Authors: Herb Curtis
Tags: #FIC019000, #FIC016000
Critical Acclaim for
The Americans Are Coming
“Herb Curtis has emerged as a leading Canadian humorist in the Stephen Leacock tradition.”
Canadian Book Review Annual
“The cast of characters . . . make us laugh and cry. . . . They are the voices of many rural communities – virtuous and individualistic.”
Atlantic Books Today
“Curtis is a native of the [Miramichi] region, and his finely tuned comedic sense and unerring feel for the realities of life there, particularly during the period of the late ’50s and early ’60s, help him create a very special world.”
“Underneath this complacent exterior [of Brennen Siding] gurgles a humorous and earthy place, populated by a congregation of characters who take their turns gossiping and being the cause of gossip . . . Curtis introduces the reader to rural New Brunswick with the humour and folklore that only an insider could possess.” –
“Garrison Keillor has Lake Woebegone, Mark Twain has the Mississippi, and Herb Curtis, with the publication of
The Americans are Coming
, has claimed the ungarvon River.” –
Halifax Daily News
“If you start to read him at a fishing camp, you may not even want to wet your line for a while.”
The Atlantic Salmon Journal
“[The darker sides] lead to thoughtfulness and a better understanding of the human condition.” –
“A new laureate of the Miramichi has arrived!”
Also by Herb Curtis
The Last Tasmanian
Hoofprints on the Sheet
The Lone Angler
The Silent Partner
Luther Corhern’s Salmon Camp Chronicles
The Brennen Siding Trilogy
Look What the Cat Drug In
Slow Men Working In Trees
The Scholten Story
With an afterword by David Adams Richards
Copyright © 1989, 1999, 2008 by Herb Curtis.
All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or used in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or any retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher or a licence from the Canadian Copyright Licensing Agency (Access Copyright). To contact Access Copyright, visit
or call 1-800-893-5777.
Cover photo by Peter Chen, iStockPhoto.
Cover design by Kent Fackenthall.
Book design by Julie Scriver.
Printed in Canada.
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication
Curtis, Herb, 1949-
The Americans are coming / Herb Curtis; afterword by David Adams Richards. — Reader’s guide ed.
PS8555.U842A64 2008 C813’.54 C2008-903669-7
Goose Lane Editions acknowledges the financial support of the Canada Council for the Arts, the Government of Canada through the Book Publishing Industry Development Program (BPIDP), and the New Brunswick Department of Wellness, Culture, and Sport for its publishing activities.
Goose Lane Editions
Suite 330, 500 Beaverbrook Court
Fredericton, New Brunswick
CANADA E3B 5X4
Silas Gordon sold everything he had, boarded a heavily masted sailing ship and went to Saint John. In the inside pocket of his jacket he carried a royal blessing – a deed to a hundred acres of land in a place called Dungarvon.
In the year 1821, Silas Gordon built a house, store and a mill, fourteen miles west of a place called Blackville, and promptly named the three buildings “Gordon.” The wagon trail that led from Blackville to Gordon was named “The Gordon Road.” Gordon was three miles upstream from what was later called Brennen Siding.
Silas Gordon did not have it easy. There was an unlimited amount of massive pine needed for the building of ships, but his location was bad. He not only had to pay men to cut and yard the lumber to what was called “Silas Landing,” but also had to pay men for the drive.
The prop was pulled, the large logs tumbled into the spring waters of the Gordon Brook, floated two to five miles to the Dungarvon, another fifteen miles downstream to the Renous, ten miles down the Renous to the Miramichi, and then on to Newcastle fifteen more miles away. He was barely breaking even.
The sawmill was losing money. It was too small. He needed a pond and more settlers to buy his plank and shingles. Silas Gordon didn’t have it easy, but he was optimistic. His optimism crumbled, however, in October 1825, when a fire lit in Juniper swept a hundred miles of Miramichi forest out of existence. It burned down everything from shipmasts to fenceposts, houses to sawmills. It burned down everything from Juniper to Silas Landing. It burned the store, the mill and every house, barn and outhouse in Gordon.
In 1827, Silas Gordon froze to death trying to find his way cross-country from Gordon to Renous. Because of the frozen ground and the lack of digging implements, they buried him in the soft clay of the spring.
Silas Gordon did not whoop.
Buck Ramsey got his name from the fact that he only showed up once a year, like a buck deer in mating season, made love to his wife Shirley, then headed back to Fredericton to his full-time woman. Buck Ramsey sired eleven children that way.
“He’s just like an old buck . . . ,” said Lindon Tucker, remembering that someone had said it many years before.
“An old buck, yeah. An old buck, yeah, yep. Buck the buck. Yes sir.”
“Every time he comes home, he adds a point to his antlers,” said Bert Todder. “Tee, hee, hee; ha, ha, ha; sob, snort, sniff.”
