The Christmas Seal
I am fifty five years old when I am writing this story but I still remember the days of fear and dread, prior to, and the arrival of, the Christmas Seal. Our family was living in Carmanville in1959 and that's when I really became a little nervous of X ray machines, doctors, hospitals and so on. I was eight years old at the time of this story.
It didn't matter what we were doing.... catching conners off Eli Green's wharf, stabbing flatfish with a nail driven into an old broom handle, catching tansies in tin cans hidden in the kelp, playing games such as King William was King George's Son, rounders, cricket, tiddley, and so on, our fun filled days were soon dashed away when we caught word that the Christmas Seal was coming.
I couldn't remember what the needles were called that we used to get but Ross Collins told me they were scratches. This was merely a couple of small scratches across the inside of your arm or across your back. Call Barry on this
The biggest reason I had for being so afraid of the needles and X rays was what they were intended for in the first place, to determine whether you had TB, which had been a common affliction in Newfoundland in those days, and that of course meant a trip to the sanatorium in St. John's. That was a scary word in itself and we kids had heard terrible rumours of people going there and never coming home. I was also scared that the X ray would show up some of the cigarette smoke that might be still in my lungs. Some of us used to pick up cigarette butts off the road, out of peoples' car ash trays or where we could sneak them from somebody's house. We even rolled up dried leaves, tea leaves, pencil sharpenings and whatever else would burn.
I was reminded by Fern Bown, as I was writing this story, that the Christmas Seal played very loud music as it was coming into the harbour. Once she mentioned that I could remember vaguely hearing an Elvis Presley song. I cannot remember the name of the song though.
On one particular occasion while on board the Christmas Seal I was asked how I felt and I blurted out that I had a pain in my side all the time. They suggested to mother and Father that I probably had appendicitis and should see our local doctor. Well, sure enough, I did. I was told I would have to go to the hospital in Gander and have them removed. This was a bit frightening but if Pam Collins, a friend of mine, could do it, than I wasn't going to be scaredy cat and try to weasel out of it. Not that that would have done any good because my appendix had to come out and that's all there was to it. Pam had had her appendix out a few weeks before.
To go from Carmanville to Gander my father and mother and I went up to Gander Bay South in Father's car. Then up the Gander River, by one of the Ganger River canoes, to Glenwood and from there to Gander by taxi.
It was quite a trip up the river and when we stopped for dinner on the way up, I pleaded with everyone that that the pain in my side was all better and that we could go back home. So much for not trying to weasel out of it. But no matter what I said no one would listen to me.
After more than a week in the Gander Hospital it was time to go home. Mrs. Wilhelmina Collins was going back to Carmanville on the same day as mother and I were, so they shared the cost of the float plane which would fly us home. This was almost too exciting for a nine year old boy. A taxi took us from the hospital out to Deadman's Pond where the plane was and in a matter of minutes we were airborne. The trip to Carmanville didn't take very long and we soon landed in the harbour out in front of Woolfrey's general store.
This was an experience I have always blamed on the Christmas Seal. But regardless of all the fear and dread the Christmas Seal had instilled in our young hearts, I'm sure it did an outstanding service to the outports along the shores of Newfoundland.
I have been making ships in bottles for many years now and I have done two Christmas Seals. I have about five or six more in the shipyards again, almost ready for any special friends who might happen to cross my path. My "ships in bottles" book that I am writing is titled Bottled Memories. I have also done some of my favourite coastal boats and the Cabot Strait ferries.