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I must not complain
Just this morning, I complained that I had forgotten to empty my dishwasher the previous night. As I stared into a machine full of sparkling clean dishes, ready to be stacked into the cupboard, I was brought up suddenly by memories of growing up in Branch in the 1950s. My mother, caring for a family of nine, had no dishwasher. Heck, she didnÃ¢ÂÂt even have indoor plumbing. Without the convenience of electricity, every drop of hot water had to be heated in a boiler on the big wood stove. I can picture it now, the large aluminum pan of steaming water. For the life of me, I cannot remember any dishwashing liquid. It simply did not exist in our household when I was a child. Good old Sunlight Soap and a box of Rinso or Surf were the cleaning agents of choice. After a complete Sunday dinner with salt beef and cabbage, clearing it all up was no walk in the park. My sisters and I argued so much about washing dishes that sometimes we came to blows. I must try to remember this the next time I groan about an unloaded dishwasher. With an automatic washer and dryer sitting side by side in my basement, I still find myself uttering mild expletives regarding dirty towels and dishcloths and the like. If I miss a few wash days, I mutter to myself about where all the dirty clothes come from. Then I wonder to God how my poor mother kept us all clean with no running water. Every ounce of water had to be lugged from outdoors. Getting clothes clean was difficult enough, but getting them dry could be next to impossible. With the propensity for fog in St. MaryÃ¢ÂÂs Bay, no wonder clothes were always strung from one end of the kitchen to the other. Because there was always a baby in the house, flannel diapers and little nighties took priority over everything else. And winter time was deadly! I often wonder what I would do now if I had to face a clothesline full of laundry, frozen as stiff as a poker. The amazing thing was that no matter how frozen our article of clothing was one day, the next day it would be ready for wearing. Looking back on it now, I am filled with appreciation and awe for my mother, and I remind myself to thank God for those people who invented automatic appliances. I picture my mother on her knees, scrubbing the canvas floor, and then allowing me and a crowd of my friends to trample all over it in our boots. Here I am with sweepers and swiffers and vacuums and machines that almost clean on their own. I spend a small fortune on Mr. Clean and Pine Sol and similar products. Yet, I question why my floors are not shiny and spotless, and the answer evades me. And then there was bread, delicious, golden-crusted bread, which was a staple in every house. No matter how tired or how pregnant my mother was, there were times when twelve oÃ¢ÂÂclock midnight would find her up to her elbows in dough. In the dead of winter, the precious dough would have to be wrapped tightly to prevent freezing. Baking it, the next day, meant keeping lots of dry wood to the big Findlay Oval range. With a sharp stab of conscience, I now realize how I took for granted, the enticing smell of those lovely loaves of manna. Yet, I have the audacity to grumble when the bread truck is late or the store is out of my favourite brand. Worst of all, I havenÃ¢ÂÂt baked my own bread in years. I have come to a reasonable conclusion, however. I will never be as good a housekeeper as the generation of women before me, and as the title indicates, I must not complain.
The Big House-Chapter 1
"You believe me don't you?" I said to Sadie, the nanny cum nurse from next door. The houses on this street, in this little town of Brooklyn, were from the 18th century and they were eerily beautiful in their own way. Sadie had been with the next door family at least 10 years now and sort of kept in touch with my predecessor Mary who had moved back to Newfoundland after working in this house for only 3 short years.
"Yes, 'I' do believe you Celine, but they won't; or they won't want to admit to it,"Sadie implored. I had just revealed to Sadie all the weird sightings and feelings I had while caring for my two charges in the big house that I work at. It was sort of OK before the second baby Allister was born, I did have the eerie feelings, but I didn't see anything that was unusual or out of sorts. Monica, his oldest sister would play quietly during the day and we were anxiously awaiting and preparing for the arrival of the new baby.
I also had heard the rumours of how the original lady of the house, Melanie Cooper, had committed suicide because she couldn't conceive. Rumour has it that she was so distraught and depressed, she couldn't handle it anymore after trying everything, finally gave up. Especially after each new house on their 'well to do' street was built, the young wives would fall pregnant soon after they moved in; it was like a slap in the face to her.
So when Allister was born, things really started to change, get weird. It was almost like you could feel the anger and the resentment in the house and on your shoulders. The couple that I worked for, Brian and Marie Darvel, never really felt it or understood because they were out of the house most of the day. I tried to bring it up a couple of times but they weren't having any of it, they would brush it off and say "oh that old story again, it's just a rumour that someone started to make these old houses seem more mysterious." Apparently my predecessor Mary had tried to talk to them about it after their oldest daughter Monica was born, but she too was brushed off.
