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Thursday, 28 November 2013


My brother's name is Francis Samuel Pretty.  His name, Francis, comes from my mother's side of the family.  Mom's uncle, on her mother's side, was Francis and so was her brother.  The older men were referred to as France.  In our house, my brother was called Francis. He was named Samuel after our father.

As he grew up, of course, his name was Frank to his friends.  I remember someone calling our house one day asking for Frank. I said that he had the wrong number.  I honestly didn't make the connection to my brother at all.  Today I call him Frank.  Mom never did.

Shortly after he was born, my brother had ear problems.  He had abscesses in his ears and he was in a lot of pain.  Doctors didn't know how to treat him.  So, for the first three years of his life, my brother cried.  Day and night.  
   Our earliest picture, our friend Nora, Frank (in my doll's carriage), me and the cat

I was four and a half when Frank was born, so I was in school by September.  I remember waking to the crying, often that hard cry babies have when you know something serious is happening.  I remember wishing that he would stop.  Mom and Dad walked the floor with him.  Mom would be so tired after a day of the crying that when Dad came home, he would take over until bedtime.  Then they would share the night duty. 

I really don't know how they did it.  Also, how did Frank stand it?  He didn't have much choice I guess and neither did Mom and Dad.  I know it was at this time that Mom started her lifetime devotion to St. Anne and I think that prayer helped her cope.  Dad was one of the most patient men I have ever met and I know his patience was tested at that time.  They really worked well together, shared the burden, and prayed, as did everyone in the family.  
                  Frank was one and I was six when this picture was taken

Finally, just before Mom and Dad were to take Frank to Montreal for a possible treatment, doctors got a new medication that worked almost instantly.  The quiet was deafening!  Frank's hearing was perfect too.  Mom attributed the miracle to St. Anne's intervention.  She promised then to take her family to visit the Shrine of Ste. Anne de Beaupre in Quebec.  Frank still remembers the look on Mom's face the day we finally got there.  

Looking at my little grand babies now, I can imagine what Mom and Dad went through.  It must have been heart breaking for them to see their little boy suffering that way.  Children are resilient though and Frank recovered well.  Thankfully he does not remember the pain!  Another miracle?

He tells the story of his hearing test for work last year.  Frank fully expected that he'd have hearing loss like many of his co-workers.  His hearing is still perfect!

Years ago, Frank told Mom about one of his co-workers who was waiting for a kidney transplant.  Mom gave Frank a St. Anne's medal to give him plus instructed Frank to tell the story about his own miracle and the promise to visit the Shrine.  Frank was concerned that the man wasn't Catholic but did as Mom suggested since she felt the man would be alright if he followed the advice.  It's now twenty years later and the man is near retirement, still carrying the medal.  He too visited the Shrine during a business trip to Quebec. Apparently St. Anne doesn't know denominational boundaries.

Frank was just a gorgeous looking baby, with blond, curly hair and a round face.  As he got older, his hair got darker until it eventually disappeared on top; then disappeared altogether due to his razor!  

My brother was an athlete.  He excelled at soccer especially and like my Dad, really enjoyed the game. He played on the same team with Dad one year and eventually Dad coached Frank's team.  They both enjoyed the time together at something they loved.

Frank took piano lessons for a few years and while his teacher thought he had potential, Frank didn't.  He also sang in the Music Festival one year, a song called The Little Ships of Newfoundland.  Since the Nun who was the music teacher had a retreat at the time of the performance, she asked me to accompany Frank and the other boys who represented the school at the festival.  

That day there must have been fifty boys in that class, all performing the same song.  It was incredibly taxing to the nerves and the patience.  Needless to say, that was Frank's last solo performance.  We still have the song scratched into our psyches.


      Ready for "The Little Ships of Newfoundland"

In keeping with his athleticism, Frank did Community Recreation Leadership at Cabot College in St. John's, Newfoundland.  He has worked with the Town, now City of Mount Pearl in a variety of capacities since his teenage years when he worked there in the summers.  He is looking forward to retirement in the next several years.

Frank married Michele Taylor, whose parents were friends with our parents.  They have one daughter, Samantha.  The Prettys live in Mount Pearl and enjoy as much time as possible at their cabin in Placentia Junction.

