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Saturday 31 May 2014


The Prado Museum was an easy walk from the hotel, in a safe neighborhood on a beautiful day. It gave us an appreciation for big city life as we have always lived in small communities. Madrid is a vibrant, beautiful city, green, clean, teeming with people and beautiful architecture. Walking is a way of life and the caf├ęs and restaurants/cafeterias overflow to the sidewalks where groups, couples and families stop to eat and chat. The people take their time and actually talk to each other. I didn't see people typing on phones while sat with others.

                                                                The Prado

While walking around the Prado Museum today I was thinking about my Grade 10 teacher, Sister Matthew. Sister allowed some of her students to teach part of the History unit on the Renaissance. I taught the section on Renaissance Art after weeks of preparation. Since then I've enjoyed art galleries, thanks to Sister Matthew. Without that experience, I don't know when or how I would have developed an appreciation for art of all kinds.

                                       Spanish guitar outside the Prado

Have you ever finally seen something that you have only ever seen in pictures? The surprise when you enter a gallery and there is a famous work by Velazquez, Bosch or Goya. The people stood back, observing, reading or listening to descriptions of the work. What gifted artists there have been and what beauty they still bring to the world centuries later!

                      Ready for the evening

The Prado is a masterpiece well worth seeing and Madrid is its glorious frame!


When Spaniards come to Canada, do they go to Tim Horton's? If so, I can imagine what they think. 

We had a beautiful, leisurely, buffet breakfast at the hotel this morning where the coffee is prominently displayed. The coffee, espresso, is very strong and drunk by the gallons in tiny cups, which are refilled numerous times. ( We knew this but hadn't lived it before). For us, coffee isn't as strong to say the least and as part of a people who like the occasional Timmy's, it's eye opening in more ways than one.

Rick is the coffee drinker in our house. I prefer tea and at first glance, it's not available in the restaurant. However, on closer look, there it is, underneath the counter where the coffee and it's technologically advanced brewer are prominently displayed. The tea bags are in a drawer.

Spaniards drink their espresso straight if this morning is any indication. But it's not just a Spanish thing; Europeans, in general, like espresso. We're the Americano coffee drinkers. It's live and learn for us today. Tomorrow morning, we'll have the Americano coffee which we discovered after Rick had seven espressos. When he comes out of orbit later today, we'll go to the Prado, a different cultural experience.

Friday 30 May 2014

Discomfort 777

 After a pleasant flight of two and a half hours to Toronto from Charlottetown, we had to rush to get the flight to Munich, which wasn't a problem. To begin, I don't go economy class on a long haul flight expecting to sleep very much. However, the Boeing 777-300ER in service for this flight to Munich, had the most uncomfortable seats ever constructed which also feel like cheap vinyl, though cloth covered, creating heat between you and the seat. In economy, there are nine seats across. In the middle seat my arms were uncomfortably positioned forward for the whole trip. Sardines have it easier. As someone with back problems, the discomfort could not be fixed with a pill, numbness and pain in both arms and neck. (My back has been fine recently.) The seat itself was hard and this plane has a barrier between your foot compartment and the seat ahead. That means that you can't stretch out like you could when there was a bar there. I never recall touching the feet of the person ahead of me when the bar was there. Now you are restricted. I was glad I'm only five feet five inches tall.

The head rest at the top of the seat back was bow shaped, curved outwards. It forced your head to the middle of the bow position, making shifting in the seat for a change of position difficult. This forced you to maintain the same position for the duration of the flight.

The volume on the media device I had didn't work. That wasn't much help for passing the endless eight plus hours.  The dinner meal was regular Air Canada fare but breakfast was a piece of thawed sweet bread, like carrot cake, which was damp. (A new low in dining, even for this airline.)

The economy cabin was full and the flight attendants took a long time serving and clearing dinner; understandable because of the number of people and the limited aisle space. This meant that the cabin wasn't darkened until about four hours into the flight. Breakfast service was one and a half hours later. Luckily the passenger ahead of me didn't recline his seat. If he had, I may have screamed. Sitting there, I could imagine someone losing it and becoming agitated, in some ways understandable under the circumstances. Across the aisle a small child cried. No wonder.

This ticket was expensive; many of us cannot afford to travel first class. Air Canada, you are disrespecting your passengers. Like cattle on feed lots we are shuffled into your pens, fed slop and forced to adjust to the greatest discomfort possible. Thankfully the flight was only eight hours. There wasn't enough pain medication to get me through much more. You can do better, Air Canada, and we, the traveling masses, deserve better. If I can avoid you in the future for these longer flights, I will. Is there better service out there? There was at one time, even for Air Canada. We've hit an all time low.

