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Monday, 30 December 2013


Our daughter loves potatoes; boiled, baked, fried, mashed, or any of the myriad ways the cook books describe.  This love affair began when she was a baby.  We were lucky enough to live near a family who provided day care for Claire in their home, just a few feet from our home in Buchans, Newfoundland.  

In this family, the father, Jim, worked with the mining company in the town and came home every day for lunch.  His wife, Betty, always cooked the noon meal, dinner to Newfoundlanders.  Claire began her love affair there and it was reinforced with the cooked meal that we made for supper.  Claire didn't have a chance against the noble potato.  Furthermore, not only was the potato a constant for Claire, she also loved ketchup and it too was a fixture at meal times.

It was curious then for our family when Claire moved to Prince Edward Island to work when she finished her Nursing degree.  She lived in a place famous for its potatoes.  This beautiful little garden island produces over 30 percent of the potatoes consumed in Canada every year.  Many of the potatoes she consumed were from PEI.

One of Canada's musical treasures is a man called Stompin' Tom Connors. He came from PEI and sang about his island home among other very Canadian topics.  His song "Bud the Spud" has a happy message.
Sep 1, 2007 - Uploaded by canuckmaleman
StompinTom Connors - Bud The Spud Live From Hamilton Ontario Concert 

On our first visit to PEI after Claire moved here, we made the pilgrimage to the Potato Museum in O'Leary.  We really enjoyed the history of the potato, the machinery used in the planting and harvesting, and the discussion of the economic impact of the "spud" on the island.  We took pride in our contribution to the province's economy!

Here we are nine years later, living in PEI near Claire, Ben and their family.  We have two grandchildren who are "potato island" girls.  That starchy wonder has had a tremendous impact on our lives just like the family in "The Ketchup Song,"  also by Stompin' Tom Connors.

In this song, Ketchup is from Leamington, Ontario, where a huge Heinz ketchup plant employed many people.  (Sadly now, the plant is closing, leaving many people out of work.). However, in the song, the marriage of Ketchup and "Padaedes" as Islanders say it, makes for a happy like.  Very true!
Sep 2, 2007 - Uploaded by canuckmaleman
StompinTom Connors - The Ketchup Song Live From Hamilton Ontario Concert 2005

Friday, 27 December 2013

Dad Part 2

Dad's mother played piano and according to one family friend, was a gentle, loving woman.  She had nice things, such as a beautiful dining room set, china cabinet, lovely china dishes and a piano.  These were not common place at that time in Newfoundland and certainly not with my mother's family.

Dad's mother got sick with uterine cancer and it seemed like she was sick for a long time according to my Aunt Angela, (deceased 2013); I got to know her in the later part of her life.  Angela described a chair that my grandfather adapted so that Ida could work around the kitchen, having the chair attached to one leg so she could put her weight on it.  Her knee rested on the seat and her leg went through the hole in the back of the chair.  Ida was determined to keep going as long as she could.  By the time she eventually took to her bed, she died quickly. 

My father was athletic and really loved soccer.  It occupied his time and he played when he was supposed to be in school.  The school contacted my grandfather when he got home from work, often after days away, to report on Dad's absence.  Dad was having a hard time with one of the teachers at school and when the news of Dad's absence reached his father, Dad got in worse trouble at home.  Physical punishment was the solution both at home and school.  Dad quit school, found a job, and eventually boarded with a family just up the road from where my grandfather lived.  He played soccer through it all.  It kept him going and on the right path.  Then he met my mother after he started to work at the railway.

I never saw the side of my grandfather that my father knew.  He was always patient and loving with my brother and I.  My father had a close relationship with his father eventually; my parents lived with him after they got married.  Dad was twenty-seven by that time.  Young Sam eventually spent a lot of time with his father later in life as well.  My grandfather's housekeeper, Juanita, who became like family to him, eventually worked at the School for the Deaf.  My grandfather became the chief cook, and every work day, he'd cook lunch for himself and Dad while Juanita worked.  Dad enjoyed this time with his father.  I always say that I learned forgiveness from my father.  The motherless child in him forgave the father who didn't know how to cope with his son any other way.  I can only imagine what happened with the other children but I know it was very difficult for my father after his beloved mother died.  Eventually though he met my mother and his life changed forever.

Thoughout their early married life, my father continued to play soccer.  When I was young I remember being on the sidelines during games, playing with other children.  Mom and I always went to the games.  The players and families on the Holy Cross team were all friends and they knew each other well.  Life revolved around soccer, Church and home.  This continued when we moved to Maddox Cove and then to Mount Pearl.  

The following articles appeared in the St. John's newspapers after Dad died. I don't know which papers they are from. Dad died April 8, 1986.

Our father enjoyed a long career in soccer, won lots of trophies and awards.  In Mount Pearl, he worked with a committee of older players to form a soccer association there.  The Mount Pearl Soccer Association still maintains a soccer league for the numerous young people of that city. Dad played on the same team as Frank one year before he retired.  Then he coached Frank's team for a number of years.  Soccer was a lifetime pursuit for our father.

Our father was a patient man.  The way he handled Frank's illness for three years was evidence of his demeanor.  I never knew him to get really upset about things or raise his voice.  He was quiet, religious and never gossiped. You'd never find out any "news" from Dad.

