It was 1953 when George and Mary Whitten moved into their new house on Bell’s Turn. An original name for a street, but Bell’s Turn was just that: a turn in Portugal Cove Road, out in the country a couple of kilometres north of City Limits at Baird’s Lane.
But as traffic increased, probably due to mining on Bell Island and more flights coming into the airport, Bell’s Turn was deemed too dangerous for cars and Portugal Cove Road was rerouted, leaving a nice quiet spot for new houses to be built and children to be raised.
At the time the Whittens moved onto Bell’s Turn, theirs was the only house on the right-hand side, but they were not alone. Gordon and Mary Stamp had already been living in a house near the base of the Turn since 1950 and had six of their 10 children. And what was to become Shortalls’ house was also there on the left at the very top of the Turn.
It wasn’t long before the Whittens got closer neighbours — the Marshalls moved into their unfinished house two doors up in September 1954 and the Shanos moved in between the two that November.
It was that year, 1954, that the baby extravaganza began. Every year from 1954 until 1965 those three families in the middle of the Turn produced at least one child, often three. There was a lull in 1966, but then I came along in 1967.
And we weren’t the only big baby producers. I was followed two months later by Catherine Shortall, the fifth child of Elaine and Frank (Bunt) Shortall. And by the end of the ’50s, Mary and Gordon Stamp had all 10 of their clan. But it may have been thanks to the full houses in the middle of the Turn that a link was provided between the older Stamps at the bottom and the younger Shortalls at the top. Adding to the gaggles were the Kellys, Lawlors, Lynches, Burkes and Dwyers, who owned a garage right next door to us Marshalls.
In those 13 years that the Whittens, Shanos and Marshalls spawned 23 children, pictures taken show a mishmash of children from different households mixed up as if they were siblings. I guess in a way they were.
Mothers had no trouble keeping neighbours’ children in line. Godparents were often chosen amongst neighbours who took the new baby to the church without the parents to give them a break. Godparents did not come from the same family, as that would have left one household temporarily parentless.
Ron Whitten’s Godparents, for example, were Gerald (Dee) Marshall and Frances Shano, who is also my Godmother. On trips to our cabin in Kelligrews, we were always accompanied by various neighbours.
On stormy days, when Mary Queen of Peace School would close early, as many children as possible would squish into the car of whoever’s father got there first to pick us up. This was before seatbelt laws. Children travelled in packs, returning to their respective homes only to eat and sleep.
Shanos and Stamps appear in Marshall photos and Whittens appear alongside Shortalls. Only we know who is who. But in all those years, from 1954 to 1967, all 38 children were never in one place for a photo of the whole lot.
Until Aug. 19 this year, when eight Marshalls, eight Whittens and seven Shanos got together in Pippy Park for the Bell’s Turn Reunion. They were joined by four Shortalls (sadly, Frank Shortall is no longer with us; he died in 2001 and was dearly missed at the reunion), two Burkes, two Lawlors, three Kellys and four Stamps.
Four of our mothers joined in — Theresa Marshall, Frances Shano, Elaine Shortall and Janet Kelly are the remaining Bell’s Turn matriarchs. I bet they didn’t imagine that 60 years after the first child was born they’d be sitting together in North Bank Lodge in Pippy Park, just down the road from where they raised their 40-plus children, watching a slide show of 900 old pictures of the Pioneer Restaurant and children skating on Larry’s Bog on Higgins Line near Confederation Building.
The gathering had everything you’d expect at a reunion: people flying in from all over to attend; great-grandchildren many had not met; poster boards of photos prepared by each family showing those jumbles of children. But besides these, people were encouraged to bring something old from Bell’s Turn.
My sister, Gerry, brought an old toaster with fold-down sides and a black rotary dial phone, like the one we Marshalls used when we shared a party line with the Dwyers. My brother, Brian, brought the wooden tabletop hockey game we grew up playing, nets knitted by my grandmother still intact. There was a band hat made out of Kellogg’s Cornflake boxes covered with blue cloth, and Cathy Whitten’s first communion veil.
There were jacks, cap guns and red string licorice, Chinese checkers, Twister and a Masterpiece game. A photo of Brian and John Marshall with John Whitten sitting on the curb with an oversized baseball bat 50 years ago was recreated last week and the two photos were posted side by side on the wall.
My sister Marie bought elastics and made a Chinese skipping rope. As soon as they wrapped it around two pairs of ankles, my 55-year-old brother John hopped in chanting: “One, two, three O’Leary.”
