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Lost but Found at the University of Waterloo

Graduate CarolynI was seven when my family left Newfoundland in 1944. When my father died two years later, the world became a puzzle I could not solve.

My Uncle Doug Muir invited me back home to Newfoundland when I was 18. He was a great storyteller, delighting me with his tale of a duchess and a coachman, lovers, who had eloped across the sea. I never forgot that tale.

Life went on for me. I returned to Ontario, taught in the same one room schoolhouse for a second year: five grades, 30 students, attended Toronto Teachers College, married my own handsome lover, Harry, the man I met on a blind date. We bought a farm, had three children, and together we were a farm family for 25 years. We sold the farm and bought the local newspaper. We interviewed amazing people, walked strange paths and by times, we even made a difference over those 12 years.

Would that woebegone youngster I was, ever regain her sense of belonging to Newfoundland? My mother had called that place home.  

Not until 2010 did I devise a plan.

I investigated the University of Waterloo's Independent Studies program. How frightened I was. Rejection would have sent me into a black hole of despair; an invitation to come for an interview would have been mindboggling—and to be accepted? Well, not in my lifetime would that happen. I was seventy-one.

Professor Anne Dagg kept smiling as we discussed my plan. I explained that I wanted to research until I understood everything there was to know about Newfoundland and Newfoundlanders: their stories, their favorite food, roads, ships, dogs, songs, humour, tales, times past and dreams for the future. I explained I would write a novel, set in 1800s, Uncle Doug's lovers would take centre stage.

I graduated in 2013.

My lovers never let me down. They sallied forth through half a century of Newfoundland in the 1800's with me, as I tapped the keys of my computer. Three generations. My Newfoundland characters narrated every chapter of my novel, until it came to the last one. The ever-present shadows—mystical Newfoundlanders who stood at my side as I typed over six years—disappeared. I was left to write that last chapter myself.

Rock Solid NovelThe words appeared on the screen. They were my words and I understood exactly what they should be. My journey of discovery was over and I was 76. Just like the Newfoundlanders in my novel, I had come to realize that being surrounded by the people I loved and who loved me, was just like being at home in Newfoundland.

Website: www.carolynmuirhelfenstein

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