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I often think how life is like a journey on a river. We follow along, trying to steer a true course, sometimes getting caught up, running into rough waters, or navigating the shoals. The first time I had this thought was as a teenager sitting on top of the hill and looking down at the mighty Exploits River that runs by the town of Badger where I grew up.

I came into this world on a hot July day, in Twillingate, which was home to the only hospital in Notre Dame Bay. My parents were Max and Lucy Day. They often told me that I was born on St. Swithinís Day, a day on which people watch the weather. Tradition says that whatever the weather is like on St. Swithinís Day, it will continue so for the next forty days.

As a young child my parents and grandparents moved inland to the town of Badger. My grandfather became the townís postmaster, a position of some standing at the time, and my father was the wireless operator. During the 1940ís all messages were transmitted in Morse code. I can still remember as a little girl of five years old, standing at Dadís knee in his office, listening to the peculiar dot-dot-dar-dar-dot-dar.

My three brothers were all born at the hospital in Grand Falls. Our lives living in Badger provided us with every amenity of the time: we went to a large school with electricity, washrooms, and central heating. This was because Badger was a company town, controlled by the Anglo-Newfoundland Development (AND) Company, a pulp and paper company which had British owners. Badger sat in the middle of the logging operations that fed pulpwood downriver to the paper mill. It was important to the AND Company to supply services to its personnel, many of whom were brought in from England and mainland Canada.

The company built a large town hall where we went to Saturday movies. For ten cents we could watch Hop-Along Cassidy or Roy Rogers. We also used the hall for concerts at Christmas and at school closing. In June, for our sports day, the company supplied trucks and we would ride out to a grassy farm on Halls Bay Road where there would be plenty of picnic food and organized races. As children we knew nothing of the working conditions of loggers up in the woods camps.

I was introduced to the three rivers that met at Badger while still young. We were taught in school that Badger was situated where the three rivers met. Across town there was a round hill that I would often climb upon. We called it School Hill, and it overlooked the town on one side and the rivers on the other. It seemed that my entire childhood, and that of my brothers, centred around the life of the rivers in all seasons.

In 1959, many of us children, including two of my young brothers stood on a snowbank and witnessed the infamous Badger Riot. That mild March day we saw a police officer struck a fatal blow. I was fourteen, my brothers, eleven and ten years old. I believe that the terror of seeing this never left us and that the town never recovered from the horrific event.

When I finished school, my life took another course and I left Badger to work in Gander, a booming airport town. I remember people would call it ďThe Crossroads of the World.Ē It was there I met the love of my life, Felix Ricketts. We were married there and soon welcomed the birth of our first child, our daughter Carol.

Shortly after, my daughter Bridget was born in St. Johnís, where we had moved while my husband attended Fisheries College during the late sixties. He was trained to work as a shipís joiner at the new Marystown Shipyard and, with two small children, Carol two and Bridget eight months, we journeyed the one hundred miles of unpaved road that meandered down the Burin Peninsula.

In 1970, the economy took a dip and Felix was laid off at the shipyard. Churchill Falls was booming and he, along with hundreds of other Newfoundland men, left home to work there. Expecting our third and last child, and, having no relatives on the Burin Peninsula, we closed our home and I went back to Badger to live with my parents. The three rivers welcomed me and once again I would sit up on the little hill, but this time with my two little girls. That September our son, Brian, was born in Grand Falls.

When the shipyard picked up business again Felix and I moved back to Marystown. I prepared to settle down to live there forever. After all, if I wanted to see water, I had only to look through my window and there was beautiful Mortier Bay. But by sheer chance, we saw an ad selling Doveís Esso Station and Restaurant on the TCH near Glovertown. My husband and I decided to try for it.

We were fortunate enough to secure the business and after selling all we had, trundled back up over the Burin Peninsula. We decided to build living quarters on the back of the business. In this way we were on hand 24-hours around the clock. Operating a highway business in Newfoundland was no easy task. It took all my willpower to keep my head (and the business!) above water. It was truly a family business where we all worked, even remaining open on Christmas Day.  My husband and son pumped gas, and my daughters and I did the restaurant work. During the summer season we would hire about twenty people. It was a busy life filled with moose soup, seal flipper pies, fish and brewis, cod tongues, and custard cones by the hundreds.

It wasnít long before the children finished school and went off to St. Johnís. The girls completed degrees at university and Brian earned his pilotís license. Wanting to be closer to our children, we sold the highway business in 1989 and moved to St. Johnís. Had I really found a peaceful spot on my river?

Once settled in my first ever real honest-to-goodness house, my husband decided to work in his dream job of being a commissionaire. With everyone else so busy and still young, I applied for a job at the Hotel Newfoundland , a place which has always held a special meaning for me. I was hired as a dining room hostess and for fifteen years it was a sweet job that suited my semi-retirement just fine.

My life changed forever when my grandchildren were born. I discovered a new, different kind of love. Katlynn Marie in 1997,  Brianna in 1999, and our little boy, Andrew, came into the world in 2000. No grandparents could be prouder or happier than we were with those beautiful children. Our existence was complete.

But, once again, my lifeís river flowed into unexpected waters. My husband was diagnosed with cancer in 2004 and, within two months, had passed away from me. I felt like throwing my paddles on the riverbank and giving up. But day by day I paddled on; this time I was in lifeís canoe all alone. 

Shortly after my daughter Bridget, endeavouring to keep me afloat, signed me up for a writing class at Memorial University with the Lifelong Learners Division. It was taught by Gordon Rodgers. This class is what set me on the road to write a short story of the riot and what I had witnessed.

Other writing classes followed and I met some wonderful people. In 2006, I signed a contract with Flanker Press to publish my first novel. To me this is nothing short of a miracle!

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Copyright © 2008 JARICKETTS
Tuesday, 19 January 2010