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.