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Over the Fence

Yesterday afternoon, my Aunt Laura (Laura Morry Williams) launched her third book in Ferryland, the outport community on the southern shore of Newfoundland where my mother and her six sisters and seven brothers grew up.

Published by DRC Publishing, Over the Fence: Stories from Outport Newfoundland is a compilation of commonly themed stories. The book is intended, as Aunt Laura points out in her Introduction, to expose “history as it is being lived” and share the kind of “facts about the local people and their ancestors, which may enable you to better understand your neighbour.”

Not able to travel to Newfoundland to attend the event, I spent part of my afternoon scanning the pages. I stopped to read the chapters with familiar or well-known names –– Giovannetti, O’Keefe, Sesk, Hynes, Kavanagh, Delahunty, Barnable. I marveled at the amount of detail included about the various family trees and the vivid images painted by the reminiscences woven into the rich pages.… like the one of a man carrying ‘Shan’ on his back through high snow banks so she could help his wife through childbirth, only to have his twins born just before they arrived and then die shortly after.

As the book sat next to my computer, Facebook open on the screen, the contrast between past and present made me realize that the kind of information and stories my Aunt Laura has carefully researched and compiled into this almost 200-page volume tend to be taken for granted today.

Aunt Laura addresses the attendees at a September 22, 2013 book launch at the Ferryland Arts Centre. Thanks to cousin Todd O’Brien for the Facebook photo!

Social media vehicles like Facebook and Twitter (which I use) and Instagram (which I have yet to delve into) also expose history as it is being lived. Those of us who utilize these can witness it flow across our screens in almost real time. Indeed, it is because of these tools that I could see my aunt standing behind a podium, 3,190 kilometres away, as she addressed those in attendance at her book launch –– my cousin Todd O’Brien posted a picture to Facebook.

I appreciate the Internet for the information and connectivity it places at my fingertips. I value Facebook because it allows me to stay in touch with relatives and friends both far and near. And on some level I assume that everything recorded online will be available a decade, ten decades, twenty decades from now. But Aunt Laura’s book somehow reminded me that I don’t know that for sure. And even if it does still exist, will people have any interest in scrolling through the history that was posted oh so long ago?

Maybe. Maybe not.

But if they don’t, I hope people like my aunt still exist –– people who take the time to look back into the past, learn the details, and tell the stories, so that we can understand and appreciate that past… and our present… more fully.

Well done, Aunt Laura. Well done.

Aunt Laura signing books. Photo also courtesy of cousin Todd.