‘De Woiff Would Know’: A Story by Our Resident Irvine

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Seasons Storytellers is a program that provides a creative outlet for our residents’ voices’ to be heard on various topics and showcase their significant talent. This platform allows them to share their authentic ideas and insights, including generational advice and life-changing moments, fostering friendship-building and a sense of purpose.

English poet Patience Strong once penned, “In February, there is everything to hope for and nothing to regret.” Traditionally, the month honoured the Feast of Saint Valentine on February 14, when notions of adoration flourished, associated with the ‘lovebirds’ of early spring. Today, Valentine’s Day recognizes the importance of romantic love.

In that vein, we are pleased to feature a beautiful story written by Seasons Camrose resident Irvine Mckees that is close to his heart:

We were at the end of a four-day teachers’ conference in St. John’s, Newfoundland. With only one more night till we returned to the mainland, it seemed proper to find lodging down near the harbour. I yearned for a closer awareness of life amongst the ‘down-home’ crowd. But as my wife and I walked along Harbor Street, it was anything but crowded.

Selecting a quiet restaurant with care, we enjoyed a fine cod fillet, which brought us even closer to the local love and lifestyle of the people. Walking back to our rooms after supper, the streets were even more deserted. The harbour itself was shrouded by dusk that settled early on the water because the land rose in terraces to the western horizon.

With my wife Faye stopping off at our rooms to rest and me being restless and adventure-seeking, I wandered down Duckworth Street to a stairway going down 81 steps to the harbour. After all, it was our 28th anniversary, and I chose to spend this last memorable night in Newfoundland in a quieter search of the soul of this land and its people nearer the water. After a dizzying week of communal living and conference speakers at Memorial University, the rush had taken its toll.

The length of the harbour was still. Only a herring gull was stirring down the wharf. The closer I came, the more he edged closer to the waterside, struggling with a plastic bag. When I was within 20 feet of him, he reclaimed his space by gliding lazily off to the nearest piling tie-down, leaving the transparent bag in my path. What was he struggling with so valiantly? A fisherman had tossed out a vacuum-sealed plastic bag of bait. Little fish in heavy gauge plastic. I tried to open it, but it would not tear. Closer inspection revealed a dime-sized hole in one side, the result of one successful gull peck. Curious as to his strategy, I dropped the bag and retreated to sit on another piling 50 feet away.

The huge gull drifted back to struggle again by shaking and thrashing until the bait was crumbling and bits were dropping through the hole. Bit by bit, he would position the hole, shake out fragments onto the wharf, and grab the pieces before they were lost. Other gulls approached the feast, but he, being larger, drove them off with a frenzy of squawking. He had staked a claim and was prepared to work for the payoff.

Suddenly, I discovered I had company. A frail, old fisherman had stepped softly up behind me. He had been sitting in his car on the wharf nearby and had observed me for ten minutes before approaching.

“Har ya now, Skipper!” He broke in softly. “I seen ye pick up yonder bag and take ta watching da big feller dere. I been watching him dis half hour fighting wid it. He’s a greedy ole feller, ain’t he, driving off de odders.”

“Sure is persistent in his struggles,” I responded, somewhat abashed at being spied on so closely. What could I say? “My wife and I just had a cod dinner up at Ernie’s to celebrate our 28th anniversary, so I wanted to get close to the sea to help me remember tonight.”

“Well now, I want to wish you many ‘appy returns o’ the day to ya now Skippper, an’ many more ta come! I don’t recollect ‘ow many I’ve ‘ad, but de woiff would know. Oi don’t keep count. But oi ‘ave no regrets with the yehrs. Oi was born in 1910, and my name is Snow, ya see here,” he said, pulling his birth certificate from his wallett. “Gordon Snow. I was born right across dere on dat wharf,” he said, pointing across St. John’s Harbor. “And my Great Grandfadder was buried 162 yehrs ago in dat place, beside him is my Grandfadder too, den my Fadder in 1930.”

“You really know this place, don’t you?” I responded. “Tell me, I was wondering, where does the fuel come from that is stored in those large tanks up by the cemetery on the hill?” (After all, I hadn’t come all this way to talk about graves.)

“Ya got me on dat one ale bye, cause I ain’t never tot on it, but de woiff would know,” he said seriously.

“So you were born here and have lived all your life by the sea, all 78 years,” I reflected.

“Yaa, spent all my toime ‘ere, save for da weeks me woiff and oi would go to da summer place oi built over by Placentia Bay. Da rest o’ da yehr been out ta sea maybe 10 days, den ‘ome for tree er four. But dey don’t let me on da boat no more after 65. I been past me labor now dese 13 yehrs.”

“Do you miss being on the sea?” I asked.

“Oh, yah. Dats why oi comes down to da ‘arbor ta watch da boats and da gulls. Oi knows everyone lives by da ‘arbor and deys all knows me. Even da dogs knows me. When ofm done watching down ‘ere oi goes ‘ome and watches de TV fer two hours befores oi sleeps.”

“Does your wife come down to watch with you sometimes?”

“Well, yer knows, Skipper, now she was bedridden wit ‘er ‘eart dese two yehrs, and she be gone dese six mont’s now, but oi gets so damned lonely seein’ all da tings she put in dere on all da shelves oi made, dat oi just can’t stand to stay for loneliness. It’s awright in da daytime, cuz oi got tings ta do ta keep me from tinking. But its now in da ight oi can’t stay.”

“Life’s not the same now for you here, is it?” I remarked.

“Oh, no. Different people’s comin’ in now since Confederation. Dey even try ta tell you about da next world. Oi don’t know netting about dat stuff, dough.” He reflected for a moment, before adding pensively, ” Oi can’t says oi knows now, but de woiff would know,” he added softly.

I went back to our lodging on Duckworth Street, and the loving presence of my wife was never sweeter nor more appreciated.

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