Writing about it is good therapy.

Post script:  the Lufthansa flight to Madrid, following the terrible Air Canada long haul flight was much more comfortable, with leg room for stretching and regular headrests. The two hour flight was much more pleasant.

Thursday 29 May 2014


When I was in Grade 8, I was chosen by my school to attend Expo in Montreal that summer of 1967. After I was chosen by the school, the principal learned that our school had to send a boy, so I didn't get to go. Instead, my grandfather took me to Ontario to meet Aunt Muriel and her family. It was a great trip and I loved getting to know my Aunt and her family.

That experience did two things for me. I realized that I really enjoyed traveling and I was determined that I would travel as much as I could. Over our married life, Rick and I have travelled a number of times, via plane, train, ship.

For the next several weeks, Rick and I are traveling to parts of Europe and Northern Africa. We are looking forward to the first vacation we have had in five years. (Six years ago Mom died, and my only brother had a heart attack, so that year was difficult as well.) During the five years without a vacation, Ben and Claire moved back to Canada, settling in PEI. We helped them move into their new home, then we renovated, sold our house and moved to PEI as well. Claire and Ben had Sylvie, who had a rough entry into the world, plus another baby, Caitlin. Then Rick's father got cancer and died, and we helped his mother move to PEI. We've experienced many of life's major events in that short time. It's time to decompress. We are really looking forward to our vacation.

Anticipation of this coming adventure makes us think of our favourite vacation experience which involves, among other things, a camel in the Outback of Australia. We were on a guided tour which we really like as a way to see the world. A flight from Melbourne through Adelaide to central Australia and Alice Springs flew over some of the vast red desert of Australia. During an interesting visit to an Indigenous community, we learned a bit of the history and customs of these fascinating people. Rick ate a wichetty grub which he thought tasted like peanut butter. The grub, a high source of protein, is a white wood-eating larva of moths, about the length of the palm of your hand. I wasn't brave enough to eat one. That evening, our group rode camels through the dry river bed past where Indigenous people gathered with their families underneath the trees, discussing the day and eating together. (We can learn a great deal from them!) Then we had dinner at a restaurant in the desert where we tasted crocodile, emu and camel. The next day we visited Uluru/Ayre's Rock, a majestic natural wonder, with rock art thousands of years old. This completed our surreal experience in the Outback.

The photo showing the shadow of the camels and riders that evening says it all. Rick and I, riding the camel, looked around and seeing the shadow, said to each other simultaneously, 

"We're not in Kansas now, Toto."

We wonder if there will be any adventures during our coming vacation which will equal the Outback of Australia? They would have to be exceptional but who knows? That's one of the great things about vacation, the anticipation.

Tuesday 27 May 2014


Samantha Pretty is part of the Canadian team headed to the World Powerlifting Championship in South Africa on Friday. She'll travel for two days with six other members of the team from Newfoundland to reach Johannesburg. From there, they travel northeast to Potchefstroom where she competes on June 6. 

        Samantha Jane Pretty

Because she is the first person in our family to compete in anything at the world level, you can imagine how proud we are of Samantha. However we are also proud of the person she's become, due in no small part to her parents, Frank and Michele and the influence of the grandparents with whom she lived, Jack Taylor and Mary Pretty.

Never one to just follow the crowd, Samantha has always done her own thing, mature beyond her years from an early age. She is not shy or reticent, though humble, very grounded, working hard at two jobs on occasion besides attending college. Samantha excelled at karate for a number of years, played soccer and volleyball. However she found her passion when she discovered powerlifting and the Heavy Weights gym in Mount Pearl, Newfoundland. There she discovered the physical strength that was as great as her strength of character. 

Samantha, no matter what happens at this competition, you're already a winner. Our wish for you is that you soak up every minute of the experience, do the best you can on the day, and enjoy the journey.

Safe travels, great lifting! 

Love, Aunt Marie and Uncle Rick

Monday 26 May 2014


When my granddaughter, Sylvie, was two, one of the things she commonly said was, "What's that noisy?" Any time she heard something unfamiliar, that was above the sound level that she was accustomed to, she asked about the 'noisy.' Our reaction to sound and noise is instinctive obviously. Just watch an infant startle to a noise. However, what we consider to be noisy can be very subjective. 

