Marina Gambin remembers the mystique of the parlour

Marina Gambin
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Trend-setters of today have abandoned the concept of parlours for living rooms.

Marina Gambin

Surely, the people who are responsible for these definitions must realize that the word parlour sounds much more elegant than living room or sitting room.

When I grew up in the 50s, almost every house in Branch had a parlour. To this day, I wonder what its purpose was. Although I probably visited every house in Branch as a child, the times I entered peoples’ parlours were few and far between, and only under certain circumstances. The doors to these rooms were always closed and in many cases locked.

Although the “parlour end” (as it was referred to) in many residences was off limits, there were occasions when some of my comrades and I managed to cross the threshold. We might be invited into such areas to see a Christmas tree. That privilege often included Purity syrup and fruit cake. There was one sweet lady who produced a delectable box of chocolates but we were only allowed to take one each.

Whenever the Grim Reaper paid a visit to the community, we were sure to gain entrance to someone’s parlour. But with window blinds lowered, burning candles flickering and a dead body on display, I didn’t enjoy investigating my surroundings. I was always curious enough to want to look at the deceased, yet nervous enough to get out of the wake room as fast as I could. Some of my friends were braver. Hence, they often succeeded in seeing more than I did when we were in attendance at those spooky vigils.

In the summertime, when nuns came home to visit, we children would patronize them to get rosary beads, holy pictures or sacred medals. Such audiences often took place in parlours. However, we were so in awe of those hallowed women, clad in their unusual garb, that we were afraid to do any scrutinizing of the locale. During such sessions, it was hard enough trying to answer the sisters correctly and reverently and not make a show of oneself. Interest in parlours was secondary when we were conversing with religious life.

As children will often make immature generalizations about topics, my childish reasoning concluded that all parlours contained a dresser stocked with good dishes, a table covered with a lace tablecloth and trunks filled with all kinds of nice things. When I was nine or 10 years old, I would have given anything to be allowed to forage in some of those special places.

My grandmother lived next door to us but I hardly ever got into her parlour. After she died, we all spent two or three days there until she was laid in her final resting place. After that, I could rummage around her parlour to my heart’s delight. I didn’t find anything spectacular in chests or cabinets. So much for my childhood fantasy and mystique.

Of course, by then I was 19 and I guess I had moved on to other pastimes and diversions which did not include spending time in parlours.

— Marina Power Gambin was born and raised in her beloved Branch, St. Mary’s Bay. She is a retired teacher who lives in Placentia where she taught for almost three decades. She can be reached at

Geographic location: Placentia

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