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Tuesday, 30 December 2014

The Tablet

We are fortunate to have a family of four generations, Sylvia, my mother-in-law, my husband and I, our daughter and her husband, and our granddaughters, Sylvie and Caitlin. We see life from the perspective of four generations and it is an interesting view.

    Sylvia and Caitlin learning to use the tablet

Sylvia received a tablet for Christmas. Meanwhile, our youngest granddaughter, Caitlin, is interested in tablets now as a means to view various action songs on Youtube. Sylvia and Caitlin have a special bond anyway but the tablet has cemented it. Sylvia is learning how to use the tablet but so is Caitlin. More than eighty years may separate them in life experience but the curiosity about the device is identical.

The view is beautiful from here.

Friday, 26 December 2014

Island Breezes

Its absence was noticeable, a week in late December without wind. We did not have to bundle up against the biting cold assaulting us at various wind speeds and lowering the ambient temperature. Everywhere we went in preparation for Christmas, people commented, "It's calm today," or "Where's the wind?"

I am an island person of eastern Canada and accustomed to such wind. Born in St. John's, Newfoundland, the third windiest place in the world, I know driving drizzle, rain, sleet, snow which hit you horizontally because of the 'breeze' which impels them. Hats or umbrellas are almost useless. 

Now my family lives in Summerside, Prince Edward Island, one of the windiest places in Canada. Here the wind, ranging from a breeze to a gale, makes holding on to doors difficult or walking in a gale almost impossible. The wind is a regular part of life.

This beautiful island has wide open spaces, fields through the countryside where winds are unobstructed. Here, the blowing snow causes white-outs necessitating school and other closures. But such wind is not always bad.

The natural air conditioning the wind provides in the heat of summer is quite welcome. I wrote about this before in July, 2014.

Tourist information for tropical islands often mentions island breezes. I smile every time I read about them.

Thursday, 25 December 2014

Dreams of a Green Christmas

Age has a way of changing one's perspective about many things, snow as an example. There was a time when having snow for Christmas was all important. The thought of Christmas Eve without snow was unthinkable. When I was a child coming out of Midnight Mass on early Christmas mornings, snow gently fell around us as greetings of Merry Christmas filled the air. It was your best dream of Christmas.

Then as time passed and life happened, snow became a hindrance to travel at Christmas. Delays due to weather meant the loss of precious moments with friends and loved ones. Snow filled the driveway when we returned home as well, making for long hours of shoveling. The image of snow falling gently was a cruel fallacy.


Now the thought of a green Christmas is most welcome. Besides the lack of shoveling, and the fact that we do not travel at Christmas any more, the milder weather is easier on the old bones. We had a mild, green Christmas this year.

      Christmas Day 2014

Meanwhile, a new generation, our granddaughters, look at the snow with excitement and wonder at Christmas and other times, as they gaze out, wanting to play in the snow.

                  Sylvie and Caitlin

In their minds, there is a snowperson out there waiting to be born.

        
However, the best of both worlds is enough snow for a snowperson and exposed grass. Everyone is happy!

 

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Christmas Eve

Young children and the magic of Christmas Eve is something to behold. The thrill as they await that jolly, magical man, 


the excitement and joy of family and friends gathered to celebrate together make it such a special time.


Sharing a beverage, a special meal, 


hanging the stockings, reading Christmas stories,




sitting by the fire, the music,


the glow of the Christmas lights and candles 


make it my favourite day of the year. 

Presents? Unnecessary. 

Presence is the gift. 

                                                              ------------------------


Merry Christmas to the Taylor family this Christmas Eve as they gather once again for the annual Christmas Eve family party at my sister-in-law, Michele's home. My brother, Frank, was lucky enough to marry into a family of seven children who are very close in age and in life. 

This is the story I wrote last year about the Taylor-Pretty Christmas Eve.


Merry Christmas everyone!

Why not share your favourite things about Christmas in the comments?

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Tea Anyone?

She liked nice things and bought them herself when she worked as a seamstress at Goodyear and House in Corner Brook, Newfoundland. This was in the days when all furniture was solid wood and she always saved for the best she could afford. The tea cart was such a purchase at Hann Brothers.

