Tag Archives: Coastline Cottages PEI

Feed Your Head

[UNVERIFIED CONTENT] Two workmen eating a fried full English breakfast in cafe

By Ed Staskus 

“Remember what the dormouse said, feed your head, feed your head.”  Grace Slick, Jefferson Airplane

There are no dormice on Prince Edward Island but there are plenty of mice. There are house mice, field mice, and meadow jumping mice. There are rats, too. There is the Norway rat, otherwise known as the brown rat. There are so many of them in the world that, next to human beings, they are the most successful mammal on the planet.

The trouble with the rat race is, win or lose, you are still in a rat race.

Mice are little bundles of energy and love to chow down. They eat fruits, seeds, and grains. They are omnivorous, which means they eat plants and meat. They eat just about anything they can find, always on the prowl.

Every day is a field day for mice on PEI. The state of the island is that its land mass is 1.4 million acres and almost half of it is cleared for agricultural use. Back in the day swarms of vermin would show up out of nowhere and eat everything in the fields. In the 19th century the years 1813 to 1815 were known as “The Years of the Mouse.”

“We had a mouse in our cottage a couple of years ago,” said Frank Glass.

“We heard something at night scratching around in the kitchen. The next morning, Vera found droppings.” His wife tucked all the food away and told Kelly Doyle, the proprietor of Coastline Cottages, which are five cottages up a high sloping lawn from the eponymous Doyle’s Cove in North Rustico. He found a tiny hole at the back of the cottage the mouse had chewed through to get in, plugged it up, and set a trap under the sink.

“That’s the end of that mouse,” said Frank.

“You know what they say,” said Vera.

“No, what?”

“It’s the second mouse that gets the cheese.”

The second mouse never showed up, though, staying away in the barley field behind the cottages.

The first farmers at Souris suffered many infestations. Vermin can and will lay waste to croplands. The first of a dozen plagues of mice through the rest of the century happened in 1724. When the time came to give the town a name, the townsfolk called it Souris, which is French for mouse. Even though they are not welcome, the town’s mascot is a mouse.

Integrated pest management systems have gone a long way to controlling infestations in the 21st century. It doesn’t mean complete eradication of pests, but rather bringing their numbers down to where losses are below economic injury levels. It’s about not throwing the baby out with the bath water, but rather ensuring crop protection while reducing human health risks and environmental damage.

Mice have since gone that’s entertainment on Prince Edward Island. In 2010 small bronze mouse statues were hidden around Charlottetown. They were based on Eckhart the Mouse, who is a character from PEI author David Weale’s book “The True Meaning of Crumbfest.” The around town game was about downloading clues and trying to find all of the hidden in plain sight little urchins.

Mice in the wild live a year or two. The bronze rodents are still in Charlottetown. They’ve been living on their charm and good looks.

Wherever there are mice there are foxes, and since there are a lot of foxes in the National Park between Cavendish and North Rustico, there are consequently a lot of mice. Foxes are omnivores and eat seeds, berries, worms, eggs, birds, frogs, and fungi. They are a lot like the mice they stealth for and snatch up. They eat everything. In the winter they mostly eat rabbits and mice.

“We saw a fox and Orby Head at the same time the first time we drove up to the far side of the island,” said Frank.

Vera and Frank were on a car trip across Nova Scotia, their second in as many years, when somebody mentioned Prince Edward Island.

“What’s that?” asked Vera.

They took the Northumberland Ferry at Caribou to Prince Edward Island the next morning, rearranging their plans, and stayed at the Sunny King Motel in Cornwall. The next day they had lunch sitting at the bar at Churchill Arms in Charlottetown. Vera had a Havarti and vegetable sandwich and Frank had a Churchill’s clubhouse.

“How long are you here?” asked the bartender.

“Just a day or two,” Frank said. “We both have to get back to work by Monday.”

“Where are you from?”

“Northern Ohio, west of Cleveland, on Lake Erie.”

“Eerie as in scary and strange?”

“No, it was named after the Erie tribe of Indians.”

“You mean Native Americans?”

“Right, the native Indians. The Iroquois called them Erie, which means long tail, because they wore bobcat fur hats with the tail on the back.”

“Don’t bobcats have short stubby tails?” asked the bartender.

“That’s the funny part,” said Frank.

“We had never even heard of Prince Edward Island before,” said Vera.

“I’ve seen some Canadian maps where PEI isn’t even there,” said the bartender, refilling their coffee cups. “Just New Brunswick and Nova Scotia and the next thing is Newfoundland, which is barely Canadian.”

