(An irresistible ‘prompt’ from Mattie’s Pillow)
I was around two years old when my father left for Newfoundland. He bought a small, isolated cabin located deep in a remote inlet on the south coast of the island, and planned to spend the winter there working on a book.
He said he would call as soon as he got settled and made his first trip for supplies to the nearby fishing village. The village was only about ten miles away by water, but it was a thirty mile trek overland. And since all he had was a rowboat, even the trip by water would take at least four to five hours, each way.
Knowing this, my mother wasn’t surprised that he didn’t call right away. But after a month had gone by without hearing from him she started to get pretty worried. Finally, after six weeks of silence she decided to call the closest RCMP station, which was about fifty miles up the coast from where his cabin was located. They told her that they would make an attempt to check on him, but it would be at least a few days due to existing weather conditions.
It was about a week later when they called back. The officer they sent out was able to find the cabin, but didn’t see any sign of my father or his boat. It was assumed that he was either out fishing, or had gone to the nearest village for supplies. Otherwise he said everything appeared to be normal, and in good order. He said that he had left a note requesting my father contact us, or the RCMP, as soon as he could. Beyond that there really wasn’t anything else they could do.
Another month went by without hearing anything. By that time my mother was sure that something must be wrong. She contacted the RCMP again, and asked them to please take a second look.They agreed, although somewhat reluctantly, and said that they would have the officer stop by the cabin the next time he was in that area.
It was about two weeks later when she heard back from them. It was the officer who had made the search that called. He told her everything was exactly as it had been before. Again, there was no sign of my father, or his boat. He also said that the note was still where he had left it. And there was no indication it had been opened or read.
He went on to say that, given the circumstances, there was a good possibility that my father may have had a boating accident. He noted that the waters in that area were quite treacherous at that time of year. Also that fog was a big problem, as it would often roll in quite suddenly, reduce visibility to near zero, and could stay that way for several days. Anyone in a small boat could easily lose their sense of direction, and not be aware that wind and currents may be gradually drawing them out to sea. He said that it was a fairly common experience along that stretch of coast, and had claimed many lives over the years, including seasoned fishermen.
He ended by saying that he would advise people in the area to keep an eye out for my father’s boat, which could possibly wash ashore. That did happen occasionally, he said.
But apparently it didn’t this time. Because as far as we knew, neither my father nor his boat were seen again.
About a year ago, on the thirtieth anniversary of my father’s disappearance, I decided to take a trip to Newfoundland and see if I could find that inlet, and my father’s cabin…which, so far as we knew, still belonged to the family. But getting there was no easy matter.
At the time I was living in Taos, New Mexico. So I had to drive all the way to Albuquerque to get on a plane. Then, after changing planes in Georgia, and New York, I finally landed in Bangor, Maine some 12 hours later. I spent the night there, then rented a car in the morning and drove almost 600 miles to the tip of Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. There I stayed overnight, then traveled down to North Sidney and took the early morning ferry across 90 miles of water to Port aux Basques, Newfoundland.
Yes, Newfoundland. I can’t begin to tell you how uneasy even the mention of that name made me feel. And yet there I was. Roughly 150 miles west of where my father’s cabin was located…but three times as far (450 miles) by road. Clearly, I was going to take the road. But even then, I’d have to cover the last 10 miles, from the fishing village to his cabin, by boat. Thankfully it was summer, and weather would not be an issue. Or so I hoped.
It was early evening by the time I reached Hermitage, which was the fishing village closest to my father’s cabin. I stopped at the only gas station and asked if there was a motel where I could stay. I was told that the closest was about 50 miles away, but that I was welcome to use their parking lot (and bathroom) if I wanted to spend the night there. I was really tired from driving, and the temperature was very mild, so I decided to take their offer. Fortunately there was a small cafe open across the street, so I parked my car and went there to get something to eat…before curling up for the night in my back seat.
The next morning I returned to the cafe for breakfast, and to ask where I could hire someone with a boat. I was told to go down the hill to the cove where the fishing boats were tied up. Someone, they were sure, would be willing to give me a ride.
An Unlikely Place
When I got there, the first person I saw was a nice looking, elderly man who was working on a fishing net that was rolled out on the dock, next to his boat. He looked up as I approached, smiled, and asked if I needed something. I told him I was looking for someone who could take me to a spot about ten miles up into Hermitage Bay. I’d come to the right place, he said, as he would be heading in that direction just as soon as he’d finished fixing the net.
The only hitch was that he probably wouldn’t be returning until late afternoon. He was going about 15 miles up the bay to set his nets, but said he could drop me off, and then pick me up about three hours later on his way back, if that was alright. I asked him what the charge would be. But he just shook his head. “No charge. It will be a pleasure to have a little company for a change.”
It was then that I asked him if he knew of the small cove with the cabin I was looking for…if it still existed. He gave me kind of a strange look, and asked why I was interested in that particular place. I told him that it belonged to my father many years ago, and that I was curious to see where it was, and what this area was like. He nodded, and then asked how long it had been since my father was here last. I told him it was almost exactly thirty years ago.
He looked at me for a moment, and then started laughing. “My god,” he said. “It looks like your mother wasn’t any straighter with you back then than she was with me.” Then he stopped laughing, and looked away toward the water. “You’re right about the thirty years part,” he said. “That’s how long I’ve been here. The whole time not knowing why she left, or where she went.”
Then he turned, walked over and put his arms around me, and began to cry. It was clear in that moment that everything my mother had told me over the years about his ‘disappearance’ had been a lie. The question was why?
The answer unfolded as we traveled those ten ‘treacherous’ miles into the past…to see my father’s long-ago cabin in a faraway place called new found land.
And so the father I lost those many years ago was found in a most unlikely, but unusually likable place.