A yarn is a story; “to yarn” is to tell it. Deeply vernacular, this book’s 41 chapters are short tales, or clusters of tales, concerning “life in outport Newfoundland [Twillingate and environs] in the early to mid-20th century: a period when times were very difficult …”, “times were hard,” or, alternatively, “times were more than hard.” But the people had a sense of humour.
Everything about the setup forewarns cliché, but the writing largely dodges that. There are the usual cultural motifs: hard tack, berry picking, sailing. But author Cyril Greenham keeps them straightforward, not saccharine, tacking toward humour stoked with frankness and even profanity.
It’s specific to a place and a time, and even to a family—Greenham’s father’s is often the yarn’s originator—but the pieces are also open to a broader audience. Terms and events are explained and contextualized, and the book includes lots of black and white photographs for reference.
The Yarns We Had
by Cyril W. Greenham
$19.95, paperback, 175 pp.
Flanker Press, February 2013