I was looking in the mirror the other day and I realized I was smirking like a pirate. I don't know how to explain it other than it was a bit Popeye. I know Popeye was a sailor man, not a pirate, but what is a pirate, if not a sailor man gone bad? It was a look I've seen on my father's face before. I should disclose here that some of my ancestors actually were pirates. To be more specific, my Crocker ancestors.
I rarely meet other Crockers on the west coast of Canada. It's not a common name here. I recently discovered that artist and writer, Emily Carr, had a pet crow that she named Crocker. But I don't think that counts. There's *Betty Crocker of course, and in the States there is Crocker Bank. It is only when I am on or near my native East Coast that I get nods of recognition to my name. In fact, I've been asked by the occasional flight attendant, on that last leg heading to Halifax, "Are you heading to Newfoundland?".
Newfoundland is where my branch of the Crocker family tree hail from. I've never met a Crocker I could be related to, except in Newfoundland, specifically Trout River. In Trout River, every second person you meet there is a Crocker and I'm related to all of them. We're all descended from George Crocker who landed there from Dorsetshire England about 1815. My grandfather was born there.
If you visit Trout River (and I highly recommend, it's stunningly beautiful), on the edge of Gros Morne National Park, (also a UNESCO world heritage site), you will find the Jake Crocker House. That is the house my grandfather was born in. The house is now an historic place because it represents the type of house people typically built in the area, back in the day.
In Newfoundland, the Crocker name is known outside of Trout River. Crockers did settle in other outports (settlements that were only reachable by boat). One of the things they're known for is being pirates or privateers (pirates for the Crown). Basically, some of my ancestors took money from the Queen or King of England to plunder vessels on the North Atlantic. It's a proud heritage.
Memories are long in Newfoundland. This was illustrated nicely when my husband visited Newfoundland several years ago on a business trip. When he told a woman in Cornerbrook that he was married to a Crocker, she spat out, "Crockers! Them pirates."
I was born on the east coast. In my early thirties, I decided I'd had enough of being rootless in the west. I packed up and transplanted myself to Nova Scotia on a personal heritage quest. I have deep roots in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland on both sides of my family. My two grandmothers were still living and I wanted to spend some time with them. I wanted to write down their stories. Which I did. But I also needed a job while I was there and was fortunate enough to get one at Woozles bookstore in Halifax.
Woozles is a Halifax institution and one of the best bookstores in Canada. Woozles is also owned by Liz Crocker. The other Liz Crocker. We are not related. This Liz was not born a Crocker but married one (not the Newfoundland variety). When I applied to work there, I had to ensure the manager did not think it was a joke from the owner pretending to apply for a job.
But, in many ways Halifax is as far from Trout River as Vancouver is. Canada's maritime provinces (Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and PEI) do not include Newfoundland. Newfoundland is an island with its own distinct history and culture. During the year I spent on my heritage quest in Nova Scotia with my grandmothers, I visited Newfoundland for the first time.
My grandfather left Newfoundland when he was 15 years old. This was when the island was still a colony of England. When he sailed to Nova Scotia from Newfoundland that first time, he was 'going to Canada'. He stayed in Nova Scotia, met and married my grandmother, helped to raise three children and built an esteemed career as a master mariner. When Gramps died at 68 after living most of his life away, he asked to be buried in Trout River. As the joke goes, 'how can you tell a Newfoundlander in heaven?' They're the only ones who wants to go home.
That first time, driving into Trout River, then climbing the hills behind the town and looking over the protected natural harbour, I knew without a doubt why my grandfather had to be buried there. If you grew up there, then spent your adult life at sea and in Nova Scotia, every other harbour would pale in comparison. It's home.
The pirate blood still runs in 'us Crockers'. Just ask my mirror. These days though, it's content to reflectively remind me of where I come from. Though I can't speak for all the Crockers who live in Newfoundland. For all I know, they could be a bunch of pirates. For the record, I'm not related to those ones.
*Please note that my full name is Elizabeth Crocker. Betty is a nick name for Elizabeth, ergo propter hoc, my parents named me Betty Crocker. Yes, I do like to bake.
Misunderstandings are a common devise of comedy writers. A characters says something that is misinterpreted by another and a comedy of errors ensues. (Pun most definitely intended). When misunderstandings happen in real life, however, they are usually funny only after some time has passed. Beyond misunderstandings, it has often been stated that, "comedy is tragedy plus time".