        Classie's tea cart

Classie Mercer, Rick's grandmother, was that woman. She was a wonderful cook and loved to entertain her family and friends. She and her husband, Dick Mercer, lived in a little green and white house on East Valley Road in Corner Brook, Newfoundland. Classie had a small dining room where she kept the tea cart with her table, chairs and buffet. She had a china cupboard that she filled with beautiful dishes, cross and olive crystal. Classie set a beautiful table which she filled with delicious food. 

      Classie

The tea cart always held the beverages, china cups and dessert. Her pies were outstanding, made with various berries, lemon, apple. You saved room for dessert if you ate at Classie's house. 

Dick, a lover of desserts, passed his sweet tooth on to his sons, Dick and Carl. His grandson, Rick, inherited the trait as well. 

                      Tea and Cookies

The tea cart found a good home after Classie died. It gets rolled out when there is company and is the service area for beverages and dessert, just as Classie did. She is in our thoughts any time we use it.

Today is such a day.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

The Rocking Chair

The old picture was packed away in a box with hundreds of other pictures of times long forgotten, of faces long faded. This one was unmistakable however. Rick, my husband, sat 'reading' in his rocking chair, the same chair which sits next to our fireplace today. The picture was more than sixty years old.



This little chair was a gift to Rick from his grandfather Smith. 


Grandfather and grandson had a great relationship, Rick being the only grandchild living in Newfoundland at that time. 

This chair lived with us for decades but was stored in our shed. It made the trek from Grand Falls-Windsor to Summerside and after Sylvie, our granddaughter was born, it found a place in the living room. Sylvie loved to play with it, rocking with her toys or 'reading' too.



Then along came Caitlin. She didn't want anything to do with the chair until recently. She loves to sit in it now and rock, sometimes singing a Caitlin song, or just rocking with a friend.



The girls go home but the old chair sits in its place of honor now, waiting.





Tuesday, 16 December 2014

A Child's Dream

She grew up in a small town, Corner Brook, Newfoundland. Born in 1945, Marie Smith, youngest of seven children, didn't know television until the late 1950s. Prior to television, one of the things she did have was comic books with their advertisements for Disneyland.

Newfoundland had joined Canada in 1949, and for the little girl in Corner Brook, any news about Canada or the United States seemed so far away. As she gazed at the ads for Disneyland, Marie wondered what the place was really like, what people did there and she imagined riding in the teacups. Not in any dream of her future did she ever imagine that she would get to Disneyland.

        Young Marie

Years later, Marie and her son Jeff, traveled with her brother Fred to Disney World in Florida and later to Disneyland itself. The dream of the child in Marie was real now and she rode the tea cups. Standing in the hotel and looking over the Disney sites was a surreal experience for her. The little girl growing up in Newfoundland could never have imagined such an experience.

Then one day in Mississauga, Ontario, Marie, having therapy on her knee, struck up a conversation with the physiotherapist. Mississauga is a culturally diverse city, with residents coming from all over the globe. This man was from Vietnam originally and came to Canada as a child after the Vietnam War, leaving in a boat with his family and thousands of others to escape the wave of communism spreading southward. 

As a child, he too saw the Disney ads in the comic books in Vietnam. Never, in the turmoil that was his life during that war, did he ever imagine that he would get to a Disney Park. Living in Mississauga at this point in his life, he planned to take his family to Disney World that Christmas. His dream was to have his picture taken with Mickey Mouse ears on his head. One can only imagine what that experience was like for him and his family.

Today there are children all over the world sharing similar dreams of things they cannot even imagine. But...

Sunday, 14 December 2014

On Tick

There was a time in Newfoundland when local credit was called 'on tick.' The local store or the area merchant carried over the cost of the item(s) you needed until you could pay for them. Local store owners made significant investments in their communities through their 'on tick' clientele. 

There was such a store, Hounsell's, down the hill from where my mother-in-law, Sylvia, lived growing up on the west side in Corner Brook. That store carried its customers just like so many store owners did all around the country. There weren't any credit cards. Your word was the basis of the transaction. 

When youngsters went to the store for sugar, can milk, tea or butter, a pound of bologna, they told the clerk, "Write it down." When there was money, parents settled their accounts. 

Your ability to go back and do the same another month depended on you settling your account. When times were tough, sometimes the accounts were not settled regularly. However, if too many customers were in the same predicament, the store owner would not be able to settle his/her own accounts, buy stock, or support themselves, so there was a limit to how much a store could carry for each customer.

