Labrador History - 7.2 DAD

Mary Taylor7.2 DAD’S VISIT
Dad’s visit was an education to him, even though he had been around. In the Second World War he had been an Engineer with the British Army in India, first in Jubbelpore and later in Assam, where he helped build the Burma Road. He heard his name mentioned by “Tokyo Rose” over the radio from Japan.
“We know you are there, Tommy Taylor, and we are coming right along the road to get you!” she said. A scary thought!
A few weeks after his arrival, Dad recorded his initial impression of Labrador:
“The people of Forteau are very kindly fisher-folk, hospitable and generous to a fault. They have the usual village outlook, which I find rather attractive, knowing more about their neighbours business than they can possibly know of their own. Their most used form of transport, in the winter-time, is by dog-team and komatik, there are a few motor vehicles but the sole one usable in snow is the red-painted snowmobile.
“The calendar suggests that Spring begins on March 2 1st, but here, ten days later there is little evidence in support of the claim, although, to be quite fair there is now more water with the masses of snow and ice. It seems to me that all the present scene now ne1eds, to complete the picture, is the presence of a few polar bears.”
At first, in Labrador, there was that ‘flu epidemic and I was busy seeing patients, both those in their homes and those we had admitted for treatment. Several older folk were very sick. As a result I hardly saw Dad, except at mealtimes.
“Where’s my daughter?” he would ask the girls.
“She’s gone to L’Clair,”or, “She’s gone to L’Loup,” was the common reply.
It was fortunate that the road was through to both places and to Pinware, or I don’t know how we would have managed. If one adds four deliveries to that, the month was pretty hectic. I had a total of fifty inpatients in April.
Several older people developed pneumonia, and one older lady had to be transferred to St. Anthony with acute heart failure. Our two nursing aide’s, Ethel (Olive’s sister) and Doris (a girl from L’Anse-au-Clair), kept very busy at this time, obviously, as did Harriet the cook, especially as I was visiting so many at home.
I think Dad was getting a bit fed up that he hardly ever saw me and wondered why he had come. To give him a break and a bit of fresh air, I arranged for James, “Uncle” Joe’s son, to take him fishing. They set off by dog team, but Dad had never ridden on a komatik before and had some difficulty sitting on the box. We all watched from a window as they headed out of the community and, as they went over a bump of snow, he fell off, much to the amusement of the staff! Fortunately, there was lots of soft snow so he was not hurt, but he turned round and saw us laughing and was not amused!! We were not allowed to forget it. At the pond James initiated Dad into the art of fishing for trout through a hole in the ice, but their luck was out and they didn’t catch anything. Dad was naturally quite upset by the whole experience, although he took it in good spirits.
His own account of this episode is revealing:
“Yesterday we went fishing. That is to say we went by dog- team and komatik to a lake in the nearby hills, and, through holes drilled in the ice we angled for trout but without success. Ifell off the komatik, I could call it by other names, twice I fell - it must have looked very funny but I didn’t see it I merely felt it! Once I stepped off the “contraption”, thinking to relieve the team of part of the load, they promptly bounded forward and I had to wade my way through waist-deep snow.”
Dad got more pleasure out of gardening, and put in a lot of time in the garden before he left us in July. As soon as the snow had gone he was out there digging, for he loved gardening, and moved some huge rocks in the process. He put in lots of vegetables including peas, for which he made a plastic frame to give protection from wind and salt spray, and added an extension to my little greenhouse for cucumbers and tomatoes. We certainly enjoyed the fruit of his labours later, and it was these I shared with Mona and George in Charlottetown, when I sent them carrots on the mission plane.
Gardening may be difficult on the Labrador coast, but it is
essential. In the past, before better transport and refrigeration, most people suffered from a lack of fresh vegetables, instead having a diet high in greasy food with a high salt content. From time to time I saw the effects of it and it was difficult to treat, because they loved their fish and brewis. Brewis (hard bread soaked, boiled and mixed with boiled fish, fresh or salt) came with pork grease and scrunchins (salt pork chopped fine and fried out.) In addition they loved Jigs’s Dinner, fat salt beef with vegetables, all cooked in the same pot, or beans and salt pork.
