Sometimes I get what I simply call a “push.” It is like an invisible hand on the small of my back that literally moves me forward. I have been grateful for it many times. It led me to see my father the night before he died. It led me to my eldest son’s crib where he was choking on the ribbon tied around his teddy bear’s neck. It moved me to call the number for the Burlington Storytellers’ Guild where I began the storytelling chapter of my life.
One of those pushes came in March and I stepped forward to satisfy a longing I had to travel to Halifax for storytelling, my dear friend Claire Miller, and points beyond to visit family. And all the seafood I could eat, of course.
Here are some of my stories of Halifax.
Day 1: My plane left Hamilton (Ontario) Airport at 9:35 a.m. and arrived at 3:10 p.m. in Halifax with a stopover in Montreal. I had no adventures on the planes. However, the Montreal Airport baffled me. I could not for the life of me figure out how to get to Departures from Arrivals. Fortunately, there were two good-looking young men heading for an elevator so I chased in after them. “I hope you two know where you are going,” I said charmingly, “because I’m following you.” They shot each glances of bewilderment and then smiled awkwardly at me. They too, as a matter of fact, were trying to find Departures. I kept a fair distance behind them when we left the elevator and found myself in the right place and then on my way again. (To my credit, I did not follow them into the bar.)
After settling into Robie’s End Bed & Breakfast, I walked halfway to Claire’s home when who should appear, but Herself! As is our tradition, we celebrated our reunion with a glass of wine and chit-chattering over one another as though no time had gone by since last we met. Claire’s husband, David, came along to a gorgeous restaurant which turned out to have the most delicious Coquilles St. Jacques that ever hit my palate!
By the time I was walking back to the B&B, time had shifted. What day was it? Did I arrive yesterday or today? Was today yesterday? By tomorrow, after a good night’s sleep, I would know.
Day 2, Daytime: Breakfasted with a young man (don’t worry, it isn’t a pattern) from New York who was in Halifax to look over a racing boat he might want to buy. He and his father raced in Europe and did very well, he said. But now it was time for him to be a grownup with a real job to pay for his hobby. “Damn that grownup thing!” I said. He sighed and looked as though the real world was smacking him in the face.
By early afternoon Claire and I grabbed a bus and took the 10-minute ferry ride to Dartmouth. We walked the fabulous Dartmouth Harbourwalk Trail. Along the way, we met a man who was trying to give his little doggy a command. He wanted him to stop jumping up. Feeling sorry for him, I boldly stopped and gave him the dog training advice that always worked for me. I would say, “Jump up and be a pest.” “Good dog.” He thanked me, but not with glee.
We could see across the way, Helen Creighton’s house, Evergreen. Later on, when listening to stories about her, the house was in my mind. Isn’t it wonderful to be where the stories are?
By now hungry and thirsty after our long 45-minute walk, we made our way into a lovely little restaurant specializing in seafood. Heaven. We dined on seafood chowder filled with lobster, scallops, and clams paired with white wine and followed by a divine dessert smothered in chocolate. Oh! I could not speak for the loveliest tastes in my mouth. We wobbled our way back home.
An aside: At the Woodside Ferry Terminal, Claire led me over to a beautiful bright and colourful mural. I have pared it down, but here is its story: It was at least 20 years ago when the federal government decided to mount an outdoor display about Canadian storytelling to dress up downtown Ottawa. One storyteller from each province and territory was contacted and asked to write something about stories or storytelling in the region. So I (Claire) wrote about my storytelling trip to the one-room school on big Tancook Island and how fortunate I felt to be able to travel my province and meet its children in a unique way. Each panel was then designed and illustrated by art students from Ottawa. The two women who did mine chose a folk art style that incorporated what I’d mentioned in my story, as well as iconic symbols of the province. The murals would be sent to their provincial capitals at the end of the display, but I never knew what had happened to the Nova Scotia panel until a few years ago, when a friend told me she had seen it at the Woodside Ferry Terminal!” Claire’s story begins this way: “One blustery October morning, a passenger ferry carried me to a small island off Nova Scotia’s south shore. The island’s only teacher had invited me to tell stories to her fifteen students, who had never met a professional storyteller.” The children that day heard many kinds of stories and in turn, told stories to Claire. The last line she wrote goes: “I try to give children a bit of the world, but they give me my Nova Scotia home.” It is a lovely tribute to the art of oral tradition, as well as to Claire’s own contribution.
Day 2, Evening: The excitement was building! Claire and I were meeting at The Local Women’s Council House on Young Avenue for the monthly gathering of the Storytellers Circle of Halifax. I was treated to the warmest welcome anyone from Away could have! Cindy Campbell-Stone and Elinor Benjamin, Clara Dugas and Shirley Godfrey greeted me and invited me to tell a story. What a rush! Well, Elinor began the evening as featured teller. She regaled us with a personal story about “The Family Psychic” and an Irish folktale about paying attention to “words you were meant to hear.” Then came open mic time. The stories were excellent and oh how I love hearing new voices. I told “The Cat Bride,” by Jane Yolen. My anticipation to the reaction of the listeners at the end of this story never gets old! It was hard to leave but many of the tellers I embraced there will be at the Storytellers of Canada – Conteurs du Canada Conference in Peterborough in July!
Day 3, Daytime: Claire took me on another tour. We walked past the Old Burying Ground, 1704 – 1844. I have a fascination for graveyards which I share with my mother. It was most baffling to see a wooden clothes hanger lying abandoned beside a crumbling mossy grave. Now that must have a good story behind it!
We stopped in at Joanne’s of Halifax for souvenirs but now it was time to part. Imagine two grey-haired, teary-eyed women hugging one another in the middle of a shop saying goodbye. Touching, isn’t it? It was a happy, satisfying farewell.
Day 3, Evening: What The Folk – WTF! is “folksongs, folk music, folktales, folk crafts, folklore, open mic, unplugged coffee house.” Marvellously co-hosted by Cindy Campbell-Stone and Margo Carruthers, the theme was Luck. Cindy told great stories that I had never heard about Helen Creighton who was born with a caul, a folkloric sign of good fortune. It sounded just as though Helen was whispering in her ear! There were also foot-stomping tunes, ballads, stories, all so incredible and made more fun by sitting next to Elinor of the infectious smile. When my turn came, I changed my mind about what to do. Rather than sing “The Twa’ Corbies,” I told instead “The Man Who Had No Luck” who walked for a day and a week and month and a year and a year and a day to ask God why he did not have luck. They were all good sports to go along with me. In the end, I did get to sing “The Twa’ Corbies.” It is actually a ballad of bad luck for the dead knight and good luck for the corbies who make their dinner sweet. Wonderful evening and I must go back!
I will leave you here, as I’m off to visit relatives. My push continues.
But please check these out:
There are more photos on my Storywyse Facebook page!