Dreams of Fogo Island

Ever since Leonard Budgell wrote to me of being a child on Fogo island, it has seemed a mystical place. My dear friend wrote of roaming Fogo, of how he walked and played there, developed his love of seagoing vessels, participated in boyish shenanigans, made friends with schooner captains, and experienced in Mary Harnett’s parlour (under the full gaze of the minister) his first very innocent sexual understanding.

His ancestors came to the island with the fisheries, probably in the eighteenth century. He told me there were two branches of Budgells that came to Fogo and the Change Islands from Devon. His uncle John had a house at Wild Cove, so that is where his father took his family on what we would now call a year’s sabbatical. We think this photo is his uncle’s house, and that he is one of the children.

Of course, Fogo was only one place he made me yearn for, and I have been able to be in many places he loved in Labrador. But Fogo hovers, and I would love to go.

len and maxThere aren’t many photos of Len or his siblings when they were young. This is a five year old Len apprehensive about going off to boarding school with his brother Max, but he was a person whose looks changed little, even to a photo taken a year or two before he died. So I can imagine his ten year old face, and delight on it as, at a Captain’s request, he climbed to replace a flag halliard at the top of a mast. Here are his words:

It’s about when I was ten and in awe of ships, and anything to do with the sea.  Once I was on the deck of a little schooner and her owner wanted to replace a flag halliard.  He threw one end to me and said, “You’m big enough, go aloft now and reeve he in the main pole for me.”

I took the end and hardly breathing, fear and pride mixed, I climbed into the backstays. 

He once said he wanted to show me all the places he’d been to. He had the gift of making them all so interesting. The landscape of island at the edge of ocean had always intrigued him, but it was the people he loved most. In fact, I had to track down where his uncle lived by searching for people he wrote about, especially Mary Harnett. Harnett, Budgell, Ackroyd, Coffin, Walbourne, Sheppherd… These people and more. He remembered them all, to the kind of boat engines they use; here are a few paragraphs from a letter:

No two engines made the same noise.  We knew them all in the dark as well as in the daylight.  Mr. Ackroyd away up in the upper harbour had a big old Meanus and it would go bellowing ill-temperedly out the Wester tickle.  Caves’ eight Acadia with its slow tiny bark would go straight out the middle tickle, Taylor’s Hubbard had a wheezy note.  It seemed that the man and his engine bore one another a resemblance.  Cheerful Mr. Walbourne and his chuckling Adams were nearly always first away.

Coffin had a quiet little Perfection, perfectly matched to its owner.  He fished alone.  He didn’t talk much, but every morning he’d cut close to the wharf, standing up with the tiller between his knees.  He’d take the pipe out of his mouth and give me a wink.  If my mother wanted a fish for supper, I’d stand on the wharf in the afternoon and Coffin would throw a fat cod or a small salmon deftly at my feet.  The little Perfection seemed to slide that boat along by magic.  There was almost no bow wave, no wake, but it was one of the fastest boats in the harbour.

Sheppherd was nearly always last to get going.  He had a compulsion to be one of the first out past the harbour islands but he hardly ever made it.  He had one of the most modern engines on the whole island.  Maybe too modern, it was a six N.P. Acadia.  Unlike all the other dependable old Acadia make-and-breaks, Sheppherd’s was a jump-start affair.  Though faster than the other types, it was affected by dampness.  The trembler coil and sparkplug would be wet with condensation every morning and the high tension spark would short out in all directions.

I’d hear Sheppherd cranking his engine.  He lived only a few doors down the harbour.  Crank, prime, crank, prime, curse, crank until finally it would emit one sulky bang and die…

He wrote of the divide on religious lines, the minister’s name, the arrival of the Bishop, and Guy Fawkes bonfires that he wasn’t supposed to go to… So I think I hear Fogo calling. I’d find a bit of Leonard there, and probably a bit of myself.

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