On a larger scale, the same happened with the fish merchants. The individual fishermen settled their accounts with the merchant in the fall. The fisher's salt fish was valued and total determined. Then the cost of the supplies the fisher needed was deducted from that total. Rarely did any fisher get money in hand. Depending on the quality of fish that year, and the price paid for the fish, set by the merchant, most fishers had items 'on tick' with the merchant, carried from year to year. The men headed home to their families with the bags and barrels of supplies meant to last through the winter, but March was called the 'lean and hungry month,' for a reason.

Meanwhile, as communities like Corner Brook grew, the community stores carried the friends and neighbours 'on tick.' This receipt may have been from Tucker's store which was on Caribou Road, near Ern and Bessie Smith's home on West Avenue.



Whoever this merchant was, he loaned Ern and Bessie the $350.00 for their house as well. On June 15, 1926, they paid on the house and settled their grocery bill for the previous month. The Smiths had recently bought the house having lived with his parents on East Avenue for a time after they married.

It would be great if the grocery items were listed, not just the prices. It appears that the numbers alongside the grocery prices refer to the dates when certain items were put 'on tick' for the month. The couple settled their account to the best of their ability. They paid $65.00 on a bill of $68.52, which included $20.00 on the house and $10.00 for some unknown item. The result was $3.52 'on tick' again, carried over to the next month.

Ern worked at the mill at this time and his salary could not have been much more than $65.00 a month. How did they pay for coal or wood and other necessities beyond items available at this store? There would be another list of charges for the next month by the time the next house payment was made for certain. 

I would be glad to hear your thoughts and ideas about this or any of the stories in my blog.





Thursday, 11 December 2014

Great Grandparents Smith

Rick's great grandfather, James, (Jim) Smith, was born in 1869 in Dildo, Newfoundland to Eliol Smith* and Catherine Moore Smith. He married Sarah Reid and they eventually moved across Trinity Bay to Old Shop where Jim established a saw mill. He needed workers for the saw mill and the workforce was more stable if the men had their families with them. Therefore Jim opened a store to provide for the needs of the families of Old Shop. His saw mill cut all the wood for the church or school in the community. Jim also owned the first car in the town.

Jim and Sarah had nine children:

Andrew, born 1899, married Flossie Dooley, eventually lived in Mt. Pearl, Newfoundland.

Ernest, born 1901, married Bessie Earle in Corner Brook, Newfoundland.

Katherine, (Katie), born 1904, worked for a time at Corner Brook House, the home of the mill manager. She was a seamstress and married John McRae. They lived in Dundas, Ontario.

Rose, born 1906, married Ambrose Hutchings of Whitbourne, Newfoundland.

Emmie, born 1909, married Duncan Dewar and lived in Prescott, Ontario.

Fred, born 1911, died of diphtheria as a child.

Mary, born 1913, died of breast cancer in St. John's, Newfoundland.

Lewis, born 1915, died of diphtheria as a child.

John, born 1917, died of diphtheria as a child.

   John and Fred's headstone

       Lewis's headstone


The Smiths lost three of their youngest boys, Fred, Lewis and John within a year of each other. It must have devastated the family to lose three of their children and within such a short time. The grief is unimaginable.

Eventually Jim and Sarah moved to Corner Brook when the paper mill was establishing there in the 1920s. Jim was a carpenter, helping with the construction of the mill. Jim and Sarah were in Corner Brook when their son, Ernest married Bessie Earle of Durrells in 1925. Ern and Bessie lived with Jim, Sarah and the family when they first married. The elder Smiths lived at 5 East Avenue, a house which is still there today.

Jim moved his family back to Old Shop when Sarah became ill. 

 Jim Smith, Minnie (second wife), Dale, great grandson

After she died, he eventually married Minnie who is in the picture with Jim's great grandson, Dale. Dale's father is Gordon who is son of Andrew, Jim's oldest son.

Sarah and Jim Smith are buried in Old Shop.

*Eliol Smith was born and lived in a winter tilt. In the summer, the fishermen and their families lived in exposed areas along the coast of Newfoundland while they fished. In October, they moved to more protected areas, often further inland where they constructed their winter homes. The winter tilts were built where wood was more readily available for home construction but also for firewood. The homes were made of logs, seams filled with moss or bark, sod roofs.The stone fireplace provided for heating and cooking and a hole in the roof allowed the smoke to exit. 

