When I was 13, our next door neighbour got a dog. In itself, that’s not extraordinary. However, this dog acquisition caused quite a stir. She was an elderly widow and lived alone. The dog was a young Boxer. His name was Copper. He was the colour of a new penny, she or someone said. I can’t remember where she got him, if she sought him out or if he just happened along. I thought it was wonderful that Mrs. Layfield got a dog, but even I was a bit surprised, especially the dog being a big energetic Boxer.
My parents, and probably everybody else in town, were amazed, maybe even horrified. The Layfields had never had a dog in our memory. And Mrs. Layfield was a tiny lady. My mother feared the dog would knock her down the stairs, knock her over in the hallway, knock her down outside. You’d go to her house, ring the doorbell and hear Copper tearing along the hall at full speed. Mrs. Layfield would come along behind, open the door and welcome you into the front parlour.
She was a lady of the Victorian era. Her house was lovely, with beautifully polished old furniture, lace antimacassars on chair arms and backs. Delicate porcelain figurines and glass ornaments displayed on table tops. And in the middle of it, a huge slobbering Boxer galumphing around.
A Boxer and bric a brac
Copper, to my knowledge, never knocked a single table over. He seemed able to jump and play in the middle of a room full of lovely and fragile bric a brac without touching a thing. In deference to her upholstered furniture, she put old towels on chair arms and parts of the sofa where he was likely to be, and likely to drool. She kept towels in the kitchen by his bowls and in the hallway to mop up the water that dribbled out of his mouth after he drank. But other than that, Mrs. Layfield made no adjustments to her living arrangements to accommodate his boisterousness, and she didn’t need to. He seemed to know where it was ok to be boisterous and how to play around the furniture.
Her backyard was already fenced, and we’d watch Copper playing with stuffed toys and balls in his yard. Mrs. Layfield took him for walks down Main Street. He walked sedately beside her, never pulling or getting tangled in her feet.
The two of them aged together. Copper’s hips got bad and she made him a bed on the main floor when he couldn’t climb the stairs. Not long later, she did the same for herself. She and Copper lived together until he died of old age. She didn’t get another dog. A few years later, she sold her house and moved to a nursing home. A new young family moved in, with a young black Lab. It was nice to see a dog in the yard next door again. But we still called it “Copper’s yard”. Many owners later, we still call the house “Mrs. Layfield’s house”.
From my St. Thomas Dog Blog, Stories, Feb. 13, 2011
Bing was a small German Shepherd or Alsatian as Mom called her. She was a watch dog. My dad got her from another service station when he opened his. She was very good at her job – the perfect Walmart greeter during the day and to those who had legitimate business, a holy horror of snapping teeth and bristled fur at night or to those without good reason to be on the property.
When Dad sold the business, Bing came home with us. She quickly adapted to house living, but she kept her principal loyalty to Dad. Mom was second on her list and we kids, well, she liked us all right but didn’t pay much attention to us.
One summer evening my parents were out and only my older sister and I were home. My sister was talking on the phone and I had nothing to do. So I decided to teach Bing to walk on a leash. Well, Bing had never been on a leash in her life and had no intention of starting now! But, out in the driveway, she humoured me or figured the bits of hotdog I was using as bait were worth her putting up with my foolishness. Dusk started to fall. I noticed a car pull up and stop in front of the house. I didn’t recognize it, so went on with the “training”. Bing noticed it too, and kept one eye on the car and the other on the hotdogs.
After quite a while, the driver opened the car door and started to get out. A rumble started deep in Bing’s throat. She took off, ripping the leash out of my hands. She flew towards the car, roaring. The man jumped back in, jammed the car in gear and took off, door still open. I stood in the driveway crying and screaming for Bing to come back, which she did, of course, as soon as she realized she couldn’t catch the car.
My sister came out to see what the noise was about. When my parents got home, we told them. My dad’s face went ashen, lips white. He asked for a description of the car. It was light blue – that’s all I knew. My sister had seen it through the window and knew a bit more, it was a sedan and I think she knew the make. Turns out, the police had put out a notice that there was a man trying to abduct little girls in our area. The car they had seen him in fit the description of the one in front of our house.
I don’t know what would have happened to me, a little girl playing in her own driveway, if there hadn’t been a dog there too. Bing had been alert to his presence the whole time, but had been willing to give him the benefit of the doubt until he opened the car door. I have no doubt he was the child molester. She did not react that way to strangers simply stopping to ask directions. Bing saved me that night – perhaps my life, certainly at least my innocence. She got extra pats that night from my dad, I remember. Bing may have retired, but she was still a watch dog.
Many dogs have watched over me, guarded and protected me. In childhood and teenage years, my dogs always helped me solve my problems or at least comforted me so that I could cope with them. I guess I never had problems so big that a dog couldn’t deal with them. For that I’m thankful. I’m thankful too for those dogs who shared their brave, big hearts with me.
“Minnie and Charlie’s daughter must be visiting. I saw that strange girl of hers, and the dog’s gone.” Now, over forty years later, that’s what I imagine people on Pine Street said when I went with my parents to my grandparents’ house.
