Sunday, June 6, 1999
Our first stop in New Brunswick was St. Andrews though our guidebooks warned it was poky. And it was poky, especially since their main street was currently blowing dirt. It was being repiped and repaved.
“We sweep it down, and hose it down, and try and wash away the dust,” a hotelkeeper told us, thoughtfully pointing a stream of water past our feet. “But nothing helps.”
“When’ll it be finished?” I asked.
“Hell, they just started. Could take all summer.”
It seems they had to wait for the ground to thaw first.
Since St. Andrews was largely a long block facing a small harbor, I figured we’d walk the dog and be out of there in twenty minutes. Almost three hours later, we finally tugged ourselves free. In between, Tom bought a strange pair of misty photos, and I got yet another pair of gift earrings—my friends were really doing well on this trip. Looking at a tiny sculpture, I told the artist/gallery owner, “If that were a pin, I’d buy it.”
“It is a pin,” she smiled, picking the small silver relief off its stand. “I love seeing how long it takes people to figure that out.”
Clearly, I’d flunked. I hung my head.
“And I hate jewelry that’s stored away all the time,” she continued. “Besides, it doesn’t encourage people to buy more.”
I asked the pin’s price, since this was the place Tom had gotten a good deal on the photos. Though when the woman told me, I knew none of my friends would ever see it as a present.
“It’s hard guessing someone else’s taste,” I begged off.
The woman grinned, then leaned down to rub the dog. She’d happily welcomed it in the shop.
“What if it breaks something?” I’d hesitated.
“She won’t. I love border collies. Even before Babe.”
Babe, I recalled, was a pig. Though I guess there was a dog in there too.
The woman’s name was Colleen Lynch. Originally an American, she’d owned the gallery for almost four years. But she’d been in Canada far longer.
“I have dual citizenship. I was born in Saratoga Springs, but lived in Newfoundland for twenty-seven years.”
“That must’ve been neat.”
“It was. But, finally, it was too far away.”
“Is that why you moved?”
“No. The cod fishing bottomed out.” She frowned for a moment, then shrugged. “The usual mismanagement.”
Was that another jab at the Canadian government? For supposedly non-judgmental people, they sure had a lot of gripes.
“The economy’s rebuilding now,” she added, brightly. “I just don’t have ten years to wait—I’m already fifty-seven.”
She didn’t look it. I would have guessed forty at most and told her so. She invited me to stay.
“You miss Newfoundland?” I asked instead.
“Some—though the weather was terrible. Summer, winter. It always rained.”
“I didn’t know that.”
“My feet were constantly wet. It’s a wonder to be here in shorts and a T-shirt today—and it’s only June!”
I laughed. “Then may you have twenty good years here.”
“Oh, no! Eight at the most. Then I’m going to retire—permanently. Travel, full-time. That’s what life’s for.”
She envied our trip, and quickly started swapping us stories from her own journeys. Then she showed us her latest sculpture: a small metal nest, hummingbird size, sitting on a two-toned plexi box—black and clear. The nest rested in a slight hollow. Inside, on a bed of feathers, were three marble-sized eggs. A pair of silver bones was mounted nearby.
“Auk’s,” she explained. “Of course, it’s extinct so I had to cast them. And the ‘eggs’ are really geodes, which may have hidden fossils inside. But you won’t know unless you break them. I love conundrums.”
Even the feathers meant something. They were from a friend’s cockatoo.
“It was called Huey for five years, then began laying eggs. Naturally, they’re unfertilized. Huey being an only child.”
Colleen didn’t want to sell the piece, and I doubted I could afford it, so didn’t ask what it cost. “I have to price it anyway,” she told me, sadly. “I’m mailing it off tomorrow, to an art show in Idaho.”
It turned out even the simple earrings I’d bought had significance.
“They’re beach-scavenged materials,” she told me. “Discarded clay pipe stems. When they begin to wear out, the fishermen break off an inch-or-so, then go right on smoking. The ocean washes the stems clean, and I wind them in copper wire.”
It was hard to leave her, though she laughed when we finally did. “I’ll catch up with you soon enough,” she promised. I certainly hoped so.
Oddly, another woman had told me something similar, three days earlier. In Ogdensberg, making conversation as I paid our motel bill, I’d asked the owner, “How long have you lived here?”
“Fifteen years—this time,” she’d also laughed. “But my husband and I were raised here, then left for college.”
They’d come back in their mid-forties after corporate careers in Chicago.
“My husband took an easier job, with the county. And we bought the house next door.” She pointed through a side window of the lobby, at a home I hadn’t noticed. “It was in terrible shape then. We spent a year gutting and rebuilding it.”
It looked great now.
“After we’d finally settled in, the woman who owned this motel came to us with an offer.”
“Were you looking to buy?”
“Are you kidding? I just wanted to relax. When my husband told me about the offer, I thought he was joking. I mean, the place was really run down. It only had twelve units then—we have forty-two now—and we’ve redone everything. But the woman and her ex-husband had owned the place for years. And though she’d kept it after their divorce, as small as it was, it was too much for her.”
“What made her think you’d want it?”
“Well, she saw what we’d done with the house. And she knew how much work the motel really needed. I mean, the sign didn’t even light half the time. And it was an old-fashioned Mexican, taking a siesta.”
“Not exactly correct…”
“It was the first thing to go. Then we simply scrubbed the place, and rented rooms to anyone who’d take them. That lasted five years, but business kept growing, and we were able to stay open winters, buy more land. First, the piece down to the river—for tennis courts and the pool. The latest section’s zoned residential. So eventually, we’ll build ourselves a new house there, turn our present one into an inn.”
“We work twenty-four hours a day, and couldn’t be happier. Though we do have to take our vacations in shifts. I just got back from Illinois, from visiting our new granddaughter. As I got home, my husband got on the train. No one could believe he was going, with all the spring repair work. But if we don’t take time now, we never will.”
“Traveling’s fun,” I had to admit.
“It’s one of my fantasies. Just running off with my husband.”
Maybe—in a few more years—we’ll all bump into Colleen.