My friend, Lucy, dropped by recently and for one of the first days this year, the patio door was open. Children, out of school for the day, played in the yards adjacent to our property. The neighborhood is home to numerous dogs, some of whom we can name, others not. As we sat in the living room, a dog barked nearby and we could hear the children playing. This is spring and summer life at our home. My friend was taken with the noise.

Lucy lives in rural Prince Edward Island where the nearest neighbour is several fields away. Her house is at the end of a long driveway. The only dog she ever hears is her own. The rolling hills around her home, the farmland, trees and plants are a long way from the subdivision where I live. My neighborhood is noisy in comparison.

I remember our first visit with Rick's Aunt Marie in Mississauga, Ontario. She lives on the corner of Hurontario and Dundas, a great location but a busy intersection. At night, we slept, or tried to sleep with the window open, for the cool breeze to flow throughout the apartment. While Marie slept contentedly, we couldn't sleep for the first two nights, because of the traffic noise, all night. Eventually, we acclimatized, or sleep overcame us.

When Aunt Marie visited us, she noticed the quiet in the neighborhood; the absence of traffic that provided the almost 'white' noise that lulled her to sleep in Mississauga. It took several nights for her to be able to get to sleep with all the screaming quiet.

'Noisy' has a lot to do with your neighborhood and your perspective.

Friday 23 May 2014

Anniversary...Or Yet Another Fishing Story

For a few years when Claire was young, we owned a cabin (cottage) on the Robinson's River on the west coast of Newfoundland. We bought the cabin from Rick's grandparents, Dick and Classie Mercer, when they finished with cabin life and all the extra work it entailed.

Rick's parents had a cabin nearby, as did his great Uncle Reg and his wife Leona, and great Aunt Shirley and her husband Merle. We lived away from family in central Newfoundland, so it was a treat to be near some of our family for a few days in the summer.

It was late August, our anniversary, and I was cooking supper for the family. Claire was two and while she napped, I got things ready, cooking a turkey despite the heat.

Rick, like his mother, Sylvia, hated salmon fishing. However, he liked cod jigging and occasionally went with his parents and Newman when we were at the cabin. Newman was a local fisherman, making his livelihood catching the various creatures of the sea. On this day, Rick was gone cod jigging with his parents and Newman. This was more than ten years before the cod moratorium which closed down the fishery on the east coast of Canada to this present day.

                                Newman and Rick

The entry/exit to the beach at Robinson's River was a tricky one. On this day Newman was steering as they went out through the mouth of the river into the ocean. They jigged for cod for a couple of hours and had lots of fish which they filleted as they headed back into the beach. On the approach to the shore, the motor cut out and the seas, which had gotten rough, overturned the boat throwing the four of them into the water. However they had on their life jackets, and weren't that far from shore. Newman and Sylvia made it out of the water on their own. Then Newman swam out with a rope and helped Melvin and Rick ashore. 

                        Rick with part of a catch

Rick was wet and cold when he got back to the cabin. The incident was very frightening for all of them but for Rick, it made him reluctant to do anything related to boats ever again. Over time, the fear has abated somewhat. We've made a number of crossings of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Northumberland Strait, the English Channel, though Rick prefers the Chunnel to the ferry. Smaller boats are the most difficult for him.

It was a great anniversary after everyone warmed up and got over the initial shock. It certainly could have been a tragic day, so we were thankful to be able to celebrate. It was one of our most memorable anniversaries.

 Oh, by the way, the sea gulls had a good cod dinner that day. Cod fillet, no less!

Tuesday 20 May 2014

Cod Fishing...the More Inclusive Type of Fishing

When it came to fishing, my father-in-law, Melvin Smith was probably one of its most ardent pursuers. Whether rainbow or mud trout, salmon or cod fish, Melvin was there. Whether in the quiet of the side of the pond or in his friend Newman's fishing boat,  Melvin loved the effort, the time and the result.

In his youth, when it came to fishing for salmon and trout, Melvin had his family with him, but they didn't enjoy this fishing. However when it came to cod fishing, Sylvia was caught as well.

                                             Sylvia and Shirley

Cod fishing involves jigging with a weighted, unbaited hook(s) attached to a line and thrown overboard. The fisher jerks the line sharply upward (jigs) and releases it again. The goal is to hook a fish. The fish can be hooked anywhere on their bodies, not just around the mouth. It helps to lower the line into a school of fish where the chances of jigging one greatly increase.