As soon as I’d said hello to grandma and grandpa, I’d be out the door and heading down toward the woods at the end of the street. Along the way, from three doors past their house, I’d start collecting dogs. I didn’t steal them or let them out of fenced yards. No one had fenced yards then and dogs just laid around their front steps or in the yard. If they saw me, they’d come out to the sidewalk and come along with me. If I didn’t see one where I knew it lived, I might call “here doggiedoggie” or call its name if I knew it.
On a good day, I’d have seven or eight dogs with me by the time I reached the end of the two block street. At the end was a ravine, wooded with a trail going through it to the railroad tracks and also running parallel to the tracks along the creek. The dogs and I would walk through the woods on the creek path, staying away from the tracks and never going further than a couple blocks either direction from Pine Street. I don’t remember what we did for the hours we spent there. I threw sticks for them maybe. Then, when it was almost dark, we’d walk back up Pine Street or sometimes Pearl Street and the dogs would all go back to their respective homes. I’d get back to Grandma’s by myself just in time for supper. If we were staying overnight, next day I’d be back down the street collecting the dogs and we’d do the same thing. Before we left, I’d make a hurried trip down Pine Street to collect the dogs for a quick goodbye to them all on the street. They seemed to know I was leaving and just went back to their doorsteps.
I think there were other kids sometimes along with us too, but I can’t remember any of them clearly. I knew some of the dogs by name, Bingo and Rex and Lady, so I must have talked to some kids to know that. I don’t think I would have talked to any adults and I don’t recall any adults asking why I was taking their dog.
I remember the dogs. A beautiful collie that lived in a two-storey frame house on the corner of the lane that ran between Pine and Pearl. A bulldog, some little shaggy haired mutts, a couple big Shepherd crosses. They all got along, there was never a fight among them. None of them ever ran off from our pack. They never chased cats sitting hunched up or standing backs arched in driveways further down the road. They never came back to my grandparents’ house with me, and they never came on their own to visit me there. I don’t know if, when I wasn’t there, they rounded themselves up and went for walks in the ravine. I don’t think I wondered about that at the time; all I knew is that they were there for me when I came to visit.
I loved going to my grandparents’. I liked seeing them, I liked being in their house, looking in cupboards at treasures I’d seen before and finding new ones. But I especially loved my time with the dogs. Now, when I go back and drive past my grandparents’ house, I want to park the car and walk down the street looking for dogs to go walking with. The houses on Pine Street look pretty unchanged from the 1960s. But the woods aren’t there anymore. The ravine is there, but the creek is gone. It’s been diverted, I guess, and the bed paved over. A new subdivision is on the other side, in what used to be the woods between the creek and the railroad tracks. Even if I found dogs sitting on doorsteps or laying in the yard, there’d be nowhere woodsy to walk with them. So I stop in front of the house on the lane. It’s still got pale yellow siding with the same windows and front cement step. I say “hello Lassie” to the dog I see in my mind. Then I drive a few streets east, turn left and stop at the recreation field. There’s a ball diamond there and a soccer field. At the back of it, there’s woods with a trail going through to the railroad tracks. I get my dog out of the car and we walk through the woods.
I didn’t know at the time, when I was eight or ten, that this would be a constant in my life: walking with dogs and remembering dogs. Like the kids that were part of my visits to Pine Street, many people have been in my life over the years but it’s the dogs that stand out most vividly.
Originally posted in Stories on my St. Thomas Dog Blog on July 4, 2010. The photographs of my mother, grandparents and their house are from my mother’s photo albums.
Dallas was on the All Breed Canine Rescue website under “Mature Dogs.” I had been looking through rescue sites, hoping no dog would ‘speak’ to me. This gray-muzzled, sharp-faced, squat-bodied Shepherd-type did. It was way too soon.
Our German Shepherd Jack had just died. He’d been with me for 9½ years, rescued at 14 weeks from neglect. He was my friend and touchstone. No other dog could replace him or compete for my affection. But the house seemed so empty. The cats missed him. My husband said no new dog, he needed time to mourn. I missed Jack and the presence of a dog. I took ‘match yourself to a dog breed’ questionnaires. I checked ABCR’s site again – Dallas was still listed. My husband still couldn’t think of another dog in Jack’s place.
It was a cat who changed his mind. The “boss” cat, she ceased harassing the others and just lay in Jack’s favourite spots, staring vacantly. After a week of this, my husband said “maybe we should get a dog for that cat.” Dallas came for a visit. The cat ran up to her, delighted. Then realizing this dog wasn’t Jack, she hissed violently and stalked off.
When ABCR got Dallas from the pound, she was not spayed and had arthritic or injured hind legs. Most dramatically, she had no hair on her back. “Her skin was like raw hamburger,” I was told. Allergy treatment and special food had cleared up the hair loss. Still, no one really knew what was wrong with her. We were recovering financially from vet bills for Jack and our elderly cat Henry, and emotionally from months of caring for chronically ill animals and the loss of them. Was taking Dallas asking for more expense and sadness? Quite possibly. But she looked like home, like she belonged here.
After a few more visits, Dallas came to stay. She had enjoyed visiting, but expected her foster mom to be waiting to take her home. The day her foster family left without her, she clawed at the door howling inconsolably. I was in tears.
