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Going Home For Christmas
by Sr. Mary Alphonsus Noonan

It was Christmas Eve. The place? Baccalieu, a small
island in Conception Bay, Newfoundland, several nautical
miles from my home-town, Bay-de-Verde. On the island,
living three miles apart, were two families: the Ryans, who
manned the light at the highest peak of the northern end,
and the Blundons, a family from Bay-de-Verde,who controlled
the fog alarm at the lowest point of the western part.

The Ryan's home, or the lighthouse, was my abode. There I
was the teacher of their small family, one girl and three boys.
Like teachers everywhere, I was hoping and praying to get home
for Christmas.

The days previous had been stormy and all hope of getting off
the island was gradually disappearing, but this morning, Christmas
Eve, brought with it new hope in the form of a calmness, which,
however, was not to last very long. Besides, a boat coming
from Bay-de-Verde to the fog alarm had been sighted. In a
matter of minutes I, accompanied by the three boys, was
on my way to the fog alarm.

As we trudged along in single file over the rocky, stumpy path
that led to our destination, a very light snow was falling. As
we proceeded up hill and down dale, we notice that the snow was
gradually getting to be a little thicker still. A storm was
brewing. As we finally came in sight of the fog alarm, Jim, who was
in the lead, turned to us and said, "Do you see what I see?"
It was only then that I looked in the direction of the ocean. What
I saw dampened my enthusiasm for a Christmas with my family.
"Surely it could not be," I thought. There was Ol's (Oliver) boat on
its way back. Ol, evidently, had taken advantage of the calm interlude
to visit his brother, Bill, and the family with fresh supplies
and Christmas gifts, and was heading back before the storm broke.
Nobody said a word. We continued on to the house. By this time we
were like four snowmen.

As always we received a warm welcome. There was no need to tell
why we had come; my snow-covered bag told the story. "Take off
your coats and have a cup of tea," was Florrie's way of
welcoming us. Then, as Bill related some of the local news he
had heard, the boys took it all in but I hardly heard a word.
My only thought was, "There goes my last chance to get home for
Christmas." I brightened with the thought, "I'll go back to the
lighthouse." It seemed, however, that everyone had conspired against
me. Florrie and Bill, with one voice, assured me, "You cannot
go over the island in this storm." But that was Florrie and Bill.
Surely, the boys, my own pupils wouldn't let me down. But all
three were adamant. "We cannot be responsible for taking you out
in this weather," they chimed in. So off they went. I watched
them go.

Christmas Eve, or what was left of it, had taken on the festive
air that always seems to belong to it, and even thought for me
it had been touched by disappointment, the spirit of Christmas
was with us. We did the usual things that might be done in any
Newfoundland home. We prepared Christmas dinner, decorated the
Christmas tree, sang Christmas carols, wrapped gifts; and our joy
knew no bounds.

Before we began though, Florrie wanted to make sure that I felt at
home. When the boys left for the lighthouse, she just sat and
lingered with me over a second cup of tea. That gave me a chance
to get over my disappointment and her and opportunity to let me
know that I was not only wanted but needed. "What a joy it is," she
assured me, "to have a visitor with the family for Christmas! It
will surely make this lovely season one to be remembered." The
expressions of Bill and the children endorsed what she said.

The family was young. The oldest boy, Fred, was about ten, Duncan
eight, Minnie, probably five and Billy ten months. Over and
over again they would gather around me and clamour for a story.
Of course they knew the story of the Christ Child because
Bible reading was a part of their living. Nevertheless, everyone
wanted to hear it again and again. How apt seemed the short
Scriptural passage "...a little child shall lead them". (Is. 11:6).
It was Minnie who moved us to pray as a group. She was the
proud possessor of a rosary given to her earlier while attending
classes at the lighthouse when she and her mother had been
storm-bound there for a few days. When Minnie produced her
rosary, we all knelt and prayed the third joyful mystery, the
birth of Christ in a stable at Bethlehem.

Then there was the enjoyment that came from outside. We were
fortunate to have a battery radio and the programs on Christmas
Eve were always special. It gave us a chance to hear some of
Newfoundland's best singers.

Bedtime came too early that night, but each one made sure
that his or her stocking was hanging by the mantel. Refreshments
were served for Santa so that he would feel welcome
when he got there.

What excitement the morning brought! It was thrilling to watch
each one unwrap his toys, find out how they worked, and show
everybody Santa's gifts, as a glow of happiness beamed on
their young faces. We all joined in the fun and became children
again. Santa had found out that I was there too, which
was in itself an indication that I had become a part of
the family.

The era about which I write was the time when people,
at least where I lived, really celebrated Christmas, the whole
twelve days of it. So the following week had about it the
joyous air of holidays. At night we played cards, did a
little mummering (limited, it is true), sat around the tree
and sang carols, or just sat and talked, or told stories and
jokes. And we stayed up late.

The boys were quite knowledgeable about the work their father
was doing and they felt proud to be able to show and explain to
me everything in the engine room. Besides, they could actually
operate the huge engines that sent forth the dismal sounds which
everyone recognized as the Baccalieu foghorn.

Thus the week flew by as all weeks do. The storm had abated
and all was calm again. On New Year's Eve we were enjoying the
outdoors when someone looked toward the tickle and saw the
ferry in the distance coming towards the fog alarm. What do
I do? Well, what do you think? In five minutes I was packed,
dressed and waiting. The ferry did not come to the landing for
some reason, probably ice, but was heading straight for the
rocks, and so was I, ready to board it the moment it would come,
and then took my place in the open boat for a row of about five
miles. This lasted for hours, eventually taking me to the ferryman's
home where his wife served me a delicious meal.

The next morning was New Year's Day. I rose early to take the
threemile walk to Bay-de-Verde for Mass. A glance through
the window revealed another storm had arisen overnight. Later in
the morning, however, someone had announced that Joe Pryor,
the mailman, was in from Bay-de-Verde. He consented to take
me with him on his way back. We set out, Joe walking ahead
with the horse, and I, sitting comfortably on the slide. I was
comfortable, comparatively speaking, but the snow drift was such
that neither Joe nor the horse was visible until we reached home.

The surprise of my unexpected home-coming and the joy of being
with my much-loved family, coupled with the festivities of the
remaining days of Christmas, can be better imagined than described.
They passed all too quickly and it was soon time for me to get back
to my teaching post.

Sometimes I let myself dwell for a few moments on that particular
time in my life and I experience once again the love that existed
in that family and the warmth of their hospitality. I find
myself, too, listening to the savage fury of the ocean, which
at other times, was so calm, friendly and inviting. I see the
gigantic waves rise mountains high and hurl themselves headlong
over rock and crag, never stopping until they have washed every
window pane in their path. Gale-force winds keep battering against
the house which, at night especially, I keep telling myself,
is surely "built on solid rock". During the day I step onto the low
bank to feel the ocean spray in my face and to breathe in the
salt sea air. Above all, I still feel the touch of friendship which
has remained with me all through the years. Many times since, I
have felt glad that such a beautiful opportunity came my way
on my first Christmas away from home.

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