It’s what I didn’t hear, or see, that troubled me.
The telephone rang. There was to be a boat launched at the wharf and Len was asked to help. I went along to watch the dozen or so men roll the boat down over the poles and into the water; it’s a piece of Newfoundland history that’s fading into obscurity.
The morning was crisp, clear, and cool. The ocean was deepest blue. Seagulls hovered and swooped and screeched. Waves splashed against the wharf. Men’s voices rose and fell on currents of wind. Sun spilled across the water and spotlighted a pile of lobster traps near the shore, casting vivid shadows.
Ten minutes after the trucks and cars had arrived at the wharf; the men put their shoulders to the boat and it slipped into the waves. I thought the men might have got back into their trucks and gone home, but most stayed behind to yarn. I wondered then if the pleasure of launching a boat lay not so much in the launching, as in the gathering that followed.
But something was missing. It’s true that nobody had sung The Jolly Poker since the days of Reginald Bessey, but that wasn’t what was missing either. I couldn’t quite figure out what it was.
As I sat at the wharf with the car window rolled down, the wind carried the salty smell of the sea and the lush, pungent smell of warm sun on earth and moss and new grass. Suddenly, the years slipped away like beads falling from a necklace, and I was seven years old again, standing beneath pine and spruce trees on the Sarcee Indian Reservation.
I know I claim to be a city girl, but there was one year in my life when I wasn’t. My dad was a traveling missionary and when I was seven we lived for a year with the Indians near Calgary. It was one of the most magical years of my life. I was one of six children and our playground was the five acres surrounding the church and rectory. We didn’t need the expensive toys kids seem to need now; we built our own raft and sailed it down Fish Creek; we played endless games in the abandoned school; our ‘baseballs’ were round balls of dried horse dung; we crawled under barbed-wire fences hunting for gophers, and tried to trap squirrels as they skittered along the fence poles. The fresh, keen smells of pine and spruce and grass were perfume to my soul. We played cowboys and Indians with real Indians, and rode real horses. We discovered the dried-up skulls of cattle and buffalo as we roamed the pastures and forests, and we watched for bobcats in the trees.
It’s a mystery how sights and sounds and scents can transport us to another place and another time, but they do.
I spent only one year on the reservation, but I still remember the beaded necklaces, moccasins, and jackets the Indian women made for us. I remember wonderful old surnames like Starlight, Heavenfire, Dodging Horse, One Spot, and Many Moons. I remember my father preaching in the little clapboard church, Indian powwows and teepees and dances. My mother had her hands full in the church and the rectory, cooking many meals at the woodstove and hanging countless laundries on the line.
Life as a child in the early 1960s was alive with adventure.
A car door slammed and I was suddenly back at the wharf with the waves slapping on the rocks and the boats silent on the beach and the men gathered around the truck in their green unemployment boots. It struck me then. Almost all the men were in their 50s or 60s; there were no young men and there were no children to carry on the customs and traditions of a bygone time.
It leaves me wishing I had lived in this fishing village in its heyday, even for one brief year. I can imagine the bay full of ships, the men and women working at the fishery, the laughter and tears of children, laundries whipping on clotheslines.
The past is a kaleidoscope of memories that creates a variety of patterns to help us shape the future. Families are the glue that holds it all together.
You can take the girl out of the city, but you can’t take the city out of the girl. But memories of a simpler time are like jewels on the necklace of time.