Newfoundland 1959

Jack’s dad sailing back to shore at Cox’s Cove (Photo provided)

My mother loved Newfoundland dogs, almost as much as she loved her kids. She got her first Newfie when she was twelve, which started a 60-year love affair with the breed. It began as an avocation and ended up paying for the college education for us kids, and, when my father died at the age of 50, it provided her with a career as a dog judge.

She couldn’t seriously love Newfoundland dogs without making a pilgrimage to Newfoundland. My parents made two. One to the rocky, wind-blown island in 1954 and a second in 1959. Three of the five Drury children got to go on the second trip, including 10-year-old me.

The month-long trip was epic. My mother drove our brand-new pea-green Ford station wagon, towing one of the first pop-up campers. My two older sisters and I were joined by my mom’s sister and two of her three cousins in their brand-new beige Ford station wagon. We traveled as a caravan heading for Halifax, Nova Scotia and eventually to Sydney, where we took the ferry to Port aux Basques, Newfoundland. Our fathers joined us in Halifax for two weeks until they had to head back to work.

We pulled into Halifax excited to see our dads, but even more excited to see a parade featuring 33-year-old Queen Elizabeth and her husband Prince Phillip. There was pomp and circumstance befitting a queen with marching bagpipe players, local dignitaries and high school bands. I marveled at it all, particularly when the Queen, standing in a convertible Cadillac, came passing by.

Two days later we got on the ferry for the overnight trip to Newfoundland. I bunked with my cousin Howard, called Howdy by family and friends. How are you going to call him Howard when the most popular TV show of the era was the Howdy Doody Show?

We awoke early and went out on the deck, where I learned something that has plagued me all my life. I have my father’s ocean travel genes, not my mother’s. My mother grew up racing her small sailboat off the shores of Cape Cod, while my father grew up exploring the zinc and silver mines of Mexico. She got her sea legs, and he didn’t. As we approached the Newfoundland coast there I was, cold sweats, head spinning, the world revolving around me, and doing all I could not to throw up what little breakfast I’d had.

My symptoms disappeared as we drove off the ferry onto Trans-Canada Highway 1, a beautiful newly paved highway, at least for the first two miles. After that it was gravel for the next three weeks. We worked our way up the coast through small fishing communities until we decided to spend a night at Cox’s Cove, population 700.

When we pulled into Cox’s Cove, I felt like Stanley finding Livingstone in Africa. Newfoundland, in 1959 was primitive. Indoor plumbing, television and even electricity were a luxury throughout much of the province. For example, our Polaroid camera was a big hit. Instant photos seemed like magic. The locals welcomed us warmly, encouraged us to camp near the school and even offered us the keys to the school’s bathroom facilities — a three-hole outhouse.

The next morning, we went down to the docks and my dad convinced a local cod fisherman to take us for a ride out into the Bay of Islands, an extensive fjord-like series of inlets offshore of the village. The bay was twelve miles across at its mouth with a series of 16-mile-deep arms.

The boat was a typical cod-fishing boat of the era. Dory like, it was 20 feet long with a two-cycle engine called a “make-and-break” (because of how it started) or a “one-lunger” (because of its single cylinder) and was recognized by its ‘putt … putt … bang’ sound as it chugged through the water. We putt-putted out into the middle of the bay and suddenly the engine went bang and died. Dead, kaput, nada! With no oars, no means of communication, and no life preservers, my father and uncle saved the day because of a small tarp they brought. They set sail with it, and we boated back safely.

My parents knew the Lieutenant (pronounced leftenant) Governor of Newfoundland because he and his wife raised, you guessed it, Newfoundland dogs, so we were invited to have refreshments with them. It was such a very formal affair, we had to rush out and buy sport coats and ties for the boys and white gloves for the girls.

We were told a story by the lieutenant governor, illustrating Prince Philip’s quirky humor, that became part of Drury storytelling for years.

The Queen and Prince Phillip had recently visited the Lieutenant Governor and his wife and when the time came for an official photo, the lieutenant governor said to the queen and prince, “In Canada, when we have our photo taken, we say cheese.” To which the prince responded, “Well, I always just say b****.” The queen indignantly said, “Oh Phillip, don’t!”

You can guess what Drurys say when their photo is taken.

The fathers soon flew home but not before they arranged for the rest of us to travel back via a Norwegian sealing boat. Friends of my parents living outside of St. Johns, who just happened to raise Newfies, (do you see a pattern here?) owned a fish-packing plant. So, we and a boatload of Mrs. Paul’s Fish Sticks would travel by sealing boat to Gloucester, Massachusetts. Our cars and camper were hoisted onto the well deck and securely strapped down. At least we hoped they were secure, but just for extra precaution our dads increased the insurance.

There were only two problems. One: we had never lived on a Norwegian diet (think fish, fish and more fish). And two: we didn’t speak Norwegian. But even worse, none of the crew spoke English.

It was a four-day journey and, not surprisingly, I was seasick the entire time. But compared to my cousin Howdy, I had it good. We slept in the forward part of the ship and used the head (bathroom) there. We were allowed to cross the open deck only while being escorted since they didn’t want to take any chances with us sliding overboard and becoming shark bait.

We spent our days on the bridge under the watchful eye of the Captain and First Mate. We watched the open ocean, played cards and read. The captain and his sidekick were friendly but, because of the language barrier, the conversation was limited, to say the least.

On the afternoon of day three Howdy needed to use the head. Through suggestive hand gestures and faux Norwegian, that my aunt was just sure the first mate would understand, my aunt explained my cousin’s need to be escorted to the head. The first mate said, “Ja, Ja, I understand,” and off they went through the narrow hatchway.

Thirty minutes later they hadn’t returned. I didn’t see them walk across the well deck and I couldn’t figure out why. How long does it take to go to the bathroom? Finally, after forty minutes Howdy came back through the hatchway, eyes wide open, tears streaming down his face, walking with a curious knock-kneed two step.

He walked over to his mother and looked at her with a grimace.

His mom said, “What took you so long?”

Howdy said, “I got a tour of the ship.”

“A tour of the ship?” she said. “What’d you see?”

“The engine room, the kitchen, the hole where they keep the frozen fish — everything but the head!”

“How’d you like it?”

“How’d I like it? How do you think I liked it?” He said. “I hated it.”

“Why?” she said.

“Because,” he said, “I still have to pee!”


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper? *

Starting at $4.75/week.

Subscribe Today