4 February 2006

Half an Hour Later in Newfoundland

My family flew across the entire expanse of Canada in '74 - from Dope City to the Dope City of Newfoundland - St. John's. It still takes about ten hours for the full pull. The trip as far as Halifax was uneventful except for the pilot letting us kids into the cockpit for a look at his gadgets and out his tremendous window on the blue sky. There is an experience no kid will ever have again.

The trip from Halifax to St. John's was another story. Even though it was the middle of summer we hit bad weather out over the water. From out my window I could see lightning bolts hitting the plane's wing and sometimes it looked like bursts of flame shot out the jet engines. The plane alternately dropped hundreds of feet (maybe even more than that) or rose hundreds of feet without warning. I thought it was fucking cool. I was 15. The crew were sweating and had the expressions on their faces the passengers on the 911 flights had. They were scared shitless.

My dad grew up in St. John's in the last years of British colonial rule. He was 13 when his dad and the b'ys voted to join Canada instead of the USA. It was a close vote. The island and its mainland brother Labrador have long had close ties to America, still do. My dad's family met us at the airport. It was his first trip home since he had joined the Air Force when he was 18. He had a dozen brothers and sisters and they all had kids by the litter. My dad and all his brothers and sisters were all conceived in the backseat of one of grand dad's Chevys.

Every night was a party on our holiday there. Those Newfoundlanders can party on a dime. At that time their culture was still more or less isolated as American TV was just starting to creep into their tidy living rooms decorated with plastic plants because real ones do not stand a chance in such a desolate place. My grand dad, known as dads to all, had three squeeze boxes and boy could he play. Various other relatives could play everything from spoons to empty Screech bottles to idiot sticks.

I bought Lou Reed's "Berlin" at Fred's records while I was there. (Fred's is still there I believe.) When I played it on the grand parent's kitchen hi-fi console my gran came running into the room when "The Kids" was playing. She thought the crying on the record was a hurt grand child.

Dads and gran still had a few kids at home when we visited. My youngest aunt is younger than me by a few months. My Uncle Beer, who I was named after, was going through his wild days when we were there. He passed out drunk in his Camaro one night with Black Sabbath turned up to 11 in the driveway. I heard later that one night the police brought him home and before the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary could say a word my gran popped him one so hard he keeled over. The police left knowing they could do no better for the boy than his mum.

Another uncle, a little younger than Uncle Beer, later told me how they lit a cop car on fire and rolled it down a hill one night when the police tried to break up a party. The '70s in Sliverville were wild as a cat surviving a 10 story fall; St. John's in the '70s was wild as a bag of cats surviving a 20 story fall.

I drank my first rum, warm Screech out of the pocket of yet another crazy uncle. I got my first beer buzz on good Newfy beer. And I learned that St. John's was swimming in Lebanese hash. The Lebanese are still the biggest immigrant group on the island.

Newfoundland is a must visit place. You probably will not get much of a tan there but it is postcard pretty from one end of the island to the other. And the people are the friendliest people on our simmering planet.

While there me and a kissin' cousin decided we would become pen pals. I have never stopped writing. And I still have her letters. Here's one.

Dear Beer,
I read your letter on my way to school. It was cold though. What kind of weather are you having now? During the last week we have had snow. Just a few inches.

How are you? I'm O.K. I went to another dance on Thursday. The name of the band is "Sandells." They were pretty good but not as good as "Fair Fax." I had a good (great!) time. Do you go to many dances? My next one is going to be the Xmas one. I might ask some boy but I haven't decided yet.

Do you go with anybody now? You get to see a lot of bands don't you. "Miss Teen Canada Pageant" is on tonight. I enjoy watching the pageant every year.

Why did you say "Can't wait to tell you the truth"? Tell me in your next letter O.K.

You have a lot of fun in the classroom don't you. What is this about a fan club? Could you ask your friends (boys) if I could have a picture of them? I'm curious of what they look like. Thanks.

I liked reading your letter even though it was funny. Ha!

I got my hair cut in a pageboy since I wrote you last. Julie Hockey (your aunt) did it for me. She bought a coat last week which cost $700. A muskrat coat. It is gorgeous too. Julie is going out with a guy who teaches kung fu at the university. You know when she was in Dope City she went with a guy. Well he sent her 12 roses not too long ago. Recently he sent her a pendant. I think that guy likes Julie. Don't you?

Not too hard for her to get someone. What would you do if you wanted to meet a girl and talk to her? Well I would like to know this guy's name but can't get the nerve to talk to him. How about some advice? Huh? Tell me in the next letter O.K.

P.S. Write soon and in order that you do not get bored during History and Geography think of the nice girls you would like to ________ someday.

I think I have a long distance phone call to make to a cousin who grew up to be a nurse, meet lots of nice boys, have a great family and stay true to the Rock. Somehow I doubt any advice I gave her was of any assistance.

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