The land of cod, Quoyle, icebergs and offshore oil has called. And, as I immediately learn, Newfoundland — and later Prince Edward Island — isn’t that much different than home.
Heading into St. John’s, Newfoundland’s capital, the cabbie reports the Red Sox have won. At the Fairmont hotel, I click the remote and find three friends — Channel 4 in Boston, Channel 5 in Boston, Channel 7 in Boston — with the latest on Menino, Ramirez and Melrose. Just like home.
“What’s this Red Sox fascination,” I ask another fan. “I thought you’d be for Montreal or Toronto.”
“No,” he says. “When I was a kid, we used to pick up the games beamed out of Maine. Been a fan ever since … most people up here are.”
Just like home. I wonder if he remembers Marty the Grinning Weatherman atop Mt. Washington.
Tour master Jim McCarthy explains Newfoundlanders’ fondness: When folks came here from the old country, one brother might have stayed on The Rock and another would have continued on to, say, the “Boston States.” For Jim, with grandchildren in Cambridge, the banks of the river Charles are a second home.
My days in Newfoundland (rhymes with “understand”) are filled with a hospitality that promises my return to museums, archaeological digs, Marconi (if he wasn’t on Cape Cod, he was in St. John‘s), puffin and cod tongue.
Tongue — and, yes, they do have a tongue, best served up fried (almost as good as a clam).
We’re at sea now. Wicked waves keep my fellow writers below deck, but I trust my sea legs (Squam legs, to be honest) and stand lone watch on the bow. The captain joins me. “You’re from New England. You’re used to this.” I smile, knowing I’ve done New Hampshire proud. We bounce on to Gull Island, the home of a million puffins that fly directly into their burrows to avoid being plucked by a gull that wolfs down a half-dozen of the orange-billed delicacies a day.
Days later in Prince Edward Island, I am under the giant tent in Charlottetown for the International Shellfish Festival. The oysters, mussels and clams are as plentiful as Frank’s Red Hot sauce and Clamato juice. (Believe me, Clamato’s a big deal. They even have recipe contests.)
Master fiddler Richard Wood is on the stage and the crowd roars its approval. I turn to my left and note the sweater: “Wentworth-Douglass Hospital.”
“Yes,” he replies, “in Dover …”
“New Hampshire,” I finish. “Used to live there.”
He introduces himself as Dr. William Dudley and his wife Mary Jo. They will continue their adventure with biking and a visit to fiddler’s paradise — Cape Breton.
Later that night, I will be driven deep into the night: “Right at the KFC … a left at the Irving,” then Winter Bay and the Shucker’s Ball — hosted by John Bil, Canada’s champion oyster shucker, who will compete the following week in Ireland. This kitchen party is pure home, with tubs of clams and mussels, beer and more live music.
I play spoons.
One of my fellow writers is the celebrity Patricia Schultz. She has authored “1,000 Places to See Before You Die,” and she’s researching the sequel. In her bestseller, she recommended The Balsams, Golden Pond and Mt. Washington, and now asks about a couple of other places. I offer the native’s view but … shhhhh I can’t tell anymore. It’s Patricia’s book, not mine.
While Patricia and I fumble to keep the beat with the spoons, I’m drawn back to Concord when father would put fiddle to chin and a friend grabbed two spoons from the drawer on Saturday night.
I’m now in Dick Terrell’s barber chair in Concord.
“You’ve got a summer place in New Brunswick,” I say.
“No,” he snips, “Prince Edward Island.”
“I just got back from there. Great place. We went to the ceilidh at the Benevolent Irish Society Hall. Perfect music — a little Celt, a lot of country. I bought one of Lem Chaisson’s CDs.”
“Lemmie!” Dick exclaims. “He’s my next door neighbor in PEI.”
Just like home. NH
George Geers operates Plaidswede Press, writes for many publications and is a former editor of the Nashua Telegraph.