Bite Your Tongue

Each monthly meeting of Alleghany Writers includes an exercise, a 500 word story based on a prompt. Heidi Jurka is our prompt master, and her selection for the October meeting was “Bite Your Tongue.” 

I decided to write about a true life situation, something that happened during our 2012 trip to Newfoundland. We put many miles on the old Subaru as we ran up one side of the island and down the other. It was rugged, desolate, stunningly beautiful. The people were true pioneers. Self-sufficient, gracious. We also took the ferry to the French islands of St. Pierre et Milquelon off the southern coast. All French, all fascinating.  But, that’s another story.                   

Bite Your Tongue


When you decided to make the journey to Newfoundland you knew it would be a real adventure. It wasn’t just entering another Canadian province, it was entering another world. The ferry ride over was a challenge of equilibrium, but the hum underfoot as the engines pounded the strait between the northern tip of Nova Scotia and the dock at Port aux Basques eventually became soothing as you settled into your cabin for the overnight passage. You disembarked at the dock feeling remarkably refreshed.

Cape Spear, Newfoundland – Most eastern point in Canada

The first noticeable difference was the lack of bright color. It was September and the deciduous trees were mostly bare. In the surrounding mountains there was a base color scheme of green that range from pea soup to loden, with neutral and deepening vertical shades of brown. Folks were friendly, and directions were easy to follow. “There’s a road that rims the island. Stay on it and keep the water on your left.”

First the journey north to Saint Anthony, and then to  L’Anse aux Meadows to explore the  11th century Viking settlements. The experience of walking the shoreline, finding rocks and shells that could hold a memory, the raw sense of the place. It made every historical fiction novel of memory come dancing through your head to enrich the moment.

When you heard word from locals of a little known spot to find sea glass, you  traveled to the town of Springdale on Notre Dame Bay.  There was a downhill foot path off the dirt road leading to a notch in the shoreline. You looked at the rocky steps leading to the treasure-trove and seriously weighed the risk of the trip compared to the desire for and potential reward of sea glass. Adventure won the bet and you hit the jackpot. 

Lodgings were rustic. The check-in at a tucked-away hunting lodge was your first glimpse of the local culture. Cordial and welcoming men in camo overalls diving into bowls of French fries covered in gravy and slices of moose loaf. Attentive waitresses of all ages, shapes, and sizes buzzed by with pots of tea

Cape Race, east coast of Newfoundland, September, 2012

and cups of coffee. The first taste of mooseburger was savored and enjoyed. So juicy and rich, your new definition of comfort food.

Over in St. Johns and Conception Bay you found a different food scene. It was all about the cod. The fish with the big reputation, fought over for centuries by English, French, and Dutch. The fishing villages define the most beautiful of basic housing. Simple in construction, every house had a distinct personality expressed in whitewashed tires topped with a stunning display of annuals, or by a clothesline pinning bed sheets and codfish to dry on the same row.

Your next food adventure was not just the codfish, but all the side dishes that go along with it. Food and drink the locals say you must experience to become an “official” Newfie. First there’s the Screech. One swallow sends your mind back to white lightening and grain alcohol of a past life, and you realize this is the Newfie version of high octane.

The next new taste was bits of pork fat fried to a hard crunch. As you eat your scrunchions, the satisfaction of fat and crunch adds a sharp contrast to the mild, white texture of the fish.

The last plate is presented as the delicacy of the codfish dinner. Told they are an “acquired taste” your inquiring mind instructs your mouth to take at least one bite of this most precious part of the cod. So, as you bite your tongue you discover a texture somewhat like a fried oyster, but with the slippery consistency of a raw one. Chewing continues and you quickly discover you are in the group who will never acquire the taste for cod tongue. But, you will be able to say you wrote a story that managed to slide in the prompt before the end.


Cod tongue.

Lifetime vs Hallmark

When I’m feeling blue, I watch a Hallmark movie. They are satisfying and predictable. You know there will be a chance meeting, or a combative meeting, (verbal wit and cleverness) or an arranged meeting by some well-meaning friend or family member. There are always some misunderstandings, some harsh words, but in the end, the couple kisses and we assume a happy-ever-after for them.

Then there are the Lifetime movies. Betrayal, revenge, and sometimes violence. Broken hearts, broken friendships, broken bones.  These movies are populated with what my mother used to call, “no-goodniks” out to ruin life for the good guys. Some people watch these movies because they want to see a life that looks worse than theirs. Not me. They make me sad, especially when they mirror the real thing.

Last week was tough, as I worked through the fact that it was the first year of fifty years when I didn’t hear my daughter’s voice on her birthday. It was the first, in what could be the forever of our relationship. The stark reality of separation set in. I rode the wave and held on tight, with a prayer that all storms pass, and there is always a chance to meet when the sea calms.

This shot was taken from the shoreline in Malibu. I remember that visit. I remember the beach walks, and talks, and those moments when things were good between us. We watched one lone surfer, catching a sweet wave. Others behind him hoping the next wave will bring a chance to ride to the shore, balanced, poised, unscathed by the beating surf.