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Friday 28 February 2014

Jim Jams

Seeing a package of date cookies at the grocery store recently reminded us of a recipe that we used many times during our early years of marriage. Hunting it down, we discovered that the hand written recipe we got initially from Rick's mother, was in fact a recipe from his great grandmother, Clarinda (Moulton) Mercer.

Clarinda was born in English Harbour West, Newfoundland, in 1880. She grew up in Burgeo. Her father was Thomas Moulton, a fish merchant there. This fact always amused me because my mother's family was always indebted to the fish merchant, as were many fisher families in Newfoundland. Some people in Rick's family tree were on the other side of that dynamic.

Clarinda Moulton married Rev. Richard Frederick (R.F.) Mercer. Their wedding was a big social occasion in Burgeo. As a clerical family, they were posted in various towns of the province, including two postings in Catalina, Trinity Bay. Clarinda was organist in Church everywhere R.F. served. She eventually lost part of her left leg due to cancer which made it difficult to play the old organs with their foot pedals. She could walk around easily enough however.

After R.F. died, Clarinda lived for two winters with her son Dick's family in Corner Brook. Clarinda loved opera and listened to it on the radio all the time. Her granddaughter, Sylvia, had a record player that played forty-fives. She got the player and records from her boyfriend Melvin, who worked on the Corner Brook, a ship which delivered paper made in Corner Brook to markets in the United States. Sylvia thought she had the world when she got the player. One of the songs which was popular and which Sylvia played all the time, was Ghost Riders in the Sky, written by Stan Jones, sung by Burl Ives. Her grandmother hated the song!

Eventually Clarinda moved to St. John's where she bought a house on Gower Street and lived with two of her daughters, Maud and Faith. R.F. is buried in Catalina while Clarinda is buried in St. John's.
Clarinda's recipe goes like this:

Jim Jams

2 cups flour
2 cups rolled oats
1 cup brown sugar
1cup shortening 
1/2 cup milk
3 tsp baking powder 
1 tsp salt

Mix flour, oats, brown sugar, baking powder, and salt. Cut in shortening as for pastry. Add milk. Roll thin and cut into circles of desired size. Place filling in center of circle and fold circle in half. Pinch semi-circle together.


12 oz dates

Cook until tender.

Bake Jim's Jams in moderate oven until golden.
This past week two generations of Clarinda's descendents made Jim Jams, her great grandson, Rick and her great great great granddaughter, Sylvie. Descendents from two other generations, Sylvia and Claire, enjoyed them too. They were crispy on the outside, tender inside. 

          Rick and Sylvie making Jim Jams

The grandmother in me thinks that Clarinda is smiling!

Wednesday 26 February 2014

Cooking Class

We were new to Prince Edward Island and not knowing too many people, I decided to go to a cooking class at one of the local supermarkets.  I had never gone to such a class before but I decided it was a good way to meet people and find out about the community which was now home. Besides, I loved to cook and did it every day.  It would be good to get some new recipes, tips, and have a chef prepare a meal for me.  It seemed like a great idea.

I remember the first time I went to the class.  The co-ordinator for the cooking classes was L J, a short, light haired, bundle of energy.  I had spoken to her to reserve my place in the class and she was so welcoming that I felt I had known her forever.  

The chef was a wonderful young man who had grown up in Ontario and moved to PEI to work.  Now he had roots here with a family of his own.  It was wonderful to watch him in the kitchen, and his food was so tasty, an incredible blend of spices which could leave you wondering what the various components might be, even though you had watched him put the items together.

Throughout his demonstration, the chef gave lots of tips and suggestions as to how to work more efficiently in the kitchen, what to buy when items are unavailable and how to serve the food.  The cooking component of the class was a huge success.

Just as successful however was the social interaction with other class members, many of whom were regulars.  Through them, I learned many things about PEI, how things were done, what to expect, what was available here.  When Rick joined me at the classes, he too enjoyed the food and the people.

L J was always there, steady, cheerful, kind, friend to all.  She opened her arms and her heart to everyone who came to class.  People became her friends, not just customers at work. 

