Tall tales and a puppy dog

Online First Pictou Island Memories

I had indicated in a previous story about people visiting years ago with relatives and friends on Pictou Island during summer months. I would like to reflect back and recount times when my aunt and uncle with their family from Pictou did the same.

Victor and Julie Hemmings along with their only two children at that time, Ralph and Carolyn, would usually spend time each summer with us.  As long as I can remember, my Aunt Julie loved to entertain herself by picking any kind of berry. There was a field below our house that contained about five acres of wild blueberries. Here those delicious berries would grow in abundance every summer. One could literally pick hand fulls from the vines. Aunt Julie would spend hour upon hour in that berry field when she came to the island.

We also had a pretty good beach for swimming on the south side of our property and this beach was usually the centre of activity on hot summer days. My cousin Ralph and I, being the same age and being a couple of young adventurers, would explore all possibilities on the island when we got together. One of our favoured things that we used to do was camp out in my tent. I recall to mind one night when we were about six or seven years old. We were feeling real brave and decided to set the tent up next to the woods behind our barn. This was going to be a big adventure for a couple of kids – especially for the one I called a townie.

A short time prior to Ralph’s visit, we had received a black Lab pup from Dougie Patterson. (We naturally named the pup Doug). Now it would probably have been about midnight when Ralph and I were tucked into our sleeping bags and listening to the frogs singing in our pond. I guess that we were also listening for whatever other creature that may have been lurking about in the woods. Suddenly we heard something moving about outside and pushing at the flap on the tent. Ralph and I held our breath, could this be some wild animal? Being a couple of kids, we imagined all sorts of things. Suddenly in pops Doug’s black head through the tent flap. Talk about two kids being relieved!

Exploring old vacant houses was also an exciting adventure for Ralph and I on the island. There was an old house close to the West End of the island that was considered by islanders to he haunted. This house was vacated many years before I was born. I recall as a kid being told the following story:

In past years, the playing of cards on Sunday was always harshly frowned upon. Sunday is the Lord’s day and anything to do with the playing of cards on the Sabbath day was considered a definite no-no. Well it seems that on one particular Sunday night during an evening of drinking good Pictou Island rum by three island men, a card game was suggested. These three gentlemen sat around the table shuffling the cards in the light of an oil lamp. A poker game of some sort was suggested, however, one more person was required in order to play the suggested game. Suddenly a knock came at the door and when opened, there stood a stranger. Strangers at that time were a common sight since fishing boats were always coming and going to the lobster factories that were operating on the island. Even though this visitor was unknown by the other three men, he was a welcome sight for he would be the fourth poker player. After exchanging names and saying their hellos, the card game got underway. The rum, cuss and merriment intensified. Suddenly a card was dropped on the floor. The three island men all crouched under the table at the same time to pick it up. The three became traumatized for there where the stranger sat was a pair of hoofed feet. The stranger was the devil himself who had joined them for this card game on this Sunday night. It didn’t take very long for these three offenders to vacate the house.

Another story that I bring to mind involves a funeral that occurred at this house after that event. There never was a funeral parlor located on Pictou Island. In past years, deceased people were placed in a homemade casket on top of boards that were lain on top of wooden floor barrels in their homes. A forerunner had been witnessed in this house prior to one of its occupants dying. It seems that there were some people visiting with the occupants on this certain night when they heard floor barrels moving about upstairs.  No one was upstairs and this could only mean one thing: a death was soon to come about. Sure enough, some days later someone in this house died. I cannot remember if I was ever given a name of the individual. It seems, however, that on the day of the funeral, all the wooden shutters on the house slammed shut. When others tried to enter the house, a large black cat blocked their way to the door and would not let them pass. I have no idea what happened after that. Ralph and I would often try to gain enough courage to explore this house but I can’t remember if we ever did. Around 1990, my brother Vincent and his wife Myrna purchased this land and have since built their home on the exact spot where this haunted house once stood. They just laugh when asked if they have seen a ghost lately. I think however that a sign would be appropriate for their lawn, which would read, NEVER MIND THE DOG, BUT BEWARE OF THE GHOST.

jimturple@eastlink.ca

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