My grandfather, Captain William Crocker was a Master Mariner (a.k.a. Sea Captain) and a pillar of my childhood. He built an incredible career all on his own grit and skill, having come from very humble beginnings in Trout River, Newfoundland. If you ever find yourself in Trout River you can visit the house he was born in. It's the Jake Crocker House.
Gramps died when I was 13, but his presence in our family was always deeply felt. He was powerful and I adored him. It wasn't until much later that I learned of the dark rift between Gramps and my parents. (I wrote about that rift in a play about my mom's side of the family. Lord knows, there is enough material to write another one from the Crocker side, but I haven't found the angle yet). My parents hid the conflict well and for that I am thankful. (There is something to be said for temporarily shielding kids from unnecessary realities). I was free to love and worship him.
As a kid returning "home" to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia was like being part of a grand celebrity family. I remember one summer day inching along Main Street in Gramp's car because so many people were stopping the car to talk to him. When he'd proudly introduce me as his granddaughter, I'd feel famous too. (Gotta love small towns).
Many years later, as a present for graduating from university, my parents paid for sailing lessons for me. I took them out of Vancouver's Granville Island. I am here to tell you people that somewhere in a box I have a piece of paper that says I can captain a 35 foot sailing vessel. I would not put too much faith in that piece of paper, in the event that you are forced onto a sailing vessel with me. If a tsunami has placed the neighbourhood underwater for example. I might be able to conjure up some rusty skills, but I would check first to see if someone else could help you.
One day after a sailing lesson, I came home and told my dad I'd learned to tie a bowline and proceeded to recite the cutesy poem our instructor (from England, so already suspect in his mind) had given us to remember this important sailor's knot. Of course, I've forgotten the verse now, but it was something about the rabbit going around the tree and into a hole.
I should add here that my dad is no slouch in the sea/boating department. He didn't make a career of the sea, but it is his passion. Dad was at the tiller of Gramp's schooners off Canso, Nova Scotia while he was still losing his baby teeth. More than once he was admonished by his dad for taking their vessel off course because he'd been distracted by whales breaching in the distance. (Um, sorry, I'm only seven and those are big whales).
That day after the lesson, my dad stared at me for a few moments as only stern fathers can do. No expression. Silent. Then he slipped into the Newfoundland accent he still uses when talking about his dad (which has the teeniest pinch of Archie Bunker added to it) and said, "Jesus Christ Elizabeth, if your grandfather could hear you talking about rabbits jumping into holes while tying a bowline he'd ..." I can't remember what Dad was sure Gramps would do but use your imagination. It was funny.
And this is how it is in my family. I didn't feel insulted. But I was effectively chastised and tried very hard to never tie a bowline while thinking of bunnies at the same time again. I'm quite sure it improved my sailing skills, if not my memory.
In my opinion, it is the brilliance of Newfoundland speech to at once insult someone and unguard them at the same time with your wit so that they laugh along with you and maybe see your point of view. (Probably some kind of survival skill from living in isolation on an island with long winters. Funny people survive). Newfoundland has produced some of the funniest people on the planet (eg. Mary Walsh, Cathy Jones, Shaun Mujumder, etc. [am leaving out legions]). And this is why Rick Mercer's Rants are so effective.
The other thing that comment did was instantly transport me from the west to the east coast of Canada. I'd been feeling a bit adrift in the new world, even though I'd done most of my growing up there. With that one comment, Dad reminded me of my past and the long Atlantic line I come from on both sides.
While trying to avoid smashing into beautiful luxury yachts off Granville Island, it had not occurred to me until that moment, that others in my family, certainly my Dad and Gramps, had likely tied thousands of bowlines before. I wasn't the first Crocker by a long shot to tie a bowline.
When my husband visited Cornerbrook, Newfoundland a few years back, he told someone he was married to a Crocker. The woman's response laced with disgust: "Crockers. Those pirates". Memories are long on the east coast. I'm pretty sure Crockers haven't been making their living as pirates for a good 100 years. But, what do I know? I don't live there.
The memories are long, and the blood and humour run deep. For that I am grateful.