1. Simultaneously hating and loving squid hats
These hats got popular when I was in junior high sometime, and I’ve never quite figured out why. I didn’t wear one, at any rate. A squid hat was made from multicolored fleece material, and the top sprouted long tentacle-like pieces of fabric…hence the “squid” name. They became immensely popular for a few years and then died out altogether. Thankfully.
2. Those days when we used to drive across the frozen bay in our trucks
I remember watching the headlights speed across the frozen expanse of bay separating Conne River from St. Alban’s on the south-central coast. Every now and then you’d hear about a snowmobile crashing through the ice, or some other related accident, and yet it never really discouraged anyone. Last year was the first time I’ve seen the bay freeze over since I was a kid. What compels someone to drive a Ford F-150 truck across potentially weak ice, I don’t know.
3. Those outrageously tacky foiled Christmas decorations
You know, the kind of decorations Nan would string from the ceiling in criss-cross patterns and tucked into corners. If you don’t know, refer to Simani’s mummer video. When I think about those decorations, I picture my relatives standing around with t-shirts tucked into jeans, cradling tumblers of rum and coke. And it always makes me homesick, without fail.
4. The Samantha Walsh tragedy
Samantha Walsh’s disappearance and subsequent murder was a significant turning point in my young life. I don’t like to think I was naïve; I’d grown up reading about everything from the Holocaust to the Beothuk genocide. But I remember being glued to the CBC news reports about Samantha Walsh’s story, because she was my age and because I couldn’t fathom how something like that could happen in quiet little Newfoundland. How wrong I was.
5. Nan’s cooking
Oh, how I miss those days when I’d awaken to the smell of baking banana bread or a pot of Jiggs dinner on the stove. I’d end up at my grandmother’s (Nan’s) house several times a week for a plate of chocolate coconut balls or some lemon-meringue pie. It’s not that those things aren’t around anymore, but there’s something about her cooking that can’t be replicated. Like many Newfoundlanders, my grandmother raised 12 children and worked harder than most professionals I know. Maybe that love made everything taste better.
And on that note:
6. Growing up with an insanely large extended family
Newfoundlanders like to copulate. Both of my parents have 12 brothers and sisters, and those 24 aunts and uncles of mine are mostly married with kids. I have over 20 first cousins — never mind the seconds and thirds. Can you imagine what family get-togethers are like? Chaos. Pure, glorious chaos.
The best part is that I’m actually quite close with them all. Cousins are like sisters. I, on the other hand, only have one brother…and most of my friends come from families with three siblings or less. I kinda feel bad for my own hypothetical kids who won’t grow up knowing what it’s like to have to question whether or not you might be related to everyone in town.
7. Having to rinse our mouths with fluoride in the mornings at school
I’m not sure who thought this was a good idea. We’d all stand dutifully by our desks, tear open a packet of fluoride, swish the foul substance around in our mouths for awhile, and then spit it all back into the packet. What in the heck.
8. For those of us in rural Newfoundland, making Christmas wish lists by Sears catalogue
Picking up the Sears catalogue sometime in mid-August or early September was pretty much the highlight of my young materialistic life. Growing up with NO other shops or brands around (other than that stifling styrofoam interior at Riff’s), we had the sole shopping option of Sears. And, boy, those pages chock-full with toys and potential entertainment were like the Holy Grail.
9. Your first beer: drinking in “the pit” or in someone’s “shack”
A lot of my mainlander friends are stunned to hear I had my first beer at age 13. I turned out okay, right? I grew up in rural Newfoundland, away from all the entertainment of the “big city” (St. John’s), and so there wasn’t much to do other than seek thrills from a beer bottle. My guy friends had built a shack in the woods where we gathered many weekends until the night it burned down. Our other option was “the pit,” literally a hole in a gravel pit that shielded us from the police.
My friends from St. John’s also started early but tended to gather in empty parks or sports fields. Whatever worked.
10. When dial-up internet was introduced and you spent all your time at the public library
When the internet first arrived to my town, it was dial-up, and we had a limit of 15 hours per week. The public library, however, had six computers with unlimited access (in 30-minute slots). My friends and I would log onto chat rooms and forums, trying to connect with other teens across the province. Once, I talked to a girl in Grand Bank who knew my pen pal, Raylene. She ran off to snag Raylene from her home, and we ended up chatting online for hours. That actually happened.
11. Not actually appreciating Newfoundland until much, much later
I was never much happy with growing up in Newfoundland. I hated my isolated upbringing, and traditional Jiggs dinner, and the ol’ crooning of Irish/Newfoundland singers wailing over accordions and fiddles. At some point it all clicks for us: this delightfully absurd island is different from everywhere else, and why on earth would we want it to change?