Friday, 13 September 2013

Change and Continuity

It’s hard to believe we’re only five days into this field school and already it feels as though the people we are meeting have been friends for a long time. That certainly felt like the case today when Christine and I first entered Eric and Olive Snelgrove’s home. When we met Eric on Monday, Christine told him about her curiosity to try cod tongues. Eric, being the hospitable and kind man he is, told us he had some frozen and that we were welcome to come by his house for lunch. We made plans to visit today (Friday).

In Christine’s Floridian mind, this was an invitation to broaden her cultural understanding of Newfoundland’s food (and a curious food at that!). For me, having had cod tongues before and not developing any particular fondness for them, it was a chance to re-wire some of my thoughts and feelings about a province I previously felt knowledgeable about. A challenge I’ve been facing during this field school is assuming I know more than I do because I grew up in Newfoundland and spent a majority of my time as an undergraduate student puzzling my way through a minor in Newfoundland Studies. But, as Jerry continually reminds us, we are all outsiders to Quidi Vidi, and we must approach our fieldwork with this in mind.

I remember watching a televised interview of a famous Newfoundlander (whose name escapes me), chatting about peculiarities in Newfoundland foods. Of cod tongues, he said simply, “I just can’t enjoy a food that can taste you back.” I thought of this today as we walked to the Snelgrove house. What if neither Christine nor I like them? What if we offended our gracious hosts? Questions I’m sure Christine also asked herself. From the moment we entered the door with a light-hearted chide from Olive, “why are you knocking at the door? Sure, come in!”, I knew we were in for a real and genuine treat. The table had already been set for Eric, Christine and myself, each of us having about seven to eight cod tongues. Olive said she had rolled them in flour and fried them in olive oil. After having received a nice cup of tea (complete with Carnation milk- an essential component of the perfect cup of tea, Olive, Eric and I agreed) and having doused our tongues with malt vinegar, we dug in. 

Cod tongues courtesy of Eric and Olive Snelgrove
Photo: Kayla Carroll
My lunch. Cod tongues, tea and buttered toast.
Photo: Kayla Carroll
What a treat! If you’re reading this and have even the slightest interest in trying cod tongues, get Olive Snelgrove to cook them (although, if you’re reading this, Olive, I’m sorry if I’ve just invited the world to your kitchen!). And with a couple slices of buttered toast, the leftover stir fry I brought this morning in case we had to cancel lunch plans was soon forgotten. 

Christine with her first Newfoundland cod tongue
Photo: Kayla Carroll

An even greater treat today was the opportunity to hear from Eric and Olive about their experience growing up in Quidi Vidi. They’ve been married 57 years and have three daughters (and a lot of grandchildren and great-grandchildren whose pictures decorate the walls and coffee tables in their home). They showed us some great photographs and pointed out different people and buildings. We also chatted with their granddaughter, Lisa, who also grew up here and loves this place. I, for one, could have skipped class for the rest of the afternoon and chatted with them all day about their memories. This, of course, is an important part of why we are here in the first place- to learn as much as we can about the traditions and ways of life, both past and present.

A central focus of this field school is to collect these memories from the people of Quidi Vidi and make them available to future researchers down the road. But another focus that is often tempting to forget about is the continuity of many traditions here. Because as Eric aptly pointed out this afternoon when discussing things that have indeed changed in Quidi Vidi, “there is a lot that has changed here, but there’s also a lot that’s stayed the same.”

If Christine and I went back in time and visited the Snelgroves 57 years ago when they were first married, we likely wouldn’t have been in Quidi Vidi primarily as researchers. Likewise, we probably wouldn’t have chatted to Lisa about visiting Florida with her young son. And we certainly wouldn’t have had the NTV mid-day news broadcast playing behind us. Those changes are easy to measure. But I suspect we would have been made to feel just as welcomed and as cared for as we did today.

How’s that for continuity?

Kayla Carroll

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