While he worked, Mom took care of the money.  Dad always said that if he brought home one dollar, Mom could make two out of it.  Mom was good with money and while Dad rarely had any money in his wallet, he knew that when we needed something, Mom had money "poked" away. Her wallet always had compartments with money in them, which was always "different" money, her way of allotting money for things we needed.  I never remember our parents having credit cards though they had loans for things.  We didn't have a lot but we always had enough.

Sam read a great deal and brought home classic comics for Frank and I to read.  Dad and I always talked about them as well.  I remember the book EXODUS by Leon Uris in particular.  Dad brought it home and we both read it and talked about the book in light of the politics of the day with respect to Israel.  While Dad didn't have much education he was well read and could talk about any issue of the day.  He enjoyed history especially and was very knowledgeable.  For example, on the occasion of the death of Winston Churchill, Dad could speak about Winston's life and what he had done in the United Kingdom during the war. 

Several years ago, I had the opportunity to visit Chartwell, Churchill's home in Kent, England.  How I wished Dad could have been with me!  I saw everything for both of us that day.  
                   Marie and Dad, August 20, 1976

Movies were another favourite of Dad's.  The first movie I ever saw in a theatre was "The Ten Commandments" which Dad took Frank and me to see.  I watched all the old movies with Dad and enjoyed them immensely.  The best part always was talking about the movie with Dad.  When I was in university, Dad, also a night owl, and I spent many nights into the wee hours watching movies together.

Frank and Dad shared a love of soccer and we attended the games.  Being good Canadians, of course, they also watched hockey together.  The Summit Series was memorable in our house because when Hendersen scored the famous winning goal, Frank jumped up off the couch, hitting the light fixture in the ceiling, breaking it.  Luckily neither Frank nor Dad was hurt by the flying glass.

Dad was a man ahead of his time in that he did as much around the house as my mother.  With the amount of sickness that both Mom and Dad suffered, the hospitalizations or the incapacity of one or the other on different occasions, Dad cooked, cleaned, did laundry and anything else that Mom did.  He took charge when she was incapacitated.  We helped out too.

One year in particular comes to mind.  Dad added an extension on our house.  He started in the spring by tearing down our garage, digging out the basement and adding on two rooms.  I helped him as much as I could.  It was before Christmas and Mom was in hospital but the house wasn't finished. .  Dad and I finished tiling the ceiling, and put down the carpet in the dining room.  We finished it by the time Mom got home from the hospital.  I remember the three of us cleaning up just before Mom got home.
          Dad holding Claire, Marie, Frank, Mom

You could describe Dad as a bit of a handyman as well.  When something broke and needed repairs, Dad often fixed it.  He was good at carpentry, plumbing, and electrical work.  He could look at something and figure out a way to make it work.  He always had parts and pieces saved and adapted them for a new purpose.  In different circumstances he could have been an engineer.

Dad accepted the cancer the same way as he handled everything else in his life.  He was determined to fight it but when he realized he wouldn't beat it, he prepared as much as he could.  He organized everything he could for Mom.  Like Mom did with me, Dad did with Frank, showing him things and talking about them.  He was home until the day before he died, at sixty.

It's hard when you lose an important part of yourself.  I think that losing Dad was my first serious encounter with grief.  Prior to this time, I had only lost my Grandfather O'Brien, who had died suddenly at seventy-two.  However I expected his death due to his heart problems and it seemed to me that he had lived a long life.  I didn't feel that with Dad.  He seemed too young, and the depth of the grief was overwhelming at times.  

At that time, I was principal of an all grade school.  When I got back to school after the funeral I was very upset that everything was going on as it always had.  How could that be?  Everything was different now for me but not for the teachers and the students of course.  It was about two years before I could think about Dad and not be sad.  Then it lifted, like a veil, leaving only the positive memories.  

Patience with grief is important too, hey Dad?

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Dad Part 1

Sitting around the Christmas tree this morning took me back in time, back to the days when Mom, Dad, Frank and I sat around the Christmas tree after midnight Mass on Christmas Eve into Christmas morning.  When we got older, we always opened our presents after midnight Mass.  

How was it possible that after that Mass every year, flakes of snow gently fell from the black sky, as friends greeted each other with shouts of Merry Christmas?  At least that's how I remember it.  But the best part always was the four of us sat around the tree in the wee hours of the morning, talking, laughing, and enjoying the time together.  

Dad always mentioned his excitement on Christmas morning when his Mom was alive because the children didn't see the tree until that time as well.  However our tree went up around the time we finished school for the Christmas break.

Dad loved Christmas and his favourite part was Christmas dinner.  He always left room for the Christmas pudding which made the meal special for him because that's what his mother always made for dessert.  In my youth, our puddings were always made by Dot Ralph, our next door neighbour.  It was delicious but none of us loved it like Dad.  He usually finished it the next day.

It is with warm and loving memories of a wonderful man that I write today about our Dad.

Samuel John Pretty, grew up in a time when many Newfoundlanders had it rough.  Born in 1925, he grew up during the Depression.  However, his father had a steady job as an engineer on the Newfoundland Railway so Dad's family had a steady income when many others were going hungry.  

Dad was the youngest surviving child of seven, born to Samuel and Ida Pretty of St. John's, Newfoundland.  Two brothers, Albert and Robert died as children.  Dad had a brother Thomas, sisters Muriel, Margaret and Angela. 