                                     Frank, Samantha, Michele, 2012

However, these things don't tell you who my brother is.  Frank is a loyal person who makes friends easily and keeps them for a lifetime.  He is always there to help anyone as many people will testify.  At the same time as my mother lived in their basement apartment, Michele's father lived upstairs with Frank, Michele and Samantha.  He was there for our mother every day of her life.  Frank is a loving husband, father, brother and uncle who does his job and enjoys his friends and family.  He is easy to be around, funny and capable.  I always enjoy his view of things because it is usually precise and straight forward.  He "tells it like it is."  He has a tremendous sense of justice and what is right and lives a good life.

Our mother died in April 2008 and two months later, my fifty year old brother had a heart attack.  It was very scary for all of us, especially Frank, Michele and Samantha.  I thought at the time that I was glad that Mom hadn't lived to see that happen.  But my next thought was that if Mom hadn't died, Frank probably wouldn't have had the heart attack.  Who knows?  We're all glad he didn't have any heart damage.  Essentially, a broken heart doesn't show as physical damage.

I have been blessed with a great brother.  

Monday, 25 November 2013

Monica Hearn O'Brien

When I began the search for my ancestors, it wasn't long before I realized that it was really difficult to get information on the women in the family.  The women, after marriage, were impossible to trace back for the most part.  The women were invisible, shrouded by their husbands' names.  That's part of the reason I'm writing the stories of our family.  I want to have a record of those women that I've had the privilege of knowing and loving.

The name is different, depending on the place, culture or tradition. Where I grew up, Nanny or Nan was the common name. In Pei, Grammy and Gram are the vernacular.  Whatever the name, it conjures up images of warmth, patience, time, food and love.  At least it does for me.

I only ever knew one grandmother. (Dad's mother died when he was fourteen). Her name was Monica (Hearn) O'Brien.  She grew up in Petty Harbour, Newfoundland; born in 1902.  She graduated high school at a time when very few people did.   She wanted to be a teacher and had a job somewhere around the bay but her parents weren't satisfied for her to go there.  Instead she eventually went to Boston and there married my grandfather O'Brien.  He was from Maddox Cove, Newfoundland, just a mile away from Petty Harbour along the shore.  They didn't stay in Boston very long but moved back to Maddox Cove to raise a family.

Before my parents bought our home in Mount Pearl, Newfoundland, we lived successively in St. John's and then Maddox Cove.  When we moved to Mount Peart, there were few children my age in our neighborhood.  So in the summer, I spent time in Maddox Cove with my grandparents and uncle France, who lived with them.  

Summers in Maddox Cove were idyllic.  The ocean, river, gardens, fields, animals, friends and family were everything a child could desire.  The days weren't long enough to do everything there was to do.  I never remember rain but there must have been some because the vegetables and grass always seemed to grow well.  I had a dark suntan, as the skin damage I have now testifies.

My grandmother was at the heart of the Maddox Cove experience.  She was stern but loving and very practical.  She knew the exact size piece of wood needed to cook a batch of bread in the wood stove. Her bread was rustic, cut into thick slices and covered with fresh butter and sugar or molasses if it wasn't meal time.  Pastry was thick and crispy, filled with whatever berries she had picked or available  from her stock in the pantry.  Her meals were basic but delicious.  My grandfather (Granda), as a fisherman and farmer ate plenty and Nan kept the stove going and the cupboard stocked.  Surprisingly we didn't eat a lot of fish but the occasional whole cod, stuffed and baked was a real treat.  Salt fish, brewis, potato and drawn butter were also delicious, especially with pieces of fried fat back (scrunchions).

Uncle Francis (France) O'Brien, Dad, Nan (Monica O'Brien), Granda (Gus O'Brien),  Mom, 1961

I think now that Nan worked non-stop but in my child's mind I didn't know that.  Everything was harder than it is today.  The old wringer washer that I remember had replaced the scrub board in the river.  Even using that washer was a chore, having to be positioned from the storage spot at the back of the porch and filled with water pumped by hand.  Nan always seemed to have clothes on the line.  I guess with Granda fishing and farming, she had to keep ahead of the laundry.  Also, the wood stove was always going, winter and summer, for cooking and baking.  The heat was suffocating but what other choice was there.  The ocean breeze provided some help if all the windows were open. 

