Suppertime Serendipity Over Ham and Eggs
SOMETIMES things go together and sometimes they don't. I've always wanted to visit the Islands of the Madeleine, but I never have. I could have, and a long-standing invitation from friends who live there is valid. It was at suppertime in New Brunswick many moons ago. Jacques Cartier discovered the Islands of the Madeleine on the 25th and 26th of June 1534, but he didn't name the archipelago for any Madeleine. Samuel de Champlain came later, and he called them ``Les Isles Ram`ees.'' It has something to do with rowing a boat. Both explorers were entranced with the islands, and Cartier told his king that ``one arpent'' of the islands was worth more than all of Newfoundland. An arpent is an old French measure still used somewhat in Qu'ebec and Louisiana; call it an acre.
Cartier described the great flocks of sea birds, and also the seals and walrus. He gave the king walrus tusks. It wasn't until 1635 that the islands were given to one Nicholas Denys to exploit, and his wife's name was Madeleine. No historian that I have found bothered to tell us just how-come the coincidence that there are 16 islands and Madame Denys was the mother of 16 children.
Les Isles de la Madeleine are in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, somewhat equidistant from Newfoundland, Qu'ebec, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island. The people are mostly French, but many folks of English descent live with them. The French is certainly three centuries old.
And it was at suppertime in New Brunswick many moons ago, not far from Fredericton on the Trans-Canada Highway, that we chose a motel. I shun motels that don't feed, so I made sure we could get supper and breakfast. After we tidied from our day's ride I got my prandial necktie on and we passed to the restaurant.
I have no idea why these things happen to me. The waitress met us and said the supper hour had passed. She said she could make sandwiches that we could take to our room. I knew that New Brunswick is in the Atlantic time zone, but had made allowances for that. She said they stopped serving the dinner menu at 7:30. Since folks were still eating, I asked what they were eating.
She said that after they closed the supper menu they went onto the breakfast menu. So we had breakfast. Good ham with lightly turned eggs, home-fries and boiled turnip, excellent toast, and all preceded by a porringer of oatmeal with molasses. Adequate, but it was breakfast, and I assumed we would repeat in the morning, unless they went onto a brunch menu around sunrise.
While we were eating a commotion arose by the door, and we looked to see our waitress holding back four people who wanted to come in and eat. She was explaining that the dinner hour had ended, and that she could make sandwiches, but she spoke English with a New Brunswick hot potato in her mouth and the party of four was expostulating in French and only French.
French is not unknown in New Brunswick, but those who do not speak it are noted for not speaking it at all. I rose as any public- spirited citizen should and explained to the exasperated quartet that in New Brunswick we always have breakfast at suppertime, and if they would take the ham and eggs they would be well pleased and the fuss might end. The fuss ended and they had breakfast.
We chatted, and we learned they were Mother and Father Beauharndin of Havre-Aubert, ^Iles-de-la-Madeleine, and their daughter was newlywed and was on her honeymoon with her gallant bridegroom. The party of four had come off the islands for the first time, and were going to see their native Canada all the way to Vancouver. I had never heard of a honeymoon attended by the parents of the bride, but M. le Papa offered that since he was paying for the trip he thought he might as well enjoy it too. He had bought a new automobile at Sydney upon getting off the boat at Cape Breton, and would sell it upon the return to Sydney - he had no use for an automobile at Havre-Aubert.
They were grateful to us for setting them right about a New Brunswick breakfast, something I have never understood at all, and before we had another breakfast the next morning they had invited us to come to the islands and be their guests. We promised to give this every consideration, and in the meantime we have, but that's as far as we went. M. Beauharndin handled fish wholesale, and told us he owned a number of boats. He said the Madelinots live under the sign of ``l'hame,con.'' I didn't know what a hame,con would mean in English, but I looked it up as soon as we arrived home from New Brunswick. It means a fishhook.