A couple of things sparked this blog. Myles of Freenewfoundlandlabrador asked "Who is a Newfoundlander to you?" and a column by the lovely and talented Averill Baker about "Newfoundland Heros". For regular visitors please excuse this bit of sentiment - must be the sudden burst of sunshine. I'll return to my regular bitterness in future blogs.
The people that we met as we go through life each have an effect on who we become. Their influences become our own. Like a modern day Forrest Gump some of the situations we find ourselves in, and the people we meet along the way are as important to our lives as the pathes we follow.
While in high school I had the great fortune of having a set of teachers who were very proactive in bringing the world to a sheltered inland rural community. "Education Week" this was the time when the textbooks were closed and we took the opportunity to peer up from our desks and into the real world. It was during one of these academic interludes that a gentleman by the name of Arthur Scammel was introduced to our class. You should know the name, if you don't you will surely know his simple ditty of Outport Newfoundland life in the words of "The Squid Jigging Ground". Mr. Scammel was a man in his eighties at the time. Rumours of his demise had been greatly exaggerated; he was alive with a spirit that few of us can attest to.
When Mr. Scammel was a young student he wrote The Squid Jigging ground as a school project. His teacher did not receive it favourably. This was a time when textbooks came from England and we learned about another country's culture. Come to think of it I'm not sure it was different when I was in highschool except that the shining example of England was replaced with the influence of our neighbour to the South as we were taught from American textbooks. From Mr. Scammel I took away the pride in being able to say that I heard The Squid Jigging Ground sung from the shaking and whispy breath of the man himself, and more importantly an understanding of what it is to be a Newfoundland and Labradorian in the context of being surrounded and infiltrated by the powerful influences of Europe, the U.S., and from our foster parent Canada.
When I had completed my academic career I had a brief stint as a delivery driver. One of my routes took me into Shea Heights. There is a dichotomy about Shea Heights; it is famous for the beautiful view overlooking St. John's from the South Side Hills. This beauty is at the surface of a place that has a dark and horrible secret that is the unsolved murder of Dana Bradley. It is also the birthplace of one of Newfoundland's great hockey stars Harold Druken, and one of the most recognizable Newfoundlanders of all time the late Ed "Sailor" White. I met Ed on a number of occasions on my runs. He was a man who was physically ominous. His body round and thick, his face a living testament to the life he had led. On his forehead was the scars of the past, when blood was the entertainment of the day he would slash his forehead with a sharp object concealed in his palm and let the blood run over his face for the covers of magazines. What I took away from having met him though, is how the heart of a lamb can beat in a lion. Frailties exist under the strongest face. We should not be quick to judge people on their lifestyle choices, careers, looks or any other surface factor. The depth of a man or woman is worn in the heart.
Not a Newfoundland and Labradorian but one of the rare exceptional Canadians that makes us all wave the flag was the late Terry Fox. When Terry started in Newfoundland there was not a lot of initial reaction to his story. St. John's is a city that sees so many firsts - and the spring of the year is often a time when some adventurer with an odd homemade boat or plane will leave from here to mark his or her name in the history books - to cross Canada, North America, or the Atlantic Ocean. Sailers, rollerbladers, rowers, pilots we see them all. So we can be forgiven in Newfoundland for initially not taking notice of a runner from Vancouver. As Terry began to continue along the TCH people started to realize the conviction of this man - children started to mimic the famous "fox trot". One of my favourite TV shows was the Six Million Dollar Man. I thought for sure that this mechanical leg must give him some qualities of a superhero. I watched the news as he hit some of the smaller communities in Eastern Newfoundland, finally a decent reception somewhere around Gander and Gambo. I ran with him through our town, he was amazingly ordinary – he could have been anyone. The last vivid memory was from the next summer when I read the headline of an American newspaper in a roadside vending machine with the headline Canadian Runner Dies During Marathon of Hope. From Terry I learned what an indemitable spirit could accomplish. I don't think I need to elaborate...
...and lastly for now, my "Jenny". We have known each other since we were ten and I can't remember not loving her. She has worked since she was about fourteen. Her work ethic allowed us to build a life when my own live’s faults and trials would have seen me on Desolation Row. Lesson learned: The connection that two people can make in the centre of caos.
There are many more people and places of course where a wide-eyed and ignorant BNB has made his cameo and drawn influence. Cassie Brown, Annie Troake, Mary Dalton, Christopher Pratt, Lisa Moore, Bernice Morgan, EJ Pratt, my mentors, my father, my sister and my late mother. I have been but a spectator. I thank them for their influence on my life and the lessons of how we have fought to live here and why we continue to do so.
...but here's your bus. Thanks for the company. You can take the chocolates.