Watching from a distance.
I left Port aux Basques for work in September of 1996. I thought I could make it in the busy teaching world in St. John’s before I landed in Clarenville. I still made it back the following summer to work on the boats, before I left again in the fall of 1997 for the big city of Bay Roberts. It was not until October of 1998 that I really left and moved to the village of Utopia, Ontario. (My computer does not have enough memory to allow me to discuss the irony and hypocrisy of such a name on that place.)
For the last 24 years, I have maintained casual contact with my home town. Occasionally, I get a note from or send a note to someone who I know from days gone by. My Mom often shares the stories she hears with me. Dad is always running into someone from home down at the Costco. I have even made it to a couple of the Come Home Years.
So when Hurricane Fiona brought her mighty forces to Newfoundland, I found myself watching the news in a way I have not since 9/11. I watched in amazement at the destructive abilities of nature. I watched, trying to piece together the jigsaw of pictures I was seeing with the fading memories I have of the town. I watched in disbelief that such a thing could happen. Then, I just watched.
Many of my Mainland friends reached out to me over that weekend and asked if everything was okay. I was always proud to let people know I was from Port aux Basques and I bragged about the place all the time. My initial thought was that my family had left nearly 9 years ago. Personally, I had not been home since the summer of 2019. But, my heart let me know that it is still home.
Over the last couple of weeks, I have watched as Mayor Brian Button made live post after live post about what was needed and what the residents should be expecting. The last time I had seen him, he was making fun of me for allegedly falling asleep at an Iron Maiden concert and then again at a Blue Jays game. He has handled this situation like a true leader. His messages were on point and well directed. He was not trying to win popularity or raise funds, he was being helpful and informative. He looks tired but he won’t quit.
Then, I reached out to Scott Strickland after he posted several pictures from his back yard area. Scott has always been one of the most level headed guys I know. He would never get too high or too low during events. His praise and his concerns were always calculated. He simply stated, “It is worse than it looks.” Of course, like most Newfoundlanders, it did not take 48 hours before Scott had found his sense of humour. He was posting pictures of odd things he had found or other things that had washed up.
I read as Todd Anderson, a guy best described as a taller version of Billy Crystal, had to move his parents from their home. You cannot hide sadness like that. Or the cruel reality of a post reading, “Anyone have an apartment for 2 seniors?” Unfortunately, Todd has been far from alone. It has been a heartbreaking reality for me that genuinely positive people have been devastated by Fiona. I just hope that they are taken care of.
The most telling moment for me was watching the Mundens. Growing up, Rick Munden was one of the toughest personalities I knew. Honestly, I did not think that anything could scare him. His wife, Patty, was one of the sweetest moms anyone could encounter. Our friend group would spend hours playing basketball and we would choose our court based on the least windy area of town. Frequently, it was the parking lot next to Rick and Patty`s home. Patty was always there to offer whatever you needed, Rick was there for the most colourful of commentary and his mighty laugh.
Days after Fiona, Cory was interviewed by CTV News about the devastation Fiona had caused to his parents home. He also eloquently discussed the anxiety to the residents of Port aux Basques caused by the unknown next steps and the lack of support from various insurance agencies. The thought of Rick Munden being anxious was as foreign to me as Superman taking the bus.
But the bounce back and optimistic spirit of the Mundens is a tough nut to crack. I give the last words to my old friend. The foundations may have been rocked, but the spirit will live on and shine again.