The bar­rel from the states

The Compass - - THE COMPASS - — Ma­rina Power Gam­bin was born and raised in her beloved com­mu­nity of Branch, St. Mary’s Bay. She is a re­tired teacher who lives in Pla­cen­tia where she taught for al­most three decades. She can be reached at mari­nagam­bin@per­sona.ca

A few years ago, as part of a So­cial Stud­ies as­sign­ment, I was dis­cussing with my grand­daugh­ter some in­ter­est­ing de­tails about grow­ing up in Branch in the 1950s.

She in­quired about where I shopped for clothes when I was young. First I of­fered a lit­tle com­men­tary in­form­ing her that I cer­tainly never pos­sessed as many ar­ti­cles of cloth­ing as she has owned.

She eyed me with dis­be­lief when I told her that maybe once or twice a year we were al­lowed to or­der some­thing from the Ea­ton’s or Simp­sonSears mail or­der cat­a­logue.

Hand-me-downs and made-over gar­ments were the norm of the day.

My mother owned a Singer sew­ing ma­chine that was of­ten used to make over-sized and un­der-sized dresses and coats so they fit just right or close to it. Un­like to­day, when we give away our stuff to the good­will cen­ters, then we were our own good­will re­cip­i­ents.

All this be­ing said, apart from the mail or­der and sec­ond-hand duds, there was the “bar­rel.” This source of cloth­ing was made pos­si­ble be­cause many New­found­land women had mar­ried Amer­i­can men serv­ing on bases at Ar­gen­tia, Pep­per­rell and else­where.

There is prob­a­bly not one com­mu­nity in New­found­land that did not have at least one na­tive daugh­ter liv­ing in “the States.”

Th­ese out-mi­grated ladies hardly ever for­got their roots. Hence, the bar­rel, or more pre­cisely the bar­rel of clothes. Sev­eral times a year, a few fam­i­lies re­ceived boun­ti­ful sup­plies of cloth­ing that ap­peared as if it had never been worn.

And, as Amer­i­can fash­ion has al­ways been eons ahead of the New­found­land mode, many gar­ments were classy and spiffy and un­heard of in lo­cal cir­cles.

Un­lucky for us, my fam­ily had no close rel­a­tives re­sid­ing south of the bor­der. We were not el­i­gi­ble for a free wardrobe from Bos­ton, New York or Mi­ami.

How­ever, this does not mean that we did not ben­e­fit from the vogue of Macy’s, J C Pen­ney’s or some depart­ment store in Dal­las, Texas. When a bar­rel ar­rived, there was sure to be fin­ery for sale.

For a few dol­lars, young ladies could pur­chase at­tire that was fit for a queen. I dis­tinctly re­mem­ber one sum­mer when I was about 12 years old, strut­ting around Branch in a half-dozen or more out­fits made up of bright col­ored slacks, blue jeans and pedal push­ers with T-shirts, sweaters and blouses to match.

For a few dol­lars, young ladies could pur­chase at­tire that was fit for a queen. I dis­tinctly re­mem­ber one sum­mer when I was about

12 years old, strut­ting around Branch in a half

dozen or more out­fits made up of bright col­ored slacks, blue jeans and pedal push­ers with Tshirts, sweaters and blouses to match.

If mem­ory serves me right, each ar­ti­cle was bought for 25 or 30 cents. With penny loafers or sad­dle ox­fords to com­plete the en­sem­ble, I would saunter down to Gut and loi­ter around the wharf as proud as a pea­cock.

Some­times more than cloth­ing could be ac­quired via the bar­rel from the States. I seem to re­call my mother buy­ing a nice set of lace cur­tains from Mrs. Katie Power and at one time, we owned a gor­geous table­cloth that prob­a­bly once graced the ta­ble of some­one much more cel­e­brated than we were. At one time, ev­ery bed in our house had beau­ti­ful che­nille bed­spreads from some up­pity store in Cal­i­for­nia.

To­day, when I look at the ex­pen­sive jeans worn by the young peo­ple, with brand name tops to match, I re­mark to my­self, “For sure, that never came out of the bar­rel.”

Then I smile and pon­der fondly on the pink pedal push­ers I spoiled one Sun­day un­der the wharf in Branch.

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