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The landwash


The term landwash is familiar to anyone who was raised in a Newfoundland outport.

Marina Gambin

As we have often been known to corrupt the Queen's English, at times we may have referred to it as lambwash or lanwash. In the community of Branch, St. Mary's Bay, where I grew up in the 1950s, the landwash was the strip of land washed by the ocean.

At any given time, its size depended on whether the tide was high or low. As landmarks go, that particular strip of sandy and rocky beach was nothing out of the ordinary, but to me it was God's gift to childhood.

In those youthful days of summer, when that season seemed to go on forever, I spent many joyful hours playing in the landwash.

One was never alone there, for it drew children and water dogs like a magnet. It was our backyard, our playground, our swimming pool, our park, our haven. Most of all it was our treasury, always offering us shells, driftwood, kelp, fish skeletons, hopscotch rocks, and a potpourri of odds and ends washed up on the beach.

Looking for chainies was a favorite pastime for the girls, as chainies were important additives to every girl's cubby. Chainies were pieces of colored glass that the movements of the ocean had deposited. The broken sections were safe to handle because the waves and weather had smoothed and shaped them. The rounder types of chainies were called glassy rocks and we were convinced that some of the more beautiful ones were precious gems.

Swimming in the Branch landwash never took place until after "the stone went in the water." Of course this is an old Irish Catholic belief. Some saint or other (or maybe Mother Mary) would bless the water to make it safe. Whoever blessed it for safety certainly did not have control over the temperature because the water was always freezing.

Daring the waves, I now admit, was an exciting, but deadly game. Nonetheless, we participated in it often, especially when the cove was rough. Fearlessly, we challenged the angry sea. The test was to see who would be the last to retreat in the face of oncoming breakers. How we gambled with Neptune's wrath!

In later years, I would have grounded my own kids for a month if I had caught them doing the same.

To this day many families in Branch own a water dog or two and I contend that they are among the best retrievers in the world. We often whiled away a summer's evening playing fetch the stick from the water with Sailor or Skipper or Brandy. We could never throw the sticks far enough that they wouldn't retrieve them. They seemed to know it was a game as their happy barks mixed with our laughter.

Our landwash was endowed with something extra. A few generations before my time, a shipwreck in the cove had resulted in a large boiler going aground. At low tide times, when the boiler was visible and accessible, we swarmed around it. It also served as a directive because when most of the boiler was above water, it was all right to go swimming.

In later years, during a hurricane, the boiler came ashore and it was almost buried in the sand away from the waves. After a very short time, it lost its charm and mystery and was abandoned by the children.

In June came the caplin scull and the landwash really came alive. Knee-deep in caplin spawn and sand, with the foghorn blasting, we gleefully mingled with the little silvered-colored fish. We knew not ( and cared less ) why they threw themselves ashore in their funny way of mating. It was fun just being there. For a week or two each year, we reveled in a world of rubber boots, dip nets, cast nets, fog, sea birds, wet feet, cold hands and salt sea air.

When I write my name in the sands of that same landwash today, I watch the sea wash away a different surname. I realize nothing stays the same and time and tide wait for no one.

Marina Power Gambin was born and raised in her beloved Branch, St. Mary's Bay. She now lives in Placentia where she taught for almost three decades. She can be reached at marinagambin@persona.ca.

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