Sadie had let slip that Mary was coming back to visit her brother in Toronto and I was curious to know if she would be visiting Sadie, as I wanted to meet and talk with her too. I asked Sadie to mention it to Mary and sure enough she agreed to have a coffee at least with us on her next visit. I couldn't wait to meet Mary to compare our stories and see if there was anything the three of us-myself, Mary and Sadie could do to stop the haunting of this troubled soul that still to this day, lingered in the corners of the big house. To be cont...
A watery grave for a Christmas gift
The year is 1958 and I am a young 9 year old boy growing up in the small fishing community of Baine Hr. on the south coast of NL. Christmas is less than a month away and I am literally overflowing with excitement and anticipation, I am certain that this will be the best Christmas ever.
A few weeks ago I had received a letter from my older brother who worked on the mainland. The letter said that he was sending me a toy car for Christmas. This was to be no ordinary toy car, no siree, this car had a real engine which ran on gasoline just like the Acadia engine in my Father's skiff.
Christmas morning finally arrived and I eagerly unwrapped my long awaited gift to reveal a gleaming red car with a tiny silver engine and black propeller mounted high at the back of the car. The car was meant to be tethered with a string to a stake in the ground, the car would then race in a circle around the stake.
By this time my car had attracted the attention of my brother who was a few years older than me. My parents suggested that we take the car outside on the hard packed snow where he would help me start it.
A few minutes later we were outside and the tiny fuel tank on the car had been filled. We then remembered that the car had to be tied to a stick driven into the ground. We looked around and couldn't find anything suitable, finally I remembered a bamboo fishing pole which I had broken in half last summer while trying to land what must have been the fattest and ugliest sculpin in all of Placentia Bay. I brought the longer of the two pieces to my brother along with a mallet to drive the pole into the ground. With me holding the pole upright and my brother on the mallet we soon realized there was a problem. The ground was frozen solid! With every blow of the hammer a piece of the pole would break on the flint hard ground. It was then that my brother went to what would nowadays be called plan 'B'. "Here'', he said, passing me the string, "Hold it tightly while I start the engine." With the string in my mittened little hand, he knelt on the snow and gave the propeller a quick twirl. What happened next is still a fresh in my mind as if it happened today.
Instantly my car came alive with such an ear splitting snarl that I could have sworn I was being chased by the most ferocious beast in all of Africa. I nearly jumped out of my size 4 rubber boots as I fell backwards onto the snow. I lost my grip on the string which I had been holding and the car, sensing its freedom, shot across the back yard and then towards the nearby beach and the waiting Atlantic Ocean.
We watched as it crossed the beach and then, to our amazement, it began to skip across the surface of the water as it headed straight out to sea. By now the frightful snarl of the engine sounded more like a swarm of angry bees. The car was several hundred feet from the shore when we heard the engine falter and then stop. All was quiet. With the keen eyes of a 9 year old I watched the car bob on the surface of the water for a few seconds. Then...it was gone. The cold north Atlantic had claimed my prized Christmas gift.
On old Christmas Day the shock of losing my Christmas gift in such an untimely manner was starting to wear off just a little. Just enough for me to write my brother and thank him for such a wonderful gift and then I had to tell him that it...sank!
Well, it is now 58 years since that unforgettable Christmas morning of 1958. A few months ago I noticed a young boy of 8 or 9 playing with a remote controlled car on our quiet street. All of a sudden I remembered that long ago Christmas morning. Was it, I wondered, possible to buy an identical car to the one I had owned for about 15 minutes on that Christmas morning? A quick search of the internet and there it was, a bright red car with a shiny silver engine and gleaming black tires. My car just as I remembered it!
I have been trying to resist the temptation but one of these days I may just buy that car. Then for a brief moment the years will wash away and I will once again be that young 9 year old as I lift my gleaming toy car from its box. But will I have the nerve to start it? I may...if I'm feeling especially courageous.
But this one thing I do know, this time I'm going to get my wife to hold the string!
Most of my life has been spent on the mainland but my heart has always been home: Grand Bank, Newfoundland. And now that I am in my 80s (88) and not as mobile as before, my journey home will have to be spent in my easy chair.
How my thoughts constantly travel home and I relive my childhood years and all the wonderful simple ways we lived so secure, loved and content. We Newfies never tire of reminiscing of our olden days, way we were, we wouldn't change it for anything and feel so blessed and grateful for our heritage.