Young Sam's mother, Ida, was the middle girl of three.  Her family, Thomas and Mary (Walsh) Stewart,  lived on Water Street across from the railway station.  My grandfather, Samuel Pretty, also lived in the west end of St. John's and worked at the railway.  I imagine that was how Sam and Ida met as they went about their lives in St. John's.

For a time, Sam and Ida lived with her parents on Water Street.  Eventually they had their own place on Water Street as well. Then in 1935, Sam and Ida bought one of the railway houses on Old Topsail 
Road, also in the west end of St. John's.  (The fires of 1842 and 1896 had destroyed much of St. John's.  Various groups built new homes in an effort to improve the number of suitable houses in the city.  One such group was the Railway Employees Welfare Association.)  Dad's earliest memories however were of life on Water Street.

As an engineer on the railway, my grandfather spent a great deal of time away from home.  Ida was close to her family geographically and emotionally.  When Sam Sr. was away, Ida and the kids spent time with her sisters and their children.   There are a few pictures of the cousins together.  After her parents died, Ida continued to visit with her sisters and their families.  Picnics were common in the summer.  

Pictures of my father during this period, show a well dressed child.  With the steady income that my grandfather had, Ida kept the children well dressed.  I met a lady who grew up on a farm on the corner of Topsail and Blackmarsh Roads in Mount Pearl.  My father and his brother Tom walked to that farm from their home on Old Topsail Road to buy vegetables, eggs or meat.  This lady said her family was always impressed with how well dressed the Pretty boys were.  This explains why my father always liked to dress in his "Sunday" best.  His Mom kept him that way and he liked it.  He was one of the few men we ever knew who enjoyed dressing up for an occasion.

            Dad, Angela and unknown family friend

Monday, 23 December 2013


was visiting Mom and after a good night's sleep I awoke to a thumping sound overhead.  Mom lived in Frank and Michele's basement apartment and everyone was gone but Michele's father.  It had to be Jack making that noise.  Curious, I went to the kitchen and asked Mom about it.

"Oh, that's Jack," she replied smiling.

Every morning Jack did his exercise; he put music on and as Newfoundlanders say, he'd 'give er.' He used soup cans as weights. The rhythm of the movement kept beat to the thumping that we heard. Mom found it comforting to know that someone was upstairs, and if the thumping didn't happen in the morning, she'd know something was wrong with Jack.  He was eighty.

Jack and his wife, Mary, were life long friends to my parents. Then, after Dad's death in 1986, Frank and their daughter, Michele, started dating and eventually married.  Our families were intertwined forever by their common granddaughter Samantha.

                            Samantha Pretty

After Mary died, Jack stayed with Michele's family for about six months every year until he opened his cabin at Placentia Junction again.  He lived for April to get to that cabin.  Jack always had a project 'on the go,' painting, mowing, getting wood, repairing whatever had to be done that year.  Time wasn't long enough to do everything he planned.  

Most of all Jack loved it when his family visited.  The cabin became a meeting place for the children, with fishing and the ATV taking up lots of time.   In addition, there was great comradery with the other cabin owners, many of whom became life long friends to the whole family.

Every Christmas, Michele hosts a family gathering on Christmas Eve.  She has six siblings and as many of her brothers, sisters and their children as can make it, attend the event.  Like many large families I imagine, they have a great time, laughing, singing, telling stories and jokes.  Jack loved this occasion.  He always bought some piece of headgear for the occasion, such as antlers or a Santa hat.  He got in touch with his inner child when it came to his family's Christmas party.

                         Jack Taylor

Jack was shoveling snow when it happened.  A sudden collapse into the snow bank which a neighbor witnessed.  Due to the quick response, he survived the incident but didn't recover.  Days later, his children agreed to turn off the machines that kept him alive.  Thinking about it now, I think that Jack went as he would have wanted, with his 'boots on,'  active until the end, but allowing his family time to be there.  Lucky man!

Merry Christmas, Taylor family!  Enjoy the party!

Friday, 20 December 2013

Six Days

When people told me that I would enjoy being a grandmother I would nod, but I hadn't any real sense of what it might be like.  It was beyond my comprehension at the time.  My husband, Rick, and I raised one child.  I think we were so busy when she was growing up that many of the milestones, while recorded, were not such a wonder.  Who had time to stop, stare and marvel at the daily milestones?

Today with two grand babies, both girls, there is time.  I am amazed by the change in such a short time. Recently we didn't see the youngest baby, Caitlin, for six days because she had a cold.  The last time we saw her, when put face down on the floor, she got up on her hands.  However she didn't seem to know what to do with her legs.  Six days later, she knows what to do and she wants to pull herself up to the coffee table if she's sat on the floor.  In addition, she saying BA, DA and MOM now.  That's such a big difference in six days!

What happened in that short time?  There are people who can describe the physical changes that happen to enable a child to perform these tasks.  I'm sure it involves neurons and musculature and other biological descriptors.  What I know is that our baby is beginning to explore the world and it's great to be along for the joy!

                                       Sylvie, Marie and baby Caitlin

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Some Little Ting

My grandmother O'Brien taught my brother and me some valuable lessons in life.  One of the most valuable has been the phrase, "some little ting wrong."  This was Nan's phrase that was repeated by our mother.  Like all children, we were curious if we met someone with a disability, deformity, unusual behavior. 

