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Monday 29 September 2014


I have a history with grapes. When we lived with my grandfather Pretty on Old Topsail Road in St. John's, my mother put my wooden playpen on the front veranda in the summer. This was the summer before we moved to Maddox Cove. I turned three that autumn.

The play pen is still very clear in my mind. It was blond colored wood, with two pieces of wood making up its floor. The pieces met in the center and each piece had a circular hole to allow fingers in to bring up the floor when the playpen was folded away. The sides had hinges to allow them to collapse as well.

I sat in that playpen and various people, such as Mrs. Ash from the other side of the duplex, talked to me. My greatest joy however, occurred when I had grapes, which I peeled with my fingers, ate, and poked the skins down through the holes in the bottom of the pen. Any time Mom put away the playpen, there was a pile of grape skins underneath. I loved the grapes and the effort to peel and conceal the skins. 

Last year I bought a grape vine at a nursery here in Prince Edward Island. I knew that people grew grapes here but I never imagined that I could grow them. This year, the plant grew up around one of the posts of the patio, which provided natural support for the vine. I watered the plant every time I watered the nearby tomato plants. Grapes actually appeared, though they were tiny. Today when I picked the last of the rhubarb, the grapes were nearby in all their deep purple glory. 

They have tiny seeds, and are sweet, but not plentiful enough so as to do anything significant with them this year. Who knows what the plant will produce another year? Meanwhile our granddaughters will help pick the tiny treasures this year. I will make a few spoonfuls of jelly because I cannot bear to waste those precious grapes or the sweet memory.

Sunday 28 September 2014

Happy Day

It's a beautiful sunny day, temperature in the twenties with a warm breeze from the southwest this last weekend of September. The music is loud to parallel the high level of activity in the house. The sounds of Blue Rodeo, Bryan Adams and Whitney Houston make for a dance-like atmosphere as I bake and Rick packs away the summer furniture.

The cherry tomatoes taste so sweet right off the vine and the zucchini bread smells too good not to have some for dessert today. Potato is boiling and soon will be creamed to go along with the halibut fillet which will be gently fried to the correct doneness. This is one of our favourite meals.

Life is good, peaceful, happy, content. Simple. 


Friday 26 September 2014


I realize now that in my mind I'm still twenty-one but my body betrays me. Some of the children I taught such a short time ago are now grandparents, with grandchildren older than mine. In my mind's eye, they are still teenagers and I am still twenty-one. Is this what Rick's grandmother talked about when she said, at eighty, "When I get old, I'm going to sit in my rocking chair and watch the people go by?"

Through Facebook today it's possible to stay in touch with former students. The students of my first Grade 11 class are in their mid fifties now. Oh my! Where does time go? Yet I wouldn't want to go back and start over again.

Life is about the here and now, and enjoying each moment, each stage. The experience of being a grandparent has made this age, which isn't so great physically, one of my favourite times of life. This twenty-one year old loves to play with her grandchildren and see the world through their eyes. That young woman of the 1970s could not have imagined all the joy that was in store for her. 

The experiences of my life, good and bad, got me here to this place in time and ready for this experience. Lucky woman!

Monday 22 September 2014

Jam Crock

My grandmother O'Brien understood about gossip and always warned about it. She said things like,"Don't say anything in front of her because she'll have it on jam crocks." 

I always understood it to mean that the person would spread the news everywhere. It's best to keep things to yourself.

Today the jam crock is different but the message is the same. Social media today means that any thought can be shared instantly, often without sober second thought before touching the SEND or RETURN key. 

Today we put information on the twenty-first century jam crock ourselves, or others, well intentioned or not, do it for us or to us. It seems as if there is little control of what makes it to the jam crock today but that was always the case. Today however, the speed with which items are shared is so much faster and the media used to transmit the items are so much more efficient and diverse, video, audio, stills, text, all via the internet.

"Today the jam crock is emblazoned with gossip," says the woman who writes a blog. What would Nan think?


I am in the market for a new camera. On our recent vacation I saw some of the pictures taken by our fellow travelers and they were great. My pictures lack the definition afforded by these other cameras. However, the composition of my pictures needs to improve as well. There are numerous blurred and otherwise useless shots and it is unfortunate on occasion when important moments aren't captured properly. 