I think of L J as an ambassador for PEI.  She helped us settle into the community and feel like we were home here too.  That wasn't an easy feat because we had lived in Newfoundland all of our lives. Now, we are lucky enough to call L J, friend.

Monday 24 February 2014


It was a calm, cloudless night; the sky was black except for the stars, millions of them. New moon meant that the edge of the Milky Way was obvious in the blackness of the setting.

We had taken our snow machines across the street from our mobile home to the huge bog surrounding Buchans where we lived. We were prepared to boil the kettle, or in this case the old juice can, have a cup of switchel (plain black tea), over an open fire in the country.

We could see the lights of Buchans in the distance as we stopped to take in the view. After a few minutes Rick started a fire and added tea bags to the 'kettle' which by now contained a few twigs and soot as well. The tea had a taste unique to the setting. The fire added to the beauty as sparks drifted upward, drawing the eye with them. Despite the bitter cold our little spot seemed cozy. The only things missing tonight were the Northern Lights. However, sitting on the snow mobile seats there, I swear we could hear the earth hum.

We did this periodically, enjoying the time of year when the daylight left us so early that the night seemed endless. When we went snow mobiling though, the nights weren't long enough to take in the beauty of our place in the universe.

Buchans was a place where you could enjoy nature in winter because it was so easily accessible. 

We haven't been snowmobiling in years. Winter just isn't the same.

Friday 21 February 2014


The town came into view in the distance, buildings in the middle of the wilderness. Except for the little community of Buchans Junction, about thirty kilometres away, we were as far into the wilderness of Newfoundland as it was possible to go, by road.

Rick finished work at Light and Power in Corner Brook and I finished work at Student Aid in St. John's. He visited my family in Mount Pearl for a few days and was headed to a teaching position on the southwest coast of Newfoundland while I was headed to Buchans to teach Science. Rick had a car and drove onto the Buchans highway at Badger to drop me into Buchans.

It was a beautiful day when we got there; the heat of late summer was oppressive that Labour Day.  Rick left me at the Teachers' Hostel. I'll never forget that feeling, watching as he drove away. It was windy and dry, so the wind, which came to be a familiar companion of the next number of years, was blowing around a fine sand/dust. There weren't many trees or grass in the community which I found unusual. Our house in Mount Pearl was bordered by a green belt and everyone had lawns that they groomed with such care. Here, in the middle of town there were few trees or grass. It was different from my home. I didn't know what to think that first day.

I was assigned a room at the hostel, unpacked and made my way to the school. The school seemed old but clean, parts freshly painted. An auditorium/gym had a low ceiling and was small. The lab was adequate. I was pleased overall and looking forward to the first day.

The Teacher's Hostel housed teachers from two schools and the female teachers worked really well together. It was good to live with other teachers. There was always someone to talk to and I never felt lonely that first year. It was good to share problems and ideas with fellow teachers. I can honestly say that staying there was the best thing I could have done that first year.

Buchans had a Teachers' Hostel because it was a company mining town and housing was difficult to acquire. The hostel ensured that teachers who came to the community had a place to live.

The cook/housekeeper, Rita, was just excellent. She provided the cooked meals and we shared the grocery bills and took turns doing the menu for a week. We took care of our own washing and rooms. It was like residence in university but we had money now because we were teaching. 

At twenty-one, it was an ideal place for me. I saved for a car and by Easter that year I bought my first one. I was so proud of it. I had also saved and paid off my student loan, before the interest started to accumulate at the end of the interest free period. Since I had lived at home, my loan was small.

It's funny how a place can grow on you. The dust that settled everywhere was a product of the mining process but it was also a reflection of the hard work of the people, some of whom gave their lives in the effort to extract the minerals from the earth. The dust was a part of life there. The content of the soil made it difficult to grow things in town as well. However the surrounding wilderness gave perspective as to how hard the people had worked to build a community there. We were surrounded by wilderness which could be beautiful but harsh in the cold, biting winds of the winter months when drifting snow resulted in white-outs. However that same location enabled some of the best winter activity anyone could want. Summers were hot and beautiful as well.