If we asked any questions, or seemed to notice, the response was, "There's some little ting wrong."  Ting was thing.  This was followed by questions on our part and explanations of what was "wrong."

The key here though was 'little.' It made the "thing" not a big issue, but something different.  If however we ever laughed at or made fun of someone, the response would be the warning, "You're not dead yet."

The first time I heard the part about death I didn't know what it meant.  Of course I was warned that I didn't know what could happen to me (or someone I loved) before I died.  How would I want to be treated because that's how I should treat others.  Believe me if someone tells you " You're not dead yet,"  when you're a child, you listen!  We didn't get the traditional Golden Rule vernacular.

Today we don't consider differences to be wrong.  However, for the time it was, the phrase held us in good stead.  Also I won't be saying to our granddaughters and didn't tell Claire the part about death. We have better ways to get the message across today.

The fact that we talked about whatever we saw or encountered in life was the important thing.  Knowledge gave rise to understanding, empathy and compassion.  That really was "some little ting right."

Sunday, 15 December 2013


It started out innocently enough.  We had just finished high school so on a hot summer day, I went with a group of five friends to a park just outside St. John's.  We decided to go for the day, planning to swim, have a lunch and sun bathe on the shore.

The pond had a rocky, partially sandy shoreline and some of us stretched out on the beach to soak up the rays, while I and a few others took to the water.  Eventually there were just two of us left in the water.  I was a good swimmer, having spent so much time in the water when I was young.  Kevin couldn't swim at all, which I didn't know at the time.  

The bottom of this pond was uneven.  While you could stand up in one place, one step could take you in the deep, seemingly bottomless pond. The people on the beach weren't paying any attention to the two of us in the water.  I was swimming around, talking to Kevin; he was standing up, occasionally trying to swim a few feet and standing up again.  However, the bottom dropped away and when he tried to stand, he couldn't.  He went underwater.  

When I noticed what was going on, Kevin was coming up the first time, with a look of panic on his face.  At first, I thought he was kidding around, like he often did about any number of things.  When he went down for the second time I knew he was serious.  The next few minutes seemed like forever, as I tired to grab for Kevin.  When I got a hold on him, he seemed to have Herculean strength.  He was dragging me under with him.  Swallowing water myself now, I kicked him hard. Luckily I got away, and looked back as he went under again, face in utter panic, looking at me as he disappeared under water again.

Swimming in towards shore just a few feet and catching my breath, I started shouting for help.  Everyone on the beach was oblivious to what was going on in the water. I screamed this time and turned around to see Kevin come up again. Our friends thought we were kidding them.  I could stand up at this point, and feet firmly planted, reached for Kevin as he started another downward plunge.  I grabbed his arm and yanked him towards me and he got his feet under him.  He surfaced and I helped him get to shore.  Our friends finally realized that we were serious.  

The amount of water that came out of Kevin that day was incredible.  I don't think he could have lasted much longer.  He and I could have drowned very easily while our friends were oblivious to the problem or not taking us seriously.  

Lesson learned!

Thursday, 12 December 2013

The Ralphs

Memories of life in Mount Pearl are intertwined with memories of two special people, Dorothy (Dot) and Harold Ralph.  They were our next door neighbours on Sunrise Avenue and many of the important life events in our family involved them.  However it is in the every day life of Sunrise Avenue that I remember them the most.  While I refer to them as Harold and Dot here, they were always Mr. and Mrs. Ralph to everyone in our family.

The Ralphs had lived on a small island off the north east coast of Newfoundland in Bonavista Bay.  Here they had provided a livelihood for themselves and their son in the fishing industry.  The Ralph name appears in records for Flat Island going back to 1845.  The generations had learned to survive, using all the land and sea had to offer.  Then in 1954, families started to leave Flat Island and move to the mainland of Newfoundland.  The last great exodus happened in 1957, some floating their houses with them, others just moving their possessions.  When we moved to Mount Pearl in 1958, Dot and Harold lived next door to us.

The Ralphs were busy people.  They worked from dawn until dusk and liked it that way.  My mother always said that the only time they ever sat on a chair in the back yard was the day she got a picture of them.  It was unusual to see them relaxing.  They had a vegetable garden in the back yard which they worked very hard to establish.  They had to bring soil to get it going, then seaweed or manure to maintain it.  They hunted rabbits, had seabirds in the fall, trout, fresh fish which they froze or salted, berries which they picked and Dot bottled or froze.  They had moose which was bottled or frozen.  

One of my fondest memories was an experience I had one Saturday when I went looking for Mom.  I found her in the Ralph's basement, helping them pick the feathers off newly killed chicken.  The local hennery sold off the chicken from its recent cull.  The Ralphs were plucking and cleaning them and of course, my mother with her vast experience on the farm, was working with them to pluck the birds efficiently.

Well, if Mom was at it, so was I.  I never had to be coaxed to get involved in things like this.  So they showed me how it was done and the four of us set up an assembly line to make short work of the dozens of chickens.  After we had dispensed with their lovely coats, Harold gutted them.  There were feathers flying that day!  Actually it wasn't really like that because part of the process involved dunking the birds in tubs of hot and cold water.  This kept the feathers from flying around and made plucking relatively easy. However, the down stuck to your hands, and anything you happened to touch as you worked.  We laughed at the sight of us when we finished.