“I’m originally from Sudbury,” said Frank, “and I had an idea there was something here, but I couldn’t have told you what it was.”

The bartender gave them a Visitor’s Guide.

“You might try the central coastal side of the island, Rustico, Cavendish, the Brackley Beach, up around there.”

They took Route 7 to North Milton and Oyster Bed Bridge, took a left to North Rustico, and kept going to Cavendish. They saw a Visitor Center, turned right, and drove to the National Park. It was mid-September and the entrance stations were closed. There were no boom barriers. They drove onto the Gulf Shore Parkway. The road followed the curve of the ocean, the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the landscape rolling.

They stopped at MacNeill’s Brook and took a walk on the beach. The freshwater outflow comes from MacNeill Brook, part of David and Margaret MacNeill’s farm and house a hundred years ago, when they were cousins and neighbors of Lucy Maud Montgomery, who wrote “Anne of Green Gables.”

They stopped at MacKenzie’s Brook and walked up to a grassy bluff. The brook passes underneath the parkway through two culverts. There was a long beach to the west and red sandstone cliffs to the east. One enormous rock in the cliff face had a large hole in it. Vera and Frank lay on their backs on the grass and looked up into the sky. The sun was warm on their faces and the breeze was cool.

Frank and Vera stopped at Orby Head, parked in the gravel loop lot, and walked to the edge of the cliff.

A colony of double-crested cormorants was nesting in the cliffs. Some of them were fishing off the shore, others were drifting, their heavy bodies low in the water, while others were chilling in the sunshine on a ledge. They are large water birds with small heads on long necks. Their thin strong hooked bills are about the length of their heads. The birds are dark, brownish black with a small patch of yellow-orange skin on the face.

The folks from Lake Erie watched the waves breaking.

“Oh, man, this is where we should come next year,” said Frank, getting back into their car.

“I am with you,” said Vera.

Before they could pull out, a red fox ran diagonally across the small lot and jumped into the brush, hellbent after something running for its life.

They passed Cape Turner and a minute later the road dipped down to Doyle’s Cove. On their left were two older frame houses, one green and the other white. The white house had a sign on it that said, “Andy’s Surfside Inn.” On their right, up a grassy slope, were some cottages. The sign at the front of the drive read “Coastline Cottages.” They drove up the drive to the office and parked in front of the small neon open sign in the window,

A Japanese woman carrying a blue plastic bucket came out of one of the cottages. She told them her name was Katsue and that the owner was away, but she could show them one of the cottages, the one she had just finished cleaning. By the time Frank and Vera left, their names were on the big paper schedule on an easel in the office for a cottage the next September right after Labor Day.

A year later, driving up and down Route 6 between North Rustico and Cavendish in the night, after twelve hours in the car, having lost all sense of where exactly the park road and the cottages were, they finally found the Visitor Center on Cawnpore Lane. It was closed, but they heard voices across the street at Shining Waters. One of the cottages was still lit up and four men were talking laughing drinking on the front porch.

None of them knew the Coastline Cottages, but all of them knew where the shore road was.

“That’s a step in the right direction,” Vera said, shooting Frank a vexed look. “Maybe we won’t have to sleep in the car after all.”

In the event, they almost fell asleep on the deck of their cottage after they found it, wrapped in blankets, looking at the wide expanse of stars in the inky sky, stars they never saw at home, where the lights of the city always obscured the heavens.

“Keep your feet on the ground and your eyes on the stars,” said Frank.

“I know you just said that, but who said that?” asked Vera.

“Teddy Roosevelt, in that biography about him I’m reading.”

“We are all stars and we all deserve to twinkle.”

“Who said that?”

“Marilyn Monroe.”

Frank read more books than watched movies and Vera watched more movies than read books. He was a by-the-book man and she had her head in the stars.

The next morning, the day clear brisk windy, they unpacked and went for breakfast at Lorne’s Snack Shop in North Rustico They both ordered sausage eggs hash fries and toast at the kitchen hole at the back of the front room. There were hordes of potato chips on wire racks attached to a wall where they stood.

“We’ve got a couple gutfounded,” Vera heard the woman at the counter say to the other woman at the stove. “Fire up a scoff.”

They sat down on worn chairs at a green table. Everything was in apple-pie order but worn. There were scattered card tables in a back room and shelves on two walls full of VCR tapes for rent. The other walls were covered with movie posters. A rough and ready man eating threw them a glance.