     Great Great Grandmother Catherine Smith

Catherine Moore Smith is buried in Dildo, Newfoundland. We suspect that Eliol is buried next to her in an unmarked grave.

Thank you to Aunt Marie Smith for all of your help with the family history.

Please feel free to add comments or questions to this or any story on the blog.


Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Mary Smith...Remembered

She experienced some difficult things in her childhood. The youngest girl of a family of nine, her three youngest brothers died within a year of each other from diphtheria. What was that like for the young girl, watching them die one by one, missing them? Did she imagine that she was next? Did she have nightmares?

Short in stature as is the family trait, Mary Smith was the sister of Ernest Smith, making her my husband's great Aunt. She grew up in Old Shop, Trinity Bay, where her father James (Jim) and mother Sarah had several businesses. Mary's home was a tiny fishing community at the bottom of Trinity Bay. 

               Old Shop shoreline today

The shoreline was lined with the stages and flakes where the people made the salt fish and the boats tied up. 

                  Boat tied up in Old Shop

The place was busy from spring until fall as the men pursued the elusive cod and the woman helped make the fish.

At the age of twelve, Mary jumped off a swing which is a common thing for children to do. However, the result for Mary was catastrophic and it affected the rest of her life. She broke her hip bone and pushed her femur into the hip socket. Medical care in Newfoundland at that time was less than ideal. Mary wore a cast for a time but the result was the injured leg was four inches shorter than the other. Her mobility was certainly affected from the injury, an infection, and the shoddy repair. Life became more difficult.  

Her family lived in Corner Brook for a time when her brother Ernest moved there to work in the paper mill. Then her mother, Sarah became sick, and Jim moved his wife and younger children back to Old Shop. 

     Sarah's headstone

There Sarah died and eventually Jim married Minnie. Mary, never married, lived with her father and step mother while her siblings all moved away and married. Eventually after her parents' deaths, Mary lived in the family home on her own. 

           Jim's headstone

However she had no means of support so she burned some of the furniture to stay warm.

Eventually Mary moved to St. John's and worked at an orphanage. I imagine her enjoying her life there with the orphaned children, supporting herself, being around people.

Then tragedy struck again. Mary was diagnosed with breast cancer and she was so despondent she told her nephew, Gordon Smith, "I feel like goin' down and jumpin' over the wharf."

Mary could not see a way through this latest health issue. However, her nephew, Andrew Smith and his wife took her into their home where they cared for her to the end of her life. 

The little girl from Old Shop found her place with people who cared for her and helped her to the end, something for which we all hope.

Note: It is curious that his knowledge of what happened to his sister, affected Ern and his interactions with the medical system. On the night that his grandson, Rick, was born, Ern celebrated a bit too much and fell down on his way home, breaking his shoulder. He refused medical treatment fearing a repeat of his sister's shoddy care decades earlier.

Rest in peace, Mary Smith. 

Thank you to Aunt Marie Smith for helping to bring Mary's story to her extended family.

Historical Note:

The name Old Shop comes from the name The Old Chop, the place where the original fishers cut wood for their boats. Over time, the name became Old Shop.


Sunday, 7 December 2014

The Christmas Concert...Then and Now

The location:   St. Theresa's All Grade School
                       Buchans, Newfoundland
                       December 1985

The Kindergarten class of Mrs. Lib M. performed on the stage in front of family and friends. Lib gave each child an individual piece to say about one of the letters in Merry Christmas, so each child had a chance to shine. As always, they did a great job. Some were shy and barely audible. A few shouted so as to proclaim their part. All were cute and adored by family and friends. 

         Claire

Our daughter, Claire, was part of that group, representing the letter Y. She was one of the shy ones.

The location:  Dreams Unlimited Day Care
                      Summerside, Prince Edward Island
          December 2014

The babies group, under two years of age, and the preschoolers, age 2-4, performed their Christmas program. 

         Caitlin 

The babies, including our Caitlin, played tambourines to Jingle Bells, or rather, they held tambourines while others sang Jingle Bells. They were all very cute and shy in front of so many unfamiliar faces. 

