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‘THE OLD LILAC TREE BY THE SEA’

It has been said that ‘the savage craves his native shore’ and that is exactly what happened to me: the pull back to the Island of Newfoundland. My husband and I were both born and raised in Newfoundland, a huge Island in the North Atlantic that is the tenth Province of Canada. It’s culture is unique, distinct, and kind. Thousands of boats fill the little coves and bays, the fishery is dying now because the Northern Cod Stocks are at such a low level, but the grit of the Newfoundlander keeps the province going. The mix of cultures, Irish, British, Scottish, French, are all blended together, with a Native Indian Reservation still thriving as well. Music abounds, talent is everywhere and Newfoundlanders are known for their wit, their ‘don’t give a darn’ outlook on life and their kindness to friend and foe. Yes, this Island of ours in the Sea, known as ‘The Rock’ is a special place with sunsets and sunrises so glorious your heart can ache at the sight of it all. There are miles and miles of wilderness unexplored, that man has never set foot on, and we love it just the way it is. Baby boomers are returning to retire by the hundreds, and the joke is made that ‘Newfoundland is experiencing a ‘Boom’ !.

The Newfoundland accent is a mixture of all cultures, but a person from the capital city of St. John’s could easily be mistaken as a person from Dublin, Ireland. That part of our province is very Irish. As a matter of fact if you stand on the shoreline on the east coast of Newfoundland and look out to sea, you have to realize if you start out in a boat, your next stop is Ireland! The Province abounds with wildlife, has a population of 500,000 which is slowly dwindling, as is the birth rate, as the fishery declines and young people move away to greener pastures.

After marrying I had to leave the land of my birth as my husband was one of Canadas’ Mounties, and they could not serve in their own province. So for thirty-five years we worked and raised our family in Nova Scotia. In those thirty-plus years my life had been guided by the ebb and flow of hospital life and the seasonal concerns of the farmers. I had yearned at times for the feel of the salt air, the shore breezes of home=to just be outside and look at the ocean.

Over the years it became more discomforting to have a sense of not being where you felt you should be. This was not something I or my husband had planned or anticipated. Finally after our children had grown and flown to the Canadian West to start their own lives, it was time to come home. We were mind-boggled by the emotions we were experiencing, we were tired of the long hours and the commute to the city for him every day was becoming more tiring, and in essence we really had no reason to stay in another province. We were both in a position to retire early, we both had passions and hobbies to pursue, my parents were getting older, his had long since left us, and the pull was too great to ignore. I flew to Gander, Newfoundland, rented a car and drove and drove, miles and miles around the bays and coves and eventually came to Shoal Harbor, my husbands’ hometown. It is a small seaside community, and it had a huge house, its’ peaked roof reaching for the sky, and the smell of lilacs and wild roses surrounding it, a house that was his now, a house that needed somebody to make it less lonely. His parents were gone, but the house and workshop were his and his sisters; he would love the house as he always had.

Returning to Nova Scotia we spent much time planning and deciding, and eventually, just as we knew we should, we moved back to Trinity Bay, and the land of his forefathers.

The moving was bittersweet and emotions ran high, because we were leaving behind so many good friends, a comfortable way of life, a more moderate climate-in fact a whole different way of life. But the pull was too strong to ignore. Our house sold in one day, taking us by surprise, and from then on it was nonstop planning, saying our farewells and getting on with the relocation. After all was said and done we drove off the Argentia Ferry onto the shores of Newfoundland at one o’clock in the morning, June 29, 2000. Not even the two hour drive to Shoal Harbor, socked in by fog, driving separate vehicles, with an upset cat, did anything to dampen our spirits. We were back, come what may.

Almost a year later began my first Spring to be spent in Newfoundland. I found myself outside on a beautiful spring day pruning the rose bushes, the black currants and blueberry bushes, and last but not least, the dear old lilac tree still standing the test of time, having grown so much over the years. I raised the pruning shears and snipped a few old limbs, then all of a sudden I snipped a small shoot and I caught the scent of the lilac, and memories long locked in the chambers of my mind came tumbling forth, a rush or treasures. The scent was the key to the lock.

I remembered my first visit here to meet my future in-laws, graduating from nursing school at the Grace Hospital, planning a wedding, and meeting my finances’ friends from childhood days.

Then there was the wedding, the moving away, coming back bringing a baby boy who loved to jump and sway in the Jolly Jumper, the dent of the hook still visible in the doorway that held it for him. The little boy loving his times with his grandfather who taught him about woodworking, the boy who is now a man of thirty,stands six feet, four inches and would probably have to bend his head to walk through this same doorway.

Then the visit back with him and his baby sister, a little girl who loved the flowers and the beach, who splashed glue and paint on rocks and stuck them together to make ‘Pet Rock families’. Two children who grew to love the visits to swim in the ‘Trout Hole’, the days spent berry picking, the picnics, birthday parties with family and friends, and the trip to Terra Nova National Park on each vacation.

Then there was the one special trip to the park when the capelin were rolling in and they stood in the water with the little fish swirling around their legs yelling "Look at all the fish Mom!"

I remembered the little friends they made, who sometimes joined us on our forays, my son’s attraction to his Poppys’ workshop, the fascination my daughter had for the paint and paint brush her Poppy gave her, her red paint dabbed here and there on the workbench and step.

The old Lilac bush caused a stir every year at blossom time when I would call my mother-in-law and let her know that my Nova Scotia Lilac was in bloom. Every year she would patiently tell me that Newfoundland’s growing season was a month behind Nova Scotia but the buds were out and she expected blossoms any day! It became a family story, the lilac blossom competition. The sweet memory of the children picking the black currants, the sea roses, and the lilac blooms and bringing them to Nanny, with a few buttercups thrown in for good measure. Nanny would make such a occasion over finding a nice vase to display her bouquet, carefully arranging it while they watched, so proud of their offering.

Then also were the sad memories, those of coming home to funerals, of opening Christmas gifts already arrived from Nova Scotia but Poppy would not get to open. Then coming home with just a young daughter, her brother having left the nest, then of course coming back again without her, back to being just the two of us again. Then the not coming back as there was no longer anyone left in Shoal Harbor to visit anymore.

The lilac is in bud, the smell so sweet, and now is lovingly pruned as are the roses, after five years of being forgotten. The Lilac stands alone, the trunk weathered and old but the new shoots holding the promise of blossoms once again. It faces the sea, and is a living reminder that life continues and traditions live on.

The little girl who visited here for so many years comes back to visit now, bringing her own little girl and her young husband and they visit all the old familiar places that she remembers from her childhood. So we are the Nanny and Poppy Lowe now. Now we know how they felt, why they didn’t care about a splash of red paint here and there, why they didn’t get upset about the bucket of carefully chosen rocks spread out on the kitchen floor, why they didn’t complain about the noise of children sliding down the worn stair bannister. Now we too know why the terror of an unidentified insect brought into the house in a bottle and set free, causing Nanny to stand on a chair until the huge moth was recaptured did nothing but cause us all to laugh with her as she overreacted to the incident, purely for the children s’ entertainment.

Now we Know.

The house is in and of itself a box of memories, the Lilac a symbol of times past-standing in quiet company beside the house. Now it is our turn, that stage in our lives that finds us waiting anxiously for the headlights of a vehicle coming down the lane when friends or family is expected. Now we know the wait is worth it when the hugs are spread around and everyone is talking at the same time, carried away with the excitement of the reunion.

The lesson is told that life is a continuum, but we don’t really know that until we experience it on a personal level. Now we know the best lesson of all, we know that we are back again in the place where we belong.


Bonnie Jarvis-Lowe

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