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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!

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