Dining with Darlene

Quirpon Island, between Newfoundland and Labrador:

Wind rattling the windows, we sit before the locally famous Jiggs dinner: Roast beef and carrots with potatoes, puréed turnips and dressing, each served from ice cream scoops, and gravy from a gravy boat for every two people.

I believe it may be served every night. Learn one thing, learn it well.

The kitchen crew of Marilyn, Mariah and Madonna prepare breakfast, dinner in two seatings, and keep the kettle on for visitors. They serve tonight’s meal, repair to the back and we dine, strangers at the common table.

Stooped and graying Reiner and his wife Ellen from Kitchener. Two German girls, one pregnant. A young woman and her consort, neither terribly fetching, whose names are never revealed because they never say a single word except “hi.” Nor do they make eye contact. Ever.

Showing an easy disfluency with politesse, Darlene, a formidable woman who gives her chair disquiet, regales us with tales of her extensive travels to Myanmar, Sossusvlei and Maccu Pichu. She makes sure we know of her extreme devotion to photography and shares a blow by blow of her fall getting into the boat earlier today.

Rapacious with our little group’s time, she lectures with apodictic certainty on the state of Canadian politics while the table prefers a much more politically vegetarian conversation. Ellen stares at her scoop of turnip.

Sometimes klatches of strangers provoke stimulating conversation, but often there is a Darlene. I’d like to advise her that if one is convinced she is the smartest person in the room, she will find greater mental challenge by changing rooms. Alas, here there is a shortage of rooms.

So I take my own advice and find an early opportunity to track down the boys in the back. Angus and Ed and Brian are downing beers, TV on, sound down. This is a small house, this inn, once the lighthouse keeper’s residence alone, and the boys sit atop one another, furniture and belongings in a jumble, a rumpled, strewn-about place far more lived in than the anodyne common space.

Time worn jokes about needing to get around to some remodeling. You have to close the door to the hallway to open the door to the toilet, which is full of toothbrushes.

These men provide all the brawn on Quirpon Island, the laboring face of Ed’s lighthouse business. Ed, the leader, lanky and craggy with long teeth and a formidable Newfie accent, folds himself into his chair. Brian, the quiet one, is charged with running the ATV up and back across the island, not an inconsiderable task.

Angus, the great outdoorsman, says they dress to be out all day every morning, because they never know quite what chore will have to be gotten up to, and the wind is blistering and he guesses maybe 250 icebergs arrive each year, having sailed the 1,600-odd kilometers fromGreenland (The Titanic’s fateful berg drifted in this same way down the Labrador current from Baffin Bay south of here). And after another day out amid the wet and the wind and the icebergs, Angus is simply and openly baffled why we would ever want to go back to St. John’s.

I want to hear stories, but they are in their home space and I don’t begrudge them their private time.

So: Squeeze down the hallway to the kitchen, gaze at the gale through the window, then look around this tiny kitchen in this modest building. Consider the even more modest one in which we stay. These two buildings, when full, hold 22 max. I must surmise that Marilyn, Mariah and Madonna spend an indoor life constrained. We make the short walk back to the building where we’ve been given a bed.

•••••

Another tiny excerpt from my new book. Go grab it, it’s good stuff. And sign up for a free audiobook version of Common Sense and Whiskey by clicking the box on the right. Drawings every Friday.

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