Sunburned memories of pipping off and waterlogged skin

By Ivan Morgan / July 28, 2023

When I was little and whining for something, my Mom would say to me “You are not the only pebble on the beach.”

I always try to remember that. What I want, or what I like, is not necessarily what others want or like.

I offer my favourite swimming spot as an example. With the arrival of some warm weather, I am making my way up to my favourite pond. It’s a short drive and a short walk from my home in downtown St. John’s.

What’s remarkable is it hasn’t changed since I swam there as a lad. I don’t want it to change.

When we were little, we would hike up there every chance we got. It sounds surreal now, but my mom decided we were going up there too much and limited us to three days a week. She was concerned that we might be swimming unsupervised.

“Mom!  You know we wouldn’t do that. It’s not safe!”

We were the whole day in the pond. Of course.

I still swim there, more than five decades on. People know about it, and it’s well used during the day. I prefer swimming at dusk when there’s usually no one around.  

In that half century no one “in charge” has done much with it. In fact, it has actually become a little wilder in recent years. I like to refer to this as benign neglect. It ain’t broke and no one is fixing it. Let’s keep that policy.

I once sat drying off in the grass after a swim while a local politician, also up for a swim, sat with me and told me of her “vision” for the area. I sat in the warm sun listening to her in quiet soggy horror. She saw great opportunities for “recreational development.” The phrase still sends a shiver down my spine.

Beware of politicians with visions and big plans.

Yet I know my Mom was right. What right do I have to selfishly want this public place kept the way I like it? Why shouldn’t more people get to enjoy it?

Because it’s perfect.

In a long, boring meeting one hot August afternoon years ago I almost convinced the then premier of the province to pip off with me for a swim.

“Come on. It’s a ten-minute drive and a 15-minute walk from here.”

He looked at me for a long minute. He was thinking about it. I held my breath. Nah, he said, I’d better not.

It would have been perfect: Premier and minor Third Party official on the pip!

I will always regret not having that story to tell.

I am not going to say where it is. If you know, you know. It’s a magical place, a spring fed pond with water cool and crystal clear. There are those who say the waters have healing powers. Perhaps.

I have many, many stories of that place collected in the last 50 years, but here is my favourite one, a story handed down to me through the generations of my family. I first heard it when I was little.

In July of 1892 three lads who worked in my family’s warehouse got the afternoon off so they could hike up to the pond. Their plan was to fish, swim, light a campfire and sleep under the stars. They’d come home the next day. The weather was so glorious, and the water so alluring, that the next day they decided to stay ‘til late into the afternoon and make their excuses for skipping work. They worried about getting fired, but it was just too perfect to leave. Working life was hard back then, but they were young and took the day.

I often think of those long-forgotten lads when I am up there in the evenings. I think of them walking the same trail I do, heading back to town a little guilty and worried for their jobs.

The date was July 9th.

They needn’t have worried. St. John’s was gone. It had burned to the ground.

Ivan Morgan can be reached at ivan.morgan@gmail.com

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