Sylvia, my mother-in-law, recently told me the story of her grandfather and his camera adventures. Pop Joe Lawrence was in his eighties when he got his first movie camera. He was so excited to have it and took movies of everything. Soon after he had the camera, he was walking in the Orangeman's Day parade in Port aux Basques, July 12th. He was a member of the Orange Lodge. That day he shot lots of footage but somehow only shot the road. Pop needed help with the camera too.

Joe was a widower for more than thirty years and while he lived in his own home with one of his daughters and her family, he spent time alone in his cabin at Robinson's, north of Port aux Basques. He was certainly able to keep house and cook for himself. For a man born in 1888, he was ahead of his time in that regard.

Except when it came to cameras. I know how he felt.

P. S. Orangeman's Day is a provincial holiday in Newfoundland even today though the parade tradition may have been discontinued.

Thursday 18 September 2014

Nobody Knows Me

Have you ever run to the store in your old clothes, scruffy jeans, old tee shirt or heaven forbid, sweat pants? You grab an old jacket from twenty years ago which has seen better days around camp fires or shoveling snow. It shouldn't see the light of day any more, but it fits so comfortably it's the one you always want to wear.

Then there's the protest of your spouse. " You're not wearing that, are you?" 

When he was in Corner Brook, his hometown, and Sylvia, my mother-in-law, asked this question, Melvin Smith always replied, "Ah, everybody knows me."

If he was visiting somewhere and intended to go out less than impeccably dressed, and was similarly questioned, he replied, "Ah, nobody knows me."

As Melvin expressed, it shouldn't matter how we are dressed regardless of where we are.

This story brings to mind a jewelry store in one of the towns where we lived. If I wasn't in my best attire, I was almost overlooked as a customer. I tested my theory by going to the store one day dressed in my best clothes, sealskin jacket, heels and jewelry, the latter two which I rarely wore. That day it looked like clerks vied to be the one to serve me.

Mark Twain said, "Clothes make the man."  Or woman. How sad!

Tuesday 16 September 2014


The seafaring history of Newfoundland means that nautical terms are in common use in everyday language. The term wheelhouse is one of them in my husband's family.

We were reminded of the term recently when our 'dog house' was put in place at the back of the garage. It houses the generator for emergency use. Before it was even built, Rick and I called it the dog house, and the contractor called it that too after he heard us use the term.

The structure reminded us of the cabin we bought from Rick's grandparents in Robinson's, Newfoundland which was previously owned by Rick's great grandfather, Joe Lawrence. Joe, from Channel, had a boat for transportation and fished for food. This cabin had a water pump outside in a little house which Joe called the wheelhouse and everyone else did too.

            Three year old Rick

Also when Rick was young, before child car seats were compulsory, he sometimes sat in the back seat while his father, Melvin, drove. His father often said, "Come up in the wheelhouse with the skipper."

Then Rick sat proudly in the front seat, without a carseat or seatbelt. Those days for children are long gone for sure.

The dog house has a new name now.

Sunday 14 September 2014

The Orchard

Summer is my favourite time of year. I love the windows open, the breeze blowing through the house or car, eating on the patio, tending the garden and picnics. The late summer harvesting of garden vegetables, the tomatoes, cucumbers and other delicious treats of carefully tended produce are a delight as well. Then there is the orchard.

Every year this time the nearby orchard, Arlington, opens to its loyal customers who flock to its delicious crop. A multitude of fruit varieties, especially apples, ready at various times over a two month period, bridge the late summer and early autumn months. We love the place and the products.

An Arlington adventure for us includes the drive through the Island countryside, through fields of soon-to-be-harvested crops, potatoes, wheat, soy or canola. The Grand River and its peaceful meander through the countryside give a reflection of the beauty of the place. After several turns, there's Arlington, up a well maintained dirt road through the trees into a grassy parking lot. There is a border of apples in various stages of ripening on bending trees and branches.

You can borrow a wagon to carry the baskets they provide for the apples. We have one for our granddaughters, Sylvie and Caitlin, in the trunk of the car.

The girls enjoy the wagon and Sylvie hugs into Caitlin as we start through the orchard. It is a short pleasant walk down through the trees full of apples. 

Nearby is a tractor and wagon used to tour guests around the orchard on the weekends.

The girls love apples and are quick to grab one each.

 Today we're picking Melbas which will make great apple sauce. 

It is sunny and warm with a breeze as everyone, including the girls, pick enough to meet our needs for the next few weeks. Caitlin, the youngest, doesn't want to leave the apples and protests a bit. 

