No matter where I am on Christmas Eve, my mind wanders back to Gunner’s Cove, back to child and teenage days in that little community of 45 people where, though we had no relatives outside our house, everyone was like family, not friends.
We moved there from Labrador in 1974 when Dad became the principal of the school. I suppose most people have fond memories of their hometown, but to me Gunner’s Cove was and is special.
At one end of the cove was Aunt Bride and Uncle Walt Young, who operated a small convenience and general store. At the other was “Mudder and Fadder” Ethel and Walt Hedderson. For some reason, one that only my Aunt Sandra who boarded there in the early ’70s can explain, Ethel and Walt became mudder and fadder to all our extended family. So, like I said, with an aunt and uncle that we weren’t related to on one end and a mother and father on the other, Gunner’s Cove was more a family than a community.
Sometime around Christmas Eve, Abe Hill across the road would call me into his shed where, with an old bucksaw, he would proceed to cut a leg of lamb off a freshly hung carcass. That was my Christmas present, so to speak, for helping him at various things throughout the year. And his wife Selma would have her lassy Jimmies as she called them that her son Dwight and I would always be into.
Further down the cove, appropriately situated on a bedrock outcropping in the centre of the cove, was Frank and Marie Hill.
Now, at the risk of offending the others, Frank was the man. I don’t think you could find a harder worker anywhere. He was the school janitor. He had the sawmill where he slaved a labour of love. He had sheep, cows, goats, chickens, ducks and the occasional pig, and he had a codtrap crew.
He once gave me three chickens and a rooster for helping him with the stables and the sawmill. He stuck them into a potato sack. I slung them over my back and walked home where Dad and I built a small chicken coop that we had for years after. The eggs were great, but if you want a smell of gross work as a kid, spend a day shovelling one out!!
Scattered around those people were a number of sons and daughters and a couple more teacher families — six more houses, actually.
Sometime in the late afternoon, Fadder would show up on his Ski-Doo with Christmas gifts and, straight from Mudder’s oven, a loaf of fresh, warm, sweet raisin bread for supper. I don’t particularly like sweet bread, but every Christmas Eve, with salt fish, potatoes, scrunchions and onions, it was a treat.
After supper there was the obligatory drive up to the church service at Dark Tickle. For a kid on Christmas Eve, when there were Ski-Doos to be ridden, mischief to be up to, it was not the favourite part of the day.
As the evening progressed, there would be lots of visiting of houses, mainly by the men, partaking of drinks of Purity syrup as you can imagine!
Our tree would go up on Christmas Eve, with Dad using a drill to insert limbs into the bare spots. He always ended up with a nice tree but, save for the straight stem, it didn’t always look like much in the beginning. And it stayed up for all of Christmas. It was a Christmas tree, not a December tree.
Sometime during the evening one of Mudder’s daughters would show up at all the houses, dressed as Santa, making an early visit with apples. And after the supper dishes were cleared up, a big card game, 500s usually, would break out for the night at Frank and Marie Hill’s.
Mom, like most of the mothers, would have the turkey, stuffing and vegetables all ready before going to bed. And though it is frowned on today, the smell of cooking turkey would waft through the house for a while before going to sleep. I don’t care if it is right or not, but the smell of a turkey cooking on Christmas Eve beats anything.
Christmas morning, after an early rise, would see all of us kids roaming to each other’s houses to see what Santa brought. If the wind happened to be northeast with a light snow, some of the men might head out in boat looking for eider ducks down along shore.
Around 11 a.m., Dad, my sister and I would head for Lanse aux Meadows to visit Dad’s buddy and bus driver Max Anderson and his wife Gladys. There it was something like the smokeroom on the Kyle, with a variety of interesting characters, from Jobie Anderson to Val Hedderson coming and going.
While I remember many of the Christmas gifts I received as a child, the people, their comings and goings, the sounds and the smells are what I remember most vividly and fondly.
To Gunner’s Covers everywhere, thanks for the memories. Have a safe, happy and memorable Christmas.
Trevor Taylor is a former cabinet minister under
the Danny Williams administration.