A few hours later, after a good long walk, Dallas looked around and seemed to decide that, if this was now home, she’d make the best of it. She glued herself to me and is very protective. She doesn’t trust men, but is realizing that the one in her new house isn’t a threat to her or me. The cats have warmed up to her. Her extended human family welcomed her. My sister seems resemblances to her late Shepherd/Husky. My mother sees our old Shepherd in her. I have taken her to Jack’s grave and to his favourite walking places. I tell her about him and she wrinkles her nose and listens.
She takes pills for hip dysplasia and allergies. A lump on her rear end was easily removed and was benign. Sometimes her legs are creaky, but she plays and chases balls. She’s not Jack, but she is Dallas, a dog who, like him, has adopted us for life. My sister said, “You needed her as much as she needed you.” It’s true.
(Part 2) Dallas died almost three months to the day after we got her. One morning in July she threw up. She seemed ok later, but didn’t want to chase her ball and really just put up with our walk for my sake. That evening, she was listless. Late at night, she was feverish and chilled. I should have called her vet. I didn’t. I took her in first time in the morning. I had to help her out of the car. They couldn’t see anything obviously wrong, so kept her in for observation and tests. She died in the night. No one knows why.
Her gift to us was to fill the void left by the deaths of Jack and Henry. I hadn’t known if I could open my heart fully again to another dog. But Dallas showed me I could. She reminded us of Jack and other dogs in our lives. But she was also her own dog, with her own ways of doing things and funny habits.
I was devastated at losing her. A friend said maybe she was a messenger whose purpose was to translate love of, and from, Jack to other dogs for us. Losing a dog is heart breaking, but the loneliness of no dog is worse. We’ll be adopting another, probably a Shepherd type, soon.
(Part 3) A few months passed. We adopted Charlie, a little terrier mix, then Leo, a weird Standard Poodle puppy mill survivor. We didn’t so much adopt Leo as he adopted me. He later saw his way clear to adopt Jim too. They are absolutely nothing like Jack or Dallas or any dog that’s gone before them in our lives. I still “see” Jack and Dallas in the house and backyard. I tell Charlie and Leo about them. They don’t much care about my stories, but they love to run and play and snuggle. They’re both part of my heart now.
I started this story in July 2008 for an online dog story competition but didn’t submit it after having to add Part 2. It was posted on the St. Thomas Dog Blog Nov. 19, 2010.
My cousin Lynda Sykes wrote this story about our grandfather Austin Anger. She and her mother had dug out some old family pictures, including the one here of Grandpa giving her a “whisker rub” that she describes in her story. The photo was taken July 13, 1963 on Grandma and Grandpa’s 50th wedding anniversary.
All of us grandkids remember Grandpa as he is described here – his unique use of language, his sense of humour and his affection for us. Fortunately, we also have Lynda and her ability to capture our memories in words. Thanks, Lynda, for allowing me to reprint this here. Click on the story to see a readable view.
Lynda Sykes is the editor of a WWII battlefield memoir entitled Because We Are Canadians by the late Charles Kipp. It’s a really good read and it has a foreword written by Pierre Berton. (Click image or highlighted title for link to it on Amazon.
Howard Blackburn and Thomas Welch – A Tale of the Sea
By The Right Hon. Sir Edward Morris, P.C, Prime Minister
It is just twenty-five years since I first visited Little River, twenty-one miles east of Burgeo, on the South Coast. It was the Jubilee Year of Her late Majesty, Queen Victoria. We were on the good ship Leopard, Captain Feild, with the late Mr. Justice Pinsent presiding. We had a goodly company, plenty of law work at the points touched, glorious weather, and good fishing. Only a few remain of those who were on that Circuit. Judge Pinsent, D. J. Greene, I. R. McNeily, T. Walsh, James Milley, M. H. Carty, Captain Field, John Burke the Crier of the Court, and the late R. H. Parsons, Photographer — have all passed away.
We put into St. Pierre on the way, and were the guests of the Anglo American Telegraph Company at the Jubilee Ball, and were also entertained at dinner by the Governor of St. Pierre. We stopped at Little River for some fishing and were not disappointed in the result. Little River is a long, deep inlet, about 130 yards wide, extending about five or six miles, where it branches out into the North-East and South-East Arms. The shores are steep and bold, falling precipitously from a height of a thousand feet. The scenery is not unlike that of Bonne Bay, Placentia and Bay of Islands, perpendicular hills, through which the tide rushes with great velocity at ebb and flow. On the evening of the second day at Little River, returning from fishing, I first learned from my guide, the astounding story of Howard Blackburn, his marvellous escape from death, as well as the sad fate of his dory-mate, Thomas Welch.
This summer, when at Burgeo, I went over the incident again with my friend, Magistrate Small, from whom I obtained further particulars. The story aptly illustrates the time worn adage that “truth is stranger than fiction.” A three volume novel might be written from the facts which make up this story; the tragedy of the cruel sea, the romance of quiet lives, and the heroism of those who go down to the sea in ships. At the present time I shall have to content myself with the barest outline.
