Finding Inspiration in Every Turn
Prince Edward Island
by J.E Biggar
Granddaughter of Richard Raymond Biggar and Fanny Beatrice Waite
• J E Biggar
As a child growing up in North Central Maine, I was often called upon to act older than my years. Being the oldest of three, I was often charged with the care and feeding of my siblings. But there was one place where I was allowed to be a child and that was during our annual vacations to Prince Edward Island.
This gentle island located off the coast of New Brunswick was the home of my ancestors going back for generations.
During the two weeks that encompassed the 4th of July holiday, my parents would pack their three children up in the family car and head east to the island. Across the bulk of Maine, across the whole of New Brunswick until we would finally reached the car ferry. During the 1960’s and 1970’s of my childhood, the bridge had not been built that now connects the island to the shore. For someone who grew up travelling the very familiar car ferries to the island, the introduction of the bridge has taken a little from the mystic of the Island. The isolation of Prince Edward Island from the rest of the world made the island a wonderful mystery to youthful eyes. From Cape Tormentine, New Brunswick, the ferry took around 50 minutes to an hour to reach our final destination of Borden, P.E.I. I would stare long and hard out the window for that first glimpse of our destination. Then a sighting of land would bring all of us out onto the deck, no matter the weather. My parents would smile to see the land that was long their home, because soon they would be in the houses of their youth, communing with the families and friends that they loved so dearly.
My parents immigrated from a section of the Island called the Narrows, located in Prince’s County. During the 1960’s, most of the roads were still dirt. As a child, I remember how the red dirt came to symbolize my heritage and my connection here. My kid sister often remarked it even made the mud puddles red.
My father’s people came from Portage. It was a community with just one central store, Sharbelle’s. There was ice cream from the bin and all I had to do is say my last name and I was welcomed like I was family. Arriving at my paternal grandparents, we would be greeted with hugs and kisses, gifts and most important hospitality. Years later, I would bring my niece with me on a trip. She suggested that we stop for lunch. I had to tell her that she would never want for food when visiting the island. The unwritten law of hospitality was that when someone entered your door. Immediately the teapot went on the stove, the cookies came out and loads of wonderful food was not far behind. Remembering the food at my grandparents still makes my mouth water. It was simple fare but so delicious. Beautiful blue potatoes, cooked salted cod, and my personal favorite; homemade biscuits with molasses. After the meal, the stories and conversations would inevitably followed by music. In the mix was my father’s guitar sometimes in addition to my aunt’s. Two of my uncles were always ready to add with their fiddles. The songs were sometimes old country ballads but for the most part they were tunes that had been handed down though the generations with loving care. There was a custom of musicians on the island “stomping”, which basically meant that the musician's feet were always moving in time to the music. I remember one uncle’s feet moving so beautifully it looked like he was dancing to the music although sitting down.
After a few restful nights in Portage, we would be off to my mother’s home for the remainder of our stay. My maternal grandparents owned a small farm on Murray Road in Lot 11. I am not sure about how it got its very plain name, but suppose it was from the early divisions of the island and just stuck.
Going to the grandparents’ farm was like becoming Annie of Green Gables but for real. The farm had no electricity and had a hand pump for the water source but I love no other place more dearly. My grandfather still drove his horse and buggy as his form of transportation. The latest modern convenience installed was the crank phone with a party line.
But most of all the farm was our playground and my grandparents made sure that every minute was free of care and full of joy. An old mailbox was home to a nest of baby birds. My grandfather’s wood piles would become our forts and the dungeons for the wicked. But my favorite part of the farm was its proximity to the shoreline. Down a well-trodden path, though a thicket of trees, our grandfather would guide us down this gateway to our own private beach. One of those wonderful remembered days, he brought us down the path, the trees parted to show the sun glistening on the water. It was this day, Grandfather showed us how to make statues from the clay deposits easily found along the shore. I had finished mine and left my brother to continue on his masterpiece.
Grandfather was sitting next to his shored dory, just gazing out onto the sea and gently pulling on his pipe. A proud islander of Scottish descent, he always seemed to know secrets that he never told. I moved closer to him to find out what he was looking at. All I saw from the eyes of youth was the ocean and the hint of the smallest wave coming to meet the land.
I looked to him, looked at the sea, and then returned my gaze to him once more. He smiled gently at my puzzlement and explained, “There is a magic out there where the earth and the sky and the sea all meet, - magic.” I looked back to the water hoping to see what my grandfather was seeing but nothing changed. I decided I needed to get closer to investigate this. I walked down to the water’s edge and then I think I started to feel it, the magic. First, a gentle breeze blew against my face that was being warmed by the sun. My toes were tickled by both the sand and the water as they began to sink into their combination. And then a seagull flew by and as it did so, I felt its flight was specifically for me. I looked back to my Grandfather with pipe in hand. He smiled and I thought he knew I had found the magic. He then stood up and beckoned us to return to the farm. My brother ran ahead. Grandfather took me by the hand. I felt so connected to that old man as if some treasured family secret had been passed down to me and I was deserving on that secret. From that day forward, the sea was our bond.
Now some 55 years later, I look back at those times on PEI that gave me so much more than a vacation. It was my magic land. A land far away from the real world, where anything was still possible. And now when life becomes difficult or less manageable, I find myself gravitating toward the sea to be reunited with the magic once again. There I remember my heritage, there I remember my Grandfather, there I commune with the most real aspects of my soul. That is what Prince Edward Island gave to me.
© Judy Biggar