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Friday 31 January 2014


She was fun to be around. Margie was a little older and her brother was my age. With another friend, Mary, we played every day during the summer in Maddox Cove.  My grandmother always said that the days weren't long enough for us.

Margie, Mary, Bernard and I were inseparable. First thing in the morning, we'd be busy. We always had a play "on the go." Our play involved getting rocks, an easy thing since we're talking about Newfoundland, not PEI, and building a rock wall of a particular shape, such as a circle, with a space to allow entry. This area was the play. Here we played school, house or store. Everyone had a role, and we delighted in finding props to bring to the play. We spent endless hours playing, often near my grandparents' house or near the homes of the other children. As we got older, the play became more elaborate, with rooms, higher walls and a roof out of blankets.

When not at the play, we were playing games with the other kids, red rover, hide and seek, statues, marbles, tag, and skipping, hopscotch or jacks for the girls were some of what was popular.  Swimming in the river or at the beach were favourite pass times as well. Plays were for the morning, swimming in the afternoon and the games were in the early evening in front of the old school.

Margie was a great student in our play school, loved shopping or working at our play store and was an important part of our play family. As time went on, Mary, Bernard and I left the play and our props, including baby dolls. Margie didn't. What I didn't understand then was that Margie had Down's Syndrome. We thought she was just like us and that's how she was treated. It wasn't until I left the dolls and she didn't that I really understood the impact the condition would have on her life. That conversation with Mom was bewildering and sad to me. How could this be?  

I later learned about the extra chromosome and all the resultant biological implications. However, this depersonalized information didn't describe the person I knew; the fun, happy, loving person who was my friend.

Wednesday 29 January 2014


Who is your hero?  In my life there are several and they are all women who are single parents.  Some single mothers raise the children on their own, without any support of the fathers.  In some cases the fathers prove to be a burden rather than a support. While undoubtedly there are single fathers in the same situation, it is not as common as it is for single moms.

How does a mother manage to do everything involved with work, home and raising children totally on her own?  How do you spend every day, every week, solely responsible for children, home and work to support it all?  How do you nurse a sick child, and juggle a job on your own?

Parents left to manage a family for a short time without their spouse, know that feeling when the other person comes in the door and can take over for you or at least share the responsibility.  It is incredible to me how single parents, on their own, do it. 

Often the women sacrifice their own personal lives for their children.  In essence, because they are great mothers, they feel they don't have a choice.  That's not to say that they regret any of their choices. They would do it again willingly to have the wonderful, productive children that they raised.  

I believe that 'angels' or special people come into our lives to teach us something if we are wise enough to learn.  Sometimes the message is hard to decipher.  However, with these mothers, the lesson on love is very obvious!

Monday 27 January 2014

Uncle France

My mother's younger brother was Francis O'Brien, but he was called France by his family.  He had a fair complexion, like his father and light hair that thinned on the top as he got older.  He never married and didn't have any children.  He had an older brother, Ned, who lived next door.  Ned had four children and France saw them a great deal, especially in the summer when school was out.  

                   Gus (back), baby Jerome, Monica, Eddie (front).

He did a variety of jobs, including at the American military base, Pepperrell, when it was in operation.  Later he worked at Dominion on Empire Avenue but had to give up work because of his heart condition.  He died in 1987 when he was fifty-nine years old.

Mom and France were very close.  They were two years apart in age, Mom being the older.  However, they did everything together.  Growing up, they loved to go to dances together, especially in the Goulds, where they met up with lots of friends.  They remained good friends throughout their lives.  I never remember a cross word between them.
                           Uncle France and Mom

A love of animals was a big part of France's life.  He always had a horse and at various times, cows and chickens.  He enjoyed the animals, especially the horses.  Much of his spare time was spent with them, grooming, working with them, cleaning the stable and barn.  He life revolved around work, the animals, the farm and family.    

My uncle suffered from clinical depression and at various times in his life was hospitalized at the Waterford Hospital, the psychiatric hospital in St. John's.  Before the hospitalizations, France went through periods when he found it impossible to get out of bed.  He didn't have any interest in things and slept a great deal.  His medication didn't appear to help him and the only solution was hospitalization where he underwent Electroconvulsive Therapy.  After a number of these treatments, he appeared to improve enough to go home.  Medication helped him then.

My mother talked about her brother and his mental health issues.  I understood it to be like any other health issue.  Something is wrong and you seek help to fix it, like you would for diabetes or any other medical condition.  