Christmas Eve, 1834
The first streaks of dawn on Christmas Eve 1834 were just perceptible when William Lishman with his little son, aged eight, left his home at Little River, his wife, two sons and three daughters, never to return. His course lay through the trackless woods between Little River and Burgeo. Arriving there he put up for the night, and on Christmas moming, with several inches of snow on the ground, he and the boy started for LaPoile. There he boarded an American fishing schooner, bound for Marblehead, Mass., on board of which he was taken and given a passage. That was the last ever seen or heard of William Lishman and his boy, either by his family at Little River, or by his aquaintances at Burgeo or La Poile; and it is probable that if it had not been for the casting away of Howard Blackburn, and Michael [sic] Welch on the Burgeo Banks fifty years later we should never more have heard of them.
Christmas Eve, 1882
With flags flying, in good trim, with fresh bait, iced down, and everything promising for a successful halibut voyage, the schr. Grace L. Fears sailed out of Gloucester Harbour, bound for the Burgeo Banks. After fishing there for three weeks, and with fair success, on the morning of the 25th January, 1883, shortly after dawn, the crew left the schooner’s side in eight dories, to overhaul their trawls, the position of the vessel being then about thirty miles from the Newfoundland coast.
In one of the dories was Howard Blackburn, by birth a Nova Scotian, from Port Medway, then a citizen of the United States, and Thomas Welch, a native of Newfoundland. The weather was not stormy, but it had been threatening snow. They had only been a short while from the side of the vessel, when the wind started to blow, the snow falling thicker and thicker. The hauling of the trawls half-filled the dory with halibut, and the boat continued to ride with safety the sea which the freshening breeze had made. As the day wore on, the wind veered from south-east to north-west. The effect of this was to alter their position with regard to their vessel, placing them to leeward. On realizing this both men started to pull towards the schooner, but owing to the strong wind and the buffetting waves, they were forced to anchor.
Shortly after dark the weather cleared, and they could discern the schooner’s riding light, as well as the flare-up which their shipmates maintained on board to indicate their whereabouts. On seeing their ship, they pulled up anchor and bent all their energies in an effort to reach her, but, owing to the wind which by this time had increased to almost a gale, no headway could be made. An attempt was then made to again anchor but they had evidently drifted over the shoal ground and were now in deep water, and could get no anchorage. Accordingly their dory drifted away to leeward. Their first night was spent in the open boat, with the weather bitterly cold and a piercing wind, with no food or water, both men being occupied pretty well the whole time in keeping the dory free. At that season of the year there is not much daylight before seven o’clock, and dawn brought them no sight of their ship.
Giving up all hope of reaching the schooner, they set to work to lighten their boat by throwing overboard their trawls and fish, and by the aid of their oars helped their frail craft to drift towards the land. The wind increasing towards noon, it was not deemed safe to continue running before the heavy sea and accordingly they “hove to” by improvising a drag made by attaching a trawl keg to a small winch. Whilst rigging this drag or floating anchor, Blackburn had the misfortune to lose his mittens overboard, a mishap which largely increased his after sufferings. Shortly afterwards, both his hands became frozen. On realizing this, he saw that there was nothing left for him but to grasp the oars, so that his hands might freeze around them, and thus, stiff in that position, when he required to row, all he would have to do would be to slip his hands over the oars.
During the whole of that day and the following night the boat lay to the drag, the two men continually bailing out the water. At five o’clock the following morning Welch succumbed to the cold, hunger and exposure, and died. The weather conditions that day were much the same as the preceding one, Blackburn’s time being fully occupied in bailing the boat. Another night passed, and another day dawned, and rowing again all that day he again anchored with his drag for the night, and early the next morning, resuming rowing, he saw the first sign of land. Pulling on all that day until the night, he again threw out his drag and on the following day, Sunday, reached the mouth of Little River, just inside the headlands where he saw a house. The house was unoccupied, but served as a shelter for Blackburn. He had the misfortune, however, of having his dory stove at the stage head during the night. In order to repair her next morning, he had to lift the body of Welch out, and in endeavouring to get it up the stage head it fell into twelve feet of water.
Having repaired the dory he headed her west, and after a few hours rowing up the river, was gladdened by the sight of the people who lived there. Notwithstanding his terrible condition, having been practically without food for five days and five nights, except portions of the frozen raw halibut, with hands and feet frozen, he refused any assistance for himself until the men went and recovered the body of his dory mate.
Within a few minutes after landing, Blackburn was comfortably housed in the home of Francis Lishman [sic], where cod-oil and flour, the local remedy, were applied to draw the frost from his feet and hands. In this process, he must have suffered excruciating pain. There was no doctor available, nearer than Burgeo. The fingers and thumbs of both his hands had been worn away in the work of rowing, and during the days that followed, gangrene set in and nothing being left in the end except two stumps. For over fifty days the process of decay went on. The heel and three toes of the right foot were completely destroyed, as well as some of the toes of the left foot.
For over a month the poor but hospitable people did everything in their power for him, and contributed to his comfort from their own small and meagre store. Fortunately the s.s. Nimrod that year was frozen in on the Burgeo coast, and, being boarded by the inhabitants, some few delicacies were obtained for the unfortunate man.
On May 3rd Blackburn left Burgeo, where he had gone a few days earlier, for treatment, and proceeded to Gloucester. The body of Welch which had been brought to Burgeo at the same time that Blackburn came there, was buried in the Church of England cemetery. The people of Gloucester subscribed $500 for Blackburn, and started him in business. It must be recorded to his credit that, having once established himself in business, he returned the whole amount, unsought, to the citizens, and it was transferred to the Fishermen’s Widows and Orphans Fund.
