Saturday, August 11, 2007

The Wake

'As for man his days are as grass........
as a flower of the field so he flourishesh
for the wind passeth over it and it is gone;
and the place thereof shall know it no more'
-psalm 103,15-16

A pale gold moon arose across Bonavista Bay in the darkening blue of the sky, as the evening star twinkled in the coming of night. Uncle Dicky (Richard) Brown leaned on his garden gate, his heart heavy in this year 1900. Tonight he would be with his old friend Paddy Brennan for the last time. No more would they sit around the little bogie in the woodshed to talk of old times together, of the days when they were young on the schooner, the fishing on the Labrador, the trips to the ice, the good times and the bad, the jokes they'd shared. Dicky smiles, remembering how Paddy had said he allowed he'd have to be first to go so as to try and talk St. Peter into letting Dicky in when he came, there being no Protestants allowed in Heaven. Dicky had retorted by saying he guessed the first thing he'd have to do when he got there was to try and get a pardon for one Paddy Brennan from the bad place, as Heaven wouldn't be Heaven at all without his old friend.
"Time to be getting up to the wake, Dicky" Becky, his wife, called from the doorway. "Tell Mary Brennan I'll be expecting her and Timmy down to bide the night."
"Yes, Becky. I'll be dodging along now," answered Dicky, as he douted his pipe and stuffed it down his jacket pocket. How Paddy had happened to fall and strike his head on that rock yesterday, Dicky didn't know. They were up in their hide-away making up a bit of stuff for Christmas when he'd tripped on the path coming down.
Poor little Mikey. He still couldn't understand why his beloved grandfather was dead. His parents had died with the fever in '96, and since then he was Paddy's and Dicky's boy for sure. Mikey met his Granda's friend Dicky now at the door. There were no tears in his eyes, and his bright red hair was neatly combed. "Me and grandma been waiting for you, Uncle Dicky; the people are here," he said, holding tight to Dicky's hand. The people were there, among them Garett Kelly with his accordion. There was a bottle of store-bought whisky on the table, and a pot of rabbit stew boiling on the stove. Paddy's wife, Mary, followed their old friend to the parlor where Paddy lay.
"I'll cry tomorrow, Dicky," she said, "When he's put away. Tonight Paddy's goin' to have a wake like he always talked about; like his father had before him."
The night wore on, Mikey fell asleep, and woke again. The whisky and rabbit stew was gone. Everyone, thought Mikey, is having a good time except grandfather. He put on his shoes, took his jacket from the back porch, and stole out into the night, up the path he knew so well, and to the hide-away where he carefully lifted a jar from the shelf. It was the first he had brewed alone, and grandpa was supposed to taste it this very day. He brought it down to the cottage and set the jar on the kitchen table.
"I made this myself, everyone," he was saying, "and I want grandpa to have it for his wake." Mikey watched as it disappeared, everyone saying it was the best moonshine they had ever tasted. When only a little remained in the jar, Mikey poured it into a cup and carried it into the parlor, taking care that no one was looking.
"You, grandpa, I made it just like you showed me. Here," Mikey was saying, as he poured the fiery liquid down the slightly open mouth of his grandfather.
"What are ye up to, Mikey?" Uncle Dickey had followed the boy but stopped and stared now in disbelief. Color was coming into Paddy's face. He blinked and opened his eyes, then tried to sit up.
"What I be doin' here in this box in the cold, Dicky? Is you and Mary trying to make me catch me death?"
It was said afterward in Gambo that Paddy had once remarked the worst thing about being dead was having to miss your own wake until the best of it was drunk up, but he sure was glad he'd come to before they'd got him underground.
For days it was all the talk in the village how they had nearly buried poor Paddy Brennan while he was still unconscious from a blow on the head. The doctor summoned from the town gave them a lecture, and it seemed the only one who didn't believe him was Dicky Brown.
"It's like this, Paddy Boy," he told his friend later that fall in the woodshed, "You and me been seein' and buryin' dead people all our lives and I'm telling ye now, ye were deader than a doornail. It was the stuff that young Mikey made that brought ye back to life, and we've got to find it." Over and over again they made the little boy repeat what he had put in his jar, and always he told them the same, until his head ached, and granny would come to fetch him and declare she wasn't putting up with this nonsense any longer.
The winter passed, and with the coming of summer the two old men began their search in earnest. "If we find it, Mikey me Boy," Uncle Dicky told him as the two old men were getting ready their boat to find a special sea-weed Paddy thought might be the secret ingredient, "If we find it, it will be a bigger thing than them new steam engines, bigger even than anything in the world." But they never found it. That day they capsized, and the two old friends Paddy and Dicky were drowned.
Although the little town was saddened by their loss, most folks agreed with Mike Delaney when he said, "The Lord must have intended them to go together, same as they lived."
They were buried the same day, Paddy in the Catholic cemetery in the morning, and Dicky in the Middle Brook that very afternoon. To the day of her death, Maggie Coombs maintained that when the minister at Dicky Brown's graveside had said, "although their bodies were buried apart, God must have their souls together in Heaven," the Catholic priest had added a fervent "Amen".
The years passed, it is September 1933, and the late afternoon sun filters softly through the turning leaves of the maple trees at the old hide-away and onto the head of a old man, whose bright red hair has turned silver. His hands are busy, and the little boy at his side Dicky's grandson watches attentively.
"Remember, Seymore," he says, "The secret is in the formula, That much I know."
"If we find it, Mr. Mike," asks the boy, "will it be bigger than the rockets to the moon they're building now?"
"Bigger," he says. "It will be just as big now as it was in your grandfather Dicky's time. It will be larger than life itself." As the two walked away and back home to the village a large boulder that had not moved in years had done so in their path. It was the same boulder that poor old Paddy Brennan fell on more than 30 years ago. The 2 just stared at each other and laughed. They dare not repeat what had just happened less they end up in a St. John's lunatic Asylum. Whether it was a sign from Paddy and Dicky that all was well in that kingdom in the sky or not they were not about to take that chance.   

R Brentnall
Freelance Writer