When people ask me where I’m from, I never say Charlotte. I have lived in Charlotte for twelve years. My wife and I bought a house there and have been in the city for the vast majority of the life of our marriage. We have a dog and cat and an ever expanding hobby vegetable garden. The closest friends we have are there. Some of our dearest memories were made there.
I am not from Charlotte.
At the first pass, Newfoundland is true to its namesake. It is a rock jutting out of the frigid and unforgiving waters of the North Atlantic. The terrain is rugged and demanding. Try as they might, the trees barely overcome the harassing wind; the earth seems to exert an extra dose of gravity that keeps growth to a minimum. The winters seem to drag on while the summers seem to fade well before their time.
It is a difficult land.
When it did decide to jut up from the bone-chilling waters, it did so close enough to Canada that someone finally decided we should face the world together. It has never been the warmest of relationships, but it works. Canada gets to make jokes about us behind our backs and we get the privilege of knowing that we could take them in a fight.
It’s also well known that we have more sex than them.
My double identity — a Canadian in general, and a Newfoundlander specifically — is incredibly important to me. It is a deep-in-the-bones kind of identity; a Braveheart style declaration that You can take away my life, but you can never take away my hockey stick. We force our friends to drink tea (Hot tea, that is — the way God intended it). We downloaded the VOCM app so we could listen to the Irish Newfoundland Show. Sometimes, we even let our guard down and talk to our southern friends in our pirate-esque accents).
I can’t necessarily explain it. At least, I can’t explain it concisely.
Perhaps it’s nostalgia and familiarity. There’s something romantic about the sense that people fought against the land and tamed it. Its relative isolation has, in fact, served as a petri dish where a synthesis of European peoples has created an incredibly unique subculture that continues to struggle against the homogenizing forces of the west. Newfoundland is unique onto itself.
Perhaps it’s the symbiosis of people and place. Newfoundlanders are to the geography what lion tamers are to the beast. What was once wild, now foregoes its natural instincts. There is respect for the inherent power and trust that the one will not betray the other. The houses of Jelly Bean Row situated among the great jagged rocks are emblematic of this. The jolly jigs and shanty songs bring joy and testify to a relationship that is definitely give and take. The salt from the waves that crash against the rocks seems to give our people a little extra seasoning; Newfoundlanders have been described as the salt of the earth and perhaps this is why.
All I know is that when the customs agent in Toronto ended our short and naturally friendly exchange with the words Welcome Home, something stirred. It was at the same time an elation at being back in Canada and a realization that I have not felt at home for some time. Lucky for her, I was able to restrain myself and didn’t burst into tears at her station. I waited until I was in full view of the general public passing through Terminal 3 before doing that.
There is profound sense that this is my place. I match the spirit of this country. I am Canadian. In the poet’s words, I am one small part of “an experiment going right for a change.” I am maple leaves and beaver tails and hockey pucks and humble apologies and warm welcomes during the cold winters.
It is who I am and I long to be here.
And, for these few short weeks, I am.