                              Sylvia and Newman

Newman and his wife Shirley are residents of Heatherton, Newfoundland. There they raised their family of five, two girls and three boys. Newman was a fisherman and provided for his family by the various species harvested from the sea. During the summer months, when Melvin and Sylvia spent time at their cabin (cottage) in nearby Robinsons, Newman and Shirley periodically took them cod jigging. (This was in the years before the cod moratorium).

                       Newman with cod and Melvin with halibut

Sylvia loved this kind of fishing. She loved the process of catching the fish, the product, including the beautiful cod fillet and cod tongues, as well as the time spent with these great friends. She enjoyed on the water as well and felt very safe with a fisher as experienced as Newman. Feeling the weight at the end of the line and the anticipation of what size or type of fish awaited you, were thrilling to her.

Strangely enough, Melvin got sea sick occasionally while he was cod jigging in the small boats. This same man had travelled up and down the eastern seaboard, in a vessel carrying paper from the mill in Corner Brook, without ever being sea sick. The size of the boat made a difference to him.

               Melvin with a big codfish in rubber boots

Time spent with Newman and Shirley was never boring because of the fishing but especially because of the fun had with these great friends. Newman is a story and joke teller extraordinaire. Shirley joins in the fun, edging Newman on, though he doesn't need any encouragement. He has a story for every situation, some of which would turn the air blue. However, you can't help but laugh at the stories.

                 Shirley, Melvin and Sylvia cleaning their catch

Newman and Shirley are among the kindest people you could ever know. They are loving parents, grandparents and great grandparents. They are devoted to each other, their family and friends. Anyone who has been lucky enough to know them and spend time with them as Melvin and Sylvia did, are lucky people indeed.

Friends, family, and cod fishing made the time at Robinsons very special for the Smiths. Great memories indeed!

Monday 19 May 2014

The Lure of the Atlantic Salmon

In our family, salmon fishing doesn't conjure up pleasant images for Rick or his mother Sylvia. When Rick was young, family vacations were spent in various locations along salmon rivers on the west coast of Newfoundland. The lure of the Atlantic salmon was a passion of my father-in-law, Melvin, much to the chagrin of his wife and son. Every year Sylvia and Rick spent the hottest days of the summer cooped up in a small trailer while Melvin spent blissful hours in the pursuit of the elusive Atlantic salmon.

                                                Salmon jumping up-river

Big Falls on the west coast of Newfoundland was his favourite fishing hole. It is a beautiful spot with fast flowing, pristine water, in the Newfoundland wilderness of Sir Richard Squires Park. This place was the Smith's home during their summer vacation each year. Melvin stood for hours, early morning and evening, when the salmon were feeding in their resting pools on the river. He would even flick that rod in his dreams.

                                                                Big Falls

Melvin often said, "I'm going for a few flicks now," as he gathered his gear to head to the river where he'd succumb to the enchantment yet again.

His wife and son never really understood the attraction. They were confined to the trailer because the flies were so bad; sand flies got through screens which were covered with cheese cloth. The heat was oppressive too. Sylvia and Rick felt captive in the tiny trailer.

                               Melvin, Rick and Sylvia watching the salmon at Big Falls

Melvin didn't notice the heat and somehow the flies didn't bother him either. It was as if the salmon had him mesmerized, making him immune to the aggravation of the flies and heat. He also enjoyed the company of the other anglers, fellow victims of the enchantment.

    Rick cooking salmon

There was a time when Melvin tried to interest Rick in fishing. However, Rick was immune to the mystic charm of the noble fish. He completely hated it. Many times in our married life, Rick spoke of his feelings about fishing. I knew which words or phrases would set him off and what he'd say when he got started.

                           Burning the effigy

Eventually we did a fishing intervention. Rick's parents brought a fresh whole salmon to Big Falls and we boiled it with potato and onion, our favourite way to cook the tasty treat. While the salmon cooked, we burned a paper salmon shape in effigy. Then Rick and Sylvia expressed all their salmon fishing frustrations as Melvin listened. We laughed a lot that day and in the years since then the salmon fishing stories aren't as frequent or negative.

                     Fish and camping tales

Obviously, what is pleasure for one person can be torturous for another, even for something as innocuous as salmon fishing.

