Days 5 and 6: Grand Falls, my mom’s hometown
We arrived early afternoon slipping off the TransCanada Highway at the Lincoln Road exit. I could not for the life of me remember the street number of my grandparents last home together, but I was able to recognize landmarks and before we knew it I was hollering at Jake to “turn here!” The home my mom grew up in burned down many years ago and my grandparents built a small ranch in its place which looked the same though perhaps a bit worn down. Have you ever noticed that once you root yourself in a place you left so long ago that suddenly you know you are ”home?” I still needed a map, however, to find my way round as the Grand Falls of my childhood, or even the one I last saw 13 years ago had changed too much. Nearby was a hotel and I knew the owners knew my
mom’s family. As is typical of Newfoundlanders, the owners were only too happy to provide us with a map of the town and clear directions to the homes of several aunts and uncles as well as to both the Genealogical Society and the Legion Hall where I would be sure to find some family history, pictures and artifacts. Next we found our way to the place we would call home for the next two nights, the Carriage Inn Bed and Breakfast, located only 2 km from the home of my mother’s brother, Bill, where the rest of my siblings would gather either later that evening or in the morning before the service for mom.The Carriage Inn is a very nicely done place on Grenfell Heights Road and managed by the owners’ sister-in-law and another woman employed there for three years. We had arrived too early for check-in and the person on staff directed us to a local diner, Village Café, for lunch. We opted for a simple lunch – I had a hamburger and Jake decided on the chicken patty sandwich and a very Newfie side: French Fries with Gravy. As our young waitress took his order, he commented that he had never had this before – however, how he strung his words together made it appear he had never had a chicken patty and the girl was clearly surprised and a bit amused; she seemed to be wondering where we had blown in from – clearly not from this planet. I quickly let her know he meant French fries with gravy – and again she was surprised but not perplexed this time. Jake enjoyed the Newfie fries and we must admit to ordering it several more times before we left the island. That night we had dinner with our Uncle Bill and Aunt Colleen, joined by my sisters, Sharon and Pat, and brothers Peter (with his two sons) and Sean (with his three children.) We stayed up late reminiscing, playing pool and shuffle board, and drinking a toast or a few to my mom and times gone by.
At 10 the next morning we all met at the graveside of our grandparents, Albert and Johanna Crawley, joined by cousins John and Brian Davis (by mom’s sister Marie), Uncle Bill and Aunt Colleen, Aunt Pat (mom’s sister) and husband, Larry, Pat’s daughter, Geri, her husband Blair, and their daughter, Alex. John had brought a shovel and with a quick scoop we had mom’s final resting place at the foot of her parent’s grave. We cried and laughed and hugged and said a quick ‘Hail Mary” to send her on home to the family – joining her brothers, Gerry and Harold, brothers-in-law John and Bert, sister Marie, and the child she left so long ago in Newfoundland’s soil.
That evening lasted longer than the one before – commencing shortly after the graveside goodbye. Mom’s brother Kevin and his wife, Theresa showed up for a bit and while some of the family, including Jake, left to swim in the brook of our childhood vacations, I opted to stay behind with mom’s siblings. They shared with me the sadness that overtook my grandfather Albert when he heard of my dad’s passing in 1972, and the reminiced about my parents wedding day and the huge party that lasted for what seemed a week! They shared tales of growing up in Grand Falls and the antics and escapades of nine children in a mill town in simpler times. Childhood nicknames came out as well with Aunt Pat being known as “A string of misery.” Mom was “Gandy” though they could only remember it has something to do with her incredibly long legs and her ability to outrun her mom when in trouble. Uncle Jerry was “Lefty” for obvious reasons, while Kevin was Swab” and Bill was “Devil Legs” (though neither would explain the reasons). They recalled the time Nana had left Albert with the children while she went home for a bit to Fox Harbour. Apparently he was trying to do laundry and went off leaving the water running and soon the sink overflowed leaving three inches of water across the kitchen. His solution to the flood was to drill holes in the floor letting the water run into the basement, and before Nana returned he plugged the holes back up! Bill recalled an apple tree in the front yard to which he had hung an orange hoping to fool his dad – and to which this loving cheerful heart gladly played along. I don’t’ know that I have ever heard a family so strongly devoted in love and admiration for the dad who raised them to be his reflection to the world.
Jake and I and my brother Sean and his children stopped the next morning at the Royal Canadian Legion, Branch 12, where I knew was hanging a map my grandfather had brought back from the battle of Keiberg Ridge in Belgium during World War I stained in the blood of his captain. The map was given to the legion by my Uncle Jerry not long after granddad passed. Sean had never heard the tale and so we read the story that put the map in granddad’s hands and of the loss of one of his best friends in that same assault, one of three young men from Grand Falls who joined together and had sequential serial numbers. There too was a display of the Crawley family who had been in service to their country: grandfather Albert, sons-in-law John Scott and Bernard Davis, sons Jerry and William, followed in the next generation by Jerry Crawley’s children: Maureen Crawley (who died on active duty), Diane, Nancy and Cathy Crawley. His son-in-law, John Scott, had two children who also gave service to their country and are soon to be added to the display: my sister Sharon Scott and I.
We stopped to spend a bit more time with Uncle Kevin and Aunt Theresa. Our uncle Kev is a well known guide about Newfoundland and Labrador and though a humble man we managed to coerce him into sharing what we thought must have been the highlight of his career: taking then President George H. Bush, and his grandson, Jeb, on a fishing expedition of Newfoundland and Labrador. One evening Mr. President left Kevin in charge of young Jeb for the night who promptly fell out of bed and hit his head but never awakened. Uncle Kev not wanting to take the chance the child would fall out again put the boy in his bunk and put “his-self” into the upper bunk. He also shared a funny tale about the President stepping off the path and into the bog, nearly dissappearing! Apparently President Bush was not his only well-known customer – he also was the guide for the owner of Pro Bass. I leave the rest of tales for Uncle Kev to write about one day.
We said our goodbyes with kisses and hugs and left behind my mom’s hometown and her family as Jake and I continued the next leg of our journey across Newfoundland on to Trinity Bight.