A Chance Encounter in Picadilly Head, Newfoundland
By Edna Doll
The road went straight out of Stephenville to Picadilly
Head twenty miles away. It was early, 5:30 a.m. The fog curled in from the sea, over fingers of land and enveloping fields.
“What am I doing here?” I thought winding my way carefully down the road, feeling as if I had to keep on or the fog would swallow me up.
I might have felt better with breakfast behind me, but no place was open in town or along the road. Although the car went forward, I was forever going back in my head. Only the idea of wonderful things to see at Picadilly Head kept me focused. Of course I had no knowledge of what there actually was, but with a name like Picadilly Head….
A murky sun tried to lick up the fog, at first to no avail, but later it cleared somewhat. There were tantalizing glimpses of rocky headlands, boats tethered ashore and wooden lobster pots. “See?” my mind said, “See?”
Two Tire Tracks
Suddenly the pavement ended in front of a green house. Two tire tracks led over a meadow. I lurched along, the fog thicker again, till the trail lost itself in deep ruts. I swung around in a patch of ghostly daisies. Picadilly Head would have to wait for a clear day.
A man stood by the road in front of the green house. He looked at me expectantly. I pulled over and said, “Want a ride?”
“Yes,” he said, “I’d appreciate it.” I saw you go down the meadow road and knew you’d be back right soon. Can’t see anything in this fog.” He smiled as he bent his lanky frame into the car. His clothes hung on him loosely as if he’d grown thin over the years. Obviously he was not young. His face was slashed by too large a nose, but his dark eyes were very bright beneath his thick gray hair. “Name is Harold,” he said, settling down in the seat. “My car is being painted in the garage down by the church. I can pick it up this morning but it’s a long walk.”
“How far is it?” I asked.
“About seven or eight miles I guess,” he said. “Time was when I would’va walked it right off, but now, well, it tires me a little. I’m seventy-seven years old,” he added. Then glancing at my white head he said, “And how old are you, if I may ask?”
“I’m just seventy,” I answered.
“And you’re traveling alone?” he queried.
“Yup,” I answered.
“Well,” he said, “you sure have courage going it alone. Dunno if I’d like it — traveling alone. I’d rather have my wife along. She’s my second wife. My first one died young. I had two children with her and I have six with this wife. She’s a good woman — a hard worker. We have cows y’know and she churns butter which we sell. She also knits sweaters and things which we sell too. You might not think it, but I’m a pretty good knitter myself. She lets me do the backs of the sweaters. They’re plain y’know and she does the fancy stitches in front. Of course we don’t get as much time in the summer as we do in winter. Most of our knitting gets done in winter.”
“See that barn over there?” he pointed with an arthritic finger.
“Yes,” I said. “I noticed it on the way out and thought it looked odd.”
“Well,” said Harold, “that barn is only about three years old. That farmer didn’t have any money so he just put that barn up out of old lumber — didn’t trim it or anything. Just used the timber goin’ up and down instead of across. Strangers always think it’s a real old barn and everybody takes pictures of it.”
“People Drive Too Fast”
There was a little silence before Harold went on. “People drive too fast along here. My granddaughter was killed right there on that curve. She was just walking along and a car struck her dead.”
“How old was she?” I asked.
“Nineteen. Just nineteen. Her whole life spread out before her and she’s gone in a minute.” He shook his head as if he couldn’t believe it happened. “The sea takes plenty too,” he mumbled.
After a while Harold went on in a more sprightly voice, “A problem we don’t have here much is stealing. In all my life I’ve never stolen a thing and I never will. I know that. Of course there aren’t too many of us around here and we know each other pretty well — so if anybody finds out a certain person stole something he goes to him and says you’d better put it back or else I’ll tell. So the thief puts the thing back.
“Then ya see the owner is happy to get his tool or whatever it was back and the thief probably won’t do it again because he knows somebody is watching him. We settle things among ourselves and don’t have to go to the police. There’s a Royal Canadian Mounted Police Office right in Stephenville. Course they don’t ride horses anymore but drive around in cars same as everyone else. The only time they put on their red coats is when it’s a special ceremony — say the Queen came. Then you’d see the red coats.”
Getting Harold to the Garage
By now the sun was out and there were lots of things that would be fun to photograph but I was hungry and intent on getting Harold to the garage. “There’s a take-out store along here,” he said. “They have pretty good coffee and will make up a sandwich for you if you ask them.” But the take-out store was closed. “Oh rats,” said Harold.
“There’s the garage,” said Harold. “You can let me out right here.” I pulled up and he got creakingly out. “I really do thank you missus. It was a real nice ride.”
“A pleasure,” I assured him and added that since the sun was now out, maybe I’d go back and get a picture of that barn. I waited for a horse and cart and a car to go by so I could turn.
As I looked back to wave one more time to Harold, both he and the car painter gesticulated for me to stop. “Aha,” I thought, “the car isn’t finished and Harold needs a ride back.”
I was mistaken. “Harold tells me you haven’t had breakfast,” the car painter said. “Well my wife would be glad to make you some.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t want to bother her,” I sputtered.
“No bother,” said the painter. “You come right in. One good turn deserves another.”
So I had coffee and toast and ham and eggs with Glen the painter and his wife, Elaine. Harold had a cup of coffee with us. When I wanted to pay they said nothing doing. So I took some pictures of their children and their kitten standing near the white rose bush in front of their house. Of course I sent the photos to them.
Some clear day I’d like to go back — find Picadilly Head, stop at Glen and Elaine’s with books for the kids and look up Harold and his second wife. Maybe I’ll get a sweater all fancy knitted in front by her and the back very plain by Harold himself.
Edna Doll, now over 90 years young, has traveled the world and did much her traveling when she was over 70. She now lives in Cranford, NJ.
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