My Nan was very afraid that I would drown in the ocean.  She didn't have the same fear for the "pool" that we made by damming the river that ran through their land.  The ocean was her greatest fear.  I had lots of friends in the Cove and we spent a great deal of time on the beach.  Mom gave me a bathing suit but Nan didn't want me to go swimming at the beach.  She always warned me about tidal waves. She described what would happen to me if one should come ashore.  She neglected to mention that she and the house would be gone too and I didn't realize that at the time.  To help me out, my Uncle France would sneak my bathing suit out of the house for me.  I changed in the barn and hid it under my clothes.  I'd swim all day and change again, leaving my bathing suit to dry on the trees down in the woods.  That deception was always a secret that my Uncle and I kept until I was an adult.  Nan didn't realize that it was happening.

Now, as a grandmother myself, I understand Nan's concern.  She was too busy to go with me, so she wanted to keep me safe and away from the water.  Today I would be with Sylvie and Caitlin, our granddaughters, if they were in my care at the age of five or six and at the beach.  Other children being present would not be enough to reassure me either.

Nan always wore hats when she went to church, a wedding or any place fancy.  She always had several and took great pride in her hair.  It, like my mother's, didn't go gray until she was in her late seventies.   Mom's only grayed at the temples.  My hair went gray early but thanks to my hair stylist, I'll be just like mom and Nan!  So much for the genetics in that regard though.  Nan always liked to wear gloves too.  She wore them winter and summer, at the same time as she wore her hats.  She always felt undressed without her gloves.  I feel the same about gloves when it starts to get cold every autumn.

         Nan O'Brien 1976

As a mother, Monica sewed all the children's clothes, turning collars on coats and shirts to make them last longer, making-over coats for the children, sewing many things they wore. She, with the children, Ned, Mary (my mother), and France, tended the gardens and picked the berries.  I helped out with weeding when I was old enough and I loved to pick berries too.  There were lots of berries to pick.  Wild blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, cranberries and partridge berries were the most common.  We always picked lots for jam or freezing.  Pies and cakes were the favorites, though fresh with cream was delicious too.

Granda and Nan always had animals as well.  I remember horses and chickens.  My mother remembered cows and sheep as well.  Her family usually had fresh meat and Mom hated to see which of the animals had made it to the table.  I remember getting eggs in the morning for breakfast.  It didn't get much fresher than the warm eggs which made it to the stove for cooking.

While she wasn't a 'warm and fuzzy' grandmother, I always knew how Nan felt about me.  We didn't have any cross words between us.  I respected her and listened to anything she said, well almost everything. I spent time with her, washing dishes, tidying up, weeding, picking berries among a number of other things.  We talked and laughed and were very comfortable together.  I loved her and it was returned.

I remember one Christmas when he was six or seven, my brother got a pop gun for playing with his friends in the woods behind our house in Mount Pearl.  It had a piece of cork on a string that popped out of the gun when you pulled the trigger.  When my grandparents and uncle came for Christmas dinner that day, I took the gun and aimed it at Nan.  I said something silly and pulled the trigger.  The cork shot straight at Nan and hit her in the forehead.  All Nan did was laugh quietly and shake in her usual way.  Later she told me that she really thought that she had been shot.  Needless to say the gun didn't have much play value after that incident.  

As I got older I spent less time with my grandparents.  By the time I was twelve, I was staying home in the summers.  However, we visited my grandparents every Sunday or they came to visit us.  As time went on I saw less of them.  When I was in university, Granda died.  Over the next number of years Nan became less active and lost interest in going places and doing things.  However her mind was still good.  In 1975, I went teaching in Buchans, in central Newfoundland.  I wanted to go beyond St. John's since I had lived at home while I was in University. I got a letter from Nan that year.  She told me how glad she was that I was working where I wanted to work and that I was a teacher.  She felt that I was living the dream that she had so many years ago.  

Nan had a stroke within the next few years.  She was never the same again.  I don't think she ever really understood who my daughter was.  She referred to her as a 'dandy little baby.'

                                             Me, Nan holding Claire, and Mom 1981

In the winter of 1986, when my father was dying with cancer, I was home for a few days.  Mom and I bundled up Dad and took him to see Nan for the last time.  I will never forget the scene in Nan's kitchen.  I sat on the couch with Nan on one side and Dad on the other.  Nan was intermittently coherent.  Dad looked nothing like himself; hair gone, swollen from steroids, feeble, fragile voice.  

