavista,
Taken from unhappy Michael, when his wife had died and left him,
Left him with the tiny infant, puzzled, sad, and quite heart-broken.
Glad was he to see his sister, coming from the State of New York,
Coming from the land of plenty, offering to take the infant,
And to rear it with her children, bring it up, and educate it
And to make a lady of it.

So with heart o'erflowed with sorrow, Uncle Michael gave the infant,
Gave his daughter to his sister, living in the land of plenty,
Living in the State of New York.

Years had passed, but Uncle Michael seldom saw his little daughter,
Seldom saw the little infant, that he loved, but had to part with.
Once or twice when she was tiny,visits here were short and hasty
Lest the child should become tainted by the humble, simple background
Of the Bay of Bonavista in the land of Terra Nova.
So the years found Uncle Michael, growing older, bent and drooping,
With the weight of many summers, with the weight of many sorrows,
But unselfish, kind and cheerful, doing here and there a kindness for a neighbour:
Chopping wood, and bringing water, minding children, telling stories.
Uncle Michael was a byword; Uncle Michael was respected,
Loved and honoured by his neighbours, by his neighbours and their children.

Then one day, one day in autumn, Uncle Michael had a letter.
"You have a letter," said the postman, "and I think it's from the Mainland",
As he passed it through the wicket, in the little makeshift office.
"Must be from your lady daughter far away across the ocean,
Far away across the sea."

Uncle Michael turned the letter, in his hand he turned it over,
Many times he turned it over, ere he found the urge to read it,
Read the closely well-writ pages, pages written by his daughter.
Sat he down upon a dory, on a tarred, and painted dory,
And began to scan the pages, written by his well-loved daughter.
As he read, his heart was anguished.

"Father, I am coming for you, I will take you from that hamlet
Where you've lived so long and lonely, take you to the land of plenty.
To America I'll take you; all your sorrows will be over,
You'll be fed, and clothed, and cared for. I'll be coming for you,
Father,
I am leaving here tomorrow".

Out across the rippling water of the Bay of Bonavista,
Uncle Michael gazed so sadly, and his eyes were filled with teardrops.
Gazed he out across the ocean, and his thoughts were of his daughter.
She will come, and take me with her, carry me across the ocean.
To America she'll take me, but my heart is in this hamlet,
By this rill of laughing water, in the Bay of Bonavista.
Uncle Michael sighed so loudly that the children 'round him gathered,
Wondering why he looked so downcast, wondering why he was so saddened.
"I may have to go and leave you," Uncle Michael told the children,
Told the earnest wide-eyed children as they stood around the dory.
"Far across the sea I'm going to a land of full and plenty,
But my heart will never leave you. In my thoughts I will remember,
Will remember all you children and our happy years together.
Though I go across the ocean, I will always be a Bayman,
Always be a Newfoundlander. I don't yearn for scenes of grandeur."

So by plane came Michael's daughter, came by plane, and train and water,
Came to take her father with her, to the land of full and plenty.
To the simple little hamlet came his girl of wealth, and beauty,
Product of the Mainland wealthy, to her birthplace, Terra Nova.

All the neighbours crowded 'round her, welcomed her with loving kindness
For the sake of Uncle Michael, for the sake of him they honoured.
Proud were they to see her beauty, glad to see she knew her duty,
Knew her duty to her father, and they loved her for her kindness.
Came the day when Uncle Michael, dressed in clothes so strange and new-like,
Not in dungarees and sweater, not in knee boots and sou'wester,
But in store-bought suit and collar, took his last look at the harbour,
At the fishflakes and the stages, said goodbye to all his cronies,
Friends of his since early childhood, all true friends, and simple hearted.

Sad were they to see him going yet were glad to see him cared for,
Glad to know he would be sheltered, fed and clothed and have no worries.
But their hearts were sad within them, as they grasped his hand and muttered
Farewells in their homely way, in their honest homely way.
In the swift, high, soaring airplane, Uncle Michael sat bewildered,
Too bewildered to be lonely. All about him clouds of whiteness,
Little homes for dolls below him, lakes like pans of water,
Rivers like a ribbon winding.
Fain he would be in a dory, in a dory or a schooner,
But his daughter reassured him.
Kind was she, and understanding.
So Uncle Michael sat and wondered, marvelled at the works of God.
Until now he'd never travelled, never journeyed from his birthplace.
Now the broad Atlantic Ocean lay below him in its beauty.
He had seen the mighty ocean only where it touched the harbour
Of the place from which he came,
And he wondered at its vastness, at its beauty and its greatness.
Sweeping swiftly through the heavens, soon the ocean lay behind him.

Tall and wondrous were the buildings, bright, and modern, oh! so strange-like,
Did they seem to Uncle Michael.
To this simple Newfoundlander from the Bay of Bonavista,
Coming from a quiet hamlet, all the world seemed mad and crazy,
Speeding, rushing, clamour, clatter, all about him left and right.
Till he thought he should go crazy, hardly knowing day from night.
Broadway's nights, Manhattan splendor, neon-lights, skyscrapers tall ...

Uncle Michael gazed in wonder, wondered why they liked it all.
As for him, his thoughts were ever far away in Newfoundland.
Far across the broad Atlantic, Uncle Michael's thoughts would wander.
Day by day he grew more lonely, thinking of the little children,
Thinking of his stage and dory, of the gardens, and the fishflakes,
and the kind old friends of childhood.
So the daughter saw her father, daily growing pale and thinner.
Thin he was and very quiet, and his eyes had lost their brightness,
Lost their lustre and their sparkle. Day by day he grew more saddened.
So his daughter, growing anxious, asked him why he was not happy,
If he missed his old companions, if he longed for old surroundings.
Uncle Michael, sad and wistful, gazing out across the city,
Out across the tall skyscrapers, said "My days may not be many,
So I'd like for you to take me, take me to our little village
In the Bay of Bonavista, in the land of Terra Nova."

So the swift, high-soaring airplane once again took Uncle Michael,
Took him back to Terra Nova, took him back to Bonavista,
Brought him safely to his birthplace, to his friends and to the children,
To his garden and his dory.
As his friends stood 'round to greet him
As they gathered 'round to welcome, Uncle Michael's heart was happy.
Glad was he, and oh so grateful,
To be back among his people,
And these words they heard him utter, as he gazed across the harbour:
"I will always be a Bayman though across the sea I've travelled.
Wondrous sights I saw and marvelled,
But to me no spot so precious
As this Bay of Bonavista.
So I'm still a Newfoundlander,
Till I die, a Newfoundlander."

 

 

Back to: The Treasury of Newfoundland Stories Menu

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

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