We should listen to what they have to say

I enjoy reading Agatha Christie mysteries and, if I had a library at home, there would be wall-to-wall mysteries adorning the walls.  I like Agatha Christie’s mysteries because they’re set in England, but it wasn’t until I moved to outport Newfoundland that I noticed something very interesting about her novels.  Some of the dialect spoken in her books is used right here on the Island!

So what does that mean?  Well, it only goes to show that language travels, and it endures.  It is passed down from generation to generation, which is fascinating stuff if you give it any thought at all.

My husband is a genealogy buff and knows his Newfoundland ancestors backwards and forwards, but I have an impressive line of ancestors myself, which I can trace back 17 generations.  On my father’s side, the family tree extends back to Somerset, England; my maternal grandmother was an Irish war bride from Wales; and, on my maternal grandfather’s side there were staunch Mennonites from Italy, Germany, and Pennsylvania.  This family tree information was passed down to me two ways: by word of mouth and by the written word.  My parents’ ancestors documented their history by writing everything in family Bibles and books, which have endured to this day.

Driving to town here on the Northern Peninsula, it’s plain to see that autumn has arrived; trees are ablaze with gold, tangerine, crimson and scarlet leaves.  In November, those beautiful leaves will be lashed by rain and swept away by wind until the trees are stripped bare.

In October we celebrate Thanksgiving, when all the bounty is brought in and stored in freezers, jelly jars, and root cellars.  Perhaps though, some of you are only too aware that your fridges and cellars are full of provisions but your communities are losing their young people due to the effects of out-migration.  What, then, can you be thankful for?

I’ve spoken to quite a few people lately and many are saying the same thing…that as the older people are passing away, the customs and traditions of rural Newfoundland are passing, too.  The old ways were passed down by word of mouth, but the newest generation of young adult Newfoundlanders is leaving the province, and there are very few to pass these traditions and stories on to.  It seems as if the Baby Boomer generation is the last to remember, vividly, the way life was before cars, computers and consumerism corrupted the landscape.

Recently I met an elderly gentleman in a store, and we had a pleasant chat while I waited in line.  As he spoke to me, it struck me that the autumn season, with it’s aging leaves, is something like this older generation; full of colour and beauty.  I bet there are plenty of interesting things the old timers could tell us if we’d listen to what they have to say.

The Baby Boomers are telling me the old ways are passing away; that their generation is sandwiched between those who lived the hardships and the glory days of the fishery, and the younger generation as they leave the province to find work.  What, then, is to be done to preserve the past?

I think the answer lies very close at hand: in the hospitals, in the nursing homes, in seniors’ complexes, and in houses and apartments in Newfoundland communities.  If the younger generation has up and left, why not gather another kind of harvest while it’s there for the taking?  Why not sit down with pen and paper, with camera and camcorder, with laptop and listening ear, and document the past before it is gone forever; it’s what my ancestors did when they recorded those births, deaths and marriages so long ago.  If they found the time to do this in a time when families were large and time was scarce, surely we can do the same?

Then, when the younger generation asks about their ancestors, there will be something to show them, to tell them and to teach them about Newfoundland and the people who settled it so long ago.  It’s a provincial treasure worth saving.

Don’t wait until the winds of time strip the leaves from the trees.  Harvest them now, and press them between the pages of your Bible.  Treasure the past; it is the wisdom and hope for the future.

You can take the girl out of the city, but you can’t take the city, or the ancestors, out of the girl.

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