My grandmother kept saying, "That's not Sam."

Dad would repeat, "It's me, Mrs."  As long as I can remember Dad called Nan Mrs.  He could still speak enough to reply to Nan.

I sat there with tears in my eyes, not wanting to speak for fear of upsetting either of them. Two of the people I loved most in the world neither looked nor sounded anything like themselves.  They were dying.  The thought of that realization can still make me cry.  It was as if I grew up at that moment.  I was thirty-two when I finally grew up.  Getting a job, getting married, having a child didn't do it for me.  I finally realized what life was all about in that instant on that couch with Nan and Dad.

Dad died a few months later and Nan in January 1988.   However, the warm memories of my Nan made the loss easier to take.  I'll write about Dad another day.

Friday, 22 November 2013

The Cove

It's hard to think about Mom, Mary (O'Brien) Pretty, without thinking about Maddox Cove where she grew up.  The Cove, as she fondly called it, was instrumental in her formation, due to its people and the environment.

The Cove is a mile down the shore from Petty Harbour, Newfoundland.  As you go 'round a turn' from Petty Harbour, the cove opens up before you.  It is a valley scooped out by glaciers millennia ago, with a wide expanse of rocky beach and Motion Bay into which a small river flows.  The road rims the land on a thin strip eeked out of the mountains, cliffs and beach.  There is land for houses, growing vegetables and grazing animals on the slopes up to the mountains.  

The community of Blackhead isn't far from the Cove by road and Cape Spear is just over a hill from Blackhead.  People from Petty Harbour, Blackhead, Maddox Cove and the lighthouse at Cape Spear all knew each other and many were close friends.

This setting in Maddox Cove provided clean water, wood, and sea food of various kinds. The soil, though rocky,  could be enriched with available materials, such as seaweed or manure, to grow enough vegetables to provide for a family.  The land for houses, planting and grazing was reclaimed from the forest.  Berries grew in abundance. Obviously life here required a great deal of hard work.  It was into this setting that Mary O'Brien was born in 1926.

Life in Maddox Cove meant that everyone worked hard and the sense that 'we're in this together' was largely felt by the people.  The men worked from dawn until dusk, but so did the women.  Anything that could be done to provide for a family was the order of the day.  The men went fishing, in season, before dawn in the summer.  They would check the traps and take care of the catch before heading home to the second breakfast, having had the first before they left the house.  There was a time when they also fished for squid to use as bait in the evening.  The rolling in of caplin on the beach also provided a source of food.  Meanwhile, the women were up early too, making bread, washing, mending, sewing, cooking, tending the garden, feeding the animals if the men weren't back on time.  As the children got older, they did their share too.

The men needed time to take care of the fishing gear and boat as well.  Regular maintenance was done between seasons but the everyday maintenance had to be done as well.  Then the animals had to be tended, the barn cleaned out, and the planting or harvesting and storing of produce or hay. The cutting, transporting and chopping of wood was a big job as well.  Repairs to the house or any of the outbuildings was also the man's job. The cellar, store room, barn and stable all had to be maintained.

                 Painting of my grandparents house, done by M. Lee, 1993

The children went to a one-room school with one teacher.  Mom had lots of memories of her schooling and most were good ones.  However, one day at recess time, the boys in her school chased a group of girls, including her, up the road towards Petty Harbour and wouldn't let them come back.  The boys threw rocks at them.  When the school bell rang, the boys got back in time, but the girls didn't and got strapped by the teacher.  The girls weren't allowed to explain what had happened.

Every day one family had to bring wood for the stove and the children took turns cleaning up after school.  The teacher spent some time each day with the various age groups and did some things with the whole group.  Exercises, done by the whole group, were performed to a song specific to the activity.  

It began, "Exercising does us good, everybody knows."  Mom knew the song and the exercises appropriate to the words her whole life.

Television did come to the Cove until the early 1950s but several families had radios when Mom was growing up.  One radio program in particular was a favourite of many.  About a fictional ship, it was called The Adventures of the Irene B. Mellon, written by Jack Withers.  Families would get together to listen to the radio drama.  Music and dancing were also common as people got together to have fun.  Christmas was always celebrated by mummering, dressing in disguise, visiting each house, dancing and singing for a refreshment.