               Sylvie

The older cuties, including our Sylvie, did a great job singing and performing actions to various songs, such as the Reindeer Pokey. They all enjoyed themselves, and listened as the teachers instructed them. Adoring families watching them could not have been more pleased and proud.

There are few certainties in life but one is that parents/grandparents watching their darlings perform are filled with pride and joy.

A huge thank you to all teachers of young children. You do amazing work and deserve our respect and gratitude.
              

Thursday, 4 December 2014

The Payment

The receipts are faded and fragile but they tell the story of a young couple making payments on their house. They were in their twenties expecting their first child. Initially they lived with his parents, then paid $350.00 for the house on West Avenue in Corner Brook, Newfoundland. The year was 1926 for this couple but the story has been repeated millions of times in the almost ninety years since; young people starting their lives together, buying their first home.
         
            Loan Receipt

Ernest Smith and Bessie Earle were born within days of each other in 1901 in different parts of Newfoundland. They married in 1925 in Corner Brook. Their first child, Frederick, was born in the fall of 1926. It would be three years before their second child was born. Meanwhile Ern worked at the paper mill in Corner Brook. He was born in Dildo, and raised there and in Old Shop, Trinity Bay. Ern moved to Corner Brook when the construction of the paper mill started and he quickly got a job. The future looked bright for the young couple.

            Mill Co-Workers and Ern Smith*

Bessie was born in Twillingate. She survived diphtheria, but lost her mother at an early age. Bessie went into service, working as a maid for other families when she was a teenager. She eventually moved to Corner Brook where she met her future husband.

They paid $20.00 a month on the loan for the house. It was a one story bungalow initially. Later they re-mortgaged the house and built another story for their growing family; between 1926 and 1945, they had seven children. The payments increased to $54.00 a month on a $1000.00 mortgage.


It is incredible to see their signatures so many years after their deaths. Little did the young couple know the day they signed the paper that many years later, several generations of their family would look at their signatures and wonder about the two people behind the distinctive signatures.

Long after Bessie and Ern died, the house was torn down and the land became part of the Coleman's Supermarket parking lot. The place of their hopes and dreams was long gone and forgotten. Until now.

*Thanks to Jeff for the picture.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Carrot Cake...By Any Other Name

Do you have a recipe that is your 'go to' item when you need to bake something for an occasion or event? My recipe, which Aunt Marie Smith gave me many years ago, is for carrot cake. I love this recipe because it does not require the creaming of butter and sugar which for me is the most hated part of baking. Therefore any recipe which omits such creaming is great and this one is my favourite.

This recipe, faded and stained, appeared any time there was tragedy or triumph, sick or bereavement, amongst our family or friends. In addition, if I had to bring a food item to an event, I often took this cake. 

People like it as well. The cream cheese icing makes the most bland cake palatable of course. However this item was not often available for consumption at our house so when it appeared, it usually meant something happened. Whenever our daughter, Claire, saw the cake on the counter, she asked, "Who died?" Claire called it "the carrot cake of death."

Once as she finished her nursing practicum at the local hospital, Claire refused to take the cake as a thank you to her co-workers. She said, "I can't take that thing to a hospital. It's too risky." We made a different one for the occasion.

Now however, the cake has found new consumers because I make it for our December and May book club meetings. The carrot cake of death is now the cake for bookies. Odds are they will all survive.

            
    Aunt Marie's Carrot Cake

1 1/2 cups of flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
2/3 cup oil (I use canola)
1 cup grated carrot
1/2 cup crushed pineapple (not drained)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

Place all of the ingredients in the bowl and beat for two minutes at medium speed.




Bake in a greased 9 inch pan at 350 degrees for 50-60 minutes.

Cool the cake before icing it.

               Cream Cheese Icing

3 oz cream cheese
4 tbsp soft butter
1/2 c chopped walnuts or pecans (optional)
1 1/2 cups of icing sugar (you may need more)

Combine cream cheese and butter. Add icing sugar and mix well. 

Ice the cake. You can sprinkle nuts over the top.




Notes:

I often double this recipe to make a layer cake. I use two 9 inch round pans.

Check the cake after fifty minutes. 

Make sure your baking powder and soda are fresh. 

Sometimes I mix this cake by hand. It's a bit denser but delicious.


  
P.S.

At the bookclub meeting, one of the women commented, "This cake is to die for."

"It's funny you should say that," I said.