When the front counter woman brought Franks’ plate, he asked, “Is that for both of us?

“No, that’s your, we’re just doin’ the other toast.”

“It’s a good thing we haven’t eaten since yesterday afternoon.”

“Where y’ longs to?”

“What’s that?” asked Frank.

“Where yah from?”

“The States,” said Frank. “What country are you from?”

“G’wan, here in Canada, man, Newfoundland.”

“Oh.”

Twenty summers-and-more later, Frank and Vera drive the one thousand twelve hundred thirty-five and a half miles from Lakewood, Ohio to North Rustico, staying for two or three weeks. Lorne’s Snack Shop is gone, their poutine a strike-it-rich memory. The Co Op is gone, and although the food market isn’t any bigger, it’s better. Amanda’s and their humongous pizza pies is gone, replaced by Pedro’s Island Eatery, their big plates of fish on a new deck. The hard scrabble park road has been replaced, flanked by an all-purpose walking running biking path. The old booths at the entrances to the National Park have been torn down and rebuilt.

“This is swank,” Frank said. “What do you call these things, anyway?” he asked a teenager in a green shirt in the toll booth.

“The guardhouse,” she said, leaning out the window of the air-conditioned guardhouse.

The town is bigger than it used to be. A trove of large houses has been raised in the triangle formed by Harbourview Drive, Church Hill Avenue, and the North Rustico beach. When winter comes most of the occupation leaves and the houses sit empty. A brick-faced line of condos has been built on Route 6 between Co Op Lane and Autumn Lane.

One clear sky summer evening Frank and Vera threw their beach chairs in the back of their SUV, popped open a bottle of wine, and drove to Orby Head to see the sun set. They unfolded their chairs at the point edge of the cliffs, poured themselves wine in plastic water cups, and settled in, the orange red orb of the sun sinking down over Cavendish. A sweet-tempered breeze drifted in the stunted trees.

A minute later they were rushing back to their car, their wine splashing, the cork God knows where, swatting at the mob of mosquitos after them, as though they were fodder. Frank zipped up the windows and slathered aloe he had in a backpack on his arms and neck.

“What the hell,” he said, as they settled into the Adirondack chairs on the grass in front of their cottage. “You try to enjoy some out of doors and see what it gets you, a swarm of biters.”

“The out of doors gets you a lot, and not just good legs and a suntan” Vera said.

“Some people say the mosquito is the official provincial bird of PEI,” said Kelly Doyle. “The sunset hour is when you’re most likely to feel them. If you were to stop at a certain place, like Orby Head, and get surprised by the little buggers, just move on. As long as it’s not the sunset hour, they won’t follow.”

It’s the price you pay to feed your head.

A Stanford University study found that students who walked in a green park for an hour-and-a-half exhibited quieter brains than those who walked next to a rip-roaring highway. They manifested less activity in the prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain associated with depression. Walking in nature was shown to improve frame of mind. It also avoided clouds of carbon monoxide soaking into the lining of your lungs.

A study at the University of Exeter Medical School in En­gland found that people who moved from concrete spaces to green spaces experienced clear-cut improvement in their mental health. The boost was long-lasting, mental distress over all lessened even three years post-move

An analysis in 2018 of more than a hundred studies on green spaces found that the benefits included upgraded heart rate and blood pressure, lowering in cholesterol levels, and better sleep duration and neurological outcomes. There were also discernable reductions in type II diabetes, cardiovascular mortality, as well as overall mortality.

You don’t need to be a little mouse at the bottom of the beach staring up at Orby Head, or wash down the ‘Drink Me’ potion Alice did to get the perspective, or slip away on Grace Slick’s Orange Sunshine, to have the zero cool red cliffs make your head spin. Just go there and see for yourself. Go, just don’t go at sunset. Don’t stand too near the edge, either.

“Maybe about fifty feet of our land has fallen away since I was a boy,” said Kelly. “It might be climate change, but the storms are definitely more intense. The island is made of sandstone. We’re like a BIC lighter, not meant to last. There’s no stopping that, it’s just our geology.”

There is no granite or hard rock to keep away the breaking waves. “Everybody knows it,” said Adam Fenech, director of UPEI’s Climate Lab, echoing Kelly. He meant everybody on the island, like the Doyle’s, who have been there going on two hundred years. But nothing lasts forever, not mice, not red sandstone, not even hard rock. In the meantime, put on your walking running biking shoes, get out into outer space, never minding what’s in the cards.

