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.