Share your photos,
videos, stories, poems and more.
Have you had an incredible, awe-inspiring or touching personal experience that you'd like to share? We'd like to read about it! In Your Words stories accompanied by good photographs will receive closer scrutiny.
If submitting a photo to accompany your story, please remember to include names of any individuals pictured, as well as when and where the photo was taken. Include any other pertinent information you feel may be relevant for caption writing, should your submission be chosen to appear in a Downhome publication.
Newfoundland is Calling Me!
The Universe is making it clear that I need to go to Newfoundland!
It started in North Bay, Ontario a couple of years ago. I was in a bookstore and was drawn to a book called Where Genesis Begins, a lovely edition highlighting âtwo of Newfoundlandâs foremost artists.â The art of Gerald Squires with the Poems of Tom Dawe captivated me with their haunting beauty. The themes of the poetry and their connection with the art resonated with me.
I have always loved the sea and wild landscapes, as I was born close to the Ionian Sea in Italy. (I immigrated to Canada with my family in 1963.) As a writer, I have fantasies of sitting on a bluff staring out at the Atlantic Ocean and creating a story with the salt-water breeze swirling around me . . .
Last year, my husband asked me where I wanted to go after I retired from teaching in June 2015. I decided I really wanted to explore Newfoundland, where Italian navigator Giovanni Caboto (John Cabot) was credited with landing on the island in 1497.
In July 2014, I went to Parry Sound from Sudbury (a couple of hours away) to attend the concert of âThe Navigatorsâ from Newfoundland. Their music delighted me. I havenât stopped playing their CD. I wake up at night with their lyrics on my mind . . .âIâm a Newfoundlander born and bred and Iâll be one till I die; Iâm proud to be an Islander and hereâs the reasons why. Iâm free as the wind and the waves that wash the sands. Thereâs no place I would rather be than here in Newfoundland . . .â
The music, the lyrics, the ballads . . . I canât get enough!
Last summer, my husband and I were in a store here in Sudbury, Ontario and he picked up a book that caught his eye: River Thieves by Michael Crummey, set in Newfoundland. As he was coming to show me the book, I had picked a book up, attracted to its colourful cover. It was The Corrigan Women, set in an isolated Newfoundland village. The synchronicity was amazing! We bought the books, of course!
When school resumed in September, I discovered that one of my colleagues had gone to Newfoundland for a wedding over the summer. She showed me her wonderful photos and gave me the names of some of the places she had visited.
Shortly after, I got the newsletter from Parry Sound Books that Newfoundland author Michael Crummey was going to be at the Stockey Centre on November 6th, 2014 (International Festival of Authors event), reading from his new book Sweetland! I immediately made plans to attend.
On September 25, 2014, my husband was switching channelsâ¦on TVO there was a program called The Edge of Canadaâ¦featuring the north section of NFLD.
On Tuesday, Sept. 30, at my âCraft and Chatâ get-together, my friends surprised me with NFLD style raincoat, hat, cod purse and oyster shucking gloves!
On a Friday in October, I turned on the radioâ¦it was CBCâ¦the personality was talking about a Newfoundland band: Hey Rosetta.
The day after, I was at a Walmart in Sudbury and as I strode by the magazine area, my gaze settled on a small magazine (Readerâs Digest size). DownHome Magazine, with the words Land and Sea underneath. I went over, opened it up. Surprise! It was printed in St. Johnâs and was all about Newfoundland! I bought it, of course, and after perusing it at home, subscribed to it online.
In the months that followed, I have had many more indications that NFLD is the place to go!
Today (September 24, 2015) I renewed my yearly subscription to Downhome Magazine.
After my daughterâs upcoming wedding in February, I will heed the Universeâs message, which is loud and clear, and make plans to go to Newfoundland!
A Giant Among Men
My grandfather's heart was bigger than he.
The night my grandfather died, I couldnât get to sleep. I drank warm milk, which I detest, counted sheep and practiced relaxation techniques learned when my children were months from being born. At ten-thirty, midnight, two a.m., although I was exhausted, sleep eluded me. I lay on my bed, next to my snoring partner, and marveled at how wide is the gulf between the two shores of a king-sized mattress. Tree toads and crickets mumbled and chirped outside my window, boasting about the early Niagara summer. Ordinarily, these gentle night sounds would have lulled me into doziness. Not that night. That long, interminable May night, I kept a deathwatch. There was no sadness streaming from my eyes, no heart being held together by will power glue. My grandfatherâs death was a celebration: He had long since made his peace with his impending end.
