Wednesday, 25 September 2013

"I feel like I've known you my whole life": the joys of fieldwork

Hey there lovely readers!

I held off on posting yesterday because I had planned on going out fishing today and hoped I would be able to write about what a great time I had. Unfortunately, the weather is not cooperating with us in Quidi Vidi (does it ever?) and Christine and I are not able to go out. The next couple of days aren’t looking good either. Just another reminder that we’re at the mercy of the weather here in St. John’s, I suppose.

Ever the optimist, I knew there would HAVE to be something interesting to write about today. And though it’s still mid-afternoon, I’m happy to say that today I’ve been reminded of how enjoyable fieldwork is when you’re able to make real connections with people. If you recall from my last post, Xuan and I have been drawing the floor plan of Mary and Claude Ring’s house- an experience, thankfully, I’ve grown to at the very least, tolerate. This morning, I dropped by to ask the Rings some questions about the house and was hoping they would have a couple of photos to lend me. When I arrived, Claude sent me upstairs with Mary, where we spent the next hour looking through old photo albums. Although I didn’t know anyone in the pictures, I got to experience Quidi Vidi in a completely new way: through pictures the Ring family took while their children were growing up. Mary let me ask her a million questions and pointed out details I probably wouldn’t have picked up on. And what I had planned on being a half an hour maximum conversation, turned into an hour, and then an hour and a half, and then just as I was putting my jacket on, Mary said, “would you like a sandwich or something?”

Mary and Claude Ring in their kitchen
The next thing I knew, Mary and I were laying out things for lunch and having a grand ol’ chat. She made us each a toasted ham sandwich, and we had a cup of tea, a fruit cup, and some chocolate cookies. A lot nicer than the crackers and cheese I had planned on eating! As we ate, Mary told me about her courting days with Claude, when he would walk from the village up to John Street in downtown St. John’s (“a long ol’ walk, b’y, I was cracked,” as he joked with me) and back again just to see her, and then about each of her seven children and what it was like raising them here. Mary stayed at home with her children until her youngest son turned 12, when she returned to work at the Department of Finance in Confederation Building. Though she has since retired, she still works today from September-December and from January-April, teaching tax courses and doing taxes for H&R Block. She even has an office upstairs in their home, she proudly told me. I was struck by her good nature and sense of humor and didn’t feel like I was “in the field”; honestly, I felt like I was visiting a friend and chatting about old times. I think she felt the same way, though. When I was getting ready to leave, she told me I’m going to have to come back and visit her after our time in Quidi Vidi is up. But she also said a somewhat cliché thing that before this field school, I wouldn’t have thought twice about: “I feel like I’ve known you my whole life.”

Lunch is served! Mary Ring pauses for a quick snap
When I began this field school, I knew that 1) I really wanted to end up in a boat, and 2) I really wanted to cozy up to some wood heat in someone’s shed. And I’ve done both of those things. But honestly, I really just wanted to meet people here that in three months or three years time, I’d be able to sit down and chat with and it wouldn’t feel forced or like it was a requirement for a course. Because that’s where I find joy in studying Folklore; it truly is a field dedicated to telling people's stories and capturing their way of life.

What a Wednesday it turned out to be afterall!

Kayla Carroll

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