I grew to enjoy these delicacies too, although I never enjoyed the grease. Cod fish and trout taste much nicer when fried with a bit of salt pork! It was hard to blame them!
A year later a man with a peptic ulcer was in the nursing station for quite a while. Diet played a big part in the treatment of such conditions, but it was not easy to change a staple diet when blander food items were not easily available, but we did what we could. This patient was in a lot of pain when he came in, so I began treatments with a milk diet and antacids and later went on to a bland diet. In the station he responded quite nicely. He went home, however, with strict instructions not to eat any fried foods - but was probably back on them after awhile.
Not that Labrador gardens came without problems, for they re at the mercy of free roaming animals! Cows got in my garden a year later, in the spring of 1962, and ate all the green leaves around my cauliflowers! I guess the gate had been left open when an antenatal patient came that night. It seemed that every time I grew cabbage, somehow cows got in and ate them - if worms had not already done so! This was discouraging, but I had not come to Labrador to grow cabbage!
One summer Mona relieved me for a night, so I could visit a German couple who had a little cabin up on the Forteau River. They came up from the States every year to go fishing, and asked me to go come along too. Donning long rubber boots, I set off with them, enjoying “beginners luck” because I caught a lovely big salmon. I proudly took it back to the nursing station and we had it for supper.
While I was away, Mona awoke during the night, heard a crunching sound outside her bedroom window.
“Oh!” she thought, “The dogs have got Mary’s cat”.
“Miss Taylor is going to be some upset!” she heard “Aunt” Mary saying to the girls, as she got up.
Investigating she found that it wasn’t the cat that was the casualty, but my cabbage! They worried about my reaction to the bovine intruders, but I was so excited about my salmon that I couldn’t have cared less about the cabbage!
In 1961, however, we were grateful to my Dad for his hard work in the garden.
Dad liked fish, fortunately, and when the caplin rolled into the beach he joined in enthusiastically and collected them in pails with the rest of us. The memories of fishing through the ice fresh in his mind, he thought this was a great, and much superior, way to catch fish! He could have eaten fish for breakfast, dinner and supper, and I told him he would soon be able to swim home to B.C.

Aunt Mary Fowler busy in her kitchen.

Aunt Mary Fowler busy in her kitchen. 


In July Dad returned to B.C., flying to St. Anthony on the mission plane and going on to Gander for a connecting flight to Vancouver. My brother and his wife met him at Victoria. I missed him after he left but was soon busy as we had quite a number of admissions in July and August.
It was not unusual to have “visitors” at the station. Some lived with us on a semi-permanent basis, like “Aunt” Mary Fowler, who was there at the time of Dad’s visit. “Aunt” Mary and her husband had worked at the station in earlier years and, when she needed looking after - she had no children and had nowhere else to stay - Dr. Curtis had asked us to take her in. She spent her remaining years, until 1968, at the station. Dad was glad of her company, since I was away so much, and she was a great help to the girls, helping with the dishes, peeling potatoes and other things. She still made us peanut butter cookies, always a favourite with the younger patients, of whom we had quite a few the month Dad left.
Academics came around from time to time, staying at or near the station because there was nowhere else to stay. That August we hosted Professor Harp, an Anthropologist from Hanover, New Hampshire. A group of students camped on the lawn while Mrs. Harp and the children stayed with me in the nursing station. I enjoyed their company. They made some interesting finds of Indian arrowheads and Eskimo remains, including one very old grave of a child.
In August I admitted fifty-year-old “Uncle” Ralph, a fisherman, who had an infection in his foot. A previous gunshot wound was giving problems, so I opened the infected area and removed some of the shot, after giving him some ether for anaesthetic. Happily he made a good recovery and soon was back fishing. He was a storyteller and, while he was with us, kept us laughing with some of his tales. I guess story telling is a lost art now, but “on the coast” people used to love to tell stories, and also play tricks on one another. “Uncle” Ralph, my patient, was no exception. His daughter told me one such story that she had heard him tell many times.
Ralph’s mother had died earlier and his father was looking for another “woman” and, at the time of this story, was courting Becky, who later became his wife. Ralph was about sixteen at the time, and thought he would have a bit of fun at his father’s expense by exploiting the belief many people of the time had in ghosts and ghost stories. One night, when the couple went for a walk, Ralph grabbed a white sheet and, getting ahead of them, climbed on to a scaffold that was used for storing seal meat and fish out of the reach of dogs. When his father and Becky came along, he sprang down, covered in the white sheet, and startled them!
