On Christmas Eve, all alone in Newfoundland, Rachel O’Brien opens two gifts, one of which is a cassette tape of traditional music:
I stuck it in my boom box and lay back down as the lyrics of an unfamiliar song filled the room:
“Sonny don’t go away, I am here all alone
Your Daddy’s a sailor, who never comes home
And the nights get so long and the silence goes on
And I’m feeling so tired I’m not all that strong
Sonny’s dreams can’t be real, they’re just stories he’s read
They’re just stars in his eyes, they’re just dreams in his head
And he’s hungry inside for the wide world outside
And I know I can’t hold him, though I’ve tried and I’ve tried…”
Sonny could be one of my students in Twig. But his lamenting mother didn’t sound like the ones I knew. Lucille, so proud of Linda teaching in Labrador, Cynthia’s mother, expecting her daughter to attend university and even Mrs Piercey who wanted more for Calvin than hauling wood. I thought of poor Georgie Corrigan, stuck in Twig but hungry for the wide world outside. They were all hungry for something, whether in Twig, in town, or even up on the mainland. I wanted to help them, but how?
Sonny’s Dream gets Rachel thinking. It has that effect on a lot of people. Whenever I hear it, I can almost picture the young Sonny, peering down the highway, stars in his eyes and dreams in his head. The song was written by Ron Hynes, a Newfoundland singer-songwriter who died too young last November. The first time I ever saw him was when he performed with The Wonderful Grand Band at Memorial University back in the early 1980s. The last time I saw him was at Union Station in Toronto about four years ago. I wasn’t sure who it was at first – leather jacket, black hat and guitar case – someone with presence, for sure. It was only when I was safely on board that I figured out who it was. I wanted to go find Ron Hynes on the train and tell him how I used to live in Newfoundland and had seen him perform. How I was trying to write a novel about Newfoundland and that it would feature traditional music. But I didn’t. I had my two young children with me, I felt a bit foolish, the list of excuses goes on. I really wish I’d spoken to him that day.