My Life in Short Form:
Stories from my early life in King’s Point, Newfoundland
by Jerry Rideout
Self published by Jerry Rideout (firstname.lastname@example.org)
$25.00 316 pages
A couple of years ago, Jerry Rideout started posting stories on the King’s Point Facebook page. He’d grown up there, though he now lives in Nova Scotia. It proved so popular he decided to write a story a week, and they in turn were such crowd-pleasers he decided to publish them in book form.
Self-published work can be unprofessional, but this writing is pretty solid.
Rideout was born into a family of five daughters and then five sons (“I worked it out awhile back, and the chances of that happening are 0.000095 per cent.”); he was the fourth of the five boys. King’s Point in the 1950s and 1960s was a community of two one-room schoolhouses, with Springdale the nearest hub.
When I was a young boy in King’s Point, it was quite common for a family to move to another part of town, or for that matter, to another town altogether. But, unlike today when the routine is to sell your current abode and buy another, back then in Newfoundland, families took their houses with them.
His father ran a sawmill, and later his parents managed a small store. The author has good recall and a knack for relating details, but he’s also very funny.
“Mr. Janes (he writes of a neighbor) was a jack-of-all-trades. That was not such a special ‘handle’ in King’s Point since everyone else was also a jack-of-all-trades, but unlike the rest of them, Cecil was willing to do any type of job ... Out of all of Cecil’s talents, however, moving houses was one of his specialities. When I was a young boy in King’s Point, it was quite common for a family to move to another part of town, or for that matter, to another town altogether. But, unlike today when the routine is to sell your current abode and buy another, back then in Newfoundland, families took their houses with them. A young lad may have gone to school in the morning and waved goodbye to his mom, only to find upon his return, a vacant lot with skid marks headed down the road. If she was reasonably steady on her feet, his mom may have even prepared supper ‘en route.’”
Then there was his family’s evening ritual.
“Dad (who had never learned to read, but was a whiz with numbers) would sit in his old armchair and close his eyes. My sisters would disappear out the door, and my brothers and I would gather around Mom. She sat near the oil lamp, adjusted her bifocals, and carried us all off to the (Zane Grey) Wild West. (My God, I just realized: I grew up in the Walton family!)”
Not all aspects of childhood were idyllic.
“Getting a haircut can be traumatic for a lot of youngsters, especially the first time they are placed in the barber’s chair. My childhood was no different: it seemed to be a constant series of terrifying encounters with the local barbers ... my personal barber (Ian) just happened to be my father. Even though Dad did not serve in the army he believed, almost religiously, in the military-style haircut.”
It was part of being a kid in a big family.
“Youngsters were always assigned chores, which had to be completed before any of us were allowed to play. We were responsible for feeding the dog(s), gathering and splitting firewood, and going to the store (a 7-km walk).”
King’s Point then was a place of both more adventure and more safety then today.
“There wasn’t much trouble that one could get into ... It was a time before drugs were in vogue, and you had to drive to Springdale if you wanted a beer ...When I recall my sisters stepping out in the evening they would be dressed up in bobby socks and some evenings, in boots with fur trim. Sometimes there were even crinolines involved. For those of you who weren’t around then, or haven’t been to a Hollywood red carpet event, a crinoline is a stiff, hoop-like structure worn under a formal evening gown or wedding dress. The whole get-up looked like a tent; the girl was the tent pole in the middle.”
Rideout left King’s Point in 1970, first to study in St. John’s, then for more training in Nova Scotia. That meant taking the ferry, which was subject to weather delays, confiscated troves of vegetables, and the one and only CN strike.
One crossing was “a little choppy ... Maybe if they found us in a lifeboat in the morning — or worse, our frozen corpses — it would be the only way we would arrive in Sydney. When I staggered up to look out at the front, I was horrified to see the bow diving into the thirty-foot seas, the waves washing over the deck and swirling around the bridge. When I retreated to my cabin and tried to forget about what was happening on the outside, I was thrown – twice! – from my bunk. I finally fell asleep (or fainted), and when I came to, we had arrived safely in port.”
Rideout displays a nice mixture of respect for the memories, without taking himself too seriously.
Joan Sullivan is editor of Newfoundland Quarterly magazine. She reviews both fiction and non-fiction for The Telegram.