Every autumn, the Ralphs worked to build up the stores of goods in their large basement.  Some of those chicken were frozen but most were bottled, for use the next winter.  Similarly every type of berry was picked and bottled as well.  Harold loved bread and jam.  He ate it at the end of every meal, preferring it to any dessert.  If the Ralphs were at our house for supper and Mom had dessert, when they went home, Harold had bread and jam.  He had a lunch of bread, jam and tea every night before bed time. Therefore every autumn, the Ralphs had enough jam stored in the basement to last until the next summer.  With Harold eating it like he did, you can imagine the berries they had to pick.  This was in the days when you couldn't go to a u-pick and get the berries easily, or get frozen ones at the supermarket.  Every berry was hand picked, wild strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, partridge berries, bakeapples, cranberries and squash berries for jelly.  There was a small, hard black berry that grew along the shoreline that they picked to put in puddings.  Mom didn't even know about those berries until the Ralphs showed them to her.

They did the same thing with fish, moose or whatever else was available.  Dot always had a huge freezer full of food to get them through the winter, just like they had done on Flat island in their storage rooms.  Today they would probably be perceived as survivalists, and in a way they were, but not in the modern sense.  They learned, through generations of time tested methods, how to survive in an isolated environment.  They didn't leave that lifestyle behind when they left Flat Island.  

This morning Claire commented that her father and I could survive for a year if Canada's food supply was suddenly compromised.  She's probably right!

                                    The Ralphs

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

The Teacher

Everyone has that one special teacher.  For me it was Sister Matthew Byrne.  She was a Presentation Sister who was my home room teacher in Grade Ten at Holy Heart of Mary Regional High School in St. John's, Newfoundland.  

Holy Heart was an all girls' school at that time and there were far too many students for the building that year so we attended school in shifts.  I was on the first shift.  We went to school early and were out by 2:30 p.m.  There were twenty-five hundred students and numerous teachers that year so I was very lucky to get Sister Matthew as my English and History teacher as well.

Sister was a dynamic teacher in the days when that was not the norm.  She had a way of making everything come to life.  Thinking about her now, I think she had a dramatic side and would have made a good actor.  One of my fondest memories was her teaching of the short story, THE SNIPER by Liam O'Flaherty.  Sister Matthew portrayed the sniper by crouching behind the desk, using a yardstick as the weapon and pulling her veil back over her head.  Only her eyes were visible above the desk as she looked down the scope of the 'gun.'  Who could ever forget that?

One of the unusual things about Sister Matthew was that she talked about her life.  She must have been nearing fifty at that time and she told us about her decision to join the convent.  The part that sticks with me is that shortly after she joined, one of her parents died and she couldn't go to the funeral.  I think that was a real sacrifice for her that she didn't really get over.  However she stayed in the convent and became a teacher.  I had never heard a nun speak candidly about her life like Sister Matthew did.  It was refreshing and inspiring.

I had a friend in that class.  Her name was Isabel Carroll.  She and I had been in the same class the year before as well.  That was unusual because there were about twenty five hundred students and the classes were changed up from year to year. It was good to have someone you knew among the forty girls in your class.

One Friday afternoon,  in English class, we did the poem "Auto Wreck" by Karl Shapiro  After school sometimes Isabel and I walked to the buses together.  This Friday, she went on ahead and I glanced out the window at her below on the parking lot.  It was the last time I ever saw her.  The next day she was going to Church with her family when they were in a head-on collision with a young man coming from an afternoon of drinking with his buddies.  In those days, seat belts weren't the norm.  Isabel went through the windshield and was killed instantly.  

Unlike today, the news of this accident wasn't known until Monday by her classmates.  Sister Matthew told us.  It was devastating news.  She gave us the opportunity to go to the funeral home if we wanted.  Isabel's parents were in hospital so those of us who went, kept vigil during the day for her.  It was strange, sad, and unbelievable that here we were, her classmates and she was in this white, closed casket.  Sister Matthew was with us at the funeral home and the funeral service in Outer Cove, where Isabel had lived. Sister was incredible with us.  I don't think any other teacher could have gotten us through that experience.

Isabel was very intelligent and a genuinely nice person. I often wonder what would have become of her, what she would have done with her life.  She could have done anything!  Such a loss!  I think of her often.  She is one of the reasons that I have no tolerance for drinking and driving.

Just before Isabel died we had another emotional experience with Sister Matthew.  She had assigned homework, I don't remember what it was.  Sister always checked that you had done homework. When she checked this time no one except Isabel had it done.  I had it done too but wouldn't admit it.  Sister Matthew was really upset.  I told Isabel later that I'd had the homework done.  She told me that I should have admitted it.  Incredible what I did to fit in or be liked!  I didn't want to be perceived as the "goody goody."

I also owe my teaching career to Sister Matthew.  She taught World History and gave a number of her students the opportunity to teach a section of the course.  I taught a section about Renaissance art.  I prepared for weeks, spending every available minute finding pictures and information about the artists.  I was very thorough and Sister Matthew said I did a great job.  She told me that I should consider teaching as a career.  Of course I did eventually.  I especially loved my years teaching Science, but counselling seemed like a natural progression as well.  I think Sister Matthew's example after Isabel's death was instrumental in that decision as well.

