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.
I 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.