About Mary MacGillivray and Cian O’Morain of the Brigh Music and Tea shop in Charlottetown, my first stop in Nova Scotia and how we swapped songs over lemonade tea and how I walked away with a CD that combines Irish Traditional music with didgeridoo – of course it does. For those of you who aren’t steeped in this stuff, it is called Meiteal and is by Seamus Begley and Stephen Cooney – who is an Aussie – oh yeah! And according to the Irish Times this album ‘tore through the rule book’ – how unlike an Australian.
Don’t let me forget to tell you about Jane, the owner of A Boat to Sea. I need you to know about her cottage perched on the edge of the ocean, and that, until recently, she has always owned four English Setters and four Siamese cats – ‘I don’t have children and they were my babies’. Don’t let me forget to tell you about her late husband David who was a mathematician who decided to become a vet and who died of throat cancer.
Or how the local Cape Breton farming boys would prefer to sleep in so their cows’ hooves looked like elves feet and, because they stayed in manure soaked barns their legs splayed and how her husband invented a brace that attached the poor things to a tractor that lifted them off the ground and helped them to walk again.
And how her husband had a skin graft from his wrist to graft onto his tongue and it had hairs growing out of it and they laughed about it in the end of his days that Jane said ‘were terrible, but thankfully, short’.
And how she grew up in a place with a close family – parents who were loving and three siblings who she was the eldest of and who she told that she would like them even if they weren’t related. And how she had a childhood where she roamed all day – kicked out of bed in the morning by the bell and home again for supper. How she grew up in a house built by her father that he lived in until the day he died. Or was that her grandfather? He had the old hunting lodge which was where they lived on Deer Lake. And how the neighbourhood changed when the Asian immigrants came and how it was a hard thing to feel like a stranger in your own town. And how she moved from there.
And how she came to Cape Breton and saw a man in his garden and she spotted a Bird of Paradise flower and she’d never seen one before and she asked if she could see it. ‘I just wanted to touch it’. Then he said he’d just go get his ‘calipers’ and she thought that was the most wonderful word, she’d only ever called them ‘clippers’ and he gave her cuttings and she thought this is the kind of community she wants to be a part of.
And how her deed is a ‘water deed’ and how she has reclaimed the sea. She has reclaimed the sea (that really is worth shouting at you) by building garden and terracing her land. When I tell her the next day that I wonder if she is some kind of Goddess whose power it is to hold back the tides she does not disabuse me of the notion (as she prepares my gouda cheese omellete with vegetables and ham – have I mentioned that?) but quietly nods and says ‘some years I lose the battle’.
And don’t forget how she deliberately forgets the day her parents died because she doesn’t want to have those sad days marked forever. And how seven years after her husband David died ‘a knock came on the door and and I fell for this man like I have not fallen for anyone for the longest time’. And while she was seven years younger than Her David, which she said worked well because ‘he let me grow up’, this man is 12 years younger than her and she describes him as being ‘dynamic, he’ll do anything’.
We got this explanation after Michael, a wonderful fellow guest who will get his own section, promise, asked her if she liked reading. She does. But her Sundays, her precious four hours off, when she would ‘love’ to sit down and read a book are now filled with this man’s love. He has swept our North Sydney Sea Goddess off her feet. She has just bought a speedboat. And she is learning to kayak.
She tells me she has two sisters in Western Australia and a brother somewhere far flung on this side of the world whose name I didn’t quite catch and she has holidayed in Tasmania recently and she adored MOMA.
Her mother taught herself to paint after her kids were grown and she shows me a self portrait that hangs in the lounge room. As I’m appreciating the loveliness of it Jane tells me her mother was an absolutely honest woman, almost to a fault and that there is another self-portrait that is ‘brutal in its honesty’ and Jane has that hanging in her own place, just next door and down closer to the water.
And no, I’m not curious enough to rug up and risk life and limb to violate her privacy by peering in windows to catch a glimpse – we’ll save that caper for the as yet unwritten short story or novel. In that scenario I’ll be rude and reckless. Here, in real life, I’m polite and very cosy, thank you very much. I also love the idea that Jane keeps that painting for herself. Sorry, but Jane is truly charming, and her mum has a special something: