Plentiful enough and easily taken was, historically, the way to define a successful fisherman’s work day. The duration would depend on how quickly cod could be located, caught, and cured. A quicker day meant joining family at the dinner table. In today’s world people go off to make a living, and turning a profit seems to matter more than what may be missed out on along the way.
A family with one parent working from a distance, away from loved ones, has become somewhat trendy in the working world. Recently, becoming reacquainted with life ‘around the bay’ in Newfoundland has revealed to me that every other person has someone or knows someone who is working away. Of course this was not news to me, coming from working in the North, but I didn’t realize how many young families like mine are in the same boat.
Until this past summer, I spent a decade of my life working in the remote Arctic. It was not until I started growing my own family that the urge to come home became unbearable. My arrival with our three children this past July, with the intent to reintegrate into society south of the treeline, was simultaneously nerve-wrecking and filled with relief. After a fulfilling holiday, we settled into our new home out in the sticks. Now, my husband travels back and forth from Nunavut for work, not an uncommon employment scenario these days, and somehow it feels so unusual.
Our new home is located in Hopeall, Trinity Bay, and is set in an intoxicatingly beautiful place which includes the salty sea breezes, expanses of trees and vegetation, sideways rain, misty mornings and vibrant sunsets. All of which have legitimized our decision to find our way back to the island. What grows out of the rock here still amazes me and is so often reflected in the disposition of all who are a part of it. People with gumption and clout live here, and seem to carry each other through what could otherwise be intolerable seclusion in these tiny towns.
The biggest bonus of being home is obviously having family and friends a stone’s throw away. When you get used to distance and to being without a support network, the ability to adapt intuitively and not to fixate on what is missing is a vital necessity. People simply make do because they must, and usually turn out no worse for wear. It is not until arriving home with those who share a common history that a reawakening occurs. It’s an interesting collision of the old self meeting a changed self. Often, it is surprising to find life has carried on and taken people away, which radically alters the place you’re returning to. People come home to be closer to everyone and yet find themselves running to the periphery, because being apart is what has become strangely familiar.
You can take the boy out of the bay but not….
For those who leave Newfoundland, there seems to be a desire to return at some point, but it is individualized by circumstance. Connections of the heart may remain intact but unless people have parents or grandparents still living in the remote communities, there sometimes is no more reason to come back. Others might choose to build a new life elsewhere but still find themselves seeking out ‘Newfie’ stores on the mainland or awaiting a care package with homemade jams, knit goods, and music for the rest of their time away. Living away with home in the rear view mirror.
I’ve always joked that the conglomerate of us Newfoundlanders, who all meet up in random places working away, are economic refugees. In having succumbed to this lame title, it does ultimately come down to the reality of people not being able to find job security or losing faith in employment opportunities down here. Many are working away, simply saving and waiting for a window to return. There is an undeniable spell this island casts upon people, whether you are native to the island or not. Even if you never decide to come back, Newfoundland remains ingrained in those who have landed their feet here or have roots in the rock. People either find their fate or fortune away, but what often returns with them is change.
Those who have chosen not to leave their hometowns are inspirational in that there is a richness in their lives, which may be monetary but is also found in simple daily rituals: drying fish, hanging out clothes, or making bread and butter pickles from the vegetables grown in the garden. In fact, it seems these are the very people that others who come visiting really want to meet. People who have not left and as a result know the land, practice traditions, share folklore, and often can cook up a mean scoff. These individuals exemplify their hometowns in a way that makes them legends: so much so that whole summer festivals are organized in their honour.
Free will or self induced plight?
The people who never attempt to leave and yet still manage to make ends meet somehow make the idea that we need to go away to survive debatable. The long distance situation I’m living in has become a popular one, but why? We can blame finance, beautiful things, and places for having an undeniable control over us, but this does not fully explain our decisions.
More families than not share the same fate in many areas of the island, especially in the rural towns. In order to maintain a certain lifestyle in such lovely or faraway locations, families must separate temporarily. Usually men will work away to ensure a certain quality of life and level of personal security. This makes for an interesting home dynamic during the period: texting, video conferencing, and unlimited phone packages. I’m pretty sure there are more than a few parents out there who are learning about their family or seeing many of their children’s firsts thanks only to Facebook. It seems sad, but is a choice after all.
Is it really necessary to leave Newfoundland for employment? People will tear their hearts out over having to go away to build and pay off a nice house, eliminate debt, or be able to have the comforts that money affords them: all at the sacrifice of time with those who often matter most. We are so easily convinced that leaving loved ones is natural and a part of the growing up process, but at what juncture do we admit that the whole point of creating a family is to be one, together. We’ve bought in to the idea that loving at a distance is the norm, as if time is actually on our side. After just losing my grandmother to a tragic car accident last week, only a couple short hours after leaving her on the Trans Canada highway, ‘leaving’ has taken on a new meaning.
Today’s modern family dynamic is comparable to the time of our grandparents, when many of our grandfathers were not even expected to be present for the raising of their children. Rather, men were often required to go where the work was, whether it be into the woods for weeks on end, out on the sea or ice, or farther abroad – leaving the family for the wife to raise up.
Families – especially in the smaller towns – are not so different today. Whether it’s commuting to Long Harbour, out on the ships, in the military, working in a mining camp or employment in another province or territory, everyone’s goal is ultimately to make more money. But at what cost and for what gain? It makes you wonder.
It seems odd that the choice I made to live away in a remote Arctic community was what made it possible for me now to be able to live in a tranquil haven in rural Newfoundland. One little place enabled my relocation to another and much to my surprise, I’m finally home and still wishing for my family to be in one place. But such is the nature of the working beast, it seems.