Ron Whitten brought his autobiography from the year he was 10, going on 11, and in Miss Abbott’s class at Mary Queen of Peace.
He was born Dec. 21, 1959 and here is what he wrote regarding his birth. Note that Ron was the fifth child in five years.
“After three days in hospital my mother and I went home to 22 Bell’s Turn. Everybody made a fuss over me when I arrived home. I stayed in hospital only three days because my mother had to get home to dress the turkey for Christmas Day.”
Ron Whitten’s autobiography closes with the following: “… While in Grade 5, I fractured the knuckles on my left hand. I had to go to the hospital and have it put in a cast. You may not believe this, but I fractured them when I hit my friend (Michael Shano) on the head. He wasn’t hurt a bit. … I work hard each day with the hopes of doing well and being promoted to Grade 7 next year.”
Ron has done well and he attended the reunion with his wife, three children and seven siblings.
Bell’s Turn, like most neighbourhoods filled with teenage boys, was a hotbed for noisy sports cars. And as we all know, grown men are boys at heart and they adore racing stripes. The reunion could not have been complete without a loud car or two. John Whitten’s contribution was his 1965 Ford Mustang Fastback 2+2 that had once belonged to both his brother David and his neighbour, Shane Kelly.
“It’s old and it’s from Bell’s Turn,” he said, leaning against the back end with David, who bought the car in 1975 and sold it to Donny Fleming in Torbay in 1980 — something he regretted in later years. The Mustang, which was purchased new at George G.R. Parsons on Rawlins Cross, did find its way back to the Bell’s Turn neighbourhood, but not back into David Whitten’s hands.
Shane Kelly, who lived behind the Whittens’ house, a short jaunt through the woods, bought it in 1985 and kept it for two years before selling it to Gerald Best, who then sold it to John Whitten in 1989.
John’s Mustang was not the only one there. Jim Marshall brought his white ’68 Mustang Coupe, as well. And although he didn’t bring his dream car, David Whitten did replace the Mustang he sold with another 1965 Fastback that he bought in California. John Marshall also has a white ’66 Coupe at his home in Nova Scotia.
Everyone knows that guys and cars go together, but perhaps no one more than Pat Marshall, who was born in 1962 in the middle of a glut of boys and loved playing with her brothers’ Hot Wheels in the gravel area between our houses, making bridges and roads.
“Barbie’s were a tad boring,” she says, wondering if her career path — mechanical engineering — would be the same if she had been born in a Bell’s Turn year with lots of girls.
“I liked seeing all my boyfriends,” she says of the reunion. “They weren’t really boyfriends, but there were no girls my age so I had to hang around with the boys. John Shortall and Michael Shano. Doug Whitten. Paul and Shane Kelly.
“And having all my siblings together is such a rare thing,” she adds. “When I described (the reunion) to people at work, I said it was like having 50 members of my own family plus 50 other people who are just like my family, all together. We’re so comfortable with each other.”
And she’s right. No small talk necessary. It was as if conversations from 50 years ago just restarted at the reunion. Not everyone recognized everyone else though.
“The funniest thing was watching Brenda Lawlor introduce herself to Bob Shano,” says Pat, especially considering they are less than a year apart. It should be mentioned here that Brenda wasn’t the only one who didn’t recognize Bob, who moved away from Newfoundland 39 years ago.
And of course the offspring of the 40-plus Bell’s Turn children needed introductions. Sam and Luke Marshall, sons of John and Linda Marshall of Nova Scotia, got to socialize with 19 of their cousins. My surprise child, who is now six, made friends with six-year-old Brayden and three-year-old Tristan, grandchildren of Paul Whitten.
And then there are those who married into Bell’s Turn families. Some, like my husband, only knew a couple of dozen people outside the Marshalls at the reunion, but people like Sharon (Donovan) Burke who married Eddie Burke from the top of the Turn knew over half of the 150 people there.
“Ed said it was better than the Regatta — he knew more people and the food was 10 times better. I was amazed at how many faces I recognized, even though it’s been over 40 years since I’d seen some of them. Guess we’ve all aged really well.”
Susan Flanagan is a journalist who would like to thank reunion organizers, Gerry Marshall, Elaine (Shano) Short, Cathy (Whitten) Sooley, Rick Stamp and Mary Shortall. She was a bit worried about the weather the morning of the reunion when the rain pummelled us as we set up tents. All those years of rosaries paid off, however, and we were rewarded with a spectacular afternoon and evening. If you would like to send a comment for publication, email Susan at email@example.com.