Is there a greater pastime than sitting with old friends, reminiscing about bygone days?
The “remember whens” and “mind the times” flow with stories of the great antics we all got up to, the trouble we all got into, and most fun of all, the things we got away with. My fondest memories are of boil ups on the beach and wading into the salty water, rocks denting the bottoms of my feet, as I scoured the area for crabs that might nip a toe as I dared face the biggest foe that existed in our lives, the broad Atlantic Ocean.
For Shawn Anthony, similar memories made their way into a memoir. Born on Fogo Island, his family moved to Scarborough in the 1980s and he was raised there by parents who chose to
move west, though, according to his book, Apse the Gate, always yearned for a place several thousand kilometers east. Reflecting that, the book is a collection of short stories from a boy whose feet were firmly planted in two worlds.
Anthony started the book the morning his Nan Anthony died. He got the call around 3 a.m. and there was a blizzard, so he went to a local diner and started writing. The dam breached, he eventually wound up with nine notebooks of handwritten yarns that document his family history and, as he calls it, “a place and time out of our reach now.”
“We would constantly talk about home but the reality of it is that we lived in Ontario. Home is a place that we don’t live in. Where is home and at what point do you commit yourself to a place?” he said. “There was so much pull, so much emotional gravity to N.L., but so much economical pull to Ontario.” He wonders if his father always had it in his head that they would someday return.
Most stories included in the book take place in the 1980s.
“It’s balanced between stories that happened on the island and stories that happened elsewhere in Canada to me and my cousins, and trying to come to terms with that dynamic,” he says.
The book title is deeply rooted in the dialect of the area. The dictionary of NL English says apse (or hapse) means: To fasten or latch (a door or gate); to button up or fasten (clothing). Apse the gate is a phrase his grandfather used constantly.
How does someone who spent most of their life in another place write of ours so well? For the answer to that he quotes Alistair McLeod.
“You have to go away before you understand where you were.”
I myself often say that there is no such thing as an ex-Newfoundlander. No matter where we travel we hold fast to that identity and always want to return.
Irish novelist George Moore said that “A man travels the world over in search of what he needs, and returns home to find it.”
For 25 years, I sought home in the people from the province who had also migrated to Ontario. I searched it out in the specialty stores that sold Purity products and created it in the Sunday dinners copied from those I’d complained about years before. While I embraced all that my new place offered, a piece of me always longed to see the ocean kiss the land and the sky perform a dramatic spectacle no earthly theater could ever replicate.
I’ve been back six years now, bashing myself like a rogue wave into our culture, making up for lost time. I am glad, that when I left, I didn’t apse the gate behind me.
Shawn’s book is available online at www.shawnivananthony.com as well as selected stores around the province.
A full interview with Shawn Anthony will air on the Bridges Radio program here.
Carolyn R. Parsons is an author who lives in central Newfoundland and Labrador. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org