When I think of Buchans though I think of the people, hard working, talented, warm and accepting of new-comers, which they, their parents or grandparents had been at one time. There was a terrific work ethic and children were open and appreciative of everything. The men relied on each other at their jobs and the result was a tremendous sense of community. When the mine eventually closed, they fought to keep the town alive and they succeeded.

I eventually became principal of one of the schools but the personal cost to me of that job was too great. We left there, not easily though, and our daughter who had been born while we were there, always considers herself as being from Buchans, rather than from Grand Falls where we moved. In Buchans children played outside and had the freedom to go throughout the community. Such was not the case in our neighborhood in Grand Falls. It was a big adjustment when we first moved there.

Our family was lucky to have had the experience of Buchans in our lives. It was a unique, special place that we were lucky enough to call home.

Wednesday 19 February 2014

Bed Time

It was bedtime for the girls.  After the bath, tickles, and teeth brushing, it was time to read the three stories that constitute part of the bedtime routine.  Rick and I settled in, he on the bed with Sylvie while I sat on the floor by the bed with Caitlin and the bottle.

Then Georgie appeared; the four legged female, with the golden mane.  After failing to get between Caitlin and me, she settled into a position at Rick's feet, head on my legs, eyes closed. (Maybe she enjoyed the story about the mouse best of all, with visions of chasing it running through her head). Caitlin sucked her way through the stories, watching Sylvie as she interacted with her grandfather about the books.

Rick and I exchanged knowing glances, living in the sweet moment.

                         Caitlin, Georgie, Sylvie

Monday 17 February 2014

Granda Brien

My mother's grandfather was from Ireland. His name was Edward O'Brien and he left Ireland, on his own, and moved to Newfoundland. We know that his O'Brien line was not related to any other O'Briens in Newfoundland. That's all we know. There's a story there obviously.

My knowledge of my great grandfather comes from my mother, the story teller in our family. She loved her grandfather O'Brien and spoke of him fondly. He lived with her family when she was growing up. Her memories of him became mine and with them came the desire to find out more. That has proved to be difficult.

Mom called her grandfather Granda Brien. It's interesting that the O was left off the O'Brien in baptismal records as well. The old record books that Mom and I saw on our trip to the Archives at The Rooms in St. John's all had fountain pen, scrolled, elaborately penned words in the records, but with each entry for her grandparents, the surname is Brien. She even had difficulty getting a passport because her own birth records showed her as Mary Brien. She had to have an affidavit sworn for the correct name.

In Newfoundland, Edward was a fisherman. He married Bridget Ann Kielly in 1882, in Petty Harbour  and they had ten children, one of whom was my grandfather, Gus. They settled in Maddox Cove where they built a home, and had enough land to grow vegetables and graze animals.

Something that was very noticeable about that land was that the various fields were separated by a row of trees or a line of rock/stones. When Rick and I visited Ireland, one of the things that was very emotional for me was seeing how the fields along many of the hillsides were separated the same way. Edward did the same thing with his land as he had seen in his homeland.

I found out from Census information after Mom died that Edward was born in August 1853. However I don't know where he was born. I did ask my grandfather once and he told me, but I didn't record it and don't recall what he said. I will never be able to track that information.

There are some stories about Edward. His namesake, my Uncle, Ned, Mom's older brother was carrying on one day while Nan was bent over a sack of flour in the pantry. Ned dropped something into the flour, causing it to drift upwards in a heavy cloud, covering my grandmother. Mom was there and reported that Nan was white except for her eye holes. Nan ran after Ned; he was laughing as she chased him. Ned and Nan passed through the kitchen where Edward was sitting on the day bed.

He said, "Don't hurt him, Monnie. (Monica was called Monnie). The world will treat him hard enough."
His attitude towards children was kindness. Mom always talked about how 'sweet' he was to her.

                Edward O'Brien 1853-1939

My cousin, Gus O'Brien, told me the story about my great grandfather, Edward, my grandfather, Gus and two other men coming into Petty Harbour once during a terrible thunderstorm. They were returning from a fishing trip and were in the outer part of the harbour. My great grandfather stood up in the boat and shook his fist, saying something like,

"Come on Old Man, give us your best."

