Last week while I was sifting through old papers, I found this piece of writing from decades ago. Thankfully, we have all made peace since then . . .
Once upon a time, there was a girl from St. John’s. At the age of fourteen, she moved around the bay with her family. She hated her curly hair, adored her Persian cat, and loved to get lost inside stories and songs.
When she grew older, she fell in love and got married. She was happy. She had a beautiful little daughter. Not long after, she gave birth to a handsome son. She liked to tease him and call him her little “curly boy” because he so much reminded her of herself.
A few times, when she and the husband had terrible fights, she had to take her girl and boy to her parents’ house. But the husband would always tell her how sorry he was, and she would go back because she loved him, and wanted to believe him.
Eventually, she stopped believing. She moved back to St. John’s and started a new job and a new life. She still had her beautiful daughter, but she lost her curly-boy to his dad.
She found someone who reminded her of her love for stories and songs. She loves her cats, still hates her curly hair, and misses her son with an ache that never goes away and leaves her pillow wet with tears every night. Still, she knows she is doing the only thing she can.
She hopes someday he will understand how, once upon a time, there was a girl from St. John’s who couldn’t fight anymore, and only wished for
a happily ever after.
Alexander Perry, or Skipper Alex (aka Alec) as he was called by many, was my husband’s grandfather. For those that don’t already know, our home on Perry’s Point for the past ten years is the same home in which Alexander and his wife Mary Jane lived and raised their large family.
Alexander worked as a skipper on a number of fishing schooners. He made many trips to Labrador to fish for cod, which he brought back to Newtown to be cured before it was carried by ship from St. John’s to England and sometimes Jamaica.
Although I never met the man, I’ve heard many good things about him. Skipper Alex was widely admired for his seafaring abilities, his pleasant disposition and gentle spirit, and his flair for storytelling. Locals loved to visit with him—or he with them—to be regaled with colourful tales of his experiences. Of course, having a love of stories myself, I wish I could have known him back in the day.
Below is a letter from Pompano Beach, Florida that Paul found in a box in the attic when we renovated our house. It was written by John Maxwell Barbour, known as Max, the eldest son of Captain Alphaeus Barbour. I imagine the letter meant something to Alex for him to hold onto it like that. He would have been 81 when he received it, and Max, 69. I typed the letter out for easier reading.
Jan. 22, 1969
Dear Skipper Alex,
This carries to you and to your good wife my warm congratulations on your 56th wedding anniversary.
Seeing your excellent picture brought back many memories of my boyhood days in Newtown and of our many contacts, all of which were pleasant and helpful in shaping me for the years ahead. To put it quite plainly, during that period you were one of my favourite adults and without question your personality made a good impression on me.
To my mind’s ear the sound of the guns fired at your wedding still comes thru. I recall the happy occasion well altho I was not old enough then to be a guest.
My wife joins me in sending you and your wife best wishes for continued health and happiness.
Very sincerely, Max Barbour.
Many thanks to Lester Barbour for giving me some background on Max.
Photo credits: James Maine
In the midst of the pandemic as well as my deep despair over everything that is going on in the world right now, comes a welcome respite of joy and gratitude.
My only sister and her husband became grandparents last night, to a perfect little girl who was longed for and whose mom went nine days overdue before finally going into labour late yesterday morning. I am brimming with happiness for them all.
Due to Covid-19 restrictions, my nephew was only permitted to stay in the hospital during labour and delivery, so like my sister and her husband and her other grandparents, he now has to wait until mother and baby are discharged to be with them.
A side note: when this same nephew was a baby and my firstborn was a young girl, she absolutely adored him. How do I know? Back then, she had a locket. She kept a pic of him in that locket along with a pic of herself. I smile whenever I think of it.
I can’t help but recall how thrilled I was when I became a grandmother fourteen years ago, to a dear little bundle who felt like a gift from heaven for all of us. And now my memories take me back to the day my own daughter was born.
I became a mom when I was barely a woman myself. So young I was, a child having a child. It didn’t take long, though, for me to make my baby a priority and to fall in love in a way I never had before.
Eight years ago, I wrote a short poem about it.
Remembering that day in June
when you were small and pink and new
your needs so urgent, your helplessness
eclipsing all I’d planned to do
Your eyes, the bluest I’ve ever seen
gazed into mine, I drank you in
strawberry mark on your behind
that perfect dimple in your chin
The tiny o your lips would make
when, nursing done, you fell asleep
that newborn smell, the lightest heft—
who knew that love could feel so deep?
Given the COVID-19 pandemic, I’m having trouble concentrating long enough to compose an original post. So today I’ll share a post from exactly five years ago, a nostalgic look back to simpler times.