Feed your head is where it’s at.

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on Red Island http://www.redislandpei.com, Paperback Yoga http://www.paperbackyoga.com, Lithuanian Journal http://www.lithuanianjournal.com, and State Route Two http://www.stateroutetwo.com. Click “Follow” on a site to get the monthly feature in your in-box.

 

Searching for the Surfside

70374352_368126877443939_6770545428476723200_N

By Ed Staskus

“Whenever we leave home, to Ontario or New Brunswick, I always say we are crossing into another world, into a strange world, into Canada,” said Marie Bachand. “I always ask Louie did you bring our passports?” She always asks in French because her partner Louie Painchaund doesn’t speak English.

It was a cumulus cloud high sky day when they went to Prince Edward Island. They didn’t have their passports. Who wants to look like their passport picture on a sunny summer day, anyway?

They live in Saint-Gregorie in Quebec, a community of the city of Becancour, on the south side of the St. Lawrence River. Their house dates to the 1780s, built by refugee Acadians after the French and Indian War. “They came down the St Lawrence River, four hundred families. It was a rough time. They stopped, said OK, looks good, and settled here.”

It is about six hundred miles to Prince Edward Island, up the St. Lawrence, down New Brunswick, and across the Confederation Bridge to PEI. The first time they went they were touring the Maritimes. The island was a spur of the moment runaround. They drove across the Northumberland Straights on the nine-mile-long bridge to the other side.

“We thought we could run over and visit PEI in one or two days,” Marie said. “It’s so small.”

Even though it is pint-sized, the smallest of the ten Canadian provinces at just a little more than two thousand square miles, compared to Quebec’s almost six hundred thousand square miles, it goes over big.

Ten years later, even after Andy’s Surfside Inn is no more, they still go to Prince Edward Island two weeks in the summer, staying at the Coastline Cottages up the hill across the street, riding their bikes all over the place, still finding substantial fresh things to rack up on the to-do list.

The inn was on the ocean side of North Rustico, near the entrance to the harbor, a white clapboard two-story house with a dozen windows, two dormers and three porches on the side facing the water. A broad lawn slopes down to the cliffs. It wasn’t always the Surfside Inn and isn’t the Surfside Inn anymore, having since taken up where it left off, back to being a home.

“The first house was bigger,” said Kelly Doyle.

Kelly’s grandparents, Mike and Loretta Doyle, were visiting and playing cards at a neighbor’s house one winter night in 1929. Their friends lived about a mile away. At the end of the evening, going home in their horse-drawn sled, they crested a frozen hill. A red glow lit up the sky and flared across the flat cove below them.

The house was being swallowed up by fire. The pitch-dark night was blazing. They had left seven children behind in the care of the eldest.

“It was a flue fire,” said Kelly. “It burnt down because of the stove.”

By the time the Doyle’s raced their sled down to the house, and finding all the children safe and sound outside, there wasn’t much they could do. There were no neighbors nearby to help and there was no fire department. Mike Doyle was able to drag some furniture from the first floor out the front door and saved as many fox furs as he could.

The house was rebuilt the next year and finished the following year.

“The foxes my grandfather saved built the new house.” Kelly’s grandfather was a fox farmer. What he sold the pelts for paid for the work of the itinerant immigrant tradesmen who built the house.

Furry garments are made of furry animal hides. Even though it has lately fallen on hard times, fur is one of the oldest forms of clothing. Once we started globe-trotting out of Africa, to where everywhere else was colder, we started wearing furs. Ever since, people have worn beaver racoon sable rabbit coyote wolf chinchilla opossum mink and foxes.

Mountain men wore the bears they shot and killed.

In the 1880s foxes were bred for the first time, accomplished on Prince Edward Island by locals Charlie Dalton and Robert Oulton. Theirs was the original fur farm in 1884. Within several years the rush was on. But the rush didn’t really and truly mushroom until after a pelt sale a few years later when their harvest of 25 skins brought them nearly $35 thousand dollars. It was a boat load of a barn door of money, bearing in mind that the average island farm worker those days made less than $30 dollars a month.

In 1926 nearly nine hundred live silver foxes were shipped from Summerside to the United States. It was the most valuable shipment in the history of Prince Edward Island up to that time and is still called the ‘Million Dollar Train’. Andy Doyle was born the same year, spunky and healthy, although nobody ever called him the ‘Million Dollar Baby’.

By the 1930s the fox farm industry was strong as a bull, raking in multi-millions of dollars. There were hundreds of thousands of foxes being farmed and skinned coast to coast throughout Canada and the United States.

