Friendships with Borders

            “There are no strangers here; only friends you haven’t yet met.”—William Butler Yeats

            “It’s easy to impress me. I don’t need a fancy party to be happy. Just good friends, good food, and good laughs. I’m happy. I’m satisfied. I’m content.”—Maria Sharapova

“I’ve gotta be that person. Where are you from?” The young girl queried with pink, spiked hair and curious, intent eyes that sparkled with her wide, youthful mischievous grin. She spoke with a delightful French accent.

It wasn’t the first time I had heard this question, nor would it be the last. I was with my family vacationing in the charming Petit Rocher area of New Brunswick, Canada nestled alongside the spectacular Bay of Chaleur. New Brunswick, one of Canada’s three Maritime Provinces in the eastern region, also happens to be the only province that is officially bilingual—meaning both French and English are the official spoken languages. Thus, most residents appear to seamlessly move between speaking French and English.

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Petit Rocher Wharf of New Brunswick’s Acadian Coast.

Replying to this inquisitive youth, I explained that I was from the U.S., specifically the southern point of the state of Ohio between West Virginia and Kentucky situated in the hills of the Appalachian Mountains (These same mountains run through the western side of New Brunswick.) The young lady’s smile turned up at one side.

“So you left a rural area to vacation in a rural area?”

Her question aroused laugh as I added, “Yes, but you have the beautiful Acadian Coastal beaches that we do not have at home.”

Nodding in approval and understanding, she further asked, “How far away are you?”

When I explained that it was approximately a 24-hour drive split over two days, her eyes grew wide. I further added that this was our third trip specifically to New Brunswick, and our overall fourth to the Maritimes, she gasped.

“You like it here that much, then?”

Indeed, my family and I find the Acadian Coastal Region of New Brunswick lovely for both its picturesque scenery as well as its spirited and hospitable people. We discovered New Brunswick quite by accident five years ago. At that time, we were driving to another Maritime province, Prince Edward Island (PEI), the setting for our daughter’s beloved reading series, Anne of the Green Gables, for a family vacation. In order to reach PEI by car, we had to travel through the stunning countryside of New Brunswick. I recall wistfully observing through our car windows the stunning and ever-changing landscape. As much as we thoroughly enjoyed our time in PEI, the following year, our family decided to vacation in New Brunswick based upon that drive. The rest, as the saying goes, is history.

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John, me, and Madelyn in front of the charming vacation home we found on Airbnb, owned by Denise, in Petite Rocher area of New Brunswick.

During our first vacation in New Brunswick, we met Vincent and Gisele Theriault. Their summer cottage was next to the house in which we were vacationing in the bayside community of Janeville. Vincent and Gisele were our first insight into the generous, welcoming people that make up the Acadian Coastal Region. By our third day, we were sharing a traditional lobster dinner with them that also included fresh, steamed mussels, and crab in their cozy home. Throughout that meal, we shared stories and swapped laughs until we cried as if we had been life long friends. When week’s end arrived, our family decided we needed to return the following summer for two weeks instead of one.

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Vincent Theriault, John, Maddie, me, and Gisele Theriault when we first met in Janeville, New Brunswick. The house (church) in which we stayed is in background, and their summer cottage is directly behind us.

Returning the next summer to the same vacation cottage, we were able to pick right up with Vincent and Gisel as if we were life-long neighbors. Furthermore, we continued to explore and expand our experiences of the Acadian Coastal Region. No matter where we traveled, be it a small store to a large shopping center; from a quaint tourist shop to an historic village center; or, from encounters on the beach to meeting other Acadian residents; we were enthralled by the generous and gracious nature of the people.

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Vincent, Gisele, and Bijou Theriault of Janeville (summer) and Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada.

Life sometimes gets busy and takes you on unexpected turns—which is exactly what happened to our family. Therefore, two years passed before our family was able to return to New Brunswick, and in that time, much had changed. Specifically, the rental cottage in Janeville was no longer available, and the political world-view had drastically altered. Would we still be welcomed, and would the people of New Brunswick still remain as pleasant as in our past visits?

Initially, we were saddened that we could not find a rental home in the Janeville community, and instead would be staying in the village of Petit Rocher—only because our home would not be close to Vincent and Gisele. As Divine Providence would have it, however, the home and the village in which we did stay this past summer did not disappoint, nor did its people, especially all of our neighbors. Furthermore, we found the village of Petit Rocher, and the nearby villages/towns of Nigadoo, Beresford, and Bathurst, to be just as warm and welcoming as Janeville, as well as wonderfully situated along the beautiful Bay of Chaleur!

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Whimsical art created by an unknown home owner in Petit Rocher, New Brunswick, Canada.

In fact, not only were we blessed to spend some time with Vincent and Gisele, but also we were able to meet so many other wonderful neighbors and local residents. One such neighbor, Bobby Roy (and members of his family), visited our evening campfires on a regular basis. Talk about nice! By the end of our first week, he had bestowed upon us, “honorary Canadian citizenship,” and sealed the deal by giving us a Canadian flag, a jar of bar clams (a New Brunswick culinary specialty), and two Canadian caps for my husband, John!

 

The owner of the house in which we rented, Denise, visited us a couple of times during our stay as well. During her last visit she shared an observation worth sharing, although I may not get her exact wording.

“Everyone who has met you and your family cannot get over how nice you are as Americans. I don’t think it was expected.”

Of course, I took that for what I believe she meant it to be, a sincere compliment regarding our family’s interactions with others during our stay; yet it also reflected the current culture of vituperative rhetoric and sounds bites, for better or worse, now often associated with Americans—and, therein is the lesson.

When people really talk, get to know each other, “break bread” (aka share a meal), swap jokes, or even share a beverage around a campfire, you see the commonalities more than the differences—gender, race, skin color, religion, politics, nationality, and even borders—don’t matter—just the common human experience.

 

On the next to the last evening of our two week stay in Petit Rocher, our family shared coffee with Denise in the morning; dinner with our friends, Vincent and Giselle; and shared a beer while swapping stories with Bobby around the campfire. As the fire embers burned low and I headed back into the house, an outside light revealed a rather large spider web anchored between two completely different plant species. The web was intricate with multiple strands radiating in all directions between the two plants linking them, at least momentarily, together. The spider did not seem to care that its web touched the borders of two very different plants. It only wanted to find a way to nourish its body.

 

I thought of the saying I have often heard spoken by a beloved teacher, “The resiliency of the web depends upon the strength and flexibility of every strand.” Our family is but one strand in a complicated and complex global world of different people, but on our trip to the picturesque Acadian Coast, we strengthened at least one strand between two different countries and numerous families. It’s but one drop in an enormous sea of life, but what would happen if more people did that? Naive, not really. I am all too aware that our globe, like that spider web, is in a tenuous state; however, on that night, it was indeed enough, exceedingly enough to provide an ember of hope.

Afterthought: What if a #breakingbread movement began on social media, including my website, stephsimply.com, where people around the world shared pictures of “breading bread” with another from a different culturally, nationally, ethnically, politically, etc? What ideas could be shared?  What understanding could be gained?

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The red rocky coast in Janeville, New Brunswick Canada.

 

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Maddie and Gracie B. stand in front of Miscuo Island Lighthouse–a place we visited after meeting and talking with Chris, a staff member of Joey’s Pub in Bathurst, New Brunswick.
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Vincent Theriault graciously prepared us a traditional lobster dinner in his summer cottage in Janeville, New Brunswick, Canada.

 

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Sunrise over the Bay of Chaluer on the morning we left for our return trip home. We brought with us many fond memories.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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