When my husband Paul was six years old, he and his family moved from Newtown – the little community in which we live now – to live in the capital city of St. John’s. Their parents relocated so that Paul’s oldest sibling David could attend the Vera Perlin school for his special needs.
On the day of the big move, Paul crawled up under the house – the actual house we live in now – in a show of protest. “Everyone should be able to live where they were born,” he argued through tears, but the die had been cast. He was pulled out and packed into the car with everyone else.
On the very first day at their new school, Paul and his other brother Kevin, who is one year older, decided to walk home from school for lunch, despite being told to stay there and eat the lunch they’d brought. But when they saw other children going home, they wanted to go as well. Unfamiliar with their new neighbourhood, the two boys got lost, and Kevin started to cry.
Brave little Paul tried his best to console his big brother by distracting him. “Don’t cry, Kev. Look at the pigeons,” he said, pointing at a bunch of them as they waddled across the sidewalk, hoping the strange, tame city birds might cheer him up. It worked, and they ended up following a classmate to his house. Between the jigs and the reels, their dad had to leave work and go pick them up.
Let’s go back a couple of years when Paul was four and Kevin was five, to another time the younger boy displayed his wisdom. A new addition to the family of three boys had arrived, and this time, it was a girl! When their mom brought baby Julie Ann home, the boys crowded around to get a look at their new sister. Kevin’s eyes opened wide when her diaper came off to be changed. “Look, Paul,” he said, incredulous. “She ain’t got nar topper!” (penis)
“No, ya foolish,” Paul said, enlightened beyond his years. “She got whatever Mom got.”
Now before you think I’m beating up on my brother-in-law, I’d like to share one more tale. Okay, two. When Paul was about nine and enjoying his summer vacation in Newtown, Kevin saved him from drowning. Paul was diving with some other boys off of Burnt Island, but he tired in the deep water and panicked. Kevin grabbed him by the hair on top of his head and pulled him to safety.
Years later, when Kevin was just beginning his teaching career, he and Paul were driving along in St. John’s one evening. Without warning, Kevin pulled over, stopped the car, and jumped out. He’d spied two teenage boys in a fist fight near the local hockey rink, and he wanted to stop them. Paul watched as he parted the boys, reasoned with them, and ended the scuffle.
It was a day he never forgot. Where most people would just keep going and not get involved, Kevin stepped in and tried to solve the problem. It made Paul really proud of his brother.
Paul confessed there were other boyhood fights where Kev stepped in and rescued Paul himself, fights my husband started and couldn’t finish. I would say he’s grateful for those too. And so am I. 🙂
For me, this winter has been a time of deep reflection. The dormant months are ideal for slowing down and looking inward, giving one a chance to rest, to heal, to quiet the mind and to focus on the spiritual side of life.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about and missing my mother more than usual. She has visited me in my dreams quite often in recent weeks.
I wonder why.
I suppose I could chalk it up to growing older and becoming infinitely more aware of my own mortality. Or maybe she knows I need her more right now.
Today, I dedicate this post to you, Mom. I wrote the following piece in January of 2012, ten months before our final goodbye.
The Little Things
You always hear people say that we shouldn’t love the material things in life, and usually I am inclined to agree. However, in one particular area of my life I must beg to differ. Sometimes we have certain items that are so very precious to us because they keep our memories bright.
My mother is now in the late stages of Alzheimer’s disease. She has changed so much in the past few years, from a vibrant, independent and beautiful woman, into a person who needs constant care. She can still smile in recognition at me but can no longer carry on a conversation of any sort. We are losing her, bit by bit, with every visit and every passing day. This is probably why I hold on so tightly to a few items that came from her.
As I write this, I am wearing a pair of wool slippers that my mother knitted for me. They are teal blue and white with little bows sewn on the top. I found them a couple of months ago when I was sorting out some storage items, and even though they are a little tight, which was the reason I had put them away in the first place, I’ve worn them ever since, stretching them so they would fit. Just knowing that she had made them for me gives me comfort.
While I was looking for Christmas baking inspiration a few weeks ago, I came across a recipe for cherry cake in my collection, written in Mom’s elegant handwriting. I remembered her making that recipe many times over the years. My heart ached with loss as I read it, but I knew I had to use it. Now that Christmas is behind us for another year, I still have some of that cake left, and I savour every bite.
And on my right hand, I am wearing my mother’s wedding band. It had been sitting in a little box in my dresser drawer for months, waiting until the day it would go on her finger for the last time. So for now I am wearing it because it makes me feel closer to her, and to Dad as well.
So please don’t try to tell me that things aren’t important. Sometimes it’s the little things that we need to hold onto, the touchstones for our priceless memories. Sometimes it is all we have.