As part of Downhome's 20th anniversary celebrations this year, we are taking a look back at the magazine's past, revisiting old stories and articles that still hold a special place in our hearts. The following story appeared in the August 1998 issue of the Downhomer.
By Robert Sidney Garland
Sometimes life brings surprises; some not so pleasant, but others of the kind that make you catch your breath with pleasure at such an unexpected event.
The day I met Nancy Cowan was definitely of the latter variety.
Mrs. Cowan, of Lennoxville, Quebec, is a Newfoundlander, and mighty proud of it. She wrote to me after having read some stories I had written for the Downhomer, and had recognized my name.
While visiting with family members in nearby Sherbrooke, I decided that I would go see her, and so I did, arriving at her apartment in early afternoon. Although she had advised me via her letter that she knew my parents, I had no idea who she really was and how much she really knew.
I rang her doorbell, and this elegant lady stood before me, still pretty although no longer young. She seemed to know me and said, "You look like your father...come right in. "It was no time before tea was served, which we had out in a lovely sunroom for residents and guests, and we were soon joined by a chipper lady from England. As the conversation progressed, she not only spoke of my parents, but of my brothers and sister, and I was mystified as how she knew us all so well...and I had the strange feeling I had known her before, long ago. My family lived at the old United Church College Residence on Long's Hill in St. John's for many years. My father was in charge of the place during that time and I became increasingly aware that this lady knew both my parents very well. At some point in the conversation she mentioned that my father had married her to Mr. Cowan, and that her previous surname was Janes.
Something clicked, and after over 60 years I suddenly knew. I said, "Are you Nurse Janes?" With a sparkle in her eyes, she said she was. After all that time, I had again met the nurse who attended to all of our family's ills during many years, in addition to attending to all of the students who were housed at the old UCCR. She was there when, as a young boy, I had an ear operation performed on a table right at the house, and she was there to care for my mother when both my brothers were born. She was there after we had our tonsils out and to change the bandages on my eyes after an operation.
Nurse Janes was like one of the family and that's why I remember her. In my mind's eye, I can still see the lady in the starched white uniform and cap with flowing cape, there to lovingly attend whatever befell children or adults in that old house. In those days, highly qualified and registered nurses like this lady would usually be called upon to take care of the most minor (and not so minor) physical ailments and hurts rather than calling the doctor, or at least I seem to remember it that way in pre-Confederation St. John's. The old college residence with its perhaps 60 students certainly would have needed her, and so she was often there.
It was strange at my age of 65 to be called by my childhood name, "Bobbie," and all those years just melted away. It took awhile to tell her what had become of the family she took such good care of; even the sad part about my sister Betty's passing, and my parents' before that.
Had it not been for the Downhomer, I probably never would have met Mrs. Cowan, my "Nurse Janes." The little stories I write about her homeland had touched her, which gladdens my heart, and she reached out to me across the continent in return. I thought from her letter, "what a lovely, kind la...I must try to visit her," never imagining who she would turn out to be.
This is the kind of experience one never expects, and I am very glad that it was my good luck to have met this lovely "nightingale" who befriended my family so many years ago and devoted her life to the care of others.