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.
A long time ago, my dad took this photo of me at the tiller of our 26 foot sloop. I later mailed it to my best friend Vanessa. On the back of it I wrote: "September 1989. An exhilarating day at the helm. Having just shared the high seas with a pod of spirited porpoises, Lib cracks open a cool one, knowing if the Federation allowed alcohol on the bridge, Kirk would do the same. "
We did a lot of that Vanessa and I. Letter writing. Sending photos with funny captions. Speaking of ourselves in the third person. At that time we were living in different places. Me on the west coast. She in Kingston, Ontario. This was long before email, the internet and cheap long distance phone plans. We wrote letters people! Gorgeous, long, paper letters, full of descriptive passages about our lives.
This is all true and important to me (I still have all the letters Vanessa ever sent me), but mostly I am starting this blog because, see that Liz up there? See that witty, light hearted caption? That is the essence of me. I’m sure of it and I want her back. I think if I write about her, and to her, she will inhabit my life once again and with more frequency. Sure, she's still here, but she's bogged down in the minutia of life and that has got to stop. The bogged down, not the life. We know the life is going to stop at some point, that's why I have to get out of the minutia. Life is too short! I need to bring back the funny.
Recently, I was back in touch with a childhood friend's sister, I hadn't talked to in decades. The first thing she remembered about me is how I used to slow down 80s heavy metal tunes and sing them in a false opera voice while sporting the terrible pink drape material choir gowns we had to wear in high school. See? Wouldn't you want to hang out with me then? I was fun.
I actually I think the younger me was a whole lot smarter than I am now. There are a lot of people writing "what I would tell my younger self now that I am so old and wise" Screw that! If I was laughing more then. I knew more.
Bring it on. Bring back the funny. Also, don't get down on me if I can't produce the funny on a regular basis because I have got that covered. I am on the self-criticism. But that is not funny, so I will aim to avoid that. For now, as you were.