I can’t ever remember a Christmas where Sheila and I didn’t visit with our children our have our children visit us during the season, but we were about to change this tradition: Christmas in Newfoundland. Yes! Would it be possible? Twenty-five years is a long time not being on the Rock for this special time of the year.
Sheila’s mom is now eighty-three and with a recent set-back in her health we thought it would be a wonderful gift for her if we could come home. My birthday is on December 31 and there was the excitement of having some of my siblings celebrate the big event and share in the cutting and the eating of the cake. Should we go or should we stay? We were encouraged by our children to break with tradition and go home.
On December 21, Christmas Sunday, our congregation blessed us with a very practical gift and took time to pray with and wish us a safe and enjoyable trip. The next morning we hit the road early to catch our flight out of Grand Prairie and eventually land in Gander NL.
We talked and discussed and laughed about the people we were going to meet, the places we would visit and some of the events we would be a part of. Excitement filled every facet of our being while our emotions were in high gear and kept accelerating as we got closer to the Rock. The overnight flight seemed to have happened very quickly and approaching the Gander airport midday on Tuesday caused us to become a little restless and anxious just waiting for the moment when the tires of this great bird finally hit the runway.
The landing gears were activated and as the tarmac and the belly of the plane got closer to each other I took a little extra caution to make sure I was sitting properly to absorb any unexpected bumping or jerking as white lines and low blinking lights rushed by us at tremendous speeds. As we taxied down the runway to the terminal, I knew this was going to be an unforgettable trip. Would I even want to leave the Rock again?
When I stepped off the plane I knew I was home—home sweet home. Breathing was different. The air was different. The smells were different. Miles away was the Atlantic Ocean but my keen sense of smell caught the wafting of very subtly perfumes blown in from the mighty ocean as northerly winds gently brushed my face. Yes, this is going to be incredible.
Now rushing into the terminal we were anxious to meet members of Sheila’s family and we were not to be disappointed. Her brother Ron, along with his grandson, rushed toward us and with open arms and warm embraces we heard the soothing, “Welcome home. Welcome home.” We had so many questions and while waiting for our luggage to be brought into the terminal, I almost fell into silence as I tried to take in the scenes and bring my emotions under reasonable control.
We arrived at Ron’s house and were treated like royalty as traditional NL food dishes were placed before us. We spent the night reminiscing while shouts of laughter could sometimes be heard and times of quietness brought tears. We talked about the day when Ron and his lovely wife had lost their young daughter to cancer, just two and a half years old. Some years later Ron had lost his wife Marian to cancer and almost three years ago his daughter, son-in-law and grandson were killed in a vehicle accident on highway 63 out of Fort McMurray. Christmas is about family and during that night of stories we felt an invisible glue binding us so that we felt each other’s joy and pain. These were the kind of moments from which you didn’t want to break away and moments that stimulated the kind of emotions that would want to keep you glued to the Rock. It was an unforgettable evening.
The next day, December 24, we left Gander and headed for Point Leamington to meet and greet Sheila’s mom. We were excited but very nervous. With her recent physical illness and now boarding on dreaded dementia, we wondered if she would even recognize us.
I walked through this valley of dementia with my own Mom and it was no picnic. We arrived at the Sunset Village, found a visitor’s parking spot and then walked slowly toward the entrance. We kept reassuring ourselves that Mom would be fine (I called her Mom from the day Sheila and I were married) and after ringing the outside doorbell the entrance to the Village swung wide open and meeting us on the inside was this little old lady who was still spirited and looking her very best.
As we embraced I just wanted to lift her off the floor and do a happy dance but I didn’t trust my own sense of balance. We were so excited to be in the presence of family and love. Again, a great evening of reminiscing, story telling and just enjoying each other. We were late going to bed that night and hitting the sack brought a sense of relief and release when realizing that we were home with Mom.
I knew this would be short lived and in just a matter of days we would be heading back to BC. Could I leave? Would I be able to leave? It was a restless night as I now began to paint pictures of meeting with my siblings just a few days from now.
Christmas morning was fun as Sheila helped Mom finish decorating the tree while I took care of the dinner, and what a dinner it was. The pot was filled with six different vegetables, two puddings and a lot of salt beef. The distinct, flavourful smells from the roasting turkey and the boiling pot were intoxicating. The tree was now finished, the gifts were all opened and the meal was being served. A soft quietness had filled the little dining area as hungry tummies ingested large amounts of the most delicious NL Christmas dinner traditions all followed by the best of homemade tarts and pies.
Time seemed to pass so quickly and with Sunday Morning already upon us we attended Church and met extended members of Sheila’s family and students that I had taught almost fifty years ago. Precious memories, how they linger!
It was now time to meet my siblings in Chance Cove. It was an emotional two hour drive as sweet and precious memories swept over my spirit. Because our family of fifteen is so close, so much in love with each other, I knew this would be the capstone of my Christmas visit. We would be staying with my brother and his wife who had just built a big and beautiful home right at the entrance of this little village.
When we arrived I suggested to Sheila that we drive through my home town so that I could re-gather as many memories as possible. We didn’t talk much. We just drove, looked, waved and smiled as familiar faces were identified. We drove past ‘the pond’ that was separated from the mighty Atlantic by a wide beach about two kilometers in length. Oh the memories. Waves were beating against the rugged and ragged cliffs as sea gulls were caught up in majestic and artistic ballet while facing the strength of north-easterly winds and ever-changing currents. The sights, sounds and smells were repeated as we reached the end of the community and drove back again to meet with my siblings and what a meeting it was.
So many things to do in such a short period of time. Invitations to meals with siblings, morning coffee, visiting other communities, paying my respects to a gentleman whose wife had just passed away, planning the big birthday celebrations on December 31 and the most incredible fireworks arranged by the siblings to welcome in the New Year. I attended church with all my siblings and their spouses on Sunday morning and the memories of that small church were totally intoxicating.
It was over. Time to leave—time to leave home. My head was abuzz with memories as we drove away from family and community. I kept looking in the rear view mirror to get a final glimpse of siblings houses, road signs, familiar landmarks and unbeknown to my wife I had an awful time trying to keep back the tears. They came anyway. When our plane had left the tarmac and was pointed toward the west I quietly bowed my head and thanked God for the memories left in the rear view mirror but thankful because the sun is always shining.