The Mummers Song by Simani, shows the essence of the mummering tradition.

Some of my grandfather's sisters lived in the Cove for a time as well so Mom had cousins living there.  Families were big in those days so my mother's family with only three children was unusual; no doubt it was more difficult to support larger families.  The friendship with her cousins was particularly important to Mom throughout her life.  Never having had sisters herself, her cousins Pauline, Angela and Mary Madden were like sisters to her.  However, everyone who grew up in the Cove seemed to have a special bond which was obvious whenever they met each other later in life.  The small, closely knit community bonded people in a way that was a mystery to those who hadn't experienced it.  To those who did experience the Cove, it was etched in their memory forever.

        Mom, her cousins, Mary Kieley, Angela Lee, Pauline Kieley.

The song The Squid Jigging Ground by Art Scammel tells the story of the squid bait fishery, known as squid jigging.  I particularly like this rendition, by Ryan's Fancy.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

November, Now and Then

It was cold but sunny in Prince Edward Island. The autumn air that had been warm and summer-like had turned cold overnight.  Rick, my husband, and I had arranged to meet our friends, Hiltrud and Carllo Hengst, at the horse farm where Hiltrud boarded her Icelandic horse.  The horse droppings make good fertilizer for our vegetable patch and we were on a mission to get some.

Not having been around horses for many years, I was amazed to see how curious the horses were about us. They left where they were and came close by to watch the proceedings. Then, after we shoveled the manure into the containers, we decided to walk/ride the trails with Carlo and Hiltrud.  While Hiltrud was moving around to hitch her horse, Stjarni, to the cart, he watched her every move. His black eyes looked as if to hold stories of life in Iceland, stories that would never be told, only imagined by those who gaze into their blackness.

The trails were beautiful on the property owned by the Smiths, (no relation).  The wind was just high enough to blow the last vestiges of leaves off the trees and the sun played peek-a-boo with us as we walked the trails.  The wind was high enough to move the trees but we were sheltered enough not to feel its bitter nip.  I was glad I wore my winter jacket though.

                                                    Hiltrud Hengst and Stjarni

The clop of the horse's hooves took me back in time, back to the days when I went with my uncle, France O'Brien, as he drove the horse home with a load of wood in Maddox Cove, Newfoundland.  I would sit on top of the wood, as he guided the animal home.  Sometimes it was really cold as the wind blew in from the North Atlantic.  France usually talked to the horse and me about the family news, the weather or whatever else interested him that day.  The sound of the runners on the snow filled the gaps in conversation.  Rarely did he lose patience with the horse even if it hesitated on a hill.  He coached it on with his mitted hands on the reins as I held on, knowing that he was expert at this work.   The journey, even on the coldest days, always seemed too brief.

     France O'Brien in front of great grandmother Hearn's house, Petty Harbour

At that time, the 1960s, it was common to have a wood stove, located in the kitchen, which cooked your food and warmed the house. The tedious task of stockpiling wood for the stove took much time and energy by many in a family to ensure that the house was warm and cozy, even on the worst days of winter.  Through the eyes of my childhood, this was not a tedious task though. This time, with France and the horse, was very special to me, warming in more ways than the wood alone could provide. 

There is a song, called Tickle Cove Pond, written by Mark Walker, that captures the importance of the horse to Newfoundlanders.  Interestingly enough, a Canadian folk singer, Omar Blondal, born in Saskatchewan to Islandic parents, visited Newfoundland in the 1950s while on his way to Iceland.  He stayed for a time and discovered traditional Newfoundland songs in the Gerald S. Doyle songbooks.  He recorded some of them and became an early voice of Newfoundland music.  He showed Newfoundlanders the value of what we had and how to express it.  Today traditional music is alive and well in the province thanks to the early work of this Icelandic descendent.

This rendition of Tickle Cove Pond, sung by Jesse Ferguson,  gives the flavour of traditional Newfoundland music, while telling the story of the mare who almost drowned in Tickle Cove Pond.

Here in PEI,  Stjarni knew the way and sped up as we turned onto the final trail out of the woods.  Carlo walked briskly alongside and Hiltrud handled the reins.  It was very comfortable with these friends, talking about the old times and planning new occasions together.  Time has passed, the horse and the location are different, but time spent with good friends still warms the heart.

