Thursday, October 28, 2010

Beacon on the Cliff !

That night in early September , 1950 , at the old Union Station is stamped in my memory until the day I die .... and hopefully , even in the here- or thereafter ! I was 14 years old , excited and "rearin' to go" ! A bunch of us young men and boys were bidding fond farewells to our friends and family and making ready to board the CPR's Montreal bound train with Saint Mary's College in Brockville , Ontario , as our final destination. We were off to the Redemptorist Fathers' minor seminary to study for the Catholic priesthood. At that point in my life I had never been farther north than Jemseg , nor set foot beyond Saint George to the west nor Saint Martins to the east. So this trip was a "really big" event ...... the adrenaline drive or rush associated with the journey plus the emotional sevrage from loved ones over anticipated long periods of time.-.As it stood theoretically back then I would be coming home Christmasses and  Summer holidays for the first six years and then , at age 19 ......once weaned ..... I would be leaving home for good .... one year at the novitiate at L'abord à Plouffe in Montreal  where I would don the Redemptorist habit (cassock) , spend a full year in meditation, silence and prayer ...... at the end of which I would take temporary (  as opposed to perpetual at this stage) vows of poverty , chastity and obedience. ( When telling my story in later years my wife and sons would jokingly remind me that the only one of the three I ever really kept was poverty !) From here we would head off to the major seminary in Woodstock , Ontario , for six years of philosophical and theological studies followed by ordination ...... and then out into the ministry wherever needed in our parishes across Canada  ..... or maybe even off to the foreign missions in Japan.

Since I was the new guy .... the others having been to Brockville before except for Kenny Jimmo maybe.... .....and the youngest in the group the older boys all promised my Mom and Dad
to keep a watchful eye on me and make sure I ate my peas and spinach ... and didn't get into any serious trouble to speak. There were the two Fitzpatricks , Pat and Frank , from the corner or Albert and Victoria Streets ...... now a vacant lot in the shooting gallery section of our beloved North End. The other guys from Saint Peter's parish were Bernie Lunney , Pete Eldridge and Joe Bartlett off the Avenue , Ed Boyce , Louis Hanlon of Main Street fame I believe , Clarendon Street's own Jack McCarthy and Ken Jimmo from Hilyard Street. The contingent was rounded out by three uptowners from the Cathedral parish , Erv Williams , Murray McGowan and Walter Lynch ...... plus one lone wolf from the South End , Ray Britt ..... a very witty guy , a prankster and a real wheeler-dealer !! He certainly made our trips much livlier and more enjoyable.

The train finally pulled out about 8:15 and chugged its way towards the Reversing Falls and we all sat down in the passenger car ....... gazing out the wide panoramic windows ........ trying to fill up our memory boxes with images of places and things we loved and cherished  to feed our reminiscences while away from home.
As the train puffed ,  squeaked and squealed its way across the Falls Bridge I took one last , lingering glance at Pokiok .... atop Pokiok rather ..... at the Campbell house ........knowing full well that my own home sweet home lie hidden in a tuft of spruce , cedar and fir trees just below it ........... and a warm feeling invaded my whole body .............. and this same sensation of well-being has never left me and reinforces itself each time I look up at the beacon on the cliff ....... repeating itslf over and over each time over the last 60 years that I have either come back home to visit and when leaving again to drive back to Quebec or elsewhere. The once Campbell home which now belongs to my friend , Gérald Robichaud , probably the most well-defined and most visible house in the whole Saint John North End and beyond .... Milford and Randolph included ... still plays an important role in my everyday life .... a strongly symbolic role maybe .... yet one I count on daily to recharge my sentimental batteries as I behold it every morning from my breakfast nook on the ninth floor of the Fort Howe Building I reflect upon my childhood in Pokiok as well as the people and things I loved so well ...... back then before life got complicated !!


  1. ...Interesting, going back to sentiments experienced when you were 14...Question: Are comments written here read by anybody or just you......wouldn't want to correct any inaccuracies in PUBLIC.....still enjoy your writing, inaccuracies and all !!!

  2. My dear childhood friend from Québec.... in your brief comment you highlight the inaccuracies in my text. Whether it be my spelling of the placename "L'abord à Plouffe which should be hyphenated in French or the number of years spent in philosophical and theological studies in the seminary which I treated but briefly are of secondary or tertiary importance in this post.The main idea I wished to share with my readers hinges upon the symbolic energy emanating from this house on the cliff for myself ...... a warm and fuzzy feeling that comes over me which began that night crossing the Falls' Bridge some 60 years ago and still today bringing me a mild jolt or tingle of well-being every time I look up at it. Glad you like my writing though , old buddy , ........ hopefully it compensates for my factual shortcomings!Copiosa apud eum redemptio !

  3. Sylvia Johnston SpencerNovember 2, 2010 at 9:38 PM

    I love it all...people from Pokiok "get it".
    Again, Gerry, thank you and keep up the great writings.

  4. Hi Sylvia ,
    Great to see you in here again. Bill and I go way back to seminary days and by inaccuracies he simply wanted me to correct the number of years I had allotted to philosophy and theology studies back then .... which I promptly did ! Guess I didn't want to bore my readers to death by telling them that my class was the last bevy of Redemptorist seminarians to have all their studies , textbooks and exams included , in Latin .... and the first to get a full-blown university degree at the same time !! Hopefully you and your family are enjoying good health. Never fear , dear Sylvia , I'm dedicated to this site and shall keep on stoking the fire until I run our of wood .... and then I'll take the skuttle and go fetch some coal !! Hugs to you and yours.

  5. Good to see myself and the family