Only a boy yet

Reprinted from Decks Awash, Volume 15, Number 6
November – December 1986
Photographs from MUN Digital Archives

(Click on photos to enlarge)

Eric Stringer, 1986

Eric Stringer has the confident step and smile of a man who has been around a long time.

“If I live until March I’ll be 70, but I only considers myself a boy still,” he says, his eyes twinkling with amusement. A woman passes and calls good-naturedly to us.

“Don’t you put down too many lies there!”

Eric laughs as he stands overlooking Random Sound by his home at Caplin Cove where he has lived all his life, a life that’s been a mixture of fishing and woods work.

“In 1934 I started going to Labrador. I worked at what they called ‘the plant’ on Sandy Islands. The next year I went down on a schooner. That was the year the ‘Commission’ schooners were built. [It was the year the Commission Government first provided aid to fishermen to build boats.] Every little place around here built one: Long Beach, Island Cove, and I think there was one in Hodge’s Cove. I went with someone from Long Beach, Uncle George Vey. He had an older boat but there were lots of new Commission schooners ranging between 60 and 90 tons. Things began to brighten up a bit then.

“I never had too many years at the Labrador though,” he adds. “I changed over and went into the lumber woods down at Badger with the A.N.D. company. I got 90 cents a cord the first year and you had to be a good hand with a bucksaw to cut three cords a day. The next year I went over to Howley with the International Pulp an$ Paper Company — that was before Bowater—and got $1.50 a cord. After we got the power saws you could cut four and sometimes five cords a day. You’d be away all summer cutting wood. Then you’d go away in the winter to haul it, and in the spring you’d drive it. Now it’s all done by trucks.”

Caplin Cove, 1986

Eric spent 30 years in the woods, taking a brief break for two years again to go to Labrador on a schooner. Then, about 15 years ago, he finally abandoned the woods and went fishing full time.  

“I bought two or three cod traps and got a boat of our own. I’m retired now the last four years. The fish is completely gone. I think cod nets were the ruination for that. They caught up all the old breeding fish, great big things — you’d have a job to get ’em up over the side of the wharf. They gradually went.”  

Eric is standing in his coveralls. He doesn’t look very “retired”. He grins.  

“Yes, well you’ve only got to look at me to see what I’m doing,” he says as he leads us to a barn that houses his sawmill. It has a 31″ saw blade powered by a 13-h.p. Briggs and Stratton motor.  

“It’s a small rig but you can saw good stuff with it.”  

Eric and his sons literally built the barn around the saw with lumber they cut on it. Outside the barn is a jet-black goat with the unlikely name of “Blossom”.   

“I don’t know how they came to call her Blossom,” he admits as she is joined by her two white kids.  

“She’s getting old, she must be about 12, and we didn’t think she’d have any more kids. Then she had those two last spring. The father was white,” he adds as an afterthought.  

Turning away we come across a grazing white horse. And his name?  

Eric Stringer and Tan, 1986

“Tan!” says Eric, roaring with laughter. “He was named before we got him,” he explains. “He came from Random Island although we got him from Bonavista Bay. He’s 20, getting old, but a good old horse. I can’t abuse animals. I talk to him almost as if he were a youngster.”  

Some people retire to faraway places like Florida. Eric doesn’t need to go anywhere — he’s already living surrounded by the kind of scenery city people pay money to visit two weeks a year. He’s also surrounded by his children and he has a brother, Bill, nearby (who is cutting spruce logs with a chain saw held in one hand as though he were conducting a marching band). With such great surroundings, no wonder Eric still considers himself a boy.

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Transcribed by Wanda Garrett, April 2019

These transcriptions may contain human errors. As always, confirm these as you would any other source material.