                                                     Choking from the fire and the tales

Wednesday 14 May 2014

Tide Waiters, Strong Backs and Black Pan, The Early Working Life of Melvin Smith

Later this week will the be first year anniversary of Melvin Smith's death. A year ago, Rick, Sylvia and I stood around his bed and watched as he breathed his last peaceful breath. He had been diagnosed in October the previous year and fought the cancer until May. 

However the cancer didn't define Melvin. He was so much more than his final disease. Several years ago, he told me the story of his early working life. It's a good place to start.

                                                        Melvin Smith




When Melvin Smith, my father-in-law, of Corner Brook, Newfoundland, finished school at the age of fifteen, he worked at the Corner Brook Stores on West Street, where the Pipeline Gas Outlet is today. He was a clerk in the hardware department. If you saw his garage at the end of his life, you'd have seen that his first job had a tremendous impact on him. He had enough hardware to set up his own store. You can take the man out of the hardware store but it is impossible to get the hardware away from the man.

                        Melvin as a teenager


In those days, even more so than today, everything in Corner Brook seemed to revolve around the mill. One of the local jobs related to the mill was Customs Officer. These workers were called tide waiters; they had to wait for the tide to bring the ships to dock. Melvin got a job as a tide waiter and went aboard ships like the SS Corner Brook when she came from foreign ports to reload with paper at the mill.  


The SS Corner Brook was built in England and was owned and operated by Bowaters Paper Company. She sailed up and down the eastern seaboard delivering paper from the mill in Corner Brook around Key West to Houston, Texas and ports in between.

                          S S Corner Brook in Corner Brook Harbour 1945

Customs officers looked for contraband aboard the ship. They searched and later, after they cleared the ship, some bought cigarettes and rum on the 'QT.' Rum was $0.75 a bottle and a carton of cigarettes was $1.00. This practice ensured that customs officers wouldn't report the crew for the contraband. Melvin didn't admit to partaking in this enterprise but we're left to wonder just the same.


At the age of seventeen, Melvin got a job on the SS Corner Brook and as a crew member he discovered the hiding areas for the contraband. There was a false wall in the forecastle where some crew members stored their contraband. Engineers put their goods in an empty fire extinguisher on the deck. That extinguisher wouldn't have been very helpful in an emergency.

The officers on the Corner Brook were British and weren't very friendly to the Newfoundland crew.  There were often derogatory comments passed between the two groups. Initially the cooks were British as well and their fare wasn't very popular with the Newfoundlanders. Things like boiled chicken and white sauce were terrible. While the crew couldn't complain about the amount of food, the food tasted awful to them. One of the worst things was the "strong backs", white bread cooked in a square pan with a lid on it so that it didn't rise. It was dense and horrible. The strong back name was borrowed from the wooden hatch that covered iron bars above the paper in the cargo holds.  


Eventually Newfoundland cooks replaced the British in the galley. The crew enjoyed the food then even if the officers didn't. Melvin had fond memories of one cook in particularHe cooked Newfoundland 'grub' and perpetually went about his job with a cigarette hanging from his lips. Melvin often watched to see if the ashes fell into the food and he didn't see it happen. This cook always had a stock pot on the stove and everything went into this pot. Once Melvin saw this man take a chicken out of the oven, but it fell on the floor and the cook kicked it out of the way with his boot. Did it go in the pot, he wondered.


Some of the officers were particularly disliked. One such person was the chief engineer. He dated a young woman from Corner Brook and once had a canary on board to give her when they got in port. One of the crew fed it caustic soda which burned the bird's beak. Cruel!  Poor bird suffered because of the dislike for the engineer. The animosity between the Newfoundland crew and the British officers on board was palpable. This was another instance when the crew wondered if the canary was put in the stock pot too.  


At seventeen, when Melvin first went aboard the Corner Brook, he was utility man. His duties were chipping (scraping off rust before painting) and painting. This was a day job that he did for one trip, about 2-3 weeks down with the paper and back to Corner Brook.


After that first trip, he worked as fireman. Melvin's duties were to tend the oil-fired boilers. If the ship was burning oil in one bunker, she'd list. The fireman had to pump the oil to ballast the ship. He also had to keep a certain amount of pressure on the boilers, (100 or 150 psi), and adjust the oil if the pressure went too high orlow.  Maintaining the right pressure was the key. This Melvin did for a few trips.


Oiler or donkeyman was his next job. For a year or so he worked to keep the engine and auxiliary machinery oiled.  