Uncle France was so much more than his health issues though.  He was the best uncle a child could have.  When I stayed with my grandparents in the summers, he was more like an older brother really.  He always talked to me, not in the parent/grandparent way.  He did things for me, like helping me go swimming when Nan didn't want me to go to the beach.  He spent time with me, just relaxing;  he was another reliable, trustworthy, male influence in my life. He helped to dam the river that ran through their property to make a pool for the kids to swim. He bought me little things as treats too.  What child wouldn't like such an uncle?

France was a dedicated son to both of his parents but especially to his mother after his father died.  He continued to live with her and look after her with the assistance of home care workers until his heart gave out.

He was hospitalized with his heart condition, and the only treatment was a heart transplant, which was unavailable to Newfoundlanders at that time.  My mother and her brother, Ned, decided to turn off the machines that kept him alive.  Knowing France, I think he was happy they made that choice for him.

Friday 24 January 2014


They are almost one and three years old. The world lies at their feet and is a wonder to them.  What's out that window, beyond the snow and ice?  What does the world have in store for them?

We wonder about them as well. 

What kind of people will they be?  Who will they become?  What will they do?

Will they get along with each other and be kind, loving people who will help others?

Will they learn from the past, live in the present and prepare to the future?

Will they be responsible adults who can support themselves and their families?

Will they care about the environment and our earth in general?

Will they love to learn, share their ideas, and listen to what others have to say as well?

Will they be able to make good decisions?

Will they respect themselves and others?

Who knows what the future has in store, but as they look out that window today, anything is possible.

Wednesday 22 January 2014

Angela Pretty Woodford

Born in 1923, Angela was youngest girl of seven children born to Ida (Stewart) and Samuel Pretty of St. John's, Newfoundland.  She grew up in the west end of St. John's and was close to her mother's family, who lived nearby.  

Angela was a sickly child.  She had lost two young brothers, Albert and Robert, at an early age and her mother thought that Angela wouldn't live long either.  Ironically, she was the last surviving member of her family, who died one year ago tomorrow.

Ida (Stewart) Pretty's mother was Mary (Walsh) Stewart. Mary was in a rocking chair in Ida's house, holding baby Angela when she died.  Angela was dropped on the floor, but unhurt.  She had little recollection of her grandfather either.  Thomas Stewart died a few years later.

Aunt Angela married Alex Woodford, a young man from St. John's, who had served in the Royal Navy for the entire war, having signed up at seventeen years of age.  They raised their two boys, Donald and Ian, in St.John's.

                         Alex Woodford and Donald

I didn't really get to know Aunt Angela until the last ten years or so of her life.  My Mother and Angela talked periodically but I hadn't seen her in years.  When Mom and I went to see her after so many years, she welcomed us with open arms.  She shared pictures and talked about her parents, Alex, and her boys. Ian had died of leukemia in 1985.  Angela was devastated by the loss and took comfort in her grandson Ian, Don's son.  Later she had a granddaughter, Peggy, as well. Angela took great delight in her two beloved babies. 
           Angela, Ian (left), Donald

Don, like his parents, loves Christmas.  He writes, "They loved decorating the house and /or apartment and buying Santa toys for Ian (my brother) and I when we were young.  Despite the fact that they got by on a taxi driver's salary, I think it's a credit to them that I must have been almost 13 before I realized that we weren't among the richest people in town."

I know Aunt Angela was a loving woman who took care of many people during her lifetime.  She cared for her husband Alex during his illness, a child/grandchild of her sister Margaret after she died.  She also cared for a friend for several years as well.  

Her family, Donald, his wife, Peg, Ian and Peggy meant the world to Aunt Angela.  Her pride in them and her joy in their visits home were palpable.  

Angela's knowledge of the Pretty family helped me with the family research, and I particularly liked the fact that she thought I looked like her.  She looked like her mother, so we had a direct connection to Ida which I really liked as well.  Dad always said I reminded him of his mother.
        Angela Pretty Woodford

                    Ida Stewart Pretty
The last few times we spoke, I knew Angela was fading.  Her hearing had deteriorated so much, and she referred to problems in her abdomen.  She had suffered a number of medical problems over the years and it seemed like she was nearing the end.  Though not unexpected, it was still sad to lose her at the age of eighty-nine.  I still miss talking to her but she had fought the medical issues for many years.  Now Aunt Angela is having a well deserved rest.

Monday 20 January 2014

The Book

It was a few months after Mom died; I had on-going flashbacks of the last few moments of her life and really missed her terribly.  Though not unexpected, when Mom died in my arms it was still a shock.  Now we were headed from New York to Las Vegas to meet Claire, Ben and his family.  We really looked forward to the second part of this much needed vacation.

