Tucked away in my night table cupboard are an old metal box and a book. The box is rusty in places and bent in others. The paint is wearing off as well. The box has two oval pictures on the hinged cover: one of King George V and one of Queen Mary. It has been with me forever, it seems. It used to sit on my dresser when I was growing up in Corner Brook, Newfoundland, and it accompanied me when I left home to attend St Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia in the 1970s. From there the box and I traveled to Northern Alberta where I taught school for several years; then to Calgary for another few years. When I got married and lived in Quebec, the metal box was ever with me, but at that time it was relegated to the back of the closet along with the aforementioned book. While living in Quebec, over a period of twenty-six years, three children, homeschooling and a home Chiropractic clinic in the basement, I moved house five times, and each time the box got packed with the rest of life’s paraphernalia.
The box came from my Mother’s things, from when she was a schoolgirl at St. Patrick’s Convent in St. John’s in 1935. That was a very special year because it was the Silver Jubilee for King George V. As part of the jubilee celebrations, he and Queen Mary paid a visit to St. John’s because at the time, Newfoundland was still a colony of Great Britain, and was governed by a commission of government sent over from England. All the schoolchildren in St. John’s were given one of these boxes, commemorating the special event. So when my mother got married and moved to Corner Brook, the box came with the things from her other life.
I don’t know how it came to be that out of five children, I was the one who got the box. Well, at the time it was given to me, there were just my brother, one sister who was still a baby, and I. Actually I don’t think my brother cared about the box, but I liked it because it had a picture of a former Queen on it. The reigning monarch then was Queen Elizabeth, whose coronation was the same year I was born, 1953. In between King George V and Queen Elizabeth there were two other Kings of England who were also rulers of Newfoundland: King Edward VIII and King George VI.
It was the 1950’s and Newfoundland had only a few years prior, in 1949, become a province of Canada, thanks to Premier Joey Smallwood’s negotiations. We might have been Americans, but Joey chose Canada. Up to 1949 Newfoundland had her own army and her own currency and postage stamps. In fact, going to Toronto required a passport because you were traveling to a different country. And, growing up in Newfoundland in the 1950s, we were still very conscious of our new status as a province. I remember seeing old letters and envelopes around the house that bore Newfoundland stamps, and there were still many Newfoundland coins in drawers, just tucked away there because they no longer had any monetary value.
My father got my brother and I interested in stamp collecting; we collected stamps from everywhere we could find them, but the most precious ones were the Newfoundland stamps, of which there was still abundance. I saved mine in the metal Silver Jubilee box, and I still have them. The book that goes with the box is my Majestic Stamp Album, which cost $1.25 in 1961. There were even separate pages for Canada and Newfoundland. When I opened the box the other day, a flood of memories came back to me: my childhood, simpler times, Corner Brook, our house on Queen Street; standing on the side of the road waving the Union Jack when Queen Elizabeth came to town; my father’s jewelry store, St Henry’s School and the Presentation Sisters who taught us there, dirt roads where you could make a pothole and play marbles, jump rope, a bottle of milk on the doorstep with the cream frozen on the top, and all the stuff of my childhood.