The story goes that a bolt of lightning hit the boat and broke her in two, throwing the four men in the water. Luckily they were already in the harbour and survived.

Mom always talked about her grandfather's faith. I don't know if the experience in the boat had anything to do with it. He attended Mass every day and had a horse and carriage that he used to get to Church. 

Edward lived to be eighty-six years old. He prayed to die saying,

"I've been in this world long enough now, God. Take me home."

The morning he died, in December 1939, my mother was up and ready for school. However her father sent her to the Madden's house across the cove, to phone for the priest to come, her grandfather was dying. In the rush to get there, she crossed the river on the icy, winter morning, fell and her hands stuck to the ice. She tore the skin off parts of her hands. Mrs. Madden bandaged her hands before she went home. Her grandfather was dead before the priest arrived.

I wish I remembered where my great grandfather was from but I guess Edward will always be a mystery to us.

Friday 14 February 2014

The Gift

The moment is as clear in my mind today as if it had happened yesterday; that moment in Grade One when I understood what the combination of letters really meant. A flash of insight, an instant of clarity and it was obvious what all the fuss was about. Reading was easy ever after and a lifetime of pleasure was the result.

As a young child, I remember the nursery rhymes; stories read every night that I memorized before long. Mom told the story about a young boy in our neighborhood who had a large mouth. 

She was so embarrassed when three year old Marie said, "What a big mouth you have. All the better to eat you with, my dear."  

I didn't say that any more!

As I got older I read the Hardy Boys and re-read each book in the series numerous times. Today a good mystery is my 'go to' read when I've just finished a more challenging book.

Dad introduced me to Classic Comics, bringing them home to Frank and me.  I read many of the classics for the first time that way. Dad and I always discussed them as well; those discussions being one of the best things about those comics.

When I got to high school there was a huge library, at least by my previous school's standards, run my a fiesty little retired nun called Sister Andrea. She ruled with an iron fist, had low tolerance for misbehavior, and trained students as volunteer library prefects.  

While I didn't work as a prefect, I think I spent as much time in the library as some of the prefects did.  Our bus from Mount Pearl got to school early and I often spent the time in the library researching or  reading.  I read Shakespeare there under the watchful eye of Sister Andrea. She even learned my name which was very unusual.

At university, I made room in my Science degree for some English electives which I really enjoyed, though it wasn't a picnic doing four lab courses and an English course one semester. I didn't do that again either.

These days, in Seniors' College on Prince Edward Island, book club is one of my favourite experiences.  One of the best things in life, to me, is a few hours discussing a book, sharing thoughts, feelings, insights, experiences, with interesting people.  It's also a great way to keep the mind sharp and the spirit energized.  I've met great friends because we took the time to talk about books.That moment in Grade One over fifty years ago was one of the great gifts of a lifetime.

           Sally, Pam, Marie, Dorothy

                  Katie, Evelyn, Valerie, Lucy
Missing from the photos:  Karen, Melda and Tim

Wednesday 12 February 2014


One of my earliest memories involves my grandfather Pretty's (Pop's) kitchen and Juanita.  Juanita was deaf, having lost her hearing as a young child due to measles.  Since she became deaf before she had developed language, she didn't speak either as was common among hearing impaired people in those days. Juanita was my grandfather's housekeeper.

We lived with Pop for the first few years of my life.  I quickly learned how to communicate with Juanita. If I went into the kitchen, I stamped on the floor to get her attention.  I knew the signs for some things, milk, drink, eat and other words important to a two year old.  I remember stamping on the floor, looking up at her, moving my hands and mouthing the words.

Over the years I learned to communicate with Juanita in a unique way, not the traditional American Sign Language. What we did worked however and we could talk about anything.  I knew her friends in the deaf community and some members of her family as well.

Juanita became like a daughter to my grandfather. Eventually she worked at the School for the Deaf in St. John's and took care of many of the household chores at home. My grandfather became the chief cook.  He was a good cook because of his time on the railway, away from home, cooking for himself.  