Always the avid reader, I settled into the mystery novel which had me so riveted that I was oblivious to the others settling into their seats around me.  Rick and I were in the window and middle seats.

After the obligatory emergency demonstrations and then my compulsive looks for exits, I noticed the woman in the aisle seat next to me.  She appeared to be around my age and held a book in her lap as she rested her head on the seat, eyes closed.  I settled into the book again, engrossed. 

About an hour into the flight, as Rick slept, I looked up again to notice the book my seat-mate was reading.  I could see the text, another language obviously, which she read back to front.  Interesting!  I waited for an opportunity to speak to her.

She looked up within a few minutes and I asked what language she was reading. 

"Hebrew," was the answer.   

She probably thought I was crazy because I was so excited when she told me she was an Israeli, from Tel Aviv.  Growing up in Newfoundland, I had no opportunity to meet an Israeli.  I had known relatively few Jewish people in fact, just a few friends at the University of Ottawa when I studied there.  I was very happy to meet her.

Her English was good so we talked at length about her life and mine.  She was a widow with three grown children who were living in various places around the world at this point in their lives, after each had served in the Israeli military.  Her husband had died of cancer when her children were young so she raised them with the help of her widowed mother, who had recently died.  She too was grieving her mother.  

We talked about our mothers, their strengths, their devotion to family and faith, and although we were two women from such different cultures, we both had the great privilege of having wonderful mothers.  We each cried a little as we chatted and it was good to be with someone who completely understood.

We went our separate ways. Maybe it was because of the vacation, or a myriad of other reasons, but the flashbacks stopped after that day.  Isn't it amazing how people will come into your life, just when you need them?  Just look up from your book.

Friday 17 January 2014


It was pouring rain as we waited for the bus.  The trip from Vienna to Budapest had been uneventful and after a day of walking around the city, including a tour then sightseeing on our own, we were ready to head back.  Meanwhile it poured but luckily we had our umbrellas.

We stood under the eave of an old building but it was raining so hard that our feet were soaked from the water pouring off the overhang and the umbrellas.  Meanwhile, a young couple came and stood in front of us and they were getting soaked as they stood waiting with the group.  I felt sorry for them and tapped the young woman on the shoulder. She wore a hijab; he was dressed as any western man.

She accepted the offer to share my umbrella and the ride back to Vienna became much more interesting than any tour could provide.  They were a young Kuwaiti couple; he was a student in engineering in Cardiff, Wales and like us, they were in Vienna on vacation, taking day trips to neighboring cities.  As a young Muslim couple, they always researched the city they visited to be sure to find places to eat which followed their dietary laws.  We looked for places frequented by locals.

Luckily for us, there was a huge traffic jam that day and the trip back to Vienna was much longer than usual.  This gave us more time to talk which we really enjoyed.  We learned about life in Kuwait, how it compares to Saudi Arabia, and their experience in Cardiff.  Rick and I had been to Cardiff the previous year so we shared our experiences with them as well.  We talked about life in Canada and our part of it, Newfoundland at that time.

Our lives were very similar really.  While our cultures, religious beliefs and environments were very different, it soon became evident how much we had in common.  Family was as important to them as it was to us.  They valued Art, Music and Literature as well as Science and History like we did.  What made us similar was so much more than what separated us.  Four people who shared umbrellas figured out that fact in a few hours on a bus.

Borders meant nothing to us.  Politics was meaningless.  Learning about each other's lives was all that mattered.  More people need to share umbrellas.

Wednesday 15 January 2014

Kaffee und Kuchen

The wood stove had the house warmed nicely, as warm as the greeting we received from these two friends.  Carlo and Hiltrud had invited Rick, Sylvia and me for Kaffee und Kuchen.  This is a German tradition on Sunday afternoons at 4:00 p.m. or so.  Coffee and cake, often a variety to sample, are on offer.  We were invited to partake in the tradition. 

                          Hiltrud und Carlo Hengst

Hiltrud used her beautiful china, a gift from her German cousins. The delicate flower pattern, the plates and bowl-like saucers beautifully complemented the elegant cups.  The Sumatran coffee was a perfect match for the delicious Kuchen, a subtly nutty, beautifully decorated, four layer affair.  A golden colored egg liqueur completed the treat.

