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The View From Fogo Island “The Ides of March”


By Benson Hewitt I am writing this piece on March 15, known the world over as the “Ides of March”, and I was wondering if there might have been some interesting events that happened on this particular date with reference to Fogo Island. There were a few. There was a time long before the calendars we use today came into being, when March was the first month of the year. Because of a peculiar dating at that time, the 15th of March, and perhaps other months as well, were referred to as the “Ides”. But first, let me comment on my title. Julius Caesar, Roman Statesman and Emperor, was assassinated by a group senators on March 15, 44 BC, or, as it would have been known way back then, the “Ides of March.” What I remember mostly, though, with respect to that particular phrase, was my first reading the play, Julius Caesar, and the soothsayer’s fateful warning to Caesar to beware the “Ides of March”. I suspect that that is how that particular phrase entered our lexicon. I have heard it said more than once today by TV reporters that today is “The Ides of March.” I don’t think you’ll hear, say, “The Ides of July.”

Cobbs-Combden Marriage, Barr’d Islands, 1842

I wonder now, though, if a soothsayer or anyone for that matter, might have warned Christopher Cobb of Barr’d Islands to beware the Ides of March, 1842. It might not have been inappropriate, one could say. However, on March 15, 1842, 171 years ago now, Christopher Cobb, a native of Dorsetshire, England, and a widower then living in Barr’d Islands, married Mary Combden, according to old church records, a spinster and living in Joe Batt’s Arm. She had not yet reached 18, the age of majority, because the records show that she had the consent of her parents before she could be married.

They were married by Reverend J.C. Harvey, the first Church of England parson on Fogo Island, and the witnesses were George Williams, William Brett, and Julia Brett. According to the custom of that time, the reception would have been at the home of the groom. The ‘tea’, as the wedding meal would have been called, would have consisted of a variety of cakes and the like. The wedding gown of the bride would have been undoubtedly handmade, and perhaps, borrowed. There might have been a dance, with accordion music, most likely, in the kitchen of the house after most of the people invited, had ‘tea’. There may have been some problem with this reception, I am guessing, that had to be solved.

Since Easter came on March 27, in 1842, March 15, would have been during Lent. There was a time when weddings were forbidden by the Church of England during the season of Lent, unless it was just the church ceremony. Just by the way, it is most likely that there are still a few living in Barr’d Islands who are great, great, great, (and perhaps another ‘great’ or two) grandchildren of said Christopher Cobb. Nehemiah Cobb and Bob Blake come to mind.

What follows is an interesting clipping of The Canadian Press, March 15, 2008. I do expect that the weather forecasters of that time, and with special emphasis on Fogo Island, might have said, but perhaps in other words, “Beware the Ides of March.” The Canadian Press is a not-for-profit national news agency headquartered in Toronto. It was established in 1917 as a vehicle to permit Canadian newspapers of the day to exchange their news and information. On March 15, 2008, it issued this release that was picked up and printed in newspapers all across Canada. You can be sure that one than one ex-patriot Fogo Islander phoned home on that day, just to be part of the drama, vicariously, perhaps.

“Fogo Island Paralyzed by Blizzard

Declares State of Emergency”, March 15, 2008

FOGO – A fierce blizzard was raging over Central Newfoundland when Edna Brown’s house on Fogo Island rattled by an avalanche.

“It was a big bang, the same as a bomb or something”, Brown said Friday, a day after snow rolled down a nearby hill and slammed into her house in Fogo. “All of a sudden, there was a big noise, and we didn’t know what happened.”

The avalanche damaged some properties and a local bridge, though it appeared that no one was injured.

The snow kept falling and by Friday, the Regional Council declared a state of emergency across the island, a 25-kilometer piece of land north of Gander that is home to about a dozen small communities. Heavy, blowing snow shut down the ferry service that links the island with the rest of Newfoundland, and local roads were virtually impassable.

“The roads are closed, visibility is zero, and snow plows can’t be put on the road even at the municipal level,” said Mayor Gerald McKenna, who said he couldn’t tell if it was still snowing. “It’s hard to tell whether it’s local snow blowing around or there’s more snow coming down because it’s so thick.”

At the local hospital, staff working Thursday were still there Friday, and their replacement couldn’t make it to the facility to take over.

McKenna predicted things wouldn’t improve until Saturday at the earliest. Fogo’s residents are used to harsh weather, but the mayor said this was the worst he’s seen in a long time.

“We’ve had storms before, but nothing to this extent,” he said. “Usually after a day you’d be able to get out and everything starts to get back to normal.”

The New Pope

Like everyone else, I guess, I was taken up with the selection of the new Pope. I was intrigued with a little coincidence concerning myself. You’ll recall on March 13 I wrote a piece on “The Church of Our Lady of the Snows” in Fogo. I wrote how the first church bearing this name was built in Rome in the 4th century, and how that particular designation affected Father Finn, thus his giving that particular name to the new church he had built in Fogo. Pope Francis seems, as well, to have a particular affinity with this particular church in Rome, because, after his election as Pope, that was the first church he visited.

And speaking of the new Pope, I am impressed, for whatever that’s worth with his humility and prudence. I did feel kind of sad, though, that he has for some time now neglected to buy new underwear and socks, and that news according to his housekeeper, was reported on CBC. I looked at my sock drawer, (and would you believe it?) I have more than enough. It has all to do with Christmas. Before Christmas you are likely to hear it said, and more than once, and always by women, that the only thing you can get for men as Christmas gifts is socks. (I can remember one lady, very dear to me, making this statement but repeating the word ‘socks’ for emphasis.)  

Practically everyone who gives me a Christmas gift gives me socks, and that’s not the end of it. Socks today are often bundled with at least three pairs a bundle, which give new meaning to repeating the word ‘socks’. I am wondering, and at this point it is only an idea, if I might send the new Pope some of the socks I know I’ll never wear. I think his address is simply: The Pope, Vatican City, Via Rome, Italy. I am sure you don’t need a postal code or zip code, or whatever it’s called. All I might expect in return is a “Bless You, Benson.”

bensonhewitt@eastlink.ca

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