His final job on the Corner Brook was as fifth engineer.  He was responsible for winches and the refrigerating system, on the second shift. He worked four hours on, eight off, starting at 4 a.m.  With this job he got to eat with the officers.  They 'had it good' with white table linen and napkins.  This was a huge step up from the dining room for the rest of the crew.  


Because he worked from 4-8 p.m., Melvin got his supper served in "black pan".  This was a kit of pans, black because they weren't washed. The pans were filled with food and put into a carrier which you picked up and took to your work station where you had supper.


Surprisingly enough Melvin didn't get seasick once while he was on the Corner Brook.  Still he could feel deathly ill when he was on a small fishing boat. Smaller boats were the problem it seems.


When the Corner Brook left home port in the winter months and crossed the Mason Dixon line, the crew woke to hot weather.  Sleeping on deck was common when it was really hot.  If it got stormy, the seas would nearly wash them overboard. Other times, if they slept with the porthole open, the stormy seas washed in and soaked everything.


Melvin worked on the S.S. Corner Brook for three years. The times in Port were interesting, New York, Miami, Port Sulfur, Norfolk, to name a few. Great adventure for a young man! Soon however, life in Corner Brook called and Melvin hung up the black pan and picked up the mill basket instead.  But that's another story.  

                              The paper mill today with a view out the bay

Postscript:  Since Melvin told me this story, I learned that it was very difficult for him when he went to work on the S.S. Corner Brook after having worked as a customs officer. The officers and crew made it very difficult for him initially. Over time things improved. Melvin didn't say anything about the harassment during our conversation. He knew how to keep a secret.

Melvin, we think of you every day.


Fishing (trouting) season opens in Newfoundland on May 15th. One person who'll be wetting a line this weekend is my sister-in-law.

You can hear the flick of the pole and the release of the line as her arm bends back and then throws forward, holding the pole, allowing the line to play out of the reel. She adjusts the position of the plug bobber in the water by reeling the line back until she positions the bait in that perfect spot; the spot where some unsuspecting trout decides to nibble on the flies dangling on the line. She can stand like this for hours, throughout the trouting season, any hour of the day. This woman is my sister-in-law, Michele Taylor Pretty.

Michele came by this love of fishing honestly enough. She is a daughter of Mary and Jack Taylor, both ardent anglers. For six months every year, they spent most of their time at their cabin at Placentia Junction, Newfoundland. There they eagerly awaited the time when, in season, the first flicks of the pole would usher in another long awaited trouting adventure.

What is it about trouting that makes it so enchanting to some? Of the seven children in her family, Michele is the most afflicted with the lure of the line in the water, though her brother Damien is a close second. Is it the solitude of the setting by the side of a pond? Is it the chance of landing that big one that doesn't get away this time or the story of one that does? Is it the challenge of finding the spot where the trout are gathered on a particular day or knowing what bait to use? Surely it isn't the mosquitos and flies that inevitably appear or the myriad of weather conditions, from snowy cold to blistering heat across the season, that keep the afflicted coming back.  

               Michele with one that didn't get away.

Whatever it is, only those who can answer the question really appreciate those moments when time appears to stand still and the workday melee is replaced by the hum of the earth.

The fish...bonus!

Monday 12 May 2014

Roughing It

When Claire was young, we had a small travel trailer on a piece of land behind Howley, Newfoundland. Rick's parents, Melvin and Sylvia, had a trailer on the same land, which they owned, and we frequented during summer vacation. The land was on Grand Lake, where fishing was ideal and the peace and quiet enveloped you. Some of our quietest moments as a family were spent around that lake at Howley. Our daughter has the fondest memories of our too short days at Grand Lake, or Howley as we called it.

                                                     View from the trailer

This was the closest we ever got to roughing it. There wasn't electricity, toilets or running water. We had an outhouse, propane lamps, stoves and containers of water brought from home. Our trailer had a little propane oven which could cook the most delicious buns. Melvin, and Claire, fished. Our quad was great for rides on the dirt road or gathering wood further afield.

                                            Melvin readying the fishing gear


Melvin was a notorious fisherman. He spent many hours salmon fishing in his youth accompanied by his family who didn't share the same sensibility. However, trouting was his passion as well. Our daughter, Claire, unlike her father, loved fishing/ trouting. In the stillness of the early evening, we could hear her little voice as she chatted to her grandfather and waited for a bite. Periodically she squealed with delight when either of them caught their unfortunate prey.