Monday, 1 December 2014

The Boomers' Final Frontier

How quickly things can change. You are feeling fine and routine tests show a problem, or suddenly your health status changes after an attack of some kind. What do you do? How do you want to live out the rest of your life?

A change in health status can happen at any time in our lives but as we get older, we are realistic. My brother, Frank, had a heart attack at fifty, hardly elderly. Now each year adds more wrinkles and thoughts of mortality.

My mother's life changed quickly one day. She volunteered with the St. Vincent de Paul Society in her parish and was there one morning when she got the call to go to the hospital. Her routine x-ray for back pain showed an aneurysm which needed immediate surgery. Mom had surgery right away but the aneurysm could not be repaired. Doctors told her, "Go home and live your life."

Mom's life changed after that experience. She gave up volunteer work and her driver's license. She was more cautious with what she did, and was depressed initially. Mom had questions too, such as would she know when the aneurysm ruptured or was about to rupture. Her family Doctor assured her that she would know. Mom wondered if she would be alone when it happened. She was not, rather she was held by her daughter and granddaughter at the end. Mom passed within minutes, in her home, refusing to go to the hospital.

My father was sick for months and Doctors could not find the problem. About eight months after his initial ill health, he collapsed and went to hospital where a routine chest x-ray showed a tumour in his chest attached to his aorta. He survived eight months at home until the last day of his life when he was admitted to palliative care.

Both of my parents lived with the imminent thoughts of their mortality for a time, Mom for over two years. What was that like for her? Dad lived with a fading body, seeming to disappear into himself over the last weeks as the cancer ravaged his body. Mom was active up to the last day. They had different experiences but the last few breaths were essentially the same in the end.

As we age, the thoughts of mortality become more of an issue, as our own generation becomes the oldest one in society. There are many difficult questions which will be asked and answered as baby boomers progress towards death. It will be an interesting, though unwelcome journey.

Friday, 28 November 2014

Tidal Wave

Thoughts of tidal waves flowed through my childhood. Nan O'Brien wanted to keep me off the beach so she talked about a tidal wave carrying me away. I often paused and looked out to sea when I went to the beach. At night before I slept, I planned how I would run up the old road and up the mountains to escape a wave.  However my plan did not include how I would know about such a wave at night.

        Nan O'Brien

Last week was the eighty-fifth anniversary of the tidal wave, now called tsunami, on the Burin Peninsula in Newfoundland. A family friend was a survivor of this event. Her name was Gladys Barnes and she spoke of the event up to the end of her long life; the event having left a huge impression on her. When I noticed the anniversary this past week, I thought of Gladys.

She was on the Burin Peninsula that November day in 1929 and saw houses carried out to sea, one with a lamp lit in an upstairs room. How was Gladys saved from the wall of water which came ashore that day?

Mrs. Barnes and her husband, Chesley, lived across the street from my family in Mount Pearl. They were great friends over the years as the couples played cards and visited each other. After their husbands died, the bond between Gladys and my mother, Mary,  strengthened. The widows were great company for each other and often shared meals. Gladys worked as a cook at a hotel when she first went to St. John's as a young woman. Mom always said, "Mrs. Barnes could put a good taste on a beach rock."

                      Gladys Barnes

Gladys, in her nineties, continued to live at home and still cooked for herself. Her mind was good but her body was frail, especially her legs. She died in hospital shortly after a fall at home. Gladys was a good wife and mother to her two sons, a good friend and neighbour, and a loving grandmother. She was a good woman.

My grandmother had some knowledge of the events of the tidal wave of 1929 and she was nervous about the possibility of it happening in Maddox Cove. Nan transferred her fear to me as well in an effort to keep me off the beach. I hope, unlike Gladys, I never have to find out what a tsunami is really like.

 

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

The Alarm

It woke the neighbourhood. Somewhere nearby a car sent its repetitive horn blasts into the quiet of the night, alarming everyone for several streets around it. A rash of break-ins in the area recently meant more people installed alarm systems in their homes and cars. Periodically we awoke in the early morning hours when a wireless alarm sounded.

There was a time when an alarm was less high tech. I learned of such a system when my mother, mother-in-law and I visited L'Anse aux Meadows on the tip of the Great Northern Peninsula in Newfoundland. It was the summer tourist season; we visited the former Viking settlement, drove around the area, stopping where the road led to a small turn-about near the ocean. We were as far north as we could get on our beautiful island, in a place where it looked like a nor'easter could sweep away a little house and shed not twenty feet from the water. You could see the coast of Labrador in the distance.