“The furs my grandfather was able to rescue from the fire were worth five thousand. In the end the new house cost five thousand,” said Kelly.

“We stayed at a country inn, at the information center at the bridge they said it was nice, but it was a little room, yuk,” said Marie. She picked up the official PEI tourist book. Where to stay next? She thumbed through the book. She put her finger on Andy’s Surfside Inn. “I say to Louie, what’s that, the north shore? We had already decided to stay three or four more days. We went looking for it.”

Gavan Andrew “Andy” Doyle was 81 years old in 2007 when Marie and Louie went driving up and down the north shore looking for his eponymous inn. Andy had been born in the white house that was the inn. Years later, grown-up a young man, pushing off after World War Two, he landed in Montreal, married, brought up three stepchildren, and years later, when his wife Vivienne died, went back to Prince Edward Island.

His mother died shortly after and he inherited the house on Doyle’s Cove. “My aunt, his sister in Montreal, always had a soft spot for Gavan. She helped him get the place up and running. She bought a bunch of nice furniture for him,” said Kelly Doyle. It was the late 80s. Andy Doyle resurrected the Surfside Inn that had been his mother’s brainchild in the late 40’s.

“When my grandfather died in 1948, my grandmother wanted to make some money with the house and started taking in tourists,” said Kelly. “There was a white picket fence, she had ducks and geese and sheep in a big barnyard, and she kept a garden.” It was a large working garden. “She fed the bed and breakfasts herself.”

As her six girls and two boys grew up and left home, she converted their rooms to guest rooms.

“She filled those rooms all through the 50s and 60s,” said Kelly. “PEI wasn’t like the rest of the world back then. Tourists found the way of life interesting, honest and down-to-earth. There wasn’t much entertainment, but there was always lots to do. They just liked the place.”

When Marie telephoned the Surfside Inn, a Japanese woman answered the call.

“Andy always had Japanese girls, three girls, housekeepers for the season who were exchange students who wanted to learn English. They shared a small bedroom over the kitchen. She told us, yes, we have a room.”

Louie and Marie drove up and down Route 6 between Cavendish and North Rustico searching for the Surfside Inn. When they couldn’t find it, they finally stopped at a National Parks kiosk and got directions. It was in the park, although on private land, Doyle’s Land on Doyle’s Cove. They drove down the Gulf Shore Parkway, past Cape Turner and Orby Head, and down to the coastal inlet.

When they got there, there wasn’t a room. There were four rooms that shared a bath. They were all taken. What Marie and Louie didn’t know was that there was a fifth room on the ground floor, which was Andy’s bedroom with a private bath.

“When we are full, he gives you that room,” explained the young woman.

“We’ll take that,” said Marie. “Where does Andy go to sleep?”

“He sleeps in the boat.”

The Japanese girls did the heavy lifting in return for being able to learn English. “I don’t know where they learned it, but it wasn’t from Andy,” said Marie. “He never talked to them.” They came from away, 6500 miles away, and found their own way to talkfests.

Outside the house was a cast-off wood lobster boat. The hull and forward cabin were worthy enough, although it needed some planks and rib work. it looked like it still had some spirit to it, like it could still make a living at sea if it had to.

“It smelled bad, all old stuff papers tools junk a small bed,” said Marie. “It should have been burned long ago.”

The Surfside Inn had a kitchen with several refrigerators. “We thought it was just for breakfast, but we saw other people storing food and making supper.” They started shopping at Doiron’s Fish Market on the harbor road. One suppertime Andy saw them coming into the kitchen with lobsters.

“Let me fix those for you,” he said.

“Oh, my God,” said Marie, “he was good. Tack, tack, tack, all done.”

They started bringing their own wine from home, though.

“I don’t like PEI Liquor wines. We brought Italian and French whites and rose for the fish.”

Coming back from Doiron’s one day, putting away fresh cod wrapped in Kraft paper, Marie noticed small buckets of frozen milk in the freezer.

“There was a Muslim couple staying at Andy’s, the guy was always in the living room, but she was wrapped up, always going to the bedroom. She didn’t talk. At breakfast, no words. She looked at her iPad, that’s all.”

The mother was expressing her breast milk and storing it. She kept it in the back of the freezer, the coldest part of fridges. One day all the milk was gone.

“We never saw the baby, though, maybe it was somewhere else, with a grandma.”