                                   Claire's catch

We often cooked over an open fire or barbecued. When the wind was blowing the breeze kept the flies away as did the smoke from the fire. The fire became the gathering place, the evening warmth, the cooking place when the trailer was too hot, the light and heat in the deep darkness of the cool evenings. That fire was our evening amusement as well, we enjoyed tending it, as we roasted marshmallows and covered ourselves in camp blankets as the air chilled. Watching jets as they followed the great circle paths over the earth, the annual Perseid meteor shower every August or the view of the Milky Way during new moon, were great diversions around the open flame.

                        View across from the land with only one trailer visible.

One of the favourite pass times was blueberry picking. The berries rarely made it out of Howley because we ate them, making jam with dough boys (dumplings) cooked on top of the berries, our favourite summer treat.

The area abounded with wild life. Moose walked the road, undaunted by the humans co-habiting their domain for a few hours every summer. Squirrels and many varieties of birds were our neighbours. We didn't see bears but they were nearby, as were lynx and fox. One afternoon we watched a squirrel stagger off with a dough boy left in the fire pit. It took him several attempts to get the doughy treat back to his nest.

                              The cove which we cleared of the wood.

The land had a little cove that was very secluded and sandy. It was a great place to swim, especially later in the summer after the sun had heated the water for several weeks. Claire loved swimming there. We had a paddle boat which we really enjoyed as well.

                                       Marie, Claire and Nanny Mercer

The early morning air was so fresh and clean that you could imagine your body sighing from the thrill of the breath of it. The total darkness at night, stillness, and quiet, broken occasionally by a loon, assaulted the senses with its rarity. 

Falling to sleep with the windows open, with the country fresh air, in the still blackness, was so different from home, which was also in the wilderness. However at Grand Lake it was as if you were swaddled in nature which was itself asleep, breathing deeply all around you. You felt more alive than you had ever been, but willing to surrender to the moment, with dreams of another day of roughing it.

Friday 9 May 2014

Mother's Day and Classie...In Every Way

                                                       Mother's Day

On this Friday before Mother's Day, I send special greetings to the mothers in our family. Those special people who give of themselves, do without things to see that their children have enough. Today, and for the last few generations, a mother's life includes hours spent watching concerts and plays, in churches and gymnasiums, on fields, by the beds of sick children, supervising homework, attending meetings, volunteering and the millions of other things that take your time as a parent. These things of the twenty first century are somewhat different than our ancestors would have done to keep food on the table and clothes on the backs of their children.

But a mother's life is also about the joy of watching that sweet little one take his/her first steps and that teenager learning to drive. Her life involves the daily routine where each step takes the children closer to the door and graduating to life as independent people. This is a mother's ultimate joy but her sorrow too. This mix of joy and sorrow crosses all the generations.

Then there may be grandchildren, and the journey begins anew. And for the blessed few, great grandchildren....

Wherever you are this Mother's Day...Enjoy!

    Lobster: our Mother's Day tradition in Newfoundland and Pei tradition as well.

Today I'm telling the story of another great mother in the family, Rick's grandmother, Classie Mercer. To Classie, Mary, Ida, Monnie, Mary Hearn, Mary Stewart, Mary Ann, Harriet and all the others who have gone before, wherever you are, you did a great job.

To our only living mother, Sylvia, we're so glad you're here to celebrate with us. We love you.

Happy Mother's Day.


Have you ever met a woman whose name is a perfect description of who she is? Such was the case with Rick's grandmother, Classie Mildred (Lawrence) Mercer. 

Born in Channel/Port aux Basques, she was the oldest of nine children born to Joseph and Julia (Hardy) Lawrence. Being the oldest child, Classie was very involved with raising her younger siblings and she helped them out even after she was married herself, raising her own children.

      Classie Lawrence Mercer

Her husband, Richard (Dick) Edgar Mercer, was a young bookkeeper, working for the bank when they met in Port aux Basques. Later Dick worked for Emanuel Pike, one of the merchants there. (Maggie Pike, Emanuel's daughter, married Albert Pretty, my grandfather's oldest brother.) The Mercers had three children, Richard (Dick), Sylvia, my mother-in-law, and Carl. The young family lived near Classie's family in Port aux Basques until Dick got a job in Corner Brook. 

      Dick Mercer, 18, before he started work at the bank.

                     Carl, Sylvia and Richard (Dick)

Sylvia remembers the trip to Corner Brook very vividly, carrying her cat, as she walked to the train station, past the school where her friends were in attendance. She felt so sad to leave the only home she knew to that time.

