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from A Squandered Life / Bay Talk '65
They told stories about life back home which beggared belief....
In the course of the next few days and weeks I learned that everybody who came from St John's, Newfoundland's provincial capital and home to all it's rich and ambitious, were “townies”, and that everybody else was from “the bay” - the generic term for all the outport communities dotted around the island's rugged coastline. The term also applied to places like Gander, Grand Falls, and Corner Brook which were sizeable towns and not even on the coast. As for the rest of the world, it was known simply as “the mainland”. I was clearly a mainlander and this was referred to in nearly every conversation I had for the entire first term.
Those early classes made very little impression on me. I was drawn mostly to the various cultures of the bay as characterised by my co-habitants at Doyle House. They came from places like Gambo, Fogo, Little Seldom, Jackson's Arm, Badger, Bonavista, Old Perlican, Cape Saint Mary's, and Portugal Cove. Their fathers were fishermen and loggers and miners and unemployed. They swept into St John's on a tide of largesse from the provincial government which was trying to get them to upskill and move away from a dependence on nature.
They addressed each other and everyone else as “boy” and spoke mind-bendingly fast with an Irish lilt and a wit that outstretched mine by many leagues. They told stories about life back home which beggared belief until I slowly realised they were indulging in their favourite conversational sport – telling increasingly incredulous lies to an unsuspecting muppet.
I might pass a room with an open door and hover as five or six guys might be sitting on the beds chatting. One of them would introduce a modest lie about anything under the sun. In the blink of an eye someone else would give it an insignificant embellishment, another a barely noticeable polish, until the whole thing became so outrageous that even they couldn't keep their faces straight any longer. I was a favourite target because I was so gob-smackingly earnest and naïve and a mainlander to boot.
Some of the most satisfying and privileged moments of my early university life were occasions when I was, at long last, allowed to participate in such conversational scams being played out on other baymen.
© 2013 Deacon Martin