“Tourists in the 50s and 60s weren’t from Monkton or Toronto,” said Kelly. “Some were from the States, but a lot of them were from Europe. We lived next door and ran around the yard, having fun, meeting people. In 1970 my grandmother got a little bit ill and couldn’t keep it going. She lived alone for seven years until my dad moved her into the senior citizen’s home in North Rustico.”

The white house was empty for about ten years, for most of the 80s. It came back to life as the rooms filled up. In summertime it was never vacant.

“You could see the sea right in front of you,” said Marie. “We sat on the porch every day. It was a special place. After a week we would say, let’s stay another day, then another day. Other people, too, were crazy about this place.”

One day Andy asked Louie to help him take an old heavy bicycle out of the lobster boat. “You’re a big guy, you can do it,” said Andy.

When the bike was on the ground Andy straddled it and pedaled to the downhill on the all-purpose path. “He was going down the hill, but Louie told me there were no brakes. Stop! Stop! I yelled but he yelled back, I’ve been riding this bike for thirty years!”

Whenever Andy pulled his four-door sedan out to run errands or go to the grocery, Marie and Louie kept their distance. “I don’t think there were any brakes on his car, either,” she said.

He seemed to own only three short-sleeve shirts. “I have three nice ones,” he said. “I got them for a dollar each at the Salvation Army.” One was yellow, one green and one blue. The blue shirt was his favorite. He dried all his laundry on an outside clothesline, in the sun and ocean breeze.

“All the guests, they were from Canada, the United States, Italy, England, all over. A Chinese couple had a four-year-old who had been born in Quebec, so they named him Denis. Whenever we saw a Chinese child after that we always called the child Denis Wong. There was a couple from Boston, they lived in the harbor on a boat there. He was 80 and she was in her 70s.”

“I didn’t come with my boat. I came with my girlfriend,” he said.

“There is no age,” said Marie. Until you find out your grade school class is running the town city province country.

Aging and its consequences usually happen step-by-step, sometimes without warning. One minute you’re only as old as you feel and the next minute you don’t feel good. It’s like going on a cruise. It can be smooth sailing or a shipwreck. Once you’re on board, though, there’s not much you can do about it.

“There were always many guests, but suddenly a few years ago Andy started getting mixed up. He forgot reservations, there were two Japanese girls instead of three, it wasn’t the same.” What it takes to make an inn work wasn’t getting done. By 2016 it was far more vacant than occupied and Marie and Louie were staying at Kelly Doyle’s Coastline Cottages up the hill across the street.

“Andy introduced us to him,” Marie said.

Like Dorothy said at the end of ‘The Marvelous Land of Oz’, “Everything has to come to an end, sometime.”

In 2018 Andy Doyle moved to the Garden Home in Charlottetown and his nephew Erik Brown took the house over, renovating it and transforming it into his home. In November Andy died. He was 92. It was the end of the Surfside Inn.

“On the ocean was wonderful,” said Marie. “Once we found it, Louie and I loved the Surfside.”

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on Red Island http://www.redislandpei.com Paperback Yoga http://www.paperbackyoga.com 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Lithuanian Journal http://www.lithuanianjournal.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

Six Oysters Ahoy

IMG_6834 2

By Ed Staskus

“He was a very valiant man who first adventured on the eating of oysters.”  King James VI and I

“I checked the weather report,” said Frank Glass.

“What did you find out?” asked Vera Glass.

“It’s going to be the same today as it was yesterday.”

“Is it going to rain all day?” asked Vera.

“You don’t need a weatherman for that,” said Frank, throwing a glance at the window.

A steady rain was falling outside the large front window of the cottage, down on the long sloping lawn of the Coastline Cottages, on the Gulf Shore Parkway, on the three houses on the other side of the road, and out to the horizon as far as they could see. The sky was dark over Doyle’s Cove. Broad surfboard-sized waves worked up the water. When Frank looked out the northwest-facing kitchen window, the sky, where the weather was coming from, was even darker.

“What should we do? It rained all day yesterday. I’m getting cabin fever.”

“We could play cards, read, and talk among ourselves. How about dinner and a show?”

“That sounds good, especially the part about dinner,” said Vera. “Where do you want to eat?”

“There’s a show opening tonight at the Victoria Theatre.”

“All right, but what about dinner?”

“We could eat at the Landmark, it’s right there.”

“I’ve always liked the Landmark,” said Vera. “Eugene is a great cook. They have the best meat pies.”

“Somebody told me he sold it and there are new owners,” said Frank.

