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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.

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