Of now and then

Ed
Ed Smith
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I'm writing this in the van. The van is parked near the beach in a section of town below Springdale proper known to all and sundry as Oxford's Lower Place. I assume that means Oxfords, a fairly common family name in these parts, once owned part or all of this little beach that occupies roughly 70 or 80 yards along a dirt road. Perhaps still do.

Oxford's Lower Place is about a kilometre below the last houses in Springdale East. A few cabins occupy the land side of the road, and to the right there's a wharf which is home to two or three small boats.

The view from here - I'm writing this in the van. The van is parked near the beach in a section of town below Springdale proper known to all and sundry as Oxford's Lower Place. I assume that means Oxfords, a fairly common family name in these parts, once owned part or all of this little beach that occupies roughly 70 or 80 yards along a dirt road. Perhaps still do.

Oxford's Lower Place is about a kilometre below the last houses in Springdale East. A few cabins occupy the land side of the road, and to the right there's a wharf which is home to two or three small boats.

No one would call it a marina. It's too beautifully old-fashioned for that. The rest of the beach is mostly rock and seagulls and kelp, or - as we used to call it - kellup.

No one, least of all the Oxfords, seems to mind people travelling over their land in cars, vans, pickups, bikes and ATVs. A friend of ours from the mainland finds the general Newfoundland indifference to others crossing their land fascinating.

"Back home," she says, "people would be charged with trespassing."

I point out that in Newfoundland no one can own the beaches. I think it's 30 feet from the high watermark but I've been wrong before. Whatever, no one in Oxford's Lower Place kicks up any fuss about us or anyone else being here.

I can't get my wheelchair down on the beach. The sand is too loose and the rocks too many. But this beach is where we get most of our kelp for our garden up the road and the vegetables and flowers on our deck.

The grandkids enjoy the harvesting of kelp. They all pitch in, and in only a few minutes we have eight or 10 buckets of the stuff sitting in the van. Kellup is the best fertilizer money can't buy.

Young Nicholas especially loves a trip to the beach. He's a born beachcomber and so far this summer has returned to the van with: the skeleton of a seal, the skeleton of a hawk, assorted rocks, assorted mussels and assorted pieces of driftwood, all of which he wants to bring home. I'm a bit concerned that one day he's going to find the skeleton of a whale.

But today there's no Nicholas, no grandchildren, no young friends of grandchildren. There are just Other Half and me. The grandchildren are off to beautiful Moretons Harbor with their mother for a week.

The tide is well out and there's kellup for the taking. OH is bent over a white plastic bucket with "Salted Pork Bellies" written boldly on the side. The pork bellies are long gone, consumed as scrunchions in hundreds of fish and brewis dinners.

I like to think a few of those scrunchions made their way to my plate and my palate but that's only a fancy and I know it. We've gotten into fried onions and Becel margarine - heart healthy, you know. I tell myself, over and over again, that it tastes just as good as the scrunchions.

But while the heart may believe it, the old taste buds are something else.

The heart is obviously mainlander but my taste buds are nothing short of good old Newfoundlander and Labradorian.

You may take the scrunchions out of the heart-healthy diet, but you can never take the scrunchions out of the fishermen's brewis. Or whatever.

Timeless pursuit

Anyway, OH is plucking at the seaweed fertilizer with might and main, or at least as much might and main as she's able to muster. The sun is slanting its rays down over South Brook and right onto Oxford's Lower Place beach. It catches OH about to stuff a handful of kelp into her Salted Pork Bellies white plastic bucket.

I'm struck by the similarity of the pose to that I've seen of women from another generation spreading cod on the flakes or the rocks on the beaches. For a moment I'm carried back to that other time when women with unquenchable spirit did what they had to do to support the family in the everlasting fight for survival.

I can almost see the skiffs and smaller boats heading into that little wharf a few yards up the beach to my right. Their gunnels are barely above water so that it seems a small wave would wash right into the boats and swamp them.

The women on the beach spreading the fish look wearily toward them. The boatloads of fish mean only one thing to them now: late hours in the stage cutting throats by the light of a gasoline lantern. Then getting something to eat for the nearly exhausted fishermen before grabbing something themselves.

They'll be up with them before daylight getting their lunch boxes ready for the day, and then returning to the ritual of laying out fish to dry before hurrying into the house to get breakfast for the children, and scrubbing clothes on a washing board in a washing tub. They try not to think of the mending and ironing and thousand and one household jobs that must be done before the fish have to be taken up from the rocks and the flakes.

Then one of the women on the beach looks up at me sitting in the van by the side of the road and grins. What a complete fool I am, the grin says, when I don't have to be doing this at all.

And that's the difference between you and them, my love, I think gratefully.

They had no choice.

Ed Smith lives in Springdale. His e-mail address is edsmith@nf.sympatico.ca

Geographic location: Oxford, Lower Place, Springdale East Newfoundland South Brook

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