âI donât know why God is keeping me alive, sure, darling,â he told me as I sat on the edge of the crisply sheeted hospital bed in April. âIâm ready to go, more than ready. Your grandmother, your Aunt Ida, all my friends my age are gone already. What reason do I have to stick around?â
I stood up, allowing Mr. John Jones to take my place of honour at his feet.
âYou may be ready to go,â I assured him, âbut weâre not ready to see you leave.â
âIâve had a long life,â he said, nodding his head. The wisps of hair grew like frosty grass at the base of his bald head. âA good life.â
âWeâre heading back to Toronto tonight, sweetie,â I said, kissing the top of his head as I had so many thousands of times before. âNeil, Jennifer, give Great-grandpoppie a big kiss.â
He hugged my children. When he shook my hand as he kissed me goodbye, I visibly winced. He may have been almost ninety-three years old and knocking at deathâs door, but his grip was as strong as ever. It was a grip befitting the grandson of The Fortune Bay Giant.
I always knew my grandfather was a giant among men, long before he related the story of his ancestry. Towering above his son, my father, and every other male human in our community, he stood six feet five and never weighed less than three hundred pounds. His motherâs father hadnât stopped growing till he was taller than most Newfoundlanders; Iâm certain great-grandmother Mary Anne Clarke harboured fears her youngest son would take after her father. Life isnât always easy for a giant among men.
Death, it appears, is far easier.
My grandfather stepped lightly for such a big man. And he cried like a baby, even as a strapping thirty-year-old, even as an over-the-hill pilot of the Toronto Island ferry, every time he had to leave his loved ones behind while he traveled elsewhere to earn a living. He was a tough seagoing sailor on the outside; on the inside, he was a bowl of mush with a heart of gold!
Not just his family and friends benefited from my grandfatherâs largesse. Over the years, I discovered he had been a veritable bank. I spoke with Anglican ministers whom he had helped financially. I talked with young men whom he had hired as able-bodied seamen when no one else would give them a job. I heard how he had almost single-handedly harassed the government into building a seniorsâ centre in his small Newfoundland village.
When I was ten, my grandfather was the captain of the East Star. The ship headed to Cuba carrying various supply goods and a Russian circus, bound for Havana where they were to take on a cargo of salt. It was a disturbing time. Relations between Cuba and the United States were at an all-time low. My grandfatherâs ship unloaded, took on the salt and the necessary fuel for the return journey, and left Havana. We always tuned in to the ship-to-shore radio transmissions, waiting to hear Poppieâs familiar voice, chatting with his captain pals. A few days after we knew the East Star had leftHavana, we heard a disquieting conversation between two other shipsâ captains.
âAnyone heard from Ned Clark?â
âNo. Should have been able to raise him by now.â
One by one, his captain friends called my grandfatherâs ship. No answers.
A couple of nights later, we heard one captain remark that the East Star was overdue back in her home port of Souris, Prince Edward Island. Shortly thereafter, that news was confirmed by the shipâs owners. Poppie was officially missing. I cannot recreate the pain, the anguish of not knowing, the empty loss warring with the blooming hope, the tears and the prayers, but I can still feel all the same feelings when my mind wanders to those days. I canât remember how we finally discovered that the East Starâs captain and crew had been rescued. I can, however, recall the joy I felt when my Poppie stepped out of my uncleâs skiff and I flew into his enormous embrace.
âOh, Poppie,â I cried as he hefted me high in his arms, âI was afraid you were dead!â
âYou should know better than that,â he teased. âWhy, if I had died, Iâd have come back the same night and pulled your big toe!â
My children know this story as well as they knew and loved my grandfather. Heâd retell the story to my daughter as she sat in his lap, playing with his wispy hair, much as I had at her age.
âTell me again, Great-grand-poppie,â Jennifer would beg. âTell me again.â
And he would relate once more how his engines suddenly began taking on water instead of fuel; how the engines stopped and with them, the radios; how the salt cargo shifted till the ship was keeled over almost parallel with the sea, how they abandoned ship in a near-hurricane. He told her of the days floating in the lifeboats and the sharks circling the lifeboats. He recounted his frustration at seeing ships passing by and not being able to hail them. Eventually, he said, they were picked up by a British freighter. They were helped most, Captain Ned (a staunch Anglican) said, by the Salvation Army; they had provided clothes and comfort.
He didnât tell her how he, a big older man, had had to tutor his young, inexperienced crew into the lifeboats. No, no. One of his crew told me that.
âCaptain Clarke saved us, saved all our lives,â the seaman declared.
Not a chance my Poppie would take the credit.