When I was older and not spending my summers in Maddox Cove, I traveled with Juanita and Pop to Ontario, and various places "around the bay."  Juanita had a car and she drove.   My grandfather gestured where the exits were.  When they argued, it was interesting to see who would have the last 'word.'

Juanita was warm and loving towards me.  We had fun together and genuinely enjoyed each other's company.  A few years ago I had the opportunity to tell Juanita about her impact in my life and how much I appreciated knowing/loving her.  She started as a housekeeper but Juanita became family to me.

Friday 7 February 2014


He lived across the street from us in Mount Pearl. Michael (Mike), was the oldest of five children, with two brothers and two sisters.  A year younger than Frank, my brother, Mike was one of the boys who played street hockey or in the woods behind our house, catching frogs, building forts, and climbing trees.  

                Frank (left), and Mike

A natural athlete, Mike was a free spirit with committed determination where his passions were concerned.  He grew to be tall and lean and while he played soccer, his first love was cycling. Every day he spent hours riding around St. John's/Mount Pearl and the eastern Avalon peninsula. He was totally self-trained when he represented Newfoundland in the 1977 Canada Summer Games. Michael totally immersed himself in everything he did, from drumming to cycling; there weren't any half measures with him.

My brother tells the story of their soccer team going to the island of St. Pierre, off the south coast of Newfoundland, to play three games over a weekend. This necessitated a drive to Fortune, about 240 kilometers (150 miles) from Mount Pearl, to get the ferry across to the French island. They played their three games and on Sunday afternoon arrived back in Fortune for the bus ride home. Not Mike. He had his bike in three pieces with him, put it together and cycled home to Mount Pearl.  

He had a voracious appetite. Mike stayed with Mom and Frank for a time and was known to eat a package of twelve wieners non-stop with slices of homemade bread or buns. A neighbour was visiting one day when Mike came for lunch. She watched, speechless, as he ate and ate and ate. It took a lot of calories to sustain his metabolic level!

Mike did a stint in the Canadian military after which he joined the motocross circuit in Ontario.  However an injury made it impossible for him to continue. Following a brief time back home, he joined the military again.

Friends were important to Mike and he was a good friend to the young men he knew growing up. They were devastated when he died suddenly, on his own terms. Now, many years after his death, it is a testament to Mike that he is always mentioned fondly when 'the boys' get together. 

This song, Drink a Beer, written by Chris Stapleton and Jim Beavers, sung by Luke Bryan, perfectly captures the feelings about Mike. He often biked to Cape Spear, his 'pier,'  overnight and watched the waves crash into the rugged coastline.

Rest in peace, buddy!

Wednesday 5 February 2014


There were two little boys, sons of my cousin Sandy and her husband Gus Schmidt.  Carl was three, Allan, one. It was summer, 1971, and my parents, brother, and I drove to Thunder Bay, Ontario to visit my Aunt Muriel and her family.

                                      Gus, Allan and Carl

The boys were Aunt Muriel (Pretty) and Uncle Wilfred, (Babe), Sauriol's grandchildren. Muriel and Babe lived on the main level of the house on Dease Street while Sandy, Gus and the boys lived upstairs.

I have fond memories of those little boys. Allan, being younger, wasn't as 'grown up' as Carl so wasn't as mobile. Carl and his grandfather were inseparable. He followed Babe everywhere and was often a passenger in his car. Carl knew Thunder Bay really well. The first time we went out with Babe and Carl, Babe asked Carl for directions to the place we were going. Babe drove along and Carl pointed to the places where his grandfather had to turn. He could direct his grandfather wherever we went.


Once, we headed to the store with Carl alone, and he sat in front and pointed the way to the place and got us home too. (This was in the days before child car seats). He was a child of few words when it came to directions. He chatted continuously however when he followed his grandfather around, always asking questions. 


Carl was a bright, sweet, little boy, with blond hair, who often went around the yard or in the car, barefoot. He liked it that way. We were amazed by Carl. You could see that Allan watched everything he did. It looked like they'd be great buddies as they matured. Their grandparents adored both of the boys and were very proud of them.

