My Great-grandparents, John Roache Sr. and Wilhemina Williams Roache, raised a large family of four sons: Leonard, Lyman, Norman and John Jr. and four daughters; Agusta (Gusty), Leona, Serena (Renee) and Jennie in rugged conditions at the very end of West Head. Keeping enough food on the table was a constant challenge for the family.
Great-grandfather’s four sons were getting old enough to do some fishing on their own. Each one could fish in a dory, a flat-bottomed boat with oars. This way, they could at least pay their room and board.
Great-grandfather approached two sons, one of whom was Norman, and presented them with a business proposition. He asked each of them to fish twenty-five lobster traps for him, in addition to their own.
It sounded like a good arrangement in the beginning, and they reached an agreement. Everything seemed to be working out well. Each one was very satisfied with his catch, but the harmony would not last.
It was not long until Great-grandfather noticed a disturbing pattern emerging. Norman was catching considerably more lobsters, almost twice as many for himself, than for his father. How could that be?
Great-grandfather was not a naïve man. He grew suspicious and devised a plan to determine what was taking place. He went down to the shore and hid among the rocks. Sure enough, it was just as he suspected. Great-grandfather witnessed his son, his own flesh and blood, stealing from him.
Norman hid the stolen lobsters. Later in the day, when he thought no one was watching, he rowed out to get them.
This would alter the relationship between a father and son for eternity. When Norman came ashore, Great-grandfather was waiting. He was so angry that he was frothing at the mouth. A row ensued. Accusations, denials, and threats were leveled.
In the heat of the moment, Great-grandfather ordered Norman out of the house and off the property. From that time forward, Norman was forbidden to come any closer than the gate. Great-grandfather banished Norman from the land — not for a day, a week, a month or a year, but forever.
But how could a mother abandon a child she had birthed, one she had held to her breast? Great-grandmother Wilhemina could not accept this and found ways to communicate with Norman. She continued to wash his clothes and to bake for him. Norman came to the gate to talk and to pick up his clothes and food.
Fortunately for Norman, his sister Gusty, who lived less than a quarter of a mile from the Roache homestead, took him in. Her husband was a big strong man who fished out of the Eastern Seaboard of the United States.
Eventually, Norman, too, struck out for the States ending up in Gloucester, Massachusetts. Ironically, he found work on a fishing vessel and came back to fish only three miles from his homeland.
Great-grandfather and Norman never made up.
No one said, “I’m sorry.”
No one said, “I shouldn’t have done it.”
No one said, “Let’s put this behind us and move on.”
No one said, “What you did was wrong, but I’ll give you another chance.”
All communication ended. A reconciliation was not to be.
The years slipped by. The old house burned down. Great-grandfather and Great-grandmother passed away. Norman returned to West Head and visited Dad. He talked at great length about the past. He had brought a real fancy gun with him for ducking and asked Dad to take him out on the water to try it out.
On the way down to the shore, they arrived at the foundation of the old homestead. Norman and Dad stopped. The air seemed charged. Time stood still. Not a single word was uttered, but each imagined what the other one was thinking.
Dad and Norman went out ducking a few times. He had borrowed a brother’s dory to use at East Point. There were ducks everywhere. In all the excitement neither Norman nor Dad noticed the sea was getting choppier all the time. It was a struggle to get back to shore. Norman pulled too hard on one of the oars, and it snapped in two, leaving him with a single oar. He rowed with one oar until he got close enough for Dad to catch the bow painter.
A painter is a rope that is attached to the bow of a dinghy, or other small boat, and used for tying up or towing.
While they were trying to pull the dory up on the rocks, a big wave crashed over them and washed both Norman and Dad overboard. The borrowed dory went into the rocks and beat up. With the help of Great-uncle Norman’s strong arms, they made it to shore, but he lost his brand new gun.
How many things could go wrong in one person’s life? If one thing goes wrong, does that mean everything will go wrong? Life just would not give Norman a break.
He told Dad that he planned to head back to the U.S. shortly. Norman had found a church there, “a church,” as he told Dad, “a church that takes in people like me. They have helped me a lot.” I find those words, “people like me,” haunting.
I wish this story had a happy ending, but as far as I know Great-grandfather never relented. He carried his bitterness and anger to the grave. Did he ever have a desire to make things right with Norman? Had it gone on too long? Did human pride get in the way? We will never know.
I am only guessing, but I suspect Norman regretted his actions. A million pounds of lobsters could not compensate for years of silence spent in exile. As a result, Norman never got to experience the wonderful whoosh of freedom that comes with receiving forgiveness.
Great-uncle Norman passed away in Boston, Massachusetts in June 1976. Family members arranged to bring his body home for a funeral and burial beside his parents in Osborne Cemetery. Although it took decades, Norman came home—home where he belonged.
Dad repeated this story many times over the years, but to this very day, it brings tears to my eyes. Is there a lesson in this tragedy? Maybe, maybe not. One thing is for sure. It can serve as a reminder that our words and actions can have devastating, life-long consequences.
There is, however, a bright side — as long as we draw breath, we can change the outcome.
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