When he entered the hospital for the last time, his roommate was a man of his age. Whenever we visited, the room overflowed with peopleâ"as young as fourteen, as old as ninety: my grandfatherâs visitors. Relatives there were, but there were also teenagers whose lives he had touched in some unknown-to-us way. I will always remember the old gentleman who came in a wheelchair guided by his daughter. This man couldnât speak because of a recent stroke and my grandfather was deaf as a post. Didnât matter. Ned lay on his hospital bed and Bill sat in his wheelchair, holding each otherâs hand, tears creeping down their cheeks. There were so many visitors, on many occasions the nurse on duty kicked out a few of us because we were too many at one time. Everyone paid some attention to the old man in the next bed, who never seemed to have anyone around. We all marveled at how blessed Poppie was.
A couple of days after his ninety-third birthday, Ned Clarke succumbed to the rigours of old age. I called my children to tell them. We were sad for us without him, but happy for him because it had been his wish to join his old friend.
âI didnât sleep very well all last night,â I laughingly told Jennifer. âI kept waking up, wondering if heâd keep his promise and come pull my big toe. But he didnât.â
âReally?â said Jennifer. âAnd what do you suppose kept waking you?â
Sheâs probably right.
Time has passed now. I donât think of my Poppie every day. But every Christmas, when I pass Salvation Army officers, I fold a bill into the kettles. âFor a giant among men,â I say. They understand.
A Gift From the Heart
Christmas has always been my favourite time of year. Sitting at the kitchen table taking a break from preparing dinner, I removed my photo album of Christmas seasons gone by from the shelf inside the pantry door. As I opened it and gazed at the pictures one by one, a warm and wonderful feeling embraced me. I saw the special people who were no longer here to share their happiness and joy, but whose radiant smiles surpass time. One picture caught my attention and I could see that it was clearly dated 1958. My mind immediately went back to a time when money was scarce but love was plentiful.
My parents, along with the four of us children, were living in a very small house in the disadvantaged section of St. John's. My father was a painter and there was never much work for him after September, until spring. My mother's old winter coat had seen many winters and didn't have any warmth left. She had gotten a job cleaning offices at night and both she and Dad would go out at 7 p.m. and walk to the bus stop. They were so thankful when the bus arrived and they could get inside in the heat. Many nights when they arrived at their stop and stepped off the bus into the cold night air, it was difficult for them to walk against the strong winds blowing the falling snow on them. Mom would pull her old coat closer around her trying to keep herself warm, but she never complained. They would have to go through the same difficulties getting home at 10:30 p.m., tired and very cold. This continued for three nights each week. The one thing that kept Mom positive was the fact that she had been putting away a few pennies a week for two years and now had enough saved to buy a warm winter coat. She would tell me about one she saw downtown in Woolworth's store and how she would be able to buy it at the end of November. With times so difficult, there wasn't much to be happy about, but when mom talked about buying this coat her face would light up with happiness.
The end of November came and mom didn't buy her coat, and I just thought she was going to buy it for Christmas instead.
Christmas morning came and we were so excited to see what gifts were under the tree for us. Mom and dad sat watching us as we each found our own special treasures. My older sister, who was 16 years old at the time, found a large parcel with her name on it. She hadn't asked for anything special because she knew that Mom and Dad didn't have money for things other than necessities. My sister, with shaking hands, picked up the parcel and it felt soft. She opened it slowly until all of the paper had been taken off. Looking back at my sister from behind the paper was the most beautiful dress she had ever seen. Tears of joy rolled down my sister's face as she tried the dress up to herself. She ran over and gave Mom and Dad a big hug, they were teary eyed also.
My sister had gotten her first boyfriend during the summer and this was their first Christmas together. He was from a well-to-do family and had invited my sister to a New Year's Eve party that his parents were having at their home. She had told Mom and Dad about this before Christmas and how much she had wanted to go, but she didn't have anything to wear that would be good enough for a special occasion like this.
Years later I learned that Mom had taken the money she had saved for her warm winter coat and bought a very special dress for my sister. She had bought much more than a beautiful dress for my sister that Christmas, she had bought joy and happiness and a wonderful memory that would last forever. My sister would always remember the love that was behind the sacrifice our Mom made for her. This was going to be a festive evening for my sister and Mom and Dad wanted her to feel very special. Mom was always thinking of others before herself and I know the joy and pleasure that she got from seeing the happiness in my sister's eyes was worth much more than any coat could offer her.
When my sister finished school and got a job, the very first thing she bought from her earnings was a beautiful burgundy winter coat with an imitation fur collar and a heavy hat, scarf and mitts for my mom. At last Mom had her lovely warm coat.