Then she settles into the cart munching on the apple which is as big as she can handle.

Arlington also has plums and pears. The plums make great jam so we pick a few of them as well, enough to satisfy the craving for this great addition to crusty bread. Caitlin protests again when leaving the plum trees behind. She loves the orchard as much as the rest of us.

We leave enough time for both girls to use the playground. 

This year, Sylvie can climb on the tires herself. She realizes that she has grown and is so proud of herself. 

Caitlin, an infant last year when we were here, is just testing things out this year. Both girls enjoy the area immensely.

Any visit to Arlington is great but one with our granddaughters is extra special. The fruit is the delicious bonus.

Thursday 11 September 2014

The Juice

Rick and I are of the school which believes in global warming. With the extremes of weather in Canada and throughout the world, the global warming prognosticators are correct. We have always lived on eastern Canadian islands and this beautiful little Prince Edward Island is threatened for certain.

Preparation is the key for us with the changing climate. With four generations of our family living in the area now, we want to be ready to house everyone in the event of an extended power outage. As a result, we have a generator ready to go if the need arises. It will be able to provide energy for warmth, heating or freezing food, pumping out water or providing for a variety of other needs.

               Generator ready to go

When Rick worked at Newfoundland Light and Power in Corner Brook before he started teaching, sometimes he manned the phones. During a power outage, the query was always, "When will the juice be back on?"   

Thankfully for us now, the threat of losing 'the juice' especially in heavy rain, won't be as nerve wrecking. Now we'll just worry about losing the roof in high winds.

    Ready for an emergency

Tuesday 9 September 2014


We are painting the main living area of our home. Rather, Dave Montgomery is painting it for us. Meanwhile we live in the turmoil of stuff.

 Artistry of Dave Montgomery

Some of this stuff you need, a sofa or chesterfield as Newfoundlanders commonly call it. You need a table and chairs, but two sets? All the extra fancy dishes and items that fill up cabinets, cupboards, closets, drawers, are they really necessary? I think not. That's what my sixty year old self thinks anyway.


Having been raised by a woman who didn't like dishes for other than utilitarian purposes, it was as if I made up for Mom's lack of fancy dishes. In addition, my desire came from looking in my grandmother Pretty's china cabinet when I was young. She loved beautiful dishes and long after she was gone, Pop Pretty kept her fancy dishes in a lovely cabinet. I was hooked.

In my younger years, I loved crystal. We lived in a mobile home in Buchans after we married and there was a lovely built-in cabinet which I filled with pinwheel crystal, a dinner set, and a myriad of other items which I 'needed' at the time. Then we moved to Grand Falls and the china cabinet got bigger. You know what happened.

          Some essentials

We moved to Summerside four years ago and I purged before we left Grand Falls-Windsor. As you can see, the purge wasn't deep enough. Now I see the stuff as overwhelming dust collectors. My daughter hasn't embraced the crystal and china craze, having the more practical side of my mother instead. Well done, Mom.

So the stuff will be disappearing to other homes over the next few months and life will be simpler. I discovered that the simple pleasures of family and friends don't require crystal and china, just presence, the real gift.

Sunday 7 September 2014

Tall Ships

As part of the celebration of the Charlottetown Conference of 1864, tall ships came into Summerside Harbour recently. 

They arrived a day late because of high winds which kept them in port in Charlottetown. We walked the dock in Summerside amazed at the size of the vessels, the height of the masts, thinking of our ancestors who braved the Atlantic in smaller vessels lacking motors, facing the North Atlantic, its gales even hurricanes without benefit of safe port in a storm. 

We imagined the poor people below deck as they traversed the Atlantic, sea sick, in heat or cold, dirty, crowded quarters, poorly toiletted, disease ridden. It is incredible that any of them survived. Their journeys put human faces to Darwin's theory of survival of the fittest.

Today there is something almost romantic about the sails filled with wind moving the vessel along, giving a sense of ease as it cuts through the water.

The conditions below deck today are vastly different from the ships of our ancestors' time. Our predecessors saw these vessels for their transportation value and the hope of a better tomorrow. Many of us today see them as a link to the past and those who braved the North Atlantic hundreds of years ago.

Thursday 4 September 2014

Julia Hardy Lawrence: Life in Channel/Port aux Basques

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.

                    Julia Harding Lawrence

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.

       Joe Lawrence

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.