St. Bernard’s Memories

St. Bernard’s Memories*

As I think back on all the places I’ve been in my life, those memories that strike the strongest chord often center around my childhood trips to Newfoundland.  I was born on The Rock, and moved to the States when very young.  Still, my family returned home every other year or so, giving me a cultural heritage almost unique in my adopted world.

Whether heard in the lyrics of a Simani song, or seen in reruns of Pigeon Inlet, Outport Newfoundland is never far from the thoughts of most Newfies.  A rich source of folklore and humor, the lives of those hardy fishermen and their families is now almost legend.

My own experiences of Outport Newfoundland were my childhood visits to St. Bernard’s in the late 60’s and early ‘70’s.  I apologize if my recall of that time and place, and the faces of those I knew, has faded with the years.  Any mistakes I’ve made here, in revisiting those times are, of course, my own.

 Harbor

My Grandmother was a Pope from Stone’s Cove (the Family’s last name, not the Pontiff).  Grave markers for generations of Popes can still be seen in Stone’s Cove.  It was Grandma’s generation that experienced the Resettlement first hand.  I grew up listening to the often confusing arguments about Joey Smallwood and the modernization of Newfoundland.

cousin, grandpa & grandma

All we knew as kids was that Grandma’s family lived in St. Bernard’s and that they moved from Stone’s Cove, which was abandoned by the time I went there.  We also knew the only way to see Stone’s Cove was to take a dory trip across the bay.

St. Bernard’s in those years was a 3 hour drive from St. John’s, where I was born and where we stayed (with relatives) when we visited Newfoundland.  The roads to St. Bernard’s were gravel, full of twists and turns.  I remember the rear wheels of our old Ford throwing rooster tails of dust behind us, as we drove to that small Town on the edge of the sea.

After passing through Jacques Fontaine (or Jack’s Fountain as we called it), we knew we were near the end of the trip.  It always felt good to shake the dust from the road and settle in with a cup of tea and toasted homemade bread at the end of those long drives.

 Dory

Once there, we parked in the grass near three clapboard houses at the end of a dirt road.  Grandma’s remaining family lived here, the homes roughly surrounding a wood pile of chips and an old sawhorse.  Aunts and Uncles, nieces and nephews, and more cousins than I can remember were there to greet us.

Among the first things I noticed were the strange accents of these distant relatives.  They thought I talked funny as well.  Growing up in the Midwest, I had barely a trace of St. John’s accent.  Except in school, when I mispronounced “route” or spelled “grey” wrong, no one would have guessed I was a Newfoundlander.

But here in St. Bernard’s, it was like learning a different language.  Words like lamwash and wharf soon became familiar*, sometimes spoken in the high-pitched voice my Uncle Dick would use when he yelled at us.  My cousins had trouble with my accent too, and laughed at my pronunciation when we talked about life in the States.

 Fishing St. Bernard's Harbor

I don’t think it took us too long to work out these differences.  Of course, telling my friends back home what my summers were like in Newfoundland was nearly impossible.  Even now, how hard it is to convey even a moment of my time spent in that strange and wonderful place.

My Brother, cousins, and I spent our days there wandering along unpaved streets,  throwing skippers into the ocean, or catching conners off the wharf using snails for bait.  Conner fish were spiny, slimy, and pretty unpleasant to deal with, hence the expression “sly (or slimy) as a conner.”*

One year we dammed the small creek that ran through the open field behind my Uncle’s house, making a pond for our sailboats.  Cranky as my old Uncle Dick was, he fashioned some firewood into model boats for us to launch.  I remember returning a few years later to find it all gone, with nothing left of the pond but the little creek and a few stones.

I also recall one summer making a sling shot from an old tree branch and some rubber bands I found, and using it to shoot small metal wires I shaped into a Vs.  I took it home and kept it for years.

During our visits, my Brother and I waited long days for dory rides from friends or relatives, who still kept their fishing boats in St. Bernard’s.  We’d wake each morning and run for a glimpse of the bay.  If the sea was heaving with whitecaps, we knew no boat trip would happen that day.

