The Back Road and Beyond by Robert McKay

Local Miramichi author Robert McKay is back with another self-published volume of personal stories to follow-up on his 2010 book The Back Road. That book was a look back at life growing up in Newcastle (now part of the amalgamated city of Miramichi) in the 1940’s and 50’s. They are for the most part humorous recollections, being composed of the type of adventures to be had by a young lad and his friends in a simpler, carefree time. Due to the local popularity of his stories, Mr McKay has assembled 44 more reminiscences this time extending beyond the “Back Road” to his early career as a teacher, vice-principal and principal in Quebec and New Brunswick.

“Ever since I wrote my first book The Back Road in 2010, I have wanted to write a second book. I have been encouraged by my family, friends, relatives and others who said they enjoyed the first one.”

Before I read The Back Road and Beyond, I thought I had better get acquainted with the first book, so I signed out a copy from the local library. It appeared to be well-read, which I took to be an encouraging sign. (I’ll have to see if Mr McKay has any copies of it left to sell, so I’ll have both books in my library.) The stories (and this applies to both books) are simply told accounts from the author’s memory. These stories will definitely appeal to any Miramichier that grew up in the same era as Mr McKay, for he mentions many places that either no longer exist due to development, name changes or, in the case of local landmarks, demolishment. There are many well-known Miramichi family names mentioned (and some discreetly concealed too). There are tales of school dances, drive-in theatres, driving old cars around (on and off property) while underage and the never-ending quest to make a few dollars by doing some hard work like shovelling snow off the train tracks, looking for scrap metal to sell or peeling pulp.

Many stories left me chuckling as to the hijinks he and his friends get up to, such as in “What Were We Thinking?“:

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Without reproducing the whole story, suffice it to say that he and a friend found some live ammo in a box in his parent’s garage, took some to the woods and tried to explode it. Then there was a manoeuvre called “tree bending” that could have resulted in broken bones (but somehow did not). Then, as all children do, they attempt to fly by jumping off a roof:

“Turned out we couldn’t fly after all. Probably because birds have hollow bones and we just had hollow heads.”

But The Back Road and Beyond then takes us to into the age of responsibility as Mr McKay becomes a teacher and accepts a job at the Hemmingford School in Quebec for the impressive sum of $3000 per year. He and his young family stayed there for 9 years and he considers it a “real blessing” to have spent those years in a great Quebec community. There are some humorous character sketches of fellow teachers, seeing Tim Horton’s last game before his accidental death, meeting hockey greats Pat Stapleton, Mike Bossy and even Lee Trevino’s caddy (“You come all that way to watch them guys play? I wouldn’t walk across the street to watch them play!”)

It all makes for enjoyable reading, and as the back cover states: “Hopefully, folks who read these stories will be reminded of events in their own lives which are meaningful to them.”

The Back Road and Beyond can be purchased at locations in and around Miramichi, such as the Brookdale Flower Shop in Newcastle where I picked up my copy.

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