Stories, Tall Tales, and Truths of Newfoundland and Labrador In this diverse collection of stories, Hubert Furey transports the reader back in time to an outport culture in which he lived and which has long since disappeared. It was a time when the “slapper” was deemed to be an indispensable aid to success in the classroom, when homemade moonshine was part of any festive celebration, when fairies abounded in the woods waiting to lead the unwary astray, and when friends sat around the table and didn’t mind having a good argument, even if the subject was as mundane as chuckley pears. Hubert writes about the inspirational lives of the local folks he met through his early teaching career in communities around the province, as well as the traditional ways of celebrating, grieving, and gathering in this unique culture. While the people in these stories are fictional, the lives are not. From hunting to courting, cooking to preaching, As the Old Folks Would Say captures Newfoundland’s exceptional heritage and the spirit of life on the island.
The Great Chuckley Pear Debate
It had all the ingredients for a lively, engaging, conversational evening, everything planned to perfection.
How could it be otherwise, when one is enjoying a delectably prepared meal with one’s loving partner of thirty-five years, in the company of a gracious hostess and two lifelong friends, in a charming old two-storey house overlooking one of the most enchanting parts of Conception Bay? What could go wrong, you ask, in a setting veritably oozing with nostalgia and tranquility?
Well, something did go wrong, terribly wrong.
I can’t remember precisely, but things took a negative turn somewhere between the freshly picked native Newfoundland garden salad delightfully seasoned with imported Coursada’s lemon oil mist and the main course of baked Italian chicken and Catalan scalloped potato, sprinkled with just a hint of minced parsley. By the time the deliciously tempting Bo Taung Hoi lemon dessert arrived, the evening had thoroughly degenerated into something resembling raucous confrontation.
All because somebody mentioned “chuckley pears.”
You wouldn’t think anybody would be gauche enough to mention “chuckley pears” in such an idyllic setting, amid glasses of Cabernet Sauvignon 1972 and crumbs of LaTell de Souce Artan French Bread! At home, in the confines of one’s own indisputable bower—even in the arms of one’s loving companion—one can talk about things like chuckley pears at length. But in front of an acclaimed academic! In front of people from another outport!
Well, somebody did, and the evening went from bad to worse. I mean, we could have talked about blueberries, for instance. There would have been absolutely no dispute about blueberries; no cold, darting, threatening looks, no violent arm-swinging in debate, no pounding of the table to jostle the crumbs of the LaTell de Souce Artan French bread.
No sir, there would be none of that about blueberries. Blueberries are easily discernible, easily identifiable. Blueberries could be our provincial symbol. Their bushes are unmistakably low, their berries unmistakably round and unmistakably blue.
You never hear people argue about blueberries.
By the time the dessert was finished, the party had definitely soured. I mean, how can you eat delicious lemon-flavoured Bo Taung Hoi dessert and mention chuckley pears in the same breath? Well, the lady formerly from Savage Point who now lived in Little Cove could, and she was very assertive about her position—which women are supposed to be now that they are free.
“I’m telling you chuckley pears are small and round and black and fuzzy.”
“Fuzzy,” I affirmed.
I was on her side. Chuckley pears were small and round and black and fuzzy. Everybody in Savage Point knew chuckley pears were small and round and black and fuzzy.
“Fuzzy!” retorted her husband, a tall man from Little Cove who sat with his arms folded and didn’t like the tea.
“Yes, fuzzy,” his wife and I fired back in unison.
“Not fuzzy,” interjected my wife. She was portraying disgust. Fuzzy reminded her of bears. She didn’t like bears. She suddenly became very contemplative. “No, not fuzzy. . . . Bears are fuzzy,” she added as an afterthought.
“But bears are much bigger,” I protested.
“That’s true. Bears are much bigger,” affirmed my wife, now very contemplative.
“The definitive answer is right in here,” interjected our hostess, holding the Dictionary of Newfoundland English over her head, enjoining us all, by that demonstrative action, to look in her direction.
“. . . chuckley . . . a Cp various astringent in OED and DAE . . .”
“There, that should resolve it,” she declared triumphantly, as she thumped the book on the table.