Harbor Work

The days we did get out were special.  The chugging of the flywheel as the dory made its way from the dock, ocean spray and the taste of salt on my lips, and the chop of even a mild sea as we left the cove, are all part of my love of the Maritimes.  We jigged for cod and squid (two completely different ways of fishing), and once stood on an 18’ shark that beached after getting tangled in fishing nets.  The smell was really something!

We also went to Stone’s Cove.  Even back then, it was mostly abandoned, with only a few fisherman’s cottages maintained for seasonal use.  After walking through the old Town, its homes facing the cold sea, we picnicked on salt crackers and butter before heading back out from the small harbor.

Of all those memories, perhaps the most precious are the people I knew back then.  My Uncle Dick, a rough seaman who’d survived a night clinging to his overturned boat, during a storm that took the life of his fishing partner.  Uncle Tom with his kind eyes, and my Aunts who knitted and made tea.  Even during the summer, my Uncles had to get up before sunrise each morning to chop wood that fed the iron stoves, which warmed their houses before we even got out of bed.

Margaret, a cousin of the family, lived in this small enclave, with her fisherman husband Leonard and a load of children (my cousins, although I’m still not certain of the exact relationship).  She was part Micmac*, and her oldest son Sam resembled a full blooded Algonkian Indian.  Her husband Leonard had a rare saltwater allergy, leaving his eyes constantly red and teary.  He drowned years later, walking back home one cold night.

Most of the rest have passed on as well.  These proud and independent people didn’t care much for modern medicine.  When your time came, you accepted it.  Most spent their final days at home among family, not in hospital beds at St. John’s Memorial.  I can’t fault them for it, nor for their lives of simple pleasures.

For them, Faith was a matter of concrete belief.  The old Catholic Church in town hosted community bingos and picnics, and on Sundays a traveling priest came in his modern outboard motorboat to say Mass.  The hymns we sang were familiar, although sometimes the words sounded a bit odd to my ear.

As I grew older, I tired of the monotony of Outport Newfoundland and St. Bernard’s.  My cousins were growing up and moving away, and there was little for a teenager to do.  Whenever we went, I soon longed to return to the excitement of St. John’s.

Desperate to get a television signal during one particularly long visit, my Brother and I spend a day running bare wire up a tall hill to an old antenna at the top.  The view of the ocean from there was spectacular, but in my haste to see if the TV worked, I didn’t linger long.  I can’t recall to this day if the picture was much improved.

Any tale of Outport Newfoundland must end on a melancholy note.  With little or no work to be found, the younger folks my age mostly moved away.  I lost track of all of my cousins, except for Sam, whom I’ve heard still lives in his father’s house.

Yet I can still see the old fishing nets clinging to rough picket fences, fading to strings in the sun, and the lines of little white boats bobbing in the bay.  Nothing lasts it’s true, but Outport Newfoundland lives mostly now in the memories of those who had the good fortune to experience it.  Like so many other transplanted Newfoundlanders, a large part of my character was formed out of that hard land by the side of the sea.

Pete Murphy                                                                May, 2015

*  This article originally appeared in the May, 2015 issue of Dowhhome Magazine, page 132.

*  A good review of Outport Newfoundland words and usage can be found in the Dictionary of Newfoundland English:  www.heritage.nf.ca/dictionary

Cocoa Beach – The Space Coast

COCOA BEACH – THE SPACE COAST*

             It was a warm, cloudy morning when my family and I lifted off out of Midway onboard our 737, bound for Orlando International at the beginning of the Labor Day weekend.  We had reservations for Disney World later the following week, but our first stop would be Cocoa Beach.florida 4

After a half-hour wait at the rental car counter, we loaded up the luggage and were soon driving out of Orlando along the 528.  It’s a straight road most of the way to Cocoa, until it turns into part of the A1-A and heads out over the water on a pair of long causeways, just before you reach Port Canaveral.  There, the big cruise ships are almost always in port, loading up passengers for 3 and 4 day excursions into the Caribbean.

We followed A1-A south, and about an hour after leaving Orlando found our hotel.  As usual, we stayed at the Four Points Sheraton, just a couple of blocks from the beach in downtown Cocoa.

The Atlantic rollers on the Beach that afternoon were higher than I remembered from previous trips, but that made swimming and body surfing much more exciting.  Quite a few locals said it would be crowded this weekend, and I suppose it was; but, compared to an August weekend at Oak Street Beach in Chicago, it wasn’t that bad.