Monday, 18 November 2013


She wasn't yet three and she was as cute as a button.  When Claire and I went into the living room,  this little black haired beauty with the gorgeous dark eyes and round face came into the room and took me by the hand.  She wanted to know if we were hungry. Since we hadn't had supper, we nodded yes and she disappeared.

    Samantha Jane Pretty, Born:  November 18, 1994

We continued to talk to my brother, Frank and his wife, Michele.  Before long she was back again taking me by the hand.  In the kitchen she had bread, peanut butter and a butter knife out on the kitchen floor. The jar was open and she had started to spread copious amounts of peanut butter on the bread, but mainly on the floor and on herself.


I watched for a few minutes as she licked her fingers and offered me the bread.  Since we were headed out to supper, I said no; so she ate it herself.  

I learned a lot about Samantha that day.  She was bright, kind, resourceful, determined and independent. These qualities are as obvious today as they were then. 

Happy 19th, sweetie.  And as my father said to your father on his birthday, "Don't let it go to your head."  

Well, maybe just a little bit!

Wednesday, 13 November 2013


We know the way now, not having to think about the route any more. It was the first visit to the apple orchard for this year.  It was a beautiful day with a cool breeze taking some of the heat from the warm sun.  A perfect day for apple picking!  I told myself I needed just enough for some baking this week.  Right!

Mother was with Rick and l as we parked and took our shopping bags to walk down the path towards the Melbas; good for baking.  A straight route to the second field takes you through patches of red or green apples in various stages of ripeness.  Finding the trees full of the huge, partially red clusters of apple goodness, we picked until we had enough for ourselves and Claire, our daughter.  More than enough for me really, as I couldn't pull myself away from the bounty of fruit.

On the way back to the car, I was thinking about last year when we went to the orchard with Mother, Father, Sylvie, our granddaughter and Claire.  A year is like a decade in the circumstances it brings sometimes.  That's when Mother mentioned him.

He's always with us, especially during the apple harvest.  Bitter sweet!

     Melvin Smith with great granddaughter, Sylvie, September 2012

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Pickles November 13, 2013

You know it didn't have to be pickles but pickles it was.  A day cutting, chopping, chatting, and sharing memories of similar times with other beloved women.  What could be better? 
It was the end of August and Sylvia, my mother-in-law and I shopped for the various vegetables and spices we'd need for our savory recipe for zucchini pickles.  The market was stocked with the needed vegetables and between there and the bulk food store, we had everything we needed.  

When we got home we did some baking first, using some of the zucchini for a cake.  Rick would be glad of that. The chemistry of food that allows something as bland as a zucchini to become a spicy concoction of deliciousness never ceases to amaze me.  

The pickles, though less spicy, are an interesting mix of time and seasonings.  The chopping becomes almost automatic as the peppers, cauliflower and cucumber succumb to the chef's knife.  Before you know it, hours have passed and vegetables are ready for the brine.

The best part?  You could say the tasty treats that we produced after a few hours together but you'd be wrong.  The best part is the time spent with someone you love, sharing insights and wisdom of life over a cooking and baking experience.  Two of my favorite things!

Marmalade might be next.

Monday, 11 November 2013

The Rosary

My mother, Mary Pretty, was a woman of great faith.  That faith was rooted in her upbringing, as I got to see when I spent summers with my grandparents.  If Mom said one prayer, she said millions and the Rosary was one of her favourites. Her grandfather, Edward was from Ireland and he was deeply religious as well.  The heritage of devout Catholicism was well established in the OBrien family by the time I was old enough to spend summers with my grandparents.

My grandparents, Monica and Gus O'Brien, walked the mile to church or hitched the horse and cart to go to Petty Harbour for Mass before they ever had a car.  While attendance at Mass was important, I think the part of the faith that entered everyday life was the Rosary.  Every evening after supper, when everything was cleared away, Nan, Granda, Uncle France and I knelt in the kitchen.  Granda or Nan would start and each of us in turn would lead a decade of the Rosary.  Periodically Granda, a tall, big man, would break wind while he leaned over the chair.  Uncle France and I did our best not to laugh, but depending on the sound or sometimes chorus out of Granda, it was hard not to laugh.  Nan laughed too, but silently.  Any time I looked over at her, she'd have her head down, shaking.  The thing was, the Rosary went on, regardless.  It was common for people to drop-by in those days and anyone who came by during Rosary time just picked a spot and knelt with the rest of us to pray.  

