In 1951 my father, after a decade long career as a Newfoundland Ranger and a few years as a business owner, began work with the provincial public service as a Welfare Officer. His first posting was Marystown on the south coast of Newfoundland. The new post-Confederation government was expanding its welfare/social services network to district offices throughout the province. My father was among a number of officers hired at that time. At that point he and my mother had a growing family of five children. The move to Marystown was a new adventure for a couple who had grown up in the more suburban environs of St. John’s. So it was that in the fall of 1951 my father traveled to Marystown in advance of the family to set up the Welfare office and find housing for his family.
In early December my mother, with five children in tow, departed St. John’s by train. My father would meet the family at the Goobies station some 100 miles from St. John’s. There we would travel another 100 miles by road to Marystown. The vagaries of Newfoundland weather soon put an end to that plan since, as soon as my mother landed on the platform at the train station, she was to discover that my father had not made it to Goobies. In fact, he had to retreat to Marystown because an early winter storm blocked the road, preventing him from meeting the family. For a brief moment my mother felt very much adrift, standing with her five children while the winter storm was setting in around her. With her three younger sons, infant daughter, and my eldest brother as her able assistant, my mother quickly realized that her best-laid plans were doomed. A local resident quickly came to her rescue and directed my mother to her family’s boarding house where we all took refuge for the night. The following day, my mother decided to take the train back to St. John’s where family support was available. A new travel itinerary would have to be arranged.
As the Christmas season was approaching, there was a natural urgency to have the family together. It was not long before we set out again by train from St. John’s. This time we would take the branch rail line to Argentia and catch the coastal boat service to Marystown. The coastal marine service of passenger/freight boats was a staple of Newfoundland and Labrador’s transportation system. The connection with the boat at Argentia was successful and all boarded the S.S. Bar Haven which was a fairly new addition to the coastal fleet. It was a lively time aboard the boat with many people returning home for the rapidly approaching holidays. Unlike the first attempt, the weather cooperated and our family settled into bunks and the revelry of a coastal boat ride. My mother probably did not quite see it all that way as the responsibility was heavy, managing and keeping track of her young and active brood. Seasickness did not completely escape some of us but the capable vessel proceeded uneventfully.
On the evening of December 24, 1951 the Bar Haven slowly moved towards the government wharf in Marystown. It was generally a pleasant evening. As the lights of the boat penetrated the night, the family’s husband and father could be seen moving about the wharf with anticipation. Trunks, suitcases and miscellaneous freight were unloaded by disembarking passengers. With the family safely on the wharf, all began the walk over a steep incline and crossed a meadow to the family’s new home. Expectations were modest but on arrival our father had made our new home warm, inviting and in keeping with the season – Christmas tree and all.
As things were unpacked and arranged, the Christmas turkey couldn’t be found. Given the times and this occasion especially, its loss would be greatly felt. In the frenzy of the walk to our new home, our oldest brother, responsible for its safekeeping, managed to lose the turkey. With a quick turn of step, father was out the door and quickly retrieved the turkey with it being none the worse for wear.
Christmas morning brought the usual assortment of gifts and surprises in spite of a journey that was unexpectedly extended and slightly harrowing. A light snow was on the ground. How could the young family members not expect that the mystery and wonder of the season would not deliver?
As the years pass our family recalls with delight this most special of Christmas memories.