The cross and the boat

Ed Smith
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Several treasured items decorate my study walls.
I can't list them all, because some are awards and stuff, and I'm much too modest to get into that. I'd like to say that much of one wall is taken up with things of that nature. I'd like to say that, but it wouldn't be true.
However, among the very special things are a picture of my father on his ordination in Grand Bank in 1959. There's a model dory made and given me by Otto Kelland, and a signed copy of his "Let Me Fish off Cape St. Mary's," the most beautiful Newfoundland song ever written.
You'll see a picture of the old United Church school in Western Bay, where I got Grade 11 by the skin of someone else's teeth. Certainly wasn't mine. An evil looking spear from Africa used by adolescent boys to prove their manhood by killing a wild animal. I could have used it at 12 instead of my newly made bow and arrow to dispatch my mother's pet rabbit.

Wall of knowledge
There are two other things I want to mention because Ray Johnson, of Buddy Wasisname and the Other Fellers, drew my attention to them while he was talking to Randy Simms on Open Line a couple of mornings ago. How did Ray know what was on my wall? Let me tell you about it in my own way. (You wouldn't expect it to be in your way.)
The first is a 24x16-inch photograph of an old-time fishing boat given me by photographer Lorne Rostotsky. The exhaust pipe of the old make-and-break engine sticks out of the little engine house, and the tiller hangs in over the transom. The boat is perfectly mirrored in the water as it rides at anchor.
I think Lorne said it won second place in a national professional photographer's competition. He wouldn't lie about something like that. He wouldn't lie about anything, far as I know.
One of the things that endears the picture to me is the fact that the boat used to belong to a friend of mine who is no longer with us. Lorne literally snapped the picture here in Springdale on a misty morning many years ago when he was just passing through.
Attached to the wall within a few inches of the boat is a cross. Actually, there are two crosses, one superimposed on the other. The first and largest is about 16 inches long. My grandson, Nicholas, made it when he was eight years old as a Christmas present for me.
The second cross is less than half the size of the first and is attached to it, giving it a two-dimensional appearance rather than just a flat object. It comes from St. Mark's by-the-lake Anglican Church in Windsor, Ont. The priest is the Rev. Kevin George, originally of Islington, Trinity Bay. Three years ago, he invited me to speak to his congregation.
It was a marvelous experience with some beautiful people, and Kevin and his wife Catherineann became good friends. The church was renovated this year to accommodate a growing congregation, and Kevin sent me the cross made from an old pew.

Rural advocate
So, what's all this got to do with Ray Johnson? Ah, well you may ask!
Ray is a passionate advocate for rural Newfoundland. He believes strongly in the traditional values and culture of our people and thinks they should be strengthened and preserved.
A few mornings ago he was a guest on Open Line. People were invited to call in with an answer to this question: "Exactly what is rural Newfoundland?" There were no shortage of people wanting to talk to Ray and give him their views on what it is that makes up the Newfoundland soul.
I've got a fair interest myself in the question, having grown up in very small Newfoundland outports, and feeling that I was moulded and made largely by them and the good people who lived there. I was also affected by some of the not-so-good inhabitants of those communities, and I wouldn't change that experience for anything, either!
But I've never felt I could put my finger on exactly what it was and is that makes us, as a people, unique. Then, with the comments from that Open Line program still on my mind, I happened to look at this study wall that holds the cross and the boat. And it struck me forcibly.
For the generations of men and women who made their living from the sea in those small communities, there were two main influences: one was their faith, the second was their fishing. The glue that linked them together inextricably was the family.
When I was a boy in the '40s, practically everyone attended church at night with their families. There was no television and practically no other entertainment. On Sunday night, the church was packed.
On Monday morning, the men took to the boats and the open sea and their faith went with them. When they returned, the family went down to the stage and helped them "put away" their catch. In the summer they all worked together to get fish ready for the local fish buyers.
Survival during the winter was likewise a family affair, living off the harvest and the fruits of the earth, and again, each Sunday night, they all gathered for worship.
It was a potent and unbelievably strong combination that lasted for generations and made us what we were and are, because as the fellow said, "You can't knock that stuff out of us with a long gaff."
I don't know what it will take to preserve or restore that time in our history, because there is much that is good about the way we live now. But surely nothing will ever replace those things that made Newfoundlanders unique among the people of the Earth.
The faith, the fish and the family.

Ed Smith is an author who lives in Springdale. His e-mail address is

Organizations: Grand Bank, United Church, Anglican Church

Geographic location: Newfoundland, Western Bay, Africa Springdale Windsor Trinity Bay

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