Ours was a mill town nestled in the Exploits valley along the river of the same name and surrounded by trees. It was a rich town by provincial standards during a time when most towns in Newfoundland were not wealthy. At least that is how it appeared to me as a child. We were unaware of poverty within our town limits and we enjoyed running water ,indoor plumbing and electricity. Most other places that we visited had none of these conveniences and we considered ourselves a bit superior because of it. At least I did. What a little prima donna I imagined myself to be! There was little wonder I felt that way considering the reception I would get every time I visited my mother’s home.
She had grown up on Triton Island in Notre Dame Bay. To get there one had to drive a dirt road for a couple of hours to Roberts Arm. And that in itself was quite the excursion. The road was so narrow that we were obliged to keep the windows up , no matter how hot the day, so that the branches of the trees would not be able to reach in and tear our eyes out. And when our car approached a blind hill or turn in the road, my father would blow the horn to warn any approaching vehicle. It was presumed that each driver would pull to the left to avoid collision. And how rough the dirt roads were ! Often we would end up changing flat tires and more often we would have to pull off the road into the bushes to throw up. Car sickness was rampant in those days. And the dust was formidable. We ate it , choked on it , and our h hair stiffened with it. At the end of a trip , a comb would simply stick into the grit and if we forced it the thing would crack off . Until our heads met with shampoo and water we had no choice but to endure .
That was the car trip. Today it would take just over 45 comfortable minutes to drive the distance.
But, there was an excitement back then. An anticipation. And I would be counting off the miles as we drove along. Sometimes I would simply count up to five hundred and then look at the odometer to see how far we had travelled. Or I wouldn’t look for ten minutes or so and then see how much the odometer had changed. Or my sister and I would sing or play I spy. Any game would do if it made time pass more quickly.
Eventually we would arrive in the community of Roberts Arm and head for the government wharf. There would always be a small boat there which would carry passengers to whatever destination they had in mind. I loved this part of the trip.
Usually the boat had a cabin . Not a large one. It would have benches on each side that would carry about ten people and at the end there was a stove which would keep us warm if it were cold outside. The stove usually burned wood, I think. Though it might have been coal .It was a lovely cozy way to travel. But I preferred warm and sunny days when I could go up on deck and watch the islands pass in and out of view. My memory is of a lot of greenery which stretched down to the rocks on the beaches .And the water was clean and clear. The colour would vary. In near the rocks it would be black and sometimes off in the distance it would be seaweed green. On a dull day there was little colour. Just grey. Water is so fascinating. In school we’d always paint it blue but there are as many times when it is yellow ,red, orange or grey. Just like the sky.
Eventually we’d arrive on the island. And this is where I got the idea that I was special and maybe a notch above the people I saw on the wharf. Everyone would be there to meet the boat, and they would stare and I could feel their admiration . Their curiosity and their eagerness to find out who this new visitor was. It is a good thing I didn’t go to some African village when I was young or my head would have been too swollen to fit any normal sized doorway. But |I loved it. I can understand how movie stars can be totally ruined by so much ego stroking.
But to balance my childhood out a little, this moment of self importance was not constant nor permanent. When I visited Gander on Sunday afternoons with my family just to see the planes land, I was on the other side of the equation. Then I was the one who did the admiring. I imagined the exotic origins of the people I saw walking with such confidence , and ease through the mezzanine of the airport. And they dressed so differently from the people in my town. Even at a very young age I recognized “quality”, though I wouldn’t have been able to articulate it at that time. Everyone looked so grand. So busy. So worldly. I never dreamed that one day I too would travel to exotic places. But by that time it would be common place and I would not be aware of anyone noticing a Newfoundland woman totally out of her element and smiling at the wonder of it all.