I grew up extremely close with my grandfather. He was a salt-of-the-earth type of man from a tiny little Newfoundland town called Champney’s West. The house he was born in still stands, directly across a poorly cared for road overlooking the Atlantic.
Four years ago our family moved from the city to a town a short 45 minute drive from where my grandparents grew up. Every summer I take my children to Champney’s and look at the view that he woke up to every morning of his childhood. I hold their little hands and we walk the paths that he and my grandmother walked, and we stand on the wharf where he fished when his father died, leaving my 14 year old grandfather to provide for his mother and sisters.
We then drive across to Champney’s East where the house my grandmother grew up in stands. There is no running water, the grass is overgrown, the roads are gravel, and the air is always cold but salty. Even though I spent a very minimal amount of time there as a child, I have yet to find a place where I feel more at home or more connected to my roots and my own family.
I have a very vivid memory of my grandfather helping my father tear down the back patio of our family home. The wood was rotting underneath, it was soft and green, and he knelt down next to me and said, with a knowing look “See how green this wood is? That’s because it never saw the sun. If you don’t go out in the sun, you’ll turn green too.”
Of course he was “tormenting”, as we Newfoundlander’s say, but I don’t think I spent an extra moment in the house that summer. And this past May, as the one year anniversary of his passing crept up, I caught myself saying the same to my 5 year old as we examined some old wood that was under our back patio.
Every weekend spent with my grandparents was a weekend spent outside, in any weather. Creating, pretending, learning, planting, building, cultivating, and just plain playing. Every night was a deep, peaceful sleep. I desperately wanted this for my own children. They are the reason that our 5 year old and 3 year old do not own electronic devices. This is something I am extremely proud of as a parent in 2017. We have spent entire days in our home, in the winter, and not turned on the TV, and neither child has noticed. We have spent a full week at our family’s cabin in the woods where there is no wifi and no TV, and neither child has noticed.
Four and a half years ago I cried for two hours in the car on the drive from the city to the town that would be my new home. I did not want to come here. I wanted the malls and the movie theaters and the $6 coffee in the fancy book store. I wanted the music lessons and the gymnastics and the karate and the ballet. I wanted playgroups and acting classes and to pay $20 to take my kids to some gym with bouncy castles. I wanted the sweat and the stress and the rushing.
I mourned the loss of the competition and the haste. But when it was all stripped away, I found a new sense of peace. We spend our winters snowshoeing and snowman building and starting seeds in little pots. We spend our summers hiking and replanting, picking mussels and kayaking.
Happiness for us is black fingernails, and rings around bathtubs. Fly bites and t-shirt tans and worms somehow making it upstairs. Sand and grass across the kitchen floor, or puddles of melted snow in the winter. Rosy cheeks and half finished mugs of hot chocolate left on the kitchen table. Hats and mittens warm out of the dryer for another play outside.
The smell of sunscreen on a toddler.
To watch my own children run the same overgrown paths that my grandparents ran is happiness in its truest form for me. No devices. No batteries. No electricity. No schedule. Just running and laughing and complete innocence. And two soundly sleeping children at the end of the day.
I grew up listening to stories of my grandparent’s childhood in this tiny outport town, amazed at how anyone could grow up without lights or movies or video games.
“But Lauren, when I was your age, I was never bored,” Pop would say.
And now as I watch my own children squealing and running and picking dandelions growing tall against the white fence lining the path to my grandmother’s family home, I get it. Because out here they have nothing, and neither are they.