Newfies need no excuse for a scuff and a scoff. And if you’re lucky enough to find yourself at a kitchen, settle in for a good time. No ho-hum here. No one goes home gut-foundered because everyone leaves full as an egg. You could stay for a week, there’s so much to eat, sure. Maybe the Rocky Road squares got a fright [almost all eaten] but the couldn’ts [leftovers] are saved for next day’s mug-up.
You should know that bologna is called baloney, and baloney is Newfie steak. Eating something awful is like eating bad breath. Eating store-bought bread is like eating fog. Toasted egg sandwiches are cut on the diagonal – corner to corner. I made a mistake and was quickly set to right. “Cuttin’ across – that’s a peanut butter sam’ich!”
Around Newfies you can always find someone as foolish as an old sock, to tell a story or be the story. As good a concert, pass the popcorn, as my hubby says. Yes, he, too, is from Newfoundland. Of course, endearing characters are rampant down East but Newfoundland seems to have a bounteous surplus. And when they leave the Rock to create populous havens around the world, they bring with them their fellowship and flair for eccentricity. Aunt Edith, now 95, moved to Ontario from Adam’s Cove 50-plus years ago. Her husband called her Jane. [No one knows why. He just liked the name Jane]. Last year, Edith kept a ladybug going all winter. Fed it a sprinkle of sugar and apple peel.
Winter winds and waves can scour the soul. Living beside the hard-nosed Atlantic seems to have bred in these intrepid souls a no-nonsense pragmatism that reveals itself in many forms. Green Christmas; fat graveyard, old-timers say with a grim nod. Matter-of-factness has a wry side that can be as handy as a pocket. Trying on a jacket in a store in St. John’s George Street, my sister-in-law Vivian asked if they had a mirror. “Yes, me ducky. Y’goes through that door and round the corner. When y’sees yourself y’knows you’re there.”
Even Newfie flirting carries an element of expediency that may lack a certain finesse but gets right to the point. Uncle Jim has more nerve than a canal horse. His wife Phyllis [everyone calls her Dilly] hates certain words but that doesn’t faze Jim. He’ll pull up along side her while she’s out walking, beep the horn, lean casually out the driver’s side and nonchalantly drawl, “Nice arse. Get in the truck.”
Dilly is bat-blind without her glasses. “Is that a spider or a fly?” she says squinting up at the darkened ceiling.
“It’s a fly“, Jim says.
“It looks like a spider.”
“I always tells her it’s a fly,” Jim tells us. “If it’s a spider I have to gets up and kill it.” Practicality has its own rewards.
Because there are no snakes, skunks or raccoons in Newfoundland, bugs in general are the varmints that factor into summer talk. If it’s not mosquitoes and black flies, prepare yourself for dive bombing horseflies so big they gnaw off a chunk of flesh and flee into the trees to eat it. Weather, too, is a daily topic, and everyone feels the need to look up at the sky when they’re talking about it to see what redemption the heavens hold in store.
The day may be just a rain-a-pour but humour takes the bite out of nature’s punishments and economic woes. Kick a rabbit in the butt and follow it, they say. There’s your road. And likely as not those winding washboard roads would rattle the teeth in your head. Hardships become fodder for story-telling because, the Lord willin’ and the creek don’t rise, adversity can tap your shoulder when you least expect it. Just ruts in the road, natives shrug. Just ruts in the road.
To outsiders – those that come from away – personality quirks, odd traits, and a skewed way of looking reality in the eye can raise their eyebrows, tickle their fancy, or just plain make them shake their heads. The bewilderment on a tourist’s face is priceless when he’s given directions. “Jus’ pass where the Presbyterian church burnt down, turn right [not east or west] at Horace Ingersoll’s place and then drive 10 minutes [not 10 km] till you get to Stirling Sharp’s g’rage.”
To give you an idea of a typical conversation listen in:
“…And Atwood was there. Y’know Atwood. Atwood Cuddy? Always wore those black and white sneaker boots. Where’s he to now? University? Lard tunderin’, he’ll have to forget somethin’ to learn somethin’ new! Why that b’y wouldn’t know beans if the bag was open. Always thought he was a little loose around the edges.”
“Jumpin’ Moses, his da’, he was a great big pile of God-Help-Us. Ol’ ‘Lige [no one called him Elijah] wouldn’t prong the hay nor put a hoop around a barrel. Would rather hire it done than do a flick o’work hi’self. Old case-hardened hang-ashore [fisherman too lazy to leave the dock]. Broke up his health, sittin’ around. Aye, got so fat, his ear lobes stuck out from his cheeks, like a bull blowin’ its nose. You wouldn’t know but it was like wackin’ moles to get that family movin’.”
“Don’t you be lookin’ at me like that, b’y. And no big goofy grin from you either, my son. You can behave or be hoved out. Don’t make no never mind to me.”
“And the ma…What was her name? Sadie! [No-one called her Mercedes]. Light in the harness she was [no bra or a weak one]. Did y’know she steals? Yessiree. Tidies up the store shelves so feels she’s owed. Crousty-looking, walking teabag of a woman. Would frighten the face off the moon. Face like a wet week. Round as a sugar bowl too – and y’wouldn’t get so much as a cup of tea & a pass-around from her. Here’s the door, what’s your hurry, she’d say. I’d invite you in, she’d say, but I knows you won’t though. Wouldn’t part with a knob of coal, that one. Make no wonder their name is travelling further than their feet.”
“I mind the time when you had a crush on the sister. What was that maid’s name? Named for a plant, she was…Violet? Ivy? [Everyone called her Birdie]. Skinny as a War Cry [the Salvation Army newsletter]. More meat on Good Friday. More blood in a turnip. So thin she’s got to turn around twice to cast a shadow. Atwood was like that too. More ass on a snipe. Cheeks so gaunt, he had to put an orange in his mouth to shave“…
And so such talk goes.
So bide awhile. There’s an agony o’wind blowin’ out there. Lodge your boots on da bridge [the step outside]. We’ll have a yarn, fire up a scoff. I tells you, if you weren’t invited, you’d have to pay to get in. We could make a Jiggs dinner [salt beef and boiled veggies]. Heat up some toutons in the microwave. Make them warm like, y’know. It’ll be some shockin’ good.
by Elaine Coish