When Bert Todder laughed, he sounded at times like he was crying. Bert’s mother, Maud, had had the philosophy that it was not good to laugh too much. She believed that for every time you laughed, you cried; so she always laughed and cried simultaneously. The only time that Bert was ever seen to cry in his adult life was when Maud died. At the gravesite he went, “Tee, hee, hee; ha, ha, ha; sob, snort, sniff,” and everyone thought he was laughing.
“Boys, I went into Shirley’s to get the mail and she stunk some bad,” said Dan Brennen.
“Poor bugger Shad sets beside some o’ them young lads in school and, and, and, and I guess they’re pretty coarse. He said that at times he kin hardly stand the smell o’ that Dryfly and that, that, that Palidin,” said Bob Nash.
“Well they never took a bath in their life!” said Dan. “They jist smell like a jeezless rag barrel,” said Bert Todder and laughed . . . or cried.
“That Shirley don’t look after them, ya know,” said Dan. “They claim that Buck’s makin’ all kindso’ money in Fredericton,” lied Stan Tuney.
“Boys, if he is, he ain’t spending it on her!” said John Kaston.
“No, no, no. He ain’t spendin’ it on her, is he, John old boy,” commented Lindon Tucker. “No sir. He ain’t spendin’ it on her, that’s fer sure.”
The post mistress, Shirley Ramsey, and her family were always a favourite topic of conversation at Bernie Hanley’s store. The only time that the men didn’t talk about Shirley was when one of the Ramseys was there. The Ramsey boys seldom frequented Bernie Hanley’s store; they couldn’t afford to.
“That Shirley Ramsey’d be a good woman for you, Lindon,” said Bert Todder. This was a way that Bert had of making fun of Lindon and Shirley at the same time.
“I, I, I, I, I, I don’t want want nothin’ to do with the likes o’ that old bag, so I don’t. Kin git meself a better woman than that if I want, so I kin.”
“Tee, hee, hee, ha, ha, ha . . .”
“Ya don’t think she’d look too good in the mornin’, do ya, Lindon?”
“Couldn’t stand the smell o’ her!”
And so went the conversation. When they exhausted Shirley Ramsey, the conversation drifted to the price of pulp, gold in the Yukon, cars, and whether or not they had enough potatoes in their bins to last them until digging time. Then, one by one, they reluctantly (the most reluctant of all was Bert Todder) sauntered off home.
Dryfly lay crying on the mattress amidst the coats and rags. They could not make him go to school. He would not go today, tomorrow or any other day. He would never go to school again.
For the tenth time Shirley yelled, “Git out here, Dryfly! Git out here ’n’ eat yer breakfast before it gits cold.”
“Who ever heard of bread and molasses gittin’ cold!” yelled Dryfly in a fit of temper, caught himself and moaned, “besides, I’m too sick to eat. I’m poisoned, so I am!”
“Sick, me arse! A little bit o’ rabbit shit never hurt nobody! If ya don’t git out here and go to school, I’ll give you to old Nutbeam and you kin live in the woods and be a hermit jist
like him. Is that what you wanna be? Ya wanna be a hermit fer the rest of your life?”
“Bein’ a hermit wouldn’t be so bad,” thought Dryfly. “It would be kind of nice to live alone in a snug camp in the woods and not be tormented with thoughts of school. And being alone would mean not having to face Shad Nash ever again. What’s more, I’d never have to contend wit’ the Protestants.”
“Is that why Nutbeam lives in the woods?” wondered Dryfly. “Could the giant Nutbeam be living in the woods alone because he’d been picked on by the Protestants?” Dryfly went through the events of the previous day.
Everything went well until noon hour when the sixteen children who made up the Brennen Siding school were set free by Hilda Porter to eat their lunch.
The March sun had weakened the crusty snow so that it gave way periodically beneath the feet of the four boys who wandered into the woods fringing the little school yard.
On the sunny side of a clump of jackpine the snow had receded several feet, and it was here, sheltered from the wind, on the dried pine needles (pine and spruce needles were locally referred to as sprills) the boys sat to eat.
Max Kaston and George Hanley were both in grade six. Shadrack Nash was in grade five and Dryfly Ramsey was in grade four. They were all the same age.
Max Kaston was fat with tiny shifty eyes that peeked over puffed and shiny cheeks. The style of his hair had obviously been simplified with a pisspot. He wore a blue-checked hunting jacket, heavy green woollen pants and black rubber boots that came to just below his knees.
Max was the son of John Kaston, and perhaps because he was constantly being preached to, he was obsessed with and plagued by mistrust and fear. John knew that he himself would never become a preacher, but he was determined to make one out of Max.
Max had been told to respect and fear God; that Satan was forever present; that God was everything that was good and Satan was everything that was evil. Fearing both God and Satan meant that Max feared everything.
George Hanley’s ears, hands and feet all seemed too big for the rest of his body. The size of his ears, indeed, seemed exaggerated, because of the brush-cut style of his black hair. George played with the girls a lot, but because his father ran the store, he was never teased as being a sissy. He was too valuable a friend – he could steal things for you from the store.