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Factoring rats and molasses

The trouble with the old man is he don't want to do anything but fish an' fishing's been bad six months or more, so all this time he's bin hove to. Like ma says to him before I left home to come north. "Earl," she says, "Earl, someone's got to work around 'ere, I tell you straight, bye, it's bin nothing but fish and brewis this two weeks or more. Where's the variety in that?"
So when she says that, he tells her, "Cut the cackle, Ethel, what's for supper?" and when she don't answer, he says: "Oh! So it's tongue and cold shoulder is it, Ethel?" Right cutting sometimes is the old man.
The upshot of it all is my dad has a heart-to-heart talk with me. I'm sitting by the fire one night, up to my scuppers in the Evening Telegram, when he taps me on the knee an' says, "Your ma's right, m'son." He calls everyone m'son so I don't take it too personal.
I wait for a while before I crumple the Telegram in my lap for effect, take m' pipe slowly from my mouth, and I ask him, "What's ma right about this time, dad?"
"I'll have none of yer sass, m'son," he says, though' it's not good to tell him apples don't drop far from trees; he don't understand things that very well. "Right about someone 'aving to work. You've been out of school three months and a lad with yer educashun best be learning a trade and earning regular."
Him saying that makes me pretty sore, but I don't let on as much. I answer right calm like, "But you know as how I've bin after hundreds of jobs. They're either filled or they want men with experience."
"There's plenty of work," he says, "if you if you only you get out of Heart's Content." That's the name of our cove in Trinity Bay.'
"What about you, then?" I ask, which is a pretty reasonable question, but right sharp he says, "I said none of yer sass." So I say no more and begin filling m'pipe. The old man does the same, only he smokes a black shag he chips from a bar in the palm of his hand with a pen-knife, mixing it with cinders from the last fill. It's a dirty habit, but he likes it strong. Anyway, he carries on talking while he's messing with his baccy.
"It's different for me, by," he says. "Fishing's in m'blood and I'm too old to change now. You're young. Get out and see the world. Go to Sin John's or t'mainland or summat, m'son. I'se a mind for you to go with Hudson Bay to be a factor or Bowring's or Ayre's, an' in time, why, you'll be a full blown factor."
The old man was getting worked up by this time. He'd charged his pipe like a muzzle loader, using his finger like a ram before putting it to the fire. He was sucking an' blowing some hard, so the bowl were soon spitting fiery coals like a volcano. "Yes," he says, "us'll have to have you chartered."
So next day the old man loses no time making inquiries an', seeing he'd heard of a company running trading posts on the Labrador that were looking for an apprentice factor, m'dad has me make for the big city where they has their head office.
So off I goes to Sin. John's where there's the big ships and stores along Water Street and Confederation Building. It is indeed a place of fearsome activity. Sin John's I mean, not Confederation Building. Well, Confederation Building too, but not too fearsome if you know what I mean.
Anyways, I find the office I'm looking for. The personnel manager, Mr. Hicks, says he thinks because I'm a keen, enthusiastic lad, he can put a lot of confidence in my future. He says they will pay $50 a month to start and my board, which is generous for a lad of my age. Well, I wasn't going to say anything, but he says, "Why, when I joined the company 40 years ago I got $10 a month." But I thinks to m'self that was 40 years ago, so it doesn't count.
Well, they sent me to Blanc Sablon, which is not on the Labrador but almost so because it's just over the border in Quebec. You can tell it's in Quebec because most of the families - an' there are about 60 all told - have French names like Letourneau and Villeneuve and Letellier. Old man Letellier is so lazy, except at making home brew, which he does most days, that he's dropped the 'Le' and calls himself 'Tellier'.
Mr. Hickey, the manager, is learning me the trade of factor an' he keeps me some busy I can tell you. I never gets a rest from sweeping and cleaning, except when I get molasses for people from the molasses puncheons. The store, which isn't very big, has a counter at the front and a store at the back where we keep canned goods and the like. Mr. Hickey says in this business we has to work hard because profits is marginal, but I'm learning fast, like yesterday over t'molasses.'
Mrs. Butts - not one of the Bonne Bay Butts; she's a Placentia Butts - comes in the store for a quart of molasses. She lives two miles around the bay and seeing as she's getting on, about a thousand years old at least I'd say and is mean as they come, it's some hike for her.
"My gosh," she says, "yer putting on weight since you came 'ere. Eating all t'profits. Wouldn't if I had you," and she hands me the pot.
Like I said, the puncheons are in a shack at the back, down the road aways, so I have to get the key to fill her order. When the molasses is cold, it takes a long 'time to fill the pot. I like that because while the pot's filling I can light m' pipe and think about things.
After 20 minutes or so I turn off the bung cock, put the lid on the pot, and go back to the store. Mrs. Butts takes the jug and she says, "What's taken you so long, young fella? You're slower 'n molasses." Just biding her time she's bin, I bet, to make that joke.
It must have been two hours later she comes back all tore up and snapping. "There's a fly in my molasses!" she says, screwing her face up like a pickled walnut.
I take off the lid and for sure there's a fly. "Why, So there is, Mrs. Butts. Just hang on. I'll change it for you." I collects the key to the store again and when I get in I put the pot on the floor, sit down with my back to the puncheons, light my pipe and think about things.
I wait about 20 minutes, pick up the fly with my fingers, and go back to the store.
There, Mrs. Butts," I say, "no more fly," and I take the lid off for her to see.
"Well, I should think not,'' she says in a huff and she takes off around the bay, strutting like a partridge.
I figured I was making out just as the old man said I should - learning a useful trade and all that, but I'd only been with Mr. Hickey a few weeks when a dreadful calamity occurred. He said for me to get a jug of molasses for Mr. Tellier, who was coming by the store later to pick it up. So I goes to puncheons shack where we also store the ropes an' tackles and cordage, nets, nails, kerosene, anchors, chain, tarpaulins, various implements an' tools for the bush. It looks a regular hutzelsoup. I'd just set down and had the bung cock open when I hear Mr. Hickey at the door. He wants me for an urgent job in the store and, seeing as the molasses is real cold this morning, I decide to come back in half an hour.
When I've done the job Mr. Hickey gave me I eat m'lunch an' forget all about the molasses. Back in the store Mr. Hickey says, "Where d'yer put Mr. Teller's jug of molasses m'son? I can't find it nowheres."
I suddenly remembers about forgetting. So I run back to the shack at a stretch gallop, but long before I get to the door I knows what's happened. And sure enough there's molasses all over the floor and in the cordage and tackle. Even the puncheons are ready to float into bay. Worse still, I see two rats 'ave bin having a swim and expired before they could make dry land.
There's nothing for it but to tell Mr. Hickey what a calamity there's bin, so first I turn off the bung cock and then get rid of the rats by throwing them behind some timber at the back of the shed. Mr. Tellier's jug is all sticky where the molasses has overflowed down the side and over the handle. When it's clean enough, I take it back to the store and tell Mr. Hickey what has happened. He is some vexed wi' me, saying enough to give me lots to consider when next I light my pipe and think about things.
"You're gormless, m'by," he says, "right gormless. Let's have a gander at the mess," and he has a face like a dark Samuel all the way to the puncheon shack.
After we'd salvaged what we could in an' empty salt pork barrel, we cleaned up the floor. At least, I did. I've never seen the place so clean an' shipshape. I wiped and scrubbed everything in sight, in between Mr. Hickey's tongue lashings, and was wondering what he'd do with the pork barrel of molasses when he says "Give us a hand, m'son an' let's get this back to the store." So we struggle back with the barrel on a trolley cart an' heft and heave it alongside the counter. Then Mr. Hickey has me make out a sign saying:


We've just about done when in comes Mr. Tellier calling for his jug. "Is that molasses on sale, I see?" he asks.
"It is," says Mr. Hickey, lying through his teeth, and seeing as Mr. Tellier is looking inquisitively at me through his bushy eyebrows, I quickly bend my back an' start sweeping the floor.
"Why you say old stock? What is old stock?" says Mr. Tellier suspicious as a fox.
"Stock what is no more good, not new, I mean," says Mr. Hickey in a bland, casual voice, and in that he is half right I thinks to m'self.
"How much you want for the barrel?" says Mr. Tellier and he's thinking, I bet, of all the home brew it'll make.
"Ten dollars," says Mr. Hickey, with a face as solemn as dead cod.
Then they argue the toss about the quality of old stock molasses and Mr. Hickey allows himself to be beaten down to five dollars and to take back the molasses Mr. Tellier had come for. But seeing as he buys two pounds of raisins and enough yeast to stock a brewery, Mr. Hickey is beaming like there were two suns in the sky.
When Mr. Tellier has gone with his barrel on a barrow he borrowed from us and raisins and yeast, Mr. Hickey says to me, he says, "Now let that be a lesson to you, m'son on how to be a good factor."
I say, "Yes, Mr. Hickey, sir, I see", but I can't help wondering what effect those rats what expired is going to have on Mr. Tellier's home brew.
Well, the next Saturday afternoon we is all in the puncheon shack sitting on the bales and ropes an' cordage, which is what we do most Saturdays for a get-together, there not being much else to do in Blanc Sablon. Mr. Tellier is there - it's his turn to supply the brew - and Mr. Villeneuve and Mr. Butts who broke his leg last week an' is waiting for the nurse from the Grenfell Mission to come and is a Bonne Bay Butts and therefore not related to old Mrs. Butts of the Placentia Butts, and Mr. Letourneau and Skipper Jarge who lost his dory in a storm last fall an' is building another, an' about a dozen in all counting Mr. Hickey an' m'self.
"It is a mighty foine brew you have 'ere," says Skipper Jarge as he passes the two-pint tankard to Mr. Hickey.
"It is, to be sure," says Mr. Hickey, an' he winks slyly at me before he hands the jug to Mr. Villeneuve.
"You've bin scrubbing the floor," says Mr. Tellier to Mr. Hickey.
"We 'ave an' that's a fact," says Mr. Hickey. "It's bin wanting it for some time, by."
"Will that be explaining the strange smell" says Mr. Villeneuve "of molasses and..." he sniffs the air again, "dead rats? It is a particulier smell," but before Mr. Hickey can reply, he adds, "Jarge is right. 'Tis the best brew yet." Mr. Villeneuve's French Canadian but he's picked up Newfie over the years and is therefore counted as bi-lingual.
Everyone agrees that it is the finest brew they ever tasted. Mr. Tellier has exceeded his personal best as they might say on the mainland. When the master mug is past to me I pass it on to Mr. Letourneau."
"Why you no drink, young fellow?" asks Mr. Tellier. "You'll be missing as rich a brew as ever apprentice factor tipped down his gullet."
"Sir," I say, "I'm not feeling so good of a sudden. I've think I've caught a bug somewheres."
"You doesn't know what yer missing, by," says Mr. Hickey, winking. When I hear that my stomach starts rolling over and over like a beached whale in heavy surf.
It rolls so bad I has to leave the puncheon shack and take m'stomach outside. So, when I feel better I light my pipe an' suck in the fresh salt air, which is some good, my son.
It's going to take longer than I thought to be a factor, I thinks to m'self, but when it comes to rats and molasses there's not much I don't know about that side of factoring.

The Evening Telegram
St. Johns, Newfoundland
January 1966


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