Double Line? What double line?

Learning to drive in St. Anthony is a far cry from learning to drive in Toronto.  My son Ryan learned to drive in Toronto, and my daughter Amy, who just got her beginner’s license, is learning to drive in St. Anthony, but regardless of where they learn to drive, the fear-factor of sitting in the passenger seat and yielding control of the car to a teenager takes nerve.

To demonstrate my point, I read in a Toronto newspaper of a teenage girl who traumatized a number of people when she showed up to complete the final portion of her driving test—parking.  But, instead of parking, she accelerated and ploughed into four parked cars.  The vehicle spun out of control and hit two more.  A pedestrian walking nearby was taken to hospital with leg injuries after she was pinned between two cars.  Her driving instructor was treated for shock and stress and sent home to recover.  The young girl failed her test.

When Amy passed her beginner’s test, she was instructed to put a Novice Driver sign in the back window of the vehicle.  That way, other drivers would, hopefully, keep a safe distance, which was not the case in Toronto when Ryan got his beginner’s license.  When he took to the streets to drive, he not only had to learn how to read signs along the way, but to read the signals other drivers were giving him with their fingers, their horns, or their mouths, and none of them were nods or winks, I assure you.

But at least, in the city, there were well-marked signs and freshly-painted lines on the roads and intersections.  And I have to say, since Amy started driving, I’m seeing the local roads with new eyes.

With her beginner’s license in hand, Amy reviewed the manual, memorized the signs, and settled back into the driver’s seat.  It wasn’t until she drove from Ship Cove to St. Anthony that an interesting number of facts came to light.  First of all, the Ship Cove road suffers from so many cracks, fissures, and potholes, one can only hope it will receive some major improvements this summer.  Then, as she puttered along at 60 km/h, she asked, “Can I drive 80 or 90 km/h like everybody else?”

I took the driver’s seat when we hit Route 430 to St. Anthony and discussed some rules of driving.  “When you see the double line on a road, it means nobody can pass on either side.”  I said.

What double line?” she asked.  That’s when I realized the traffic lines mentioned in the manual either couldn’t be seen or were barely visible on Route 430, although they had existed in my imagination.  It occurred to me it might be wiser to paint the lines on the road at winter’s end, rather than in the fall, or use a more durable paint so they might last more than a season.

As we drove through St. Anthony to the Town Hall, she said, “I think the fog is rolling in, it’s hard to see.”

“It’s not fog, Amy, its salt and dust.” I said, rolling up the windows.

We dropped some books at the Library and turned around to go back to the mall.  At the RCMP station she slowed to 30 km/h.

“Okay, Amy, move into the left lane so you can turn into the mall.”  Looking into my side view mirror, I noted there were perhaps half a dozen cars behind us, and clearly they wanted to pass in the right lane.

“Where is the left lane?” asked Amy.

“There!”  I said, pointing.

“Where?” she cried.  “I don’t see it!”

She was right. There were no lines or arrows visible to indicate that there was a left or right lane.  To her, there was only one lane.

“See the sand up ahead on the left?” I pointed to dirt and sand in what appeared to be the middle of the road.  “That’s the left lane.”

She navigated her way towards the mall parking lot, running right over the large pothole by Tim Horton’s that the town, thankfully, had filled only recently.

“What a harrowing experience!” she sighed.  “I like driving, Mom,” she said, “but these roads are not maintained like they were in Toronto!”

Which just goes to show, you can take the girl out of the city, but you can’t take the city out of the girl, at least, not yet.

Enjoying toutons and a good yarn

Queen Elizabeth may think tea and crumpets at the Palace is tasty, but she probably hasn’t tasted tea and toutons, poor dear.  All my life I’ve measured how civilized a social gathering ought to be, by comparing it to Tea with the Queen, but no more!  If Queen Elizabeth hasn’t tasted toutons,  more’s the pity!

My love affair with these delectable morsels began not long ago when a lovely lady by the name of Rose invited me to tea.  As I at down at the table she took the toutons from a sizzling cast iron frying pan and stacked them on a plate.  When the kettle boiled she poured steaming hot cups of tea and placed them on the table along with a tin of Carnation and a bowl of sugar.  On the platter, next to the toutons, were crisp fried pieces of salt pork.

“Just butter the toutons and drizzle molasses over them,” she said, pushing the containers nearer to me.  I helped myself to a touton—buttered it and drizzled the molasses over it—then took a bite.  If there was a heaven on earth, it was in Rose’s kitchen that morning!

