What do these three books have in common ? Each features Newfoundland and/or Newfoundlanders. August Gale is a memoir/biography about Barbara Walsh’s Newfoundlanders ancestors, including those who perished at sea in a terrible storm. The storyline shifts between that 1935 August gale and Walsh’s grandfather who abandoned his family when Walsh’s father was a child. It was given to me by a friend who has read several drafts of Up She Rises and gets my fondness for all things Newfoundland.
I passed August Gale on to my mother on a visit to Canada last week. In exchange, she gave me One Man Grand Band by Harvey Sawler about the recently deceased Newfoundland songwriter and musician Ron Hynes. I’m looking forward to reading it. (Mom, if you’re reading this, I think I got the better deal.) In next week’s post, I’ll write more about Ron Hynes.
Today I Learned It Was You is a newly released novel by Newfoundland writer Edward Riche. Bobbi French recommended it to me and Rick Mercer has endorsed it, so I know it will be fabulous. It’s not available in the UK, so I scooped a copy last week. No doubt I’ll be taking it back to Canada next time I go. I come from a family of readers and we like to share books. Sometimes my suitcase is so full of books I feel like a flying librarian, which would actually be a pretty amazing job.
Do you know any good books about Newfoundland ? Do you share your books?
Accommodation is hard to come by in Twig, so at least initially, Rachel will be staying at Lucille Hanrahan’s boarding house. Here’s her first impression:
I sat down at a table shoved up against a large window. By now the fog was so thick outside that I could see nothing; it was like watching static on television. There were scattered cigarette burns on the vinyl tablecloth and a worn patch on the faded linoleum floor. A religious calendar hung on the wall, a big red circle around today’s date. September’s pinup was Mary, her veil the exact colour of Lucille’s house.
A steady heat emanated from the wood stove and the smell of fresh baked bread almost masked the cigarette fumes. Lucille dropped a tea bag into a mug, lifted a large kettle and splashed in boiling water. When she put the kettle back on the stove, drops of water spat and hissed. She placed the mug in front of me, then plonked a can of Carnation milk down beside it.
“You take sugar?” she asked.
I shook my head, staring at the canned milk.
In the 1980s many Newfoundlanders used Carnation Milk in their tea and when I lived there I did so on occasion as well. But it might take Rachel awhile to adapt…
How about you? Tea or coffee? Or???
When Rachel arrives in Twig, she has some high-falutin’ notions about how to improve her students’ grammar and speech. Fellow teacher Doug decides to set her straight, introducing her to The Dictionary of Newfoundland English:
Doug thrust two items in my hands, a heavy yellow hardback book and a slim bound paper, its pages the colour of weak tea. Then he spun on his heel and left without another word.
Why was he so mad at me? I sat down on the stool and looked at the books he’d given me. The thick hardback was called A Dictionary of Newfoundland English. I couldn’t believe it. They had their own dictionary. I began flipping through the book, stopping to read random entries.
A discussion about arse went on for two columns; the entry for seal and related words and expressions lasted more than seven pages. It turned out that a bayman, which Patrick had said he’d make Doug in that first assembly, was someone who lived on or near a bay. A bazz was a blow or a slap. To blear was to utter prolonged complaints. Blearing. Is that what I’d been doing? My face burned at some of my thoughts about Twig and its inhabitants.
There are some wonderful videos on YouTube that explain Newfoundland words, like the one below about duckish. Oh, and I looked duckish up in the Dictionary (p.158) and found that twilight can also be expressed as “between the duckies.” Love that.
Bonus time: pick a letter (any letter!) from the alphabet and leave it in a comment below and I’ll look up a word starting with that letter in the Dictionary and give you its definition below.
Rachel accepts the first teaching post she’s offered – in Twig – after being dumped by her boyfriend. She doesn’t know much about Newfoundland and of course, back in the 1980s handy research tools like Google Earth, Trip Advisor or Wikipedia didn’t exist. Rachel is from the big city of Toronto; she’s about to experience culture shock:
“Where’s the main part of Twig?” I asked.
“You’re looking at it.”
I’d seen the school and the church. Now we passed a gas station called Sully’s and then Bernie’s Snack Bar. A few teenagers were gathered outside Bernie’s, smoking. A tall dark-haired boy pointed at my car and they all turned to stare. A girl in a lumber jacket raised her hand. I waved back before I realised she was giving me the finger.
Have you ever felt out of place somewhere?