“Go away Becky! Go away! Look at the ghost!” his Dad cried out as he ran away, leaving her behind in his haste. She must have really loved him, as she married him anyway!
Ralph got saved later and loved to tell others of his Saviour. His favourite hymn was “Some day the silver cord will break” which he had heard his Uncle Delbert singing when he was dying. We had him in the nursing station when he was dying himself. He was sorely missed.
That summer the Christmas Seal X-ray boat came into Forteau. Those who had previously been treated for tuberculosis went on board to get their recheck X-rays. Anyone else who wished to do so could get a chest X-ray and in this way cases of tuberculosis were picked up and treated. The boat travelled along the Labrador coast as far north as Nain, calling at each little settlement on the way. All in all it was a very busy summer.
Meanwhile back in Forteau, life went on with the usual busy round of clinics and home visits and a record of the fall of 1961 illustrates what went on. I missed Mona’s help and company.
In September there were six antenatal patients due, but only one of them was for delivery at the nursing station, the others were sent to hospital.
That fall there were several accidents of one type or another. The first one was a forty-year-old woman from Red Bay who had twisted her knee in falling. She did not break it, but I kept her in the nursing station for a few days anyway. Shortly after this I admitted a six-year-old girl who had twisted her ankle, and the next day saw a four-year-old boy with a nasty cut on his leg. He had been carrying an axe to his brother when he fell and cut his leg on the blade of the axe. The cut was deep, in fact right down to the bone so although he lived just across the bay at English Point, I admitted him for observation because of the danger of infection.
One day soon after this a fisherman working down on his wharf had a plank of wood fall across his foot. I examined him and sent him to the hospital in St. Anthony. In October I admitted a six- year-old girl with second-degree bums of her chest and right arm. Fortunately she healed without skin grafts. That same month I admitted a woman with bums of her leg. All in all it was a busy fall!
I always enjoyed looking after those who had worked with me, so there was a certain amount of pleasure, that October, in having three of my “old girls” in for deliveries. Having worked as nurses’ aides they were good patients, for they understood what was happening and I had taught them how to relax during their contractions. Phyllis, who had worked with Olive in 1956, was the first one to come in, and had a little girl. She and Ken were delighted. Next day Audrey, who worked with Ethel and Gladys, had her second baby, a girl. Three days later Gladys, James’ wife, came to have her second baby too. She had a big baby, a boy who weighed twelve pounds, and she started to haemorrhage after delivery. I was about to send for the doctor from Blanc Sablon but the bleed-
ing stopped after I gave her an injection. She was from L’Anse-au Loup, and the girls from L’Anse-au-Loup always seemed to have big babies!
It went on! At the end of the month a girl who had done some relief work for us had a little girl and, three days later, Bertha, my first nurse’s aide, had a little girl, a sister for her two brothers at home. Later, in November, I admitted a woman whose membranes had ruptured and, because she had had some bleeding a couple of months before, I sent her to St. Anthony. Fortunately the ponds were frozen early that year so the plane had no problem getting her there.
Over the years I did quite a bit of dental work as there was no dentist in the area and we only had a travelling dentist occasionally. Dental experiences are highly traumatic for most people and they did not come to get their teeth pulled unless they were aching! This took courage.
One day when Phyllis was working at the station, I noticed her brother walking up and down outside.
“What’s wrong with him?” I asked.
“He’s trying to get his courage up to get a tooth out,” she said. I don’t remember whether he ever got up his courage or not, that day or later. Maybe the tooth stopped paining!
After an extraction I sometimes saw a patient with bleeding gums, usually at night! I kept them overnight, after packing their gums with gauze. Sometimes a tea bag helped control bleeding, because tea has tannic acid, so if a patient called from some distance, I would advise biting on a tea bag. One night just before Christmas, I admitted two eighteen-year-old patients with just such a problem but, fortunately, their bleeding stopped with treatment.
Just before Christmas I admitted a fifty-five year-old patient with an acute gallbladder attack. The mission plane was able to get in so I sent her to the hospital in St. Anthony.
So ended a very eventful year.