“What? How can that be? Eugene and Olivier and Rachel are gone?”

The Sauve family tree had repurposed an old grocery store in Victoria into a café restaurant in the late 1980s, adding a deck, digging a basement for storage and coolers, and expanding their dining space several times. They were a perennial ‘Best Place to Eat on Prince Edward Island’ in the magazine Canadian Living.

“It’s now called the Landmark Oyster House.”

“I love oysters,” said Vera. “Let’s go.”

It was still raining when Frank and Vera drove up Church Hill Road and swung onto Route 6, through North Rustico to Route 13, through Hunter River and Kelly’s Cross. It was still raining when they pulled into the small seaside town of Victoria on the other side of Prince Edward Island, on the Northumberland Straight side, 45 minutes later. It rained on them as they rushed into the Landmark Oyster House.

There wasn’t a table to be had, but there were two seats at the bar.

“Look, we’re right in front of the oysters,” said Vera, as they sat down at the closed end of it. “I love this spot.”

Kieran Goodwin, the bartender, agreed, standing on the other side of the bar, on the other side of a large shallow stainless steel bin full of raw oysters on ice.

“Best seats in the house,” he said. “They were going to put the bar in the front room, but the dimensions didn’t work out.”

“Who’s they?” asked Frank.

Vera looked the chalkboard on the wall up and down. The names of the oysters on ice were written on the board. There were six of them, Valley Pearl, Sand Dune, Shipwreck, Blackberry Point, Lucky Limes, and Dukes. She looked down into the bin. She couldn’t make heads or tails of which were which. She knew raw oysters were alive, more-or-less.

She wondered, how could you even tell?

“Greg and Marly Anderson,” said Kieran. “They own a wedding venue up the road.”  It is the Grand Victoria Wedding Events Venue, in a restored former 19th century church. “When this opportunity came up, when Eugene was looking to tone it down a bit, they decided to purchase it.”

“I worked at the Oyster House in Charlottetown shucking oysters for almost five years,” said Marly. “We heard that the family wanted to retire because they had been working at this restaurant for 29 years. We already felt a connection to this place and we are friends and neighbors with the family.”

“They’ve put their roots down in the community, are making their stand here,” said Kieran.

“I like what they’ve done in here, casual but upscale,” said Vera.

“It looks like the kitchen is more enclosed than it was,” observed Frank.

“Yeah, they did up a wall,” said Kieran. “When you used to walk in, you could peek right in.”

“I remember Eugene telling us once he learned all his cooking from his mom. Who does the cooking now?”

“Kaela Barnett is our chef.”

“We couldn’t do this without her,” said Greg Anderson.

Somebody’s got to have a steady hand on the ladle that stirs the soup.

“I’m thinking of doing oysters and a board,” said Vera.

“That’s a good choice,” said Kieran. “I recommend the large board. You get a bit of everything. I personally like getting some cheese.”

“Me, too.”

“Are you oyster connoisseurs?” asked Kieran.

“Not me,” said Frank. “I can’t remember the last time I ate an oyster.”

“I wish I was, but I love them,” said Vera. “We were on the island last year and went to the Merchantman in Charlottetown with Doug and Rachel, Eugene’s daughter. We had oysters and she went through all the ones we ate, explaining them to me.”

“Would you like something from the bar?” asked Kieran.

“I’ll take the Gahan on tap, the 1772 Pale Ale.”

“What wine goes with oysters?” asked Vera.

“We have a beautiful California chardonnay,” said Kieran. “It’s great with shellfish. I recommend it.”

“This is good, fruity,” said Vera, tasting it.

“We have six oysters,” said Kieran. “You could do one of each.”

“That’s what I’ll do,” said Vera.

“I think I’ll have the seafood chowder and some of the board,” said Frank.

“Oh, Frank, try one,” said Vera.

“Lucky Limes are my favorite,” said Kieran. “It’s a good medium oyster.”

“OK, I’ll try it,” said Frank, shrugging.

Kieran handed him a Lucky Lime.

“How do I eat this thing?” Frank asked Vera.

“Sometimes I chew it, sometimes I don’t,” she said.

“Some people like putting stuff on it, like horseradish, which kills the taste,” said Kieran. “But straight up is best. That’s how islanders do it, just shuck it.”

Frank looked down at the liquid-filled half shell.

“From the wide end,” said Kieran.

He slurped the oyster into his mouth and swallowed it.

“Now you’re a pro,” said Vera.

