It's funny what little things stick in your memory from childhood. I was always curious about the place of my birth and, since my father loved to talk about it, I learned quite a lot about it over the years. Many times since his death in 2010 I have wished he was still here to continue his storytelling. I miss that connection we had through his love of his birthplace and my desire to know more.
I was born in Anderson's Cove, one of several small 'outport' communities along the shores of Long Harbour, Fortune Bay, on the south coast of Newfoundland. These were isolated communities, connected to the outside world only by water and were abandoned during the provincial government's resettlement program of 1965-1975.
My family left Anderson's Cove in 1954 when I was too young to retain many memories of it but I can recall several things. It nestled at the base of a cliff with very little level land except for a small area at one end of the community. My grandmother's brother, Uncle John Matthews, lived in that part of the village. Fishing stages and 'slipways' lined the shore and most of the houses were close to the shore as well. Several houses were built a little higher up, on a ledge of the cliff.
All I can remember about where we lived was that we had the ocean at the back of the house and if you opened the door - there was just one - there was nothing but a narrow road between the house and the face of the cliff. Not a very impressive piece of real estate by today's standards. That road, not much more than a footpath, went up over the hill to Anderson's Cove Pond and then to Stone's Cove. Our house was pretty much at the foot of the hill. Just up at the top of the hill another of my grandmother's brothers lived, Uncle Tom.
Our house was literally built on the shoreline with about half of it built over the water; supported, I think, by tall 'shores' (posts) that must have been driven into the ground or held in place by cribwork. The other half rested on the edge of the bank. We could actually fish without leaving home, as long as it was high tide. All we had to do was open a window at the back of the house, stick the pole out and let the baited hook drop into the water. My father often told me we would catch 'tom-cods' (young codfish) that way.
I must have been inquisitive even then because, according to Mom, I fell down through a hole in the slipway leading from the house to the little shed where my father and grandfather stored their fishing gear. Perhaps I was on the way to the shed to see if my father or grandfather might be there. Anyway, Mom went out to check on me, couldn't see me, and then heard me calling out. It seems I had a habit of going places I wasn't supposed to go on my own - like out across the slipway to the shed. Or the time I went skinny-dipping when I was about three or four years old. But I was always curious!
My most vivid personal memories of Anderson's Cove are two scary events, involving my two best friends. Well, they were scary to three or four-year-olds. One day Maxine and I were turning over rocks, probably looking for worms... I don't really know... as I said, I was inquisitive. Anyway, we turned over one fair-sized rock and there were those reddish-brown centipedes underneath. I realize now that the poor things were probably trying to stay in the dark but when they started coming towards our feet... I don't know what we thought but we took off running. For years after that if I saw one of those creepy little things I felt a shiver go up my spine.
Another time Joyce and I were lying in the grass near the edge of the bank behind her house looking down at the government wharf below where a boat was tied up. We were probably about five years old. Now her house was on top of a little hill, just before you got to where the ground levelled out. There were some wooden barrels at the inner edge of the wharf and, being adventurous fun-seeking kids, we were trying to hit the barrels with stones. From that distance a stone hitting a barrel likely sounded pretty loud to us. After a couple of lucky throws, a man came ashore from the boat and started walking in across the wharf. Our first thought was that he was coming for us because we were throwing rocks. Needless to say, we got out of there in a hurry. We didn't stop at Joyce's house, nor at Maxine's which was near the bottom of the hill. We kept right on going until we reached my house. I don't remember if we told anyone about it at the time because we thought we had done something wrong and we might get punished for it. In hindsight, the man could have been going to his home but we were too scared to think of that.
Almost sixty-five years have passed since we left Anderson's Cove but those few precious memories of my birthplace have remained with me and I seem to cherish them more as I grow older.
© Fay Herridge
Published in Canadian Stories, Apr/May 2020
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