I remember when I first started to say the Rosary with my grandparents, I couldn't figure out what they were saying.  I knew the Hail Mary of course, but in the repetition of the prayer and the speed with which it was said, I couldn't figure out what was being said.  Was this some new version I didn't know?  The first two words, Hail Mary, were always loudly spoken; then the rest of the verse rapidly trailed off until . . .Holy Mary (loudly) and the same thing happened.  There were always intentions with the praying too.  Many a soul was ushered into heaven (we hoped), or the sick remembered, and always there were prayers for the family.  When the Rosary was done, I could go out to play.  Usually I went down to the Martin family; they'd be at the Rosary too and I'd join in with them. If I was lucky, they'd almost be finished.  At least that's what I thought then.

Years later, as my father, Samuel Pretty, lay dying, one of the last things we heard him say was the 'Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death,' part of the Rosary.  He was saying it spontaneously when he could barely speak.  Years of praying came down to that one simple prayer in the end.  I think he was comforted by it. 

We were.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Remember November 11, 2013

 I love collecting stories from family and friends and now is the time to write them down.  This first one weaves connections through our friends and family as they faced war. I'm starting here because these are the most important stories to remember. We want our children, grandchildren and all the generations to come to learn from their predecessors.

Lest We Forget

We'll begin our journey in the colony of Newfoundland.

His name was Edgar Moulton and he was from Burgeo, a small fishing village on the southwest coast of the island.  While today it is connected by road to the rest of the island, in Edgar's day, it was only accessible by boat.  Edgar's father was a fish merchant in Burgeo and while we don't know the exact details of his life, we do know that his family had money.  It is likely that Edgar could have worked in the family business and never have gone to war.  Why did he join the Newfoundland Regiment and go to war in Europe?  Edgar was married and had a young daughter.  He died in battle.  He was my husband Rick's great great uncle. 

Edgar's daughter moved to mainland Canada and eventually married.  Edgar's granddaughter and her family live in Florida today.  They have searched for information about Edgar.  They wanted to remember.

When World War ll started, Newfoundland became a hub of Allied activity.  The Canadiian and Newfoundland governments agreed to allow Canadian troops into St. John's where a naval base was also established.  Gander became the center for military flights.  If Newfoundland was taken by the Germans, then the east coast of Canada was vulnerable.  Then in 1941, the United States established air, naval and army bases.  The U. S. Army base was in St. John's. Consequently there were many military personnel stationed in St. John's or in port for various reasons.  Thankfully, for their future families, many Newfoundland women met their spouses at that time.

My two Aunt's, Muriel and Angela Pretty, married service men from the Second World War.  Muriel married Wilfred Sauriol, from Ontario.  He served in the Canadian Navy and met Muriel when he was in port in St. John's, where she grew up.  Wilfred, called Babe by his family and friends, was prone to extreme sea sickness and spent time in sick bay as his ship traversed the North Atlantic.  Having experienced one extreme though brief bout of sea sickness myself, I can't imagine what it would be like to go through that day after day while worrying if you would be torpedoed.  

                   Wilfred (Babe) Sauriol

My Aunt Angela married Alex Woodford, a young man from St. John's, who served overseas. He and Angela raised their two sons, Donald and Ian, in St. John's. 

My cousin Donald wrote about his dad's service.

"He went overseas with the Royal Navy when he was 17.  He tried to go when he was 16 but (of course) my grandfather (who had experienced war in WW1) would not give his permission.  He was over there for the entire war and came home in 1945.  Among other things he was on HMS Ramilies (an old WW1 battleship) when it was torpedoed in Madagascar harbour.  The torpedo punched a hole on the ship but (luckily) did not explode.  She was towed to Cape Town, South Africa where the RN had a dry dock.  I think he really enjoyed his stay (about a month..I think) in Cape Town.  While he was very homesick (at times) he always spoke fondly of his time in the Navy."