As the saying goes, "Once a Newfie, always a Newfie." It rings true. It keeps our spirits alive. I carry a stone from home in my purse daily, a little piece of the rock.
God bless and keep all of you who help me travel monthly to where I receive my Downhome magazine
Born Burin Raised Grand Bank
How sweet it is!!
This story was to have been submitted to you back in 2009 but procrastination got the better of me and had forgotten all about it until recently. Newfoundland Hospitality We have often heard of good old down east hospitality and in particular Newfoundland hospitality. I have often heard great stories of people visiting the province of Newfoundland and falling in love with the laid back lifestyle and the people. I now have a story to recount myself. I am married to a Newfoundland lady who comes from central Newfoundland, specifically Gander Bay. Gander Bay is located about 35 km from Gander at the entrance to Gander River, well known for its salmon fishing. I am from the town of Topsail, Conception Bay that is just outside the city of St. John's. We left Newfoundland in 1988, living for several years in Red Deer, Alberta and then moving and settling in Ottawa, Ontario. We have lived in Ottawa since 1991. Every year we love to go home to visit family and friends. In September 2012, we planned a visit to coincide with the opening of the public cod fishery as it is one of the things that I love to do when back home. My wife's brother, Gary Coates, has a business in Summerford, NL and is an avid outdoorsman delving in fishing and hunting when the seasons are open. It was during the public cod fishing season that September that I experienced an outstanding example of Newfoundland hospitality. We were cod fishing off of Herring Neck and very quickly caught our limit of 10 cod. We returned to shore to clean and fillet our catch. The day before we had been out as well and were cleaning our catch near where we had launched the boat. It wasn't ideal, as we did not have a platform to clean and filet the fish. A local fellow came by and spoke with Gary and told him that if he had intentions of going out again that he had a fishing stage not far from where we were now located. He gave Gary some directions and left. So here we were the next day motoring into the inlet looking for this stage. We were having trouble locating it when Gary spotted a couple of fellows on shore. There was a house overlooking where they were situated. This fellow had a stage all set up. As things sometime happen, it turned out that this fellow was related to the girl that Gary's youngest son was dating. He turned out to be her grandfather. His name was Roland Smart. He was not that well known to Gary. Gary asked him if he was aware of a fellow that works on the Hibernia oil rigs that owned a stage close by. He couldn't remember his name. He responded, no, not off hand, but my friend here with me who is a Newfoundlander home visiting from Sudbury, Ontario and I are just about to leave and go fishing ourselves. You are quite welcome to use my stage. Gary thanked him and after they left we proceeded to clean and fillet our fish. A short time after they had left, a lady appeared on the deck of the house above us and asked if we would like to come in for a cup of tea before leaving. She turned out to be Roland's wife Julia. We thanked her and continued to clean our fish. As we were finishing up I said to Gary, are we going to take her up on the offer before leaving? We both decided maybe we would just leave. No sooner said then she was back out on the deck reminding us of the invitation. We said "why not?" and took off our outer clothes and climbed up the walk to the house. We were no sooner in the door when she was asking how we liked our eggs. Before I knew it we were sitting down to eggs, Newfoundland steak (bologna), homemade bread and Newfoundland music playing in the background. She sat down with us and we had a wonderful chat. We were not five minutes ago strangers and now she was feeding us and chatting with us as if we were old friends. I was absolutely taken aback by her hospitality and it just reconfirmed what I always knew about Newfoundlanders. My wife and I were just recently home in August of this year to attend the wedding of Gary's youngest son, who amazingly was to be married to that same girl that he was dating that summer. At the reception it so happened that the husband of this wonderful lady, Roland Smart, was a guest. It was so nice to meet him again. I had been informed some time ago that his wife had passed away. I reminded him about that previous meeting Gary and I had with him and about what his wife did for us that morning. I told him that after returning home to Ottawa I had written an account of it and had intentions of sending it to the Downhome magazine to see if maybe they would be interested in including it in an edition. However, procrastination got the best of me and it stayed stored on my computer. I thought that it would be fitting to acknowledge her now even though it has been several years since Gary and I met her that morning in the summer of 2012. I still have a wonderful memory of that morning and sitting down to her invitation to have a cup of tea. And what a wonderful cup of tea it was. Rest in peac, Julia Smart. You are a true example of good old Newfoundland hospitality. David Allen Ottawa, ON