                                                    Muriel (Pretty)  and Wilfred (Babe) Sauriol

A few years later, Sandy and Gus added a girl, Melissa (Missy) to their family. While I have never met Missy I saw pictures of the three children as they grew up.  There was a strong family resemblance. I often wondered what it was like for Missy to have those two boys as older brothers.


Sadly in 1995, just two months after the birth of his daughter, Bailey, Carl died in a tragic accident.  He was only twenty-seven. His sweet baby girl did not get to know her Dad. As a parent and grandparent now, I cannot imagine what Carl's loss must have been like for his family. Everyone was heart broken. Bailey helped them get through it though.

                                Missy, Allan and Carl

Memories of that sweet little boy often surface for me but are ever present for his family.

Monday 3 February 2014

Mary Hearn

When I was a young child, my great grandmother Mary (Pearce) Hearn, was still alive.  She lived in a little green saddle roof house in Petty Harbour, Newfoundland.  My parents and I visited her often and I have an impression of her that is confused with the grandmother in the story of Little Red Riding Hood, one of my favourite nursery rhymes.

I remember a small woman who always wore a bib apron over a dress, and gray hair that she wore in a bun at the back of her head.  She called me Little Mary.  She always gave me some kind of snack which we called a lunch, a drink, cookie, bread and jam or cake.

There are some interesting stories about Mary Hearn.  Her mother died when she was young, leaving young children.  The story goes that the girls were raised by their mother's family as Catholic and the boys as Protestants by their father.  Mary Pearce married John Joseph Hearn and they had three children, two boys and my grandmother Monica, called Monnie by her family.

It was common in the 1940s to walk over the hill to St. John's to shop.  Mary's son, Francis, called France in this family, often walked to St. John's for supplies.  On one trip he brought home bananas.  Mary hadn't seen bananas before and thought they were a new type of parsnip.  When France came home for supper the next evening, his mother commented that there wasn't much to those parsnips, they "went away to nothing" in the pot.  Dinner was a sweet affair that night.

One winter, France brought ice cream from St. John's.  Mary thought it had frozen on the way home and put it in the oven to thaw out.  

When Mary was confined to bed, dying really, my mother took me to see her for the last time. I remember the little figure in the bed, the long hair spread out over the pillow.  This is where my memory is confused with the grandmother/wolf in the bed in the Little Red Riding Hood story.  (I picture a night cap on her but that's the story I think). Unlike that story, my grandmother was there saying the rosary for her mother.

My great grandmother sat in a rocking chair by the fire.  After she died the chair was passed on to her daughter, my grandmother, Monica (Monnie) O'Brien, who kept it in her bedroom where she rocked and hummed.  My mother, Mary Pretty, inherited it after Nan died and then I got it after Mom passed away. My brother, Frank, had stripped the black paint off the chair and stained it.  He did a great job.

wrote a poem about the history of this chair in which Claire nursed her two babies in the small hours; the chair which belonged to Mary Hearn.  I imagine the arms of those women wrapped around the girls as they rocked.  This poem was written for Mary Hearn's great great great grandchildren, Sylvie and Caitlin Noall.

                                                Sylvie, Claire and baby Caitlin

The Old Rocking Chair

Mary Hearn is one of my great nans,
Petty Harbour was her home in Newfoundland.
She rocked away in her rocking chair
And wore a bun in her long gray hair.

When she couldn't rock any more
She passed it to Monnie down the shore.
There Monnie rocked and sang some songs
Until Mary took it and rocked for so long.

Then Nanny Marie got the rocking chair
Which Uncle Frank fixed with care.
My Mommy Claire rocked me, you see,
In the chair from the women in my family tree.

This line of women in my family tree:

Mary Pearce Hearn
Monica (Monnie) Hearn O'Brien
Mary O'Brien Pretty
Marie Pretty Smith
Claire Smith Noall
Sylvie Margaret Noall and Caitlin Alexandra Noall

Uncle Frank is my Great Uncle Frank (Francis) Pretty.
He is my Nanny Marie's brother.