Rencontre East, Newfoundland & Labrador, Canada
Isolated and Loving It
Loving Memories of My Outport Home
With the increase in technology and movement toward concrete cities, a trend seems to be developing to return to the more" simple" days: the days when physical survival itself was a challenge but it was much easier and less expensive to create one's own entertainment. I lived in such times in a small community of 350 people on the Southwest coast of Newfoundland. It is even now a landmark in that it is the only settlement in the province not connected by road. Apparently the people now don't consider this to be a hardship for there are still 200 people living there. Perhaps the memories I will relate are still a way of life for these inhabitants for it takes a long time for the outside world to infiltrate change to an isolated community.
by Kathleen Squires
For us the main line communication to the "foreigners" was the arrival of the coastal boats. This was always a thrill - everyone who could possibly make it, would hurry to the landwash to meet the mail boat. During the summer months people would return who had been living in Canada or the United States; they always came back for a visit and appeared to carry their heads a little higher than usual and swing their arms proudly. We always envied them for we thought they knew everything. (One father went to the coastal boat to meet his son who had lived in the States for a number of years. I remember he was very worried about how he should speak to him. He held onto his hand and said "good-bye Bob, you're come".)
We would all walk behind the mailmen as they carried the mail bags on their back to the little post office up over the bank. We would crowd into a waiting room about 5 ft. square, waiting for the operator to assort the mail. The noise was terrific - occasionally she would open the wicket door, causing much excitement as we would naturally assume the mail was about to be given out. Much to our dismay, she would say, "If you don't keep quiet, I'm not going to do any more!" - very disappointing!
We also enjoyed seeing the trader coming in, a small "Jackóboat" which would be carrying goods to trade for fish and of course some people had a few dollars. We would all go aboard in dories to see what was on board. The tradesman was often an uneducated man who couldn't write - his bill would be a drawing of whatever was purchased. I recall one man who was rather upset, having been charged for cheese which he was sure he hadn't bought. He had. however bought a grindstone. The tradesman looked at the circular drawing and laughingly admitted he had forgotten to draw a hole in the middle!
As a child I worked on the flake all summer and naturally I was supposed to be paid - I was - 14 cents, the price of a gallon of cod oil. I remember buying loose coconut, prunes, dates and candy for my 14 cents. Because cash was hard to come by, my mind would work overtime devising ways of getting my labour's worth. For example, I picked bags of grass for a certain woman's cow and I would walk up the point to deliver them. In return she would give me a syrup bottle full of fresh milk. It was so delicious and I'd be so thirsty after the walk that I'd devour half the milk on my way home. Then when I'd reach the public springs I'd fill the bottle with water. My mother would always complain about the quality of the milk. Years later I told her the truth, not wanting her to harbour any resentment towards the poor woman who owned the cow!.
I shall never forget those days and would gladly return any day but I would not want the water and sewage problems - they were the worst inconveniences. Bringing water was quite a chore and toilet facilities were very bad. But then again we had the ocean for a septic tank and no expenses for pipes. It's not like that today - the settlement now has modern means including electric lights and telephones. We used kerosene lamps and I hated one of the chores which my mother assigned me - cleaning lamp chimneys. Every morning I would put oil in the bowls so that they were always filled. Every now and then I would get my hand caught in the chimney or globe and pull it out with my knuckles covered in soot.
Cleaning my hands took longer than cleaning the lamps. First I'd get the so-called "face n' hands" pan, then go to the back porch and put cold water in it (if the water pails weren't empty). Next I'd put the kettle on the stove, add hot water, wash my hands, then do outside and pour the dirty water into the garbage bucket. If there was a dirty ring around the pan I'd have to start all over again and clean the pan this time.
But it wasn't all work - recreation was never a problem. In the winter we did a lot of sleigh-riding and skating. Only the boys wore ice-skates;
the girls walked around on the ponds. We loved to go sleigh-riding on moonlight nights. Some of us would ride on komatiks about 6 feet long, starting at the top of a hill in back of the community. We would strike some terrible bumps sometimes turning the sleigh over but we loved it.
During the summer we would go picnicing, dory rowing, fishing, and swimming. You could say streaking began in those days because the boys didn't wear anything when they were swimming. They would run the full length of the fishing wharf and jump into the water. It wasn't all that comfortable swimming along the shore because the fishermen would at times be splitting fish and throw all the guts and heads overboard into the sea. It wasn't unusual to be swimming along and discover that you had fish guts wrapped around your arm or come mouth to mouth with a cod's head. Of course, the fact that the sea was the septic tank resulted in encountering other foreign particles!
The boys certainly had it a lot cooler than we girls did in the summer. My mother always saw to it that my sisters and I wore long stockings all summer, even with temperatures reaching the 80's. I always remember the knee socks. They were made of heavy material with diamond patterns, turned down about four inches from the top. It's a wonder we don't have more corns because we had two pairs of stockings on at the same time - with, of course, laced up boots. My first pair of shoes were made from the boots I'd worn all winter - my mother sent them to Burgeo where the cobbler cut them off and sewed them by machinery. They were more like booties than shoes because he cut them straight across but I still remember the thrill of getting them.
A lot of shoes would be worn out running from the animals. I hated the nights in our settlement when we didn't have moonlight because it would be black dark - cows, sheep and bucky rams always slept on the roads. One could be walking along and suddenly trip over a sheep and end up on a cow's back. However, there was a lot to be admired about these animals. They all slept together regardless of size, breed, and color. Then there was a certain time of year when the government bull arrived. He was always sent to improve the population situation and he always did - more than willingly, but to us he was the most dreaded animal of all.
When I was old enough I bought my own 2-cell flashlight. I remember it cost 65 cents My mother always used a flashlight and she had an economical way of saving the price of her batteries. When we would visit our grandparents at night she would turn on the flashlight and look as far as the beam would throw to see what was ahead; then she'd turn it off and we'd walk that distance before turning it on again. Needless to say I wasn't fond of that system.
Even at Christmas there were no additional lights like today but we had joys I shall never forget. As a child there was the thrill of hanging up our stockings on Christmas Eve and awakening to a filled stocking. The patience and kindness of my parents I will always remember. We would awaken them both and they would sit up in bed and share our happiness about the things that Santa brought. Although I believed in Santa Claus I often wondered to myself how he could visit all the homes in one night. I never believed that he came down the chimney.
As we gave up the thrill of stocking-hanging we turned to the more exciting things that teenagers did - dancing, mummering. and staging concerts. I really enjoyed dressing up as a mummer. I would do this every night. This would necessitate running home and frequently changing my outfit. This way, I could revisit homes unrecognized and refill my stomach with cake and syrup. This was the only way to get more than one's share; otherwise each family would only treat you once. It was therefore necessary to wear costumes that completely hid your identity.
I guess I was between 16-17 before I began to appreciate going to church and understanding the works of God. Prior to that time going to church twice on Sunday and attending Sunday School was a very depressing experience for me. I usually had a few cat naps during the service. When the collection plate was passed around I had to give away my money when I could have used it the next day for a union square or a Jerusalem (candy). I always looked forward to Sundays for the wrong reason - I could wear my best shoes, dress, hat and coat. On Fridays my mother would boil spruce and brew it for two days so we could have beer with our Sunday dinner.
There were few complaints about food, recreation or any aspect of our community life. The absence of plenty helped us appreciate the little we did have. I often think about returning some day to see if my memories are still being lived by the present inhabitants. The settlement is one of which we have all heard of one time or another -Rencontre East which means "meeting place" and that it was.
This article was originally printed in the book - "From This Place" which was published by Jesperson Press. It is being reprinted with the permission of the author.