This woman was incredible.  She was teacher extraordinaire, natural counsellor, and in the day of stoicism among many nuns, she was very real.  I have always wanted to tell her how much she meant to me.  This is my way of doing just that.   Also, I hope wherever she is, she knows that I had my homework done that day too!  Isabel would be glad that I finally owned up to it.

      High school graduation, 1970, Marie Pretty, fourth from the right, second row.

Monday, 9 December 2013

Mary O'Brien Pretty, Part 3

Cancer took Dad within a year but it's effect on mom lasted the rest of her life.  During the months of his illness, Mom was devoted to Dad and cared for him at home until the day before he died.  She was in hospital herself during this time, due to the effects of the stress.  Dad wasn't someone who was socializing without mom.  Our parents were inseparable.  Frank and I cannot remember times when we had babysitters.  We did things with our parents.  On a rare occasion our grandparents looked after us but that was highly unusual.

With Dad gone, Mom was lost for about a year.  She cried a lot and certain triggers were particularly difficult, like Christmas music.  Eventually she decided that she would get back into life again because what choice did she really have?  She started with her driver's license.

Mom had tried to get her license when she was younger.  However after just avoiding the garage door trying to park one evening, she gave up.  This time she had renewed interest and incentive, a car parked by the door.  Mom took lessons and Frank took her out as well.  One time he somehow injured his big toe, tearing off the nail.  I've never figured that one out!

Eventually after two tries, our sixty-one year old mother got her license.  When the tester told her she passed, she "cried down tears."  Frank and I kept our fingers crossed and our toes hidden.

After she got her wheels, Mom became more active in every ministry available to women at Mary Queen of the World Church.  She especially enjoyed her work in St. Vincent de Paul Society and the Catholic Womens' League. 

Mary kept her travel routes within a certain perimeter of Mount Pearl.  She was comfortable driving in this area and enjoyed the freedom her license gave her.  Every so often Frank saw her driving around the city and kept his fingers crossed.  Mom had a heavy foot on the accelerator.

There is one incredible story about Mom's driving.  She picked up two friends one Sunday afternoon and headed to Bay Bulls to a garden party.  Driving into Bay Bulls there is a steep hill from which with two roads branch and go down to the ocean.  These two roads are narrow by highway standards and often there are cars parked, people/children walking.  As Mom headed down the hill her brakes quit and somehow she safely got the car down by the water and stopped without hurting anyone.  She prayed but didn't say anything to her passengers as she maneuvered her way to safety.  She didn't use the handbrake either.  She believed she was "guided" to safety.  Something unusual happened, that's for certain.  Maybe the fast driving that she always did was great experience when she had no choice but to drive so fast.

Dad and Mom became grandparents when Claire was born in 1980.  Claire, born on December 21st, was in a carrier under the Christmas tree when Mom and Dad first saw her.  I remember the looks on their faces.  They were so proud and thrilled with her.  Then after Dad died, in 1994, Samantha was born to Frank and Michele.  Mom lived in their basement apartment for a number of years so she was very close to Samantha and enjoyed every minute with her.  One semester when Claire was in university she stayed with Mom.  She got to know Mom as a friend as well as a grandmother.  They laughed a lot and ate cheesies.

                                          Mom, Dad and Claire, 1981

                                      Mom and Samantha, 1995

Mom loved the phone and spent lots of time talking to her friends.  Mom and I talked every day but it was often difficult to get in touch with her.  The phone was her life line after Dad died, especially in winter when she stayed in more.

Just over two years before she died, Mom was diagnosed with an abdominal aortic aneurysm.  Doctors were unable to repair it.  She was told that she would die suddenly with it but that she should go home and live her life. That's easy for someone to say!  How do you put it into action?  How long would she have?  What would the end be like?  Would she be alone?  

A Doctor she trusted told her that she would know when the end was near.  I think she did.  A month or so before she died, Mom suffered from something that she would normally shake, but not this time. The week before she died, I visited Mom and we talked about her family after she died and what she wanted done.  We cried and laughed, talked about old times, ate some good meals and said good bye really.

The night before she died Mom had sharp lower abdominal pain but didn't want to go to the hospital.  Claire, a nurse, Michele and I got her comfortable for the night and everyone slept, including Mom.  At nine the next morning, I went to say good bye since Claire, Ben and I were headed home, not realizing what was going on yet.  Then she asked me to help her out of bed and as I did, she had sudden, sharp pain and that was it.  Claire and I held her as she breathed her last.

I hadn't been there when Dad, Nan or my uncles died.  I think I was ready to handle Mom's death by the time it happened.  She died in our arms, with the belief that Dad was waiting for her, at peace, comforted by the faith that had sustained her throughout her life.

        One week before she died

She is never further away than my next thought.

Friday, 6 December 2013


It seems that the older I get, the more I am reminded of the past.  I guess I have more of a past to remember now.  Such is the case with dinner today.  (Dinner is the lunch time meal for Newfoundlanders and though I've been in PEI for three years now, a lifetime of dinners is hard to break.  It took a few weeks to discover that when we ask someone for dinner, we have to specify lunchtime).

