At a wedding in Ochre Pit Cove, in a church that’s now a private home but that was doing double-duty with its old job. Double-duty because the wedding was right there inside under the peaked stained glass at one end of the room, the exact spot where numerous other weddings must have taken place through the years.
Two bells still nestled up in the bell tower, the funeral bell and the service bell, but the white clean ropes coiled up out of reach, lest anyone give them a tug and startle an old ear somewhere else in town.
Then dinner, then dancing, and outside, it being this summer that is no summer, rain ripped down in sheets and the wind howled in off the ocean, slamming open doors and snatching at your clothes, as if telling you there was somewhere else you were really supposed to be.
The wind pulling the tree branches down into the lighted eyes of the streetlights, so the orange of the lights was a winking semaphore, Morse code messages too fast to be deciphered. A town hunkered down under the weather, just one of scores of towns in this province that occurred because the fish did.
Mining the sea
The fish did, and the people came after them, and the people who came lived hard, spare, tough lives that we can hardly even imagine. Old houses tell you about it: drafty corners stuffed with whatever newsprint was available, twisted tight to keep a little more warmth in, scraps of wood used and re-used in simple rough joinery.
And I’ve written about this before, but it nags at me.
What would they make of us, of our soft hands and our many electronic distractions — what would they make of our engines, our big trucks and labour-saving devices, our easy trips to big-box stores, where credit buys products in out-sized boxes too large to seem useful? We talk about the toughness of this province’s heritage, thinking that it somehow rubs off on us. But it doesn’t transfer that easily.
Writer Michael Winter talked about his encounter with a whale in Western Bay this past week, a young humpback that nudged his boat sideways, perhaps because it didn’t realize that he was there. Why didn’t it know he was there?
Because he was using oars, his the only boat out there for the food fishery in the area that wasn’t depending on the spin of a motor to make its headway.
The parish hall in Ochre Pit Cove was below the old church. Rotted and brittle frames of lathe still stuck in the face of the concrete basement, concrete that looked as if it was poured in small batches just as it was ready. Concrete that looked ready to spall the way concrete in quick-poured old abandoned military buildings does — planned for the now, not the future. Just surviving the short run was more important than planning for the long.
We’ve forgotten so much about the hard parts; we keep the romance, dance that dance, pretend we are part of it, bang on our chests and talk tough. But — with some noteworthy exceptions — this is a far different land than the one small towns here were built on. Lives are physically easier, for sure, and we wear the proof of that around our waists and in smooth palms that have only passing knowledge of shovels.
That doesn’t mean everything has changed — and that occurred to me outside alone on a church step in a town bent hard into the kind of wind that it must have known for generations. The houses pressed into the hills, windows lit — even if now it’s the dependability of electricity — would have met the same gusts, the same rain, the same snow.
Facing the old church, its windows bright against the hurled night, hearing the people inside, I thought for a quick moment that there was something else that even someone from a hundred years ago would have recognized, and would have recognized right in that church, dozens and dozens of times.
Weddings: they never seem to get old for me. Breath-stopping magic, every time, and I don’t think it’s just because I’m an old softy.
How many other weddings, lit bright with that same feeling of joy and hope and happiness, started in that same nave? All sharing that same spark, that spark that sputters bright in you, even if you’re just watching.
Some things get to be constants, and get to grow old together. Two people brave enough to throw out their hands to each other.
Russell Wangersky is The Telegram’s editorial page editor. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.