Long ago summer

Today, the 11th of June, would be Miners Memorial Day in New Waterford (Cape Breton, Nova Scotia), where my mama grew up. It commemorates those miners killed on the job through the years; the many who died in the explosion at Colliery No. 12, in 1917; the miner shot dead by company police during a labour disturbance in 1925; all the roof-falls and the floodings. Coal mining has always been a kind of battlefront. But the war is over in New Waterford. The last colliery closed, twenty years ago.

Since, the town itself has been closing. The population has shrunk to less than half of what it was in the boom days, and I would think the average age is now twice as high. The only signs of life I can spot through the Internet are in guvmint programmes. These can create a brief illusion of “future,” but return in a decade and they’ll be gone, too — the votes they were buying having likewise departed.

The worst of the recent contractions was the Catholic Church of Saint Agnes, a splendid worn clapboard structure, once brimming with life; and a superlative architectural gem. The diocese merged six parishes into one, and had all the beautiful buildings demolished, so that the site in question is now another denuded scar upon the landscape.

I carry so many memories, still vivid, of “formerly industrial Cape Breton,” from summers now more than half-a-century ago. Things were sliding even then.

Most poignantly, when I close my eyes, the faces of other children, my playmates; of little Donna, on whom I had a crush; of my mother’s friends, and elderly worthies; of my beloved Aunt Buddie the church organist; and Great Aunt Alice, the folk painter. My maternal grandpa, Oliver Wilbur Holmes, “doyed” as they say, before my birth; has lain in the cold wet ground three-quarters of a century. (He was engineer on the S&L Railway.) The young grew up and all moved away; their elders stayed, to join grandpa in the graveyard. That whole world is depopulated now.

The past is the past, and nothing can be done. Human memory barely lasts out the generation. The sorrows and the joys fade as if they had never been, and in the end there is nothing to say.

Timor mortis conturbat me.