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An unusual visitor

The doorbell rang and I headed to the front door to answer it with the dogs at my heels. We weren’t expecting anyone. It might have been the folks from the local Kingdom Hall again, or perhaps the fellow who goes door to door aerating lawns, or maybe yet another real estate agent who has come to tell me he or she has an interested buyer for our home – but it wasn’t.

Instead it was a fellow who introduced himself as a writer and an adventurer who has come from Newfoundland to carry on what he claimed was a Newfoundland tradition, flogging his books door to door. My first thought was that he might have just come from Newfoundland but he wasn’t from Newfoundland. He put the accent on the first syllable, but everyone I’ve met from the Rock has told me it’s NewfoundLAND, underSTAND? He accent seemed like it was from England somewhere. I wasn’t exactly buying the idea that selling books door to door was a Newfoundland tradition either. I just said, “you’re a writer?”

He asked, “can I flog my book?…can I tell you about it?” He went on to say it was about his adventures traveling in Labrador. By this time, Tuffy P was also at the door. He showed us a laminated sheet of newspaper clippings. This was all ringing a bell. I was sure I had in fact seen articles about him or perhaps television clips about his travels.

We did the only reasonable thing. We invited him in and offered him a lemon square (Tuffy had just bought some at More Than Pies down on Lakeshore), and we chatted a bit. His name is Bernie Howgate, as it turned out. We bought his book, Journey through Labrador, which he signed for us. He’s quite a character. He writes about his own adventures, self-publishes and goes around selling his books door-to-door. Now that’s a man with an independent spirit!

I hope the lemon square gave Bernie a bit of a burst of energy and I hope some other Long Branchers bought his books as well. He’s been a travel writer and adventurer for a long time now. The life he’s chosen is of his own making, and he hustles selling his books. Who ever heard of someone “flogging books”, as he put it, door to door? I’m sure he’s experienced some amazing highs and lows and some hard winters along the way.  I’m glad we had a chance to chat with him, and I’m looking forward to reading Journey through Labrador.

Has Bernie ever knocked on your door?

As a side note, after meeting Bernie, I found myself thinking of another fellow who used to self-publish and sell his books in an unusual way – by setting up on the streets of Toronto. If you’re my age and you lived in Toronto in the 80s and the first half of the 90s, you’ve likely had an encounter or two with the late Crad Kilodney. Somewhere around the house Tuffy P has a rare cassette tape Kilodney gave her one day while he was out hawking his books. He taped many of his encounters with the public. Kilodney was quite a curiosity. In some point in the late 80s, he submitted a number of stories by famous Canadian authors under different, sometimes absurd names, to the CBC literary competition. Of course the jury screened them all out.

I have a lot of respect for people with independent spirits, folks who don’t fit the mold and instead – against all odds – offer up their unique visions of the world to the community at large, people who push the workaday world aside and forge their own path.

1 Comment so far

  1. What a fantastic experience you had! We can relate with Jim’s books –our flogging from 1973-1985–included bus trips/train trips through the US–selected city by city bookstores, university libraries and our favorite place–Fifth Avenue NY Public Library. Of course Canadian connections(travels) and European including snail mail promotions/sales. Those were the days when independents could sell without being represented by a “real” book dealer who had 100s of titles to peddle. Thanks for sharing as it did bring a smile to our day today!!

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