“Truth is always strange, stranger than fiction,” and there are more vagaries of romance in real life than would be admitted into any well-written novel.
Upon the first authentic story of the casting away of Howard Blackburn and Thomas Welch having reached Burgeo, Mr. J. P. Small now Magistrate wrote an account of it for the Gloucester Times with particulars of his rescue and whereabouts, pointing out that he had been cared for by one Francis Lishman of Little River.
It so happened that a copy of the Times containing the story fell into the hands of the Editor of the Essex City Statesman of Marblehead, Mass., whose name was Litchman. On reading the account he remembered to have heard his father say that his name had been Lushman, and that he had changed it, that he was born in Newfoundland, and that he had left that country when only a lad, with his father, who had carried him on his back and had conveyed him to Marblehead in a fishing vessel from LaPoile. Handing the paper to his father he said “It looks as if you had some relations living in Newfoundland.” The father, William Litchman, the boy that had left Little River fifty years before, on the, to him, memorable Christmas Eve morning, exclaimed – “This Francis Lishman must be my – brother. I remember him quite well, although I was very young when I left.” Communicating with Francis Lishman led to the identification of their being brothers.
William Litchman, with his father, having come to Marblehead. had there been apprenticed to the shoemaking trade, his father for several years continuing to fish out of Gloucester, seeing the boy from time to time. In the year 1838 he saw his father for the last time, and from then until 1883 had never heard of him and supposed he was dead. In 1845 young Litchman married, and had no idea that he had any relations whatever in the world. At the time of his marriage he altered his name to “Litchman.” Though, from the year 1838 he had never heard from his father, it afterwards transpired that it was through no fault of the latter. In 1874, thirty years after the death of one Mason, to whom the boy had been apprenticed as a shoemaker, on examination of his papers a letter was found written thirty-two years before, addressed to Mason by Thomas Lishman, as follows:
Franklin, Louisiana, March 27th, 1842.
Having located myself in Louisiana, St. Mary’s Parish, and wishing to get some information of my son, that I left with you, I take this liberty to write this letter, and wish you to answer me and state where he is. In so doing you will much oblige me, as I wish him to come to this country. I expect to continue here for some time, and if he will come I will be able to do something for him. Direct your letter to me, Franklin, Louisiana.
Mr. Litchman was unaware of the existence of this letter until it was handed to him in 1874. Writing to his brother, after reading the article in the Gloucester Times, he received the following letter from Little River in reply:
Little River, Nfld., Nov. 21[or 28], 1883
My Dear Sir, — Your valued favour of June 5th received, and read with great interest. I will now give you a brief history of our family. It is as follows; — My father’s name was Thomas Lishman, a native of England. He married Susanna McDonald, a native of Hermitage Bay where he resided for some time, moving afterwards to Little River. My mother is now dead nine years. I am married and have eight children. My brother Thomas is living near me with a wife and three children. We both get a living by fishing, but as a rule we do not do well. My sister Bridget is dead six years. My father and brother William left Little River forty-seven years ago, and I have heard they resided at Marblehead, Mass., U.S.A. I have heard my father died four years ago; and I think it is likely that you are my brother. If so, you are minus a part of one of your fingers, as I remember a man named Organ cut it off by accident making kindling. I am fifty years of age, and my brother Thomas is fifty-three. If you are a brother, you should be between fifty-seven and fifty-eight. On reading the above, you will certainly be able to decide on the relationship, if any, between us. My brother and I will be much pleased to hear from you on receipt of this. With kind regards,
I remain, yours very truly, Francis Lishman
The Essex City Statesman published in its columns an account of the discovery by Mr. Litchman of his relatives in Newfoundland. This Item being copied into a Minneapolis paper, was read by a Mr. Smith, a lawyer of that city, who had formerly lived in Massachusetts. His wife was a Miss Lishman, born in the State of Louisiana. She was an adopted daughter of wealthy people, her father and mother being dead. She had informed her husband that her father had told her that he had come from Newfoundland. On Mr. Smith taking to his home the paper containing the article referred to, his wife was convinced that the Lishmans of Little River were half brothers and sisters of herself, and she then learned for the first time that her father had been married before he had come to Louisiana.
Mrs. Smith then opened correspondence with Mr. Litchman of Marblehead, and the proofs being enquired into, the relationship was firmly established. Mr. and Mrs. Smith also communicated with the Lishmans at Little River. In the following June, Mr. Litchman left Marblehead and proceeded to Burgeo where he was the guest of the Magistrate, Mr. Small. His two sisters, Susanna and Jane, had previously arrived from Little River, and the two brothers Francis and Thomas had also come up from there with their sons. Mr. Litchman remained eight or ten days with his relations in Burgeo. Whilst there he met one of the old fishermen, Charles Collier, the last man to whom he and his father had spoken on the memorable Christmas Morning, fifty years before, when they had left Burgeo for LaPoile.