When I first set foot in Newfoundland in ‘77, Len took me to see his Aunt Mamie and Uncle Newton in Kelligrews.  Never in my life had I seen anybody just walk into someone’s house without knocking, but that’s what Len did.  Where I grew up—in the city—you phoned ahead to arrange a visit, then you knocked on the door and waited for it to be opened.  Walking into someone’s house without knocking was a culture shock for me!  That evening Aunt Mamie cooked up a scoff of Fish ‘n’ brewis; something I had never heard of.  As I ate, I wondered how someone could take pieces of hard bread—like hockey pucks—and turn them into something so good; but she did, and the scrunchions and onions complimented the delicious meal!

My first sit-down meal at the home of my future in-laws was also a bit of a culture shock. The kitchen was full of visitors, young and old, and the table couldn’t accommodate everybody so the men sat down to eat first.  I was a visitor—and didn’t have a clue what to do in the kitchen anyway—so I was told to sit down with the men.  I didn’t understand much of what they were saying to each other, so I sat quietly and hoped nobody would notice me.  Platters of fish and potatoes, vegetables, salads and soups were passed around, and if I didn’t want something, I passed it along.

Suddenly, Len’s mom handed me a loaf of fresh-baked bread and a knife.  I had been away from my home in Vancouver for a couple of years, and hadn’t seen homemade bread in ages.  I looked at the loaf in my hands, then at my plate heaped with food, and decided I didn’t want any bread.

“No thanks,” I said, and passed the loaf along.  The table of men—and the women standing around the table—erupted into laughter.  I looked at their laughing faces in total confusion.  What had I done?

Len’s mother took the loaf and the knife and held the bread to her bosom, cutting slices skilfully and handing them to the men.  Len explained, “You’re the woman, you’re supposed to cut the bread.”

Fresh from the oven...
Fresh from the oven…

Tea in Newfoundland, especially in the outports, remains a ‘homely’ way for friends to get together.  In the city, having tea with a friend is more of a formal occasion.  When you invite someone over, you arrange a date and time and your friend arrives at the designated hour, and woe betide if you show up early or late.But in the outports, it’s a gentler life, which goes without saying, really.

All things considered, when it comes to having tea, I think Queen Elizabeth and I might agree that tea and toutons in Rose’s kitchen exemplifies the age-old adage, “Life’s simple pleasures are the best.”

Not like the swarming, faceless crowds

When we moved from Toronto to Newfoundland almost three years ago, we thought we no longer had to worry about dodging bullets.  Did we leave the city and all its perils behind only to find similar dangers in outport Newfoundland?

Buddy Wasisname and the Other Fellers produced a beautiful song called “Saltwater Joys.” One of the stanzas goes, “Some go to where the buildings reach to meet the clouds, where warm and gentle people turn to swarming, faceless crowds…”

Part of the culture shock of moving to the Great Northern Peninsula has been adjusting to the ‘faces’ of rural Newfoundland.  People in these communities expect to be recognized and acknowledged.  Everybody knows everybody’s business.  Not so in the cities, where the swarming, faceless crowds are the norm.  For instance, in the three years we lived in Toronto we were very careful not to look at other drivers, because Toronto drivers have been shot for doing that kind of thing.  Eye contact is to be avoided if at all possible.  A city driver—especially in Toronto—cultivates a certain detachment from other traffic; he or she is intent on only one thing, getting to his or her destination alive and as fast as possible.  Likewise, a pedestrian doesn’t engage anyone in conversation on the streets or in the malls because chances are, he or she will either be asked for a handout or ignored.

When we first moved to Northern Newfoundland, people were a little upset when I passed them on the road or in the mall without so much as a wave or a hello.  I might as well apologize now because it’s probably going to happen again.  Most of the time my mind is set at full-throttle, mentally ticking off the next item on my to-do list.  I have no sense of direction either, so I might be ignoring you because I took a wrong turn and I’m lost.

The first time my daughter and I ventured out to the store in Raleigh–just 10 kilometers away–we got lost.  You laugh?  On the way to Raleigh, we noted the narrow, pot-hole roads; the 60 km/h speed limit and the fields and marshes; but on the way home, the scenery changed.  In the interval between our arrival at, and departure from, the corner store, the speed limit had mysteriously gone from 60 to 70 km/h; a bridge appeared out of nowhere and, finally, we passed a sign that indicated Pistolet Bay Park was one kilometer ahead, and that’s when we realized we weren’t traveling to Ship Cove.

If you understand my ignorance of the customs and culture of this area, it might help you better understand the tourists that will be flocking to Northern Newfoundland come summer.

I’ve learned if I’m driving behind a local driver and he suddenly veers to the side of the road, chances are he’s letting me pass because he’s driving too slowly, or he might be scoping out someone’s pile of wood, or he might have spotted a moose along the edge of the woods and wants a better look.  I’ve also learned that if a truck is following at high speed and the driver is flashing his lights, chances are he’s trying to stop me to ask me something.  It’s all trial and error, but mostly error, I admit.