In Corner Brook, the family settled into life on the west side, where the children quickly made friends. The children attended the Corner Brook Public School while Dick worked with Bowaters.

In spite of some difficult times, Classie was an incredible mother, warm, loving and caring. She was a steady positive influence in the lives of her children. 

Rick had fond memories of his grandmother who was a wonderful baker and cook. She always had delicious cookies, pies, cakes at the ready when he visited. I remember her pies in particular, especially when her cherry trees had produced a bumper crop of their juicy deliciousness. Her recipe for mustard sauce that we still use with baked ham is a family favourite and a permanent part of the family menu.

                 Rick, Sylvia and Dick

Eventually, the Mercers moved from the west side of Corner Brook to townsite, on East valley Road where they bought a house. Having lived in rental accommodation her entire life, Classie was so proud of her little nest on East Valley Road. Her brother, Reg, and his family eventually lived two doors away. Later her son, Carl, and his family lived down the road; Sylvia and her family lived on the next street. (Their son Dick and his family always lived on the mainland where Dick was a member of the Canadian military.) It was in this family centered neighborhood that the Mercers lived out the rest of their lives.

                                  Leona and Reg, Classie's brother

Classie was a great seamstress and she worked for Morris Gordon, then Goodyear and House. Her specialty was drapes though she could sew/fix anything requiring a sewing needle. Her deft fingers made her capable of many crafts and after her death, her family discovered some smocked Christmas ornaments that she hadn't completed. She never just sat and watched tv, rather her hands worked to knit, crochet, smock, or do any number of other crafts every evening.

                     Jean, Carl, Classie and Dick

                                         Carl and son, Stephen

Her garden gave Classie great pleasure as well. She always had beautiful flowering bushes and plants. She loved digging in the soil and always grew tomatoes and other vegetables. The back of her garden was lined with cherry trees that gave bumper crops for many years. Classie shared their bounty with friends, family and always kept some frozen for pies during the worst of winter. 

                   Sylvia, Classie, Dick Sr., Dick, Carl
Yoga was a favourite of Classie as well. She was very limber and watched her diet, keeping track of the what she ate and how active she was.

During the time Classie worked, she bought nice things for her home, fine china, crystal, and good furniture. Claire uses her great grandmother's dinner set today and Rick and I love her tea wagon. We use it in honor of his grandmother on special occasions. It's as if she has tea with us every time we use it.

                               Tea cart

                                          Classie, Dick Jr., Carl, Sylvia

  Front:  Sylvia, Dick Jr., Doris, Keith, Trevor ( standing)

When Classie was eighty or so, a few years after Dick's death, Rick, Claire and I visited Corner Brook and stopped by to see her one evening. It was spring and the days were getting longer with an increased number of walkers outside on the street. We sat near the window, on either side of her rocking chair. She, sat on the sofa, pointed to the rocking chair and said,

"When I get old, I'm going to sit in that chair by the window and watch the people go by." 

We smiled and never forgot the comment!

That young spirit kept Classie going until she was diagnosed with cancer and died within a year. She was an incredible woman who was an excellent example of how to age with grace, dignity and humour. 

                        Four Generations:
Rick, Sylvia, Classie, Claire

            Front:  Melvin, Claire, Sylvia,  Back:  Carl, Jean, Doris, Dick

Recently, Sylvia and her great granddaughter, Sylvie, made the sauce for our baked ham one evening. The recipe is below. It has been known as Classie's mustard sauce for thirty years or more. I don't know where it is from originally.

       Sylvia and great granddaughter, Sylvie, making
       Classie's mustard sauce

                                                     Classie's Mustard Sauce

1 c of white sugar
3 tsp dry mustard
2 eggs
1/2 c white vinegar

Mix sugar and mustard together. Add beaten eggs, vinegar and paprika. Stir constantly and heat slowly to a boil until thick.

Note: heating slowly and stirring will keep the eggs from cooking separately as egg white in your sauce. A whisk works well. I cut back on the sugar over time so that now I use about 3/4 of a cup rather than the full cup. We don't like it quite as sweet. If you start with less sugar, you can add more until you get the taste you like.

My brother, Frank, slices the ham and puts it in the sauce in the oven after everything is cooked. They like the ham coated in the sauce. We prefer a spoonful of sauce over the ham. Either way, it's delicious. The sweet and sour taste with the mustard and ham is a great combination.

Thank you, Classie!