The holiday season is an especially joyous time of year for Bart and Rena Marche.
© Christopher Vaughan photo
Bart and Rena Marche will celebrate their 66th wedding anniversary on Jan. 10.
Not only do they get together with family and friends to mark the 12 days of Christmas, there’s also Rena’s 81st birthday and the couple’s 66th wedding anniversary to celebrate.
Rena was born in Stephenville on Dec. 25, 1932, to farmers Pauline and Clem Gabriel.
“We moved down to Felix Cove when I was 11. The Americans had taken over our land (for the construction of the Ernest Harmon Air Force Base), so we bought land down in Felix Cove and moved down there.”
It wouldn’t be long before she made acquaintances with Bart, a hard-working Port au Port boy four years her senior.
Born in Port au Port to Cecilia and Aloysius Marche, his first job came at the age of 12, bringing drinking water to Department of Highways crews digging ditches in the local area.
“I made enough to buy myself a bicycle,” he said.
After that, Bart fished until the age of 18 and then went to work at the Aguathuna limestone quarry, where he was able to upgrade his mode of transportation to a LaFayette automobile.
Bart and Rena courted for a year or so and wed at Our Lady of Mercy Church in Port au Port West on Jan. 10, 1948.
“When we got married, we went down in a horse and sleigh,” recalled Rena. “The tradition then was when you’d pass a house, they’d fire a shot gun. The horse would get frightened and the sleigh would go straight up in the air. We’d fall out and have to get back aboard.”
Bart noted there weren’t any cameras to photograph the nuptials or reception, which was a supper and house party held at home.
“We had to send to St. John’s for an order of liquor,” he said. “It was a case of Screech.”
The newlyweds lived with Rena’s grandparents for a while and then built a house on farmland in Felix Cove.
While the couple grew their own vegetables and raised cattle, pigs and sheep, Bart continued to work the quarry and then found employment at the American air force base in Stephenville in the mid-1950s.
Rena stayed at home to raise the couple’s nine children – Gerard, Fred, Peter, Marie, Carolyn, Teddo, Gary, Sandra and Mary Anne.
“I had five kids before we had power,” she said. “We were used to it, we didn’t know any difference. You did with what you had.”
Both Bart and Rena said that while daily life was tough work, they were happy and the holiday season was an enjoyable time for the whole family.
“They were good Christmases,” said Bart of their early years together. “They were a lot better then. We’d get a violin player and an accordion player with us and there’d be a big square dance at the house. Then you’d go to another house and somebody else would do the same thing. There’d also be two weeks of mumming.”
Rena recalled Bart getting the horse and sleigh ready for ride to Our Lady of Mercy for Christmas Eve mass.
“You’d listen to the sleigh bells going to church – that was nice.”
The following day there would be a big holiday dinner, complete with a goose and sweets that Rena had started making months earlier.
“I started baking fruitcakes in July and put them away for Christmas,” she recalled.
Other goodies included raisin buns, cookies, sugar cookies, molasses cookies, date squares and snowballs.
While practical gifts such as socks and shirts were given between the couple, toys would be bought for the children.
“I remember buying coasters for the kids,” said Bart. “You’d go down fast over the hills in them. You’d have to hang on tight until you got to the bottom.”
Following the base closure in 1966, Bart went to work with the Newfoundland government. At around the same time, with her youngest child now in school, Rena went to work at the hospital in Stephenville for two years.
The couple also became foster parents, providing a welcoming home for dozens of needy children over the years.
“The social workers would have gifts for them, but we included them in everything we did at Christmas,” recalled Rena. “The foster kids would only be with us for a certain amount of time, but our children really took to them.”
Rena found employment as a cook at White’s Hotel in 1979 and then decided to attend college in Stephenville. She later worked at a fish plant in Stephenville and at the Port au Port School Board.
The couple retired in the mid-1980s and moved to Kippens in 2000 to be closer to their children, and more than two-dozen grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
While Bart and Rena enjoy a relaxing life these days, the holidays are still full of bustle and excitement. They’re getting ready to celebrate their 66th year as a married couple and Rena’s 81st birthday to celebrate with friends and family.
“First it’s Christmas Eve, then it’s my birthday, then it’s New Year’s and then on the 10th is our anniversary,” said Rena. “Oh my, there’s going to be cakes and gifts everywhere – and everyone coming and going.”