Anyway, today's dinner is boiled beans, white navy beans with onion.  Sometimes we go a step further and bake them, but not today.  We also make tea buns, otherwise known as tea biscuits or scones, every time we have beans.  This is a family tradition on my side of the family.  Therefore while preparing dinner today and every time we have this fare, I think of my grandfather Pretty.

My grandfather, Pop, was very special to me and thoughts of him are always welcome.   Before my grandfather would come to visit, my mother would ask what he would like to have cooked for supper.  If given the choice, he always wanted beans and buns. 

When he was eating them he'd say, "All ya ever get ta eat here is beans.  Beans fur yur breakfast, beans fur yur dinner, beans fur yur supper."  

My mother would always say, "That's all you ever want."

He would laugh and eat and eat.  He really loved that meal.

I've come to realize in the last few years why my mother was always in pursuit of the perfect tea bun recipe.  I think initially she wanted to please Pop with the best tea buns ever.  By the time he died, her quest was well established and by that time, too ingrained to abandon.  After she died, I took up where she left off.  However, in our house, Rick is usually the one who makes the buns.  I find the recipes.

The recipe we currently use is by chef Michael Smith, who also lives on PEI.

We usually make them without cheese.  They are light and flaky.  Delicious.

Every time we have these buns I think about Mom.  She could stop looking for THE tea bun recipe.  This is it!  

Pop would have loved them too, especially with beans.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Mary O'Brien Pretty, Part 2

Mom's appearance in Dad's life made a huge difference for him.  Dad's mother died when he was fourteen and he was the youngest.  His father, Sam Sr., was an engineer on the railway and was gone sometimes for a week at a time.  Dad didn't have much motivation to go to school. He's skip school to go play soccer.  Then his older siblings left home and Dad left school.  Soccer became his life and he started work at an early age at the railway.  He boarded with a family he knew and then he met my mother.  He always said that if it wasn't for soccer and the love of a good woman, he didn't know what would have become of him.  Mom gave him the family life and the stability he hadn't knowm in a long time.

Initially Mom and Dad lived with my grandfather in a four bedroom house on Old Topsail Road.  This is where I first lived as well.  (Mom didn't work after she got married as was common at that time). However, it had to be difficult for both the young family and my grandfather to share the house.  Since my Uncle Ned's house was vacant in Maddox Cove, we moved there and eventually to our final home in Mount Pearl.

It would be four and a half years before I had a sibling.  However my brother had abscesses in his ears and he really suffered with them.  Mary and Sam dealt with it together, Dad with patience and Mom with prayer.  Three years later, Frank finally stopped crying when a new medication resolved the problem.

Life on Sunrise Avenue in Mount Pearl was made up of people who had moved from various parts of the island.  They formed a close knit group who helped and supported each other in the good and bad times.  The friendships lasted a lifetime.

Mom and Dad didn't have a lot of money but they had priorities.  Frank and I both had piano lessons, initially under the strict tutelage of Mother Francis, a retired Presentation sister.  There were numerous piano recitals and concerts as well because I was always in choir.  Frank's singing career was cut short after "The  Little Ships of Newfoundland."  Mom hadn't had the opportunity to take music lessons and she made sure that we had that opportunity.  Dad's mother played piano and he always enjoyed listening to whatever we played.  Did I mention that he was patient?

Frank wasn't as interested in piano as I was; he excelled at sports, especially soccer.  We attended every game, cheered him on, and especially enjoyed the year he and Dad played on the same team.

Life revolved around Church and school, our extended family and our neighbours.  Sunday always meant Church, Sunday dinner, and time with our extended family, especially our grandparents in Maddox Cove.  Life was comfortable.

When we were young and money was short, Mom made over coats, turned collars and sewed clothes for us, like her mother had done before her.  Many people in our neighborhood did the same thing.  The skills learned in the villages around the province helped families in Mount Pearl as well.

Dad took on the task of adding an extension to our two bedroom house.  He added an extra bedroom for us and a family room that became a bedroom for Mom's Uncle France during the winter months.  Dad wasn't a carpenter but he learned as he went.  Mom and I helped him along the way.  Frank was too young at that time.

            Our house on Sunrise Avenue, Mount Pearl, that Dad renovated himself.

When we were growing up, it seemed to Frank and I that Mom and Dad were always sick.  They had their share of sickness for sure.  Mom had a slipped disk when Frank was a baby and her back bothered her for the rest of her life.  It's curious that her abdominal aneurysm was diagnosed when she had a X-ray because of back pain in an spot that normally was pain free.

Mom had a hysterectomy when she was thirty-six and had a life threatening gall bladder rupture years later.  The gall bladder episode was misdiagnosed and she was sent home from the hospital, still suffering.  Meanwhile the gall bladder ruptured, and Mom's family doctor caught the problem when she started to jaundice.  She had emergency surgery that saved her life.  

Later, in 1999, I was visiting Mom when I had a gall bladder attack.  It was evening when I arrived at the hospital and the technicians were gone home, though someone was on call.  The Doctor wanted me to go home and come back for an appointment to get the ultrasound.  They had checked my heart and felt sure the problem was my gall bladder.  Meanwhile I'm writhing in pain, unable to rest, sit or sleep.  I really couldn't advocate on my own behalf.  Mom insisted that I request the ultrasound  now and sure enough, when I was steadfast in my demands, they called in a technician.  Medication finally worked that night and I had surgery the next week.  That night I learned how to negotiate the health care system from my mother.  She wasn't intimidated by the Doctors and kept her cool as she urged me speak up, or spoke to them herself.