Florida 3

The shoreline at Cocoa Beach is impressive.  I felt I could walk for miles along the sand and not come to the end of it, and so visitors could really spread out.  The kids were soon lost to the waves and seashells, with my Wife tagging along behind to keep them from getting lost.

You could quickly pick out tourists like myself, painfully pale and liberally dosed with sun screen.  I envied those lucky residents who could hop in their cars, park for a few quarters in the meter, and head down to the sea whenever they felt like it.

After an afternoon in the sun and sand, we headed back to the Sheraton for some dinner and shopping.  The Cocoa Beach Surf Company makes up about half of the Hotel, and includes the Shark Pit Bar & Grill and a surf board rental shop.

I rented a body board the next morning, and we were back at the beach around 9 a.m., to soak up more rays and do some serious body boarding.  I’m the first to admit that I have no talent or skill in this area, but the couple of times I was able to ride a decent wave all the way into the shallows made all of my efforts worthwhile.  There’s a joy in it, that makes all those times getting knocked down seem less important.

We headed back to the Hotel when they closed the beach for half an hour around noon, due to a shark sighting, or so the lifeguard told me.  We grabbed lunch, and still had a long afternoon of fun in the sun before finally calling it a day.

Later that afternoon, after a short walk from the Hotel along a boardwalk near the beach, we stopped into Captain J’s, a bar and grill with upper deck seating overlooking the ocean.

Florida 2

Good food and service, the main attraction is watching the Disney, Carnival, and Royal Caribbean cruise ships as they head out to sea.  That Sunday night, the ships appeared in line heading southeast, and we watched as they sailed out of sight into the vast Atlantic.

Florida 5

I walked the beach alone that evening for the last time:  listening to the sound of the surf as they sky darkened, looking at the lights out to sea and those of the resorts on land, and enjoying my solitude among the last few beach combers.

The Moon was quarter full when it appeared that evening, and almost directly overhead.  I could almost feel the presence of those astronauts who left from nearby Cape Canaveral on their Moon missions.  Did Collins, Aldrin, or even Armstrong walk these sands, looking up at this same Moon mere days before they walked on it for the first time?  I could well imagine them here.

Toward the end of the evening, I spotted a couple of old men in front of a lopsided tent, enjoying a few beers as the sun set.  As they talked, joked, and reminisced, I wondered if they might have the right of it, just sitting there on the beach in Florida without an apparent care in the world.

florida 1

Maybe this lifestyle would grow routine, but I saw a lot of enthusiasm on the faces of the surf boarders, skim boarders, and body boarders – old and young alike.  I wondered what it would be like to live out the lyrics of those old Beach Boys songs, if even for a little while.

I would be driving to Orlando and Disney World the next day, and I knew, in the back of my mind, that my law practice in cold Chicago was waiting for me when I got back home.  But part of me waits on that beach, walking the sand, watching the sun set and listening to the waves.  And maybe having that cold beer.

*  this article appeared as “Cocoa Beach Reflections” in the November 2014 issue of The Beachside Resident, page 17.  The Beachside Resident web page can be found @:

http://www.thebeachsideresident.com

 

Pete Murphy                                          January 2015

 

Yesterday’s EPCOT

My latest Walt Disney World article, Yesterday’s EPCOT, is posted on the Allears Disney fan site:

http://allears.net/ae/issue781.htm

In this piece, I remember a road trip I took to EPCOT with my Brother in the late 1980’s.

Recall with me part of that magical place and time, from the challenges of keeping an old car on the road, to experiencing one of the first video conferencing systems.

I hope you enjoy this look back at EPCOT as much as I enjoyed reliving it!

 

Pete Murphy

 

Tinkles

TINKLES

            When I think back on those long car trips I took with my Folks and younger Brother in the late 60’s and early 70’s, one of my fondest memories is of how we kept ourselves busy during the long miles.  Handheld computer games, even the simple ones like Mattel Football or Simon from Milton Bradley, were still quite a few years away.  The truly overwhelming assortment of distractions offered today by Kindle or iPad were beyond anything even NASA could conceive of in those years.  So, we enjoyed simple pleasures.