My grandfather's brother, Fred and his wife, Jessie Pretty, also lived in St. John's at this time.  They had twin girls, Olive and Jennie and a boy, Fred.  The girls met military men as well.

Olive married American John Atfield, an army man, the same day as her sister, Jennie, married a Canadian navy man, Larry Gabel. John was an anti-aircraft gunner with Battery D, 24 Artillery.  John and Olive had one daughter, Patti. John and Olive eventually moved to Australia with Patti and her husband Chris.  John died several years ago but Olive is still doing well.  

                       John and Olive (Pretty) Atfield

At the same time, in England, my son-in-law's great grandgrandmother was working in a munitions factory while her husband fought in Europe.  He died in the war.  Ben's great grandmother, Elizabeth, is still going strong.

While Elizabeth was working in England, our friends, Hiltrud Bogs Hengst and Carlo Hengst were children in Germany.  They were crouched in cellars in Berlin as bombs dropped around them.  One of Hiltrud's earliest memories is of one such cellar in Potsdam, just outside Berlin, when she was six years old, near the end of the war. The row houses were made of stone and each had a cellar.  She was in one of them with her parents and brother while the bombs fell all around.  When they got out in the morning, the other houses had been destroyed.  There were still cracking sounds and bursts of light, all that her child's senses could take in at the time.

While the Pretty girls were growing up in St. John's, a great nephew to Edgar Moulton was born in Port aux Basques and raised in Corner Brook.  His name is Richard Mercer. He joined the Canadian Armed Forces in 1950.  By 1952, when he was twenty-two, Dick, as he is known to his friends and family, was fighting in Korea.   He lost some of his friends during the year he was there but he survived and made the military his career.  Dick spent six months as a United Nations Peacekeeper in Cypress as well. 

Dick retired as a Chief Warrant Officer in 1984 after having received:

The Korean Volunteer Medal
The Korean Medal
The United Nations Service Medal
The United Nations Cypress Medal
The Long Service Medal

More recently he received the Queen Elizabeth ll Jubilee Medal. 

Dick and his wife Doris live in Osgoode, Ontario.  They have three children and five grandchildren.

        Dick and his sister, Sylvia, my mother-in-law, 1952.  Dick was home on pre-embarkation leave.

It is interesting that now, living in Prince Edward Island, we have met another Korean veteran who is originally from Grand Falls, Newfoundland where Rick and I lived for many years.

The last story I want to tell today has a more recent connection but is based in the Second World War.
Several years before my father, Samuel Pretty, died in 1986, he responded to a letter to the editor in a local paper.  The letter was from a man who had served in the British Navy. He was in St. John's after being rescued from a lifeboat after his ship was torpedoed.  This man, Al Manning, had been in the Knights of Columbus Hall at a dance in December 1942 when the building caught fire.  Ninety-nine people died and the last one saved was Al.  He was on fire and got to the door where one of the fireman extinguished the blaze.  He survived.  Al had moved to New Zealand, married and had his family there, two girls and grandchildren.

After Dad's death, mom kept in touch with Al.  She eventually saw another article about that fire and the fireman who may have saved Al. His name was Spike Arnott.  Mom managed to get them communicating and sure enough, they had found each other again.  They wrote letters and eventually talked on the phone.  It was an emotional experience for both of them.  

This article by Rob Antle is from The Express, a St. John's newspaper.  I cannot find a reference to the year.

                         Mary Pretty helped Al Manning find the firefighter who saved him.

                   Spike Arnott -the firefighter who had saved Al Manning at the K of C fire.

Canada still has troops in Afghanistan.  We have lost many good people there including our first female combat officer, Nicola Goddard.  We can never pay them enough for the the service and the sacrifice they made.

It is impossible for those of us who haven't been there to understand the experience of war.  However it is possible to know what was risked by those who were there. The possibilities that they wouldn't come home, or would be maimed, were a constant threat.  They risked the opportunity to marry, raise a family and see grandchildren. Some of the best years of their youth were spent in the worst conditions in the various branches of the Service, on the sea, in the air or dug into fox holes or in the sides of hills.  Many paid the ultimate price.  This doesn't even include the civilian cost.

There is a song called "The Dutchman" by Michael Peter Smith that captures a bit of the cost of war.  I particularly like the rendition by Makem and Clancy.  Give it a listen.

We are Margaret.