What I have to recount here Dear Reader is in the vein of misunderstanding not tragedy. It only took about a day before I was able to tell this story with a smile, instead of a grimace. And so I begin.
It was a dark and stormy night. Kidding! Actually, it was early one morning, on an English train platform awaiting the train to Cardiff, when the conditions were ripe for this particular personal blunder. I was travelling alone with my daughter who was five at the time, to meet the rest of the family who were already in Wales. We'd flown all night from Vancouver. After listening to the carefully scripted, new age, useless, children's sleep-inducing meditation once, my daughter handed me her ipod and turned instead to the personal screen in front of her. She proceeded to watch the movie Bolt four times through before we landed at Gatwick airport. She fell asleep 20 minutes before we landed. Let's just say we were both very tired when we arrived.
We hopped our train at the airport and finally made it to our last stop before Wales, where we had about a 45 minute wait. Fortunately, we were travelling relatively light. But after the five year old fell asleep on my lap in one of those heavy deep sleeps that adds some mysterious physical weight to a child, that meant I was on my own to manoeuvre a suitcase on wheels, two small daypacks and the child herself slumped heavily on my hip and shoulder. There would be no waking her up.
As I sat on a bench waiting for our train, my first mistake in my weariness was not noticing we were waiting on a first class bench. Dear Reader I can assure you we were not travelling first class. Trying to stay awake so we didn't miss our damn train, I engaged in the people-watching that is ever rewarding at places of public transit. At this particular platform, I soon noticed a small group of people gathered who seemed to think themselves rather important. They just had an air about them.
I should back up. First I noticed the English bobbies. A couple of police officers appeared and circled around two women who, strangely, did not have any luggage. Why were the police here I wondered. Why did these women not have any luggage? One of them merely clutched a plastic bottle of water.
Feeling cranky I began to weave uncharitable stories about these women in my mind. They did pace about that platform as though they owned it. Who did they think they were? Royalty? They seemed to think they were going to be first on the train. First! Can you imagine? When I'd been waiting there before them with my sleeping child.
I noticed that one of the belt loops on the dress of the woman with the water bottle, had come undone and was hanging off at her side uselessly. (I want to state for the record that the belt loop looked as though it had popped off due personal negligence, not because of any weight gain.) That's when I realized this red headed woman looked familiar. I actually couldn't remember her name in my weariness, but I did place her. She was famous all right but that did not mean she was getting on that train before me. I needed to get on that train first. The sooner I got on that train, the sooner I got to Auntie Megan's house, a cup of tea and good long nap.
The train thundered into the station grandly as they do. I staggered to standing with my hundred plus pounds of child and baggage, and positioned myself on the platform near the famous woman and her entourage. I did not at this time bud in front of her mind you, I just stood closely. I silently let her know I knew what her game was and she was not going to win.
Passengers got off. That's when I made my move. I gave the famous woman a scowl that said, no nannies or handlers here sweetheart. I'm doing this on my own. Now move aside! I'm not exaggerating when I say the famous woman and her people did move aside. I must have looked half-crazed, determined to get on the train first with my heavy load. I would have moved aside too. (You know what train stations are like for crazy people.) I heaved myself, my daughter and our luggage up, onto the train step. One more step and we were on board. We were on the train! I half-heartedly glanced back to see my platform mates were getting ready to board, now that the coast was clear.
The problem that soon became apparent was that we were on the wrong car. Once you get up in the train, there are signs posted everywhere. THIS IS FIRST CLASS. IF YOU DON'T HAVE A FIRST CLASS TICKET YOU CAN'T SIT HERE. MOVE ALONG TO THE BACK OF THE TRAIN PLEASE. The signs may not say exactly that, but that is what I recall.
Gritting my teeth, my head and shoulders slumped under the physical and emotional weight of my baggage and my blunder, I slowly made the walk of shame to the economy cars. When we arrived in Cardiff, our happy family was glad to see us but they were more excited that Sarah, the Duchess of York, had gotten off the train before us. Had we seen her? Did we know she was on the same train? As we made our way past the TV and newspaper crews, all I could grumble was, "Yeah, I saw her."