Anne M. Smith-Nochasak:
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Good directions are supposed to inform us. Good directions are rich in history. Maritime directions are like that.
Thank God her brother had some Thanksgiving spirit and common sense and said she was teaching out near “The Park.” And thank God for the friendly staff at the gas bar who gave him good directions to this godforsaken lump of a house. They said his dog would love the fields but not to let him chase deer. Apparently, they came out where a barn or something used to be.
Doug Simmons in A Canoer of Shorelines is used to functional directions, the kind that he would get today on a search engine. Turns, exits, distances – all are rendered without emotion, without the background detail that makes them real for some of us.
When I was driving the back roads to Val d’or, Quebec, and the cheery computer voice announced “Turn left at the fork in the road”, I began to seek that fork. Suddenly the voice exclaimed, “Take the left fork now!” There was a compelling urgency in the voice, and I slowed down, my eyes sweeping the trackless forest to my left. I could see occasional gaps between the trees; perhaps there was once a logging road out there. The Voice was still trapped in that era, and insisted that I drive out into the trees. When I did not, there was an abrupt blip, and my screen went grey. The Voice does not manage rejection well.
Ten kilometres later, the voice had forgiven me, and announced, “Continue for twenty-seven kilometres.” Perhaps computer voices cannot convey sullenness, but this one came close.
I glanced back, and sure enough, there were gaps along the swamp. Once, there was a road.
I am a Maritimer, and we don’t manage functional directions well. We want the story!
I wanted that computer voice to tell me the entire story; perhaps it could say, “Now we always turned left about here; you can see traces of the road if you look. There was a well-kept logging road, and it was our favourite shortcut. Then times got hard, and the trucks stopped running. They weren’t going to maintain it – it was along the swamp after all – so we keep to the main road now. Too bad about that.” Or maybe, “When [Name] won the lottery, they built a beautiful lodge back there and people came from miles around. They got old though, and their kids didn’t want a lodge, and it’s all grown in now. Kind of a shame.”
Good directions are supposed to inform us. Good directions are rich in history.
Maritime directions are like that. Most of us, when we go to town, confuse Aberdeen and Dufferin unless we are on them. The Call Centre is on Dufferin (I think), but good directions would begin “You know where the old hospital used to be? Yes, handy the fair grounds. Just down the hill….”
I once witnessed a clerk in town providing functional directions to the central post office. “You go down Victoria Road, cross the bridge and up Aberdeen, then turn left on the number 10….” The listener’s eyes began to glaze. I leaned forward. “Just past Frenchy’s, on your left, if you’re heading for Walmart.” The person was a Maritimer; we have an inner tracking device that will guide us to the nearest Frenchy’s.
But rural directions give the best history. The more rural the place, the richer the history. If you stand at the grocery store and ask directions to the hardware store, you might learn that:
The hardware store was always where the pharmacy is, right on the corner. They kept their supplies where the new place is. Of course, in those days the pharmacy was where the restaurant is today. They have good specials. The pharmacist always closed from twelve to one, but the new place is open. They have good gifts in there. Yes, the hardware store. You hold to the left at the corner, right where the pharmacy is, and you go past Duke’s barbershop. Of course, the barbershop is long closed – used to have a bowling alley there, and after it became a pizza shop. It’s all boarded up but it says “Pizza” and she made good ones, I must say. Now on your left a ways down, you’ll see our new medical centre, where the liquor store used to be but not exactly. The hardware store is just below, on your right, behind where the train station was. Yes, and the Mersey barns and all…”
You learn local history, and get a taste of what makes a place special, what makes it home to so many. You will never get that from “Stay on Route 8 South for about one kilometre. It’s on the right, and it has a sign on the road.”
Learning directions as a Maritimer has prepared me for interactions with other cultures.
“Where does this parent live?” I asked a teaching colleague in one community, indicating a name on my list.
“Oh! That’s easy!” she exclaimed. (I was sure it was not.) “You know where my new house is?”
“Well, they’ve got the frame up now, over there.” She waved across the parking lot toward the lake. “It’s the orange one, right beside it. The one that’s brown but not blue.”
Being a Maritimer, I knew all would be revealed at the right time. Sure enough, as I wandered along, I saw the frame of a house rising beside the road. Close beside it were two bungalows; one was orange with brown panelling, and the other was blue with brown panelling. It was easy to pick the orange house that was brown, not to be confused with the blue one that was brown. Good directions don’t always make sense at first, but they will if you trust them.
Some might think there is a hunt of mockery here. I assure you, there is not. These are my people, my language, and my history. This is my home.
This is how we are. Doug, once again you have missed out.
I must go find an Internet connection and post this. You know that ledge where the snowplough turns? Okay! You go past that, past the old farm on the river. They haven’t hayed there in years. Once though, it was a farm and the foundations are still there. You can’t see the river because it’s down behind the hill. Well, pass that road and at the top of the hill on your right there is a ridge. Some days you get a signal there.