This Christmas I got Tales from Pigeon Inlet, a set of CD's with 30 of the stories that Ted Russell told on the Fisherman's Broadcast in the 1950's. I remember liking reruns of the stories when I was a young teenager, but hadn't heard them for a long time.
Since I got this collection, I have gone through the entire series of stories probably 10-15 times. I keep thinking that I will get bored, but once one of the stories starts, and Uncle Mose starts talking about Aunt Sophie or Grandpa Wallcott, it seems rude to bother him, and once again I am drawn into the life of these people who I recognise in my own parents and grandparents.
There are many reasons to love these stories. Ted Russell is a master storyteller with real empathy and love of the character he plays, and of the other people in this place on the Northeast Coast. His style is engaging, and you enjoy the way he tells a story as much or more than the story itself. His natural humour, the way he brings out each character with sympathy and humour, and his very expressions and accent make you feel like you are in the sail-loft with the other fisherman, listening to an old and respected friend.
He grew up near the end of the era of outport life in the early 20th century, and he was trying to preserve what the life was like, and how the Newfoundlanders who experienced it were able to cope, and to bring an amazing community spirit and a sense of humour to a life that is beyond the experience of most Newfoundlanders living today. He shows them as real people with real faults who still managed to live and thrive together, and to respect at least some aspects of their neighbors (Stealin' the Holes). The stories show in hard times people would share and struggle together, and how it was assumed to be the natural course of life and not something to be commented on as something special (The Bull Moose).
The characters are amazing. Grandpa Wallcott is the sage who tells sly stories that gently poke fun of those who take themselves too seriously (Arguments), and who is in turn prevented from becoming to big for his britches by his wife Liz (Alcoholic Liquor) . Skipper Bob Killick is the magistrate who knows little of the law, but what he doesn't know he makes up for in his understanding of people (Beery Juice and Stealin' the Holes), and in his ability to come to verdicts and sentences that are fair and consider the sensibilities and the characters of all involved. Aunt Sophie keeps Uncle Mose on his toes and makes him work for his comfortable bachelorhood (Drama Festivals).
In his stories Russell covers three generations of people and over 50 years of history, from the late 1800's through the Great Depression (Tobacco & Hardtack), the World Wars, and though to the beginnings of adjustment to both Confederation (John Cabot) and to Newfoundland opening up to the rest of the world (Jonah & the Whale). He shows how different people felt about such things as Confederation without forcing his own view (The Hockey Game and Dictionaries).
In several of the stories he deals with how outport people understood and reacted to the changing world around them. While uneducated in modern ways and viewpoints, he portrays them as wise even in thier misconceptions about the outer world. In fact, he sometimes shows where the viewpoint of the outporters has more value than that of Canada and the "Modern" world.
Finally, he wanted to make sure that all people in Newfoundland would be able to understand each other in the future, that they would be able to know the difference between a "mug up" and a "scoff". He even suggested that the new university should make a dictionary of such words, so that young people would understand their elders (:-). In his stories he has done the same in a much more fun and memorable way.
His stories tell things about the people and the outport life of our forebears that cannot be captured by any dry history, and that transcends the fiction of the Tales to the truth of their lives and values. Hopefully our generation and future generations will never forget and will learn from them.
I'll probably wear the poor CDs out, and I look forward to anything else that may be recovered from the 600+ stories and tales that he learned and transformed into magic as Uncle Mose.