  Mary Pretty and Sylvia Smith
    at L'Anse aux Meadows


As we walked around, a friendly, elderly gentleman came out of the house and approached us. He asked, " 'ow ar ya taday?" 

"We're fine. How are you?" I replied.

"Alright, Mrs. Can't complain too much, ya knows. Nobody wants ta hear it anyways," he  said.

"It must get really bad here in the winter, when that wind blows onshore. Have you ever had any damage?" I asked.

"Yees, moy dear. Me and da Mrs. 'ad ta leave a few toimes when da seas were warshin' o're da 'ouse. 'Ad ta use da boat one toime cos everyting were awarsh. Got da goat out o' da shed just afore 'e warshed away," he added.

"Oh my. I'm glad you got out and saved the goat too. I hope that doesn't happen very often," I said.

"Few toimes o're da years. 'Ad ta sove da goat, Mrs. Cuddna ford anudder one," he said.

"Do you use the goat for milk?" I asked.

"Yees, Mrs. Not only dat. She's a good 'larm too, moy dear. Lits us know when a polar bear is 'round. Kicks up some racket she do wen deres a bear comes ashore in da spring. Wen 'e gits dat toime o' year and da goat is going nuts, we knows wats 'bout. She'll woke us from a deep sleep, moy dear. Goats ar' great fer warnin' 'bout da bears, Mrs," he said.

I wonder if a goat in our shed would be a good alarm for thieves?

Monday, 24 November 2014

From Whipper to Junkyard

Professional wrestling is familiar to me. When we lived in Maddox Cove, Newfoundland in the mid to late 1950s, we owned a television and had one television station. However, some people without a television gathered at our house to watch the wrestling matches and everyone really enjoyed them. I remember a wrestler called "Whipper" Billy Watson and the bravado, the cheers from the people around the ring, the drama. Every night wrestling was on I saw a few bouts then slept through the noise of the cheers and groans from the group.

In the late 1980s, while on a work-related trip to Qu├ębec with fellow teachers, a friend and I sat next to a professional wrestler headed into St. John's for a tournament. My friend recognized him as the persona Junk Hard Dog or JYD, and he was willing to talk.

He started out playing football in university, completed a degree, then went into wrestling. This man took the name Junkyard Dog because it was the nickname others gave him when he worked in a wrecking yard. 

JYD was a big man, solid and strong, well spoken and intelligent. He spoke of his family and the businesses he was investing in so as to have an income when his wrestling career was over.

We asked about the authenticity of wrestling and whether the wrestlers actually were hurt in the ring. JYD talked about the injuries he received but did not say anything about the authenticity of the sport. The injuries said enough.

Later I learned of this man, Sylvester Ritter's place in wrestling history. He was the first black man to reach the top of his promotion and won many awards and accolades. Sadly he died tragically in a single car accident in 1998.

The man I met was a gentleman, friendly and interesting. I was sad to learn of his death, a man who gave a real face to a wrestling persona. 

Friday, 21 November 2014

Mice on a Plane

It is more than forty years now since airport security checks started because of the proliferation of hijackings. However in the early 1970s in St. John's, Newfoundland, after checking your luggage, all you had to do was show your boarding pass at the gate to access the plane. This was the era when Rick, later to become my husband, was flying between Deer Lake and St. John's, to and from university.

At that time the one way ticket cost $29.50. While that price looks so good to us today, it was costly for a student at that time. Rick took the bus more often than he flew. However, on one of his flights home at the end of a semester, he brought a stowaway with him, a mouse named Sigmund.

Rick knew someone who worked in a lab at university and acquired a pet mouse which he kept in a fish bowl. At the end of the semester, Sigmund had to go home as well. Rick put mouse and bowl into a bag and took it easily on the flight. All was well with Sigmund tucked under the seat in front of him.

However it was a rough landing that trip. The bag tipped over and Rick caught Sigmund just as he exited his hiding place. Can you imagine the screams if he had not been so lucky? I can see the headline now...

