A taste of home

Mummers and music party warms Newfoundland hearts in Maine

Published on August 26, 2014

You’d think you were in a cove in Newfoundland, overlooking the glittering harbour with the sea smell in the breeze, and tunes like Eddie Coffey’s “Grey Foggy Day” playing to those at the gathering.

Instead, it was at the home of Daphne Izer and her husband, Steve Izer, in Lisbon, Maine, on July 28. The Izers host the annual Newfie Picnic for ex-pats of the province living in the New England area and beyond.

For Hannah Anne Fulford Griffith, the song “Grey Foggy Day” brought tears to her eyes as she recalled memories of growing up on the now-resettled Merasheen Island in Placentia Bay.

“My husband and I have been attending the Newfie Picnic for over 30 years,” she said.

“This event is so important to us. It gives us a chance to come together with Newfoundlanders near and far. It is the only place that I know of where we can try true authentic Newfoundland food, hear its music, accents, jokes, and just be ourselves. This is all possible because of all the hard work done by Daphne, who organizes everything. It’s like a mini visit to Newfoundland every year.”

Griffith met her husband at the U.S. naval base in Argentia in 1964 and married two years later.

“I was 22. We retired in 1980 and have been living in Massachusetts ever since,” she said. “We are now 48 years married with three grown children and six grandchildren.”

At the picnic this year there was a boil-up, mummers and Purity biscuits and syrup, Newfoundland flags and Newfoundland music. Among the goodies were toutons and figgy duff, fish cakes, fish’n brewis, smoked caplin, peas pudding and baloney.

There were ugly sticks and jigs and dancing.

Laughter filled the air, and there were tears, hugs and kisses, old stories and homesickness.

About 106 people attended — the party started early in the day and went on to well after dark.

At one point they paused for the all-important Screech-in ceremony for three people who wanted to become honorary Newfoundlanders.

At another point, mummers came running out of the woods and danced around “one with her trap door undone, another with mitts on her feet.”

A campfire and weiner roast, accordion music and guitars, took place under the stars.

Daphne, who is from Sunnyside and has been living in Maine for 30 years, said the annual event started “where else, but in the kitchen of a friend” 35 years ago.

She and her husband have been hosting it for the past 20 years.

“Every year we say it’s the best one yet,” she told The Telegram by phone. “It’s become so important to us, especially to some who don’t get home anymore. And it’s gotten a lot bigger in the last few years because of social media.”

A band called the Squid Jiggers usually play at the event. The band’s members are made up of people from Maine, but they’ve been “trained” to play Newfoundland music, Daphne said while laughing.

Betty Vaters Puddicomb, 84, now living in Rhode Island, said she couldn’t attend the party this year — the first time she’s missed it in 18 years — but her heart and soul were there.

“The picnic is the closest I’ll ever get to Newfoundland again,” she said. “I remember the first time I sat in Daphne’s kitchen, I swear I was that close to Newfoundland I could smell the old woodstove burning from my childhood in Freshwater.”

Puddicomb left the province 65 years ago after also meeting her husband at the Argentia base.

“I happened to be this lucky one, I guess, who married a sailor,” she laughed. “My younger sister and I married sailors.”

Puddicomb said the base at Argentia changed the lives of everyone in the area.

“One day, two sea planes landed. I was nine or 10 at the time,” she noted of the first sign that things were changing in her quiet cove.

“Sometime later, I remember a big ship anchored off the coast and a week later the USS Richard Peck (an auxiliary ship of the United States Navy) arrived with the first load of marines. They lived on the ship while the barracks and the rest of the base was built.”

Puddicomb says she last visited the province in 2002 to attend the Freshwater Come Home Year.

“All those years away and I still call Newfoundland home,” she said. “That’s what it is like going to Daphne’s for me, like going home. I get so excited every year to attend. The Newfoundland starts coming out of all of us when we meet.”

Daphne said the gatherings have become more special each year, particularly with many of the regular attendees getting older.

She noted a number of Newfoundland businesses donated prizes for a raffle, and the Newfoundland government had always sent tourism brochures, but not this year.

“They said they could not this year,” Daphne said. “We weren’t happy about that as we always promote our province here.”

Plans are already in the works for the next picnic, with a tentative date set for July 18, 2015.