Millie's Memories

Juris Graney
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Millie Diamond, 80, reminiscing in her kitchen at Nameless Cove.

Nameless Cove - Millie Diamond leans forward in her chair at the same time an unseen clock strikes three chimes and the fridge in the kitchen of her Nameless Cove home sputters to life.

The 80-year-old's crisp voice rises above the din with effortless ease.

"You ask me something happen yesterday I mightn't be able to think right on, but back years ago there isn't a big lot I've forgotten about," she says with a smile.

"The only thing I can't remember is when I was born. I mean, I don't know what time I was born.

"Someone may have told me but I didn't hear them too much I don't say, but they says I was born in the woods."

The woods in those days were dotted with tilts - refuges that gave protection from the violent winters that struck the crooked shoreline and gave easier access to wood and food.

Before the weather turned, Diamond's father John William Dempster, of Nameless Cove, would drive his two cows into the wooded area known locally as the Lanch. Protected from the elements, once the cattle were settled he would return for his wife, Amy Hughes of Green Island Brook, and the rest of the family.

Clothes, rations for the winter and kids would be piled onto a battered wooden komatik and the dog team would set off for their tilt at Easter Brook Pond.

There they would wait out the winter the best they could.

Ponds were bursting with trout, rabbits were plentiful and birds provided a varied diet for the families, and every now and again they would come into town, or the lanwash, to restock depleted pantries with supplies.

At that time, there were only three children - Anthony, the eldest, Kettie and Millie.

The family blossomed over 20 years to include Gord, Clyde, Donald, Claude and Harold, the youngest.

"Like I said, I don't remember too much of those early days. We never went in after I was four - it was a lot of work for getting ready with the cows and kids," she said.

The school

In 1938, aged seven, Diamond headed off to school.

Even though it would take her just seven minutes to run from her home to school, she was often late. But she proudly admits that during her seven years at school, she was only ever sent home once - and even then she avoided the strap.

The trick was to have a good excuse as to where you were.

"I used to hide away a good many times when I knew I was late," she says, an infectious smile spreading across her face.

"There was an opening down near the United Church in the woods. If we didn't make school, if we were a bit late, instead of losing recess you go there. We called it 'going to grandmother's place.' There was a few trees around they couldn't see you, so I'd go in there until recess time.

"I didn't mind school, I just kept running late.

"Mai, she always used to call me 'book worm', I didn't mind staying up at night. If the night owl stays up all night and sleeps all day why couldn't I do it? I'd read until my eyes got dim."

The ice

One February evening their grandmother, Catherine Hughes of Green Island Brook, came calling.

"I remember it was a cold evening, the wind was coming from the westward," she says, pondering each word.

With supper almost on the table, Grandma Hughes wanted a bottle of lime juice but instead of sending the kids on an errand for one item, mother asked for two pounds of rice and a lamp chimney. Father wanted a stick of baccy.

"It was called Beaver tobacco, the word Beaver was written across the back," she says.

"Back then you could buy a letter so if you didn't have enough money to buy the whole stick well you could buy just the letter, but father wanted a stick."

Dressed in a melton jacket and hand-knitted mittens, 11-year-old Millie and seven-year-old brother Gord, dressed in his royal blue dickie, were dispatched to the store in Flowers Cove.

"We were told not to go on the harbour 'cause it wasn't safe," she says.

"When we got down to Jar Spencer's wharf, our neighbour down the bottom of the harbour, I said to Gord 'we'll go across here and take the short cut and go across to the Mission Wharf.'

"Because I always done what they told me," she winks.

"The wind was blowing so hard it was heaving everything right tight. T'was a little bit of snow but it wasn't nothing for us, but it was really cold."

They made it to the store but by the time they turned to return home, the weather had changed.

"The wind turned and it was coming up from the eastward and that took all those ice pans and everything out of the harbour," she says.

"So where it was snowing so thick, all those ice floes that were gone were filled in with white snow. You didn't know what was safe or unsafe.

"We were going to come back the same way and swear we weren't on the harbour but when we got in about 100 feet a small boat must have come in and Gord fell through."

With a reassuring voice, she calmly told her brother not to panic and to drop the packages he was carrying under his arms. He couldn't touch the bottom but fortuitously his woolen mitts froze almost instantly to an ice pan he was holding on to, meaning he couldn't slip into the murky depths.

As young Millie rounded on her brother to try and help him back onto solid footing, she too went down into the frozen waters.

"When the waves come it was good. When they went out you'd inch yourself down into the water," she says.