Dad had his health issues as well.  He had back problems that we learned later in his life were from a congenital malformation in his lower spine.  He had surgery and had to wear a back brace for the rest of his life.  However, Dad had some of his worst experiences from stomach ulcers and eventually had the surgery to remove two thirds of his stomach. Our family's menu revolved around bland food that wouldn't hurt Dad's stomach.  Today medication fixes this problem.

The health issues with our parents meant that Frank and I helped out with things at home.  If Dad was sick, we helped Mom; if Mom was sick, we helped Dad.  Since I was the oldest, by almost five years, the majority of the work fell to me initially.  I never remember resenting any of it though.  It just seemed natural that you worked together to do things in your home.  I guess that came from my time with Nan.  What I do remember is being scared when Mom and Dad had those major surgeries.  Dad seemed to have bad reactions to his surgeries and took longer to recover.  He was very ill on several occasions.  I also remember being frustrated with the amount of sickness but we always seemed to get through it.

My last untainted memory of time spent with Mom and Dad was in late November of 1984.  It was Dad's birthday and we celebrated at our place in Buchans where Rick and I were teaching.  Dad had a great time and he and Mom were genuinely happy.  He had retired a few years earlier after his back surgery and they were enjoying life.  Within the next few months though, Dad's health deteriorated; he was tired and just couldn't seem to get going.  He was never one to suffer from depression and it was ruled out. Other tests were negative.  Then in the summer of 1985, Dad collapsed at a wedding he and Mom attended.  A regular chest X-Ray showed a tumor between his lung and chest wall.  It was growing on to his aorta. Inoperable!  Doctors gave him a few weeks to live, but suggested that radiation may shrink the tumor enough to give him another few months.  And it did.  Dad died in April, 1986.

       Dad's retirement, about five years before he died.

Monday, 2 December 2013


When I was in high school, one of our family friends lost his eyesight because of diabetes that was undiagnosed.  He and his wife didn't live in our community, but 'around the bay,' as Newfoundlanders say. 

We heard the sad news about Reuben but hadn't seen him since he had lost his sight. I remember our first visit to see him. I was apprehensive as we drove west on the Trans Canada Highway from St. John's, headed to Princeton, Bomavista Bay. I had always enjoyed being around Reuben and his wife, Florrie. They were kind, funny, and interesting people. They lived in a tiny seaside community where my brother and I met some of the local children and enjoyed spending time there exploring the area. We also explored other parts of Bonavista and Trinity Bays with Reuben, Florrie and our parents. Summer visits with them never seemed to be long enough.

At the time I didn't realize why I was so apprehensive. However as the car pulled into the driveway, I wondered what I would say to Reuben and how I would approach him. Usually we hugged. What do you do when the other person can't see you? I wondered how a hug could work. Do I mention his blindness? I didn't say anything to Mom and Dad but just followed their lead.

Mom and Dad just went in as they always did. Dad spoke and Reuben put out his hand to shake.  Mom spoke and Reuben called her over and hugged her. He did the same with me. First hurdle over.

At meal time, Reuben learned the location of food items on the plate and could manage well. He could get around the house well, having counted the paces of the various rooms and committed the numbers to memory. Reuben was doing really well with things.

On one occasion when Reuben and I talked, he told me I didn't have to talk loudly, his hearing was fine. He said that many people did the same thing and spoke louder when they talked to him now. We laughed over that one. He also liked to be asked if he needed help rather than for people just to assume that he did.

In those days, Reuben had to give up work when he lost his eyesight, so their financial situation had changed. That fact was the hardest thing for Reuben to accept, after the blindness itself and it's impact on his everyday life. Also, he was unable to drive now and his wife didn't have her license so they were't independent anymore with respect to transportation. That was a big impact on their lives as well.

Florrie was amazing. She cared for Reuben but expected that he could still do many things himself and he did. They had worked out how their lives would work under these news circumstances and they just got on with it. Their relationship seemed solid, devoted to each other.

One of the important things that we did on that first visit was to go for a drive around Bonavista Bay with Reuben and Florrie as we always did. The six of us piled into our car, the front seat could seat three people in those days. Reuben still saw everything we did really. He could see things in his mind's eye, and knowing the bumps and turns on the Old Bonavista highway, could tell where we were. He'd ask if this person's car was in the driveway or if the boat belonging to that person was tied up at the wharf. We had a wonderful time, stopping in various places, seeing old friends, or stopping to see the scenery. It was like it had always been.

I learned not to be afraid to use words about sight around Reuben. He understood and was alright with phrases like 'did you see the news?' He'd say that he had heard it and laugh. He was the same Reuben.

Over the next few years we saw Reuben a number of times at our home and his. However, his diabetes was difficult to control and he was having problems. Then suddenly he was gone.  

Reuben and Florrie didn't have any children of their own. However, I am one of the children whose lives they impacted in a very positive way. They showed everyone who knew them how it is possible to handle what could be perceived as one of life's tragedies with humour, dignity and love.

Reuben and I always sang whenever we were together.  We really liked Credence Clearwater Revival and our favourite song was "Looking Out My Backdoor." 

This one is for you, Reuben.