Tom Assenmacher of Kinsale, Va., can still remember the smell of codfish drying from his year-long stay in Argentia with the United States Navy during the mid-1960s.
“If the wind was out in a certain direction, you certainly were aware there were drying fish,” the former pilot recalls 50 years later.
The year Tom and his wife, Kaye, spent in Newfoundland was memorable given the fact they were newlyweds getting accustomed to married life. Having met a few months earlier in Corpus Christi, Texas, they were wed on Aug. 14, 1964. The next day, they took off in Tom’s 1962 Oldsmobile F85 to start a three-week journey to Argentia.
“Listen, anybody that would go from south Texas to Newfoundland has to be crazy in love,” laughs Kaye, whose maiden name is Dunne. She jokingly describes herself as a nice Irish girl who married a German guy. “We only knew each other, I think, six months to the day, so I think we were both ready to settle down.”
The Assenmachers are celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary with a two-week visit to Newfoundland and Labrador. It’s the couple’s second visit since leaving Argentia — they also visited the island in 2003.
“We were from away, but we were accepted,” remembers Tom, who grew up in southern Missouri.
The couple rented a house in Placentia from an older gentleman named John who lived next door. When Tom dropped by each month to pay the rent, the two men would briefly chat. John’s accent sometimes confused Tom.
“We’d talk about the weather and everything, but he spoke with such a Newfoundland accent, my wife would say, ‘Well, what did John have to say?’ And I said, ‘Well gee, I really don’t know.’ But I always responded, ‘Yes sir’ and ‘No sir’ to him.”
Kaye loved almost every minute of her stay in the province, excluding one night when a gale-force wind blew the only door off their house. John had to temporarily nail the door onto the house until he could properly fix it the next day.
“The place only had one door,” she said. “Everything was fine, but when I got to thinking about it, I thought, oh my God, you know, I was nailed in a house!”
After spending a year in Newfoundland, Tom’s squadron was decommissioned and he was ordered to report to Naval Air Station Glynco in Brunswick, Ga. By then, Kaye was seven-months pregnant with the couple’s first child. Tom retired from the Navy in 1984 and subsequently found work with contractors who dealt extensively with his former employer.
The visit to Newfoundland in 2003 was a memorable one, as the Assenmachers criss-crossed the island. They returned to Placentia and Argentia on that visit.
“We stopped in Placentia and dropped by the house we rented, and it’s still there,” said Tom.
John had since died, but his house was also still standing. In the backyard of that home, they met the man who bought the house from John.
“We got to talking and he said, ‘Where are you spending the night?’ I said there was a motel we were going to stay in and then go to the bird sanctuary the next day, and he said, ‘Stay with us,’ and so we did,” Tom recalls. “It’s the typical Newfoundland hospitality that we’ve always heard so much about and actually experienced.”
This month’s trip included a first-time visit to Gros Morne National Park. The Assenmachers were quite impressed by its unique terrain.
The couple enjoys visiting Atlantic Canada in the late summer. The weather in Virginia this time of year tends to be a bit too hot for their liking.
“August in Virginia, where we live, is hazy, hot and humid,” Tom said, to the potential chagrin of every resident of Newfoundland familiar with the recent weather. “It’s cruel and unusual punishment to be in that part of Virginia.”