"I sung out for help - you'd have heard it in Australia just as good as anybody around there that night. I said 'Dear Lord, give me the strength.'"

When the next wave came, Millie could feel her legs coming up and pushing a pan closer. She flicked her legs up and pulled herself to safety and quickly did the same for her brother. She even managed to collect every one of the parcels that dropped into the water.

With darkness almost upon them and stranded half-frozen across the harbour, she decided to tentatively push on. By the time they got back to the shore they could barely lift their feet as their clothes had frozen.

"Everything was froze," she says. "If you took off your pants you could stand 'em up like you were still standing in 'em. That's honest. That's no lie."

Despite defying strict instructions not to cross the harbour, they avoided a trimming when they got home.

"No b'y, they was too proud. We never got no trimmin' but months afterwards Mai would give me a thimble flick.

"Granny never had nothing to say, she just cried because we got in the water and she thought it was her fault because she wanted a bottle of lime juice."

The work

With every passing school year, a stark realization crept into Diamond's young mind.

While she enjoyed learning, she realized that the more time she spent at school, the less time she was helping her family.

When Bowater's came to town her father took the chance to earn a steady income. Her oldest brother Anthony joined him at age 13 and several years later, when her younger brother Gord turned 14, he too started in at the lumber.

That left young Millie and older sister Kettie to help out around the house.

"Kettie was down in Green Island Brook babysitting for nothing, only for the food she eat, and I wasn't going to look after youngsters just for a cup of tea for my own self," she says.

Five days into Grade 10, at age 14, Diamond quit school.

"Mother cried," she says, pausing. "I can understand years after, but then I didn't. I said I was going to make some money of me own."

"'Where you going to make money around here my child,' she said, and she was right.

"But I did make money because I would help get the wood, water, hay, fish and I'd go out on the boat with father.

"Father went and worked in the woods with a bucksaw and here he was trying to make a living, so how could he get wood and water for home?

"Because I was the third oldest and we'd go out on the boat with father and if they jig a fish, I'd jig a fish because I never ever let anyone try and beat me. There weren't no unemployment back then. Wasn't that making money?

"Then I worked in the stage, cut the fish or if I didn't, Anthony would cut it and I'd hit it. Sometimes he couldn't keep me up with me and I'd call him lazy but to be fair the boy had to fill up the box and heave it up out the boat and wheel it in."

If she wasn't working on the stage or helping her mother, she'd be helping out other family members, but never for money.

"We didn't know what money was until I got working for my own self," she says.

By the time 1949 rolled around, the St. Barbe fishermen's co-op had opened and, at age 18, Diamond began work as a sales clerk, a position she held on and off for 32 years, finally retiring in 1993.

"I quit, my dear, with all that money," she cackles.

Back when gas was 20 cents a gallon, and cream crackers were sold at 15 cents a pound, she started work for $15 a month. Considering the amount of hours she actually worked, that ended up being a grand total of 2.5 cents an hour.

She and the fishermen would get paid when the fish carrying boat, the Isabella H, would dock and pick up the fish. The merchant would pay the co-op who would in turn pay the fishermen and the other employees.

"You'd get paid the last of every month," she says.

"There were no banks back then so I'd go home and take it to my mother. She was the one who looked after me. That money went back into the family.

"Everyone would get their 2.5 cents' worth. That's how it worked b'y. She'd use it to buy whatever she or the family needed."

The wedding

On Dec. 31, 1954, wearing a wedding dress made locally that she paid $8 for, she married her childhood sweetheart, Clarence Diamond, at their Nameless Cove home.

"I was two month older than he, I used to say I was the boss," she laughs.

"The wedding was the biggest kind. We had eight bombardiers full of guests, then those who walked and came on dog team."

The pair had two children - Harvey and Dale.

"He was a jack of all trades: fisherman, lumberjack, carpenter. I got to be honest with you, the only thing he wasn't any good at was making youngsters and washing clothes," she laughs.

"We were married 41 years, seven months and 26 days. I hoped to have another 41 years."

Clarence died July 26, 1995.

The departure

The unseen clock has added two more chimes and suppertime beckons. Diamond stares out the kitchen window over the bed of kelp that has moved into Big Cove.

There's a long silence.

"Did you get all that," she asks, looking at the scrawled notepad.

I nod.

"We talk fast and you listen slow, so you'll probably forget more than I can tell you," she concludes as we wander to the door, giving me one last smile. "Stop by any time you like, my dear, any time."

— The Northern Pen

Organizations: United Church, Bowater

Geographic location: Flowers Cove, Australia, Big Cove

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