Not so very long ago, round about six o’clock of an evening, three of us were driving along a local road, radio on, when we spotted a vehicle up ahead with brake lights on, moving ever so slowly.  I figured the driver had spotted a moose and had slowed down to have a look.  I cruised up behind him, waiting for him to move off the center of the road so I could pass.  Meanwhile, I was scanning the bushes on the passing side of the road to see if I could spot whatever it was he was looking at.  The vehicle moved to the right and I passed. Suddenly my daughter gasped, “He fired a gun just before we passed!”

“He did what!” I cried.

“He stuck a gun through the window and fired into the bushes, right across the lane, just before we passed,” she said.  “I saw the barrel and I heard the pop.”

“You mean we could have been shot?” I asked.

*****

It just goes to show, you can take the girl out of the city, but you can’t take the city out of the girl, at least, not yet.  And, please don’t shoot me!  I’m still learning!

Recollections of loading wood and a high speed chase

I’m a city girl.  The day I left home in Vancouver, my mother said, “Don’t marry an easterner.”  I’m sure my mother didn’t have any real prejudice against easterners; she just wanted me to live a little closer to home, but I disobeyed her; I married a boy from Ship Cove.

If you consult a map of Canada you can see that the community of Ship Cove, on Cape Onion, is as far removed from Vancouver as possible, and outport life is as far removed from city life as you can get.  That’s where the culture shock comes in; I just haven’t managed, yet, to cross the cultural bridge from city to rural life.

A view from the front yard at Ship Cove
A view from the front yard at Ship Cove

And that brings to my remembrance a high-speed chase on Route 437 last fall.

That November morning dawned crisp, clear, and cold.  “It’s a perfect day to haul our wood home,” said Len, as he finished his morning tea (he should have had his wood home last summer, but he was away in St. John’s working).

Len doesn’t have a truck, but one of his brothers has a truck and one has a tow-behind.  Both brothers were willing to help, so they picked Len up and drove to the gravel pit near Shoal Arm Hill on Raleigh Road to bring the wood home.  A few hours later, two loads of wood were stacked in our back yard.  Meanwhile, Eliza Colbourne, Len’s sister in L’Anse aux Meadows, put her spyglass to the window, looked across Sacred Bay, and noted that Len and the boys were hauling wood.  “Winston!” she called, “Len’s hauling wood!  Let’s go and help.”

I had some errands to run in St. Anthony and knew nothing of Winston & Eliza’s plans.  Just before I left the house, the phone rang but, before I could pick it up, it disconnected.  I noticed it was the Colbourne’s number and called back, but there was no answer.

A pile of split wood, ready for the fireplace come winter.
A pile of split wood, ready for the fireplace come winter.

Minutes later, I was on the road to St. Anthony.  At Pistolet Bay Park I met Len and his brothers returning with a truckload full of wood.  A short while later, I crested Fox Head Hill on Raleigh Road and noticed a vehicle driving ahead of me, and it looked remarkably like the Colbourne’s truck.

“Can’t be,” I said, dismissing the possibility, “they only just phoned me before I left, and there’s no way they’d be driving away from Ship Cove.  If that were Eliza or Winston, they’d be driving toward me.”  (What I didn’t know then, was that they had been up and down the road searching for Len’s pile of wood, and had just made a U-turn)

The truck slowed down right near the gravel pit where Len’s pile of wood lay and, as I drove past, I thought again how much it looked like Winston and Eliza’s truck, but with the afternoon sun in my eyes, I couldn’t see the occupants.  It seemed to me they must be ‘scoping out’ our pile of wood.   Immediately, my ‘city thinking’ kicked in, and I thought, “That might be somebody looking to steal a load of wood; I’d better warn Len as soon as I get to town.”

Moments later, looking in my rear view mirror, I noticed the same truck speeding up behind me, headlights on, four-ways flashing.  “What are those people up to?” I wondered.  “They’re in a powerful hurry; I guess I’d better speed up.”  The faster I drove, the faster they drove.  In Toronto, you wouldn’t stop for people who drove their cars like that; you’d get out of their way as fast as possible.  To my way of thinking, that was the only thing I could do.

At the branch road to St. Anthony, I rounded the corner on two wheels, barely stopping at the sign, and checked my rear-view mirror again.  Ah!  They were doing a U-turn and heading back down the road.  What strange people, I thought.  I’m glad they’re off my back…

Hours later, when I returned to Ship Cove and saw the black and white truck in our back yard, and Eliza and Winston unloading and stacking wood with Len and Rick and Bob—I knew I’d really messed up.

Five faces turned my way, and five people shook their heads in disappointment.

“Mary,” said Winston.  “We chased you down the road to try to get you to stop. We only wanted to ask you which pile of wood was Len’s.”

*****

It just goes to show, you can take the girl out of the city, but you can’t take the city out of the girl; at least not that quickly!