St. John's Airport to Institute Security Checks to Prevent Mice on Planes.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Circus at the Wake

There was a small gathering for family at the funeral home. We spoke in hushed tones and shared stories about Mom, her sense of humour, her sayings, family stories. She had lived a good life, and though almost eighty-two, my brother, Frank, and I would have been happy to have her with us longer. 

My husband, Rick and his parents were on their way from Grand Falls-Windsor while Claire, Ben and I waited with Frank, Michele and Samantha. I expected to hear from Rick at any time saying they had arrived in St. John's. 

Suddenly what sounded like circus music started to play in the wake room. It played for a time then stopped. After a few minutes, it started up again. I listened for the direction of the sound, commenting, "Why are they playing circus music in a funeral home?" No one responded.

The music stopped and started again. I was getting annoyed at this point and asked "Why would a funeral home play circus music in their PA system?" This went on for a few more minutes. 

Finally Randy, a relative of my sister-in-law, Michele, said, "Marie, answer your phone."

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Happy birthday, Samantha


Someone special, my niece, Samantha Pretty, is twenty years old today. It is a joy to know and love you, sweetie. 

                 Sylvie and Samantha

Thought I'd post some family pictures of our last time together. We're past due for another visit. Maybe next year?

    Samantha and Ben, Michele holding Sylvie


Happy Birthday!

        Samantha, Georgie, Michele, Claire


                Michele, Frank, Samantha


   Claire, Sylvie, Rick, Marie Samantha, Frank,
                 Michele and Georgie

Monday, 17 November 2014

The Real Soap Opera

He worked hard his whole life on his farm in Maddox Cove and as a fisherman out of Petty Harbour, Newfoundland. My grandfather O'Brien worked long days, from 4 a.m. during the fishing season. When he retired from fishing, Granda continued his work around the farm, growing vegetables , tending chickens, horses, plowing, mowing, He always had a nap in the afternoon but his main luxury was the soap opera Another World. Granda and Nan both watched it every week day.

They were fascinated with the daily life of Mac, Rachel and the clan. Granda watched with some skepticism as the people went about their daily lives but he was not really sure what to think about them.

He always asked, "That's not real, is it?"

Everyone reassured him that it was not real but Granda kept asking. If you entered the room while he watched the program, he gave you a synopsis of the latest happenings when the commercials played. He really went to 'another world.'

Nan was different. She said, "That's not real." It sounded like Nan often had to remind herself aloud not to believe what she saw.

She often commented, "That's shockin'," shaking her head at the situations on the program. However she continued to watch. 

              Granda and Nan O'Brien

Today the fictional situations which fascinated Nan and Granda are played out on reality television in more graphic detail and with coarser language. One can imagine the comments and questions from the two if they could watch today. My grandparents would be shocked and glued to the television.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

They Started with a Comet

Our granddaughters will be able to say that when they were young the European Space Agency put the first spacecraft on a comet which was 500,000,000 kilometers from earth. Today this is so incredible to us, just like the lunar landing was in 1969.

When I was a child, Newfoundland had its first television station and party-line phones. Later, besides watching men land on the moon, we saw the advent of personal computers, satellite communication, a space station and cellular phones. We've come a long way.

Imagine what will happen in our grandchildren's lifetimes because they are starting with a landing on a comet. They will live in exciting times!



Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Potato Harvest

The unusual trucks have been around for weeks now, the potato harvest is almost over. The potatoes, their plants wilted from sprayed chemicals, waited in the fields for their turn with the harvesting crew. We can only imagine how much other chemical was sprayed on them during the growing season. This annual production brings in over one billion dollars to Prince Edward Island's economy, a huge amount in a province with only one hundred and forty thousand people.

                       Potato trucks

The total potato production is grown by two hundred and fifty farms. The result is potatoes for the dinner table, seed, or processed by companies such as McCains or Cavendish. While the McCains plant in Baddeck just closed, Cavendish is holding on to its New Annan plant which works around the clock.

Meanwhile the potato trucks were on the roads again, transporting their valuable cargo to the warehouses which hold millions of kilograms of the starchy dietary staples. We have certainly eaten our share of them over the years, such as crispy skinned baked potatoes, drizzled with butter. 

                      Potato warehouse

It is tragic that there are so many chemicals involved in the production of such an important part of our diet. Industralized farming has taken us from the days of seaweed, manure and weeding to chemical spraying. Sometimes the old ways are the best.