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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!

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