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  Goes Back, b'y    Tales and Yarns - The Christmas Seal

Author: Garry Tizard

I am fifty five years old as I am writing this story but I still remember the days of fear and dread, prior to, and the arrival of, the M.V. Christmas Seal. Our family was living in Carmanville in 1959 and that’s when I really became a little nervous of X ray machines, doctors, hospitals and so on. I was nine years old when this story took place. It was May, 1959. It didn’t matter what we children were doing.... catching conners off Eli Green’s wharf, stabbing flatfish with a home-made stabber (a nail driven into an old broom handle), catching tansies in tin cans hidden in the kelp, playing games such as King William was King George’s Son, rounders, cricket, tiddley, and so on, our days of fun and laughter were soon dashed away when we caught word that the Christmas Seal was coming. This meant of course chest X rays and needles.

I couldn’t remember what the needles were called that we used to get but Ross Collins told me they were scratches. This was merely a couple of small scratches across the inside of your arm or across your back. I don’t recall, or perhaps I never really knew, or wanted to know for that matter, what the procedure was to determine whether you had TB or not. I just wanted the examination to be over.

One of the biggest reasons I had for being so afraid of the needles and X rays was just what they were intended for in the first place, to determine whether you had TB. Tuberculosis had been a common affliction in Newfoundland in those days, and that of course, if you were diagnosed with it, meant a trip to the sanatorium in St. John’s. That was a scary word in itself and we kids had heard terrible rumours of people going there and never coming home. I was also scared that the X ray picture would show up some of the cigarette smoke that might have been in my lungs.

Some of us young scallywags used to pick up cigarette butts off the road, out of peoples’ car ash trays or wherever and whenever we could sneak them from somebody’s house. We even rolled up dried leaves, tea leaves, pencil sharpenings and whatever else would burn. I’ll tell you one thing right now, if you want a strong cigarette, just try those pencil sharpenings. It’s a wonder some of even survived to reach the ripe old age of twelve.

I was reminded by Fern Bown, as I was writing this story, that the Christmas Seal played very loud music as it was coming into the harbour. Once she mentioned that, I could vaguely remember hearing an Elvis Presley song on one or two occasions. I cannot remember the name of the song though.

On one particular occasion, while on board the Christmas Seal, I was asked how I felt and I blurted out that I had a pain in my side all the time. They suggested to Mother and Father that I probably had appendicitis and that I should see our local doctor. Well, I did go to the doctor and I was told I would have to go to the hospital in Gander and have my appendix removed. This was a bit frightening but if Pam Collins, a friend of mine, could do it, than I wasn’t going to be a scaredy cat and try to weasel out of it. Pam had undergone the operation a month or so before. Trying to get out of a situation like this wouldn’t have done much good anyway because my appendix had to come out and that’s all there was to it.

To go from Carmanville to Gander my father and mother and I went up to Gander Bay South in Father’s car. It was then up the Gander River with Aubrey Eastman in his Gander River canoe, to Glenwood, and from there to Gander, by taxi.

It was quite a trip up the river and when we stopped for dinner on the way up, I pleaded with everyone that the pain in my side was all better and that we could go back home. So much for not trying to weasel out of it. But no matter what I said no one would listen to me anyway. I think the fun of going up the Gander River made me forget, to some degree, about the pain in my side. Going through the two or three sets of rapids was kind of exciting and as it was still May month, the water was quite fast. The scenery was spectacular as well and there was still a bit of snow on the higher hills along the river.

After more than a week in the Gander Hospital it was time to go home. Mrs. Wilhelmina Collins was going back to Carmanville on the same day as mother and I were so theyshared the cost of the float plane which would fly us home. This was almost too exciting for a nine year old boy. A taxi took us from the hospital out to Deadman’s Pond, where the plane was, and in a matter of minutes we were airborne. The trip to Carmanville didn’t take very long and we soon landed in the harbour out in front of Woolfrey’s general store and docked at their wharf.

This was an experience, the hospital ordeal not the plane ride, I have always blamed on the Christmas Seal. But regardless of all the fear and dread the Christmas Seal had instilled in our young hearts, I’m sure it did an outstanding service to the outports along the shores of Newfoundland.

I have been making ships in bottles for many years now and I have done two Christmas Seals. I have about five or six more in the shipyards again, almost ready, for any special friends who might happen to cross my path. My “ships in bottles” book that I am writing is called Bottled Memories. I have also “bottled” some of my favourite coastal boats and the Newfoundland/Nova Scotia ferries. Each one is a very special memory in itself

 


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