My First Newfoundland Summer

  • Downhome Magazine
  • Posted: May 16, 2017 4:08 PM
Me, Marene, Jim and Michele at the Gullies

It was 1958. I was 12 years old and, as the saying goes, I remember that summer as if it were yesterday.

We lived in Harbour Grace for two months. The weather was hot and sunny, the ocean was like nothing I’d ever experienced before - and I met the boys from Carbonear.

We boarded a Trans-Canada Airlines North Star at Malton Airport (now Pearson International) to fly to St. John’s. By “we” I mean the Ross family - my grandmother, Renie; my mother, Peggy; my brother, Jim; my sisters Marene and Michele; and our dog, Laddie. My mom’s sister, Mary and my cousin, Deb Archibald were already there. My father, Bill, only had two weeks off in the summer so he joined us later. The purpose of the trip was to show us where our Newfoundland family - including my father and his parents - had been born and raised.  

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Mom and me on the plane to St. John's

There were no Rosses left in Harbour Grace in ’58, but we knew our Archibald cousins well. Aunt Annie and Uncle Herm, Uncle Harry, Uncle Howie and Aunt Rose often visited us in Port Credit, Ontario, where we lived. They were the ones who met us at the airport and drove us around the bay. We stayed at Uncle Harry’s house on Brazil Lane, right behind Pike’s Hotel. My brother’s best friend, Eddie, lived up the lane and his mother baked bread for us every day. Florence, a teenager from Spaniard’s Bay, was hired for the summer to help my mother and grandmother. That way they had time to join the active social scene in Harbour Grace. There were suppers with our extended family, bridge games at night and special trips to the Brigus Tea Room. 

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My cousin Charles Coe, my brother Jim, our dog Laddie, and me on the front steps of Uncle Harry's house on Brazil Lane

But I remember the outdoor activities best. We swam in the icy water at Northern Bay Sands and then ran squealing into the warm water at the base of a small waterfall. Salmon Cove Sands was another favourite spot for taking a dip in the ocean, but I missed the freshwater pool to warm me up. We swam and had picnics at Lady Lake and Rocky Pond, and I loved the warm, shallow water at the Gullies. When my dad arrived it was all about the fishing - trout from Rocky Pond and cod jigging with a local fisherman. It was the hottest and sunniest summer anyone in Harbour Grace could remember.

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Swimming at Rocky Pond

My best friend that summer was my cousin, Diane Archibald. She lived with her parents, Lloyd and Grace, and her brother, Greg, on Harvey Street. Through her I met Joan Parsons and Glenda Godden - and that was when the summer of ’58 took on a whole new meaning. They were 14 years old and interested in boys, the boys from Carbonear to be exact. That summer, Guy Fred Earl, Dave Soper, Ron Howell, Kevin Gear, Bill Cameron and sometimes Max Parsons entered my life. 

I don’t remember the first time we met. They just seemed to flow into our after-dinner routine. Sometimes we walked around town, sometimes we sat on the wharf and talked, and sometimes we went to Aunt Sade’s movie theatre to sit at small tables in the lobby and drink Cokes. 

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An outdoor supper at Bannerman house (Aunt Annie and Uncle Herm's house). Joan, Diane and I are in front. The adults are at another table.

To Joan, Diane and Glenda these activities seemed quite natural, but to me this was a whole new world. These boys were nothing like the 12- and 13-year-olds I knew back home. These boys talked more, joked more, laughed louder and smoked. They never had enough money for a whole pack of cigarettes, so they bought a few at a time from Mary Madigan, who ran the snack bar at the theatre. When they were around, I felt older myself.

Some memories from that summer seem to flow around me in a comfortable haze; others are so sharp it’s as if I’m still there. I remember the party Joan had just before my 13th birthday. It was hot in the front parlour, so the windows were open.

People sat on the sills and the boys dropped out onto the lawn to have a cigarette before climbing back inside. Then someone handed me a comic book and said, “This could happen tonight.” I didn’t see the speaker because I was looking down at the illustration of a boy and girl locked in a kiss. The comic was one of the forbidden romance ones that we’d been secretly reading all summer.

Although I don’t know who handed it to me, I do know how confused I felt. Who wanted to kiss me? How should I react? When was this going to happen? The rest of the evening was a blur until I stood at the bottom of the steps at Uncle Harry’s house. Kevin Gear looked down at me and smiled. “Well, good night,” he said. Since he’d offered to walk me home, I assumed he was the one who wanted to kiss me. I threw my arms around his neck and mashed my face against his. I presume our lips touched, but I’m not sure. Without another glance, I ran up the steps and into the house. I remember feeling shocked by my actions, but satisfied that the kiss had been accomplished.

Over the years, I’ve wondered on occasion if Kevin knew about the comic or the “This could happen tonight” comment. Or maybe we were just innocent players in someone else’s plot. There’s only one thing I know for sure about that kiss. It was part of an amazing first summer in Newfoundland. - Submitted by Heather Stemp

Heather Stemp is the author of Amelia and Me, about her aunt’s meeting with Amelia Earhart in Harbour Grace, NL, in 1932. She recently finished her second book, Taking Flight.