On his return to the United States, Mr. Litchman visited Minneapolis, and saw his half-sister Mrs. Smith, who was undoubtedly a Lishman, she having every feature of the family. Believing her husband to be dead, Mrs. Lishman had married one Stiles in 1846, just fourteen years after her husband had left Little River. Since then the Lishmans of Little River and those of Marblehead and the Smiths of Minneapolis have been in communication, and no year passes without a tangible proof of the relationship from the wealthy relatives abroad to the kindly hospitable fisher-folk at Little River.
• • • • • • • •
If the tale were to stop here it would be in itself remarkable, as illustrating a most extraordinary adventure, involving the casting away from his ship, imminent peril, fearful exposure and ultimate rescue of Howard Blackburn, but this would seem to be only the beginning of the venturesome career of this most wonderful man.
One would think that after having been in such peril, and in the presence of death, and having by almost a miracle escaped, he would have been content to live at home in quiet and comfort, in his maimed condition, for the rest of his life. But no, his escape seems only to have fired him with a desire for further adventure.
In 1889, in a small thirty-foot sloop called the Great Western he crossed the Atlantic Ocean alone, having sailed from Gloucester, Mass. on June 17th and arrived in Gloucester, England on August 18th, after a voyage of sixty-two days.
On October 18th, 1897, in company with some friends, he sailed for the Klondike in the schooner Hattie J. Phillips.
On June 9th, 1901, he again crossed the Atlantic alone, in the twenty-five-foot sloop Great Republic, having left Gloucester. Mass., on June 9th, arriving at Lisbon, Portugal, on July 18th, just thirty-nine days.
In 1905 he made an unsuccessful attempt to again cross the Atlantic in the seventeen-foot dory America sailing from Gloucester Mass. on June 17th. On Sunday. July 5th, when 160 miles South-East of Cape Canso, Nova Scotia, he had his little craft stove by a heavy sea, abandoned the voyage, was picked up and returned to Sydney, Cape Breton.
He is now a settled-down citizen in Gloucester, Mass., running a Tobacco Store at 289 Main Street.
In the morning, when Helen opened her cabaña door, the dog was standing beside it. She was surprised. She’d seen him on the beach but never around the cabaña. He moved away when she came out, but not far, and he didn’t back off when she said “hello doggie”. She walked on, heading for the indoor café across from the beach where she could get café con leche. She needed air-conditioning and white tablecloths to help her think about being on holiday alone, with her limited Spanish.
In the restaurant she dawdled, pouring the hot coffee and hot milk from their small covered pots into her cup only a bit at a time to keep the liquids hot as long as possible. She ordered more and a sweet roll. It had been easy, with Robin as translator, protector and all things male and acclimated. But Robin had gone to San José the previous afternoon. He had work to do, and she’d meet him in four day’s time. Before he’d left, the thought of being here alone was exciting. She knew more Spanish than she had last year when they were here. She knew the beach and the sea, she knew the café vendors that spoke English. She knew the trails and picnic spots in the parque nacionale that bordered the public beach. It was the best place to test her Español sea legs. It was still scary though, knowing there was no Robin to provide backup.
Even accustomed as they were to turistas soaking up the cooled air of their restaurant, the waiters began pointedly glancing in her direction. They were replacing tablecloths, setting up for lunch, wanting to clear her table. She finished her coffee and took a deep breath as she went outside, to the heat and the linguistic challenges waiting beyond the anglicized environment of the café.
Close to the door but far enough away from anyone taking exception to his presence sat the dog. When he saw Helen, he stood up and gave one wave of his long tail. “Hello again, what are you doing here?” He didn’t move away, but she didn’t want to push her luck by going near him so she walked back toward the beach. The dog followed a couple of paces behind.
From his belly up, he looked like a perfect German Shepherd in head and ears, colouring and body shape. It was only his legs that made you wonder about the other part of his parentage: short little Corgi legs. He’d hung around her and Robin the past couple days, but wouldn’t come near. They had put bits of food down for him. He wouldn’t go near it until they stepped back. There were many stray dogs on the beach, some quite ferocious looking. Most came to the beach only at dusk, foraging for food people had dropped. This one hung around in the day too and looked like he should be someone’s pet. No, un perro de la playa – a beach dog – they were told. He likes the tourists, they feed him. Helen started ensuring she had a bit of leftover from any meal. This morning, when it seemed he was changing the terms of their relationship, she’d forgot to save any of her sweet bun.
She crossed the road to the beach and walked the length of it, the dog closing the distance until he was at her heel. She turned to him and put her hand out. After a minute, he sniffed her palm. “So, we’re friends?” He licked her hand. She ruffled his large pointed ears. “Hola, perrito, mi amigo.” He wagged his tail.
They walked on, side by side. She bought a pop and sat at a picnic table to study her language book. The dog lay beside her under the table. A boy came to clear tables. He saw the dog. He said to Helen in English, “The dog bothers you?” and jumped to shoo him away. The dog didn’t move, just sat up alongside Helen’s leg. “No, no, he’s fine. He’s with me.” The boy looked amused and went back to the stall. Helen saw him talking to his boss. A while later, he came back with a paper plate of meat scraps and plantain chips. “Here, he like this.”
Everywhere she went that day, the dog went with her. Some of the beach concessionaires smiled to see them, some asked if he was annoying her. None seemed surprised that he’d attached himself to her.