Almost better than the cake though was the conversation about the tradition and shared family stories of raising children and the wisdom that comes with age.  Singing followed, beautiful German songs from the opera Hänsel and Gretel by Engelbert Humperdinck.  Carlo and Hiltrud sing in harmony as beautifully as many professional singers.

While we live in Prince Edward Island, Canada, for a few hours on Sunday, we had the good fortune to experience a slice of Germany, its traditions, culture and music.  

Danke, Hiltrud und Carlo.  You make life in PEI so much richer than we ever could have imagined.

Sunday 12 January 2014

The Nudge

Claire was an infant and I was still on maternity leave.  We lived in Buchans, Newfoundland at the time. One Friday afternoon after Rick finished work, he and I left Claire with our friend Betty, and went to Grand Falls to shop. (Grand Falls is about an hour drive from Buchans).

How nice to get away for a few hours! The demands of being a new mother had taken its toll over the last several weeks. Getting away for a few hours would give me a new perspective, at least that's what I thought.

We shopped around as we usually did, pre-baby, and relaxed as we ate supper.  What did we talk about? The baby of course!  Also it was amazing that shopping for groceries felt new and interesting after feeling house-bound for a time.

The beautiful winter evening was darkening as we headed home over the road to Buchans.  We talked about our experience of parenthood thus far and plans for the summer. We were within a few kilometers of home when it happened. We looked to the left of the car, a Volkswagon Rabbit, and there it was, along the center line, headed in the same direction, next to the driver's side door.  When I looked over and up all I saw was the underbelly of this huge moose.  At eye level I could see its knees.  Rick was surprised but kept going, steady as he usually is.  The moose kept going as he was too and we soon outran him.  Eventually that night our hearts returned to their regular beats.

We had left an infant that day, totally oblivious of the potential danger to ourselves and the impact it would have on her life. We realized we had decisions to make about her future in case we weren't as lucky next time. We had been given a nudge by a moose so we did our wills as soon as possible.

Thursday 9 January 2014


The last posting for this week is a day early because this is the fiftieth anniversary of a tragic event that I have never forgotten.  My mother's notation on an old class picture reminded me of the date.

I can't tell you what she liked to play or how many siblings she had.  I don't know her favourite food or what she watched on television.  My childhood memory of her isn't very specific.  I do know she was in my class and I remember blond hair.  I know we played outside school together at recess and lunch time and she was in my class pictures in the early grades.  

Her name was Annie Merner and on January 9, 1964 she was walking along Topsail Road, Newfoundland where she lived.  She was killed by a hit and run driver.  To my knowledge, the case was never solved.

Somewhere out there is/was someone who hit a ten year old child and left her to die on the side of the road. 

What else is there to say?

                  Annie Merner, grade 4, 1962-1963

Wednesday 8 January 2014

Happy Birthday, Rick!

It's hard to believe.  Sixty-two.  I've known this man much longer than I knew my own father. 

We met during our first year of university.  I was sixteen years old, hanging out by my locker in the tunnels at Memorial University, MUN for short in those days.  This blond boy was in my friend's English class and recognizing her, stopped to talk to our group of girls, friends who attended high school together.

I was always partial to blonds.  He was my height, wore glasses, and seemed kind of shy, not someone who enjoyed partying and a large social group.  

I'll never forget the time we went to a concert at the Arts and Culture Center in St. John's.  We weren't dating very long at that time.  As we came down the huge staircase to leave, a young woman ahead of us fainted and sank to the steps.  The crowd around her parted and we, who were higher up the stairs, could see her crumpled on the stairs ahead of us, alone.  No one made any effort to help her.  Rick did.  He rushed ahead and bent to see if she was alright.  Finally her friends came forward as well.  After a few minutes she awoke, disoriented but fine.  I never forgot that incident because it told me a lot about this young man next to me.

We dated for five years before we got married;  another four before we had Claire.  Now, going on
forty-five years later, age has taken its toll.  The bones creak, hair changed in several ways, lines appeared, backs ache, waistlines expanded, and blood pressure went up.

However I love and appreciate him more each year.   And, looking around at our life together, though it started out in a tunnel, it brought lots of sunshine to me.  

Happy birthday, Rick.  Love, Marie.

Monday 6 January 2014


My grandfather, Gus O'Brien,  was a big man, tall, with a round belly, clothed in denim overalls.  That's how I remember him at least.  He had a fair complexion, which was reddened by the sun and gray hair by the time I knew him.  He worked all the time, except on Sundays.  

