When Rick was three, his mother, Sylvia took him on the train to Port aux Basques from Corner Brook to visit her grandparents, Julia nee Hardy and Joe Lawrence, for a week.
Sylvia is the middle child of Classie (Lawrence) and Dick Mercer. She has two brothers, Dick and Carl. They were born in Port aux Basques and have fond memories of their grandparents especially during those early years. Sylvia wanted Rick to know these wonderful people.
Carl, Sylvia, Dick Mercer
Joe Lawrence was from Channel but Julia was from another community along the southwest coast of Newfoundland. While Joe lived into the late 1980s, Julia died more than thirty years earlier and Sylvia's memories of her are closely tied to the house where she lived, a house with a great deal of character.
Dick at his grandparents' graves
This house had a beautiful garden where Julia grew gorgeous dahlias. She also grew rhubarb and gooseberries. It was an incredible feat to have a garden in that area because the houses were built on solid rock. Julia was a great gardener and worked hard to build up the soil for her garden.
Joe purchased this house with gold pieces which he saved by working on a boat. Later he was a conductor with the Newfoundland Railway. Julia kept the house immaculately and it was a huge house to tend. It had three levels, with the attic holding a hot water tank. This was an exceptional feature in a Newfoundland home for that time. The attic was also the storage place for mats in the summer and wool for carding.
The second level had three bedrooms, two of which had fireplaces. There was also a huge bathroom with a sink, toilet and bathtub. This was unusual as well, to have a bathroom but especially one so large and well equipped. The hall on this floor was wide enough that Julia had a bed under the hall window for guests if needed.
The unique thing about the main floor was that it had two kitchens, one for summer and one for winter use. It also had two verandas front and back, one covered with windows all around and where Julia kept wicker furniture, the other had a covered deck. The living and dining rooms on the main floor were not used until the minister visited, like in so many Newfoundland homes. Only special guests ever got into those rooms.
There was a wash house on the main level as well, what we call a laundry room today. There Julia kept her wash tub and a stove for heating water in addition to the hot water provided from the hot water tank. This wash house had a table and chairs where the family ate on wash days.
In summer they ate in the summer kitchen, which lacked a stove, and the rest of the year, in the winter kitchen which was warmer and had the cook stove. There was a huge window in the winter kitchen. Julia set up her rug hooking frame under that window and hooked her mats out of scraps of material. She took the mats across the Lower Road to the shoreline and washed them on the beach.
Joe's motor boat was pulled ashore on that beach. He used this boat for fishing or going to work at the railway, motoring around the point of land in Channel and steering along the coastline to the train station. Sylvia's older brother, Dick, often went in the boat with his grandfather. The lobsters were so plentiful that the two speared them from the boat. On one such trip Joe's motor cut out and he couldn't get it working again. As they drifted closer and closer to the rocks, Dick thought they were going to die. Luckily Joe didn't give up on the motor and got it going just in time to save them from a rocky, watery demise.
People moved around by boat a great deal because roads were merely paths. They often used horse and cart as well however. Sylvia's father fell off the cart on his way home one day and broke his arm, in the 1930s version of a traffic accident.
Julia made the best thin apricot pies out of dried apricots and cooked them on plates in oven of the wood stove. Her meals were delicious and the food was plentiful.
Julia was a robust woman with dark curly hair. She was good to Sylvia and though she shouted at her own children, Julia didn't once raise her voice to Sylvia. Dick, Carl and Sylvia, were close in age to the youngest of Julia's own children. Julia's youngest child, Clarinda was a year younger than Dick and a year older than Sylvia. While she loved all three of her grandchildren, Julia's favourite was the oldest grandchild, Dick. He could do no wrong according to Julia.
Classie Mercer, Julia Lawrence, Dick Mercer
Warm memories of the big house and the people who lived there are part of the history of the Lawrence Mercer side of my husband's family. Julia, the heart of her family, is kept alive through our family stories.