Helen had dinner at the thatched-roofed restaurant beside her cabaña. She ordered a full meal, so she’d have mucho leftovers for Perro who lay under her table. Clearly, he’d defined his job – to protect her. She was learning hers – to provide for him while he was in her employ. They went back to Helen’s cabaña, with the leftovers. Perro waited outside but came in when he saw Helen putting the plate on the floor. Perro had his dinner and slept on the floor at the end of Helen’s bed. Next morning they went to an outdoor beach café for breakfast. Perro lay under Helen’s table and nothing was said about his presence by the proprietor or the boy waiting tables.
Helen wanted to swim. She had her bathing suit on under her sundress and contact lenses in. She had a towel, a novel and sunscreen in a tote bag. She hoped it was safe to leave it on the beach. She and Robin had, but it’s different when you’re alone. Different for you and perhaps for thieves. But she had no choice if she wanted to swim. She preferred to not wear contacts in the water. In surf like this, big Pacific rollers, a near-sighted person is challenged. Contacts can be torn out, glasses can be ripped off. The options are wade sighted in the shallows or go blind into the surf. Helen usually chose blind but this time decided good sight was better, to see what Perro would do and if her bag was left alone. She hoped he would prove useful as a guard dog. It was a faint hope; Perro was surely on closer terms with the local thieves than with her. If she stayed close to shore, she could have a brief swim and keep an eye on her gear. She headed to the water, and Perro came right behind her.
The main beach is silky sand with rolling waves pounding ashore. There were no surfers that day, but the surf was worthy of their efforts. Helen had learned to body surf on these breakers, first time she and Robin were here. She strode into the sea, Perro following. So much for him protecting her bag. She had to battle the waves just to walk out far enough to swim. She didn’t think Perro would keep following, but he did. He was soon in over his depth. Helen returned to him, trying to get him to go ashore. She wanted to swim, and Perro wanted to keep her near him. She went out farther and farther, figuring the waves would force him to give up. He kept swimming, waves pounding in his face and then over his head. Helen looked back, astounded to see his head bob up from the surf, battling to get to her. His face, when it wasn’t submerged by waves, was frantic. He was in over his head and, in his mind, so therefore was she. He couldn’t let her be that far away.
Helen let the waves carry her back, he swam out. When they met, Helen coming inland, Perro going seaward, he climbed up the front of her, exhausted. She held him and let them both be driven back to shore. Helen decided to try again; maybe Perro would realise it was best to leave her to her watery fate. No, he swam out again, and again they floated in, gripped together. Third time, Helen stayed closer to shore. Perro stayed at the water’s edge, with eyes on her. If she crossed his designated depth line, he was in the water, to save her. If she didn’t, he stayed on the beach. When he felt sure that she would stay nearby, he took up sentry duty beside her bag. She was free to have a leisurely swim as long as she stayed close enough to not worry Perro.
After her Perro-permitted swim, Helen trotted up to where he stood guard. They lay down on the towel and sunned their bellies and their backs. Helen read and Perro dreamed with moving paws and whiffling noises. Was he chasing rabbits or swimming in his dreams?
For dinner Helen and Perro walked to a fancy restaurant about a half kilometer up the road. She told him he deserved it. The waiter said no dogs. She wasn’t asking to take him in the dining room, Helen said, she just wanted an outside table for “myself and my dog”. English in a haughty tone got them a lovely patio table and a delicious doggy-bag.
Next day Perro and Helen use their agreed-upon system for swimming. Helen stays near shore and Perro guards her stuff. She wears no contacts or glasses. She’s promised Perro she won’t go out over her head, but she can still duck inside the waves, surf with them and let them roll over her head. Perro sits spine rigid beside her pack. A man walks past, too close for Perro’s liking. He snarls until the man passes, and resumes his watch over her. Helen comes out of the water. Perro keeps his position until she reaches him, then wags himself silly in delight that she’s back safe and sound.
She asks him what they should do for dinner. Being a beggar dog, he knows to keep his own counsel and let the donor decide. She decides well – a thatched hut bar up the beach. The owner knows Helen. He tried to talk her and Robin into operating the bar in winter so he and his wife could go to San José or maybe to San Francisco. There’s a cat, the bar mouser, and a parrot. Helen lets the parrot sit on her head where it squawks at Perro. No one else makes a fuss about Perro’s presence; he is a welcome guest. He just has to put up with that insufferable parrot, and the cat staring at him with malevolent eyes. Pay-off is big time! A big plate of fresh shrimp.
Next morning, Helen packed a small bag with water and biscuits for them both. They walked across the wide swath of public beach and entered the jungle, heading to the parque nacionale. Helen had been in the park before; she knew there was a small, protected beach. Without surf, it would be nice for Perro. Perro also knew the park, and the park rangers, and he lagged behind as they neared the entrance. He knew he wasn’t welcome.
Helen strode to the park gates. She too knew dogs weren’t allowed. The guard saw him, and said quite a bit, the only words Helen could pick out being “prohibidos los perros”. Helen said “El es mi perro, él viene conmigo.” The guard said in English, “No dog in park, get away.” To make sure his point was clear, he raised his rifle and aimed it at Perro.