It was only her second glass of Cabernet Sauvignon 1972, but you could see she was definitely formulating a clear path to our enlightenment.
“. . . choke cherry . . . choke plum . . . choke pear . . .” our hostess continued.
“Well, which one are they?” demanded the tall man from Little Cove impatiently.
“Which one is they?” corrected my wife, who is an English teacher.
“All right, then, is they,” replied the tall man, smouldering.
He used to be an English teacher, too, but deferred to my wife, who hadn’t retired yet.
“Well, it has to be one of them, doesn’t it,” replied our hostess, putting her fingers to her lips with a puzzled expression.
“Well, I’m telling you that a chuckley pear is bigger and pear-shaped and purple. I don’t know what you’re talking about,” said my wife menacingly in my direction, “but it’s not a chuckley pear.”
My wife had suddenly vaulted from contemplative to combative, and I felt a shudder down my spine. I’m sorry, up my spine. I was getting very confused by this time.
“Aha!” shouted the hostess triumphantly, smacking page 96 of the Dictionary of Newfoundland English hard with her index finger. “Purple! . . . among the former were the purple chuckley pears. There. That proves it. Chuckley pears are purple. You’re absolutely right.” Indicating my wife.
“Definitely. Chuckley pears are purple,” said the tall man, glowering at his wife.
“Purple? How can chuckley pears be purple?” queried his wife in return, formerly from Savage Point now living in Little Cove. Her face had taken on a look of total consternation.
“Oh, most certainly, chuckley pears are purple,” stated my wife agreeably. “Everybody knows chuckley pears are purple.”
She had turned to look stonily in my direction. My shuddering became an uncontrollable vibration.
“Black,” I whispered. I was trying to rally, but it was all I could muster.
“Most definitely black,” agreed the tall man’s wife, formerly from Savage Point.
“Definitely not black,” enjoined my wife coldly, with that if-you-like-her-better-than-you-like-me look . . .
“Why does it have to be purple,” I implored.
“Well, it is,” asserted the tall man from Little Cove, a strident tone to his voice.
The hostess still held her finger firmly implanted on page 96, her eyes darting from one couple to the other. Chuckley pears weren’t supposed to break up marriages. They were small and round and fuzzy and . . .
“Purple!” exclaimed my wife, eerily reading her thoughts.
“Black!” I murmured, barely audible. The tall man’s wife, formerly from Savage Point, nodded her head affirmatively in my direction, then sat erect, her arms folded defiantly in the direction of her husband.
“Purple!” grimaced the tall man from Little Cove, totally supportive of my wife.
Silence fell over the room. The hostess, feeling impelled to pour oil on troubled bushes, continued to read from the Dictionary of Newfoundland English.
“‘Chuckley pears appeal most to the palate in the autumn, but it is in the spring when they are most beautiful . . .’”
Sullen silence greeted her cheery efforts. We weren’t going to be put off that easily.
“. . . when they are purple,” glared my wife.
“Black!” hissed the tall man’s wife, formerly from Savage Point.
“Purple!” snarled the tall man from Little Cove.
“Black!” I replied hoarsely.
Our hostess kept staring at the Dictionary of Newfoundland English.
She was secretly ecstatic. There was a new school of Newfoundland philosophic thought definitely emerging here. After all, Socrates had his hemlock. Silence reigned around the room. Something had to be done, and I had to do it. A brilliant idea suddenly appeared before me, a Newton’s apple, a definite stroke of genius, a way to diffuse, a way to bring the conversation to another, more sociable level.
“Is a hert a blueberry?” I asked, my eyes brightening with a new-found enthusiasm.
Blueberries were as safe as the weather.
“A hert is bigger,” glowered the tall man.
“No, it’s smaller,” glowered the tall man’s wife.
“Definitely bigger,” averred my wife in my direction. “And they’re a darker blue . . .”
“But I thought . . .”
I didn’t finish.
We talk about cloning now. Since they did that sheep thing in Scotland. It’s perfectly safe.
Delightful stories of courting, cooking, preaching and hunting.-- Atlantic Books Today --