“That wasn’t bad,” said Frank. “How could you tell it was a Lucky Lime? They all look the same to me.”

“If you look at the chalkboard, it’s one through six. That’s one way.”

“Can you tell by looking at them?” asked Vera.

“I can tell by the shell,” said Kieran. “The ones that are more green, that means there’s more saltwater content. So this is a Sand Dune, quite briny. That one is almost straight salt water.” He pointed to an even darker greener shell.

“The Shipwreck, the name made me nervous to have it, but it was mild,” said Vera.

“It would be farther up the estuary, closer to fresh water.”

“Blackberry Point was very salty.”

“The Blackberry’s are from Malpeque, which is near Cavendish,” said Kieran. “The Sand Dune is from Surrey, down east, and the Lucky Limes are from New London Bay. Valley Pearl is from Tyne Valley and the Dukes are from Ten Mile Creek.”

“I thought you were just making all this up,” said Frank.

“No, its like wine,” said Kieran.

“How did you get into the shellfish racket?” asked Frank.

“I graduated in business, traveled, lived in New Zealand and Australia, and then came back home, and worked in a bank as a financial advisor for six years, in Summerside and Charlottetown, but then I just got tired of working in a bank, and went back to school.”

“How did you find your way here, behind the bar?”

“I date Jamie, who is Marly’s sister.”

“Are those pickled carrots?” asked Vera, pointing at the charcuterie board in front of her.

“Yes, and you have raisin jam, too,” said Kieran.

“Chutney, stop the madness!” exclaimed Vera. “Oh, it’s strawberry jam. It just looks like chutney. It’s delicious.”

“We had raisin pie at a small diner in Hunter River the other day,” said Frank.

“The one by the side of the road, up from the Irving gas station?” asked Kieran.

“That’s the one,” said Frank. “The waitress told us she always thinks of raisin pie as funeral pie, because back in the day, if there was a funeral in the winter, women always made raisin pies for the reception after the memorial service, because raisins kept all year round.”

“Can I take my oyster shells with me?” asked Vera.

“Sure,” said Kieran. ”We can get a little bag for you.”

“You can really taste the sea eating oysters,” said Vera. “Blackberry Point was a little thin and too salty, but once you eat one, and you don’t like it, whoa, what are you going to do? Valley Pearl didn’t have a lot of flavor, but there was some good texture to it. Lucky Lime was very good. My favorite was Sand Dune. It had a strong ocean flavor, briny.”

“I’ve heard people say oysters are slimy, but the one I had, it didn’t seem that way,” said Frank. “I can see having oysters again.”

“Don’t people sometimes say the world is your oyster?” said Vera.

“Do you want dessert?” asked Kieran.

“Do you have carrot cake?”

“It’s made here.”

“We’ll split a slice of that, and two coffees, thanks.”

As Vera and Frank dug into their carrot cake, there was a commotion at the other end of the bar. Kieran, Jamie, and Marly were huddling over glowing screens.

“Did your electronics go haywire?” asked Frank when Kieran brought them coffee.

“The microwave in the basement tripped the breaker. We hardly ever use it, except to melt butter sometimes. It’s weird, it’s been working until now. We have a thing that magnifies our wi-fi signal. We just found out it’s on the same circuit.”

“My mother was a pastry chef,” said Vera. ”She didn’t use microwaves much, but whenever she did, she always said, ‘I’m going to nuke it now!’”

Frank and Vera used their forks on the last crumbs of their cake and finished their coffee. Frank checked the time on his iPhone. “Time to go, sweetheart,” he said. They paid the bill and stood to go.

“Enjoy the show, hope to see you again,” Kieran said as Frank and Vera walked out of the Oyster House.

“It’s raining and sunny at the same time,” said Frank as they dashed across the street to the Victoria Theatre, yellow slanting sunlight leading the way.

“That’s PEI for you,” said Vera. “By the way, what are we seeing?”

“Where You Are.”

“I know where we are,” said Vera.

“That’s the name of the show,” said Frank.

“Aha, I see,” said Vera.

“Hustle it up, we’re almost late.”

They went up the steps into the theater, got their programs, and sat down. Vera tucked the bag of shells under her seat. “Wherever you are, there you are, oyster boys and girls” she thought, making sure they were safe and sound.

“How could you even tell?” she wondered as the lights went down and the show started.

Photograph by Vanessa Staskus.

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on Red Island http://www.redislandpei.com Paperback Yoga http://www.paperbackyoga.com 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Lithuanian Journal http://www.lithuanianjournal.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”