Helen jumped in front of it screaming, “put that gun down right now. Are you a lunatic?” “No dog in el parque. Stray dogs get shot. You not want that, get away.” “You’ll have to shoot me first and think how that will look on international tv.” She carried on in that vein, despite knowing no cameras were anywhere around. Perro snapped ferociously, from behind Helen. Using both Spanish and English, the guard told Helen he had the right to arrest her, and shoot the dog. Helen said “no tienes jack shit. Si you touch este perro, yo kill you myself. Y yo soy una norteamericana, una canadiense. You want to defend yourself against headlines – ‘el guard en shootout con una canadiense y perro de la beach’?” The guard put down his rifle. “We know this dog – un parásito, always begging. This one time, go in.” Helen didn’t know, but hoped, that her impassioned defense, fracturing two languages, helped Perro win the day. And his action! He too confronted the guard and he knew, better than she, the risk he was taking. They walked fast as soon as they got in the park. Get some distance, in case the guard changes his mind.
They passed the first beach, one with large waves but not as large as those that hit the public beach. Some people were way out, riding the waves. Families with small children were on the beach or in shallow water where ebbing waves washing over the children gave them a thrill without endangering them. Ten minutes more walking brought them to a small beach tucked in a cove. A couple of people were at the far end. Quiet beach and quiet water, just as Helen remembered it from a day there with Robin. Helen and Perro waded in. Helen swam and floated, Perro dogpaddled alongside her and sometimes rested in her arms. They swam, sunned and swam again. They left just before twilight and walked across the public beach in darkness.
Supper at her cabaña restaurant, steak. Not what Helen would usually order, but she’d be leaving the next day and Perro needed a good meal. How could she take him with her, give him a home? But she and Robin are going on to Nicaragua – part of this working holiday. Borders, planes, hotels, vets, vaccinations, not enough time. There is no way she can take Perro, and should she even try? She tells herself she’s not the first turista Perro has made feel at home here, and there will be more.
The morning bus arrives. Helen boards and so does Perro. She tries to explain to him and the driver while she puts him off the bus. The driver puts the bus in gear and again finds he has an extra passenger, a very determined dog. All Helen can hope, as she pushes the dog off the bus the final time, is that another turista comes soon for him. Maybe one who will take him home. She stumbles to the back of the bus, tears streaming, and looks back. He sits at the bus stop, watching the bus as it snakes its way out of town.
It started with an email I received. You may have also got it, it’s making the rounds. A woman turned a jet into a house for only $30,000. It’s astounding, as is where it’s situated. I thought, well, you might luck out on beautiful wood and fixtures at the scrap yard. And just because you didn’t spend much converting it doesn’t mean you don’t have the money to buy ocean-view land in the tropics.
My husband delved into it further (sorry, links are no longer valid). The email is partially true – more accurately, it’s two true stories mashed into one. A woman did convert a 727 for $30,000 – on a country lot in Mississippi. And there is a converted jet with fabulous teak paneling and chandeliers overlooking a beach at the Hotel Costa Verde in Costa Rica. That’s it in the picture at top. My husband’s opinion was that the real story of the $30,000 conversion is interesting on its own, as is the story of the fancy hotel one. I agree, but for me the story really hit home when I checked out the hotel jet story.
I yelped with almost physical pain when I saw Hotel Costa Verde, Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica. Manuel Antonio is my very favourite beach in the world. There is a public beach and a national park side by side. Here it is as I remember it. Never crowded when I’ve been there – maybe it is when Costa Ricans take their vacations, but not when tourists flock to resorts.
There really were no resorts there then, 20 years ago. Some small hotels, clusters of cabañas on the beach. That was it. Especially near the national park, a wildlife refuge, there were no tourist developments. You had to make sure you took your own water and food into the park because you wouldn’t be able to buy any there. On the public beach, small huts sold food and drinks. Picnic tables to eat at. This is a small bar on the beach where they also rented surfboards and bicycles. There was a bar parrot, here sitting on my head. Also a bar cat who patrolled his territory but would deign to eat a shrimp if you gave him one off your plate. The food was delicious, the owners delightful.
Manuel Antonio wasn’t hard to get to. Drive or take a bus, fly to nearby Quepos and take the small bus to the beach. If you wanted to only hike in the park, walk a couple hundred yards from the bus stop across the beach and you were at the park entrance.
Now, I can’t imagine it. A private path into the wildlife refuge for hotel guests. Special packages for wedding parties. Edgy brides frightening the bejabbers out of poor monkeys who thought they were safe in the protected forest. It doesn’t bear thinking about. Yet I can’t help but think about it. I had a special experience with a dog here, a dog with no name so I called him Perro, Spanish for dog. I wonder if the stray and feral dogs still roam the beach, most not friendly but a few like Perro enjoying human company. Pigs too roamed the beach, at night, cleaning up the scraps left.
Aren’t there enough beaches and islands that have become resort-land? Don’t bridal parties and package holiday seekers have enough options already? Do they have to go to Manuel Antonio too?
Perro has stayed in my mind for 20 years. A few years ago I started writing a story about him. I finally finished it to my satisfaction last year. Click here to read it.
Newfoundland Mi'kmaq, family history, Coronation Street, etc.