My earliest memories of Granda, as we called him, were of the summer mornings when I stayed with my grandparents.  Granda was up at four o'clock to go fishing while I and the rest of the Cove slept.  Then when he came home, around eight o'clock, he'd get his second breakfast and that's when I'd have breakfast with him. He make toast on a rack over the open wood stove.  Nan's homemade bread was so good, toasted, loaded with real butter, jam or molasses.  Granda fried eggs or bacon sometimes too.  However, I can still smell the watered salt fish, wrapped in wet newspaper, that he put into the stove on the coals of the fire.  It was quickly roasted and eaten with fresh butter.  This was a common breakfast for Granda and I learned to love it too.  
   Left, Gus O'Brien and unknown friends

This breakfast with Granda was our time to catch up on our plans for the day and talk about whatever was going on in the Cove.  I know Nan was around as well but my breakfast memories are with Granda.  He called me Mamie Beau, just as he called my mother before me.  I loved that nickname.

My grandfather always crossed his legs and put young children on the top leg and bounced them around, "riding on a pony," as he called it.  Every child loved it.  Mom did the same with her grandchildren and I do it with mine, though they will soon be too big for it.  Every generation enjoys the "ride".

                                               Caitlin riding on a 'pony'

Granda fished, tended the farm, grew vegetables and cared for the animals and the building on the property.  I remember working with Granda turning the hay to aid drying or totting up the hay if it was going to rain.  Totting it for loading on the cart for the horse ride to the barn was always fun too.

My mother always talked about the watch her father bought her once after he had sold his salt fish to the merchant in the fall of the year.  A season's worth of salt fish was graded by the merchant and Granda was paid according to the grade of the fish which the merchant had valued.  Many times Granda would think he had high grade fish but the merchant valued it for less.  Then the family's supplies for the winter had to be bought from the same merchant.  Rarely did Granda get any cash.  However on one rare occasion he got some money in hand and that's when Mom got her watch.  She was so delighted and her father was very happy to have it for her.  Mom adored her father.

Granda worked hard his whole life.  He rose early, but often napped sat up on the daybed in the kitchen.  He didn't want his family to be 'on the dole', (government assistance for the needy during the Depression), so he worked at sealing, fishing, farming, construction of the powerhouse in Petty Harbour and even had a little store for a time.  I never remember Granda going on vacation, there was always something to be done.  The day before he died he was totting up hay across the Cove and took ill with abdominal pain.  The young intern at the hospital didn't recognize the symptoms of a heart attack, which the autopsy showed.

                 Granda, not long before he died.

His father, Edward O'Brien, always said that he had raised a good son.  Indeed he had!

Friday 3 January 2014


Her life has been turned upside down.  She lost her husband, sold her house and moved to a new province within three months of his death.  She left behind a lifetime's worth of friends as well.  Then she met an angel.

The day my mother-in-law, Sylvia, moved into her new garden apartment in Prince Edward Island, a neighbour from across the street introduced herself.  Her name is Angèle, Angie to English speaking people.  And she is just that, an angel.  

Being of a similar age, and having lost her first husband, Angie became a life line for Sylvia.  She and other neighbours on the street make a tiny community which looks after one another.  However it doesn't stop there.

There is a wider circle of Angie's friends that Sylvia met and with whom she plays cards.  I had the opportunity to play with them recently and it was wonderful to see the teasing, laughing, strategy and fun they have playing their various games.  Sylvia was always a card player, so these new friends help her to continue one of her favourite pass times.

I admire Sylvia's courage at this stage of her life, leaving her home, friends and family to move to PEI to be near her great grandchildren.  I know it hasn't been easy for her these last four months.  However, it's wonderful friends like these who help make a difficult situation easier to bear.
       Left:  Angie, Sylvia, Anita(seated), Eleanor

Wednesday 1 January 2014


What's not to love?

Maybe the way she mouths things, drooling over them and the floor or your clothing.  

Maybe the foot prints of the damp foot pads on the hardwood floor.

Maybe the golden strands of fur everywhere, like tumbleweed on the floor, in your food or on your clothes, especially your black wool coat.

Maybe the barking at anything that moves outside.

Maybe the jumping up on visitors to the house.

Maybe the way she takes over the bed, leaving mere ledges available to its original occupants.

Maybe the deposits she leaves in the yard or the way she makes colorless patches of grass in summer.

Maybe the way she loves going out in the worst weather, getting as wet or snow covered as possible.

Maybe the way she takes her half of the couch in the middle.

Yet, we do love her.  She's as much a part of the family as any of us.  The good thing is that, like all grandchildren, the granddog goes home too.  And it's tomorrow!

She'll have to finish training us next time!