Most summers we would load up the Ford LTD and head out on highway.  Two weeks away from home:  staying in motels (the best of these had pools), eating at diners, seeing the tourist sites, and spending many hours driving each day.  Aside from the occasional two day stop in a major city or destination, we lived on the roads.

Seatbelts technically came in most cars back then, but were simple lap belts that were soon buried under the seat cushions.  A useful weapon to swing in a pitched battle with my Brother during our legendary back seat wars, their regular use was largely discouraged.  These wars were always a conquest for more space, and usually settled with a hasty truce, after the third or forth threat from the front seat of “pulling over and coming back there” finally seemed imminent.  And so, we could sit up and look out the windows, lay across the back bench seat, or scoot down in the floor wells of our old Ford.  The floor was where we kept our toys and the best place to play, out of sight of Mom and Dad.

In the weeks leading up to vacation, it was a ritual to assemble the stuff we would bring to play with in the car.  Aside from the back seat, there was no other place to pack our playthings, so we had to pick toys that would fit and still allow room to play, fight, and sleep.  I kept several cigar boxes my Uncle had given me over the years, and filled them with toys, paper pads and pencils, books, and magazines, in preparation for the trip.  It was a meticulous process, and my first real experience with decision making.

Of course, we also played car bingo, 20 questions, I spy, and tried spotting the license plates from all 50 states (no surprise that Hawaii was the toughest to find).  But the tiny toys that filled many hours on the road for my Brother and I were tinkles.

I think my Brother and I coined that name, and it certainly doesn’t occur in this context anywhere else that I’ve found.  It’s probably derived from trinket, as mispronounced by my much younger self.  For us, it came to mean any small toy that would fit (with several others) in a cigar box.

These toys could include just about anything, from Crackerjack prizes to gumball charms, Matchbox cars, old campaign pins, souvenir pens, superballs, sliding puzzles, and magnetic corgi dogs.  Whether discovered in a parking lot, bought from a vending machine, or found at the bottom of a Crackerjack box, they made their way into a cigar box to tour the U.S. with us.

My very first collection, and from which all of my later collections would grow, was my tinkles collection.  They really did provide us hours of fun on the back floor of that old LTD.  I remember drawing a crude map on a blank sheet of paper, and then setting a magnetic corgi dog on top, while its twin brother on the bottom moved it through parks, farms, and cities.  Or taking apart the 3D plastic toy puzzle/keychain, bought for $.50 from a vending machine at a highway oasis, and then handing it up to the front seat for reassembly.

The souvenir pens were a treat, particularly the “floating” ones, where the Maid of the Mist sailed across the front of Niagara Falls, or the Disney Train crossed in front of the Contemporary Resort.  Tipping the pen the other way let you relive the experience, pretty much forever.

If you were lucky enough to find one (and talk someone into buying it), the mini slide viewers were one of the best tinkles around.  Sold as souvenirs at many of the places we toured, each was shaped like a camera or television, and looking through the small magnifier revealed a colored picture of the place.  It was a personal and private show you could enjoy whenever you needed a break from watching the road.

Nighttime in the back seat was special, with most of the traffic gone away.  It was quiet all around outside, and looking through the rear window revealed either the bright lights of tall highway lamps, or the soft glow of stars.  The AM radio up front was usually turned down, playing soft jazz or country western.  My coveted pen light was near at hand, and as long as I didn’t shine it up front or onto the roof lining (or directly into my Brother’s face), I was free to play with my tinkles so long as I could keep awake.  Shining the light through the little plastic and metal figures made them seem to move.  Worlds, cultures, and centuries came and went in the back seat of that lonely Ford, driving down the back roads at night.

Like all things from my childhood, taking tinkles along on car trips eventually came to an end.  Those I didn’t lose ended up in a cigar box in storage, like so many sad scenes from Toy Story.  But this story would be incomplete if I didn’t mention that some few were found and saved, and more than a few were picked up on eBay over the past couple of years.

Image

I’ve shared them with my kids, getting them started on their own tinkle collections.  Although these simpler toys may have a tough time competing with iPads and Kindles, I think it’s worth the fight.

And today’s seatbelts are harder to swing as weapons in the back seat.

 

–           Pete Murphy     May 2014