Although I grew up as a daring tomboy, in Branch, in the 1950s, there was one thing of which I was terrified. Ghosts always put the fear of God (or his nemesis) in me.
I always associate this time of the year with spectres, apparitions and the dearly deceased. It might have something to do with long nights and the lack of daylight hours. Maybe it’s because November is the month of the Holy Souls, for us Catholics, anyway. As well, this season always makes me think of the late Mrs. Ellen Emma Power, who was one of the best storytellers I have ever known. Ghost stories were only part of her narrating expertise. When I was a child, the art of storytelling was alive and well in Branch. My friend Eleanor was Mrs. Ellen Emma’s granddaughter and my sister Jean and I spent many hours in Eleanor’s kitchen listening to her grandmother.
I remember one dark and dreary fall night when she kept us spellbound as we listened to a tale about how some fisherman’s “fetch” had appeared, out of the fog, down on the Bank, oilskins dripping salt water, accurately foretelling his untimely death by drowning. If you don’t know what a fetch is, look it up in the Dictionary of Newfoundland English.
As I heard the story of how the cry of the banshee foretold someone’s demise in a blinding snowstorm, I was mesmerized. The gentle lilt of Mrs. Ellen Emma’s Irish voice was enough to captivate any audience.
When ten o’clock came, we realized it was time for us to go home. I don’t know what Jean was thinking, but I was afraid to go out into the night. Spooky images of all kinds were swimming in my head. Neither one of us made a move toward the door. When Mrs. Ellen Emma started with “I’ll tell you about the time Mr. So and So was walking home to Beckford at twelve o’clock one dark night,” we just knew we had leave. If two ghost stories had scared us, then by the end of another one, we would be petrified.
Eleanor’s father, the late Mr. Allan Power, always saved the day (or should I say the night) for us. No matter how tired or sleepy he was, he would put on his coat and rubbers and walk with us to our home in the Rocky Lane. One night, my imagination was running so wild, I nearly fainted when someone’s water dog brushed alongside me in the dark. Another time, when I heard my cousin Frankie whistling in the distance, I was convinced it was a banshee coming down over the Knapp.
That gifted storyteller, Mrs. Ellen Emma, is long gone, and many of her stories have faded from my recollection. If she lived today, in this age of technology and electronic communication, she would be a storytelling star in her own right. As for me, I will cherish the memory of that entertaining woman for as long as I live.