Every time I travel to Newfoundland’s Gros Morne National Park, I visit the Broom Point Fishing Exhibit, a family cabin and fish store restored to the way the buildings were in the 1960s when the Mudge family lived there each year, April to August. What was once a family’s home and business is now a historical site, designed to preserve the memory of Newfoundlanders who made their living from the sea.
Over the years, I’ve come to know some of the interpreters who, with the beauty of lilt and brogue and language, are the spirit of the place. They are the reason I return, time after time, to Broom Point.
On my last visit, I met Louise Decker. As the cool Gulf of St. Lawrence winds rattled the windows in the cozy fishing cabin, and softwood snapped in the stove, the tiny, 4’ 11” Louise related her story.
I was born in 1954, the year after they started the road up the Northern Peninsula. Mom had 12 babies; 10 survived. I’m number five. We did our homework by candle or lamp aside the wood stove where t’was warm. Some nights Mom would put rocks in the h’oven to warm, then wrap ’em in socks to heat the bed. There was lots of us in that bed, but even so, in the morning you’d jump right into your socks so’s your feet wouldn’t freeze to the floor.
My dad worked in the woods, and he fished. Oh, a hard worker was he, tough as nails. Dad loved to take me out in ’is boat. He had a putt-putt and when the motor got running good, he’d put the cover on and sit me right up top where it was warm. He always said, “If I doy on the water, throw me over; if I doy in the woods bury me where I drops.”
Dad just passed on Valentine’s Day. Eighty-two years old… passed away in the woods, girl, in my brother’s arms. God luv ‘im. The woods was the love of his life.
I was 16 when I quit school to marry Phil Decker from Lobster Cove. Phil cut logs that winter and we hauled ’em by horse to Lobster Cove. We sawed those logs to build our house and an open, 16-foot flat bottom boat.
We built our own lobster traps, too… I knit the heads and Dad sawed the lath.
We worked hard that winter and then come spring, Phil tells me his friend’s gonna help him fish. I said, “What? You’ll pay him 30 per cent of our catch? Who helped you build the boat and traps?”
He said, “No, Louise. It’s too hard work, you’re too small. You won’t stand up to it.”
They didn’t want women fishin’ round there, you see. It was bad luck. I had to prove myself.
When we’d get together, the men’d be in one room talking about traps, the women’d be in the kitchen, talking popcorn stitches and scarves. I’d be in the doorway, wanting to listen to the men, but not wanting to offend the women.
We stayed in a little shack at Lobster Cove, one room with a bed, table, stove. We’d fish all day, then come off the water in late evening and work on our house. Took us five years to finish it. We worked like dogs, but was happy. You didn’t have time to think about anything but trying to make it.
I was 78 pounds when I married Phil. My hands were so tiny that when the mitts got wet they’d fall off, so sometimes I hauled the rope with my bare hands, getting salt in the calluses.
Now I got fisherwoman hands, they are.
(full article: 2300 words)
Excerpt © Deborah Carr, Saltscapes Magazine, July/August 2011
Bronze award for Best Profile, International Regional Magazine Awards, 2012
Honorable mention, Professional Writers’ Association of Canada Features Writing 2011